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Editor letter

MAY/JUNE 2005 | Editor's Letter - Soul Traveling

MAY/JUNE 2005 | Editor's Letter - Soul Traveling


"Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest." The queer writer W. Somerset Maugham wrote those words in 1919. He was drawn, like so many gay exiles before him, to the deep and unknown corners of the world (in his case, Samoa, Italy, Hawaii, China). Homosexuals have always had a particular relationship to travel; It's nearly a part of our collective unconscious. So many of us have fled our families and hometowns to reinvent and find ourselves in faraway places--chasing down our unformed identities and true souls.

I myself was flung into the great global world when I was just 12 years old. My father grew up amid the docks of Mystic, a seaport in Connecticut, and he always had a, well, mystical connection to the sea. The huge, unsearchable expanses of oceans is where he was fated to be, and in his 40s he sold his insurance company, packed up his family on to a 50-foot sailboat, and headed out to sea. I grew up in several radically different Pacific nations, from Papua New Guinea to New Zealand. It was an intense and rigorous time, full of squalls, nighttime watches, dragging anchors, difficult labor, and interpersonal quarrels. But it was also a time of overwhelming sunshine, true friendships, and immense vastness. It felt very close to how humans have evolved through the centuries--right up against the elements and each other. There was something exacting and pure about it.

Since that time, I have spent years living in places like Hong Kong, San Francisco, Hawaii, and journeyed to a myriad of mythical lands like Mongolia, India, Ghana, Zanzibar. By now, the world does not daunt me. Travel emboldens.

But travel also haunts. I still dream about lava flows cascading alongside my home on the Big Island of Hawaii, or my body climbing amid the concrete towers of Hong Kong, or conversing with faceless patrons of a dark pub during my time at Oxford. Flashes and glimpses of other past locations I have seen often enter my subconscious when I least expect it. Charles Darwin once wrote of his time in Patagonia: "Why...have these arid wastes taken so firm a hold on my memory?" Who, Darwin wondered, "would not look at these last boundaries to man's knowledge with deep but ill-defined sensations?"

That deep, ill-defined spirit of a place, the feeling you received when you entered a new place and thus a new reality, is what's hardest to relay to others after a trip. Any writer can simply inform you of great hotels, restaurants, sights, what the place looks like. But it's always more difficult to interpret the curious persona of a place, the indescribable impression it leaves (as in this issue, where Christopher Rice boldly delves into this complex relationship with place in "Shadows in New Orleans," pictured below).

This haunting, lingering sense of place is what draws travelers back to a locale again and again, and is perhaps what travel is all about in the end. For me, it's the timeless vacuum of Africa and her incredibly warm and resilient peoples. Judy, our editorial director, is inextricably drawn back to the soft islands of Hawaii over and over, and she's the first to tell you the place somehow completes her. Call it soul-place: the place in the back of our minds we have been instinctively looking for over the course of lives. Only through the wondrous act of traveling do we have any hope of ever finding it.


editor@outtraveler.com

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