Incomincia la nona, nella quale, sotto il reggimento d’Emilia, si ragiona ciascuno secondo che gli piace e di quello che più gli agrada.
“Quello che più gli agrada”. What you like the most, what pleases you the most. A simple topic at first glance, a much more complex one once you start delving into it. We’re so focussed – obsessed, even – on the pursuit of happiness that we often struggle to point what, exactly, constitutes it. Or what our favourite things are.
Day nine has been a constant thought, lately. What can I possibly write that’s meaningful and even remotely interesting? Travel would immediately come to mind, but how to talk about it without sounding mournful, morose, sad?
Without much in the way of decisions, this morning, I went out for a run (which the government still allows to do, though that might change) in that golden hour before 6:30AM, when the sun is just peeking from behind the Shard and it’s just me and a few magpies strutting amidst the daffodils, Brant Bjork’s Low Desert Punk riffing in my brains.
Instead of my usual trod – down the road, past the rail underpass, by the park and down to the centre of the borough – I turned left. As I ran, I felt the pinprick of something I hadn’t experienced in a while: a discharge of something, a titillation of synapses running up and down my spine. I grinned as I ran, welcoming my old friend. Now I had something to write about.
We travel for different reasons, many reasons or no reasons at all. One of the motivations that get me up and running, scouring flight websites and raking debt on my cards is this sensation. I don’t know if it has a name but I’m sure I’m not the only one to feel it: perhaps you’ll find yourself in it.
What’s its phenomenology? Well, doctor, it’s a funny one. It’s like that knot of worry at the mouth of your stomach, only pleasant. Think of the sensation that a selz candy – by the way, do they still make them? – gives when its filling sizzles in your mouth: now propagate it to the entirety of your spine, make it go up to the top of your neck. It’s the feeling that puts a spring in your step, makes you crank up the volume and, above all, makes you smile broadly.
I have dozens of memories correlated to this feeling, a visual collage of situations: walking in the sun in Buenos Aires’ Palermo, buoyed by the good weather and a satisfying beer selection; driving under the relentless Atacama sun in our rumbling red pick-up truck; flagging down cars in Gulcha, Kyrgyzstan, before being picked up by Murat in his big Kamaz. Or walking down a posh hotel corridor with Other Half, who’s quite more used to those sorts of surroundings.
I often wondered what triggered this feeling, for the not too selfish reason of wanting a repeatable way of summoning it at will. For a while I settled on the realisation of having “made” it, of having reached some goal that I’d for long dreamt of. Or perhaps it was the sudden realisation that something I once day-dreamed about had finally happened… but it wasn’t the case.
This morning’s run has revealed everything. I needn’t flying to some far-flung destination, break new ground, explore something that had previously been inaccessible to me. In fact, today’s run took me past the route that, up until late February, I used to follow to commute to work (ain’t missing that one!). The key, the driver, was my decision.
Suddenly, all made sense. The hitch-hike, the desert drive, even today’s run: in all these cases everything – to go or not, to turn left or right, to flag that car or not – was down to me, down to us. To a certain extent we were masters of our destinies, unburdened by pre-existing commitments or must-do’s. Contractual obligations, societal pressures were absent: no one was obliging us to pick up envelope A rather than B. Choices, decisions, outcomes and consequences were absolutely down to us and us alone.
I ended my run on a great high. Happy for my newfound epiphany and for the awareness that, even in these days where our world has shrunk to the local neighbourhood or less, there’s still a chance to be free.