Gustave Flaubert: An Original Wanderluster
It is so comforting to learn that my current (and never-ending) afflictions with wanderlust are not something new, born to my generation (or the Kerouac generation) out of nowhere. Wanderlust has been affecting certain individuals for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
French-born Gustave Flaubert is one of the original wanderlusters and a man I can relate to so dearly, that it's hard to imagine that there are some 150-odd years seperating us.
Born in 1912, Flaubert is most famous for his novel Madame Bovary. But I myself find him intriguing for his impatient musings and his disdain for the "ordinary" life.
Though he was born in France and lived in Paris (a city I often wanderlust about, having been there only twice), he had grand ambitions to be elsewhere.
As a mere 12-year old boy, he found his life to be "sterile, banal and laborious - I am bored, I am bored, I am bored." He dreamed - feverishly - of chucking his boring life in Rouen, France away to join the nomads in Egypt. The middle eastern country became the highest point of heaven for him, the ideal place where he would see "blue seas, a pure sky, silvery sand and women with tanned skin and fiery eyes that could whisper to me in the language of the Houris."
Just as I so often fixate on the exotic and the unusual and believe that visiting these places would bring me happines, make me a better person and produce a more meaningful life (indeed, even working in the kitchen in a backpackers in the dusty dwelling of Alice Springs, Australia, is a far more glamourous and intriguing proposition than sitting here at work, in Burnaby, in this dreary corporate world), Flaubert felt the same. And the thought that he might be confined to his ordinary and sedintary existence killed his spirit, as the thought often kills mine:
"My life, which I dream will be so beautiful, so poetic, so vast, so filled with love, will turn out to be like everyone else's - monotonous, sensible, stupid. I'll attend law school, be admitted to the bar, and end up to be a respectable assistant district attorney, in a small provincial town, such as Yvetot or Dieppe...Poor madman who dreamed of glory, love, laurels, journeys, the Orient."
Luckily (I suppose) for Flaubert, his father died while he was 24 and provided him with enough inheritence to pack up his bags and finally set sail for the promised land of Egypt. You would think that after a lifetime of yearning and admiring the country, he would be in for a letdown but Flaubert wasn't dissapointed. Right off the boat, he wrote that "the first thing we saw on land was a pair of camels, led by their driver, then, on the dock, some Arabs peacefully fishing...I gulped down a whole bellyfull of colours, like a donkey filling himself with hay."
It's funny how sometimes such simple observations can translate into whole, bellowing feelings. I experience this a lot, when I travel, or even when I am just reminded of times I have traveled.
To me, even the South is exotic, just as it was to Flaubert. I can't get enough of it. I guess that's what comes from living in Vancouver, where everything up North just looks the same, holds no interest to me. But south, SOUTH is a different country, where 7/11s carry beer, where the landscape changes quickly and unpredictably and looks so oustandingly different from where I reside. South...you can keep going south, going south and going south until you hit Chile. North...I'll end up in the Yukon - a nice place in its own right, and one that I am sure the adventurer in me would enjoy, but the North scares me. It's too much the same and it's too much at the end of the road. North (and Eastern Canada, now that I think about it) is a dead-end, just more of this country I've had enough of. South is full of sunshine, heat and possibilities.
Even being in Oregon, I felt the beckoning of the road as we headed south...we could just keep driving, I kept thinking to myself: Keep driving until we hit Mexico.
When it came time to head back, I grew severly depressed once we hit the I-5 and started going North again. Like, an incomprehensible sadness.
But before we did, there was an hour or two of heading East, past fields full of red flowers (clover) that I never saw at home, and under a sky that looked so open and so blue - so strangely foreign - I knew I was creating a memory I would draw on for years to come... such a simple moment with simple sights and sounds, and simple heat warming my arm as it rested on the car window - but such a simple pleasure of just doing something simple, somewhere else.