Mrs. G. at Derfward Manor has as her third resolution for the new year Genuine Foreign Adventure. An extravagant and admirable ambition, for here is what 11-year-old Lucy Lynch in Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs has to say on the subject:
What I discovered I liked best about striking out on my bicycle was that the farther I got from home, the more interesting and unusual my thoughts became. I discovered I could think things in a new landscape that never would have occurred to me at home or in my own well-traveled neighborhood. I was just a boy, of course, and my thoughts were those of a boy and, as such, probably no different from the thoughts of thousands of other boys my age, but they were new to me and seemed as strange and unaccountable as the recent transformation of my body, which now required new shoes every few months. My mother had recently taken to buying my pants several inches too long, cuffing them thickly, then slowly letting them out as I grew. When I set out on my bike, it was usually with a sense of anticipation, not just that I might discover something new, like a cave in Whitcombe Park,or someone new, like Gabriel Mock Junior, but also I might think something new and unexpected, as if I were letting out my brain, its thoughts, much as my mother let out my pants’ cuffs. And when returning home from my travels, I had the pleasurable sense that I was a different boy from the one who’d left and half expected my parents and neighbors to notice the change.
But also this. If setting out into the unknown was thrilling, so, in a different but equally strange way, was coming back. I almost never rode home directly and instead wove a route through all the streets of our East End neighborhood, taking inventory of the houses and sheds and chain-link fences to make sure nothing had vanished or been swallowed up by the hollow earth while I was away, that everything was in its correct place, as if to reclaim all of it as my own. It occurred to me that I was just becoming a route man, like my father and Mr. Marconi and like Bobby on his paper route, leaning how intense the pleasure of the familiar can be, how welcome and reassuring the old, safe, comforting places of the world and the self.
Years ago, my friend and I made acquaintance of an Iranian student. He had been studying in America, but he missed his country and its demure women and conservative ways. He would never change, he vowed, sitting in that Raleigh bar, talking to two unknown American women. “Yes,” my friend said, “but you have already changed. Now you can never have not been to America.”
As much as that was whiskey wisdom, it is also true. Once you have been to America, whether you like it or reject it, you have changed. The experience will be with you always. When you change your thoughts, when you change your mind, the world changes. And that’s Genuine Foreign Adventure, no matter how it occurs, and even if we return, grateful for a place we call home.