Not long ago, I was having dinner with some people from work, enjoying eggplant smothered in rich tomato sauce, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Disrupting my stupor, Ellie turned to me and asked if I’ve ever been to Italy. I swallowed a large mouthful of Chianti and braced myself. This was not the first time I’ve been asked that question. It’s a recurring nightmare and my answer is always the same.
“No,” I told her, “I’ve never been to Italy.”
“Oh, Natalie,” she gasped, “You must go. You’d love it.”
Really? I thought. Does she know that I break out in a sweat if Shelley asks me to watch a foreign film, or that I have to leave the room if she’s watching the Travel Channel? Does she know I studied Italian in college for three years and was never able to say more than “Happy Birthday” in Italian? She knows none of these things, but she knows I would love Italy, the land of my ancestors, the country from which my grandparents fled to come here, seeking a better life. She knows they were wrong, she knows life is much better in Italy and she knows I would love it.
“The art work, the history, the museums,” she tells me, “You’d love it!”
Really? Does she know that, try as I might, I can’t last more than twenty minutes in an art museum before I have to sit on a bench and take deep breaths?
“I’m sorry,” I say, “I’m not much for museums.”
“But the food,” she exclaims, “You’d love the food!”
Really? Does she know the pasta would be better than what my mother used to make, or the tomatoes would put the fruits of my father’s garden to shame? I prefer to die believing I’ve already tasted the best. Besides, if I went to Italy and found out what people say is true, that what we call tomato sauce is an abomination, that what we call olive oil is no better than Mazola, I’d be cursed for the rest of my life, knowing my favorite foods are just poor substitutes for the real thing.
So I admit to Ellie, as I’ve admitted to all of my friends who’ve finally stopped asking me to join them on their adventures. Once more, I say, “I just hate to travel.”
“How can anyone hate to travel?” she asks me in horror.
After many years, I’ve discovered there’s one easy answer to this question.
“It’s genetic,” I tell her. “My parents never liked to travel.”
Actually, my parents made it to Italy once. My father was pick-pocketed in Rome and spent three days trying to get a new Passport. My mother never wanted to go in the first place, and spent the rest of the trip reminding him it was all his idea. Of course as in any medical condition, genetics are only half of the problem. Environment is the other half. And the travel environment kills me.
I hate trains and boats and planes. I hate taking off my shoes and putting my belongings in a crate. I hate being called, being lined up, and being over-charged. I hate deciding what to pack, and regretting what I didn’t. I hate strange beds and bathrooms, and the pressure of what I must see and what I must eat, of what I can’t miss, and what people come from all over the world to experience.
But, the biggest reason I hate to travel is that I love to stay home. I love sleeping in my bed, and cooking in my kitchen. I love Cape Cod. I love walking on the bike path, and seeing the ocean every day. I love bumping into friends and neighbors who all speak English. I love watching the sunset, the same sun that sets over the Rhine and the Riviera. I love knowing where things are and never having to ask for directions.
I don’t need to see new places. I never tire of the vistas, the sea air, or the seafood that surround me every day of the year. As we drive around town, we see license plates from all over the country. We see motels, filled with people who spent money to enjoy a week in our hometown. We see people buying postcards to send to their friends, writing, “Wish you were here” in big letters.
So to Ellie and the rest of you who love to travel, I say, go off on your trips, your jaunts and your cruises. But please, leave me alone in my own little corner. I know where I am, and I love being here. And I’m content, for I know that somewhere, right now, someone is eating a frozen fish dinner, turning to her neighbor and asking, “Have you ever been to Cape Cod?”
This piece is edited by Viki Merrick and produced by Atlantic Public Media - our production partners in Woods Hole.