20 years at large

morgue & Leon carefully navigate the world

Twenty years ago today, I hopped on a plane with my best bud Leon and we flew from Wellington to London. It was exciting. I’d never been overseas before.

I came back several years later, after exploring Europe and the Middle East and North America, and living long enough in Edinburgh that I still think of it as my other home. 

I wanted to feel the size of the world. The more I travelled, the bigger it all felt, because every place I reached also revealed countless more places in between. But it also ended up feeling not quite so big as all that, because it turns out the world is made of people, and now I have friends scattered all over the globe, and the shape of my life was powerfully changed by these friendships.

The other important thing I learned is that the right place for me to be in that world is here, home again in Aotearoa New Zealand, on the banks of Te Awa Kairangi.

I hope to go see other places again, and visit all my friends out there. I am so glad I met all of you. You make the world feel just the right size.

A Decade At Large

Ten years ago today, I left New Zealand. I had a plan to sort of end up in the UK and do… something. I ended up spending three years in Edinburgh. Seems like it was longer.

Sitting on the plane out of NZ with my good buddy Mr TwoTrees, we talked about why we were going. In our mid-20s, we were at the top end of the OE age group. We weren’t out to party like crazy, or to find ourselves, or to earn a nest egg of sweet sweet GBP. Our motivations were harder to nail down. One strand of mine I could identify: I wanted to learn the size of the world. I wanted to get that sense of scale that only comes from experience.

By the time I landed back in Wellington, I knew the world’s size. I had also made a new lifetime home in Edinburgh, and many crucial epic wondrous friends who each pushed my life in new directions. And walking in Welington, I knew this was the right place to be, where I had to be so the next stage of my life could begin.

I didn’t do everything right, far from it. It made a hard road for my lovely Cal, left behind at the airport ten years ago, part of a scattering loop that took nearly a half-decade to reconnect. I think of the me sat on that plane and I remember how many mistakes I had made and would continue to make. That day was the beginning of a journey that would create a new version of me. Not that there was anything much wrong with the old me, but the stuff down deep was ripped out and rewired and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to undertake that process, the privileges of my heritage and my financial situation and my supportive family and more.

A decade ago, I got on a plane; travel without a tourist. Across a whole lifetime there’re probably only a few days one can point to and say, then, right then; the exact moment where I started a fresh page and wrote myself anew. This is one of mine.

morgue at large (travel email archive)

Saramago, Portugal

Been thinking about Portugal in the last couple of days, because of the death of Jose Saramago, and the impending departure from work of visiting Portuguese academic Rosa. I travelled through Portugal in October 2002 and it made a huge impression on me. I stayed in the country much longer than I intended, and was impressed by the massive diversity (both geographical and cultural) within such a small area.

“Portugal is cursed by God” – graffiti in Lisboa
“[pi]=3.14” – graffiti at the Ancora-Praia train station

Saramago was the source of my initial interest – the other moose loaned me The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis and it blew my head off. It also made me realize that I knew virtually nothing about Portugal, couldn’t even point to it on a map. And this one of the great powers of the age of exploration with colonies all over the world – a faded light, Ricardo Reis suggested, lost in an unarticulated sorrow.

“We are a sad people” – Tanya, a Portuguese girl I met in Lisboa, October 20th, 2002.

Saramago is probably my favourite author, inasmuch as I have a favourite author; I’ve enjoyed every book of his I’ve read. Their clever, magical concepts are expressed with a distinctive, embracing style, the kind of style I need to fight to kick out of my own writing for weeks afterward. More than this, however, what I think of when I think of Saramago is compassion. This is of a piece with his high concepts and his style – his authorial voice is embedded in the text, allowing the reader to sense his great compassion for his characters, and by extension, for the human condition.

That first Saramago book, Ricardo Reis, introduced me to writer/poet Fernando Pessoa, whose Book of Disquiet I read while travelling through Portugal. The straight-faced melancholy of the book served as counterpoint to everything I saw and did.

“Life is whatever we make it. The traveller is the journey. What we see is not what we see but who we are.” – Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

“I say grab life with both hands” – text received from my friend Alastair while in Portugal.