Do keep in touch…

Who needs friends? Not the great French author, Marcel Proust.

Who needs friends? Not the great French author, Marcel Proust.

Marcel Proust once quipped: “friends are for cowards”. Not so, you might say. But I think he had a point. Sociable people who plan their lives around a group of close friends do not really possess the adventurous spirit; they tend to stay in one place and neither have the courage nor the desire to take off alone around the world and make a new life. They are homebirds. Often I envy them.

But if, like me, you have spent most of your life moving around, the friends you make along the journey are only temporary. For the traveller, this is a kind of tragedy: most of the people you meet and grow to like, or love, you never get to see again, and some you miss for the rest of your life. As you get older the past becomes a vast dark space, filled with faces you once knew but are now lost forever.

My little town in more cruising for burgers with my old pals

My little town in California…no more cruising for burgers with my old pals

When I lived in California more than 30 years ago, I met some real characters: funny, warm, crazy, wild. They were my life for almost a year. I drank, slept, cried and starved with them, sat out under the stars and soul-searched with them. Now they are ghosts.

I was an English teacher in Spain for two years, in Andalucia and Madrid. In both places I met an infectious bunch of fellow-teachers. We spent hours together in the local bars, travelling around, clowning about and making plans for the future. We were young and everything was fun. Now I can hardly remember their names.

My old school in Rio where I knew everybody

My old school in Rio where I knew everybody

The same thing happened in Rio twenty years ago. There were more than 30 teachers at the school I worked in – Brits, Brazilians and all sorts. I knew them all – some I could call close friends. My social life was a whirl, my feet never touched the ground. Do I see any of them now? Well, yes, one to be honest, but that’s only because I miraculously bumped into her while on holiday in Rio a few years back.

“Do keep in touch”, everybody says. They mean it – you mean it. At the time. But time rattles on and people get left behind. For me it’s the saddest thing about life. In the end we have to make do with what we have right now, the people we know and see in the present. But the older you get, the less social life you seem to have; there is not enough stimulation in the present to avoid looking back; to stop this maudlin fascination with the past and the people who filled it.

My Madrid gang: if I could only remember their names...

My Madrid gang: if I could only remember their names…

A woman I once knew told me she was still in love with some of her old flames. I found this strange, but later I realised that love doesn’t always wither and die, even though we never see our lovers again. Love changes, it doesn’t go stone cold. All the women I once loved – where are they all now and what are they doing? Do they ever think of me?

I once spent 6 months in Storm Lake, Iowa, where I loved and was loved...

I once spent 6 months in Storm Lake, Iowa, where I loved and was loved…

The end of a relationship is always tragic – the love has gone, the passion gone cold. Then the doors close forever on that chapter of your life. Neil Young has a song about breaking up called Peace of Mind with the line, “It’s hard to face that empty space”. In my perception of the past, there are many empty spaces.

Neil Young: "It's hard to face that empty space..."

Neil Young: “It’s hard to face that empty space…”

I suppose it’s romantic to be heart-broken after a love affair, though in time the feeling fades. But for me, the past is heart-breaking. Not just because of lost loves and friendships, but because there is no way back. There is a door marked PAST which is forever locked.

If I had a wish, I would throw a big party and invite all those people – old flames, old mates – who I still feel emotional about. As the night went on I would make a point of talking with every one of them to say how sorry I am that we didn’t stay in touch. I would also tell them how important they were in my life, and that I wouldn’t be the bloke I am – warts and all – if I hadn’t once had the pleasure of their friendship.

Categories: Brazil, Musings, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “Do keep in touch…

  1. Dave Brew

    Viva the Internet! Having lost touch with more people than I care to mention, 20 years ago the internet arrived here and allowed me to start leaving my name and virtual address quite literally wherever I could and slowly old friends would come across them and breach the walls of time. On rainy weekends I would sit with my old adress book and search the web, leaving hopeful messages, some of which would be replied to within hours, others only after a few years. School friends mostly as well as more distant relatives… which led to contact with family members I didn’t even know existed. Our elders would maintain near-constant contact with letters but how times have changed. The only sad thing in that respect is that I can reach into a box and pull out letters written over 150 years ago by my ancestors, flip through photo albums from 50 ot 100 years ago…. and I doubt anyone will be able to say that in 100 years or so.

    • David – your efforts inspire me, though perhaps I fear digging up some things, especially when it comes to my family. On the occasions when I’ve tried to find old friends through FB, it hasn’t worked – there are just too many people on it now.

  2. janeykate

    I know what you mean! I’ve often wondered about what happened to people I’ve got to know along the way. Especially old lovers. Or should that be past lovers, because some of them were not that old :-). Some of them I still think about, but some are lost in the mists of time, and I only recall what they meant to me when their name is mentioned, or I hear a song, or a scent reminds me of them. Then there is the one person who remains with you for all time, that you will always remember. The person who everyone else you meet is measured against. Ah, well… that’s life I suppose.
    Jane x

    • I suppose it’s just my imagination running away with me, but the past lives on inside my head. Only it’s painful sometimes. One poet called it “the animal soup of time” that we’re all caught up in. Wish I had a spoon.

      • janeykate

        Hope you are ok, you sound a little bit down this evening. The past lives on in all of our minds you know. The good stuff and the bad. But hey, you made great friendships, you loved, and have been loved. The memories might be painful, but they prove you lived your life and had some great times, and met some amazing people along the way.

        And if only I knew how to insert a picture of a spoon into this reply, then I would grant your wish! You will just have to imagine it instead!
        Jane x

      • Janeykate,
        You’re so right. You sound sweet and wise. Thanks.
        Actually, I’m not so down, just a little pensive.
        It’s very cold here in the south of Brazil and no heating.
        When the sun comes back and stays forever, which it will, I’ll be all smiles.

      • janeykate

        Thank you, that’s a really nice thing to say 🙂 And likewise! Wet and stormy here today too. So much water, but looking on the bright side, it will fill up the water tank! That’s what I miss! Not having to worry about how much water I’m using, and being able to have a bath that is deeper than a few inches!

        Absolutely agree though, everything feels so much better when the sun shines. Hope the sun shines for you very soon!
        Jane x

  3. John

    “the friends you make along the journey are only temporary”. Does this explain why you never come out for a crafty beer when I text you; you’re afraid to make connections that might ultimately be lost if you move on? Or is it because by the time I text you’re already three sheets to the wind on single malt?

    For what it’s worth, I keep in touch with a fair few friends from my past adventures abroad. Those shared experiences as a strangers in a strange land are remarkably resilient connectors, as are those with sympathetic natives.

    • Ah, Mr Twigger, you’ve tumbled me already. A lightweight, ginger charlatan who swigs Old Bushmills and then writes a load of tripe about lost love. Just don’t let on to everyone that I’m a fake, ok?
      Seven pints in 5 hours, eh?
      We’ll beat that one of these nights…

  4. As an ex-expatriate who spent all his boyhood outside of the countries that are nominally his, I can relate a lot to this blog post. In the process, I ended up finding out quite a lot of things about you, Martin. You’ve travelled a lot more than I thought.

    It reminds me of this poem I wrote once, specifically this line:

    ”It hurts too much to say goodbye, so I go for the next best thing and say “see you later””

    If only later ever came.

    • Eric – you are an example of the thing I’m getting at, you and all your fellow-students at UCA. I got to know some of you really well, we shared good times together. Then blam: the lights go out, everyone vanishes and only memories are left. It’s quite possible I will never see any of you again. Sad but true.

  5. Reblogged this on Out of Place, Just in Time and commented:
    This resonated so much with me. Reblog this if you are or once was an expatriate or if you have simply known people in your life that you might never see again.

  6. Ernestina B. O. Mack Filgueiras

    Well, at least we have kept in touch and have had great times together with Annie and Edward. As far as I´m concerned, you´ll have to cope with me for quite a while:):):) If one works at it, friends can keep in touch!

    • It WAS a miracle that we bumped into each other one day in Rio. But as it actually happened, I’m sure it was meant to be, somehow. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the old Rio gossip!
      DO keep in touch, my dear!

  7. Just stumbled upon this post — I’m on year 2 in a foreign country & can relate to parts — but mainly had to smile that you’ve spent time in Iowa, where I’m from 🙂

    • Hi mls,
      Yes siree…Storm Lake, Spencer, Des Moines – they are all etched in my soul. I saw the Rolling Stones in Sioux Falls with a bunch of freaks from Storm Lake. The whole experience was like a missing chapter from ‘On The Road’.
      I love Iowa, and Iowa loved me.

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