Xanadu: (noun) 1. a place of great beauty, luxury, and contentment.
I didn’t grow up in a household with a lot of money – nor, honestly, are we rolling in money now, but that’s another blog post – and spent my youth almost entirely home-bound. I grow up and still live in Massachusetts, near the New Hampshire border, and for years and years the most travelling I ever did was crossing the border to take advantage of tax free shopping.
I didn’t venture further out until college, when I went to a wedding in Rhode Island, and then again in college, when I traveled with a friend back to her home in upstate New York. To this day, I only have a few states under my belt (NH, ME, CT, VT, NY, NJ, PA, FL), most of them accessible by car, and no real international travel – Montreal, which was beautiful, but barely counts. Back when I went, you still didn’t even need a passport. We traveled in on a bus out of Boston’s South Station.
Of my limited travels, Montreal was by and far my favorite place to go. I traveled with a friend of mine, the week before I turned 25 – we stayed in a co-ed hostel on the waterfront, in a place called Le Sous Bois, a place that no longer exists. There was an enclosed cobblestone courtyard with a half-dozen gypsy caravans that were rented out as sleeping space scattered around. At the center was a firepit, surrounded by lounge chairs, and a massive wooden gate set in the stone wall that opened directly into a street where, if you turned left, you were greeted by Vieux Montreal – the sunset over the water, usually, as we headed out to go drinking.
We stayed for six nights, spending the days at the beach, the museums, the botanical gardens, and nights at outdoor cafes and performance spaces, bars and lounges. We drank beer and honey wine and ate poutine and took blurry photos of the lights on the water from the balconies of cafes and bistros. I went to sleep surrounded by the sound of people speaking in a dozen different language, woke to twenty-something men speaking French and playing the bongos in the breakfast nook where we ate dense bagels with hazelnut spread.
It was a beautiful week. As with all things, a big part of it was context. I was nearly twenty-five, and traveling for the first time, staying somewhere full of strangers who spoke languages I didn’t speak, coming from places I had never been. My friend and I were both either newly in a relationship (her) or just started to looking at relationships and experiences I’d like to have, and in both our cases, these situations were new and exciting and terrifying. Life, in so many ways, was for us, at the time, new and exciting and terrifying. We talked about love and sex and art and plans and ambitions, and we drank and we ate, and we took shitty photos in darkened bars.
I’ve never had the opportunity to go back. Real life hit; I became more serious about my job, I moved out and rent had to be paid, and then I had grad school, and then my boyfriend lost his job, and then we got married, and then got a more pricey home, and then the baby… and by that point, I’d need a passport (which I didn’t have), and who has the time, really?
I still hope to go back, someday, though I know it won’t be the same – some of that magic of freedom and possibility won’t exist anymore. But maybe there’ll be a different kind of magic, this time.