Some of the pleasures of leaving your home and traveling to Somewhere are your encounters with the new, the unexpected and the strange. Why else travel? During her long life, the British explorer Freya Stark (1893-1993) traveled to many Somewheres. The following words appear in her Baghdad Sketches, 1932:
“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure. You have no idea of what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown and accept whatever comes.”
Whether you tiptoe one step at a time into the stream or leap into it with a big splash, your acceptance of “whatever comes” is crucial to living in the Somewhere. But often, especially if you travel alone, you may find that, in addition to to being surrounded by adventure, you also carry your aloneness, the awareness of being a stranger. Natives may welcome you, but you are still someone from somewhere else.
The “Somewhere” depicted in this painting is the city of Venice, a lovely pearl, doomed to sink into the Adriatic under the weight of its own centuries and the perhaps even more fatal assault of legions of tourists and sightseers.
Here is the full sketch for the watercolor:
Throughout its history, the city has been painted by innumerable artists, most memorably by Canaletto, Manet, Turner and J.S. Sargent. I find it impossible to bear the weight of their great works. It was easier to at least avoid painting the obvious sights: the canals, the Bridge of Sighs, the gondolas and vaporetti. So I chose instead a side street on a rainy night and a traveler, a woman alone.
As you can see, I eliminated the three policemen on the right side of the sketch and emphasized the dinner party in the restaurant on the left. What I wanted to show was her isolation: she finds herself in one of the most romantic cities on this earth, but she is a stranger, alone. She is not invited to the party. But In my imagination, she is a wise traveler, like Freya Stark. She knows that she swims in the stream and she accepts whatever comes.