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The Commons
Photo 1

Fran travels lightly.

Voices / Dispatch

A new open road

When your life fits into two suitcases, you can taste adventure in your soul

Fran Lynggaard Hansen wrote regularly for The Commons prior to her becoming a English-as-a-second-language teacher in China, Egypt, and Kuwait. She has continued to contribute to these pages with periodic dispatches.

Originally published in The Commons issue #415 (Wednesday, July 5, 2017). This story appeared on page D2.

I am checking out of our small hotel 30 minutes outside Venice, Italy. My friend of 40 years left for the United States this morning, and I shall carry on adventuring for the two of us, as I wind my way around Italy for 16 days.

She is tied to her retired life — husband, three houses, grown children — and she doesn’t like to leave them for more than eight days at a time.

My life is the inverse of hers.

I can’t meet others for lunch as she does, so I rally often with my family and friends on Skype. All of my belongings fit neatly into two suitcases. I have divested myself of my house, furniture, taxes, keepsakes, troubles, financial obligations, and requisite car maintenance.

The few objects I do choose to keep (for the nursing home in my future 40 years down the road) are neatly stored in a small unit in New Jersey, which I visit once a year.

I slap my credit card on the counter. How much easier trekking about is now than it was in 1975, when I began traveling the world alone as a 17-year-old with Dr. Scholl’s sandals, a new passport case, and an old leather-and-canvas backpack strapped to my shoulders.

These days, I’m sporting two rolling suitcases purchased in Hong Kong six years ago. They have my Chinese name painted in black ink on the outside, characters carefully drawn in Mandarin by a 14-year-old boy whom I tutored in eighth-grade science. I also carry a much-smaller backpack now, one purchased as a souvenir of a helicopter ride over Barcelona, Spain on my 59th birthday.

I tuck the hotel receipt into my pocket; it will later become the paper for this missive when I write it on the train, steadying my pen and paper on the top of my luggage. I pull up the suitcase handles, swing my pack over my shoulders, and walk my gear out the hotel door like two dogs on a leash, into the sunshine of a cloudless, Italian morning.

The feeling of freedom rising from the center of my being is euphoric. I taste adventure in my soul, and it feeds me like no other food. I can’t help smiling as my pace quickens, sandals slapping against the hot, black pavement of the bicycle path.

Freedom! Inventiveness! Abandon! Independence! Sovereignty!

These emotions are all mine.

* * *

I roll my possessions down the path and then through the tunnel to the train station, where I purchase a paper ticket. An electric passenger train will whisk me through the lush, green countryside to Verona. I know not what awaits me there, but I feel sure it will involve history, art, music, new friendships, architecture, homemade pasta, and local wine.

Suddenly, the poem that has followed me along the path of all my travels pops into my head.

Walt Whitman wrote “Song of the Open Road” in 1856. Whitman was an optimist, a poet whose joy for every flower and tree, for every person with whom he came in contact, seemed to find its way into his work.

He lived in a new America, a country established only 41 years before he became a writer. I live in a new world, too — one with social media, live feeds, and real-time reporting that would have blown Whitman’s mind.

Like me, Whitman had been a journalist and a teacher, and like Whitman, I believe that everything and everyone I meet has a story to tell.

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,/Healthy, free, the world before me,” Whitman wrote. “The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose./Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,/Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,/Strong and content I travel the open road.”

Open, old boot of Italy. Reveal to me your legends and anecdotes, narratives and yarns. My ears are undefended, and my receptive heart is unlocked.

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