Last week I celebrated 2 years of living in Spain. However, Spain was not my first foreign adventure. It was 7 years ago when my wandering started and when I left my native Belgium behind me. It was a lifelong dream coming true when I left Brussels Airport and set sail to Dublin. It was almost 7 years ago, another celebration. Travelling is the love of my life, nothing is as beautiful as the discovery of a new culture, settling amongst people and immersing yourself in their culture, their way of life. It is fascinating each time again when you set foot in a new place where every new conversation with a stranger and every single corner and street is a new discovery. It has been a fascinating trip so far and the love for travelling and discovery is still burning heavily. With a lot of Middle Eastern countries, a few Latin American countries such as Cuba and Bolivia, and a few African and Asian countries still on the list, as well as the arctic parts of Europe, I still got enough to dream about and hopefully realise in the future.
Going away and emigrate, travel the world, was a dream for as long as I can remember. Already as a 5 year old I spent hours every week locked up in my room, studying maps and trying to memorise the locations of tiny islands and very remote isolated villages on the map, wondering how they would be like in real and how life would be in those tiny places indicated by a tiny dot on the map. It couldn’t be too obscure or it caught my interest. Pitcairn Islands, Puerto Williams and Puerto Toro on the Isla Navarino, Svalbard and Murmansk, Nunavut, Tuvalu, the emptiness of Mongolian steppe, the ancient mosques and bazaars of the Arab world, the isolation of the Falklands and St Helena, the sprawling and cosmopolitan vibe of Hong Kong…. I could dream away for hours and read travel guide after travel guide. My books were my best friends during a childhood which, due to a combination of reasons, was quite depressing and claustrophobic. Leaving and seeing the world was the dream, the oxygen, when I felt suffocating.
So leaving was a lifelong dream, but nonetheless cutting the ties with the places you know so well and which are so familiar, is not that easy. But the excitement of taking off to a place where everything was new and where every step, every person you meet and every corner you turn is a new discovery, was too big. You can settle down and make a travel to Egypt or China each year, but that just didn’t interest me. I wanted to live amongst the people there and immerse myself in their culture, their way of life. Photographing some pyramids of temples does not mean you know how the country works. The desire to emigrate was too big and so off I went…
Like some songs remind you of a specific place, there were two songs that remind me of that moment when the decision was made to chase the dream. "Slave to the Wage" by Placebo was the first one.
"Run away from all your boredom, run away from all your whoredom and wave your worries and cares goodbye
All it takes is one decision, a lot of guts and a little vision to wave your worries and cares goodbye"
Brian Molko, the vocalist of Placebo, wrote this as a message to Luxembourg, the country where he spent a lot of his teenage years and which he hated. The message is clear: if you don’t like the place you’re living in, just take a risk and don’t let the chance of failure make you crawl back. It indeed just takes one decision and some guts.
But the song that probably reflects my desire for travel and discovery most of all is "Walk This World" by Heather Nova.
Ah, Heather Nova, the siren from Bermuda. In a way I guess there is –without wanting to call myself an ego– some common ground with her. She is a poet, a writer. I write too. She was born in an exotic location: the isolated but idyllic Bermuda Islands halfway the UK (to which it is politically tied) and North America, but she has spent her youth sailing the Caribbean Seas on a boat built by her parents. To travel and sail away in the open seas was the dream of her parents, a dream they realised with young Heather and her siblings on board. Heather grew up with travelling. Later on she would study briefly in the USA before heading off to Europe and settle for a while in London to launch her musical career. This career caused more road trips as tours took her all across Europe and the States, before after many years she returned to Bermuda to start a family. She sure has travelled a lot indeed.
Heather Nova to me was a turning point music-wise. I was 18 or 19 when I discovered her music thanks to the album "Siren". At that point I was stuck somewhere halfway the teenage worrylessness of dance music and pop, and the in-depth lyrics of Ian McCulloch, Morrissey, Robin Proper-Sheppard, …. Ultimately I was so impressed by Heather Nova’s lyrics, the way she managed to describe simple emotions in such beautiful metaphors and such beautiful poetic words, … that I left behind pop music and headed the path of alternative music. The years from that moment onwards, Echo & The Bunnymen, The God Machine, The Smiths, The Connells, and several others became my musical delight. But it is safe to say that maybe without Heather Nova’s impressive albums Siren and Oyster (and even Glow Stars, an often forgotten gem that still holds a special place in my music collection) I would have never discovered those other bands which I named. Heather paved the path for my future musical inspirations and choices. While due to her reduced touring and promotions the last couple of albums escaped from my attention a bit, I still treasure the early albums such as Glow Stars, Oyster and Siren. Songs such as "Winterblue" and "Heart & Shoulder" are of an amazing beauty both vocally and lyrically, "Light Years", "My Fidelity", "Frontier", "Just Been Born" and "Verona" had an entrancing hypnotising mysterious sound. Music is very much a matter of taste, but there is no denying that Heather Nova ranks amongst the best female vocalists of the recent era. Her vocal reach is an undeniable proof of that.
A fan favourite and regular on concerts is "Walk this world" and this was that second song that gave me that final push in the back to move away and start my wandering. "Walk This World" is an ode to travelling, to discovery, to exposing yourself to the beauty of this world and open yourself to different ways of life, new experiences and new places. Exactly the reasons which made me decide to chase my travelling dream. In a way I can say "Walk this world" is a bit of an anthem to me.
A nice coincidence is the video clip in which a young and (without wanting to dig up clichés) natural beauty Heather is shot singing and playing the guitar in various locations in Istanbul. We see the Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque), the borders of the Bosphorus, …
I lived in several countries so far but none got under my skin as much as Turkey. I love Istanbul. It is so big that every district is a distinctive city on its own. The maze of little alleys with old housing is so big you can get lost for weeks. Culture is everywhere, history is all around you. The city combines the vibe of the European West (Taksim Square and the nighlife districts of Beyoglu and Kadiköy, the lay-back attitude of a tea in a sofa with view on the Bosphorus in Ortaköy or Besiktas) with the ancient history of the Middle East (the hauntingly beautiful Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya, Dolmabahçe Palace, the endless labyrinth that is the Grand Bazar in Beyazit, …) with in addition the lovely sights when walking along the boards of the Bosphorus, seeing the lights of the other side of the city in the distance. The city got under my skin from the first moment I arrived and I was amazed by so much beauty. It is still a dream of mine to return there and stay for a much longer time than my first period in Turkey. Could it be a coincidence that this city was the decor for my favourite travel anthem??
I will finalise this writing with the lines which I consider the ultimate ode to travel. Thank you Heather!
"With the light in our eyes it’s hard to see
We’re holding on and on to what we believe
With the light in our eyes it’s hard to see
I’m not touched but I’m aching to be"
Let’s hope I can continue walking this world for many more years. Because I stand by my earlier statement: travelling and discovering this world, there’s little or nothing that can beat that. And there’s still a lot of destinations on my list, from obscureness and remoteness in Siberia and arctic Canada to the mysteriousness of Jerusalem and China, and plenty of other places in between. Holding on and on to what we believe…