A globe-trotter offers some tips for the loneliness of long-distance travelers - Sports Illustrated Vault | SI.com
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A globe-trotter offers some tips for the loneliness of long-distance travelers


Travel may or may not broaden, but it certainly throws a man in on himself. In travels throughout the civilized world over a long period of years I have endured boredom as painful as any hazard faced by an Arctic explorer. Men who travel on business find associates at journey's end, and these sometimes care for them after 6 in the evening, often with booze, sometimes with birds. But businessmen usually want to talk business even after hours, and their wives, if one meets them, can be hazards.

For the true tourist, friends are the only real remedy for the loneliness of the long-distance traveler. Preferably they are people one has known at home, but I have made many friends in transit, and some of them have endured. One must be wary, however, not so much of the cardsharp or the thug as of the bore. Bores can kill you faster than cancer or loneliness.

I have developed some rules for making or avoiding acquaintances while traveling. With an Englishman, I never speak first. I simply wait patiently for a polite fate to make the introduction. Soon some tiny thing will occur, like a shade in a railway compartment suddenly jumping up, or the necessity to pass a drink or a plastic lunch on an airplane, and before you know it the Englishman is chattering away. With a Russian it is difficult to talk at all, not so much because of the language barrier as because of the suspicion—unless you have been cleared for conversation by the Kremlin.

In Japan in 1920 a small man in a large bowler hat and Western costume came up to me, bowed, hissed and said, "Ah, I am gentleman traveling for pleasure." A longtime American resident of Japan later told me that that was the rigid remark of the detective/spy, and they always dressed according to the local idea of American plainclothesmen picked up from the movies of that era.

The Chinese were less intrusive and more distant—one never got to know them. The French rarely bothered a tourist except in the pursuit of his dollars, trying to sell him the traditional "feelthy pictures" along the Avenue de l'Opéra, or offering to exchange bogus francs for traveler's checks. In Naples in the 1920s you would likely be offered a 14-year-old girl by a man with a mouthful of gold teeth who had relatives in "Cheecargo."

At 6 o'clock in the evening in any foreign city one is generally thoroughly footsore and tired of oneself. The cafés of France are then a godsend, as are the pubs of England and the cafés of Berlin's Kurf√ºrstendamm. New York's numerous bars are not nearly so attractive, but at least they are ports in the storm of loneliness. The theater and cinema in London are great refuges. Paris for an American is not so valuable unless his ear for French is well-nigh faultless. French performances all sound to a foreign ear like Corneille or Racine except when they are tout nu.

Sports are the great anodyne for the traveler. I have watched with pleasure tennis at Wimbledon, horse racing at Epsom, Ascot, Goodwood and Sandown, as well as at Longchamp, Chantilly, Saint-Cloud and Maisons-Laffitte. I have been appropriately stirred and horrified by bullfights in Seville and Figueras. I even lost 30 rubles the day after May Day in 1930 at Moscow's harness track.

The worst baseball game I ever saw was in 1924 on a cricket field outside London between two traveling American conglomerate teams. The English did not seem to understand the game any more than we do cricket. Sitting near me was a man who once saw a game in Shanghai between Japanese and Chinese. He was trying unsuccessfully to explain it to a man who knew only cricket and soccer.

Books, magazines and newspapers absorb much of the time of the intellectual tourist. I have enjoyed The Brothers Karamazov during a rainy week in Lugano, Bleak House in Madrid, Shakespeare in the West Indies and D. H. Lawrence's Mornings in Mexico in Moscow. Alexander Herzen's memoirs kept me happy in Paris and London in 1924 during a wet winter. Mark Twain was a great help one summer in Shanghai. He was also pertinent. In 1920, when I was there, Shanghai was an amalgam of prickly heat and steam. In Following the Equator Mark Twain noted that the difference between a warm day in Calcutta and a hot one was that on a hot day the brass doorknobs melted in your hand, but on a warm day they were merely mushy.

For some of us, museums are a solace while traveling abroad. At home in New York I rarely find enough time to visit them, but put me down in a foreign city and I make straight for the Tate, the Prado, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Hermitage or the Louvre. The relief of art from aloneness, however, is only temporary and indigestion soon sets in. Taking in a whole museum, especially one of the dimensions of those I have mentioned, is like eating seven first courses, eight entrees and 15 desserts.

I suppose the best antidote for the loneliness of the long-distance traveler is either to take along a wife or find a substitute en route. But that has its hazards. As Walt Kelly, the creator of the comic strip Pogo, once wrote about women: "[they are] a sometime ornament, never to be taken seriously nor on long trips."