I want to be an adventuress.
But that term has been used in some pejorative ways, so I have to specify what I mean by it. What I mean is a female adventurer. You know, like those Victorian women who went to distant lands, and learned the local languages, and climbed the Himalayas — often in not very practical Victorian clothing. Why then don’t I simply use the term adventurer? I suppose because it doesn’t have the same feel to it, the same sense of breaking boundaries and doing it with a sort of style and grace. I want some of the connotations of the word. But not others, because the term often describes women who use their charms and wiles to live off men — and that’s the opposite of adventure. An adventure requires self-reliance, guts. An adventure involves discovering yourself.
This was the conclusion I came to, that I wanted to be an adventuress, after returning from Europe. Which happened yesterday, actually. Yesterday morning I was in Budapest, and today I am in Boston. This is the last picture of myself that I took in Hungary, leaning against the railing of the Szabadság híd (Liberty Bridge), looking at the Danube. It was almost sunset: Budapest has the most gorgeous light at sunset.
What I learned, being in Europe for two months, was how easily I moved around, how much I loved the act of traveling. Of looking out a train window. Of getting into an airplane and flying to another country. Of carrying adapters, and trying to figure out new plumbing arrangements, and making my way in another language. Did you know that in England, there are no electrical outlets in bathrooms? It’s illegal, so you have to go into another room to dry your hair. Also, all over Europe, it’s useful to know the term “to take away,” which is equivalent to the American “to go,” because you are charged more for food that you’re going to eat in.
I like going to museums and seeing original paintings for myself: Renaissance art, for example, looks completely different for real than it does reproduced. It’s only when you see it for real, and up close, that you realize its complete brilliance. In Brussels, I saw Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Bruegel (at least we think it’s by him, but maybe not say the art scholars). I had the impulse to bow before it, as though I were meeting an important personage . . . I like figuring out maps and metro systems, walking through a strange city and seeing the architecture, coming upon small cafés and bookshops. In Budapest I found an English bookshop and bought too many books. In Brussels I came across an outdoor antiques market and bought some English transferware coffee cups. Ever after, I can look at those things and say, yes, I found that copy of Margaret Atwood’s Alia Grace in Budapest. Or I brought those cups all the way back from Brussels.
There are good and bad things about being an adventuress. It means that I’m not very good at living a quiet life. I need to be doing things, going places, and there’s a sort of restlessness in that: I always feel as though I should find contentment in simply being. But that’s not who I am, and I think it’s better to accept that about myself than fight against it. I want a life of adventures and new experiences — sometimes those are uncomfortable and inconvenient, sometimes they can even be frightening. I don’t like inconveniences any more than the next person, and I try to avoid dangers. But the lure of adventures, of new things, even the smallest — of using different kinds of money, eating different kinds of foods! That is a great and powerful lure.
I think I’ll add one more picture, also of myself looking at the Danube that final evening. It was hot and I had put my hair up — I twist and tuck it, and it stays up by itself. But the bridge was windy, and the wind blew my hair down, so I ended up with this. I’m ending with it because I think it makes a fine Portrait of an Adventuress.