An Adventuress

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.


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8 Responses to An Adventuress

  1. Glad your adventuressing will be bringing you our way next week. Can’t wait. Safe travels.

  2. Laura Athena says:

    You make a great adventuress Dora! I must say, I too thrill to the stories of those Victorian women who climbed mountains and explored jungles, classifying new species of plants, and getting to know and understand the different cultures…. (Which reminds me – have you read “High Albania”? It’s a fascinating book I was reading just last week about a true “adventuress”). As of now I have never myself travelled beyond the boundaries of my homeland – but when I can afford it, and when I am a bit older, I will travel in person all the places I have traveled in imagination…

    • Thank you so much! 🙂 And no, I haven’t read it, but I’ll put it on my list. I have no doubt that you’ll be able to have the adventure you want. And just remember, if you want to do something, there’s always a way — it just takes a while to figure out, sometimes . . .

  3. Joel LeBlanc says:

    I love your post so much, simply because it resonates with something inside myself that I haven’t had many Words for up until now. I grew up on a cliff by the sea, but my eyes were always on the dirt road winding away from my house, through the valley and towards the horizon. Even today I find myself working as a smartly dressed herbalist in a health store, in a mall, where I sell people herbs packaged in shiny bottles with stylish lettering, and the active chemicals listed on the ingredients. Sometimes I think I would prefer to be the dirty hermit in the forest, collecting hidden medicines and listening as the wild breathed fairy tales through the air .

    But really, I want to be a Wanderer and Adventurer, a pouch of aromatic herbs tied to my belt, a notebook of stories, poems and magic in my bag, and when my MP3 player dies out I’d have my Ocarina with me, so I can play songs to myself, and others. The life of a Sojourning Mystic sounds about right. That is what I always admired about Gandalf, traveling around Middle Earth in his little wagon, singing a song and smoking a pipe.

    For now my life works and achieves a lot of things — I get to help a lot of people, do a lot of things, learn and absorb knowledge. But I long so badly to throw off the name-badge and exchange it for a plane ticket to somewhere far away with roads to walk, bookshops to accident upon, and new friends to stumble into.

    • That sounds lovely, Joel! 🙂 I have no doubt that you’ll find a way to have the adventures you want. In my life and the lives of my friends, I’ve seen that if you truly want something, there’s always a way to get it. It just usually takes longer than you want it to. (In my case? It always seems to take a year longer than I expected. Really, that’s the usual timeframe.) The best of luck!

  4. andygrrrl says:

    Having done a fair bit of traveling myself, I can really relate to this post! There’s something addictive about adventure, finding your way through a foreign city with not much more than a map and your wits. It certainly builds confidence, if nothing else. But do you ever get puzzled reactions from people? It seems like a lot of people don’t really want adventures of their own. When tell people about my (solo) travels, they always say “Oh, I could never do that!” I always get the impression that they think it’s a bit odd to spend Christmas in Athens, or visit Cordoba in February (actually, I don’t recommend Spain in February, unless you don’t mind rain).

    And yes, seeing art in the flesh, as it were, is so different from book illustrations. I was in Paris in January one year and they had David’s “The Death of Marat” on loan (it’s permanent home is in Belgium or somewhere, inexplicably). I had no idea it was so big! I’ll never forget it.

    • Yes, The Death of Marat is in Brussels! I saw it a week ago! 🙂

      And yes, I do get those reactions. People talk about wanting adventures, but when I start talking what I do, they start telling me they couldn’t — I’m not sure why. Couldn’t travel by themselves, for example . . . I think adventures are legitimately uncomfortable, and the sorts of people who like them are also the sorts of people who like a little discomfort in their day, who prefer to be a bit discombobulated. They like to look at food and say, I have no idea what it will taste like, therefore I will try it.

      But a lot of people don’t want uncertainly or discomfort . . .

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