A few months ago someone asked me what my hobbies are. I said writing. Since he already knew I write as a job, he asked what else I liked to do, naming a few possible interests–like his own collection of exotic pets. My answer was still writing.
It occurred to me afterwards that I could have said traveling is one of my hobbies, but even though I’ve been dozens of far-off places, it’s not really true. I don’t “love to travel” in the sense of visiting as many places as possible and seeing all the sights.
If I go somewhere, I usually do it because I have a friend there or a job. I am more interested in people and cultures than in places or destinations. I’d rather visit the school a friend teaches at or interview the neighbors than go to tourist attractions (though I inevitably do some of the latter while traveling).
I’m also a strange mixture of home-body and globetrotter; when I studied in Cairo many of my friends trekked to as many nearby countries as possible, but I never left Egypt. I am willing to go just about anywhere, but once I’m there I want to settle in and have regular life habits.
Basically, I’m an anthropologist, not a traveler. Of course the distinctions aren’t neat and simple: oth are visitors, and whereas “travelers” often don’t see what’s really going on in a place, anthropologists can be criticized for seeing through the colonial gaze.
This month I’m in Phoenix staying with my beloved friend Mary and doing some photography and writing. Since it’s only a short stay, the way I take in the city will be limited, but so far my head is a mosaic of comparisons and contrasts to other places I’ve been. The comparison that surprises me most is to Harrisburg, where I currently live. I’ll be writing more about that in the coming weeks.
Arizona sun at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. January 2012