10/06/2009 (4:29 pm)

Flying solo

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I’ve gotten lots of nice responses from readers about how much they relate to my post about dining alone. Some reported now feeling less self-conscious doing so. In turn, I now also feel a little less self-conscious lunching (or dinnering) with nothing but a book to keep me company, here in these non-metropolitan parts.

I have always felt slightly embarrassed by my loner tendencies, as if I were some kind of freak for frequently wanting to slink off on my own, away from everyone else. I’ve often comforted myself with the popular notion that this is how writers are – so I must really be a writer. I’ve alternated that with the “We always thought she was weird, but it turns out she’s just a New Yorker” premise echoed by Roseanne Cash this weekend in the New York Times magazine.

My flying solo hasn’t been limited to meals and kicking around New York City. I have literally flown solo. First there was the trip to the cities in Greece and Turkey that my paternal grandparents hailed from. It was the summer of 1997, and the emotionally unavailable guy I was dating managed to also make himself physically unavailable for two months, vacationing in Thailand. The Pakn Treger gave me an assignment to write about visiting my grandparents’ homelands, but that was really just an excuse for me to see whether that particular peaceful feeling I’ve always experienced while wandering alone in Manhattan could be located in other places, too. Was it a universal feeling, unaffected by geography and/or language?

Well, yes and no. I was doing pretty well when I arrived in Athens, where everyone speaks English. I buzzed happily around the Plaka, eating, drinking and shopping all by my lonesome. But when I got to Thessaloniki, I discovered most people didn’t speak English. And, like the French, those few who did didn’t want to bother. To make matters worse, I hadn’t realized I’d scheduled my arrival for one day before a five-day-long somber holiday – “the Dormition of Mary” – in observance of which, just about everything shut down. With not a soul to speak to, museums shuttered, and few restaurants open, I started to go a little berserk. For once I wasn’t just alone; I was lonely. When the holiday ended, I bumped into another American named Megan at a coffee shop, and the two of us yammered on for hours and hours. Her voice was shrill and annoying and I have no idea what we talked about. But I was happy in that moment to converse with another human being.

Then there was the trip to Paris. If there was ever a time I felt like a loner freak, that was it. I mean, seriously. How many people do you know who go to Paris alone? I went completely on a whim, the morning after break-up number 2 (of 3) with the emotionally unavailable boyfriend mentioned above. As I was leaving his apartment that morning in the fall of 1998, I stumbled upon a flyer on a telephone pole advertising courier flights. For just $200 round-trip, they’d take you to just about any city in Europe. You’d be the body on board representing a particular piece of cargo underneath. You just had to sign some papers at each end, and you could only bring one bag, carry-on size. Fine by me.

I tore off one of the flyer’s fringes with the phone number for Airtech. “When do you fly to Paris?” I asked the man who answered. “Today at 3 pm,” he said. “Can you get to Kennedy Airport by noon?” In the midst of a ten-day hiatus in a project I was working on, I could, and I did.

Two friends of mine were working in Paris at the time. “Remember you said I should visit?” I asked one. “How about I get there tomorrow at 7 am?” I split the time between those two gracious hosts, sleeping on their couches. I spent the days by myself, bouncing from museums to Cathedrals to flea markets to cafes, and loving every instant of it.

It was the perfect thing to do after a second break-up of a lukewarm relationship – get out of Dodge, distract myself with art and architecture and culture and people-watching. There in Paris I found that peaceful feeling. It felt so good, I never cried, not even once.


October 6, 2009 @ 7:27 pm #

THanks for this Sari- I have actually recently gotten into eating alone, and going to a little wine bar on a sunday afternoon with a book for a glass of red. Being single, I think I judge eating alone, or going to a movie alone, like that says something about my singledom. But recently I just let this go, and allowed myself to enjoy my also more quiet, solitary tendencies, with acceptance. It it good to enjoy being with others, but equally good to enjoy yourself. THanks for you thoughtful words.

October 6, 2009 @ 7:43 pm #

Good one… got me thinking about my many solo trips. Last one was to Rio and am never doing that again… felt like I needed to spend every moment of my existence with many people in Rio.

October 7, 2009 @ 5:48 am #

Jennifer, thanks for commenting. I think when I was single, there were times I felt that way, too. Glad you’re enjoying your alone time more these days.

October 7, 2009 @ 5:49 am #

Not only a fellow libra, but also a fellow solo flyer! I’ll avoid Rio!

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