Both sides|Traveler or Sojourner?

  • Diario de Xalapa
  • en Cultura

By Eileen Sullivan  


That famous travel writer Graham Greene contended that it was the vivid impressions of the first fortnight in a new locale that counted: after that, the edge of fresh perception dulled. More interesting to me, however, are layers to be peeled back in order to get to the heart of a new venue. And for that, simply passing through is insufficient; one must be a sojourner.

As a retiree, my mind first turned to “travel” as a pastime.  After a few tentative sallies, I became discouraged by the long uncomfortable trips and the short stays, which swiftly blurred into an accelerated mental slide show. Worse yet were the fellow travelers, vacant-eyed individuals evidently intent on hurrying home to recite the points on their itinerary.  Or others for whom the trip appears to have held the promise of superficial social life on the go.

Thus, I discovered that that I am a sojourner. There is something leisurely and genteel, something fin de siècle in that English word–in the best of cases, sans the darker, Jamesian implications.  The word has a certain ambivalence which become more evident upon translating it into Spanish. Perhaps it is that same ambivalence that dwells in me.

A traveler, clearly, is one who is simply passing through.  The sojourner, on the other hand, makes a stay…realiza una estancia.  A translator who risks finding an equivalent noun, however, is confronted with an array of presumed equivalents that are clearly at odds:  peregrino (pilgrim), huésped (guest), extranjero (stranger), forastero (outsider), and the ultimate distancing, the alien: one who is “ajeno,” almost to the point of belonging to another galaxy!

These apparent contradictions are not irreconcilable.  Indeed, the sojourner gravitates toward a place on the basis of an attraction; sometimes this occurs periodically, as one on an annual pilgrimage.  Our mind turns to James’ Wings of the Dove, where ostensibly a warmer climate is sought, but the secondary benefit of favorable marriage match would also be welcome. And, yes, the sojourner is also a”guest,” who must watch their P’s and Q’s…one who is initially perceived by locals as strange and alien, but who–with any luck–gradually becomes part of the landscape and eventually, by ingratiation, manages a degree of participation in everyday life.  And occasionally, the sojourners may be a “forasteros,” outlaws who come from beyond the city’s walls to hide out, jealously guarding their true identity.  The ultimate outsiders, I suppose.

And so, I discover myself a sojourner by choice, and am forced to conclude that the roles of artist, expatriate and sojourner–all of which imply life on the periphery and peering in–are my own preferred roles.