(james benedict brown) on the road

You can’t take that away from me

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 22 July, 2006

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Is it stupid to have a personal philosophy? I always used to think so. I didn’t like the idea of trying to pre-determine my approach to the world and the things that I do with some witty motto or belief. But as the weeks pass, and my diary suddenly begins to look very full between now and my home coming, I’ve realised that I have been living my life this year according to a very important principle.

I am most certainly not a person who is motivated or inspired by material goods or money. I don’t covet anything in particular, and despite being a bit of a car nut and book lover, I don’t depend on having possessions to live my life. The only things that are likely to cause problems with my luggage allowance when I fly home to the UK in September is a small box full of books. And style is certainly something that turns me off. Right now thousands of people are dying in wars, conflicts and famines around the world. I don’t personally believe that there is anything particularly useful or relevant about fashion or style. I spend very little on clothes, shoes and haircuts. In fact, my outgoings are really not extravagant. Yet, despite all this, I have no money. In fact I am one of the thousands of British students in higher education who is riding the wave of easily accessible free overdrafts.

How is it, if I spend no money on clothes, gadgets, a car, or even CDs (and if I live almost rent free) that I have no money?

It’s because all my money has been going on intangible experiences: the things that I I will not need to post or check in as luggage when I fly home to Britain. As I’ve written here before, I’m eating out a lot (for me) at the moment. At least once a week I’ve been out for breakfast or dinner at a restaurant or diner somewhere on or near the Plateau. Since eating out is such an expensive luxury in Britain, I’m savouring every chance that I have to be able to eat out cheaply while I’m still here. I don’t go out to eat so much for the food itself (although it was heavenly to have someone cook Eggs Benedict for me the other at L’Anecdote on St. Hubert the other day) but for the intangible atmosphere I get to experience sitting in a Montréal diner or café: the attention of a friendly server; the over heard conversations; the smells and feelings of a busy diner that I won’t be able to experience again when I get back home.

But eating out more often is a temporary luxury because of my present situation (living almost rent free in a country where eating out is just cheaper than back home). While flicking through my new diary this week, and thinking ahead to the plans I have for the next month or so, I realised the permanent addiction that I have. If one day, things do not work out, and the bailiffs come to take away my possessions to pay off my debts, I won’t have any regrets about losing my material goods. The real reason I have no money is that I am an incurable traveller. I am not tempted by the round the world or far eastern oddyseys of many of my friends, but I am always excited by the opportunity to construct my own itinerary to a destination that is far from the beaten track. The old saying goes that the journey can be more important than the destination. For me, I have realised that the journey begins even before I leave the house. In quiet lunch hours and stolen moments online, I am a compulsive dreamer of voyages and travels. I get so much value from my holidays, because every moment spent planning and researching the trip is as rewarding as the trip itself. The never ending hunt for the elusive cheap train or plane fares encourages me to investigate new or unconsidered itineraries. New opportunities and options pop up and tempt me at every turn. I don’t believe that this time last year I could have predicted all the journeys that I have taken this year: they are delightful products of an inquisitive and exciteable mind… I am as surprised as you are that I managed to visit the world’s largest mushrooms in Vilna, Alberta (see photo above left) or a frozen sea in Churchill, Manitoba.

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If all goes to plan (and I don’t get fired for spending too much of my lunch break checking train tickets online) I will be spending the next few weekends enjoy a few final blissful North American trips. Next weekend will give me the chance to explore some of the countryside around Montréal with friends and a hire car. After that comes the possibility of a long weekend in Toronto to see JS’s show and finally join the dots in a city that I feel I really haven’t been able to grasp in my previous rapid visits. Then I’ve been roped in (quite happily) to help LN move to New York. I’ve also been invited to come along to a weekend in the cabin of a friend of a friend in New Hampshire… and all that is before I head south on the big Alabama and Louisiana trip. The Venice Architecture Biennale was very interesting four years ago, and it could be a reading week trip for this autumn. Plus, a happy combination of circumstances could bring me back to this side of the pond in January, and I’d very much like to spend some time in Chicago.

So if my blog begins to suffer, with entries that are either plain dull or infrequent, please forgive me. I’m just a little busy…

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