Travel and Time Perception
Updated: Apr 30
Two nights before new year I put on a cabaret night called Astro's Nativity New Year Apocalypse at The Glory in London. I sang Auld Lang Syne about 10 times while the audience exploded hundreds of party poppers. I stayed till about 12 o'clock scrapping party poppers strands off the subterranean night club floor. Then I packed all my costumes into bags and left them at my friend's house before flying to India at 7 in the morning. Me and my boyfriend stopped one night in Catania, Sicily, and explored illuminated street with kids setting off fire crackers. Then new year we were in Abu Dhabi airport, in a huge futuristic atrium, drinking the only alcohol available: a selection box Absolut miniatures. Then on the first of January I walked out of Mumbai airport and got hit by a rickshaw. Since then, we've travelled all around the edge of India up to Nepal on some messy spiritual quest.
I was just thinking about all my costumes and makeup from my cabaret night jammed into those bags in my friend's house. When I come back, the way they'll seem like they were left there just a few nights ago - like a time capsule of this other life waiting for me to come back and resume it.
I've noticed this way that time truncates and expands either side of being in a different place or country. There's a castle on the Scottish border where I meet with a group of queer hippies twice a year. We stay there for about ten days, and the place is so familiar that all the periods of time in-between seem to contract and all the memories from the previous times re-emerge. The time when I stood on the stairs in the turret and a guy told me he was in love with me, late night sharing circles in the middle of a room filled with draperies and candles, and dancing wildly in the ball room with people in haphazard drag. And when I go back to a foreign country, words from the language I hadn't remembered for years suddenly pop into my brain. It's almost like there's something beyond physical travel happening. Like different places occupy different parts of my brain, that aren't as easily accessible when I’m not there. It makes me think of Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Narnia. The way everything that happened in those places becomes much more past, much more story, when you leave. I was telling someone about an experience I'd had last time I was in India, meditating on a holy mountain, and how I was going back there. She quickly told me,
'Don't go back!'
That to return somewhere can wreck the previous good time you had there.
I lived in Taiwan for a year and had one of the most meaningful relationships of my life with someone there. I had a bond with Taipei too, I started learning Chinese, and discovered so many places around the city that I loved. But one of my reasons for leaving was knowing culturally I would always be and outsider there. I think it was three years till I came back – it was so strange walking down the street at night to my ex-boyfriend’s house after so much time. Almost like Interstellar or Planet of the Apes when they come back to earth years later and everything has changed. I was outside the Taipei City Mall, a long underground shopping centre attached to the main train station. I put on this Chinese song I loved when I was there and cried. I don’t know why exactly, maybe because this place had been my home and I was happy there and now it was a foreign country. Maybe because the time I’d spent there with Julian was something I could never go back to and being there made that all the more real.
Julian said to me in his traditionally acerbic way,
‘It seems like you want to visit all these places, relive all these memories, but that's in the past for me. I’ve had a lot of boyfriends since you.’
But then he agreed to go to the breakfast restaurant where we ate everyday, and begrudgingly give me my trip down memory lane. I'd never grieved a place like that before, and maybe I'd never grieved the end of a relationship like that either. But I’m glad I didn’t seal it off in my mind and never go there again. It makes me think of the quote by L.P. Hartley ‘The past is a foreign country, they do things different there.’ It makes me think of the poem by Robert Frost. ‘Two roads diverged in a yellow and I'm sorry I could not travel both.’ I’ve wished in moments that I could split myself and have lived both lives, the person that left and the person that stayed.
I recently went back to my old university to put up posters for a cabaret event I was performing in. I don’t think I’d been there since I’d left more than a decade ago. I partly wanted to put those posters up there to achieve something my younger self didn't. The halls were imbued with a feeling of nostalgia rather than any specific memories. All this empathy for my wild and sometimes mis-guided younger self came pouring into me.
I find something between disturbing and melancholic about the way time truncates when you return to another country. It’s worrying in the sense that going back to a place, the whole main story of your life becomes the memory. It makes me see how ephemeral life is. But I try to practice this Buddhist concept that accepting and seeing the impermanence in everything gives each moment meaning.
I’m putting on another cabaret night at the Glory when I get back to London called, 'Astro's Corronation Bukkake Fun-fest.' I wonder how much of a background memory this time now, travelling in Nepal and India, will seem when I open up the time capsule containing all my clothes from three and a half months ago.
You can get tickets to my cabaret night here: OutSavvy