Stay-at-Home Day 49
Without travel, time passes differently.
A litany of locations used to mete out the passing of a day: distances traversed (my train commute, walks between campus buildings, trips to the bathroom or the copy machine); spaces occupied (the office, the classroom, the coffee shop, the dance studio, the bar).
I first discovered that movement between places expands time when I was traveling alone. I’d explore a new neighborhood and amble through a museum and it still wouldn’t be lunchtime yet. Because the days stretch out for so long, I get the most reading done when I’m traveling solo. I’ve developed the habit of searching for, often researching ahead of time, cute cafes where I might take my afternoon sightseeing break, giving my feet a rest and relishing the seemingly interminable hours with the companionship of a book.
Over the past few weeks I’ve regularly thought back to the epiphany that I had sitting on a bench on a canal in Amsterdam, the realization, I thought, of how long 24 hours really are. Right now, while social distancing certainly feels unending, each individual set of 24 hours zips by before I know it. Different events supposedly distinguish the days: YouTube concerts and Zoom dance classes Tuesdays, online office hours Thursdays, department meeting Fridays, video games with friends and family on the weekends. But where did all the time go? Without changing environs, without also seeing other bodies in motion, my days cannot be apportioned into hours or phases. Space and time are intimately intertwined, and our experiences of one are always tied to the other: I’ve spent years reading and citing theorists and geographers who make these claims, but now I feel it in my body.
In my self-isolation, I find myself vividly recalling my solo travels. This is the only other type of experience I’ve had in my life that requires spending so much time alone. To break up the monotony of walking through my neighborhood—on the days when I make it past my mailbox—I’ve started to go on bike rides, which allow me to get a change of scenery. (When I still lived in my university town, cycling was my commute to campus; now I cycle because there is nowhere to go.) While at first I ventured in the same directions as I would on foot—just slightly farther, to the bordering neighborhoods that in my former normal life I’d pass through—one day I decided to check out the bike path that I knew runs along the American River, about a mile from my apartment. Why had I never gone there before?
I kept stopping to take photos of the serene river and tree-lined bike path—you’d never know you were in the middle of a city. A phrase repeated in my mind, a new mantra about the expansion of my isolated world: the backyard I didn’t know I had. I continued on, unsure of when the next bridge to take me back to my side of the river would come, gleeful to be cycling farther and farther away from home, energized by the sense of wonder, mystery, and discovery. That excitement transported me back to flashes of Poznan, Istanbul, Ghent, and Galway; I recognized the feeling as that of getting lost, or losing myself, in the cities of my travels. It was the heightened awareness that comes from giving myself free rein to go wherever I want, no need to be anywhere or see anything in particular, as long as it’s new.
With my everyday world constricted to the three rooms of my apartment, I’ve become a tourist anytime I step outside.
Sophia Bamert is a PhD candidate in English at the University of California, Davis, where she studies race and urban space in American literature. A native New Yorker, she has done two yearlong teaching exchanges in Germany, during which time she relished the opportunity to explore European cities by foot.