Anticipation

Carly Simon’s hit song “Anticipation” was, according to the singer’s website, composed quickly while she was waiting for Cat Stevens, her date for the evening. I don’t know what sort of date she was anticipating, but the song, released in 1971, was a hit on the singles charts and appeared on several compilations. The melody is spirited, and the uncomplicated lyrics obviously resonated with listeners. Later “Anticipation” was featured in commercials for Heinz Ketchup. I guess you could say that the drawn-out, five-syllable first word of the chorus is almost onomatopoeic; the visual in the commercial was of ketchup slowly deciding to come out of its bottle.

Our multitasking minds probably spend more time looking forward to events than experiencing them, almost as though the foretaste of the ketchup is better than the eating of it. In fact, one of the big questions of travel has always been whether the anticipation of a trip is more rewarding than the trip itself. In his book The Art of Travel Alain de Botton writes, “It seems that unlike the continuous, enduring contentment that we anticipate, our actual happiness with, and in, a place must be a brief and, at least to the conscious mind, apparently haphazard phenomenon . . . . The condition rarely endures for longer than ten minutes.” Is he right?

Soon I will take off on a trip, a real journey this time rather than a virtual one (although the virtual trek will be operating in the background, as always) and I am trying to anticipate the historic landmarks I will see, the exquisitely prepared regional specialties I will sample, the colors of the façades of the buildings, the sounds of the streets at night, the expressions on the faces of people I will see. I am trying, but I seem instead to be preoccupied with packing a capsule wardrobe suitable for the weather swirling through the places I intend to visit. Will I need a raincoat? Will I have room in my suitcase for a Tilley hat? Will I need more than two sweaters? I am preparing to explore the unknown, although you could say that Central Europe isn’t exactly the unknown. When I worked in publishing I went to Germany every year at about this time to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair. In preparation I taught myself two German sentences; Sprechen Sie English? was essential, and Wo ist die Damentoilette? also proved useful. This time we are headed for Berlin, where my two German sentences will still be useful, but afterwards we will explore countries in which I will have no idea how to ask for directions to the ladies’ room.

I guess I’m obsessing rather than anticipating. But maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe the most memorable moments of a trip are those that are impossible to anticipate, like buying a tube of red lipstick in the Marais, or eating crêpes from a food truck, or getting front-row seats to see Juliet Binoche in Anne Carson’s translation of Antigone at the Théâtre de la Ville.

The song “Anticipation” ends with a twist, a call to stop anticipating because “these are the good old days.” Of course this flash-forward to reminiscense is only another form of anticipation. There’s no getting away from it.