20 October 2010

I've traveled half the world to say...

I do like to travel. If you hadn't figured that out.

Sometimes, the cities and town are a bit pedestrian. Sometimes, they have an intense energy of their own. Sometimes, the people are simply like the ones you pass on the sidewalk at home. Sometimes, they are exceedingly memorable.

Last night, I published a photo of a passageway in Bergen, Norway. This was one of our jaunts when we had an actual guide, a small and improbably Italian young man, and he was the one who'd dragged us to this particular courtyard (from whence I immediately ran away and started snapping photos elsewhere). He was rather adorable, and we privately dubbed him Frodo Hughes, for reasons I think I'll decline to explain. And the adorable? It wasn't because he was sweet or anything so mushy, though he was kind and friendly without being effusive. It had more to do with his passion for guiding (in some cases, herding), and his complete bemusement over certain aspects of Norwegian social life. I never entirely comprehended the story, but he told us about some law against imbibing alcohol during the work week, and thus, everyone got falling down drunk at the weekend.

"Saturday night, it's Armageddon! People rolling around in the street!" Mr. Frodo Hughes told us emphatically, railing with a blistering incomprehension at such behavior.

So "It's Armageddon!" became the familial tagline for a good portion of the trip, because we found it hilarious.

I encounter a lot of drivers, too. Taxi drivers, shuttle drivers, hired drivers. They always have a story or six, and some also have abundant good humor, a necessary ingredient when members of the extended family are thrown into the mix. A darling man that I hired to drive us from London to Dover gave us a little extra tour of London when he heard that the daughter really wanted to see Big Ben. And he put up with a certain elderly woman's non-stop litany of complaints until she fell asleep. I tipped him hugely at the end, and he seemed loathe to take it.

"Miss," he asked, holding the bills. "Are you sure?"

I assured him he'd earned every pence.

And then, there are the times you visit someplace, and you are being watched the whole time: microphones, cameras, guides, and everyone else.

My first night in Soviet-era Moscow, we were shuttled to an elderly hotel because with typical Soviet efficiency, our rooms at the Intourist hotel "weren't ready." When, finally, after what seemed year of flying, passport control, customs and wandering the ring road in search of a place to stay, we were dumped at this horrible building. We hoped for the best, and eventually, got a key, got past the key lady, and got into our room.

"Wha...?" my travel companion C.H. murmured, staring up at the ceiling.

I started, probably unforgivably, laughing. Maybe it was just hysteria after a day plus of travel, the harrassment at the passport station, the lack of sleep, but the two microphones each dangling from a foot of wire from the ceiling had to be the funniest thing I'd ever seen--at least until the moment 8 years in the future on my second trip to Soviet-era Moscow when I spotted the camera lens in the eye of a portrait of Marx.

(I am SO not making this up.)

"Dobryĭ vecher," I sang out, and continued in Russian, "Are you listening?"

(Watching the excellent film The Lives of Others brought the memories of that time back quite eerily. I wondered then, and still do, who were those people listening? What did they think of our inane college-student chatter?)

And so, I travel. I travel with my family; I travel on my own. One of the saving graces of my life is possessing the ability to move about by myself, to be comfortable doing so. I travel carefully, always, but with intention, with a desire to discover more of the world, more of the people who live in it. I have so much fun, but I learn so much along the way. There are stories out there, waiting to be told. People, waiting to be met. Friends to see again. Music to listen to. Hikes to be taken. Delicious food to be discovered. Companionship, camaraderie, the fascinating conversation with someone you may never meet again.

The world is a portrait, a photo, a mirror. I step into it and become better.

Go listen to some good music: "I Belong to You/Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" from the album The Resistance by Muse. Subtext? This is me you're talking to...

No comments: