Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Post-Travel Experience

"All I could think of on my last day in Lamartine was that Sunday evening in Rome - opening our suitcases, putting everything back in its dull place in an apartment from whose shuttered windows indelible sounds would make it impossible to imagine we were still in Paris, even though our suitcases would still smell of Paris and the sound of Bach would remind me of Paris, as would the cheap pens with the sliding Eiffel Tower I was planning to buy before leaving or the punched metro ticket and the residual pack of vichy candies stuffed inadvertently into my coat pocket and recovered weeks into our humdrum Roman lives. I thought of Square Lamartine and of the fountain that was right in front of me, but already no longer so. What in Egypt had seemed only a dream had come to life, only to become a dream again." 
-Andre Aciman, "The Last Time I saw Paris"

Now and then when I read a line of writing, I think yep, that's true. It always stuns me, to read my own experience on someone else's page. Usually it's one of Anne Lamott's pages (if you've never read Traveling Mercies, I really couldn't recommend it more), but this time it was a page from the high-falutingly titled The Best American Essays 2000. Though unlike Aciman, I don't dread the post-travel return to my own home - rather I look forward to it - but he has nailed the way moments abroad come to be mixed up with things: postcards, recipes, songs, bits of paper in my pocket. 

As I walked through the streets of Dublin, hands shoved in my raincoat pockets for warmth, I pulled out a bit of tile from the Barcelona beach. As I flipped through my wallet this week to pay the doctor, I found an airline ticket stub from our flight to Prague. As I look at the wall above my desk, I see postcards from Belgrade, Paris, and Oxford.

When I make dinner, I page through a cookbook filled with business cards from a Belgian bakery and a Spanish Tapas bar, a Hungarian restaurant and a Bulgarian bagel place. On our table sit bowls of beach bits, some from Barcelona, some from Dublin. The fridge sports the marathon route in Vienna, night train tickets to Serbia, and Cirque de Soleil passes from Brussels. 

Watching Vicky Christina Barcelona, J'etaime Paris, L'auberge Espanol, listening to "Eres un Canalla" and U2  - these experiences mean something new to me. They now call up memories of the past, to mix with the visions the artists present. 

As Andre Aciman so aptly expresses, there is something about the way these little bits and pieces of travel mix into life that is beautiful. My days seem to integrate my memories of travel, inviting me to engage in visions of all that I have seen, heard, smelled, and tasted. As I fall asleep, I sometimes choose a place to visit in my imagination - walking down the streets of the Quartier in Paris, enjoying the view from the Charles Bridge in Prague, feeling the heat sitting heavily on me as I lay in bed listening to the call to prayer in Istanbul. That way, I don't mind if I can't fall asleep. There is so much to do in my imagination. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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