Friday 27 September 2013

Wednesday 31 July 2013

What Travellers Share

“It’s a shame you can’t keep them.” I said. “It’s a shame the most amazing people I meet, I meet when I travel and because they’re travelling, because I’m travelling, it doesn't last.”

“But that’s their beauty.” He replied. “Their beauty is in their flight. They wouldn't have wings if they weren't in motion.”

And that’s what defines a traveller: the motion.

It’s something about knowing it won’t last that makes you open up. You didn't know each other before and you might not meet again, so it all has to happen now. You have to tell the person you’re with how you feel and think because otherwise it will stay inside, unsaid and unshared.

And in that moment, how you feel and think can be however you want to feel and think. You don’t have to be who they expect you to be. Someone you've only just met doesn't expect you to be anything at all. And so you share who you are on that day, in that moment. The person who is a little bit different to all the days before and all the days after.

But part of you did came before and part of you will carry on after. And so you share it all. You share where you've been and where you’re going, because if you don’t share it now, with the person in front of you, you’ll be miles from anyone who knows. You’ll be lost.

You share being lost. You might think that you’re sharing directions or tips, prices, names of places to go, ruins to visit, histories of countries, cafes to sit in, bars to drink in. But you’re sharing being lost. You’re sharing that you don’t know, that you couldn't possibly know.

You might try to take something back from the unknown. To keep a shell you found, a bracelet you bought, a tattoo you got, a photo you took. But you can’t, really, take it back. It will lose its life if you try.

You can’t take the place home with you, so you share it with the person there. You’ll forget it once you've left. You’ll forget what it tasted like; you’ll forget the exact feeling of the hammock on your bare legs, of the ache in your muscles, of the path under your feet. And because you’ll forget, because you’ll forget the names, you’ll forget what you did in those hours where you didn't do anything, because you’ll forget it, it has to be lived.

You have to look at the world around you now. You have to share what you see, the details that you would miss, the language of signs that gives the place its meaning. You lend each other foreign words. And more than once, you lend each other your tiredness, your frustration, your confusion. And then you take it back, because one moment of awe erases it all.

You share a sight, or a sound. You share your thoughts or your bodies. You share nights in and nights out. The slow days, and the ones where you don’t sleep. You share the height of a mountain, the distance of nowhere, the cold of the sea and the heat of a campfire. You think you share the happiness you feel when you travel, but you really share who you are. Because it’s not only happiness you feel when you travel. You feel it all. You laugh and shout and sing and scream and dance and sleep and smile and cry and grieve and long and feel peace and fear and strength and helplessness. You don’t feel happiness when you travel, you feel life.

You are life. Life moving and moving, in circles as it does. The movement through hellos and goodbyes, through arrivals and departures, through day and night, through growth and decay. And that’s what you share. You share life.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

How to make a decision in a world with so much choice

In Ted Talks, Barry Schwartz discusses The Paradox of Choice. He comments that the more choices we have, the harder it is to choose. Some of us become paralyzed by this choice and are unable to make any decision. When we do choose, we’re less likely to be happy with what we have, because we can imagine the alternatives we didn’t choose. The more alternatives there are, the higher our expectations. The more likely that one of those options must be perfect.

Schwartz claims that the secret of happiness is this: low expectations.

Well, I don’t see how I can ask for less choices please. When I stand in the wine section pretending I know anything about regions and grapes and bottle shapes, I can hardly say: could you just hide a few of them?

There’s no escape from decision making, or from choice. So there has to be a way to turn it to your advantage. Maybe you have to throw away the idea of the “right" choice and instead have fun with how many wines there are to taste, how many types of food to try, how many countries to visit, how many people to meet.

Then again, some decisions you can only make once. Those are the ones you should think about. Are you going to talk to that person? Or let them get off the bus. Are you going to end something that’s not working, knowing you can’t then get it back?

But even these decisions can be remade. Not in the same place, with the same person. But with someone else on another bus, another person, another place, but the same thing: opportunity.

What really counts, are the decisions you make over time. The ones that add up to how you spend your time, your life. To quote from the film Cloud Atlas:

"Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future."

To see Barry Schwartz on Ted Talks click here.

Tuesday 16 July 2013

A Romance with Travel: The Night In Florence

Sometimes I decide I am through, forever through, with travel.

I had spent a beautiful weekend in Rome with someone I had left behind in England. The cost of travel was seeming pretty high. (And au pairing had mostly brought cleaning up food and soil and oil and having plates thrown at my head.) So after three delayed trains in a row, I ended up stuck in Florence for the night.

I know, it sounds like a good thing. But not after Rome, not after seeing him again.

Wandering out of the station with the intention of finding a hostel, I bumped into this guy. Well, he stopped me asking where he should go next. Then said, 'wow, you have such presence.' At which point I was already thinking, ‘will you just fuck off? I’m heart broken.’

When I asked him how old he was he said 17000 because I live every day as if it’s ten years. I asked him again and he said 3, because I never stop asking questions and the world is new. I said will you get to the fucking point, and he said 19. 

Pretty much the same thing with asking him his name:‘I don’t believe in names as they tie you to an identity’. 

He also made his own clothes as he thought we should express ourselves more freely. It was some kind of long dress that had an elegance and looked quite Eastern, as well as filthy and in desperate need of a wash. He also had shoes that were too big, and I might have thought he was homeless, except that he had a macbook pro.

He’d come to ‘Italia’ (I’m pretty sure ‘si’ and ‘Italia’ were his only Italian so he insisted upon using them constantly) to get a pen handmade by someone who promised to do it if he wrote an important essay with it.

He said one and only one interesting thing: Apparently ants use significantly more energy than we do (20 times more?) and yet they have no damaging impact. His explanation: clearly the Fourth Dimension. He then went on to write in reverse to show me the new 4D language he was forming.

So, I ended up wandering through Florence at night with him.

Him and a Portuguese guy who we met when he stopped us in the rain by saying, ‘Look! That’s where the cloud stops! I’ve always wondered where that happens…’

The Portuguese guy actually seemed fairly down to earth, minus his really annoying question to nameless guy: ‘So you like philosophy; does that mean you smoke weed?’

And there was a girl from Rome. The Portuguese guy's temporary girlfriend. They would break up when he went to Venice.

So the four of us went to ponte vecchio at night, and there were the padlocks. I don’t care what other people say. I think they’re cute. Each of them is where someone has said to someone else, ‘I care’. And that’s beautiful. 

It was pretty but I was trying to get back home after my Roman adventure. I’d done Florence another time, my head was spinning from the guy I'd left to travel, and I just wanted today to be yesterday so it could be a little less raw.

And there was Roman Girl blabbing on about, ‘where chance meets chance… destiny is at the crossroads’ meanwhile Too Much of a Twat for a Name Guy was sounding like he was being laid. ‘Oh yeah! Oh wow! Ahhhhhh! Where chance meets chance!’

Around 4, through the rain, I made it back to the train station. No Name still following. He took it up again, despite my insistent and explicit Not Interesteds.

‘Am I not courageous enough for you?’

Well, I've never been asked that before.

I got the train and had all of half an hour's sleep before going straight to another day of 4 crazy Italian boys.

And still, I didn't break up with travel.

Friday 5 July 2013

Things I Miss About Travel: A Very Indefinitive List

Not cooking unless I wanted to
Drinking horchata with ice cream
Falling in love, constantly, with everything
Learning new words
Not knowing where I would spend the night
Laughing at how stupid what I'm doing is
Thinking that people who spend years travelling are normal
Listening to 80s music on old school buses
Being a stranger (and all the questions that came with it)
Speaking to strangers (and all the answers and even more questions that came with it)
Not having a plan
Not feeling like I should have a plan
Being in places I'd seen photos of
Seeing petrified waterfalls (well, one)
Not going home when I was meant to
Meeting people who do what they love
Replacing "goodbye" with "until the next time"
Getting perspective on how much I have
Moments of kindness from strangers
Huge acts of kindness from strangers 
No one caring if I only have 3 tops
Not having a mirror
Trying to get to know someone from scratch
Sharing who I am with people I barely know
Change: constant and unstoppable
Learning what I can do when things don't work out
Reading about travel whilst doing it
Rarely having to be anywhere "on time"
Spending all day in a hammock
Spending all day walking around a new city
Spending all day in the sea (or on top of it)
Being slightly less pale
Pinching myself and thinking: I'm so lucky to be where I am right now
Not thinking in pounds or dollars or euros but a currency I'd never heard of before
Waking up for sunrise
Watching the world through a bus window
Celebrating Christmas in the jungle
Riding on the top of buses
Trying to understand what the hell is happening around me
People wearing tops with English slogans they don't understand
Getting wolf whistled (it gives me an excuse to get self righteous)
Following other people's crazy whims
Following my own crazy whims
Surrendering to the unexpected, the inconvenient and the irreplaceable 
Being in the moment

A Political Party...Nicaraguan Style

Buses full of Nicaraguans travelling from one town to the next to hear politicians speak (from the FSLN)...and then there was dancing. Lots of it.

I'm sure this is the cure to political apathy.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Miradas Introspectivas

A Pictographic Exhibition

Photo: Muestras de expo. " Miradas Introspectivas..."
Artists Jaime Mastranzo and Guadalupe Sum
"I like to paint from nothing. To have a blank page. That's how children draw. Not from direct observation but from their reality. In the moment, spontaneously, subconsciously. With sincerity."

I met Jaime in Granada, Nicaragua, in the middle of a poetry festival. I liked him the moment we started talking and he let one thought fall from another with such insight and observation. Which is funny, because his figures don´t have mouths. They express themselves with their eyes, or at times, their music.

We met again by chance at a concert in Xela, Guatemala. He was sat beside one of the figures I'd seen in his drawings - his friend Jafael. The three of us went to the park where Jaime and Jafael took it in turns with the guitar.
In the drawing, Jafael has lines of movement and energy that come from him and his guitar and reverberate throughout his surroundings. As he played, three drunk men who had been asking us for money gathered around and started clapping and dancing. One by one they each gave him a coin. Then they all hugged each other, drunkenly sharing some truth of brotherhood.

That's how Jaime paints - not just with technique, but with life. His reading, his living, his experiences all pour into his art.

As we head to the gallery, I notice he's holding a book called Oceano Mar. Then there it is in his work - the sea. Turquoise is his favourite colour - I see both his travels and my own painted within it. Water colours capture the fluidity of a life lived in motion. 

But throughout the recurring images of travel - sea, boats, different types of architecture - is the grounding of home. The houses beneath the gazer, the small town on a boat, the six stars that represent his family, the trees that show the roots of a rich Mexican history and culture. 

And the image throughout it all - a spiral, a shell. Jaime says he's interested in semiotics - in the language of signs. The shell represents time. It's a movement inwards or outwards depending upon the gaze. It has a connection with the rest of the world. Its part of his obsession with fractals - segments which contain the whole. 

For me, this simple form ties together his work. It's a balance I find myself trying to make - between movement and stillness. It's a home you take with you.

Jaime Mastranzo's work can be found in exhibition Friday 15th March at 18:30, 3 Ave. 7-35, Zona 1, Quetzaltenango (Xela). His work will be shown alongside that of the Guatemalan artist Guadalupe Sum whose work aims at capturing the magic and mystery of the city.