Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Alex and spicey mango.

  I am a cantankerous terrible person to travel with, but somehow Alex managed to put up with me for a whole week as we soldiered through El Salvador visiting hotels and chatting up the locals. She got to eat her first shrimp ceviche on the black sand pacific coast, ate pupusas which I am pretty sure gave both of us 'funny tummy,' survived the wild streets of Santa Ana, and tried mango with hot sauce all over it while drinking cocktails on the sidewalks of Juayua. 
Anyhow Alex knows how to appreciate all the things that make traveling great and even managed to take the piss out of me a couple times.  That's all I can ask for out of life, sassy friends, good mojitos, and a nice sunset.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

being here now

I often find myself trying to recreate the sensations of being in Asia, just as one might try and remember an old lover, trying to recover the nuances, the fine details. It is funny, I knew that this would happen. It isn't a desire of wanting to return, but just a nostalgia for a time in my life. Sometimes, when it is hot, as it is today, I re-imagine the heat pressing down on my back, the sweat drawing rivers down the small of my back. I'm in Chichen Itza (well just outside), the hammering footwork of the traditional Yucatecan dances thunders from down the hall, and all the tourists look damp and uncomfortable. Ice cream or ice lollies seems the most accepted solution to the pounding sun. I opted for doing my accounts over a tour of the ruins under cloudless skies. One can only admire 'el castillo' so many times before it just becomes another 'pile of rocks.'
Back to my first tangent, Asia. My recovering of memories, or attempts at it, highlights the very core of travel. Newness, stimulates us, it fires all sorts of excitement in our nervous system. Think of your first view of the crested pyramids at Tikal, the first scent of lavender in the fields of France, your first sip of wine, the smell of Hawaii as you step of the plane. After a while these things fade, they become less impressive, the become rote, or routine. After a little while Hawaii smells like any other place, our demons and hold ups follow us and we become ourselves, the same cranky self we are at home just in an exotic locale.
But here is the very lesson, those first moments are when we are hyper-aware, when our senses our sucking up every vibration of information, we are open and in the moment, more focused on the sensations, than the email we might have to send. And I am pretty sure that is where the delight in living life comes from, the more in-the-moment we can be, the more engaged in what is actually going on around us the more satisfied we feel with life.
The thing that scares me is that modernization and technology seem to want to move away from that very concept. Actually I am guilty of it as this very moment, I am sitting at the outskirts of, 'one of the world's new 7 wonders,' with headphones in, typing away on my netbook. What does this have to with Asia? When I made the choice to leave Asia I suddenly became aware that my time there was suddenly limited and I wanted to take advantage of everything. But I realized that running about like a crazy woman trying to do every last thing was never going to happen. I instead turned to trying to enjoy every last experience that I could have. But this isn't something one can do only while traveling, it is an everyday practice to enjoy the very process of living. When is the last time you took the time to enjoy the process of bathing? Of eating? Of sleeping? We have the chance to make our very living into a ritual of joy and pleasure and yet so many of us turn it into a chore.
Maybe this is all way too woo-woo and out there, but I think there is something to this. Something to finding pleasure in the very act of being. At least this thinking helped me get my expenses done.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

a memory experiment

I was Antigua, Guatemala for the last 3 days of Semana Santa.   For a lot of people this is a reason in itself to come to Antigua.  And to be honest I had been wanting to see what it was all about since I had heard about it.  My friend Alex was with me for the first night (friday) and with her background in Art History and Latin she was pretty geeked out about the whole thing.  And I have to say the whole thing is really quite impressive, but I didn't take a single picture.
I didn't really think about it at the time, but a while into it I made a conscious decision not to take a photo.  I wanted to see if memory is really affected by not having a photo to reference it.  My idea being that for so many travelers travel has come down to digital images.  Imagine (or maybe you can just remember if this has unfortunately happened to you) that your camera is suddenly lost after an incredible 2 week vacation.  Feel that sinking in your stomach, that ache of desire, what is it that you are missing?  What is it about these images that we are so attached to?  Most of us never print our photos out.  Most of our friends aren't all that interested in seeing them.  And yet sometimes its seems that our photos are more important than our memories, in fact that our photos are our memories. 
I wanted to see if without a photo would my experience of Semana Santa be changed. Though a photo doesn't capture the smell choking smoke of Copal that turns the streets of Antigua in to eerie gray passageways, nor the thundering music which signals Jesus' death, nor the slow swaying walk of the men and women who stoop under the weight of the huge platforms loaded with life size wooden sculptures of Jesus, Angels, Saints and crying Marys, something still impels us to snap away. But what it is that makes us so attached to our images?  Is it this crazy idea that with out a photo we will some how forget where we have been?
I was thinking of this again today as I was walking down the streets of Livingston to the bank.  When we focus on capturing the image we forget to take the time to absorb the details.  Considering this as I walked I tried to take the time to absorb more details, the sounds, the smells, the people.  And now I wonder if my memories of those slow moving marches are sharpened by the fact that while they were passing me I could focus entirely on that moment and not on framing a photo, or if my memories will fade with age and I will wish for a photo to remind me that I was there.
The truth is, I won´t know the answer to this for quite sometime.  Memories take time to settle into the creases of your brain.  Some make an imprint so strong that they never seem to fade, and others are forgotten precisely the moment they happen.
In all honesty, my strongest memories don´t have a photo with which to associate them.  They are standing 9 miles out in the wilderness on my first back packing trip gazing out at an endless sea of evergreen and granite.  Or the feeling of walking out in to Little India my first night in Singapore, the scent of spices and rhythm of bollywood soundtracks pulsating through the heavy air.  Or a moon rising over the freeway overpasses with Mt. Tam in silhouette as I paddle in from practice.  Sometimes that ache or desire to capture a moment is the very thing that makes us remember it with precision.  In our inability to otherwise document it, we take the time to tatoo the present moment into our minds, where it will stay with us, regardless of crashed computers or lost negatives.