Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Going Places

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I read recently that travel can cause people to lose the core of themselves, to become disoriented and unsure, depressed. And I remember strange hotel rooms in my past--as a college student, for example, spending a few weeks in Mexico, not knowing the language, soon to be struck by monumental gastric illness but for now clutching a paperback, lying on a hard, flat bed covered by a thin wool blanket. Trying to think of something to do. And it occurred to me that over the past few years I have become what might be called seasoned. I have some technique for getting into things. A walk around, attuned to the sensuality of a new place. Its smells, the food, the heat or cool of it, the look of people, their expressions as we smile, knowing we are strangers. We are at a sort of loss here, but not a disadvantage. We look, wonderingly, to find the local culture. Knowing that we must begin with its most obvious and perhaps deceptive forms. A lacuna has opened in us and nature abhors a vacuum. Information pours in. Who knows what details will appear as the blur resolves into focus? And who knows how we will have changed after a month in this place? Four weeks--that seems to be the period which must elapse before a place will begin to reveal itself. During this time you will become a character in the play into which you have wandered, in medias res. You appear in a particular guise for its purposes: white, in our case, with apparently unplaceable North American accents, tanned and dressed in faded clothes. Arrived by boat. Carrying a small child. And you smile, with feeling, and offer money.

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