25  Sep
Away with Words

Paragliding Every trip starts with a thought. A simple thought that one dares to voice. Another person agrees with. It soon turns into a game of calendar crossword and budget juggling and as soon as the credit card digits go through you know you are really going. You write e-mails telling your contacts or trying to make new ones at the destination. Departing is always a function of finding the right words to map out your take-off and landing. When you get to a place you have never been to, and one that is very different from your own surroundings, you find you are out of words to describe it. The ineptitude of your own vocabulary makes you feel as though you are unworthy of journalistic depictions of this journey, which has certainly been made by so many others before.

I have a friend who is an editor in New York City. She has a way with words. And every time I need a quote or a sound byte to make life more exciting I resort to her. Naturally, I have friends that are experts in all sorts of things, what with living in Manhattan and all, you get to know at least one incredible lawyer, one great personal trainer, the fashion designer friend, the technology maven yadda yadda, but editor friends come in handy!

For the rest of the physical universe, there is the space-and-time fabric. But to us “common people”, there is the space-and-meaning fabric, and that’s all that matters. A word is a step and a step is a word and they both propel time forward to human beings. Time only passes when you are making new memories. Otherwise it stops altogether in our perception, which is really all that we got for a reality.
Not to get all philosophical, but you can tell me that a picture is worth a thousand words (and depending on the context you could be right) and you can tell me that time is money, and yet my indexes for reality are always words and location. If I can derive meaning, record it in words and tell you where I am and how it defines the meaning of my words, and if you tell me you “get it”, then it is real and it is worth it.
Anything else is an utter waste of my time. So I’ll stop tampering with scientific concepts (or universe fabrics) and get to the point: they say it’s all about the journey. I beg to differ. If you are an ever-traveler, or a writer, you work around the meaning of your next destination. Screw the journey, really.
Maybe some don’t. But once they set off to a new destination they will notice that the random new ideas springing into their heads during the trip have more to do with the destination than the journey.
Ok, not if you fly first class. Absolutely possible case scenario: flying first class, you sink into a book, champagne, sweet dreams, yadda yadda… nothing wrong with those who can afford a journey they actually enjoy. Maybe you do some thinking and learn something in the supposedly enlightening journey. Ironically, the people I know that fly first class all the time take sleeping pills during the flight. So they don’t care for the journey much, as far as it being “meaningful”.
For the rest of us that take an economy flight with three connections and a four-hour layover to make it affordable… followed by a train and a ferry and a hitchhike or a golf cart to get to our destinations, trust me, it is NOT about the journey.
The airport in Amsterdam, for one thing, can add some artistic meaning to your connecting flight. There are galleries of groundbreaking artwork and really interesting people taking their time to marvel at the amazing space that interlaces art and commerce beautifully.
Ground traveling can have its merits to intellectual pursuits, but it all depends on the company you travel with. The conversation topics and the weather determine whether you can make it all about the journey.
I grew up taking road trips. My parents did not have high-minded conversations with each other, other than talking about the songs on the radio, other family members or the map. The bloody map they kept arguing over… and which ironically turned out being a good distraction from the feeling of being so car sick from the bumpy roads in the countryside of Brazil.
But the only reason I still love road trips is that I don’t drive. The point is, when you don’t have to focus on the driving, you have the luxury of losing yourself in the landscape and in the music you play. Having the choice of making it about the journey or rushing to your destination makes ground travel slightly more meaningful. Besides, the greatest drawback in air travel is that you cannot choose your “neighbors”.
I flew from Amsterdam to Munich on a center seat. The kid to my right was probably sixteen, hooded sweater, curled up and passed out, and she looked as if the Amsterdam pot had taken a toll and the German bier was not gonna help.
The older guy to my left was a fashion catastrophe by Gotham’s standards, and for some reason I felt as though he was eyeing me funny for the outrageous writing I was doing, which he was clearly spying on off the corner of his eyes. Or he was internally judging me for my supposed political inclinations, which he was inferring from my age, my clothes, my gadgets and my reading materials. At least none of them were particularly unpleasing-smelling, as the un-Fabreezed cabins of ten-year-old planes are just as unforgiving as small children on road trips.
Want to make it about the journey? Travel by water. I have never been on a cruise, but I am convinced they are profitable for a reason. I have traveled short distances on sailboats, speedboats, yachts and ferries, and those were the only travels where it did not matter where we were going. This could be a personal taste issue, but I have heard similar reports from many travelers; granted, those people never had to cross the perfect storm on a sailboat.
And when it’s sunny and lovely, the best way to make new memories that will last, and to record new ideas in articulate fashion, is to take the journey by water. If possible, international waters. Leave the safety zone and the comfort of your own language and you are exposed. It does ultimately define you. These experiences (and the only units of meaning you will have for an account are those you bother to record) reshape your goals, beliefs and ideas of happiness.
Growing up with road trips has done one really important thing for me: it made it second nature to try and relate to newfound friends in small cities, children that sometimes lived on the hill in the back of a roadside auto-repair shop, and who became my pen-pals. Children of very different backgrounds, locations and cultures whom I could correspond with and exchange ideas, abstract concepts about grown-up people and their odd behaviours.
If my parents were not nomads to begin with, and if they had not enjoyed road trips that sometimes went on for four days… (!!!!) I wouldn’t be the adaptable person I am today. And this is contradictory, of course, as I just stated that the destinations are much better than the journeys themselves. Back in 1989, we would travel from Brasilia, in the middle of Brazil, all the way to the far South of the country. As my Dad did not travel at night, we would usually only drive till about 6pm and then look for a small city and a random hotel in which to stay for the night. The journey was grueling, but the people we met along the way made it worth it.
And here I am, sitting in Bristol, in the UK. This is the year of my life in which I traveled the most, raised the bar, covered more miles than ever before and revisited places I spend some of the most precious moments in, like Kitsilano in Vancouver, B.C.
My mother was just on the phone, reporting on how hot the weather is in Rio and how wonderful it is that she is going to see a free play across the street, in Copacabana.
And I’m up for all the journeys, but only if the destinations are well worth it.
In six weeks I am hopping on a Virgin Atlantic “direct” flight to Oz. Sydney and surfing lessons await. The twenty-two hour flight will give me plenty of time to write. You should always keep a traveling journal. Make the journey count. Record every emotion, every memory and every hope of a golden sunset with a perfect lover.
With the handy help of metaphors, a glass of wine, a Thesaurus (it’s shift + F7 on most keyboards) and an editor friend, you’ll find a way with words. Great words are fleeting, if you don’t record them when you first think them up they vanish.
If I run out of inspiration, I’ll ring Erin and Priscila in Gotham, they always have stories that remind me of something grand. I’ll call Leslie the editor too, she’s got a way with words. My route through Sydney will be much better after that. And I’ll be armed with the right words for the flight back, just in case I sit next to a blond surfer who is keen on chatting with Brazilian girls.

Posted by Kaz, filed under Travel. Date: September 25, 2007, 3:55 am | No Comments »

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