Friday, December 7, 2012

How I Travel, Let Me Count the Ways

The Badlands (not Lyon)
My partner is lounging on the sofa in the living room. Every two or three minutes he yells, "Come'ere! Chris!"  He wants me to see pictures of Lyon and its Festival of Lights, which we will be seeing in the flesh--if cities have flesh, and I think they do--tonight at around 7pm. Why on earth would I want to see pictures of it--"Chris, Come'ere!!"--before I SEE it for real? I'm going to take 400 pictures myself this weekend.

When I travel I want to feel like an explorer from a distant planet: someone who does not speak the alien language, cannot eat the food and doesn't understand the complexities of this new culture. So we're off to France this evening. If you've been keeping up with my travels you know that, in French at least, I can communicate my gluten intolerance and warn people about impending hedgehogs. That's pretty much the extent of my skills in French. Luckily, my partner's niece will be there, and she's considerably more acquainted with the alien tongue.

When I travel I do not like to plan itineraries. I'm perfectly happy to miss trains and get lost. Some preacher from some pulpit in the depths of my past said once, "If Jesus is in your heart, you are never lost." Well. I'll take it. I like Jesus. The world would be a much better place if we took WWJD a bit more seriously. We'd be nicer to each other, for sure. We'd definitely talk to more prostitutes and tax collectors. Happy birthday, Jesus.

Goats are cute. End of story.
When I travel I take pictures of everything and sometimes everyone (until my partner slaps me on the arm and tells me one of these strangers is about to punch me). I have a picture of a goat on my desk. I was sitting on the restaurant terrace on the island of Mykonos when this fellow poked his head out from behind a rubbish bin and meh-meh-mehhed. And he kept looking at me with my camera until I took his picture. Regretfully, those were the days of paper pictures, so I can't upload the picture--but I can take a picture of the picture! Isn't he adorable?

I take pictures of the pavement, of curious angles, of the clear blue sky. I take pictures of bright colors and dull moments. I once took the picture of a man who'd just attacked me. And who says I'm not courageous(ly stupid)?

When I travel I try to walk down a new street every day (a sentiment that resonates in Dorothee Lang and Smitha Murthy's wonderful epistolary book Worlds Apart. If you haven't already ordered this book, you should). If your goal is to see this whole, miraculous world, why on earth would you keep walking down the same streets?

When I travel to beaches, I do not lie on them unless someone can bring me lemony beverages and guacamole. I walk on the beaches, up and down, down and up. And I take pictures. And I think. And I thank God for the adventure and this rare opportunity.

Ah yes. When I travel by plane I thank God for The Adventure of Life at take-off. I pray for the safety of the plane but acknowledge that Shit Happens, so if it's not in the cards for me to reach the ground in one piece, well, it's OK too. In fact, acknowledging the fact that things go wrong, that you're not the only person on this planet who experiences problems is a great lesson. It's actually liberating. So it turns out your hotel reservation got lost? Your rental car breaks down in the middle of nowhere? Your expensive digital camera disappears mysteriously on a bus from Quito to Banos? United Airlines destroys the handcarved wooden statue you just bought in Costa Rica? You forgot that you were an American, but you were flying to Sydney? Oops, and then Rio? Travelling is such an adventure.

And sometimes I turn the camera around and take a silly picture of myself . . . which makes me laugh. I can't think of anything sillier than my face.

Christopher Allen has pinchable cheeks

For Christmas this year, I'm giving away a signed copy of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type. But wait! Since I have only one copy to give away, I have to make it a bit difficult. Sorry. I will give a free copy to the person who finds the picture of my talented friend Lori Fischer holding a Starbucks cup. I love scavenger hunts. When you find the picture, be the first to leave a comment on the post containing her picture. Say "I found Lori!" and we'll get that copy of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type out to you.

I must be off,