There is something about traveling by myself, about solitary train rides, about days spent wandering in a foreign place in the sole company of my vague thoughts that gives me that blurred feeling between pleasant tiredness and melancholy, between mellowness and longing, between understanding and wondering, like looking at life through a lens out of focus. This is how I was feeling sitting in the empty train compartment on that day when I returned from Cadiz. I had sand in my hair, streaks of salt on my legs and lips burnt by the sea wind.
The train began to move slowly parallel to the sea, but nothing outside seemed to indicate motion. The calm sea and the sky almost melted into each other and disc of the sun hang in the middle, casting a copper light on the whole scene, framed by the train window. For a moment I had the strange feeling that I was watching a liquid planet and a distant star from the window of a spacecraft. I don’t know how long I sat there, waiting, with a growing feeling of anxiety, for a change of scenery to confirm the reality of movement and of getting to a destination.
At some point I had to escape the feeling of motionlessness, turned my head to the opposite window and the scene changed completely. The sun was no longer shining on the other side of the train tracks. A field was stretching all the way to the horizon, uninhabited, dark and somber and chaotic, covered with marshes, bushes, muddy ponds, weeds growing wildly, as if humanity had died and nature had taken over.
And then suddenly I saw it, just for a second: in the middle of this disheartening scenery there were the remains of a house from which the only thing still standing was the front wall, like a gateway, the white paint peeling, with a round top entrance and an old-fashioned three pointed arch, under which was written in fading letters DOLORES (pain, in Spanish). It seemed a bleak vision of life, and it would have made the perfect photograph, but it flashed before my eyes in the race of the train and disappeared, as if it had never existed, like those moments when you get a glimpse of understanding of… everything and then then it’s gone, leaving you dazed and confused, trying to remember something that you always knew.
I would have liked to draw this for you, but I’m afraid it would be like trying to draw an elephant inside a boa snake, and everybody would see just a hat, like it happened to the Little Prince.
Ok, you might say. So what?!
People got on the train at the next stop and the noise of concrete discussions, the laughter, loud cell phones and tickling ipads pulled me out of my dreamy-philosophic mood and my rational mind began to pour its poisoned questions, implying that maybe this kind of traveling is a bit superficial. After all, is this all I got from my one day trip to Cadiz?! I had no idea of historic facts, locally flavored stories or characters, names of squares, streets and cathedrals.
Cadiz was for me pretty topaz silver earrings, a feel of Morocco, empanada con autuno, “peace, love and ice cream” (if this was the essence of a religion, then I would be a believer, but no, it was the name of a terrace where I overdosed on chocolate ice cream with caramel), first time at the seaside this year, strong Sirocco wind wiping the beach, a bunch of locals playing funky bongo drums and guitars and a good book (but about that, later). That was all.
So why do we travel? This question will often pop up in my thoughts and my posts. The answers are numerous, depending on the type of traveling we do. To relax (or at least we expect to do so), to feel good, to feel special, to feel something / different, to have a break from routine, to tick a place off our “to travel” list, to put interesting pictures and status updates on facebook, to get a tan, to get wasted (usually in Amsterdam), to pick up, to meet up, because what else could you do on holidays?, of course, for photography and so on… and then come the hard-core answers: to find yourself, to loose yourself, to follow a dream, to face your fears, to look for peace of mind, to look for meaning, to run away, to fill a void inside, to feel alive or simply because staying in one place too long makes you restless or numb.
There was always the belief that traveling was not just seeing places, that it could change your life. This reminds me of the wonderful book “The Way of the world” by Nicolas Bouvier, who was a traveler or better said a wanderer his entire life: “A journey does not need reasons. Before long, it proves to be reason enough in itself. One thinks that one is going to make a journey, yet soon, you understand it is the journey that makes or unmakes you.”
But that was not the book I as reading that day, which I promised to speak of earlier. It was a book that accompanied me faithfully and truthfully on my trip, like good friends do, saying the right thing at the right time, making me smile and giving me comfort. It was “Le voyage de Hector. A la poursouite du temps qui passe” by Francois Lelord. And it goes like this, inviting you to turn your mind off once in a while:
“Pour bien remplir le present, il faut souvent faire le vide en soi. […] pour apprecier un moment, il fallait le laisser vous remplir, ne pas se tracasser pour d’autres choses”
And I leave you with this thought and no photos this time.
I would like to hear also your thoughts on traveling. Reasons, feelings, what do you gain out of it…