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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Images from abroad: Travel writing overseas

Published: September 3, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

This past summer marked my first time across the Atlantic Ocean. While people are normally afraid to travel such long distances even with friends and family, I had to do it all alone. I was headed to spend a month in Madrid, Spain with a family teaching English and being an all-around nanny, attempting to formulate a sense of friendly control over kids who were strangers to me in an estranging culture and place. The highlight of my time in Madrid was not when Spain won the World Cup, nor was it seeing masterpieces in Museo del Prado. It was being a witness to the nature and spirit of Granada, Spain, where I visited Alhambra and could not keep my eyes off the constellation-filled night sky.

There was such excitement and beauty in the immateriality of my experiences, the fleeting nature of a time that would inevitably end. During my time spent waiting for my flight back to Miami in my one layover stop of London’s Heathrow Airport, I was shocked back into the reality of traveling from one place to the next, not staying to learn, but only to capture moments. It is with all of these experiences that I was inspired to write these pieces. While traveling alone had its trials and tribulations, it was with my pen and paper I felt at home.

Granada, Spain

These desert mountains seem deserted, but you scan the perfectly tree-aligned slopes, you spot a small house or church among the nothingness; you think to yourself that someone else could be doing the same meticulous scoping of the summer hills and spot you standing there, occasionally swatting away flies as you try to take it all in.

You have the sudden urge to go swimming across the valley of the gentle slopes, to skim across the harsh, dried-out landscape and feel the sun’s rays burn your skin. You went to bed under visibly bright stars, the darkness of the night not as shocking as the luminosity of the constellations marking the sky. You woke up to the bright sun over the different shades of browns and greens. You have never seen these nighttime and daytime sights and probably will never again. You want to reach out and touch the hills, but you can barely walk anywhere on the scorched-out rocky roads.

The night comes and cools you off from a day of nothing but staring all around you. You think to yourself: why can’t the whole world appear like this—like you are in a planetarium, in a closely monitored astronomical enclosure, when really all there remains is the night sky and your eyes to feast upon the wonders before you. You start to cry because you realize this star-filled night sky over shadows of mountains is the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen and you won’t be able to see it again. Then, you cry because you have no one there to share it with.

Alhambra at Night

The white-carved walls of art emanate the spirits of the past as the symmetrically and poignantly placed rivulets of water envelope you in a feeling of the highest serenity. The intricacies are astounding to you and you position yourself accordingly to view the architectural beauty from all angles. Tourists and residents alike eagerly snap photos that will undoubtedly never live up to the presence of being there. You take photos as well, an attempt to remember all of the minute details: the lace-like etchings and painted tiles, the numerous arches and columns. You are taken aback by the realization that you cannot truly capture the past in the present. You smile at the sacredness of such a place trapped in time and continue walking through the maze-like corridors.

Heathrow Airport

All she could hear was the emotion-filled music of Glen Hansard pumping into her brain—rejuvenating her mind—as all around her the noises of people bustling past gates, stores, and sitting people became a hushed murmur. She has a look of serenity and longing—such a yearning for life she thought she would burst. What is it about airports that get to her? Such futile, instantaneous interactions with people, the bumping of shoulders, a possible sorry if by accident a minuscule portion of two strangers touch, the quickened footsteps, the worried glances at the flight information screens; people come and go all around her creating a desired form of solitude amongst many—the feeling that any interaction could become something worthwhile, or remain simple obligatory pleasantries passed between two people assigned to the same vicinity. She doesn’t know what it is exactly that makes the traveling so much more pleasurable. Perhaps it’s because she feels airports are like the circuitry board of the brain—the hypothalamus—controlling which messages are sent and where, the synapses receiving only certain input and denying others. Will the signals ever be crossed? Will two signals ever overlap in symmetry? Will the isolation of every individual become intertwined so that the signals of fleeting companionship can become whole? Every path chosen or not could lead to something due to pure coincidence, pure chance of arrivals and departures and the same destination. It is one of the only times in life where you know exactly where you’re going and with a little bit of faith and a lot of reliance on intelligence of others—you will arrive. If she could experience all of the airports in the world as pinpoints of a journey unknown, like airport hopping, she would; to see the mechanisms behind all sorts of people weaving in and out like a web—a collection of itineraries, of definitive schedules all combined in one place at one time. There is such beauty is this harmony amongst chaos that she craves.