Monday, November 24, 2008

My ordinary renewed as I return to my infinite abyss

I'm incredibly behind in my school work so this seemed the most opportune time for me to post. I have been neglecting posting for fear that my thoughts aren't that sophisticated or clear or, well, interesting, and the effort it would take to fancy them up, unmuck them, and make them appear appealing in some fashion seems all too much work. However, I suppose the whole point of this (yet again) new adventure in blogging is not to have the pressure of a finished piece of writing looming over my head. A blog is supposed to be rough, right? So here goes.

I'm watching Lost in Translation while I finish some school work tonight, and I'm reminded how much I loved the set of indie-type films that came out a few years back. (This included Garden State, Love Actually, The Life Aquatic, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind--okay, so not really indie. Just movies I liked a lot.) As I watch the opening credits with Bill Murray's character making his way through the streets of Tokyo to the symphonic chorus in "Just Like Honey" from The Jesus & Mary Chain, I'm reminded that I continue to be drawn to Lost in Translation not only because of the beautiful soundtrack but because of the way it draws you back to the "ordinary."

Chris and I had the opportunity to see a bunch of amazing things this summer. We traveled all over Israel (Jerusalem, the Negev, Galilee, and even into Jordan); then we continued our adventure in Europe, driving on the autobahn to Wittenberg, Germany and crossing the border into Prague, Czech Republic; we dropped off the rental car and took a train to Paris, France and then on to Geneva, Switzerland; and finally we flew to London, England before returning to the States. I never thought I would have the opportunity to visit these amazing places and see so many things that are incredibly iconic. And though I allowed myself to be naive enough to be pleasantly shocked and tickled that these places do actually exist in 3-D, the thing that intrigued me the most was the reality of the everyday-ness of it all--that for millions of people the Dome of the Rock, Luther's castle, St. Charles' Bridge, the Eiffel Tower, UN Headquarters, and Buckingham Palace are part of their everyday. And though I loved seeing all these things for the very first time, my favorite part of traveling somewhere has always been the feeling of renewed respect I gain for my particular everyday-ness.

It is the same feeling I get when visiting a great bookstore. My emotions range from being completely overwhelmed by the invasive reality that there is an infinite number of books that I want to read and they choose to assault my senses all at once, from being mildly depressed that I will never ever have a chance to even begin to flip through them all, to experiencing a fresh resoluteness to tackle my own stack of books waiting for me at home; for this stack is much more friendly and smaller in comparison, and though I haven't yet found time to read even them, it seems much less daunting than the Blue Room. And so I often leave a bookstore with a renewed sense of ownership and determination: These books I already own, let me return to them, and perhaps this time I will make it through War and Peace.

When I travel to new places, I feel the same thing. Everything is exciting. My senses and ability to interpret experience is on overload, making the otherwise most mundane things seem indescribably exciting. And so I remember Chris and I enjoying many an urban-adventure; buying bagels at a supermarket in Prague, snacks for our road trip at a market in a small town in Germany, and cough syrup at a pharmacy in modern Jerusalem were absolutely grand outings. And I still remember the more temporary tourist attractions I was drawn to: the trash on the sidewalks, the way children (mis)behaved and were disciplined, the street signs, the billboards, the smells of the markets and street vendors. In fact, I found I have a surprising predilection for graffiti (which, I might argue, is a universal art form. I've posted just a few photos on my facebook account). Everything is an insight into the culture and, more often, into my own. And just when I begin to get the feeling of overwhelmedness--that there will never be enough time to see it all and I haven't even begun the project of not feeling like a tourist and all I want is to really get to know the city and the people--I realize that I have my own repository of sights and sounds to explore upon my inevitable return to my ordinary.

To this town, I shall have to return, whether after a long flight, an evening with Scarlett and Bill, or an late-night homework session. So thank you, Sofia Coppola, for reminding me what worlds there are to explore when I cash my check tomorrow before going to class.

--Good luck exploring the infinite abyss.


Katie said...

Hi friend! I love this post and I was nodding in agreement through it. I feel that joy of doing the ordinary abroad is so enlightening and a grand adventure (getting mosquito repellant in India from a roadside tiny shop!). Plus I was bemoaning a bit my need to join the ordinary work world again tomorrow, so this is just what I needed. Even if you did write it months ago.

Lindsay said...

I think it's time for you to experience a new place! We promise to make it overwhelming, spectacular, and ordinary. I will take you for croissants and make you order in Arabic. How's that?