When I was a child I loved seeing films set in foreign lands. I would think how neat it would be to go and live or at least visit for a long time some some strange plane. Just think, to live in some large village in Mexico or safari to Africa where everything is either jungle or dessert. Or live in a village in the Alps or the south of France or the Hartz mountains in Germany, all these wonderful places. China and southeast Asia wasn’t all that attractive to me as, say, the south Pacific, but India looked intriguing. Of course all those places look wonderful from the standpoint of a photo or a film. When one does not have to deal with insects and other pests life is pretty good. But there are other realities that abound and one never thinks about them because they are not in one’s direct or perhaps even indirect experience. The smells or aromas, if you please, of foreign shores that are very unfamiliar tend to put us off. These different environments are strangers to much of our five senses and not always without complaint. The unfamiliar makes us uncomfortable and there are times when we simply cannot escape from that environment.
My family didn’t travel much and the most exotic place for me was my aunt’s farm. I learned about barnyard aromas very quickly and how they came to exist. For a six year old it is a rude awakening to learn that the world, as a whole, is not potty trained. We learn about the world at large through experience since no public school system could ever duplicate those experiences. The teachers are there to give us the sanitized versions of travel and other people who may look different from ourselves. I have lived in a number of metropolitan and rural areas during my life and there are fairly varied from one another. Some cities have a distinct aroma or flavor, if you like. I can’t say that Dallas has anything distinctive about it in terms of city aroma. Philadelphia does, you know when you are in that city, its aroma is distinctive. San Francisco has an air of its own while L.A. seems to sit in its own smog and choke itself to death. And sea shores have their own cachet. There is, to some degree, that rotting seaweed aroma one finds on the beaches of Northern California which differs slightly from the shores of New Jersey. Ah, but the northern waters of Alaska are clean and bright. I spent a few days on the Riviera of Alaska, Cordova, where you can walk around the piers and the beaches and there is no smell of rotting seaweed or algae. But that is a very magical place. The moss or ground cover that grows on the forrest flow is so deep, like a thick pile shag rug of soft velvety green, it brings you almost to tears to walk on it.
Well, I can counter balance that with the mosquitoes and other biting insects one must endure at the beginning and end of summer. Mexico and France have their sneaky little mosquitoes and other biting things, India not so much. I don’t believe I was bitten by any bug in India. I was almost run over by various forms of traffic but never bitten by a bug. To really appreciate India one must leave the cities with their over crowding and stench of sewage, which is slowly being resolved as new sewer lines are placed and the half open sewage ditches removed. What we take for granted is by way of time. Even in America we went through the open sewage ditch, the septic pits, and all that keeps disease growing. In 1968 the streets of Koza on the Island of Okinawa had sewage ditches covered with wooded covers. And in the village in northeast France I go each year for three months most houses are on septic systems of varying quality and the sewage mains are few. These are some of the lessons of travel, not all the bright pretty trinkets one can buy.
I like exploring cities and their architecture. How a city was built, what is left over from its beginnings, what has been added, these are the interesting points of a city’s life. I loved walking Budapest, really three cities joined by bridges. I walked the hell out of that city and took at least a hundred photos or more. It’s a modern city in terms of the age of its buildings, since the city went on a building spree about 1880 and became the epitome of Art Nouveaux. It puts Paris to shame in that sense. But I enjoy walking around downtown Dijon where one can still see timbered structures of Jacobean style that date back to the fourteenth century. As for Mexico, outside the pre-columbian ruins and temples, it’s mostly concrete, the national building material. So much of India is that way. In Singapore you may still find some old brick buildings but brick in humid climates tends to crumble more quickly, and Singapore is very humid. There are said to be two seasons in Singapore: hot and rainey, and then hot and rainy. But I love the business district with its mini skyscrapers. I say mini because these buildings do not occupy a full sized American block, such as one finds in New York City. No, these are skinny but tall, perhaps 80 stories, and of a variety of styles. It is a part of the charm of Singapore which has other areas worth exploring.
Of course the other thing to do is people watch when you travel. Observe what the locals do, from how they shop to where they might sit and eat. I used to like staying in the Left Bank in Paris and there was a little park where I would sit with my coffee, piece of fruit, and yogurt every morning. The mothers and sometimes the fathers would bring their small children to play in the enclosed area. Children’s play does not differ anywhere in the world. They explore the world and each other, if they wish, but often enough they ignore each other. I remember one little girl, about three I would believe, had learned the secret to opening the gates and began her game of catch me if you can. Another tried to heard pigeons who really didn’t care for that game. And some children don’t get to play much, begging is a serious business when one is hungry.
Art is another must for me, I love to visit art museums in the countries and cities I visit. But different cultures have different ways of expressing art. Sometimes it is the artefact that is most valued. We westerners love paintings that hang on walls and believe that is the highest form of art. Yet there is such great beauty in form such as carved jade plates and the shape of porcelain vases. Wooden carvings of elephants are wonderful when done right and every house should have at least one elephant, it’s good luck. Travel expands ones way of seeing, of noticing the world beyond the norm. It is not necessary to oh and ah over everything or overlook the unpleasant. It is only necessary to embrace the world as it is and that is what travel can do for you.