Monday, November 19, 2007

On being a tourist

The challenge of being a tourist is also one of the challenges of real life: that is, how to live in the moment without commoditizing it, romanticizing it, or simply not being present to it at all.

I often wonder why we take photos while traveling, especially when we rarely even step in front of the backdrop we're photographing to record our presence there. Once in a great while I will close my eyes and try to record everything sensible about a particular place and time - the nuanced smell of the air, the feel of the breeze on my face, the ambient noises, the exact angle of the sun - but more often I just steal a photo of it and hope it will conjure up these things later.

frosty Lucerne

This weekend, however, our main challenge was the weather: it was cold in Lucerne. I must admit not being very present to the beauty of our walk around the lake at sunset. I was however, fully aware of my chapped lips and freezing face. Winter weather is a terrible traveling companion.

A less self-conscious individual may have been able to embrace the cold, enjoy it even, but I'm still working on that. Things I did enjoy this weekend, despite (or because of) the cold: glimpses of snowy mountain towns from the train, hot coffee, remembering the German for "I'm sorry" and "thank you" two ways after spilling said coffee, watching culturally-savvy waiters at a Chinese restaurant, listening to Swiss German, seeing graffiti in progress, getting smirked at "Bahnhof Buffet," the smell of chesnuts roasting. Raindrops on roses. Whiskers on kittens.

Tomorrow: A report on Swiss jails.

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