Monday, February 20, 2006

We've started another new book in World Lit; this one is Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities. It's more like poetry than a novel; there are only two characters, and not much of a plot. The pages follow Marco Polo telling Kublai Khan about all the different cities in his empire, but the descriptions are extraordinary...brief, lyrical and fantastic in several senses. It's almost like a travel guide to another world. Sprinkled in among the descriptions of cities are little nuggets of philosophy and wisdom, and of course I can't resist blogging about at least one.

The Khan asks Polo if the purpose of his journeys is to relive his past, or perhaps to recover his future. Marco Polo replies, "Elsewhere is a negative mirror. The traveler recognizes the little that is his, discovering the much he has not had and will never have."

This has been true in my travels, on several levels. Someone said in class today that part of the discovery of travel is that we don't belong in certain places, or that we are not certain things: i.e., I am not Spanish; I don't belong among the lights and hype of Las Vegas; I don't quite understand the attraction of a pint of ale, like the British. (Of course, I've also discovered many positive commonalities in my travels, like my love for flamenco music and English tea with scones and a simpler, slower way of life.) But I wonder if we also are pared down to our essence when we travel. So much of what we normally perceive about ourselves is shaped and bound by culture, routine, relationships. In Midland I am a daughter, a sister, a longtime member of First Baptist Church; in Abilene I am a roommate, a singer, a member of Highland, a part of the Oxford family. Were I to leave this place tomorrow (and when I leave it in May), part of my identity will change again. These changing parts of my identity are important - there's no denying that. And the bonds remain, tugging at my heart, as I travel from place to place. But the essential me is perhaps a much smaller thing. Maybe there is very little, even of myself, that I truly take with me everywhere.


Blogger BCDees said...

Interesting notion. I, too, have found it to be the case that my identity changes depending on my current context. This is all too noticable when I travel between Sherman and Austin... my college-self and grad school-self are quite similar, but do have some differences. And when we go somewhere even more foreign, it is as if we can start with a blank slate, or if not blank, at least a little more flexibility in determining our identity. Perhaps that is why travelling gives us such a compelling feeling of freedom, for we are, in a very real way, freed from the social settings that bind us to who we are, and are enabled to recreate ourselves.

1:34 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

Yes - I think travel reminds us of the sameness of humanity. Underneath the differences in culture, world-views, and custom, we discover that each heart aches for the same things, and that we are fundamentally brothers and sisters.

I appreciated your thought..."I wonder if we also are pared down to our essence when we travel." I know that this is true for me.

Great post (as always)

4:12 AM  
Blogger Cole said...

You prefer tea and scones to a pint of ale? katie, katie, katie.

I hear ale is wonderful.

4:38 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

That's what I hear, too. But what would a CoC preacher really know about all THAT?

2:42 PM  
Blogger Beverly said...

Guys like Marco Polo and Alexander the Great just really intrigue me. I mean, they just set out to conquer...I think I am going to add them to my guest list, at my dream dinner. So far: Jesus, Will Ferrel, Mother Theresa, Bill Murray, Bob Dylan, Joseph (coat of many colors) and Mary.

7:55 AM  

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