There’s much to be said about Facebook—some negative, a lot laudatory—but one thing I haven’t seen much mentioned is its ability to enable us to travel more freely, in a substantial way. Surely, more substantively, more palpably, than other mediations in which we are standing still, passively processing. I’m thinking here mainly about TV, of course, which enables flitting contact with people and places—but which is all rather random and beyond viewer control. Even when we are “at” the game, it is filtered, stylized, modified, held at arm’s length.
So, too, might, the “traditional” Internet, 1.0, apply—where a huge amount of energy and time has to be sunk and opportunity costs incurred to make any deep connection with peoples and places. And even then, since there is no 2.0 capability, there is still a distance that can’t easily be bridged. The best one might say for 1.0 is that there are possibilities for deep connect, but it requires work: thought, gumption, and not a small amount of perseverance.
When I travel, I carry a camera; just about everywhere I go. But, it is often hard to focus. Not the camera—me—my brain; for all the travel.
So, much so that I often find myself somewhere along the way checking myself—“hm, what is that camera doing there? And why aren’t I using it?”—recognizing, on delay, that I am simply toting it as if it was an appurtenance; right past all the things that I should be pointing it at. Cradling it in the crook of my elbow, or allowing it to sway behind me, slung over a shoulder. Transporting it, but nothing more. Not bothering to unclip the lens cap, raise the mechanism to eye-level, fix on a target, bring it into focus, squeeze off a round.
Other times, once I remember to point and shoot, I am lucky if I can capture what I think I see—what may possibly be there. So sluggish is my travel-weary brain’s eye.
It is only after the day, or sometimes the entire trip, that I upload the shots to my hard drive to regard what plums I’ve managed to score. Often, this becomes occasion for a succession of WTF-moments.
Followed by voices that go:
“nope, sorry, too late to board a plane and go back and try it again.”
“You had your chance. That door has been shut.”
“The opportunity has long since escaped.
I bring all this up because of the video below—a slide show of shots from a few trips to Southern California, culled on time-lapse. There are snaps from an afternoon in Hollywood; a day trip to the beach community of Santa Monica; a long drive down to San Diego—and beyond: to the island resort known as Coronado. When you click on the “play” button, what you’ll find is just what the title indicates: a strange meeting. An aggregation of ill-matched situations, often gathered under the number one influence of peripatacity: post-flight haze.
Some might simply say “that’s Southern California for you”: a cornucopia, a compendium, a menagerie, a rummage sale of people and acts and objects. (Well, they might say much worse). But whatever they attribute to the locale would be charitable toward me. Because, for the most part, this particular strange meeting is all on me; all on account of the eyes and fingers of, and whatever decision-making was operative by, yours truly.
On the other hand, that said, there are times, when it does all come together. Just like the lyrical, haunting, inviting, wondrous tune that accompanies these slides—by Bill Frisell—and inspired this apologia. And when that happens, why, there aren’t sufficient words to describe or explain or fully understand. It just works, it simply is.
The strange meeting of elements—of indoor merry-go-rounds and Spiderman impersonators astride newspaper stands and tomato-hued apartments and fathers smothered by their kids in sand, and sunbathing pelicans and bored teens turning idly in circles on lampposts while chatting on their cellphones, and adolescents sitting numbly in miniature cars, and fortune tellers reading actual discarded dregs of tea . . . and so much more.
The strange meeting is purely—simply—the aspects of life; the stuff all around us. To be spied, recorded, mused upon, carried forward.
It is the strange meetings that so often makes life the treat that it is to live. And the reason why we peripatetics must continue to venture forth and record it.
When peripatetics get out on the road, all manner of trouble can result: from bags redirected to a different city to a failure to pack enough underwear. A belt goes missing, a tie has to serve as a sash. That’s called “making do” and it is one of the peripatetic rules of the road. But there are some things that are less amenable to adjustment—difficulties acclimating to time, weather, food—oh, and people. Feisty, hard to fathom, difficult to suffer, human beings.
In the trips I have detailed over the past five years here on these pages—to cities and thereabouts in South America, Asia, Europe, North America, the Middle East—I have encountered all such difficulties. But, you know . . . in the grand scale of things—say compared to a crucifixion, genocide, an atomic bombing—none of these really rise beyond simply irksome and discomfiting; they are all relatively piddling concerns. Nothing more than a “miniature disaster”, to coin KT Tunstall‘s turn of phrase. Surely nothing dire enough to get worked up about, since none ever amount to more than “minor catastrophes”.
And with that in mind, with KT’s tune swirling around in (and over) my head, here are some of the miniature disasters—real and imagined—that I have bumped up against over the years; this time in pictures, set to song. This batch primarily—though not exclusively—from Paris, Kyoto, Oslo and Sendai—with a little Hiroshima, San Francisco, Vienna, Tokyo, Barcelona, Miyajima, Macau, and Stockholm spritzed around the edges.
Now that you’ve watched the show, I hope we have succeeded—KT and me—in convincing you that, when on the road, there isn’t much more to do than smile through whatever crops up. A disaster—sure, possibly, perhaps—but probably not really. In the largest scheme of things, maybe just a miniature disaster, a minor catastrophe, a maximal inconvenience.
And, if whatever assailed you wasn’t enough to make you succumb—if you were able to live to tell about it—then it wasn’t a full-blown cataclysm, now was it? Those disasters were minimal enough to enable you to keep on motoring.
. . . Still and all . . . they may just have been good enough to result in a passable slide show one day.
Spring is just around the corner—which is not much consolation seeing as how it snowed here yesterday—but anyway, it is.
Which means that before it actually arrives, I should make sure to dispense with whatever unfinished Winter’s business might still be lingering next to the heater, cluttering up the house, trying to stay warm. Prime candidate—in my life, at least—would be the photos I took of dontosai—a festival celebrated in my northern Japanese city of Sendai, in mid-January (you see what I mean about lingering?)
The photos can be found here—animated in a slide show and set to Dave Brubeck’s “Tokyo Traffic”.
I just flew in from there to here, a long trans-Pacific flight on Singapore Air. Making the time most passable was the favorable jet stream which reduced travel time by 2 hours; but so, too, did the individualized entertainment units on the back of the seat in front, which helped make life stream by quicker than usual. Rather than being at the mercy of a “one-message-fits-all” main screen offering, it was a treat to be able to select a movie to match my mood and interests. Thus, on Singapore I had a chance to sample Precious (too grim), 2012 (preposterous), Twilight New Moon (as if I’d really watch that twaddle), Fantastic Mr. Fox (animation not quite my thing), Whip It (not quite “Juno”, but surprisingly good), and Up in the Air (oddly riveting—even on a second viewing).
And the greater sense of control made me feel less subject—less an imprisoned body strapped into a chair, unable to regulate the conditionals surrounding my being. With choice came a greater sense of empowerment, a lessening of the normal sense of pain and suffering associated with air travel.
The overly attentive crew also helped make the time pass (although I won’t dwell on the subject status of the stews—the fact that SA management has made a concerted effort to present its female staff as in-flight models; their form-fitting costumes showing enough cleavage and leg, and topped with ample make-up, to prompt travelers to wonder whether they haven’t accidentally stumbled into a Victoria’s Secret photo shoot).
Leaving the T&A aside, though, effort is what I want to remark upon here. Having made this Trans-Pacific run for over two decades now, and having sampled Northwest, Delta, United, American, Air France, Korean, JAL, Continental, Thai, and Garuda, among others, it is notable to note the ascendancy of Singapore Air, as measured in the effort department. From attentiveness, to food quality, to (copious!) availability of spirits, to professionalism, this is an airline that has become the new Korean Air. If the latter was once the Avis of airlines—trying harder to reach number one—then Singapore is the new Korean, the next Avis. They are doing it better, at about the same price, as their bigger, more established sister.
Which brings us to a couple of questions, if you’d care to weigh in . . .