Friday, June 1, 2012

Perspective, the British Isles and Paris

Jumping around from country to country puts things into perspective in an extraordinary way. I haven't thought, exactly, how I felt about the city I've grown up in all my life until just recently, when I arrived home after my two week travel around northern Europe.

The biggest reality check I experienced did not take place when our plane landed in London. Nor did it when when we crossed, via ship, the beautifully greened expanses of land that made up the countryside of Wales, or the history-rich cities of Dublin and Belfast in Ireland, or even the amazing rocky shores and coastal mountains that made up Scotland's northern parts. The most moving prospect of the entire trip involved laying eyes on what I called home, after getting used to the brand-new, remarkable sights I experienced every day for two weeks in Great Britain, Ireland, and Paris, France. Seeing home, there in the middle of the United States, that was when everything became both eerily real and surreal.

Among the family members who were travelling with me - my mom, aunt, and grandfather - I think perspective, personally, hit me with the most force. I could tell when the ship first docked in Greenock, Scotland that, by the look on Mom's face, Scotland would be the place that moved her. The look on Grandpa's face when he saw the inside of O'Neil's Irish pub in Dublin (and had his first Guiness beer) told me how memorable those moments would be to him; and my aunt's face when she, well, found the first internet cafe where she could talk to her boyfriend at home spoke volumes. I knew straight away with how they reacted differently to all these things that they had found something in these unfamiliar places that gave the places weight and importance, despite the fact that they had never set foot on them before. (Except, of course, the case with my aunt, where her reaction at the internet cafe in London told me how being away from her boyfriend unveiled the magnitude of infatuation she had with him).

Though I loved every place equally (it was impossible to choose a favorite!) I eventually realized that the reaction that spoke volumes in me came within the moment on the way home when our plane crossed the Mississippi River. At that moment, looking down, I realized how different home was from the places I'd spent a fortnight through my camera's eye. The places that, in my mind, begged to be brought to life through curving and glittering words and stories. The places like Paris, where knowing that every week, millions of people had viewed the exact statues and buildings and landmarks that I had been currently viewing; Like London, where the city is so large yet so compact that history seemed to speak to me from every single corner; Like Wales, where year-long quenched-green hills battle with yellow daffodil hills and photogenic lighthouse coastlines, and sheep outnumber people four to one; Like Dublin, where the city itself almost smells like one big Guiness brewery; Like Belfast in Northen Ireland, where the artistry that has gone into the graffiti that line the city buildings is the only thing that establishes a difference in its mountainous landscape and Denver's; Like Greenock, Scotland, where your most stereotypical thoughts about Scotland are proven as you notice the abundance of kilts, bagpipes, goats versus people, and mossy/rocky hilltops; Like Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands of northern Scotland, where street shows of locals playing folk music dot the entry ways of 15th century churches and castles (though Edinburgh proved to have the same thing, but with slightly warmer weather). After seeing all the places, the coming-home part of it all was what really struck me and made me think.

Anyone could see a thousand movies about Scotland, for instance, and never really feel how it's different from the United States. They could look at it in a two-dimensional sense, seeing the differences in the landscape, the way that people talk and interact differently, but not really feel what it's like to be there. The fresh moist air in your face, wafting off the northern coast; the temperature always predictably constant due to the warm air currents of the Caribbean; the sun always setting so late in the night on account of its high latitude. Physical perspective is where the merit is, where the beauty of an unfamiliar place is.

Because I had spent so long in unfamiliar lands, it came that I could see my own home land with new eyes when I came back this day one week ago. I was seeing St. Louis and all of the country over which the plane traversed with new eyes, realizing the differences between it and the countries I'd just visited. Though it held almost nothing when compared to northern Europe's history, America held its own kind of enchantment in that it inspired me to think of how different it really was. Where countries as old as Europe thrived in earlier times where sources of water and better chances of vegetation lay, I noticed that, since those times, European descendants have consensually agreed to stick with those particular lands and make the most of them (i.e. Glasgow, Dublin, London, Paris, Edinburgh, etc.). What makes America different is that we haven't stayed in one place long enough to establish such historically-sound cities as they have (though, granted, we haven't had as much time to). However, I don't think it's in our nature to. America is about newness and branching out - establishing a new city long enough to have made certain it would flourish on its own, and then moving on to another new portion of land (after all, this was mostly what our ancestors were all about). We need space because we always wanted for it, since the day Columbus set foot here. Just ask any American tourist in Europe. The difference is we don't like to speak a foot a way from other people; we don't like driving around in compact cars, on a road the width of one lane on an American highway; and we don't enjoy taking public transportation anywhere we go. We enjoy our space, our ability to drive anywhere, anytime (and without a compact-size car!)

I enjoyed my first trip across seas immeasurably, but mostly what I found most appealing was the new eyes I have allowed myself in stepping out of home for a while.   

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