Friday, September 17, 2010

Profiles in Transit

My mom is fond of saying that, on my first big trip abroad, I looked at every monument, every piece of living history, as though I hadn't been certain it really existed until the moment I saw it with my own eyes. It did feel something like that: I felt the huge smile spread over my face the moment I saw the top of the Eiffel Tower as we walked toward it along the Seine; I stared in disbelief at the mosaic of a dog with the words "Caveat emptor" beneath it embedded in a floor in the ruins of Pompeii, an image I'd seen hundreds of times in my Latin textbook; I watched the wooden steps passing beneath my feet as I climbed the Arc de Triomphe, wondering about all the feet before mine that had worn them smooth.

I goggled at the places I went and the things I saw, but it was the people I met - however briefly - who left the deepest impressions. For me, one of the best things about traveling is the map of memories it creates. I can look at a picture of somewhere I've been, or pinpoint a trip on a map, and remember the interactions I had with the people there, whether or not I spoke their language or they mine with any fluency. Those memories bring back the feel of a place: the scents of the market, the sounds of the traffic and the language filling the air, the textures of the streets and buildings, the tastes of the local food. And it's in remembering those details that I can travel back, at least in mind if not in body, to the places and people I've so enjoyed.

These "Profiles in Transit" will help me chronicle the people I meet and, hopefully, will give you a window into some different cultures, whether or not they're ones you've visited yourself.

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