Whenever I set off

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My favourite part of any trip is setting out to explore some new venues completely alone, walking down the streets aimlessly with my camera hanging around my neck and an empty sheet of paper in my heart upon which I write memoirs I will materialise later. As Andric once said: “I’ve always wanted just one thing – to describe in ink everything I see.” And I could add: “And what I cannot describe, to take a picture of.”

Sometimes I believe that words are too poor to convey the complexity and all the shades of some event and the photos are sometimes too simple to capture all the nuances of energy some places carry. Sometimes I think that words and pictures are strong enough, but I am simply not too good of a writer nor photographer to use them to their fullest potential.

Whenever I set off

And so I compromise and revel in the strange combination of pictures and words, not really sure which of the two are closer to my heart. Words are a sort of a human form of communication, artificially made to facilitate interaction.

Whan we say is always enhanced through the filter of our own humanity. And silence is the tongue of gods and nature and whatever we see is filled with that silence that is preserved in colours, shapes and smells. Although nature itself has its own music, the music of winds, waves, rain, crickets and bees, it is still given to us to absorb in a simple direct way – by looking at it.

And that sense of being given cannot be described – it can only be seen. That’s why we have photography, as a logical conclusion to human wish to explain the world and prove it in a way.

Technology is yet to wait for centuries before people come up with a way of representing smells. It would be an interesting experience if you could smell the hyacinths from my backyard as I describe my typical spring morning in Vojvodina, or the smell of the sea and the conifers as you click on the photo of the Adriatic sea I had taken years ago, sitting under a pine tree being showered in its tar. In a way, I do believe all those words and smells exist together in some parallel world and that the now wilted hyacinth is still exuding its smell somewhere.

I walk down some new paths, trying to preserve and take with me as many new impressions as I can, as I try to find still newer ones. They’re always eagerly waiting for me, as if they only existed so that I, of all people, could notice them.

After all, what is life if not a set of combined impressions connected through time and space by this form of “Me and I”? I’ve never collected any material goods, I only collected impressions. And as long as I have them, I feel alive. Sometimes I need to get rid of some, to clone them and multiply them in a way, so that they could go on living without me preserved in the form of words and pictures. That’s how they can reach some other Me’s and I’s, who would interweave them in some other impressions and let them lead a new life there.

Whenever I set off

I’m not one of those travellers who are programmed to plan and organise their journeys, and who amble around with maps and predetermined itineraries, who know where they will be each day at all times. I travel spontaneously, never knowing where I’ll begin my journey nor where I’ll end it. I don’t watch the news nor weather forecasts, I don’t set alarm clocks, and frankly, I don’t even own one.

I never carry an umbrella, nor long-sleeved shirts and sweaters in the summer. Same goes for the comfy waterproof shoes, a ton of medications, lotions against mosquito bites or any other “just in case” trifles. I do often find myself in troubles, but even they are charming in their own way, because they add a new spin to the whole situation. Of course, there are those, far less harmless problems, but after a while, after we’ve mulled over them and worked out the ifs and buts, even those seem less like troubles than adventures of their own kind.

And so I set off into some new city, without checking the weather, maps or the traffic. I walk with my camera and a new blank sheet of paper. It’s not a real paper, to be precise, it’s more of a yellowish parchment, slightly crumpled at ends and filled with a quill. The camera is not digital either, or at least, I imagine it to be analogue and I carefully arrange and plan every out of 36 frames and 36 possibilities. The pains of analogue cameras are long gone now, but even those were sweet sorrows. And if anything, they made us more clever, creative and careful, and what is more, they made us make decisions. Everything became easier with digital cameras, which is why I always carry my imaginary analogue camera as a reminder.

And so I set off into the new impressions bombarding me from all sides. They’re pelting down colours on me, like some schizophrenic painter and paste them against y soul, where they will wait for me to arrange and process them before sorting them around some mental shelves only I know of.

At first there were words. At the end, everything becomes a colour or a shape. “Everything exists so that it could be put into books”, someone said. “Everything exists so that it could be turned into a photo”, someone rushed to correct them.

Whenever I set off

Once I decide I’m too lost in words, shapes, colours and streets, I ask some of the passers-by where exactly I am and then I start considering my options and choosing between getting lost even more and trying to figure out how to go back into “safety” (and you must know by now how much I despise safety, right?). I mostly opt for getting lost even more, because each new street opens a new labyrinth and new words and colours are out there, waiting for me.

And so I found myself explaining these jaunts of mine to a friend: “And so I get lost accidentally on purpose sometimes…”

“Accidentally on purpose?”, remarked he in a Freudian manner.
“You know, accidentally…but on purpose.”
“Accidentally or on purpose?”, he asked.
“Well I do get lost on purpose, but lose my way accidentally.”
“Okay, just admit it, you are actually a latent control freak!”

A strange control freak indeed I am, with no map or alarm clock. Sometimes though, I do feel as if I had seen all of it already. Every step, every trip, every time I got lost accidentally on purpose, every word, photo and even this very text as I type it – all has already been said and done in one of those streets I didn’t know I’d get lost. Someone did say once that your future You is watching you through your memories. Or was it me?

Although I do let impressions take over me, I also make up stories in my head at the same time and recount everything that’s going on around me. As if there was a blind me within myself, who needs guidance and explanations about where we are. I am at the same time a passive observer and an active explorer and inventor. I travel with the aim of learning something new, but also to create. Each of my trips is in a way directed and staged. I feel like the main character in the novel of my own making. But also like all the supporting ones. Whenever I feel this contradictory fickle nature of my journeys, I fall back on Bukowski and his words: “Psychologists would probably have something to say about this, but so would I about them.“

Whenever I set off

I am not really sure how pure my impressions are. Something is bound to get lost in the translation i provide for that blind me. And while I struggle to see something in photos, which eludes me otherwise. I later mostly remember my words and photos, but do I remember raw impressions?

What would those raw impressions even be? What I strive towards as a traveler is something completely new, something I had never seen before, but I don’t do it in that boring textbook manner. I don’t care much for tourist attractions or sites inherent in package tours, nor places we touched upon in geography classes and so on. What I’m after is the authentic moment of life in some plain, at those times when nobody is paying attention to it. That divine essence that some place holds without any censorship in it. That atmosphere of a place that you could never completely comprehend and which is a part of all its inhabitants. The atmosphere that’ll always make you wonder what is it that citizens of some town have, that makes them unique and that nobody can take from them. What makes an elderly lady somewhere in Mexico a Mexican woman, the inhabitant of precisely that village and no other that I accidentally ran into.

People scattered all over the world are all a mystery in their own right, yet they do leave traces in their sweet little habits, details on their clothes and their demeanour. You could develop different theories about their character based on these details. I usually admire those individuals who can march through the city bustle and leave a trace in the air, simply by passing by. I often get the urge to follow them and see where they’re going and what they’re doing.

Other things I look for are related to the architecture of a place, and in addition to churches and imposing buildings of historical value, I enjoy looking at street lamps, benches, mailboxes, balconies, chimneys and of course windows which have already merited a separate piece of writing.

Whenever I set off

These explorations of mine never tire me, but I do get hungry often, so I need to make breaks. It’s different when I’m in the nature or in the countryside because I can always grab a bite from someone’s vineyard or enjoy apples, cherries and tap water from the backyard of some cottage. If I like a particular backyard, I can even stay there pretending to be standing guard against burglars. Burglars such as myself to be honest. I gladly water the flowers, pick up cigarette stubs and so on. Sometimes I even run into the owners of the place and they offer me elder juice.

Whenever I spot a particularly pretty house, I feel like Snowwhite. I observe the house from every angle, and keep teetering about, hoping that some old woman will notice me and invite me in for a coffee. Sometimes it happens. That’s how I made some new friends. I’ve seen so many gobelins of those ladies, their old wedding photos, pictures from reapings, horseback ridings and so on. I’ve heard lots of tall stories too, fish stories from Japan documented in shells and corals. Sometimes I was treated to history lessons, and mind you, everyone has their own version of history. Sometimes I befriended an animal or a flower along the way and I usually preferred them to people. Sometimes even objects did. I also preferred them to people, and I am usually fond of people.

And so now I’m more fond of objects, flowers and animals than people, and they, along with their gobelins, letters, elder juices and knitted doilies, all their benches, mailboxes, lighthouses and cobbled streets, they all live in one imaginary, virtual world in my head. Even if you asked me where exactly something is, or when it happened, I wouldn’t be able to say. But I could, even now, enter that world made up of countless streets and pavements put together like a mosaic, with pasted streetlamps borrowed from some other towns. Even if you spun me around and made me look for them with my eyes closed, I would still know where to find them.

Author: Mirjana Vasiljevic 

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