It is likely that there are more words to type out here than I have the time or energy to let flow from the jumbled collection in my mind through my fingers, but I will try a little.
The collection is jumbled because I haven’t thought of a way to summarize my trip. I guess I could say that I went for a conference based on one of my chapters for my thesis (it’s amazing what a 20 minute time limit and weeks of digestion can do for an argument; I almost wish I could rewrite the darned thing, but not really). On the other hand, I also went to see Portugal and learn something about a country I had never seen before. In fact, I haven’t been to a single country south of France, so I’m pretty limited in my world view. Ultimately, I suppose one could say I traveled, as we discussed at the conference, to learn a little about myself… but also to forget myself.
While in Braga, Portugal, which is/was the un/official catholic center of Portugal since the Middle Ages (there was a church almost on every corner), I learned to forget preconceptions, worrying about how I presented myself, how to greet and say goodbye to strangers or people who I spoke animatedly with for hours at a time. I also learned that it is possible to travel with very little funds, and that not having change rattling around in one’s pocket makes traveling more relaxed because one doesn’t have to worry about collecting souvenirs for others. Souvenirs are only pieces of displaced memories that perform the same work as photos, and photos are free. I took many photos, but also learned to leave my camera in my pocket and resist the urge to pull it out, taking in the images only for myself.
Some things I noticed about Braga is that the Portguguese like their lemon trees, roundabouts, tiled facades, and churches.
What surprised me about Portugal was how strong the recent EU crisis and recession hit their country. I hadn’t been aware that the wealth of a city or country would reflect so strongly in its buildings. I found a ghost town just north of Braga’s university campus, and was struck by the contrast of natural beauty and dilapidation.
This trip was different than my longer trip to Hamburg to study abroad because in Braga I was able to forget about myself. I think my first weeks in Hamburg were the same way, but eventually academic and social responsibilities brought me back to myself in a way that traveling to Braga let me release for a little while again.
I can understand how traveling can be addicting. One does not have to claim a productive presence as long as one does not stray too far outside the expectations of the culture. Not knowing the language is an excuse for any step out of line, and most people that are not irritated at themselves will be helpful and want to make sure you’re okay, are able to enjoy their country. I think people like tourists to some extent, because they validate the choice to live where one lives. One has to accept that if other people will travel to be where one lives, one lives in a pretty damn good spot. Of course, I don’t mean to say everyone should like tourists or look for validation. I just used the opportunity to think to a larger audience than myself for a while. Thanks for putting up with it.
Hope you’re having a good weekend and that the next week brings you something exciting!