Your Questions Answered, Part I

Things are busy here in Curmudgeon laboratories., what with the turkeys and the monkeys and all. So thank you to those of you who've given me some polite prompting with questions. I'll start with Kermitthefrog's question:
Where's the most exciting/satisfying/bewildering place you've traveled (choose one or all, and elaborate as desired)?
This is a tough question because I can only think of one trip I've ever taken that wasn't worth the trip (and if I could cope a bit more happily with the lesson from that one, it'd be good, too, in that "pain builds character" way). It's compounded by the fact that I love traveling the way only someone who feels they were unfairly denied travel can.

I grew up a military kid, around military kids, only we never got sent anywhere to speak of. There were kids who talked about snowball fights in Germany, about playing Spiderman on the bus in England, and all sorts of things. One of my siblings was born overseas. But not me, no no! And I was a geek as a kid (this should not be surprising) so I read about Greece and London and the Pyramids and all sorts of places, and it seemed the cruelest irony that I had friends who had been there and hated it, but I never got to go. The grass is always greener.

With that said, you'll understand (even as I'm about to pick one place) why I can't really pick one place. Paris was great, Spain was awesome, New York City was fun, Chicago was cold and bluesy. But just one? This feels like a Calvino "Invisible Cities" moment, and I love that and apologize for it.

Alright, Kermie, here it is: back when I was an undergraduate, I did roadtrips fairly regularly (and rarely to exciting places). But one Spring Break I went to stay with a friend in Monterrey, Mexico. This is not to be confused with any of those Spring Break beach trips. Monterrey is in the mountains in the center of the country. The weather was perfect, and my little Spanish wasn't up to the task. But the days there were the perfect mix of everything. I walked around a foreign place with my camera. I saw museums and visited a university. And at night, the mountains looked like they were lit by candles, so you could just mark their edges when the night was blackest. The city wasn't as bright as the places I grew up, so from my friend's balcony, you could look up and see the stars. For that week, we sat out on the stars and talked about books and computers and drank Mexican beer long into the morning. I didn't speak the language, and it proved (even having grown up in the Southwest) that I didn't know as much about the culture as possible, and it was strange and amazing and exactly what I wanted travel to be.

Monterrey set the rule for travel for me from then on. Pack as light as possible, carry the camera and the film, and walk around. If you don't speak it, try anyway and laugh - most people will forgive that. Monterrey was Paris. It was New York. It was the place I go back to anytime I travel, even though the new places are themselves. You can't compare the two - Paris was amazing and spectacular and mystifying and beautiful. And I got the pleasure of falling out of love there which is one of the only two ways to be in Paris. But who I am when I travel - how I see the places I am - that's all Monterrey.


4 Responses to “Your Questions Answered, Part I”
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kermitthefrog said...

Sigh. That hit the spot of travel wonderfulness.

Careful with the turkeys and the monkeys, now. You don't want to get them confused and operant condition the turkeys.

November 20, 2007 at 10:18 AM
Samantha said...

Reading "Curmudgeon Laboratories" totally made my day. :-)

November 20, 2007 at 10:41 AM
Maggie said...

beautiful! One of my best friends here is from Monterrey, so it's nice to hear about it from another person's perspective.

November 20, 2007 at 11:23 AM