Forces of Nature… Or of Human Nature When Travelling

This week, share a force of nature from your corner of the world.

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I managed to get to my window seat without anybody stepping on my feet; there was plenty of room for my carry on bag; there were no screaming children seated close by; and the gentleman seated next to me appeared to be a very civilized, polite person. I sighed with relief – all these aspects were nothing but miraculous, given the chaos of people boarding what was obviously going to be a full Airbus A310. There was still hope, I could enjoy the flight, I could relax and empty my mind while staring at the clouds – yes, I know, I have all too often bored everybody with my predilection for seeing the wonders of nature from above. I could even take a nap – I was exhausted after all. As it turns out, it was indeed a good opportunity to ponder on the wonders of nature… of human nature when travelling, that is…

Has it ever struck you how people undergo a radical metamorphosis when traveling, especially if they are on vacation? We often resemble a swarm of locusts rather than the civilized individuals we embody in our day to day life. Yes, I am aware of the psychological factors, but that doesn’t mean observing this manifestation is any less fascinating. We eat and drink everything and anything, dishes and beverages that we wouldn’t even touch at home. We wear the most ridiculous outfits either because they are more than comfortable, or because we have some distorted, cliché ideas about what we should wear in a particular place. But it’s allowed when travelling, right? And let’s not even get into all those ridiculous souvenirs that we buy, only to wander what we were thinking when we get back home. I admit I also have a couple of tacky fridge magnets which make me doubt my general sanity… Somehow, travelling makes most of us more desperate to consume everything that’s available, from food and entertainment to art and culture.

The trip isn’t really over until we get off the plane, so the flight time is the final occasion to let our inner locust thrive. But while many of my travel fellows were restlessly looking forward to their snacks and beverages, I was contemplating going to sleep. The view out the window wasn’t too impressive, I didn’t feel like reading and my inner locust draws the line at airplane food, since I am a picky eater even if I am travelling. I knew I had to wait until they were done with their food, the unappetizing smell of the warm meal and the noise were going to keep me awake. But who knew the travel habits of the gentleman sitting next to me would keep me awake too?…

He was clearly very interested in his appearance – a man in his early fifties probably, in good shape and neatly dressed in his casual designer clothes, to which he had matched a rather expensive watch and a very nice pair of shoes. Thus I wasn’t at all prepared for what followed…

The flight attendant served us our lunch and as usual, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her I didn’t even want to see the unappetizing dish on the folding table in front of me. So I thanked her politely and thought I could eat the chocolate bar and have a glass of orange juice. After all, there are people starving in the world… but since I couldn’t figure out how my consuming that awfully smelling meal would help them, I didn’t touch the rest. While I couldn’t help a grimace of disgust, my neighbour asked for a glass of wine, a glass of apple juice and a glass of water, which he carefully aligned next to the food tray. After almost inhaling the questionable meat and whatever gooey things accompanied it, scraping the dish clean, he moved on to the bread roll… which presented a certain cardboard-like quality. With expert moves, he spread the small lump of butter in a thin layer and even the crumbs were gone in record time. I would imagine slightly buttered cardboard makes one very thirsty, so this is probably why the gentleman proceeded to drink from the carefully aligned glasses – apple juice, wine, some more juice, water and so on, until no drop was left in any of them. Just as I was watching him with the corner of my eye, thinking he had nothing left to devour, he made one final discovery – there was a bit of jam he hadn’t seen before. In a matter of seconds, everything had been scooped out of the minuscule plastic container. In a fit of restraint, he set aside the chocolate bar, so he could have it with the cup of instant coffee and with that of hot tea the flight attendant served after the meal. True enough, she did ask, “Coffee or tea?”; but when our gentleman replied, “Both,” she chose not to debate it any further.

Now I can finally go to sleep, I figured, once the trash had been collected. I was just dozing off when a somewhat familiar rattling noise brought me back to reality. It was time for my neighbour to check his finances, obviously – he had taken an impressive amount of coins out of his man purse and now he was counting them diligently on the folding table. Lots of five cent pieces, I couldn’t help noticing… Once that little task was performed, he could finally find some peace of mind and move on to taking a little after lunch nap. Good, that meant I could sleep too.

He’s chocking, was the first thought to cross my sleepy mind some ten minutes later. No, not chocking, just snoring… And to think I had assumed peace and quiet were guaranteed just because there were no screaming children around… Luckily, there were still things to be consumed, so he didn’t sleep for long. Once awake, the ladies’ issue of the airline’s magazine received his undivided attention, so I could take a blissful half an hour nap. It was an overwhelming aftershave fragrance and some unexplainable warmth that woke me up this time. I opened my eyes to see the fashionable gentleman leaning over me, only a few centimetres away, staring at the clouds, his forehead close to the window. I cleared my throat and my angry glance made him sit down and stare at his shoes for a while. Well, I was certainly awake and since sleep was no longer an option, I started analysing the oddities of human nature when traveling… I suppose they need to be referred to as eccentricities when it comes to certain people…

And speaking of eccentric individuals… after another nap, our gentleman proceeded to entertain himself with the other magazine the airline had so generously provided him with. For my final delight, he took interest in the map showing all the flights and destinations of the airline we were flying. And that’s when it happened. A strip of paper found its way out of my neighbour’s bag and after a brief, yet careful analysis of both the map and the paper, he started measuring. Yes, the width of the paper became a measuring unit, allowing him to roughly calculate the length of various routes on the map…

I tried to immerse myself in the grandeur of nature and life unfolding under us as the plane started to descend. Humans have managed to tame and control forces of nature in many situations so far. How do we tame and control the human nature of the traveller though, especially of the eccentric one? Is it advisable to try or is it one of those things that should be accepted as they are, an integrant and undeniable characteristic of our species? Humans might be one of those forces of nature more difficult to tame and contain after all… But between the people sitting behind me bragging about how much they had spent on their holiday and the eccentric gentleman surreptitiously “borrowing” the free magazines, I just couldn’t reach a conclusion…

Motion

This week, share your photographs that have captured motion, and tell us the stories behind the images.

I took these photos quite a few years ago in a small town in the south of Italy. It was Ferragosto and everybody was celebrating – the dancing was just starting as we arrived. I felt out of place at first, overdressed as I was, coming straight from the nice restaurant where we had dinner. But such a trivial matter made no difference in that small town square, where vibrant traditional music sipped through old walls and narrow streets, invading every fiber of our beings. People were just people for one night, it didn’t matter who they were, what they wore or what language they spoke. It didn’t matter that I was still struggling to understand their dialect, it didn’t matter that my Italian friends had immediately disappeared into the crowd, joining the dancers. I soon understood that I didn’t need to know anyone or anything, not even the steps to the pizzica or the tarantella, that night was all about enjoying the moment. They had accepted me as one of their own even if I couldn’t dance their dances or speak their dialect too well 🙂 … That was the night when traditional folk from Southern Italy appeared to me more welcoming and open than ever before, thus proving once more that music, dance and celebration help us relate on a completely different level.

Early Bird

This week (and especially if you’re among those who find the early bird concept cringe-worthy), I encourage you to set your alarm for the early hours, grab your first (several) cups of coffee, and challenge yourself to capture an outstanding photograph in the early morning light.

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Let me preface this by saying that I am not a morning person! Say what you will, laugh if you must, but waking up earlier than my normal hour equals torture to me. Personally, I blame it on genetics – both my parents suffer from this ‘ailment’ 🙂 .

I will wake up early in the morning whenever I must, but I will also hate myself and the world for it… especially if such a depressing situation occurs at the weekend. So this Saturday was no exception to the rule… While driving through the almost deserted streets on an already warm and sunny morning, all I could do was think that I really should have drunk that third cup of coffee before applying my makeup. That way I might have not been yet again reminded that early mornings, mascara and contact lenses often don’t go well together.

Once I sorted out that aspect while being the only one waiting at a traffic light, I could move on to hating all those fortunate people who were still in their beds. But if everything went well, if I found parking right away and the annoying little task presented no unexpected complications, I could be back home and under the covers in about half an hour.

Yes, that was the only thought that made me feel better. Did I care about the unique opportunity to see the town so calm and sleepy in daylight? Not even a bit… Did I reach for my phone to take at least one photo of all those traffic lights with no cars waiting for the lights to change? The thought never crossed my grumpy mind. I caught a glimpse of the sea with the corner of my eye – I think it looked calm and lazy – but I couldn’t even be bothered to turn my head and take a better look, much less stop and think about it. So that chance of having some fresh, new photos for the challenge was lost on me 🙂 .

That being said, I will admit there were many occasions when not only was I lucky to be awake at an annoyingly early hour, but I have done it on purpose, without it being a must. Such a case was on a trip to Rome a few years back. We caught a very early flight, dropped the luggage at the hotel and started wandering the streets at an hour when sleepy waiters were still trying to get the cafes ready for another day of touristic invasion. That’s how we accidentally got to the Trevi Fountain without any effort, without even trying, without having to fight hoards of people in order to get close to it. I took my time to look around and cherish the peace and quiet. Only a few more sleepless souls were there to enjoy the morning treat – it looked so different, the experience felt so much more real then all the other occasions on which I saw the fountain later on, during the same trip…

There already were tourist out and about by the time we made it to the Pantheon and we could even stop at a café and reward ourselves with much needed espressos and breakfast. But those special, almost private moments by the Trevi Fountain will always stay with me… That’s probably why I didn’t even considered throwing in a coin and wishing to never have to wake up early again… 🙂

Wall

Share an image of a wall that reveals something about a place, people, or you.

Old walls always fascinate me… The history and mystery they hide are so tempting and intriguing! It’s such a treat to imagine what used to go on behind them, who or what they were trying to keep out… or in 🙂 And what was it that finally brought them down?…

But more importantly, are the walls that we can see and touch the strongest ones? They are, after all, the only ones we really know how to destroy, how to climb over…

Scale

This week, share an image that highlights a size relationship — make us pause and take a second look to understand the scale of the elements in your photo.

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Remember those old camera phones? Yes, the ones equipped with VGA cameras 🙂 Oh, that sense of pride and joy many of us have felt when having purchased our very first one… Well, this is a picture taken with such a phone many, many moons ago. While reminiscing, go ahead and see if you can find the butterfly 🙂

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And now for something from this decade… It’s interesting to see how all those things so important to us can at time seem so small and insignificant, if perceived from a distance, within a larger picture.

Depth (Weekly Photo Challenge)

This week, share with us your take on “depth” — you can take it literally, like me, by showing something (a dense forest, your lawn after a blizzard) that suggests volume, a distance between surface and bottom. Or go with a more figurative approach.

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I would like to say that there is something deep, profound about anything and anyone, but the truth is I don’t believe it. Sometimes what you see is exactly what you get, certain things, places, situations and people are nothing more than what they appear to be. And this can be a real blessing in some cases, the same way shallow waters can become a nightmare in others. But it’s the hidden meaning, the dark depths of mystery that I generally like to look for, whenever existence becomes dull and predictable. It just adds a special thrill to life and routine once in a while 🙂 …

Dreamy (Weekly Photo Challenge)

This week, we’d like to see an image that looks dreamy to you. A photo of a place you often visit in dreams. A scene that looks a bit out-of-this world. Take us on a flight of fancy!

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I wasn’t completely sure what it was until it started to move. That was also when I noticed the man whose pedaling transformed the unusual looking contraption into an old-fashioned merry-go-round – does he not look like a character from a fairytale? I was amazed and happy to see the children so excited about this somewhat anachronistic ride. So they can enjoy something else but the wonders of technology, as long as they are provided with such a source of fun…  However, I couldn’t  help channeling the evil witch in Hansel and Gretel for a second 🙂 … And those of you who ever tried to have a pleasant dinner in a nice, romantic restaurant while a few children running amok were disturbing everybody but their parents, will probably understand what I mean. For a moment, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have one of these right next to the coat check?…”

Nighttime (Weekly Photo Challenge)

What nocturnal photos do you like taking? Whether it’s a starry sky, a street lamp, or the shadows cast by your cat, share them with us. Your shot can be outdoors or indoors, blurry or crisp, overexposed or ominously dark. As every owl (and night owl) knows, nighttime is when the real action starts.

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I just discovered I have a surprising number of night photos – one worse than the other 🙂 . But this one appealed to me more than the rest, in spite of the fact that it was taken with what was – judging by today’s standards – quite a rudimentary phone. Maybe it’s the sentimental value it holds…

Adventure (Weekly Photo Challenge)

This week, share a photo that says “adventure.”

Ever since I was a child, I was particularly fond of heights. In fact, having the chance to take in the scenery from the top of a tall building or floating in the clouds has always been a treat for me. This is why I really need to focus on trying to be understanding when it comes to a good friend of mine who cringes at the mere sight of such photos. For him, travelling by plane or even a ride in a cable car are life-threatening adventures. But I still think everything looks nicer seen from above 🙂 .

Dialogue (Weekly Photo Challenge)

For this week’s challenge, bring together two of your photos into dialogue.

I mentioned earlier this year that I would like to visit Vienna again, perhaps even have some more of that great apple strudel I tried at Schonbrunn Palace. Without realizing it, that was the opening line in a very enjoyable dialogue on this topic, as somebody dear to me had paid attention to those slightly melancholic words. So you’d like to see Vienna again, he said to me a few days later. I took the spoiled brat approach and replied, I’d rather go to Paris first, if we’re to revisit places… I though the conversation died then and there, but somebody needs to have the last word every time, so in June I was very pleasantly surprised with a long weekend in Vienna. What can I say… given how nice our little getaway was, I think I can live with occasionally not having the last word 🙂 And the strudel was as great as I remembered it. One thing had changed though – the flowers in the Palace gardens were now different, a bittersweet reminder of the passage of time, whispering to me that spring and summer are never alike and years will leave a mark on anything and everything.

On Top

Weekly Photo Challenge: On top can be a feeling, a perspective, or a physical location.

There are some rare moments when you feel on top of the world, when you feel the weight lift off your shoulders – suddenly, life becomes enjoyable and happiness takes over you as you forget all worries, fears and threats.

As you may have gathered, I find the sea to have a calming effect on me; travelling, seeing new places, is also something I thoroughly enjoy whenever I have the chance; and I never let my high heels to get in the way of climbing all those challenging heights. So when these three aspects merge, I can virtually say I’m on top of the world – from so many points of view…

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