Forgive me but this post is slightly more esoteric than usual and, yes, a little ranty in places too…
Today I want to talk about ‘being in the moment’, while also being conscious of being in the moment, and this consciousness being part of the enjoyment. So does that mean ‘not being in the moment’, but thinking that you are?
Balls, I’ve lost myself already. Maybe I should give this one up. No sod it, ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish.’
So yes, it’s struck me that often when I’m travelling and enjoying it, it’s because I’m savouring the idea of the trip at the same time as actually experiencing it. Now this doesn’t mean that I’m somehow detached from it, in fact far from it…
(Whoa, like, deep man. Pass me one of dem dere Magic Eye fractals and let’s party like it’s 1992, but I digress…)
Hmm… I think I’d better give you a wee example….
I’m sitting on the German ICE train chuntering its way between Leipzig and Bremen after the InterRail Birthday Bash and I get out my ipod and ping on a bit of Kraftwerk.
In my mind, Kraftwerk and travelling around Germany are irrevocably intertwined – and of course there’s no finer album to listen to in this context than Trans Europe Express – a concept album devoted to the wonder of modern-day rail travel.
So while I’m sitting on the train, peering out of the window at seemingly endless fields of neatly plotted trees and windfarms whipping past me, with the sounds of Europe Endless boingalling away in my ears and this brings me intense enjoyment for some reason. In fact, it’s possibly the highlight of my already very enjoyable trip.
There is no meeting with Iggy Pop or David Bowie for me, and the TEE is long gone of course, but there are ‘parks, hotels and palaces’ and that’s more than enough for me.
‘Yes, this is it! I’m sitting on a nice German train listening to THE song about the joys of travelling through Europe by train, made in Germany no less! This is the life alright!’
At this point, I’m both ‘in the moment’ and savouring the moment and indeed the idea of said moment, but not in an any sort of ironic way, you understand.
Is this a bit odd? I almost feel a little silly for admitting this, but there you go. That’s a big part of how I enjoy the travel experience and music has a lot to do with it.
My autistic train track doesn’t stop there either. When I get out into the square outside I hear the metallic grinding of the trams bisecting it (which calls to mind Metal on Metal) and the insistent little metronomic tick-tock tick-tock of the pedestrian crossing which echoes Dusseldorf’s finest again.
Even when I see the word Hauptbahnhof I break this into 3 distinct syllables to the rhythm of Boing Boom Tschak from their later album Electric Cafe.
Try it yourself: Haupt Bahn Hof! Haupt Bahn Hof! (Ok, maybe it works better if you’ve a feeble grasp of German pronunciation…)
Another time, I arrive at Berlin Alexanderplatz station, getting my first view of the Television Tower in the blinding sunlight while Orkestra del Sol’s track, Doppler Effect, just happens to pop up on my walkman. I haven’t engineered this moment this time and it’s possibly the first time I’ve listened to the song, but somehow it just seems to fit the moment perfectly and it’s a big part of how I come to remember my first impressions of Berlin.
It was the same in Manchester. I couldn’t resist summoning up the Smiths the minute I hit Piccadilly, a band I dearly loved in my teenage years but seldom press into service these days.
And my trip to Kentucky (the birthplace of both Bonnie Prince Billy AND My Morning Jacket, two of my all-time Southern Fried faves) was deeply coloured by similar twangsome, campfire undertones. I think the main reason I want to go to Birmingham, Alabama, is to hop along the streets to the strains of Randy Newman’s jaunty number.
Here Comes the Rant…
Now all this reminds me of one of those annoying ‘fortune cookie’ platitudinous facebook memes about travel. You know the sorta thing I’m talking about I’m sure. These, along with well-worn, supposedly wise travel quotes, irritate the living shit out of me at the best of times, but the one which has got my goat lately (and which keeps popping up again and again until I have no choice but bang my head repeatedly against the nearest blunt surface) is this one:
I could take issue with this on a number of levels, but it’s the small word only that rings alarm bells in my head. Even if you agree with the general sentiment it extolls (which in fact I do, believe it or not) it is a crushingly idiotic statement if you think about it.
What about music, books, films? Surely all these things do just as much, if not more, to enrich your life don’t they? Ok, so you don’t necessarily have to buy these things and acquire them as material possessions to enjoy them, but let’s face it most of us do. And similarly, you don’t necessarily have to spend much money on travel to experience that either, in theory at least.
If you choose not to amass such things, if you spend literally every spare penny you have on travel and nothing but, what does that say about you anyway?
Few would argue that wanton consumerism is a shallow pastime, but to suggest that there’s only thing worth spending money on in life has a whiff of cultishness to me…or else clever manipulation by the travel industry itself.
So I’ll be having my cake and eating it, thank you very much. I’ll be keeping hold of my music (I do like to own it, I can’t let go of that and just not happy with the idea of streaming, but that’s just me) as it will continue to enrich my travel experiences no end I reckon.
‘And if I seem a little strange, well that’s because I am…’
I shall leave you with this. Passengers by Stephen Emmer, featuring the rich tones of Lou Reed reading (with some very odd intonation in places!) bits of Paul Theroux’s Great Railway Bazaar over some nice, stately, vaguely filmic music. A bonkers idea on paper, but it works so well for me.