"Everywhere I go, I find a poet has been there before me."
When you travel someplace new, whether it's to Southeast Asia or to the new Burger King downtown (the one that used to be a dry-cleaning place, back in the day), there's the tendency to believe that this unseen-until-now location has emerged, shining and complete, for you and you alone.
In a way, it has.
Things don't come into existence until we experience them for ourselves. You and I and President Bush and Prime Minister Martin can read about Iraq, its people and its problems, until our eyes start to fall out of their sockets, but until we go there, and talk to the people, and examine their problems, it's not real, not authentic, not solid.
The thing of it is, when we actually do go to these new places, the inverse occurs, thus completely screwing up our view of the world. Meaning, we find out: 1) That this is place has never before revealed itself to our innocent eyes; and 2) that it has, however, revealed itself to a lot of other eyes. The Burger King that is new for us, the customer, ready for a Double Whopper and fries at the opening-day sale, is most definitely not new for the fast-food manager, who has spent the past two weeks hiring teenagers, firing teenagers, hiring them again, and trying to figure out just how much ketchup is needed on a daily basis. (My estimation: a lot.)
Look at it it this way. I travel to Japan, a hick kid from Canada, and for me, each and every subway stop, not to mention buildings, elevators, even rooms, are fascinating, somewhat inexplicable adventures. For the salaryman standing next to me on the Odakyu line train as it rumbles and tumbles towards my stop, there's nothing transcendent going on. This is life, and he is living it, and his stop is just up ahead, could you kindly please step aside, thank you and I'm sorry. (Japanese are polite.)
Or I can come to Cambodia and immerse myself in a word that is poor, and corrupt, and filled with street children and teenage prostitutes. The mind reels; the jaw drops. For Cambodians? To them, um, it's Wednesday.
What is new for me is blase to you, and vice versa.
The trick of life is encountering the new, learning from it, burrowing deep, and then moving on. (Or, if you stay put, keep burrowing.) Both in Japan and Cambodia, the moment I arrived, I started reading about these completely, totally foreign places -- memoirs, biographies, history books, travel books. Just to make sense of the place. Just to allow myself a taste of
what these places were all about, written by people who lived there and loved them.
Freud was right. (Yeah, yeah, I know Freud doesn't need the props, but let's give credit where credit is due, shall we?) As the world gets smaller, as the Lonely Planet guidebooks continue to multiply like randy rabbits, so much of the world's mystery is being steadily, tragically eroded. Everywhere has been chronicled, examined, even blogged; everywhere has been held up to scrutiny, enjoyed, reviled. Poems have been written, books have been written, songs have been written -- about everywhere, really.
But don't despair.
Because I'm betting that there's places you haven't been. Others may have been there, yes, even poets, but you haven't.
Maybe it's Iceland. Or Germany. Or Quebec. Or St.Petersburg.
Or it might be the new Italian place, the one that your sister loved and your best friend hated. The one next to the new Burger King. The one whose door is always being held open by the smiling, pudgy owner.
They're all there, these places, so thoroughly trod upon by others and utterly uncontaminated by you. Shining. Complete.
What are you waiting for?