I hear a swelling swoosh; from the south a bullet train whizzes into view on the tracks, knifes through the landscape in a matter of moments, then disappears with a whoosh. It has just covered in a few seconds what has taken me hours to walk. That very fast train reminds me that, as a pilgrim, travel is made holy in its slowness. I see things that neither the passengers of the train nor the drivers of the automobiles see. I feel things that they will never feel. I have time to ponder, imagine, daydream. I tire. I thirst. In my slow walking, I find me.
― Kevin Codd, Beyond Even the Stars: A Compostela Pilgrim in France
Perhaps they thought they could bring to this valley only those things they loved, leaving behind all ugliness.
We are not, however, a species that can choose the baggage with which it must travel. In spite of our best intentions, we always find that we have brought along a suitcase or two of darkness, and misery.
It was during my enchanted days of travel that the idea came to me, which, through the years, has come into my thoughts again and again and always happily—the idea that geology is the music of the earth.
Anyone who has undertaken a long journey can attest that many of the challenges encountered along the way were internal. When faced with extended travel and exploration, we reach a point at which we want to quit, to give up, to go home before it is time. Outer circumstances, such as weather and other forces of nature, illness, our fellow travelers or any number of unforeseen or expected roadblocks, help uncover our personal strengths and weaknesses and throw us into conflicts that help us recognize who we are. It is the response we make to these challenges, based on our talents and limitations, that determines our survival, the weight of our experiences and what, if anything, we learn. That doesn’t mean that we can’t surprise ourselves; there are plenty of colors waiting inside us that we don’t yet recognize.
Expectation is my latest painting. For me it reflects that the outside world is colored by our perceptions. That which we find in ourselves we will find in the world around us and vice versa.
Not all journeys are physical, but all journeys happen within our minds. Travel requires that we be open to experience, vulnerable to the fact that what we know is incomplete and inaccurate even as we recognize our beliefs as our own best attempt. We cannot see anything until we are ready to see it, nor can we believe anything until we are ready to believe it.
The more colors we can realize and recognize, the more chance we have to broaden and enlarge our fragile visions and discover common ground. We may find echoes of these colors in other people and in the natural and spiritual world around us. This is synchronicity.
Cities were always like people, showing their varying personalities to the traveler. Depending on the city and on the traveler, there might begin a mutual love, or dislike, friendship, or enmity. Where one city will rise a certain individual to glory, it will destroy another who is not suited to its personality. Only through travel can we know where we belong or not, where we are loved and where we are rejected.
Sometimes a journey, no matter how mundane, is the most interesting part of our day. How is art like travel?
A train car passing through the Cascade Mountains as part of EXPO 1974. Public Domain Image via NARA.
It is a wonderful quality of travel that it puts us in contact with other people. Sometimes these interactions are pleasant, other times challenging or downright disturbing, but they are the source of countless surprises that mark our lives like signposts. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of public transportation. I remember riding the bus during my college years and the time it gave me to unpack my day and to watch others living their lives. The kindnesses and cruelties on a bus or train are many–empathy and prejudice never fail to be passengers.
This beautiful and amusing fado, Pica Do 7, is written by Portuguese songwriter and musician Miguel Araújo and features the velvety voice of António Zambujo. The song is a marriage of whimsy with the underlying sense of fatefulness and melancholy that laces through the entire genre of Portuguese fado.
The words do not lend themselves to a literal English translation, which kills the poetry that makes them so stunning. The singer sings about love for the train, for the electric controller that puts it into motion. He (or is it really the she of the video?) didn’t want to fall in love with it, but his skeptical heart was stolen–he doesn’t even care if it breaks down because that means he can spend more time on the train. Nothing gives him the shock that the Number Seven train does and he can imagine no destination that would be more desirable. We get a momentary glimpse of what might have caused the situation when Zambujo sings, “If I ask if it has the pass to someone’s heart, who knows if I could obliterate that heart.” This traveler is not the first who turned to travel because of a wounded heart. Does he travel to assuage the pain or to nurse it?
Video via António Zambujo on YouTube.
The video itself is beautiful and full of a sweet, winsome longing. I especially enjoy the invasion of the train car by the band, a lovely, and yet only momentary, diversion from the young woman’s solitude amongst the everyday passengers. It emphasizes the difference between external and internal reality and the impossibility of bridging the gap between our perceptions and aspirations and those of people around us. We are never quite where we think we are. The delightful gender confusion between the song and the video add to the disorientation already present. Is the singer perhaps the young lady’s animus–always near, sometimes comforting and sometimes uncomfortable, but never quite in sync with her conscious self?
Art and music come along to complete the journey, but it’s difficult to judge whether they reduce or amplify the pain of life’s heartbreak. At any rate, the silence without them wouldn’t be very exciting, nor would it be as beautiful.
For more information about this talented singer with such a sexy, easy voice, please check out his website.
We wanderers, ever seeking the lonelier way, begin no day where we have ended another day; and no sunrise finds us where sunset left us. Even while the earth sleeps we travel. We are the seeds of the tenacious plant, and it is in our ripeness and our fullness of heart that we are given to the wind and are scattered.