Sunday, 29 July 2012

Some ways to dis/reappear - thoughts on travel.

I've been slowly working on a travel book, but rather than wanting it to be a journal of my time in Georgia I wanted to go further to think about the nature of travel itself. It's taking me a long time - a labour of love in between all my fiction writing and poetry projects, so I thought I'd publish some extracts here...

Some ways to disappear.


Sitting in the dark staring at the still of night skimming the Black Sea it was easy to imagine walking in to never return. Not a suicidal wish, but rather a curiosity at the reality of being able to disappear; a curiosity as to whether anyone would notice. Except in this case it would have been noticed quite quickly before I even reached the water, surrounded as I was by chain smoking, drunk, but incredibly sweet boys who had adopted me as their guest. A status akin to sacredness in Georgia – they would never forgive themselves if I slipped away. But it got me to thinking about why we travel – yes to discover new places – that much is obvious – but also how if you go far enough and shed companions from your normal life, part of the appeal is this ability to disappear. To be wholly swallowed by a distant world no one from your past in your own country could know about. As well as a lust for life and new experiences there is an arguable nihilism in the persistent traveler, echoed in how we often behave like we never would at home, but there is also a regenerative power in this reinvention of self.
When you return from traveling, the days or months create a hollow shape in the events of your home life – that there will always be a time carved out when you knew nothing of what was going on and were not part of any of the details of your friends everyday lives. What can be an intensified moment of living in your personal interior and exterior life becomes an absence in the continuum of your everyday life at home.
As I sat on the beach listening to the gaggle of Georgian exclamations and ponderings I quietly put my headphones in and pressed play on New Partner by Palace, a song that reminds me of my teenage years. I have often been fascinated by how music when listened to out doors or in the company of people who cannot hear it can change the atmosphere of the experience of the place where you are sitting, and as I sat staring at the mass of dark water and pebbles dappled with the light of cheesy empty bars I felt like I had entered into a different realm – that here too was another way to disappear into the interior – to create ones own world within a living experience.
We were staying in the village of Gonio a few miles south of the Black Sea port of Batumi and close to the eastern Turkish border. I had always been fascinated by the Adjara region where this place lay ever since years before I read about how during the 90s and the civil war it had been run as an autonomous region by a tyrannical but charismatic man named Aslan, who at least had the benefit of keeping Adjara’s residents out of the trouble. Aslan is a common enough Georgian name, but for me it instantly conjured associations with CS Lewis’s charismatic lion of the same name who I had spent much of my childhood wanting as the ultimate pet I could ride off on and leave my west country village life behind. Because of this no matter how many times I heard tales or read serious articles about how he ruled I could not help but see him as somehow a gentle figure, and Adjara as a potential Narnia within Georgia. The reality was different obviously. In fact I have visited many regions of Georgia with a Narnia-like quality, most notably Khevsureti near the Chechen border, but Adjara felt overwhelmingly like what it was in that moment: our August summer holiday destination.

The hologram of travel.

I recently watched a television programme on which a physicist explained the theory that reality is a hologram – a result of the inevitable unloseablility of information resting on the edge of a black hole. Or something along these lines – I am not a scientist though I acquired an adult fascination with physics having rejected it as boring at school. But the more I began to think of the idea of reality as a projected image – an image that gets more blurred the closer we look at it – the more I began to think about the significance of the moments when we feel most alive.
There have been times when travelling that my normal life, my “real” world, has seemed like an illusion compared to the intensity of life when not at home. That I have somehow woken up and the real world is a dream and this other world, the one that is an illusion of my reality, is actually where I am alive. There are certain dreams I have like this too. Where I visit dream versions of real cities and these fictional versions of places I know seem more real to me, more alive, than the places I visit in my waking life. They are more vivid, more intense in atmosphere and feeling. It is in the cities I travel too when awake in far away lands where I can recapture these feelings.
The first thing that drew me to Tbilisi was this sense that this place would become like a dream city to me. Looking at faded photographs of wooden glazed balconies hovering like precarious bunches of glass grapes above cobbled streets I recognized this place I had never been to. It looked like the cities I had dreamed of all my life – not so much visually, as somehow the images had their atmosphere. Perhaps I knew that the reason I had to go to Tbilisi one day was that somehow it would wake me up. I never thought about the other side to this – how it would mess with the sense of reality of my normal life – my ability to settle down back at “home”.
I often wonder what home means to the chronic traveller. Whether taking that first wandering step is like taking a drug, a hallucinogen, that will somehow affect how you see things forever. How you relate to the places that are most familiar. There is no true going back home once you have left it.
Thinking again about the world as a hologram I wallowed in the poetic interpretation of physics. I knew I would never fully understand the concept, as many scientists say they don’t, but that somehow I could interpret it. The interesting thing about creative work is that it can be good or bad but not wrong as such – that is not the point of it. I would never be able to prove any theories but I could ruminate on them creatively as much as I liked. I looked at the intensified world around me and pictured myself wandering on a different level – that my life back home was a shallower or dimmer layer – that somehow I had surfed the flickers of information my life was made of to land on the place where it was brightest. Maybe travel is the search for this. The continual journeying towards hope; towards the place we know is resting somewhere muffled amongst all the interference.
On the same TV programme another scientist was talking about how he believed in parallel worlds – infinite numbers of them hovering around us in the here and now. That the combination of all these possible lives we are multiply living is what constitutes reality. We don’t know any other world than the one we think we know with our definition of reality, and yet I started to think about how we have to know all of them at the same time as we exist in each. I wondered about this in relation to travel too. Whether the places that we love cause us to split and divide and continue a parallel life there after we have left. That each time we fall for somewhere new we snap ourselves apart again. I wondered what my parallel life in Georgia was like. That maybe I preferred it to the one I was really conscious of and whether my subconscious knew all the other lives I was leading and kept trying to pull me back to the one it preferred. I was continually drifting into more than one place; my imaginative life was getting more dominant.
As a writer of fiction and poetry I often wonder about how the imaginary world is in some ways just as vivid as the world we think of as real. That there could be different definitions of what real is, and certainly in terms of science no one really knows what real is, so why shouldn’t what we imagine have its own validity as important as other forms of experience? Hume argued that all knowledge comes from experience, but if experience is more vivid in the imaginary realm does this not give its own kind of knowledge – a different kind of truth. Could traveling somehow get mixed up in this – be the ultimate way to catch this truth?
People often talk of travel in terms of clich├ęd ideas of self discovery, and life is often described as a journey, again in a horribly clich├ęd way these days. But maybe it's not so much a discovery of the self or life as a metaphor of movement, but rather travel is a discovery of the possibilities of these parallel lives – the other lives being lived in the world and how ours would change if interwoven with them in a life that moved forward with them endlessly, rather than being abruptly stopped and taken back to what we “know”. That we can always keep moving and change, and this human ability to adapt and change and reinvent itself is part of the nature of reality – is what keeps the world evolving if we try not to control it.
And if this hologram is information that cannot be lost I wonder if what really we are all made of is memories. That the whole world is a giant memory projected into infinite space. That what defines us and the places around us are the memories that cannot be lost. We will be remembered somewhere.

Copyright Alice Maddicott 2012