You should never ask me for travel advice. Because my memory is eerily selective, you’ll never be able to assemble any travel wisdom from the fragments I choose to share.
Take India for example.
When I remember my 2007 visit to India, my memories are soft and glowy as I recall the mayhem of people everywhere, the bright orange marigolds, and the cows. I knew I would see lots of cows, yet they still felt like a surprise every time I saw them lolling in the streets, blocking traffic to take a gigantic crap. With a fondness that tugs at my heart’s edges, I think back to the night we celebrated Diwali in Nagpur, when the sky was ablaze with fireworks that invited us to celebrate well into dawn’s light. That night, right in front of our bedroom, young Indian men set off a string of fireworks a half a block long, and I’ll never forget their (or our) giddy scurries once the fuse was lit.
In each memory the colors are vivid, the people are smiling through doe-like brown eyes edged with dark kohl, and the incessant beep-beep of the cars is novel and charming.
I don’t let myself remember the agony of jet lag that made me feel like the Earth was going to swallow me whole or how the sultry curries burned the back of my throat, making me cry at breakfast. My memory reel edits out the night I stayed up until dawn worried that the mosquito in my hotel room would deposit malaria in my bloodstream and shorten my life. Also missing? My overwhelm at the poverty– whole families living on the side of a dirt road, their “home’s” inner sanctum protected only by a thin, tattered sheet that I could see right through. And more personally, it was stressful to take my first international trip with my soon-to-be fiance where the threat of GI distress (read diarrhea) was realized more than once.
These images are unforgettable, and yet I have cut them from the tape and stored them somewhere else, as if they belonged to another trip and another traveler.
When it’s time for my travel experiences to be archived as memories there are two tracks: (1) good and (2) bad. My memories can bear no subtlety or nuance. As it is coded inside my archives, India is colorful and delicious. An example of a “bad memory”? Padre Island, spring break, 1993. (That’s another post, people; we’re keeping it family-friendly today.)
For India, my brain has separated out the unpleasant and irreconcilable aspects– the poverty, the mangy animals standing next to emaciated children begging for money, and the disabled woman standing on the road to Agra looking like an upright skeleton as she rapped on my window and begged for money. I have actively tried to forget the scene where a group of bystanders covered a deceased moped rider with a ratty blanket after he was struck by a car. Those memories are there, but they are hidden underneath the majesty of the Taj Mahal at dawn or the tandori calamari in Goa. They are the chunks I strain out so that I can forever sip the clear broth of good memories.
My good memories are my primary memories. The others will be there too– the shadow side of the ones my brain Photoshops so I can have my soft glowy ones. As the reel ages, I forget to look underneath the misty beauty and visit the parts that challenged me or disturbed me. And that’s exactly how I want it to be.
So, yes, you should visit India and send me a postcard of the Taj Mahal at dawn.