One of the pleasures and also the problems of travel to another country is that each simple transaction is slightly mystifying: the language, the currency, the customs. Your habits are left at home with the clothes in your closet, and everything is fresh and surprising.
As one small, graphic example, the electrical apparatus of Buenos Aires is alarmingly slapdash.
Wires hang in clumps along the main boulevards, and in tangles behind the apartment buildings.
It has a certain charm, but also makes one wonder what the next big storm will bring.
In the same way, being in a new environment without the protection of your accustomed routine has a certain liberating effect but can also be profoundly disconcerting. It usually leads to at least one day where everything goes wrong.
We had one of those days when we left Buenos Aires–Larry discovered he had lost his bankcard, I grabbed wrong bag at the airport, and we spent the rest of the day unravelling these problems mostly in Spanish with phone systems that would not cooperate.
But these minor pains were salved by reading Borges’ lecture on his blindness which includes this paragraph, translated eloquently by Eliot Weinberger:
“A writer, or any man, must believe that whatever happens to him is an instrument; everything has been given for an end. This is even stronger in the case of the artist. Everything that happens, including humiliations, embarrassments, misfortunes, all has been given like clay, like material for one’s art. One must accept it. For this reason I speak in a poem of the ancient food of heroes: humiliation, unhappiness, discord. These things are given to us to transform, so that we may make from the miserable circumstances of our lives things that are eternal, or aspire to be so.”
A beautifully expressed thought. The problem, of course, is that banal, tedious aggravation is both much more common and much harder to transform than tragedy. The only one I can think of who has that particular gift–to take ordinary irritation and make poetry out of it–is Tony Hoagland.
Case in point:
A Little Consideration
the workmen with their shovels and their picks
stand along the street