Friends, I’ve missed you! We’ve been rather out and about lately, traveling for Easter and for work. And the craziness is almost over. Meanwhile, I want you to meet Carole, whose love for culture is insatiable. Read, enjoy and share! (And then, be sure to submit your own post – I’d love to feature your words!)
The iron skillet hit the table with a thud, loosening the scent of paella into the narrow, ancient streets of the Jewish District in …was it Cordoba or Toledo? I can’t remember now. The blue mosaic of the café table reflected the sun, and every chair rocked on the uneven cobblestones. I was sixteen years old: neither prejudiced nor impartial, neither sophisticated nor naïve, neither a child nor an adult.
Okay, maybe a little naïve.
I return to this moment in my mind because that’s when it happened. That’s when the spark of holy curiosity ignited in my mind.
It’s a cultural curiosity fed by travel.
We saw many famous monuments on that high-school tour of southern Spain, including the Alhambra and a day across the Strait of Gibraltar in Casablanca. Honestly, though, it wasn’t that different from touring the Art Institute of Chicago, where you gaze on the beautiful works of art, and you’re enriched, but the enforced distance between you and the art prevents much of a tangible experience. That moment in the Jewish District, I went inside the artwork. I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but I knew this was how I wanted to travel—and oh yes, I most definitely wanted to travel!
Several years later, my husband and I spent five days in Paris. Yes, we toured all the most important monuments and churches. Yes, we were herded through Notre Dame like a bunch of Protestant cows, mooing and clanking our cameras like bells around our necks. But those are not the moments I treasure.
We had to dig for something more authentic.
We sat in a random café drinking espresso and smoking cigarettes because that’s what everyone else was doing. (I don’t like espresso, and I don’t smoke.) We stopped to rest outside a lesser-known Gothic church, then snuck inside where there were no tour guides or groups of camera-toting sightseers. We sat on wooden chairs near the back and thought about what it would be like to worship in a stone building with arched ceilings and flying buttresses. Another day, we found a spot surrounded by French-speakers near the Eifel Tower and just laid on the grass, watching the world move around us.
That same husband and I were driving through Dayton, Tennessee (home of the Scopes Monkey Trial) last year when we spotted this huge, run-down building only a car-length off the highway.
On one half of the facade, someone stenciled, “AMMO BARN,” and on the other, “BOOK BARN.” We had to stop. The kids rolled their eyes. (Some things have changed since Paris.) Entering under the “BOOK BARN” side, the smell of old paper punched me in the nose. I sneezed then stubbed my toe on one of a hundred boxes of paperbacks. I suppose I should make a metaphor here for the loss of small town American life and commerce, but that’s not my point.
God has given me this insatiable curiosity about other people who live in other places.
I could tell you so many more stories: a sheep-herder’s hut in Lesotho, a conversation with a theology professor in Germany, a rock-climbing venture in Yosemite, an Easter Sunday celebration somewhere in rural Poland, a soccer game with park rangers in the mountains of Costa Rica.
I don’t have a bucket list. I know I could never see it all, and I’ve learned that the famous buildings are but a small part of really seeing a place. More important is the understanding of life in that place, which means the less famous places are often more appealing—where tourism and westernism haven’t diluted the culture.
And it all started on that street in Spain when I began asking the right kind of questions:
What viewpoint does one have from here?
What does it feel like to live here?
What do I hear, smell, feel, breathe, and taste that’s different?
What do I want to know that can’t be captured in a photograph?
I will always be a tourist (even in Dayton, Tennessee) but that doesn’t mean I have to keep those places and people at arms’ length, that there’s a velvet rope blocking my access to the fine art of culture in that place. When I engage another culture, I step over the rope, I touch the sculpture, I smell the street in the painting.
Because life is art.
Carole is passionate about God’s Word—about how it can change our everyday lives! After years of globetrotting, she now lives, learns, and loves (plus a good bit of writing) in the hills of East Tennessee. Still, she wouldn’t mind an occasional trip abroad…or at least across a river or two. Connect with Carole on twitter, facebook, or through her blog.