Photo: Elizaveta Galitckaia/Shutterstock

The Ephemeral: Travel Without a Camera

by Alice Driver Nov 24, 2011
Sometimes it seems that images can fill our empty spaces, can makes us whole, known, and understood to people half a world away.

HOWEVER, THERE IS ALSO A WEARINESS that comes with taking photos, an obsessive tick that makes us snap photos before we have fully understood or taken in the moment. This weariness has overtaken me twice in my life, both times on trips to Mexico. With it came the urge to pack next to nothing, to travel with the lightness of a few t-shirts, running shoes, a worn pair of jeans.

Of images, there are none. None of me with the glistening, muscled street performer covered from head to toe in silver paint on the Calle Madero, none of the mangy gunmetal grey poodle that wandered across the congested Calle Lázaro Cárdenas as if it owned the street, none of the oleaginous but ever so delicious pork to fill my daily tacos al pastor. Instead, I have memories of the metro, of the heat of humanity and bodies packed together as I try to fight my way into the metro car. The sea around me surges, but despite my best attempt to press my body into the crowd, to mold myself into the tiny space between the doors, I remain on the metro platform. I am left behind.

At moments, it strikes me. I miss my camera. I almost feel handicapped without it, as if the camera were an extension of my hand. How can I explain the alebrijes, the giant imaginary creatures of made of papier-mâché – mermaids with voluptuous breasts and three heads, dragons made entirely of flower petals, winged beasts with serpents tails – in the Zócalo? Rivers of people flow through the square all snapping photos with their phones, all focused intensely on seeing the world through the lens of a camera. I walk on, etching the beasts in my memory, storing them away for later.

When I walk the city, the rain soaks me to the skin. In my enthusiasm for packing next to nothing, I left behind my umbrella, my rain jacket. I wander, drink atole, get lost, pass a street vendor selling porn; slowly the rain on my skin turns to sweat. As I stand on a corner waiting to cross the street, a guy with a mustache rolls down his window and yells at me“¡Que sabrosa!” The black-clad punk with purple tinted lips standing next to me yells back, “Así soy yo,” and brings a smile to my face.

I make new friends, but I identify them by their laughter rather than by their faces. There is something wickedly delicious about being able to recognize friends from afar by the tenor of their laughter. To laugh uncontrollably like a hyena, in bursts like a machine gun, or in a series of gulps and hiccups, these are the sounds I have come to love. I remember the feeling of lips brushing my cheek in greeting, the unexpected daily intimacy of saying hola and adiós.

My memories of Mexico City are fluid and ephemeral, more sensory than anything else. At the end of the day, there is no proof that I have made new friends, no proof that I have walked the streets of Mexico City. And yet I walk, soaked to the bone, feeling the city’s pulse.

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