Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mind like a spirograph

It was in September of 1993 that I arrived in Brazil. It was my first real time away from home. I was seventeen. There was no internet, nor were cell phones common. It was arranged that I would call Canada to speak with my parents at an appointed time, or they would call me, once a month. I was homesick, but my exchange family supported me and I dealt with my bouts of loneliness. I kept a journal, although I have since lost it. I wrote letters on onion skin paper edged in yellow and green and walked down the hill from Laranjal, the neighbourhood in which I lived, whose name meant "orange grove", to the post office where I carefully sealed them using paste from a communal jar before sending them off to my parents or one of my many pen pals.

Since 1993, I have lived and traveled all over the world. By the time I went to Tunisia, in 1997, I had an email address and used computer labs at my university to keep up with far off friends and relations, but we had no internet in our Carthage digs. Telephone calls were expensive, and connections unreliable, and I found myself corresponding with home via fax, of all things. My summer in China the next year was similar. By 2000 the internet was commonplace, although in my return to China that year it was still the norm to visit a web cafe to get online. I kept a handwritten journal, and sent letters and postcards home.

In the summer of 2003, a decade after Brazil, I had a baby and my first blog. We were living in Washington DC, and it occurred to me that I should be recording some of what we were up to. We had more money now, and internet in the home, and I was able to travel several times between Manitoba and DC that summer. I still updated my friends and family, although perhaps less frequently, with news directly in emails and telephone calls.

We moved to Arequipa in 2006 and I decided to write a travel blog. It is mostly an account of the day to day, intended as a way to keep our loved ones up to date on our adventures. It can be found here: In 2007, in anticipation of returning to school to study law, I joined Facebook. I started a new blog, to chronicle my adventures in law school, but it died a premature death in the face of the immediate satisfaction of Facebook - and the all-consuming law school experience.

Twenty years have passed since my first overseas journey. These days I speak by video call with family and friends almost whenever I want to, and I carry an instrument of perpetual discourse in my pocket. My first day in Lima filled me with unease and a feeling of being cut off as intense as the one I had upon arriving in Brazil - just because I couldn't access the internet.

All of this is recited to show that I have always kept a record of some kind or another, and intend to do so again now. I do find myself wondering, however, as to the purpose of the record. I used to write personal diaries and letters home, and I don't do that as much anymore. However, I still don't think I've gotten the hang of the public (ish) record that is a blog.

As I begin this endeavour, I keep circling back to all of the other times I've traveled and written. I say circling, but that's not right, as the trajectory is not circular. It isn't really an outward spiral, either, as I find myself retracing steps, or crossing old paths in the opposite direction in unexpected ways. Like the product of a limitless spirograph, patterns seem to emerge in travel experiences and memories, but whether they mean anything or are more than a figment remains unclear.

The act of writing isn't the only thing that produces this tesseract of the mind; smells, tastes, the feel of light and air together, a turn of phrase, a bird's tail or the way a tree overhangs a street can swing me in a swooping arc back to 1994 Brazil, or 2000 Beijing, or 1997 Tunis, or 2004 Sri Lanka. Arequipa, perhaps down to its temporal or physical proximity, is rarely triggered by Lima experiences. Maybe a thing must be unexpectedly strange, or familiar, or remembered out of nowhere, to merit reflection.

In any event, this is what this blog will be: an account of my time in Peru this go around, rather more in depth than my Facebook updates, and probably more prone to navel-gazing than is strictly necessary. If you find it entertaining, I hope you'll continue to read it.


  1. Thank goodness. Otherwise I'd have to turn my mind to work ...

    1. I'll do my best to make sure that dire fate does not befall you ;)

  2. " died a premature death in the face of the immediate satisfaction of Facebook..."

    Mine, too.