It’s a strange city filled with a mix of kitsch and magic. It’s also a pilgrimage spot or mecca for every single person who feels that they don’t "fit" within any societal molds. It’s a city of tourist-pandering exploitation with "witch city" cabs donning small decals of hook-nosed women flying past on brooms. This is off-putting to some. I see this as the bait to bring the common American to sacred ground, to look upon what we, as a country, have done to innocent people, what we still continue to do to innocent people, and force us to reevaluate the size of our hearts, to think about how we can better care for others. It’s a place of atonement and transparency. It’s working to love everyone better, and when you’re there, you’re forced to work on this too.Read More
I started to hate flying. It took me a few years to say those words out loud, but when I did, I started to believe them. I hate flying, I thought, and I became someone who hated flying. The girl in me who always took the window seat and who gazed outwards at cloud textures and Lego cities, who loved the pull of her body against the seat back on take-off, and who always talked to the stranger next to her, was gone. In her place was a woman who said, I hate flying, and couldn’t explain why.Read More
“The prophecy said we would unite the people of the world . . . Look around,” Jamie continues, desperate with hope.Read More
BY LISA MARIE BASILE
About a week ago, I was one of a handful of people on a ferry heading to a 16th-century palace on an island on Lake Maggiore in the Italian Alps. The next day I headed to Switzerland on a panoramic train-ride through the Alps. From there, I headed to The Gore, an opulent, infamous hotel in London right off Kensington Gardens. Life was dizzying, dream-like, and...on budget.
If you would have told me years ago that I would see Spain, Italy, England France, Brazil, Switzerland and Mexico — sans anyone's help — I would have wept and told you that you were a liar. That you were expecting too much from little old me.
For one, poverty raised me and poverty haunts me. It sticks, heavy and hard. It is palpable; it has a heartbeat and a texture, and it lingers like too much nighttime cigarette smoke in the morning. I came from food stamps and mattresses on the floor. I came from foster care, too-poor-for-yearbook-photos and taking "dollar cabs" with strangers to get to school on winter mornings. College wasn't any easier. I may have gotten in, sure, but I paid for it myself — same with graduate school — by going into immense, irrevocable debt. I am not alone in that decision. In any hard decision. And still, there are people like me, people who travel, being judged for their privilege. I can't count the number of times people have said, "Wow, you must be making great money." It's a passive dig. It's a commentary.
The truth is that we, the well traveled, are privileged. It is a privilege and an honor to travel. Having extra money to travel — or to do anything — with is a privilege. Oneika, a travel blogger, wrote, "The truth is, those of us who travel extensively are blessed by life circumstances, not just a can-do attitude or 'positive mindset.' So when some of us proclaim how easy it is to traverse the world (and then go on to admonish those who don’t do the same because they 'aren’t trying hard enough'), we neglect to realize that our wandering is more due to luck than hard work and desire." And she's right. There are plenty of circumstances that get in the way.
Still, the recipients of the privilege witch hunt are not always deserving. There's existential privilege (I am so lucky to have this opportunity) and there's plain-as-day Privilege (Everyone goes to Paris for the summer, right?) There's probably a lot of in-between there, too. But a line needs to be drawn between the person who saves up all their money to travel and the adult woman who flies to Europe on her parents' dime time and again.
There is a hugely disregarded grey area. An in-between that happens to be where most people I know exist. Most people I know work hard to travel. They save and they travel when they have enough. They use budget airlines. They have to take a hit. Sometimes it's not easy to bounce back from.
It's no secret that I've had a "mindset" issue. A poverty mindset. Because poverty can be institutional as well as internal. Humans are burdened with self-doubt, crippling fear and self-sabotage — whether that results in never finishing college or over-compensating with clothes you can't afford or not asking for a raise. And those are all real issues — especially with regards to women and marginalized communities. And whether you started off poor or you're just slow to catch up as an adult, thoughts like I don't deserve this or I need to keep saving for the apocalypse are real. And they can be limiting.
A friend of mine who never travels recently said, "I've just got to take the plunge and spend the money instead of assuming I will have enough one day." Because most people won't really have enough.
In no way is a meditating over one's mindset magically going to score you a passport or a ticket to Laos, but for ordinary people, knowing that you deserve it and reframing the grandiosity of it goes a long way.
As travel blogger Nomadic Matt says, "Years on the road have shown me that for many of us, our inability to travel is part a mindset issue (since we believe travel is expensive, we don’t look for ways to make it cheaper) and part a spending issue (we spend money on things we don’t need)."
The idea of travel is also completely warped. It's not unlike most expenses — but for some reason, it's seen as extra cosmetic or frivolous. If you're comparing modern medicine to travel, sure; travel isn't nearly as important. But many other people consider travel a personal priority, just like others consider fitness upkeep or education — free or paid-for — a priority. There is, at times, misdirected blame when it comes to thinking about privilege. What we need to remember is that people aren't This or That. There is an individual story. We don't know what got them on that plane.
In my mid-20s, I worked full-time through grad school while dealing with a chronic illness. I was downright poor, selling books for near-minimum wage at McNally Jackson by day while I studied at night. I also wrote really weird eHow.com articles for rent (hello "how to decorate a garden with wrought iron"). I didn't believe I could get a 'real job.' I didn't have a fall-back plan, nor did I have family to come to my rescue. I had no one but me. I was an actual trope.
I worked very hard and climbed the ladder. I did this when I couldn't make ends meet, when I kept failing to pay my rent. I didn't want the struggle. But this isn't a pity party. This is just fact.
But not everyone has the opportunity to find a job — any job, really — and I recognize that. Mental illness, racism, chronic illness, disability and having kids can and do build a bridge between people and their potential. It's systemic, it's oppressive and it's a sickness that needs a solution. That is not lost on me.
And a lot of people don't get to just work hard and have what they want. Some people work hard and can barely afford lunch. I know this because this is my family, and this is how I grew up. But I was fortunate enough to see my hard work pay off in some ways. I had to choose the ways. I couldn't have — and can't have — all the ways. Travel is one of my ways.
I have struggled with privilege guilt. I have walked into my apartment and felt that dark, disassociative wave. This is not mine. It may be that I feel I don't deserve my successes. It may also be that it looks like abundance but actually isn't. It's a building in fancy dress, a building I don't really think I keep my things inside. It's a life that came with great sacrifice.
And when you ask me how I afford to travel, I won't usually tell you that I don't have great savings, that I don't have a "plan," that I am my only keeper. I won't tell you that I don't prioritize saving for a home or buying the best health insurance. I do not prioritize clothing or concerts. I do not prioritize literary conferences or applying to prizes or residencies.
When you see a photo of me lounging in a bed of flowers in Spain or drinking honey cachaca in Brazil, know that there are sacrifices. And when you see others on their travels, know that they have a backstory, too.
But I won't be made to feel bad or apologize. These are my wins and I am proud of myself for rising above and working hard and overcoming self-doubt.
I am proud I put the beauty I envision first — not only because it feeds my creative work but because it is what my mother has always wanted for me. To be a part of the world she could never have been a part of. When I show pictures to her, when I promise to take her (and I will), that means something to me. She is my mother. I am her child. She wants all the beauty in the world for me.
It's a disservice to the many stories of sacrifice, hard-work, self-care and history to quickly assume everyone's travel experience is one of ignorant privilege or extreme abundance.
To anyone who worked hard to see the sky or the stars abroad — and to anyone who is still working to make that happen, know that you deserve it.
And for anyone who takes for granted their abundance and lucky circumstance, give back. You can't change your plentitude, but you can control how you behave because of it.
Lisa Marie Basile is a NYC-based poet, editor, and writer. She’s the founding editor-in-chief of Luna Luna Magazine, and her work has appeared in The Establishment, Bust, Bustle, Hello Giggles, The Gloss, Marie Claire, xoJane, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and The Huffington Post, among other sites. She is the author of Apocryphal (Noctuary Press, Uni of Buffalo) and a few chapbooks. Her work as a poet and editor have been featured in Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, The New York Daily News, Best American Poetry, and The Rumpus, and PANK, among others. Follow her on Twitter@lisamariebasile.
BY SUPRIYA KAUR DHALIWAL
I unhook my bra. No, I am not being nasty, nor I am getting ready to go to bed by getting off that elastic strap that claims to keep my pride upright. I am rather gearing up to retreat my pen to a sojourn that will lead it to some other sojourn and so on. Sojourns are important. They encapsulate the remains of my life and bury them into their unrevealed corners.
Like a good child, I sit on the passenger seat, introspecting, with my daddy behind the wheel. We drive through a maze of winding roads, shunted by moody rafts of a well acquainted river flowing underneath the gravel and on its sides. The car is sliding on an aisle skirted on a two dimensional model by pine trees. As the altitude rises, the forest that skirts the road starts to get thicker and the vegetation appears spookier on the sight of the dense spread of sky kissing tall deodar trees. After a few minutes, we reach at a town they call “Mini Lhasa”. We park our car. Its tires screech like my nails do when I rub them against the coins in my pocket. We walk to our favourite café and order our coffees. Double shot Americano and Latte. I watch two men sitting against the Dhauladhars, facing each other, staring into the nothingness surrounding each other’s face. I wonder if all their unspoken words diffuse in their mouths into that white thing that arose from their coffee mugs, which they try to swallow with their coffees. The pristine haranguing of the monks clad in maroon robes seeps in. “Om Mani Padme Hum” and other mantras, the syntax of which I fail to decipher. Infinite tourists have flocked up this part of the Himalayas to watch the summer die. They play with the prayer wheels. They don’t know what else to do. I buy a plate of thaipo and start walking towards my favourite bookshop to buy an Italian dictionary (which I will need badly in the coming days) and a book of poems by Rilke. Those tourists laugh at me. They think what I am eating is disgusting. They don’t believe how steam can cook this layer of bleached wheat flour. They perhaps need tandoors (clay ovens) on the streets too. I make a rhyme out of their giggling. I try to fit my words into it. Because I know I was going to find a new rhyme now, I let it escape me. I rather create space for a new rattling.
“una tazza di caffé”
I didn’t keep a record of the number of times the hands of my wristwatch have moved in circles. Their position is still set on the Gulf Time Zone. There’s no vacant seat in this café I have walked in. The agitated Kosovan owner who speaks perfect Italian joins her hands, says “Namaste” and escorts me to seat near the sink where her husband sits and plays cello almost every evening. She knows I am an Indian. She read that on the conference tag hanging on my neck. I hear the espresso mugs crinkling in the sink. That’s the sound of Italy. I eat a slice of pizza with French fries licking the cheese on its top. I drink three cups of espresso. Ten euros. I pay the bill. “Come again!” she says in her broken English. I smile and nod.
I am amazed to see how these Alfonso Gatto poems painted on the walls of Salerno have become a part of me in just a few days. “La brezza del mio cielo“, I hum this verse like a six-year old who has just crammed Gayatri Mantra. It is my last night here. Limoncello has driven me sloshy. I walk on the lungomare. The path is straight. My mind has become linear too after walking on this straight line for a while. I buy a mint flavoured gelato. I find a bench. I sit facing the Mediterranean. I recall a couple of conversations from the day.
“Why are you not eating something?”
“I can’t write with a full stomach.”
“What do you do in your free time?”
“I eat ice-cream.”
I look for gelato cups and cones in the water.
The hills and the sea were so in harmony with each other that I couldn't refrain myself from taking back such scenes which would later remind you of the poetic sillage in the air. Not just that, those scenes will later echo the silent guffaw of this majestic panorama in my senses, known to me as something called saudade.
Only if roses could grow in my throat, I'd have let you water them and let them grow. Their thorns would have pricked my fattest vein, and the hardest yet translucent sheath of skin that let the sunlight in. Bouts of blood would have splattered, one after another and I'd have used that debris as fodder for my quill, to fill these sleepless nights with a few bloody words.
Your memory would have set those bloody words on fire. Bloody words dipped in gin ablaze with the burning memory of you. Nothing would have finished. Only the life would have been sucked out of everything as Mount Vesuvius evacuated life out of this land I am standing on, where roses refused to grow, proving that a temporary bout of light is nothing more than a jinx.
I often wish that travelling in two different trains at the same time was as easy as listening to two different songs simultaneously. The hissing of the engine and the rattling of the wheels against the track wouldn't differ much from each other, but the destinations would be unconnected and I could magically switch my final terminus. At times, the hassled mingling of two tunes or journeys is better than the ruckus of ruthless rigmaroles and all that palaver.
Destinations stopped fascinating me long ago.
Dear List(s), you've no clue how much I adore you! Numbered chores scribbled on a piece of crumpled paper- this is how I make a list. The serial numbers indicated against the to-do and already done activities; and the paper on which they get sequenced randomly get acquainted to each other in no time. I feel as if a supple power gets enclosed between them and every time I start reading out the things that I had written, that power starts unveiling itself and bounces back on me. This way, even the most gruesome things to-do get blessed and I'm actually able to do them. I've been making a lot of lists lately. If I had to make a list to introduce the kind of lists that I make daily, I'd need a scroll as long as the distance between the earth and the sky.
*makes another list*
*let’s hop back to Asia*
Damansara, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Only if the Petronas Twin Towers could reflect some sunlight all the way into the empty spaces of the Batu Caves, only then I’d have been able to see some Gods inside. As I enter this poetry pub, I feel heady in the presence of so many travellers and artists and also by that pint of Guinness I just had. Dim lights. Red and black walls. Poetry. Poets. Books. Music. Records. I think I could shoot my own Dead Poets Society here. We step out. Tonight’s show just got over. The air has a whiff of goodbyes now. I know I won’t come here again until I have written the script for my version of Dead Poets Society. A Chindian poet is standing next to me. He is smoking what would be his third cigarette. I don’t smoke. He thinks I do because I have a trace of longing on my face. He thinks this is a longing to smoke a cigarette. But this is a sensation of starving for squids, roasting on an array of coal, producing a different kind of smoke.
If the asphalt of these geometrical roads had ears, then Singapore would have had roads with elongated ears like those of some fairy tale goblin, stretched long enough to turn these roads into symmetrical alleys. The skyscrapers appear to stoop over the grey of this gravel and seem to erase all the freckles that would've otherwise continued to exist if there were no tall buildings to suck them all. There seem to be no freckles here. They're nowhere in sight. Not on the roads, not on the sky, not on the posters or sign boards whose language I fail to decipher. Days and nights seem to have created their own vicious circle because days are days and nights are nights, there's no swapping taking place between them. The heat and the haze are in harmony. They sprint hand in hand and hinder the panorama of this geometry savvy land. The tone of mixed dialects being hummed in the streets has a language of its own, the Singaporean slang perhaps, which has a room for Sanskrit, Chinese, English, Hindi and what not. The heights of these tall skyscrapers are fighting a battle, constantly trying to withstand the strength of the roots of their opponents. This place carries just a tinge of the memory of its past because it's always ready to knit and re-knit its future while it has kept its present garnished with every possible delicacy; just like we have smeared our bodies with so many varieties of dust, yet we pretend to have gotten rid of the dirt which accumulated previously and always look forward to cling to a newer, fresher kind of dirt.
It perhaps gets agitating when you're walking in the street of an Indian small town, enjoying the rain, legs drenched from feet to knees in ice cold freshly poured water and suddenly you spot a shameless man peeing in a puddle in which you were about to jump, just for the sake of having some fun. I guess I'll think twice before jumping into a puddle now.
The scarce light of setting sun gets filtered through the deodars, smears my head, highlights its dome of hair which gets browner by setting light's weightless patting, but this light refuses to touch my toes, hidden inside the layered mesh of my walking shoes. Sometimes you just can't get the best of anything.
While walking from my rented niche to my college this morning, I passed by a mother carrying a child like a gunny sack on her back, his legs couched on the sides of her shoulder like a scarf draped in a modest free-flowing way. I didn't look at them. My eyes were drawn somewhere else but my ears were plunged into their direction, the only source of sound in the pollen-ridden locale. The child was a pre-schooler, I think. He sounded like he was licking a lollipop when he over-enthusiastically asked his mother, "Mumma, ye din hai ya raat hai?" ("Mumma, is this day or night?") This made me ask myself too, if I was just culling out the dark from an unknown source, letting it hinder my light, putting it into my day, only to make my day, just another night.
If the entire world lit diyas together someday just like Indians do on Deepavali in India then I'm sure the aerial view of earth would be something like the night view of Shimla. It's such a delight- to stand on the topmost point in the city and look at the entire territory! It's as if these Lego houses have borrowed that incandescent luminous feature of the fireflies. I can make the outline of an entirely new map in this panorama of which this majestic Christ Church is the headquarter. You just can't miss this sight. It's even more alluring than the aerial view of Rome!
I am not a nyctophilic critter. I love lights. I love the blinding sun and the blazing fire. I even prefer to sleep with my lights on. But there are days when I tend to like the darkness more, not because the sun forgot to light the facets of my inner being or someone mushed my bruises with a dagger. Perhaps, I tend to like the darkness more because sometimes even the stars are enough to lighten my being. Sometimes, even a single glance of the moon peeping through the deodars can make me smile through my eyes. Sometimes, even a long walk in the night on a Shimla street can feed that dreamy realm of my mind.
"Pat! Pat! Pat!" My shoes rub the gravel underneath as I try to synchronize the sprinting thoughts that stab me with my turtle-like steps. My head turns right and I wonder how many dozens make infinite? Is there a word to name that unit? There should be, because that word would be synonymous to the amount of houses that my vision spots. Most of these houses keep their lights turned on throughout the night. Are they guiding that church which has occupied the tallest position? Are they reminiscent of that power or shakti which Lord Hanuman releases from his vault every night by standing upright in front of them? A tikki-wala is shallow frying a round potato galette in hot and whirling oil. Its aroma refuses to diffuse in the air. It rather knocks my nostrils and shoos away the cold that had settled there. "Choon! Choon!" The monkeys haven't gone home yet.
They have settled themselves on the branches which are adjacent to the road and are ready to gobble anything that the person walking by is unwilling to offer. I reach at a point where three roads diverge. The cars rush heavily from one of them. I know my destination for the day and hence I have to walk on it. A toddler is wobbling in front of me. His arms are waving wildly and his feet, refusing to nudge the ground. His small finger is locked carefully in the fist of an elder. The child's palm, thumb and other four fingers still hang unprotected. I wonder why his guardian has refrained from guiding them. A car coming from the front probably makes the two of them crinkle their eyes with the high intensity of beaming headlights. But wait! This creates a gradient of dark and light and a scintillating silhouette gets designed in front of me as if an artist has added a monochrome and cross process effect and has pasted that toddler and his guardian on the canvas of my eyes. I wonder if the person walking behind me gets allured by my silhouette. He will surely get allured only if he is capable enough of witnessing magic that vanishes even before you blink your eye. After all, not everyone attempts to see a rainbow in the night!
"Pat! Pat! Pat!" My shoes long to walk more but a dog barks from a terrace only to tell me that I am home. I wish this walk was longer. If this walk would have been longer then my dear reader, this small piece of mid-night scribbling would too, have been longer.
Supriya Kaur Dhaliwal is twenty, and currently pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from St. Bede's College, Shimla. Born and brought up in the tea capital of Northern India- Palampur, she published her debut poetry anthology "The Myriad" when she was only sixteen years old. Her recent book poems, "Musings of Miss Yellow" was published by Authorspress Publications, New Delhi. She has spent maximum of life so far in the lap of snow clad mountains and green arenas and thus believes that it's the nature, the countryside that provides her the fodder for her pen and poems. Just like her thoughts, her poems have no genre. Movement is her muse and she has not stayed in a city for more than two months since she was sixteen. She loves reading and writing prose that reads like poetry. She's tired of people asking her what she wants to be when she grows up. She doesn't know what growing up means to them. She just knows she wants to spend her life writing and being a wayfarer.