There was a point in my travels, I think it was in Portugual, when I picked up a sketchbook. At first I drew whatever images came into my mind, usually inspired from what I saw around me. Then I started to documenting little imprints of the people I met, snip bits of conversation that left an impression on me.
A Russian woman I shared a hostel room with in Granada, Spain. She was over on a seminar, she was a language teacher if I remember correctly. I told her that I planned on visiting Russia, and she eagerly offered to show me around when I got there, but making it clear that she was not inviting me to stay at her place. She had an abrupt manner about her, maybe it was the language barrier or the eastern European way, but without there being any lead up in our conversation she began telling me about how life is in Russia, and in case I was under any illusion, “life isn’t beautiful.”
While in Paris I found a family to couchsurf with you were on the outskirts of the city. I was the girl’s first couchsurfer, she was about 18 or 19, and her English wasn’t very good, and instead of using say a phone when we came at an impasse with a word, she would consult a massive tome of an English-French dictionary. Therefore, I spent most of the time talking to her parents, actually her father, who’s English was the best. I learned that discussing travel plans was the safest topic after a few of our discussions about politics and other world affairs led to butting heads.
I met this man while eating in a Moroccan restaurant in the Belleville neighborhood in Paris. I had some bread left over on my plant and he inquired as to whether I was going to finish it, I informed him I was. We started talking and he offered to show me around the arsty parts of the area. He was from Armenia, if I remember correctly and now lived in Paris with his partner. He was an artist, his work was predominantly text based, notebooks filled with scrawled words and symbols, he also dabbled in found art, such as a plastic hand making a peace sign, with a potato peeler between the fingers, he had displayed this in a gallery.
I arrived in Porto, Portugual, unbeknownst to me, on St. John’s Day. This festival is celebrated in different ways across the world, it usually involves jumping over a fire. In Porto, it starts off during the day, with everyone out on the streets grilling sardines and vegetables. You’re walking down these narrow steps, through the town, weaving through tables precariously set up on ledges, billows of smoke filling the air with the smell of charcoaled fish, it’s like the whole city is partaking in one big family meal. In the evening the streets are intensely packed as everyone heads to the river to catch the fireworks. The hammers also emerge, the plastic hammers that you’d win at the carnival, the ones that toddler’s harass their pets with. And for no explicable reason, people are bopping each other on the head with these hammers. Everywhere you go, bop, bop, bop, actually, squeak, squeak, squeak, as these hammers aren’t of the silent variety. There were also the more traditional head boppers of garlic flowers, you were well advised to avoid this as they gave off a pugnent smell. After the initial perplexity and annoyance (I was sure I was becoming a target because of my mop of curly hair), I joined in the bopping festivities myself, although I did have to be restrained when I attempted to dispel a fight with some ‘comic relief.’
The hostel I stayed in Porto, Portugaul, was owned by two brothers. It was in this old factory I believe, with high ceiling and big windows, a beautiful building, as many of the buildings in Porto are. The elder brother was friendly and chatty, he could go on at length about the history of the city, the politics of the country, whereas the younger brother came off as the the partier type. The younger one had a tick and at first it was hard to not get distracted by it and feel pity at his condition, but after talking with him for a little while it began to develop a rhythm to his speech. He was quite small, covered in tattoos and with a pony tail. He took us out a few nights to some concerts and we got to talking about life, sharing about his daughter and ex-wife.
I was sitting beside a group of young girls at the skate park in Barcelona (MACBA). I gathered they were journalism students, as they were discussing the best way to approach the skater’s and what kind of questions to ask (not to be judge, but they could have done with a bit of research beforehand). After drawing straws about who would go, a few minutes later the girl returned a little bewildered by the lack of enthusiasm on her subjects part, at least she was able to apply the age old journalistic technique, making something out of nothing.
Javi was my landlord during my two month stay in Barcelona. It wasn’t always easy to follow what he said, he called it his alien tongue. He had a message he wanted to share and a community he wanted to create of like minded people. He had such expressive eyes, sometimes he would just look into your eyes and you had to look away, not just because it was uncomfortable, but it was as if he was seeing things in you that you were trying to hide, other times his eyes had a deep sadness, his eyebrow’s would raise in the middle, almost cartoon like, as he’d talk about rejection and killing the ego, and when he was in high spirits he had a simple giddy humour, jumping around, excitable as a child. There were times where I would patiently sit with him, trying to understand, decipher his code, hug him and feel his love. Other times I had to get away, I couldn’t listen anymore, he was beyond help and was bringing me down too. He had a perception of things that were sometimes so right, that it could be hard to hear. Javi died a few months after I left of heart failure.