H. and I are back from two-and-a-half weeks in Europe, on a Mennonite Heritage Tour in the Netherlands, northern Germany, and Poland. We were a small group: five of us from Saskatoon, Winnipeg, and Toronto, plus tour leader and driver Ayold Fanoy, a Dutch Mennonite. It was full, varied, and interesting. We visited sites relevant to the Mennonites/Anabaptists, who originated in Europe in the early sixteenth century, and also places of more general interest, such as Berlin, Krakow, and Auschwitz. We drove some 3600 kilometers through cities, towns, and countryside on our way from one place to another.
I’d taken along Carolyn G. Heilbrun’s The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty, to read on the plane and in rest periods, and discovered she disliked travel, had “never been a sightseer, never understood the attraction of having been somewhere, taken pictures, had the sights pointed out, and then returning to inflict the details of your journey upon acquaintances.”
“Touring” is an odd kind of endeavor, to be sure, for we touch down upon places briefly, and what we snatch up by our “tourist gaze” is usually what we’re told is worthwhile or necessary to see. It’s a visual encounter above all; we arrange our memories with the eye of a camera and our views are numerous and fleeting.
I’m convinced, however, that even first and brief impressions have merit. We may be creating context by what we do and it may be superficial, yes, but in the process we can gain or deepen the context of what we already know. There’s surprise in nearly every day, it seems, and to me it’s the surprises that make travel a pleasure. Best of all, curiosity is aroused for further exploration.
At least that’s what I like to think our weeks of travelling, the six of us looking together, accomplished. We saw many things new to us. Admittedly a great deal of it has already massed — for me, at least — as an indistinguishable clutter of the baroque or monumental or beautiful. But all of us saw some things in some new ways.
I’m still sorting and sifting it all. In subsequent posts over the next few days, I’d like to share a few things that captured my imagination and interest. Mostly, I think, I’ll pick out a few encounters with women, dead or alive.
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