Sunday, April 19, 2009

"The Passport Photo" -- to swallow the map

My wanderlust surges and sighs in the most unexpected places and times. I am thankful for living in L.A., surrounded almost constantly by different cultures and languages. Leaving a screening of "Trouble the Water," a few weeks ago, I hailed a cab outside the Hammer Museum, just off the UCLA campus. The driver was curious about the film screened, explaining that he likes to observe the audience as they come out, wondering what they saw.

As I explained the documentary and my love for hearing strangers' stories in hopes they will no longer be so strange, I asked whether L.A. was home for him. "No, no," he shook his head. "I'm Iranian, but I have lived here for 20 years." "I'd love to visit Iran!" I said eagerly, hoping he'd set me up with a free place to stay.

He went on to tell me all about the beauty of Iran, of the Persian festivals, the women. He explained that as long as you have nothing against the government, they will leave you alone. He was obviously not a supporter of the religious, Islamic rule, and told me stories of how the women will dress more wildly, wearing more makeup, in defiance. How grand the celebrations of Persian festivals are to remember Iran's long history. We talked about films he had seen, I recommended "The Lives of Others" when he mentioned a film about the East German police state.

Recently Tina Daunt introduced me to an Iranian blogger, a woman who had commented on Tina's style blog, English Muse. I've added A New Simple Something to my list of blogs to watch -- it simultaneously curbs and whets my travel appetite. "because yesterday was beautiful" is one of my favorite posts as I've scrolled down her blog.

I want to live as if I'm always traveling, being open to new places, taking unexpected opportunities. As I'm off to make copies of my passport and take a few more fabulous passport photos for my Ethiopian visa, I'm reminded of a quote a friend shared with me, and a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye.

"Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God." ~ Kurt Vonnegut, "Cat's Cradle"

The Passport Photo

"The Passport Office welcomes photographs which depict the applicant as relaxed and smiling."
Passport Application

Before they shoot, I think of where I am going,
Chile, the world's thinnest country,
the bright woven hats on the Indians of Peru.

I swallow the map of South America tacked to my kitchen door,
the swarm of strange names, blue rivers
like veins in an old woman's leg.

A continent I know little about, except what I have read
or my Bolivian neighbor's tales. "A School of Thieves,"
she tells me. "I'd stay home if I were you."

Trapped in front of the hot lights,
I try to forget distances,
how far I will be from the ones who loved me longest.

I do not think anything familiar or cozy.
I think coastlines, jagged edges, roads ahead of me
cracking open like coconuts, and then I smile

Because this face you are snapping
is a map to another continent
I have barely begun to learn.

~Naomi Shihab Nye

No comments: