I did a bit of thinking on holiday. All about places. No more than usual really but I thought I'd write it down this time. I feel like I've said it before but not in so many words. However, it's behind so much of what's coming next that it bears repeating. And there's a lot of talk about noticing at the moment, like it's a new thing (see Bionic noticing on Irving Street and beyond). Maybe it is for some. Anyway this is what I was thinking as we arrived in Bournemouth.
Arriving in a new place, the streets are overlaid with all the destinations I've arrived at in the last few years. I feel like the Terminator - scanning road junctions, tree-lined streets, stations, proms and fast food outlets, breaking them down into outlines and shapes and comparing them against similar views in my extensive memory banks. Sometimes there's a match but usually, as soon as I've almost figured out where this place reminds me of we're round the corner with a whole new view to take in. Still, I like the thrill of the chase, the flood of so many memories and the puzzle of putting them into order.
Arriving somewhere new there's so much to take in - signs, architecture, people, nature. And going abroad is even worse/better because there's all that and unfamiliar sounds and smells too. There's a short story that sticks in my mind - Funes the Memorious by Jorge Luis Borges, about a man who notices everything and forgets nothing. Sometimes I feel like that, except I'm better at forgetting.
What I love is adding up these details to form a conclusion about a new place, putting it on a scale of interesting/non-interesting/repellent in a way that is difficult to quantify, like Malcolm Gladwell's notion of thin-slicing. Some places set my spider senses tingling for no apparent reason, others have all the right ingredients but the whole doesn't equal the sum of the parts.
I love the way that in these times where everything is planned and managed there are things you just can't control. Places have atmospheres all of their own - made from strange mixtures of architecture, climate, location, population and industry, changing through the present and the past to make a place what it is. What makes travel so exciting is the serendipity of how these factors come together. I've been in shabby towns that warmed the very cockles of my heart, and beautiful places that left me cold. What I love is matching the patterns between places, sometimes miles or even continents apart and finding strange similarities when you least expect them.