What Isn’t Travelling?
So, my conference and teaching plans had failed if you missed the first blog post on this series read it here). Prior to departure to Europe thereafter, I heard myself speaking “conviction” to people about my trip . Whenever the topic came up, even with those who had no idea about the conference back story, I felt that I needed to emphasise on the initial plans I had and make sure that people understood that I’m going on a summer trip because it deems itself necessary at this this point, and not only for that it’s cool [to go to Europe]! As if preventing others from assuming that I am a part of the famous “mobile middle class” would give my trip a richer identity.
...And each time I proceeded to elaborate on the topic it came out in a theoretical way, precisely relevant to those theories that I incorporate in my doctorate research!
It is no secret that today there are technical and mechanical elements that facilitate travelling for almost everyone; those with and without particular reasons for moving. Majority of those capable of travelling [with less difficulties], often disregard the systematic and regulated nature of postmodernist adventurous-ness. Such adventurous-ness in essence presents itself as a form of presumed privilege. In contrast, the presumption of privilege is nearly completely detached from the sophistication that has been historically associated with travelling - one that I suppose I was trying to achieve with travelling. On the one hand, the lived experience of having to go through all of the bureaucratic hoops that go through, by the default of my Iranian passport, particularly encourages me to seek mental escapism from the subtle constructs that demonstrate mobility as privilege. On the other hand, it puts me a place far from appreciation of technological advancements that enhance mobility and instead makes me critical of its social and political fetishization; if anything the psyche behind the desire for joining the “empire” of “travelling normal” is strongly neo capitalist.
In this realm, there is not much beyond, or below the institutionalized concept of travel that pertains to what is referred to as internationalization. Simply put, popular taglines such as “get out there”, “know the unknown” “explore” etc. in essence frame travelling as an element that helps the public norm overcome its fear of unknown, it reinforces what it takes to be a good “citizen of the world” and, instructs international ways of exchanging capital - so long that the capital is suitable to the presumed growth that tourism and travelling can contribute to the global market. The purpose of such mobility concludes in capitalizing on the “amount and numbers” of travellings. Especially the credit that one gains from travelling, is “measured” based on the scale of either modernization or the authenticity that the destination has according to the commodified mobility capital.
My understanding of being mobile allows much less corporate reasoning for “travelling”. In this recent case for example, my desire for experiencing Europe’s urban complexity and density stemmed from the the same curiosity I had for many cities in Iran - most of which I have been lucky to visit. If anything, this was why in the midst of my doctoral research, I “made” time to spend in foreign places. In the end, I have now even more content for creating projects in the coming years! Otherwise, no sane person would give up their precious thesis and comic writing time to just see Europe; because in that case all that one would have achieved was catching up with Shah of Iran in 18th century1!
Once on the move, I tend to seek sharp horizons - ones that do not exclusively respond to the mentioned postmodern capitalist perspective.
What Is Travelling Then?
The very core concept of pilgrimage in old cultures such as in Persian and Islamic emphasize on travelling as a form of openness to risk and loss. Hegira or Hijrah (Arabic: هِجْرَة), essentially means migration - travelling with no intention of returning. Romanized Hijra, which indicates the migration of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Yathrib, later renamed by him to Madina, is identified with the start of the Islamic calendar. Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca, continuation of a medieval tirual of the people of the Middle East Pre-Islam, is one of the five pillars of Islam. Hajj significantly glorified travelling as a religious obligation in an age that this pilgrimage could meant the first and last trip one takes from home. Persian literature is also jewelled by travelling and recognizes it as a mainly inevitable incident in meaningful life. Notably Safar (Farsi سفر) points more to the act of “leaving”, again there is not much emphasis on coming back. Safar from the same account is the term used for describing the hardship associated with loss of love(d ones). Naser Khusraw’s Travel Diary is one of the more famous ones and is still included in Iran’s primary literature agenda. If I was to think of a modern/global version of this form of pilgrimage it would be Polo Coehlo’s “The Alchemist”. This outlook, I’d argue inherently dismisses presenting mobility as a form of capital.
In this form of mobility there are no “capitals” to be gained, no colorful and show-offy imagery to be made - the mobile person is seeking a layer of richness to their understanding of the world and he or she is willing to give up all their “capitals”, social, financial and even emotional, to begin with. I strongly believe the concept of souvenir was invented for the very same reason. It is likely that the [wo]man who returned from any such journey was celebrated and whatever he brought back, would count as sacred from that point on.
Airports; These Gigantic Non Places
It must be clear that I dislike airports; It is only in the airports that I, a never convicted pretty little middle class white-pass minority female, continuously get carded. In the airports, I refuge to a bubble like mode in which I am ready to break, to cry and to accept I am helpless and hysteric. As much as my natural habit of looking at everyone and looking them in the eye doesn’t go away, I never seek to conceive a human connection in the airports. And I do that cautiously; if there is anything wrong with any of the many documents I have to have handy with me at every post - which is so much for my horrible short memory anyways - none of these human beings will be able to help. They are there to go, not to pay attention to others. No one is going to stop a plane from flying for random documentation issues. People are there to transit into a suspended state, and that state seems to thrill them enough that they will never protest the endless carding functioning that takes place in the airports, in the airports themselves.
In Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport, at the check in, the flight agent had to make sure I had the correct visa for entering Europe. For that, he called his manager who appeared in an instant, took my passport, walked to a scanning machine a few yards away, scanned the passport, walked back, and handed me the passport. This all took place in less than a minute. And I felt that I weighed a ton for that minute. During the time period I weighed a ton, I was reflecting; I knew my visa was alright, and I knew this suddenly taking one’s passport meters away from them, can be happen to anyone from any nationality whenever they need to fly to a zone that requires them to have a visa/permit. But, I also could see I am the only one in the line who is going through this, and I probably will be, in every flight I will take.
The next “transition point” was in Keflavik, where I was technically entering the EU zone. My first flight had a delay and therefore, I was almost missing my connecting flight to Amsterdam. I ran to the gates, and, as it became my practice throughout the month ahead of me, handed in my passport to the border officer open on the Schengen page. The officer asked me where I was going. Not noticing she had not looked at the visa page before closing the booklet and looking at the ID page, I briefly explained my travel plan ending with; “back to Ottawa, where I live”. She realized she had to ask how in the world I actually was going to go back to Ottawa, 2 months form then. I mentioned I was a permanent resident of canada, and “here is my PR card”. This brought her to the point; of so what (the hell) are you doing in Keflavik. Looking at the almost empty corridors towards the gates of my connecting flight, I reached out with an open palm to signal I needed those papers back, even before the ending of my sentences; this is a connecting flight to Amsterdam, that’s where I’m going now. She now began looking for the Schengen visa on my passport...
We both smiled.
And I ran to the doors.
1 Naser-eddin Shah of Qajar Dynasty is known for his particular interest in visiting Europe, an act he did numerous times during his term as the Shah of Iran.
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