Thursday, May 29, 2014


Entering a story is very similar to entering a country by sea.

I imagine it first. Maybe read what other travelers have written about it. But nothing compares to seeing it for the first time with my own eyes. I may be traveling on a large ship, but this is how I imagine myself:

An ancient voyager after months at sea, not sure what country I'm approaching, friendly or dangerous, & what mythic monsters await me.

It's a voyage of discovery that begins before I set foot on land. But now I'm here, and I must navigate from the dock to the city street. Each port has its own unique character that reveals more than you can learn at a generic airport. Even when the landing area is modernized with new buildings and uniformed officials, glimpses of the ancient port emerge, along with smells and sounds, and instantly I'm thrust into another world.

In Alexandria, Egypt, an enormous new port authority complex stands abandoned. The instant you pass through, you are confronted with vendors hawking Cleopatra and King Tut wares, pungent spices, dazzling colors. Not far away, archaeologists dig for fragments from Cleopatra's palace in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea.

Istanbul, with its skyline of the Hagia Sofia, may be the greatest paradox. Leave the long port authority buildings, again with much empty space and unused rooms. Turn right: you move toward the modern city with every convenience, franchise, etc, you could desire. Turn left: you move toward the old city, the Grand Socco-- the greatest covered market in the world-- and the Hagia Sofia, narrow winding streets, a city you can explore by traveling across rooftops or through underground caverns and cisterns.

Would you turn left or right?

My instinct is always to turn left and venture deeper into the unknown depths of the country. Once I've gotten lost in its labyrinth, dug my fingers into sacks of spices, tasted the local food, listened to the voices, and sat at a cafe just watching my people interact-- yeah, by now they've become my people, almost ready to walk across the page -- then I can explore the modern overlay.

This is where I am now. In port, on the deck of the ship. Waiting to disembark and feel land under my feet again. Pen and notebook in hand. The scents of the new world already drawing me in.

God, I love this moment.

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