Waiting, waiting, waiting…

by Steve Brock on April 15, 2014

Delft CafeI’m normally about as excited by the prospect of waiting as I am of going to the dentist, seeing the friendly neighborhood-roaming Jehovah’s Witnesses approach my front door or having a water pipe – upstairs – burst.

I change lines at the store and lanes on the freeway at least twice (usually ending up worse off) and I will enter 1:11 on the microwave instead of 1:00 (alas, our microwave doesn’t offer the coveted “1 min.” button) just to save a few milliseconds required to move my finger the 2 inches to the other keys. Getting someplace too early is, to me, a greater violation than paying retail. Delayed flights? Don’t ask.

It’s not that I am inherently impatient. Okay, I am. But I like to think that I’m optimizing life: I’d rather be spending time on all those wonderful things that delight rather than standing in some line somewhere for longer than I should because someone in front of me isn’t, well, optimizing life.

So imagine my reaction last summer when faced with the prospect of waiting seven hours for my oldest son to attend a concert. Not any concert. The North Sea Jazz Festival (one of the jazz world’s top gatherings each year in Rotterdam, Netherlands). He had been looking forward to this as the highlight of our European trip. Which was great for him but left my wife, younger son and me…waiting.

Actually, we used the time well by driving out to see a jam-packed Dutch beach and the major sites of The Hague before stopping in the quaint town of Delft.

This beautiful old city – home of the famous blue and white china that bears its name – was a joy to explore: the main square, churches, canals and windy streets. All of these made for a great way to spend our time as we waited for my oldest son.

Most of the shops and points of interest closed by 6 PM and we still had over three hours to wait. So we found a small tree-lined square several blocks from the more touristy main square, selected a restaurant both by sight and due to a guidebook recommendation and sat down at an outdoor table for dinner.

For three hours.

Yes, I know the Europeans do this all the time. But me? Three hours just sitting there?

Sure, the meal was extremely good: salad leisurely followed by the main course (barbecued pork something: our waiter’s excellent English failed to find the word for this part of the pig put he reassured me it was a noble – and tasty – section. He was right.) Eventually, dessert and coffee, all spread out over three hours. Three hours just waiting.

The funny part? When it was finally time to go, we were not ready.

We’d had great conversations among ourselves, with our waiter, with another waitress who was delighted when we gave her the page from the guidebook with the restaurant’s write up, and even nearby couples were also enjoying their leisurely meals.

By the time we picked up our son at the jazz festival, the three of us who had “endured” the lengthy wait all wondered the same thing: Why don’t we do that more often?

I can still be impatient. But I realize that waiting isn’t the issue. It’s how you do it that can make it feel like a curse…or an amazing blessing.

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Too soon to tell – Part 2

by Steve Brock on May 5, 2011

“It’s too soon to tell” applies not just to giving yourself time to process your experience and thoughts. It also relates to the items you’ve used to record those experiences on your trip. In my case, this means a journal and far more photos than I will ever use.

When I first get back from a trip, I’m excited to review what I’ve shot, cull the obvious bad photos and then begin the process of finding the true “keepers.” The trouble is, when I first get home and go through all the photos, I don’t see the photos. Instead, I see the places themselves since the memories are so fresh.  I’m not yet able to view the photo the way an outsider would but instead I see within that digital image the very place and circumstances of the moment it was taken.

Only later, after a week or so, can I begin to see the image in the same way a person who wasn’t there perceives it. Even then, I’m partially blinded by the experience of having been there, but more objective than on those first few days home.

Of course, everyone wants to see your photos right when you get back because a week or two later and they will barely recall that you were gone. But wait. Resist the urge to show anyone anything until you have time to see the images more objectively. It will make it a better experience for them…and for you.

For example, here are two photos from the same spot, the Inca ruins of Ollantaytambo, Peru. The day after we returned, I would have shown you the first image, not the second. Why? Because it had more immediate meaning to me.

Just in case you couldn't make out the face in the mountain, I've given you a tiny clue...

Here's a crop of the above photo in case you couldn't see the big Inca guy in the mountain

We took the shot because a local vendor had told my wife that the rock on the side of the mountain bears the resemblance of a face. None of the rest of us could see it at the time, but my wife, Kris, was convinced of it. This first photo is her testimony to the “obviousness” of the big Inca guy looking down on the valley.

You can be the judge, but it seemed like such a stretch at the time that we joked for rest of the day about seeing faces in walls, dirt piles and even that night in a heap of green mashed potatoes (yes, green – potatoes come in a rainbow of colors in Peru). Thus, when I see that picture, I tag it with all the humor and affection associated with the event.

You can make out the face in the mountain (with a good imagination), but this photo tells a fuller story about the place.

The second photo (or third if you count the close-up of the first photo) shows the same mountain and the rocks of the face, but other elements as well such as additional ruins and the fountain in the foreground. This image takes nothing away from our associations with the face on the mountain. But it adds additional context that makes it easier for others to share in our story.

Photos serve as personal markers of events and the related experiences from our trips. But they can also be gateways for others into those experiences. And when we give ourselves time after we return home, we find that we can select images to share that still convey meaning to us while translating at least some of that meaning better to others.

They won’t be able to appreciate the fullness of your experience, but maybe, just maybe, they can make out the shape of a face on that mountainside…

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How was your trip?

by Steve Brock on April 26, 2011

When you return home from a place like Peru as I recently did with my family, inevitably, friends and colleagues will ask you this seemingly simple question:

“How was your trip?”

But how do you explain what it is like to step over the rise and witness the splendor of Machu Picchu for the first time? How do you describe how you felt seeing in person one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World that you’ve been reading about for months and have seen pictures of your whole life? How do you put words to all that you’ve experienced, have become and are becoming as a result of this trip?

If you’re like me, you don’t.

Or rather, you say enough to be polite but realize that the fullness of your trip won’t be explicable – to you or to others – for some time. 

So you wait.

And in my case, you share your thoughts over time with all the devoted readers of The Meaningful Traveler.

You’ve been warned…

Also, be sure to check out this free downloadable guide How to Photograph Machu Picchu for pointers on how to take better travel photos and specific ideas and specific tips for your trip to Machu Picchu.

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