The People make the experience

In Buenos Aires, The Art of Travel Spring 2018, 7. Free topic by CYLeave a Comment

In my last blog post I wrote about how in Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia many of his experiences had to do with the people he encountered. Although I felt like more could have been written about the Patagonian landscapes, I subconsciously was doing the same thing he was – relating my experience and memories of a place to the people that I encountered.

I truly realized this concept this semester, as its my second semester here and while there are another 12 others who are spending their second semester here like me, of my closest friends from last semester, only 2 are still here. What a disorienting experience it is to be walking the same streets, going to the same restaurants and even clubs, knowing that the people whom you share the experience are not here anymore.

The nostalgia has become something mildly irritating to my new friends from this semester.

Every time my new friends and I go to a place that I had already been with my friends from last semester, I inevitably end up saying “last semester when I was here with my friends from last semester…” And when one of my other 2 good friends are there, we’ll go “remember when we came here and…” While my new friends don’t always call us out on it, in the back of my mind I always feel a little guilty, especially because most of the stories emphasize how fun the past experience was, and I certainly don’t want to give anyone any pressure to try to match up to these past experiences. Neither should be necessarily “better” or “worse”. Different people, different experiences.

Of course, the advantage of familiarity is that you know some of the best spots and hidden gems like a local does and to be fair, if someone asked me if I had ever been somewhere I have a firsthand opinion of the place. Then again, just because my friends from last semester was a group that I absolutely loved being around, everywhere that I’ve been tends to have a positive memory associated with it. It’s true when they say it’s not where you are, but who you’re with that determines how much fun you have.

It’s interesting how our experience of a city is tied to who is with us in that moment. From then on, the memory and impression of a place becomes forever linked with who we’re with. A curious thought is how no one outside of a group will ever have the same memory and perceptions of a place. In a way, each place becomes personal to an individual or a collective. What’s more, every place can accumulate experiences to the point where a place can remind us of so many different past experiences at the same time.

Two strangers will probably never experience the same place in the same way. Yet even when two people in the same social group talk about the same place and how they once “had so much fun” at that place, what they feel is fundamentally different because they are perceiving something outside of themselves and while inscribing these stories into their memories, there is always a difference in the characters in the story. Specifically, the role of the self and its relations to others.

How profound to think that when we say that we had “fun” in a place, someone else may wholeheartedly agree but inside, the feeling is different.

Geologically familiar, yet different feelings simply because the people whom you one explored these streets with are not here anymore.

Places change, people leave, what’s left are memories. Maybe this is how it feels when a loved one passes away. How morbid eh?


(Image: Recoleta Cemetary - A place, where people and memories stay together; Source: The Bubble)

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