I once worked for a photographer, who now is something of an uncle to me. He taught me how to travel as I do now—in the second week that I worked for him, he flew me to meet him and his crew in the jungles of Belize. I carried with me nothing but a tripod—which, when wrapped, looked like a grenade launcher—a few rolls of film, and his favorite kind of chocolate.
(A picture I took of the Zocalo in Mexico City on the opening night of one of his shows.)
Accustomed mostly to traveling to safe places, I brought with me some pretty dresses, and some cork wedges. I expected to be somewhere warm and tropical, and thus resort-like. When I disembarked from the plane, I was greeted by a man in a pick-up truck, who drove me two hours out into the depths of the jungle. There, I was deposited in a crude camp for a week. During the day, in the heat, I watched the crew film and photograph animals in muddy waters and insect-ridden forests, listless from the humidity, panicked at the emptiness of each hour. At night, I slept in an open air hut, with nothing but a mosquito net to protect me from the wild. If I lay still, the sheets roiled from all of the bugs in the bed. If I turned on the light to try to get rid of them, a jaundiced French camera assistant named Bertrand watched me from his own hut, ten feet away. In the morning, I woke up, and my sheets were speckled from blood from bites, and the bites were not from the Frenchman.
It was quite an introduction to adventure traveling.
Over the next four years, I lived in cities around the world, for months a time, some of them dangerous, some of them benign. I was frequently scared out of my mind, and most of the time, completely alone. I left the job realizing that I could be put in almost any situation, anywhere in the world, and be completely and absolutely fine. It was a miracle.
Looking back on it, I can’t believe how lucky I was at 22 years old to be given such a life.
My boss, when he started his career, did so in India, so he’s happy that I’m going there myself. He’s been sending me text messages with suggestions, many of the preparatory. They go something like this:
Films-The Apu Trilogy
Indian Miniature Paintings
My boss has excellent taste, so I’ve been immediately looking up the things he sent me, including this fantastic article by Alastair Macaulay about modern Indian dance. I’ve read some of it, and studied even more. What I don’t remember even having encountered were poems by Rabindranath Tagore. That is, until I did some research on him, and realized that he wrote one of my favorite poems from my far more romantic youth.
Tagore is an icon, perhaps one of the most important poets of the 20th century. I won’t offer any biographical details, because you can read them extensively here.
Instead, read the poem below, which has me, right now, thinking about the smell of night. Warm grass beneath my feet, a boyfriend waiting for me at the end of my driveway, in pitch darkness. The way that a body feels when you cannot see it.
Even if you’re not going to India, it’s something you can enjoy.
(“Come as you are…”)