When traveling

New Orleans gets plenty of tourism, and it’s no surprise friends and family come to visit. It’s always a revelation to take them to the French Quarter and the surrounding neighborhoods like Marigny and Tremé, depending on their curiosity. I find it interesting the way they perceive what is unfolding before them, often expressed in simple comments, awes of silence, the flashing of photos, the way they interact with people or their nervousness when seeing a new place. They may notice everything at once or notice nothing at all. The most annoying aspect is when you find a visitor glued to their phone and failing to interact with anything outside social media.

While some are open to everything a place has to offer, others may want to frequent the same corners they would encounter back home. And it’s not abnormal to want what is familiar, because we all want our comfort—to be in a safe, secure place that makes us happy and fulfilled, and usually those places are the ones we feel close to. On the spectrum of possibilities we search for the closest avenues to our reality, ones that would easily satisfy us. While this seems to be a practical view in the short-term, and uses time efficiently, it can also prevent us from a genuine experience that could teach us a profound lesson.

It’s not surprising to find that tourists carry their life with them, as if in a suitcase, often comparing their home to the new destination. I wish they could leave their home for a bit and explore with fresh eyes. But that can be difficult for anyone, since we are tied to the place we live, which is inevitably attached to biases. This affects how we perceive a new place dissimilar to the one we encounter everyday. A trip anywhere could be more fruitful if you go with an open mind. I have come to understand that not everyone is willing to fully immerse themselves in an experience.

Some people are initially cautious, but despite their fears do eventually jump at the chance to be active explorers. Their hesitancy quickly fades when they acknowledge that experiences don’t have to fall into two categories good or bad, and that there’s a spectrum of emotions each rich with thought. They give themselves a little more room to explore even in places they had not expected to encounter. Traveling often challenges our way of thinking in one way or other, even if we don’t want to admit it. Traveling changes us and I think that’s the whole point.

The muddy waters of January and the absence of sun

We left when the cold got to our bones and our hands were popsicles.

Astoria Pool snow desert. Cynthia Via.
Astoria Pool snow desert. Cynthia Via.

For a couple of weeks I’ve wanted to erase the miserable existence of these winter months. I could take the holiday cold with the occasional walk in 30-40 degree weather, but January brings an intolerable coldness; the one that leaves the bitter cold on tips of fingers and toes even after entering a warm room. This bleak weather makes me run home instead of taking leisurely walks after work, or while with family and friends.

The sun lies low these days, and when it finally shows up its nothing but a mirage; a false sun that continues onto February. I like taking walks, observing my surroundings, and being nostalgic around nature. I usually take walks on Sundays when I visit the local organic market in my neighborhood. During sunnier days I take my time picking the best veggies, and striking conversations with other residents and produce sellers. This rightfully contradicts the quickness of cold days when everyone is too frigid to stand around. A quick hello or see you later will do.

This past Sunday I could barely stand in line when a small girl decided to be indecisive in front of the baked goods. “I want a cupcake daddy!” “No, that one.“ “Is that chocolate?” he asked, to which the seller responded, “No its buckwheat.” The dad whispered something about the girl not liking buckwheat. While they debated, my hands froze as I tried to hold my pumpernickel bread, marble cake, and my change. I noticed some of the usual produce sellers were absent. The air was too cold for some vegetables. The beets lay frozen, there were no sweet potatoes, and there was no use in asking for lettuce. All I bought was milk, fish, bread, and some apples and onions.

Snow has covered the streets for what seems an endless length of time. It started snowing again over the weekend, making the fresh fallen snow top the old crusty bottom. Sunday was a good day despite by reservations. After the organic market I headed to Astoria Park with my family, and we walked among the skinny trees. I saw a couple of people sliding down the hill near the entrance to the pool. It wasn’t so bad going out there, walking around, trying to capture, zoom, and fix the light with my camera. Up above the pool, there is a roof area accessible through the side stairs. I was planning on leaving early when my sister suggested to go up the stairs. The sight was beautiful. The whole pool was covered white. The lamps below peeked out, way over the snow, and the lifeguard’s guarding posts looked miniscule and abandoned. We left when the cold got to our bones and our hands were popsicles. Below I glanced at two kids sledding down. They continued to make the best out of the snow—getting up after a fall, or when their sled reached the end, they walked lazily up the hill to start over.