Handwriting occurred on waves,
on leaves, the scripts of smoke,
a sign on a bridge along the Mahaweli River
– Michael Ondaatje
All I really want for Christmas is just to continue to travel and to read, and hopefully become a little wiser in the process. The above lines are half-remembered from a poetry collection, called Hand Writing, that I fell in love with one day while browsing my university bookshop (I didn’t buy it that day and haven’t been able to find it since, alas). It’s by one of my favourite poets and authors, Michael Ondaatje, who grew up in Sri Lanka and in his writing still echoes the sounds and colours of the place, even though he has lived in Canada for many years now. I found myself thinking of his poetry again while reflecting on the past year and some of the travelling I did with my family to South-east Asia, as well as some of the conversations with friends while away at university.
It has been interesting to have so many people from different countries together in one place, especially considering some of the immense differences between our homes, from England to Singapore. At the same time, it seems to me that the world is becoming just a little bit smaller every year that I grow older. While I’m sure that’s an inevitable effect of growing up, it’s clear that the world does change, due to our technological advancement and the tightening of economic structures. Neither is this always a bad thing; who would have thought we would have thought travelling to the other side of the world in less than two days and for a small price would become so commonplace?
My boyfriend expressed the idea well when he mentioned once that he would most want to
travel to places that are likely to change much in the next few years, because it’s a last chance to get a first-hand impression of a certain point in history. Ironically, he was talking about the United States at the time, as it’s becoming less of a unilateral force, lacking in that 1970s kind of super-stardom which it finds itself (a little indignantly, I imagine) having to share with China and others these days. For the same reason, I’d love to go all the way to the Far East myself; I think at least part of this has to do not with nostalgia, but with a feeling that this would bring that part of the world closer to me or make it easier to make sense of before everything changes.
Then again, I think Ondaatje’s poems stand as a good reminder that all handwriting, as in the ways ordinary people find to leave their signs on the histories of their country, is not likely to disappear from the world any time soon- at least as long as various forms of human conflict exist, sadly. We found these colour photos on the internet the other day, some taken even before 1920, which really surprised us. Not only because I never realised the technology existed that early on, but especially because a touch of colour really makes a huge difference, in my mind, to a period in time we usually think of in black and white.
Maybe there is no need to hurry as much as we think, after all