Please welcome today’s guest writer, Julia LaPlaca (’16). Julia graduated from Calvin with majors in English and art history and lived in West Chicago, IL for awhile, Grand Rapids for now, and, hopefully, somewhere in the future. She’s currently working on a summer research project and nosing around for the next thing.
I came back from Europe five months ago, and I have yet to post even half of my pictures.
I feel simultaneously apathetic and guilty about this.
Apathetic because I don’t really believe in travel photos. They seem to be just another element in a long string of slightly self-indulgent practices millennials do especially well.
Half-decent cameras in every traveler’s pocket have produced a generation of trigger-happy, mediocre photographers. Can’t you un-super glue your camera from your hand and just look at the Eiffel Tower for a minute before you snap it, crop it, filter it, and upload? Maybe, if you took a good look, you’d realize how weird it is, compared to its more genteel neighbors. Take a minute to smell the roses in the Boboli garden before you shoot them and walk away. Ask the museum guard a question.
We take photos, especially during travel, before actually creating memorable content. We catalogue quickly, so we can skip right to curating our cosmopolitan street cred online. Our phones capture everything so easily, I wonder if we run the risk of destroying our ability to create interesting memories that incorporate more than just a visual product.
I’m using the first-person pronoun honestly. I destroyed my phone’s memory in Europe—I need to do a great purge and get these suckers uploaded before the phone wilts and dies under its own cyber-weight.
But, as I was preparing to finally put these pictures up and begin the purge, I had a change of heart.
Which brings me to the guilt.
Especially about this picture.
I was staying with my dear Norwegian friend Maria and her family in Haugesund. Maria was at work that day, so her mom had taken me to see some of their county’s tourist highlights—including the “Norwegian Statue of Liberty.”
The village of Visnes boasts an unusual claim to fame—its now-defunct mine produced the copper used on the Statue of Liberty.
“No one really knows if that is true,” Maria’s mom explained. But that hasn’t stopped the locals from putting up their own small Lady Liberty.
It’s not exactly a replica: the proportions are a bit fuzzy, and I suspect the whole thing is painted plastic. But during twilight, by the light of a camera flash, it doesn’t look half bad.
“Let me take your picture!” she said.
“Ok!” I smiled and wiped my nose, which was turning red in the wind.
I found my phone, turned it on, and it promptly died.
“Oh, my phone just died—we don’t have to get a picture,” I hemmed.
“No, you’re an American! You should get a picture! I’ll take it and then send it to you.”
We took a couple of pictures and then climbed back into the car. It was almost completely dark by then, even though it was only late afternoon.
The lighting in this picture isn’t great; I look, appropriately, like a poor, huddled mass. Under some circumstances, I might toss it from the official Facebook album.
But I won’t. Because I love it, and I feel guilty about not putting it up sooner.
Because I realized, after putting aside my snobbery and hypocrisy about travel pictures, that these photos are not only a catalogue of what I did or saw—they are the recognizable products of a shared experience. This picture is a gift and represents many gifts; by putting it online, I can at least begin to show how much I value the people and the experiences surrounding this scene. Perhaps travel pictures should not be about the traveler, but about the people the traveler wants to thank.
Maria’s mom drove me to see this esoteric slice of Norwegian Americana out of the goodness of her heart. With the same goodness, she knit me a Norwegian sweater (yes, she knit me a sweater) and cooked authentic meals every night.
Maria’s brother didn’t have to drive through miles of snowy mountain so I could see a Stave church, and her grandparents didn’t have to slip me a wad of cash as I left their house to spend a day in Bergen.
Maria didn’t have to take huge chunks out of her day to pick me up from the airport or patiently walk through a contemporary art exhibition that I wanted to see (not exactly her cup of tea).
Her family didn’t have to pay for my tickets to Norway, after they found out I couldn’t quite afford the trip.
But they did, and, five months later, I’m still floored with gratitude.
This picture represents one tiny moment in a long and lovely string of outrageous gestures of hospitality.
I don’t know why I haven’t said a proper thank you to them sooner. Maybe because it’s difficult to know where to begin.
I can at least start by posting the picture.
After a trial-by-fire year as public school substitute teacher and fly-by-night freelancer, Julia will shed the tribulations of the work-world to embark on a MA in art history and museum studies at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. If you are in town, she’ll gladly take you to a local museum. She enjoys walks, leopard print, and good conversation.