I saw a tourist walking down 7th Ave. take out his phone, snap a photo of a building, and keep walking. He didn’t pause longer than a second to take the picture.
Maybe he had already seen this building a thousand times on his previous trips to NY.
Maybe he was in a rush. But doesn’t tourism inherently imply taking a break to, well, tour?
I’m guilty of this: I’ll take photos of things when I’m on vacation, looking at the photo later instead of looking at the thing now. Maybe our generation is simply used to looking at things through a brightly lit screen and so are conditioned to snap now and look later.
But he went to the trouble of buying the plane ticket and finding the train and navigating to that spot on his map, all just to snap a photo and keep walking?
When you don’t pause, you miss things: the ivy that grows up the side of an old fountain. Or a couple holding hands, sharing a strawberry ice cream cone. You miss the way the sun hits the glass facade, fragmenting into pieces as its rays split over the building’s edges. You miss the essence of this place with your quick camera click. You didn’t do it justice.
Take a mental picture, my mum said to A and me when we were on vacation. I had forgotten my camera and we were at the beach at dusk.
To take a mental picture, your eyes become lenses. You work your way across the frame, memorizing the colors. You begin with the background and slowly zoom out until you reach the foreground, etching the image into memory. You inhale and note the smell of seaweed that crunches, dried on the sand. The scent of the water, sticky and salty. The feeling of the sand, now cool, under your feet. The taste of salt that’s been caught in the corners of your lips. Then you close your eyes and see the lines and rivers of color behind your eyelids. Open your eyes. Close them again and repeat until you can picture the scene with your eyes closed.
I’ve memorized a lot of vocabulary words over the years. Timelines from European history and the noble gases in the periodic table. But those have faded over time. My mental pictures haven’t.