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"I expect my shadow to continue to surprise me whenever I chance to see it."

"They" say that travel broadens one. If it does, it accomplishes this end by successively narrowing perspective. From the row twenty-two aisle seat on the transatlantic flight to the semi-private compartment on a Central European train through Slovakia, remarkably tiny spaces contain most of traveling. The broadening, more a smearing, actually, must come from switching out these spaces over relatively short periods of time. Travel from Budapest to Prague involves witnessing a few foreshortened hours of quickly shifting vistas through farmland, picturesque villages about the size of a photograph of them, and through tiny train stations before finally slow-crawling into the massive train yard in Prague. Likewise, walking those old cobbled Prague streets provides no more than the narrowest perspective on the place at any one time. A walk might take one through a half-dozen remarkably narrow passages where one can't see more than a few meters ahead or behind them self. Even the view from the Prague Castle parapet provides less perspective than I might catch from our deck back home. Yet, near the end of an excursion, ten or twelve days in, I feel as though I can see much more broadly than I could from my deck back home.

We spent a few days in a genuinely tiny apartment in Budapest which featured a view clear across a narrow street.
The walk to the tram stop offered less perspective than my walk to fetch the paper in the morning back home, yet I felt genuinely in the middle of something there. Perhaps it was all the unexperienced space surrounding me, space I largely failed to investigate, that induced the authentic feeling of broadening my perspective. Both The Muse and I were engaged in continual rapid learning just to get around. Little could be taken for granted, for nothing could work lest we first figure out the terms of engagement. From learning how to cross a street without being run over by a bike or an electric scooter to choosing which tram car to take, everything demanded some cognitive energy to accomplish. No autopilot engaged during our stay, so perhaps we were just that much more present those days, and that presence induced this sense of having broadened ourselves.

The hotel rooms were tiny but interesting. The grocery stores, mysterious. I bought what I thought was sour cream but which The Muse discovered was probably cream cheese. Just ciphering in kilos kept either of us from dozing off during the days. The effort felt a burden sometimes, but like when dropping a heavy weight after carrying it awhile, I feel lighter afterwards. Travel's broadening works like that, I guess. So many new and different experiences crowding in on top of each other, my head seems to swell up with the unaccustomed effort. Even flavors eventually seemed more intense, as if I'd never before really tasted a slice of bread or a decent sauce. My palate certainly stretched itself to accommodate flavors I had genuinely never experienced before. Veal tripe in a sweet paprika sauce. The flavor of an unpasteurized version of a familiar beer exploded across my tongue. Maybe that explosion broadened that part of me.

I'm as narrow as I ever was, and probably broader than I ever fully admitted. I still think of myself as fitting into my twenty year old's silhouette and shock myself when coming across my own shadow. I'm probably more shadow now than substance, much of my original substance having been worn away from the normal friction of just having lived and traveled over half a century. I might seem broader now, bloated with fresh stories from my travels, but I have probably shriveled much more than expanded. Much of what I've learned, or fancy that I've learned, anyone else would have had to have been there to comprehend. My stories erupt deeply encoded, meaningful for me and probably gibberish to almost everyone else. I seem less concrete and greatly abstracted, the probable result of broadening, as any celestial body might find its molecules further apart after swelling up. I suspect that I'll still fit into the aisle seat on my return flight home, giving some question as to just how much I might have broadened during this latest excursion. I'll feel, though, as if I've expanded my understanding and might have actually done so. I expect my shadow to continue to surprise me whenever I chance to see it.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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