Foreign countries can become palimpsests of how you were on previous visits. Last year I was in Amsterdam for Dekmantel festival. My August self had bleached ice-cream coloured hair and an American visa for my impending stay there. My November self is a muted tourist in The Hague. I wonder when I’ll next be in Holland, and what will bring me here. I’m really enjoying the permission one grants oneself to linger during a half-holiday, half-work. This feeling of being a little relaxed but not entirely aimless.
The universal disdain for touristic behaviour is a sort of shyness around awe and the ability to stop and openly gawp. I used to believe we take so many pictures on vacation because we don’t like our memories faded and plain-flavoured. But now I think it’s just reflex: the documentary monomania borne out of smart phones and social media. Even without having to write a daily blog I’m varnishing my experiences all the time, seeking out what’s photogenic and cheaply worthy of likes.
In the MC Escher museum I read the following: “Escher’s teenage boredom became transformed into a sense of wonder at the imaginative potential of the staircase.” This obsession with spiral staircases and their strangeness and symmetry is borne across decades of his work. Sometimes I stumble upon a subject that I can imagine someone else writing a brilliant novel about. Someone clever could write a fictionalised biography of Escher and the staircase, the art of mathematics and the mathematics in art, if they haven’t already. Tonally, I imagine it’d be a little like Tom McCarthy’s Remainder: twisty, experimental and cerebral. I get mental fatigue thinking about how I am not the right writer for it.
Traipsing around the museum I wonder how many couples have argued in hushed tones, in many different languages, as they move about from room to room. How many parents have told their children “don’t touch that,” and how many children have rubbed their eyes and complained about boredom or the first pangs of hunger. At the end of the exhibition I sit in a darkened room projecting an intensely trippy Escher animation on loop. A disembodied and frankly creepy cartoon Escher appears grinning behind lines of text, presumably Escher quotations such as “my exclusive goal is change.” It sounds like a motivational mantra, something a personal trainer would bark out as you struggled through a set. “Come on! Your exclusive goal is change!”
At the café near the museum a beautiful woman gives me a free slice of cake in exchange for posing for a few photographs for the café’s Instagram account. It is their opening day. When I leave the café a girl has just let go of a huge bunch of balloons that remind me of Mentos sweets: pastel yellow and pink coloured. The balloons float past the trees and up into the joyless gray sky. Her little brother starts crying.
When I’m in my normal habitat, back in London, I’m foggy-hearted and rheumy-eyed. Always too stressed out rushing from one place to another to ponder whether my exclusive goal is change. So jaded that I trip over my own shoelaces. Pigs could fly and I would grumble where they came from before any wonder struck me. I tut under my breath at the tourists who slow down the flow of human traffic on Oxford Street. Crowds leave me breathless with anxiety and the fear of being trampled. I picture a person getting flattened like a pancake underfoot and it scares me what busy bodies can do to each other.