“Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.“
Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino, p. 29
This quote has been haunting me since I re-read Invisible Cities over the summer. It was the required pre-reading for freshman year of college and I did not like it then. I think I was too young and impatient to understand the meandering homesickness Calvino explores in this fantastical story. I had only ever lived at home, and was only just arriving at my first “new city”, determined to only see the new sides of me that would emerge.
This past Diwali weekend, my flatmate and I travelled south to Kerala, and up up up to the hill station of Munnar, to spend two nights in a treehouse. It required a six hour drive on winding roads to get from sea level to 6000 meters high. It was reminiscent of the endless long drives to the beach of my childhood.
Sitting in the backseat with my sisters, reading quietly with my hearing aids off and Sofs passed out, sprawled across me and Erin. Curvy roads was an understatement and we had to pop our ears twice as we went over the mountains to reach the shore. This ride was long, but easier (no hairpin turns). I am grateful to my parents for subjecting me to 4-5 hour drives as a matter of fact. It has served me well in my adulthood. The greenery in Kerala is shockingly Brazilian, so it was almost like a trip home – aside from the women in bright sarees and men in white lungis and billboards for absolutely massive jewelry.
Once we got to the hill station, we were picked up by a jeep and told it was another half hour to go. The road deteriorated at a shocking rate, and as we climbed up through the tea, staring out at the beautiful greenery covered in bright violet and yellow flowers, I was laughing with another memory. As my shoulder banged into the side of the jeep and the mist crawled up, slowly turning to rain, I was on the long, bumpy road to a friends’ farm in the mountains of Brazil. We took steep turns, hugging the cliffs and the jeep performed admirably over the worst road I’ve ever seen. I saw the cattle traffic, washed-out bridge and purple blossoming trees of the Serra.
It was almost sad to reach the treehouse and not see friendly faces at the end. We ended up cloistered for the rest of the day due to the rain. We weren’t prepared for how cold it got, and hid under blankets wearing our socks. The most exciting thing to happen was when a squirrel entered the room, climbing down the tree trunk that ran right through the middle of the room.
As I travel, I feel I am always encountering the foreignness in me; the things I no longer am. I see the pasts I did not know I had, in remembering them so vividly when they had been all but forgotten in the dusty corners of my mind. The invisible cities within me.