Thoughts From An Overnight Train: Men

The following text was written on an overnight train from Trivandrum to Coimbatore (India) in late November 2016:

The following are words written by a 36 year old Portuguese-American raised happily in the 80’s and 90’s in New Jersey and at the age of 21 moved to Europe eventually settling in The Netherlands. I offer these details because they shed some light on how I see the world and what I see when I look. Obviously there is always more going on and I live like everyone does, in my own sort-of reality.

30940676145_b515eb3b0c_cAs we move further south from Mumbai our happy traveling group is in fact a trio. 2 women and 1 man (me). I don’t know where I would rank on a sensitivity scale but I can say with some confidence that I am a sensitive human. I notice things around me to the point that often the decisions I make are based mostly on what impact my actions would have on others. (depending on the situation of course, but apparently more often than the average bear) Im traveling with 2 women and since I haven’t asked their permission to talk about things like their age and backgrounds, I will leave that part out because what I want to talk about is not dependent on those more personal details. The fact that they are women already says a lot. We live in a world where, even if 2016 feels very far into the future, your gender impacts how you are treated, and well… so much more.

Im an avid follower of current events in as many countries as I can possibly follow. Much of what I know is shaped by various media outlets as well as friends who Im fortunate enough to have in every corner of this planet. And so I have some idea, for example, of what the status is when it comes to treatment of people based on gender in a place like, say – India. I’ve read my history books and watched events unfold that revealed how complicated it can be, but above all, where and in what ways women are being mistreated.

Now to the meat of the story. I’m traveling with two women. Two wonderful humans, but again, no details beyond that for their safety. Sometimes I walk ahead of them because they’re talking and Im a long legged kid. Often I walk behind them because I’m slow and easily distracted, always looking left and right and down or up. As this goes on, what I notice in India are the looks in people’s eyes. In the cities, in the villages, eyes are on us. More specifically, eyes are on them, especially eyes belonging to men. They don’t just look, the way you would look if any living thing passed in front of you; they stare. The staring ranges from the kind you might call gawking, to oggling, to lusting, to threatening. It is a dead look, almost zombie like. The kind of gaze that they themsleves may not be aware they are doing, yet it is also a look that they seem completely unconcerned about stopping. The look gets worse the more men are standing among other men. It gets worse when there are no women of authority in their lives within an earshot. It gets worse when it seems like no one else is around or paying attention, not that crowds of people could snap them out of this pathetic trance.

Sometimes it comes from a man standing in a shop doorway, waiting for customers and then suddenly enchanted beyond control. Other times it is as they walk by, complete with that glancing back after we’ve passed, and continuing to stare even at the risk they will crash into something. If you’re in a hot, coastal area (which isn’t hard to come by in India) then it happens at more intimate moments, like when a woman is swimming in the ocean; they stand on the sand staring directly at any women who dares to wear a bathing suit and swim. They stare when she comes out of the water to dry off or simply walk home. Their eyes follow as women do everything in their power to move quickly and get somewhere beyond the horrible eyes that won’t stop following them.

Staring is not the worst crime a man, or anyone really, can commit. In fact its not even punishable under law, I think anywhere in the world. History shows us far worse things to worry about, some of which have improved in terms of how women are treated and protected under the law. But that doesn’t mean the staring isn’t a terrible thing.

I’ve watched as a good day turns to a bad day, because of the stares. I’ve watched as one moment a women can feel human and respected to her feeling reduced to a collection of body parts or an object. A little piece of paradise along the coast goes from tranquil recharging to hostile territory.

I’ve watched all this as a man. And even though I’m unable to know what it is like as a women, as I man, I absolutely hate it. It disgusts me. It disappoints me. I makes me want to exit this planet and take all the women with me to keep them from ever having to deal with such an assault. It makes me want to smash every staring moron in the face, regardless if he does or doesn’t know any better.

But all these feelings and wishes don’t change anything. Women everywhere, including in India, still have to walk down the street and be confronted by this vile shit. And this doesn’t even take into account the far more horrid things beyond the staring that women endure still today and at this moment, at the hands of men. And once my rage fades a bit, all that I’m left with is a silent sadness and some passionate typing on a keyboard. Which again, changes nothing.

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The Fog of Rural Virginia

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Photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM via Flickr

I didn’t see the sign that would have said “Welcome to Virginia” accompanied by what I assume is still the “Virginia is for lovers” tag line. All I saw along busy Interstate 77, through the pouring rain and looming fog, were some impressive hills that caused our fragile little compact car to wince as its engine revved in search of some non-existent muscle.  I was hoping to see the sign as an indicator of progress, as we passed hour number 7 on what should have been an 8 hour drive, but the large dark figures that began to line the road were sign enough: we’ve arrived in Appalachia, sacred region of culture, lore, and some crazy beautiful nature. Of course as far as the highway is concerned, it’s just more asphalt with slightly better scenery for the next 6 hours.

And so it was, that the day before Christmas eve a little car with New Jersey plates struggled its way to a beautiful town called Luray, Virginia. To visit friends, rest, but also to get a quick glimpse of what life is like there; another world that seems cut off from most everything, at least in my head.

Arriving in late evening in a rural American town in the mountains of Virginia, what you get is an extremely silent and still atmosphere. The craziest thing one can see are the winding roads and the tasteful Christmas lights decorating main street. Shops seemed to have closed hours ago, while the windows of closed restaurants still reveal some condensation from customers who were very recently enjoying a meal. Luray is sleepy at night, but there are plenty of signs that when the world wakes up tomorrow, this place will be busy.

photo by Rory Finneren via Flickr
photo by Rory Finneren via Flickr

There is nothing quite like waking up in a perfectly silent farm house made of stone and wood surrounded by nature and little else. Not too surprisingly, next to the bed of this fantastic bnb, there is one of those artificial noise machines so you can listen to the wind or some soothing white noise, if silence is too off-putting to fall asleep to.  Looking outside I see the vast green of forrest and fields that last night were nothing but shadows around my headlights. Scanning the horizon I see a house or two and wonder if those far away neighbors wake up the same way every day. Or maybe they just curse life and get on with it.

Sadly there is only time for oatmeal, tea, a quick walk around the building to listen to the rustling of leaves in the wind, water from a nearby stream, a cow or two somewhere nearby. We take it all in as quickly as possible, as the highway is a-callin’ and Christmas in New Jersey waits for no man (or woman). Driving past the farm houses, some in excellent condition, many abandoned, I can’t help wonder what happened to those people. Did they move away in search of more profitable work? Did they die in their now dilapidated homes, no one to take over and fix things up. How many family lines ended here?  – This was not surprisingly  followed by another typical line of thinking: what would it be like to take up residence here? Would a fool like me feel at home making a life next to Shenandoah National Park? Would every day be interesting and rewarding in some way? Wait, what am I talking about.. isn’t the grass always greener somewhere else? Don’t we typically trade good and bad aspects in one particular place for a set of mixed circumstances elsewhere? Is this part of being human, in the end? Few of these questions will ever get an answer. They are mostly just sparks in an over active imagination. But when you spend even only a few hours surrounded by such peace and beauty… sparks sure do fly.

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You Can Never Go Home

As I run around New Jersey for a few weeks, a quote from the 2004 film “Garden State” keeps running through my head:

“You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of a sudden even though you have some place where you put your shit, that idea of home is gone.”

1693389_3e95cdd45d_oThe character who said it, Andrew Largeman, is a New Jersean living in California who has come home due to a death in the family. A struggling actor in Los Angeles, he had not come back to New Jersey for several years, and during that time, much had changed including the house where he grew up.

It is such a familiar topic that it is probably very easy to strike a chord with people who have felt similar. You grew up in a place that you still refer to as home, although that place that you knew, is no longer what it was. Some never look back and therefore that place remains in tact but only as an idea that appears in dreams or thoughts. Others, like myself, go back to see what has changed, even try to hit up the old familiar places that were part of that era when home was home. Sometimes these visits serve to satisfy that need for nostalgia and to forget that time has passed and life is different now. Other times it is a big flop, leaving a deeper feeling of being in the wrong place and the wrong time. That undeniable feeling that the place you call home is in fact not home anymore.

Does it matter? Is something lost if the feeling of home is lost? Is this a long resolved topic that people have by and large agreed is perfectly natural and not important? Probably. There often isn’t time enough for people to run around trying to recapture the past. We leave that to hollywood and the occasional clever website.

There’s a second part to Largeman’s quote:

“Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.”

At some point over the last few years, I realized that is part of what I’ve been busy doing. Creating my home. That it happens to be across an ocean and in a different culture is besides the point. For me, home in the present day wasn’t just something that appeared out of thin air, it took work. It took building. It is a process that continues. It is a process that I enjoy very much.

As for New Jersey, I’m always happy to be back among my fellow people who miss the same imaginary place (and bygone era).

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CTRP480 From the Mountains in São Miguel, Azores

avatar Mark Fonseca Rendeiro Moderator Amazon Wishlist Icon

19285488051_ab8c1879de_zSão Miguel, the main island of the breathtaking Azores has been an adventure this summer, traveling in circles around the island from the highest peaks to the sea and back again. It is a place of incomparable beauty and beyond that, a people who have such a good hearted caring nature you dare not ask a small question unless you’re ready for the extensive information and help they’re going to insist on giving you. While the world watches as society changes in interesting and sometimes very painful ways in different parts of the world, here on the island things are as they have surely always been. Cows are grazing. Fish are jumping. Tourists taking pictures. Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, I recorded this podcast on one of our last nights in the Azores on a trip that has taught me a lot and inspired some future journeys in the effort to experience and learn even more.

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