The lake wasn’t visible yesterday. It wasn’t even a cloudy day, but when I stood at the window of the 27th floor of my office building and looked out across Adams and past the Board of Trade, I saw no horizon. There was only a soft gray sky settling down beyond Michigan Ave. It didn’t bother me, because I have this view every work day, so I get to see the lake in all its changeability. But I thought about all the tourists at the Sears Tower and wondered how many of them were disappointed that they’d made it to the tallest building in the country, only to see the city slip into a gray haze instead of a blue expanse.
Travelers want to see certain sights, take pictures of the main attraction and put those pictures up on their Facebook wall and in their Christmas cards. Even travelers who say they “don’t want to do the tourist-y thing” want to take good photos of whatever sights they do see. Despite being able to buy the main views on a postcard or in a souvenir book (with, let’s face it, a way nicer camera than most of us have), we keep snapping away to have our very own version. It matters, for some reason, that we have our own. How disappointing, then, when we can’t have it.
I was going to turn this post into an upbeat piece on finding the beauty in every situation, and cherishing the memories of your travels more than their digitized representations, but the truth is, I really care about my photos. I’m the self-appointed photographer of most group outings with my high school friends. I have a wall in my dining room covered in snapshots of friends and family. I don’t travel through a lens, by any means; I know how to put the camera down and be in the moment. But I like to look at the picture later and think, “that was me, I took that, I was there, I remember what it felt like to be there and take that.” So when I can’t get a good shot of some view or monument on my travels, it bugs me. Especially when I’m visiting a place I’m likely to never visit again.
It’s not that the excitement of being at the Parthenon or atop Mount Kilimanjaro is any less when the view is obscured or it’s raining. It might be a bit more uncomfortable or look a little different than expected, but that basic traveler’s thrill I feel when I approach a monument or peer out over a vista is basic and deep, and utterly disconnected from peripherals like cameras or even other people. Arriving at a destination and finally viewing a sought-after view or work of art really is its own moment of joy. A photo can’t capture it.
Still, a photo can help me remember that original thrill. It can send me back to that place and time in a way a postcard or purchased photo can’t. I’m a bit of a nostalgia junkie, and although I’m trying to kick the habit so I can live in the now, etc., a little nostalgia is good for ya, and dwelling a bit on great travel moments is one of the best ways to experience it. I feel more connected to the place when I see a snapshot of it on my wall, and I feel a sense of accomplishment as I consider how I got there in the first place.
So when I’m at a scenic spot or famous destination and the view is obscured or the building covered in scaffolding, I know that the only thing to do is shrug my shoulders, take the best photo I can, and move on with my day. But I turn my head and look behind me as I go, always hoping the clouds will part and my photographic moment will return.