The shock of waterfalls

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With a tentative tip of the toe, followed by a purposeful flop of the foot, my wayward soles surrender to the water. From the far edge of the rocky enclave, my hiking shoes watch with resignation; they yearn to tread on the suave, clean-shaven face of the Dolomites. 

This detour to a forested waterfall was an afterthought at first, but I find myself absolutely relishing this break from the vistas that shape the valley; my senses are less interested in the obvious beauty of the area and more connected to this waterfall that no one else seems drawn to. 

I suppose this is the part that most retellings of grand adventures leave out – the reprieve from the marvelous madness; these ordinary moments that have a perplexity to them that even a pen to paper can’t quite make sense of. I’ve seen the most undeniably gorgeous parts of Northern Italy, closely examined the characteristics that set it apart from every other country. 

But when I think of beautiful, bellissimo Italia, this excursion to a plain waterfall is one of the first memories that comes to mind. 

The teapot theory

It’s been close to four years since I rounded out a two-month-long excursion through Italy in the mountainous north. Weirdly, this memory of a much-needed break by a desolate waterfall came to mind the other day, after my usual evening run through the park by my flat in Bratislava. I’m not sure why it came to mind, but I do understand why it’s important to remember it.  

It brings to mind a travel essay I read my senior year of high school in AP English with Mr. Derry. In “The Shock of Teapots” American travel writer and essayist Cynthia Ozick writes:

“This is what travelers discover: that when you sever the links of normality and its claims, when you break off from the quotidian, it is the teapots that truly shock. Nothing is so awesomely unfamiliar as the familiar that discloses itself at the end of a journey. Nothing shakes the heart so much as meeting—far, far away—what you last met at home.”

Although I could understand what she was getting at back then, it wasn’t until I collected my own teapot moments in unfamiliar territory that I truly got it. The shock of familiarity in an unfamiliar place never wears off. It draws on emotions both buried and fresh, and during a year of collective struggle to adapt to the new normal on one side of a protective bubble, only to burst that bubble and find the once familiar to be unfamiliar, well…it’s a waterfall of ordinary, perplexing emotions. 

So when I dream of traveling again after over a year of necessary stagnation, my mind wanders to desolate waterfalls and forested pathways with blocked views and clarifying detours. I fully understand now what it means to be shocked by teapots, by waterfalls, by an aching need to find plain and comforting familiarity in this now unfamiliar world outside of my doorstep. I do not need the mountains of Italy to renew my wanderlust-inclined spirits. Just give me a small little waterfall in the forest, one that I can find almost anywhere else in this world, and I will gleefully throw my hiking shoes to the side and relish in the beautiful rarity of an ordinary moment somewhere new.

Time for some tea,

Anna

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