I Can See Clearly Now Six Weeks Have Gone…

I’m writing this hurtling through the Slovakian countryside on a train straight out of the Soviet era. Why am I in Slovakia? I’m collecting dots. 

Step out of your comfort zone. See things you don’t normally see. Do things you don’t normally do. I travel on my own a lot but throwing yourself into a totally different cultural and physical landscape is always a step out of the good old comfort zone. When I learnt SCA was giving us a half term I headed straight to the internet to book a flight: I wanted more discomfort, I wanted more dots. 

I’ve always considered myself an observant person. More than that, I’m a hungry person; hungry for knowledge, insight, connection and experience. Travelling has taught me to look everywhere. Up, down, left, right, at bizarre, neck-twistingly painful angles—you see things you’d never have seen if you’d simply looked straight ahead. What I’m saying, is that my eyes take in a lot. Or so I thought until this trip. 

I am observant and I do notice a lot but SCA has taught me to see, to extract, to store. Where I saw beautiful, unexpected things and simply appreciated them, I now see the potential in them. Perhaps this all sounds a bit abstract, so let me make it concrete. 

Flaneuring around the old town of Kosice in the far east of Slovakia, I noticed a small basement door slightly ajar with a warm glow and piles of books just in sight (my idea of Heaven). A man appeared from behind the door and said something to me in brusque Slovakian. I pointed at myself and then down the steps, he grunted and ushered me in. The small cellar was packed with old books (all in Slovakian) and I grinned my way between the rows of foxed and faded titles. But where previously I would have simply enjoyed the books as aesthetic artefacts, I found myself examining the fonts and filing pictures of them away in a ‘FONTS’ folder on my phone. 

At a communist propaganda exhibition the next day, I fatted out my ‘GRAPHICS’ folder with bold, colourful shapes and charcoal sketched fear. And after a hike in the foothills of the Tatras Mountains, I filled a ‘COLOUR PALETTES’ folder with pictures of the russet-specked yellow and orange leaves that had carpeted the forest floor. 

In the evenings, I sit in a cosy corner of a thrumming pub with a book, a pint, and wide-open eyes. The book is, more often than not, discarded in favour of watching the people around me. What I love about people-watching abroad is the language barrier; I have no idea what these people are saying so my eyes have to do all the work. I watch how they interact, how they hold their drinks, how they touch one another (or don’t), how their eyes grow and shrink as they talk, how their feet tap along to the Michael Jackson playing in the background, how their voices rise and fall, how they speak to the girl at the bar, how she speaks to them. You can build up quite an idea of someone just by watching them… But people-watching is no longer a mere hobby, it has become a storable insight into how people work, something crucial to success in this industry. 

It feels both exhilarating and a little lame to be collecting so much. But Alexandra Taylor’s words keep returning to me: “you have to live and breathe it.” Well, I’m certainly doing that. 


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