A Matter of Context

The past few weeks have been a period of new experiences and new places. I have been extremely fortunate to visit the diverse countries of Norway, Greenland, Denmark and Canada and I have enjoyed my travels across the Northern Hemisphere immensely!

When one is travelling so much it is so easy to overlook the significance of the experiences that one is having. In fact, some of the more remarkable scenarios that one can find oneself in can quickly begin to resemble the mundane. It pains me to say that I have been at fault in this sense over the past few weeks. On consideration, perhaps my thoughts have been lacking context…

There have been a number of airport departure lounges, train carriages and utilitarian hotel rooms that have gone towards shaping my experiences, but there have also been beautiful sunsets, stunning architecture and meetings with new people. What strikes me is how quickly the remarkable can become unremarkable, and eventually predictable, all in the space of a few days. Perhaps this highlights a flaw in my own capacity to be content as opposed to a shortcoming of the whole human condition, but I rather suppose that I am not the only person who takes things for granted, we all tend to overlook the small, wonderful things that are happening around us in the present moment.   

My view of the beautiful Terrasse Dufferin in Quebec City, Canada

For example, I am currently on a train journey; something that is, for most English people, a rather normal occurrence. Perhaps it is true that there is absolutely nothing remarkable about this experience that I am having. However, if one chooses to look deeper it becomes apparent that there are a number of special things happening at this very moment. Firstly, the speed at which I am traveling is an incredibly impressive feat of engineering, and would have been unimaginable only one century ago. Coupled with the fact that I am facing in the opposite direction to the direction that I am moving in, drinking a cup of tea and typing my thoughts into a computer that houses technology that would have been inconceivably complex only a few decades ago - things begin to appear quite remarkable very quickly.

Being able to see the remarkable things that occur in our everyday lives corresponds to our ability to be able to live in the present moment, and to see what is happening around us right now. Just stop what you’re doing and look around you, is it possible for you to spot something remarkable? 

At this point my thoughts turn to Quebec City, a place that I was lucky enough to visit only one week ago. As I wandered along the Terrasse Duferin that leads one alongside the wonderful Fairmont Le Château Frontenac I was struck with the thought that this was a truly beautiful experience. As I looked out over the St. Lawrence River it was easy to be struck by the remarkable beauty of the city and its surrounding area. However, I put forward to you that somebody who works and lives in Quebec and walks along the very same boardwalk every day takes this sight for granted all the time.

This thought reminds me of a man that I met when I was teaching classical guitar at the Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello in Venice, Italy. As it was incredibly hot whilst I was there in early August, I made a habit of calling in to a store near to Campo San Barnaba that sold cold drinks with the added allure of promising twenty minutes of WIFI access when you purchased an aforementioned beverage. As you can imagine, over time I became friendly with the owners of the shop and began to have rather interesting conversations with them. They were true Venetians, born and bred, which I found fascinating. In fact, I couldn’t get enough of these Venetians, I asked about their lives in detail, the history of their family, where in the city they lived and whether they enjoyed being Venetians. I was shocked to hear that they really did not like living in Venice at all, and even more so when they described the Serenissima as "an amusement park". In fact, they couldn’t wait to get away from the place and had a holiday booked for the next week. It struck me as a remarkable thought that most people in the western world want to visit Venice but that these people who lived there wanted to escape. So, I asked "where does a Venetian go on holiday?” ‘Well, that’s easy" my friend answered, “we are going to Edinburgh, it’s the most beautiful city on Earth, we would live there if we could!”.

The idea that even Venice, the infinitely beautiful place that it is, could become predictable to somebody who lives there really does eloquently summarise the thrust of what is being discussed here. Anything can be normal. Then again, anything can be remarkable. So often it’s to do with whom we share these things with, and how receptive we are to noticing just how interesting the world around us is.

Every decision that I have ever made has led to this moment, a moment when I am sat on a train on my way to another new experience, and this is the most remarkable thing about this discussion: the fact that I have no conception as to what the new experiences, places and people that come my way over the coming week will bring into my life, or I into theirs - and this is the way that our lives pan out. Let’s find beauty in the small things, things that you can’t pay for: an embrace from a relative, a beautiful view, and an hour alone with your guitar. There is beauty there if you’re prepared to see it; it’s all a matter of context.


Ilkley, September 2014

© Michael Christian Durrant 2018