For many years, I have utterly detested the sight of cameras strewn around necks and gawking eyes open wide with astonishment. Overloaded sojourners stopped in the middle of sidewalks and even streets near designated tourist sights drive me crazy. I have preferred going incognito and immersing myself in the life of Buenos Aires or experiencing the workweek at the Taizé monastery in the south of France. But the Mitchell experience does not lend itself to that sort of travel. Quick weekends abroad or family visits for explicit tourist purposes have forced me to develop an appreciation for what I used to consider the worst of tourist phenomena.
Not surprisingly, living in Europe reduces the cost of European travel. My first opportunity came during Reading Week (a mid-semester break) at the beginning of November. Coordinating with other Mitchells, we decided to visit Scotland, even though it would be my second time. In 2006, the University of Georgia Honors Program offered a seminar class on Scotland with a spring break travel component. While we completed a typical tourist itinerary, we traveled with a professor and his Scottish family, so I never felt fully like a tourist. The Scottish Highlands were one of the most beautiful places I had ever been, and I wanted to share them with my partner and the other Mitchells. When we arrived, however, I discovered what it meant to really be a tourist. No one knew us; nothing was taken care of. Gawking made it all worth it. Sure, I pestered our tour bus driver about his opinion on possible Scottish independence, but I discovered this whole taking pictures thing wasn’t that bad. Granted, I didn’t actually take pictures. I was only really warming up to the idea of others’ photographic endeavors. As Mitchell classmate Jess Moldovan was framing shots, I began to appreciate the people, places, and things in the photographs even more.
That appreciation prepared me for my parents’ arrival in mid-December and our subsequent mad dash around the perimeter of Ireland. As my mom did the driving, I started to take her camera “for her.” In Belfast, I wanted pictures of the Christmas market (though I didn’t tell anyone). When we stopped at Giant’s Causeway, I begged my mom to take a picture of me on top of the enormous stacks of basalt. As we sped through the countryside, I attempted to capture the strong Irish horses on film for my equestrian-enthusiast mother. I graciously stole the camera at the Cliffs of Moher, catching shot after shot of my parents and even a short video of my partner upset at the closure of the chief viewing tower. By the time we arrived in Dingle, I not only delighted in the enormous beauty of the place where the Atlantic Ocean meets Ireland but also appreciated the memory-saving photography.