I recently applied for a travel writing scholarship (I don’t really want to tell you which one because all of you fellow travel writers are too damn good! I love you to bits but you really are tough competition) and part of the application process was to write a short story about “A place I’ll never forget.” Although it seems strange, I decided to write about my trip to Milan’s Monumental Cemetery. (If you want to see the collection of many, many photos I took there, click here to view ‘In Photos: Milan’s Cimitero Monumentale‘)
Thinking the limit was 2,500 words, I went steaming ahead with my writing, my keyboard on fire. But, at about 600 words in (3,362 characters), I suddenly realised that the limit was actually 2,500 characters– including spaces! So, I sadly set about editing my story, cutting it down to the bare minimum, though I kept the original, and I thought it would be good to share it here with you. I’ll give you a warning, it is a little bit of a sad ending! Though I’ve included the next part of the application (“Why you?“) which does kind of justify everything a little bit…
(The Ultimate Destination)
“A place I’ll never forget.”
A writing prompt like that opens up a whole world of opportunities in my mind, literally.
The memory of every place I’ve ever visited is crystallised inside its own little snow globe, sitting with all of the others, lined up on the shelves of my mind. There they wait for me, and when I’m having a sentimental moment I will pick one of them up, dust it off, and shake up all of the emotions that are associated with it once again, reminiscing as they swirl around.
In that sense, I’d like to think that I will never forget any of the places that I have had the chance to get to know on my travels.
From marvelling at the vibrant, colourful buildings in Buenos Aires’ La Boca, to ambling through the luscious greens of the Basque Country’s mountains, the bustling streets of Paris, Rio, or Madrid, or being overwhelmed by the power of the Iguassu Falls that come crashing down at the intersection where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet- it is safe to say that, in my humble little life, I have already had the fortune of experiencing so much. My mind is full of travel memories like these ones; loud, bright, awe-inspiring.
So, why is it then, that I find myself being drawn to the memory of one place in particular? Sitting there on the shelf this memory seems so small in comparison, darker and much dustier than the others. But it lingers there none the less. This memory is that of Cimitero Monumentale di Milano; Milan’s City Cemetery, Italy…
Yes, that’s right. Of all the places on Earth that I could write about, for some unknown yet compelling reason, I feel the need to write about a cemetery.
Though this visit felt more like a trip to an open air museum than to a graveyard.
As I walked amongst the rows of towering mausoleums, sculptures, and statues so realistic that they could come to life at any minute- their eyes following me around the cemetery, judging me for being alive- I was amazed and terrified at the same time.
Peering through the stained-glass windows of some of the grandest mausoleums, I found myself wondering what lay beneath their ornate trap doors. My questions were answered when I saw one such door open, with a sophisticated Italian woman emerging from below, wearing a fur coat and pointy-toed stilettos, clutching her Louis Vuitton handbag tightly. Behind her I saw a stairway, covered floor-to-ceiling in a sparkling mosaic of shiny gold tiles, with the most ornate gold statue of Christ you have ever seen waiting at the bottom. To me this epitomized the immense wealth that must be necessary to be able to memorialize relatives in such a grandiose place. But, as I was envying this wealth, my thought was interrupted; the woman abruptly shut the trap door behind her, and though she hid behind her over-sized designer sunglasses, I briefly caught a glimpse of her face; crumpled with grief, she cried.
In that moment I imagined the burial of every person in that cemetery, and the collective grief felt by every visitor that came to mourn, and I was overcome with emotion. In that moment I remembered where I really was; this was not a museum or gallery. I had a sobering thought; whether well-traveled or not, whether forgotten or shrouded in gold, in a very morbid sense- the cemetery will one day become everyone’s ultimate destination. In that moment I really was humbled, and I will never forget that.
Firstly, my writing isn’t always depressing like that, I promise! I am never usually so morbid, I just wanted my story to have the same impact on you as Milan’s cemetery had on me.
Which leads me to my second reason; I always try to share my travel experiences in a way that is personal to me. Anyone can look up the facts about a destination with a quick google search, but I think travel writing should convey emotions and experiences, and connect the reader with a place in the way that the place connected with the writer. Travel articles, and articles in general, should always come from a unique angle, and what’s a more unique angle than through the eyes and mind of another person? On my blog, I try to write about the places that inspire me from my own personal perspective, so that people can experience another side to somewhere that they might not have experienced before.
And so to my third reason; my blog! Travel writing and illustration are my passions, and AspiretoAmble.com is where I proudly develop and display them. My dream and ambition is to concentrate on them full time when I graduate in June, and to turn them into a career.
Which brings me to my fourth reason- I graduate from University in June (BA in Spanish and Portuguese with Translation) and I cannot think of a better way to start the grand adventure that is rest of my life than with this once in a lifetime opportunity.