By Samuel P.N. Cook
If you ask anyone over the age 15 where they were on September 11th, 2001, chances are they will be able to tell you precisely where they were, and what they were doing that day. Ask that same person where they were on Tuesday three weeks ago, chances are they will not be able to tell you. Why can we vividly remember the events of a single day almost a decade ago, and yet we have trouble remembering what we did just three weeks ago? The answer is simple: human emotion – powerful human emotions – create memories, and together these memories create the narrative that becomes our life story.
When I returned to Seville Spain in the summer of 2002, I was not quite sure what made me do it. I had a loose plan for my itinerary, and it did not include a second trip to this small Southern Spanish city. Instead, I was supposed to go to the city of Cordoba, renowned for its beautiful mountain vistas and Islamic architecture. But, somehow, I had to return to Seville and try to recapture the magic of the week before. I checked into the same youth Hostel, the beautiful old mansion that had housed Spanish nobility in the age of Columbus and the great explorers. I even went to the same restaurant and Bar I had attended the week before, but somehow it was not quite the same.
So what caused me to return to Seville, just a week after I had left, and spend a precious two days out of my 14 day vacation on a city I had already seen? Simply put: it was the power of emotion. As I tried to retrace the steps and capture the magic of Seville that day, I realized that the city was magical because of the magical social experience I had that day the week before. Wandering around the city with the guide book, I had stopped a girl from Norway to ask for directions, and we ended up meeting to have coffee. She was a foreign exchange student the year before in Seville, and she was on a return trip to see friends and her old “family.” That evening, we met up and she took me deep into the local culture. An experience I will never forget.
We met for dinner at 10 pm that night. But as my host explained to me, dinner typically started close to midnight. We sat for drinks of Sangria and tapas food while we waited for our table. Large families, from grandparents all the way down to Children, sat and languished over dinner and conversation, as though there was nothing important to wake up to early the next day. After dinner, we took a magical walk through the back streets of what was once the most wealthy city in the world – somehow a path that I could not find in my Lonely Planet Guide book. Following a stroll along the promenade by the river at 1 am, we went to the most famous local Flamenco dancing hot spot. My host had fallen in love with the local dance, and while I felt the inadequacies of my Anglo Saxon dancing ability, I watched as she danced with an older Spanish Gentleman who was in heaven dancing with this beautiful Nordic beauty. I lost her number that she had given me, and I never managed to reconnect with her, but I suspect that it is best that way. All that remains from this magical night is a few grainy photographs of my guide dancing with her elder Spanish Paramour that night, stuffed in my shoebox of photos from the time before I had a digital camera.
This guided tour of Seville made it my favorite city in Europe. Somehow, when I returned the following week, it wasn’t quite the same. Anthony Robbins, speaking about time he has spent with people at the end of their lives observed “When people are on their death beds, I NEVER hear them talk about how much money they have, or how many houses they own, or their cars. They talk about what is important to them, their relationships, the stories they cherish.” If I were to die tomorrow, and I had to reflect on my life, I would go back and relive the stories that have defined my life. And as I think of the story of my life that I would tell, I would think of the relationships I have had in my life, and the adventures I have lived through traveling. All of the adventures traveling that I remember are animated by a personal story, a connection, and an emotional experience.