“Mi mirada te dice todo.”
– Vuelve, Danny Ocean
The magnificence of nature ought to be appreciated in silence, with only the sound of the waves crashing and birds screeching above in the distant background.
Last December, I decided to mix some business with a little bit of pleasure: after presenting a paper at an anthropology conference in Adelaide, South Australia, I decided to do a little pilgrimage around the continent to visit some old friends from my undergraduate days I had left behind. In Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth, I got the opportunity to catch up with friends I had not seen for literally half a decade. I was surprised that this was how long it’d been since I’d left Perth. We also visited some relatives in Bunbury — almost three hours by train south of Perth — where I deposited my mother into safe hands before embarking on another journey solo by bus to Denmark for a special visit.
Denmark is only half an inch away from Bunbury in my Mini Atlas — my Travel Bible I always carry with me on my backpacking trips — but the bus journey took a good five hours. But no matter — I enjoy long journeys on the road. I like to savor the scenes I see through the window, and think of where I’m going, where I’d just come from, where my road leads to next. Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame kept me company for most of the hours, but at one point before reaching Walpole, sleep claimed me briefly. When I later woke up an hour or two before arriving, I was too excited to go back to sleep as I thought of my upcoming reunion with an old friend who had kindly invited me to stay at his property in Torbay (also known by the quirky name of Kronkup) — somewhere in the southwestern coast of Australia — for Christmas.
This friend and I had known each other since 2011, when we both did a semester of exchange in Sciences Po, Paris. I remember our meetings around this beautiful city in glamorous Parisian cafés and more modest kebab shops, always rendered memorable by hours-long conversations. We’ve even had an accidental encounter in downtown Barcelona once, and caught up over a lunch of mediocre pasta in Rome. If fate had not intervened, I would have also had the opportunity to host him briefly in Malaysia.
My friend reads extensively and likes to discuss ideas and debate possibilities — and on meeting him again last December, he clearly had not changed one bit in this respect. The moment I stepped into his car when he picked me up in Denmark, that feeling of familiarity between old friends filled the atmosphere and we eased seamlessly into conversation. The next few days got even more and more interesting as we talked about our solo travels in Africa and our studies; our past and future academic, professional, and romantic pursuits. Over the years, we’d kept in touch through long emails exchanged intermittently throughout the year, but even such lengthy correspondences could not quite convey to the other the full depth and breadth of our individual experiences we attempted to share through mere words. These could finally find their full expression when we met face to face in this untouched corner of Western Australia, amidst pristine nature and breathtaking vistas, where time was briefly suspended, and of no concern to us.
This time around, it was clear that we were meeting as two different people from when we’d last seen each other. But we were still able to exchange with, listen to, and learn from each other about anything and everything that had happened to us in the past half-decade since our last meeting. A memory that I will always cherish is that of waking up on Christmas morning, joining my friend out on his front porch, and sitting there as we talked in the shade of the patio for four hours about anything and everything — people, ideas, relationships, goals, inspirations, religion, spirituality, love.
There was a brief intermission as we went in for some biscuits, quick phone calls, and more orange juice, but then we sat down at the dining table and continued talking for a couple of more hours. Some time in late afternoon, we suddenly realized that the day was soon ending, and went out for a drive to a lookout point overlooking Shelley Beach, where more conversation unfolded.
Talking until we lose all sense of time never fails to happen when I am in great company. I do not have the patience for shallow intercourses that leave me deeply unsatisfied and uninspired, but when I do find myself getting increasingly curious about someone, I would gladly sacrifice a whole day to uncover more and more of the hidden gems they keep buried deep within their souls. The anthropologist in me has no shame in letting my curiosity be known, and in pursuing the answers to the questions burning in my mind to the ends of the Earth if need be.
But as much as my friend and I enjoyed our endless exchanges, a few moments of silence as we absorbed our surroundings felt as natural and equally gratifying. I am reminded of R. Arnold, who aptly said:
“So, if you are too tired to speak, sit next to me
For I, too, am fluent in silence.”