Monday, February 28, 2022

Microstory 1831: Tour de Force

At the moment, there are 216 countries in the world, but it wasn’t always like that, and not all of them are recognized by every international governmental body. That doesn’t matter to me, though. I’m not traveling to these places as a diplomat. If they have declared themselves to be an independent state, I have to visit them, even if I was technically already there when it was part of a different nation. Well, I don’t have to do any of this, but I’ve made it this far, so I need to see it through. Let me explain. When I was a girl, my parents received a hefty inheritance from a distant relative that my mother didn’t even know existed. According to her executor, my mom’s great aunt something-something didn’t have any other family left by the time she died. Mom didn’t get this inheritance just because she was next of kin, though. Her aunt knew of her, and even followed her career as a trombonist. Sadly, we never got to meet her, but we did get that money. The two of them took some time off work one summer to travel. We went to several countries in Europe, plus Egypt, plus India. Just like that, I found myself having seen three continents, and one subcontinent. I felt compelled to continue, so before I began my studies at university, I spent a gap year backpacking through Asia, seeing five more countries. Every year, I became more obsessed with adding to my itinerary. North America, South America, even Antarctica. I developed rules about my stays. I had to remain for at least one week for it to count, and I had to go to multiple cities. I couldn’t just hang out near the airport, or straddle the border between two neighbors. I could have done it much faster without these rules—which some people do, thinking faster is better—but money runs low fast, so I still had to work. It took me decades to do it right.

Word spread what I was doing. As I said, I wasn’t the only one, but I was famous for it before I was halfway through, because I was actually spending time absorbing culture. Airlines would send me free tickets to promote their planes. Countries would pay my way to draw in tourism. Everybody wanted a piece of the action, and it was totally fine by me. I was the girl who saw it all, and people wanted me to tell them about it. I tried to write a book about my travels once, but I’m not a very good writer, so I hired others to do it for me. I sent them updates to include in the book, and we realized that it was going to be too long for one volume. This wasn’t a travel guide; it was deeply personal, but the audience ate it up, because there are so many people out there who will never get to see this stuff. Finally, in my old age, I reached my goal. I went to some of the most dangerous parts of the world, but I survived, and no one could take that away from me. Except they almost did. A few years ago, a community in Spain called Catalonia declared its independence. Just last month, the rest of the world finally agreed to recognize this independence, and the Catalan Republic entered the United Nations as a separate body. This is great, but things are still shifting, and during this time, travel to Catalan is incredibly restricted. All tourism has been blocked. But that put me in a pickle. It was a new country, and we all knew it, but I couldn’t go there. Now, had I spent time in the area when it was considered only a community, I might have argued success, but I never did, and I needed to get there. The world united in my favor, and pleaded with the governments involved to let me in, just for one week. Surprisingly, my request was actually granted, and it is in a hospital in Barcelona where I draw my last breath.

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