What are men compared to rocks and mountains and selfies?
-Elizabeth Bennett, probably
The last time I hiked the Rilke trail from Duino to Sistiana, I was too distracted by cute boys (and the excitement of being abroad for the first time, but mostly cute boys) to truly appreciate the scenery. And by “appreciate the scenery” I mean “find the best selfie spots”. Of course, in 2007 selfies weren’t really a thing yet, at least not outside your bathroom where you could take a picture of yourself with your 5 megapixel digital camera in your mirror.
Now my front-facing phone camera is better quality than the camera I had back then, and I’d like to think I could actually flirt successfully while also paying attention to the glory of nature, but other than that, not much has changed in the near-decade since I last set foot in Duino.
It’s strange how when planning the trip, I didn’t have a precise picture in my head of what it looked like. All my mental maps were vague images sewn together by distracted memories, more focused on laughing and conversing with my friends than physical locations or landmarks. But the minute I got there, I remembered. I knew exactly where everything was, like deja vu but without the uneasy feeling because I know that I have, in fact, been here before.
Everything was exactly as I left it. I let my instinct guide me, If I turn down this alley I will get to that dorm where we lived, or, If I follow this road it will lead down to the marina, and I wasn’t wrong. I could probably navigate with a blindfold. Somehow, I just knew where to find things, even the things I don’t recall remembering, like the path down the hill to the beach, covered in trees, completely invisible from the trail along the cliff. Or the location of the bus stop and restrooms, exactly where I knew them to be even though I couldn’t have given you directions if I tried.
It’s strange how certain places stay with us, even if–no, especially if they hold no value except sentimental. When I was 17, I wanted to tell myself I would come back to this town again and again, with the same people, re-making that groundbreaking summer over and over. Of course, I got older and realized that would never happen, nor did I want it to anymore. No place is ever as magical as you remember it at 17, with your first passport in your pocket and the buzz from your first whiskey in your head and a dorm full of boys on the floor below you. I didn’t go back expecting it to be the same, but to remind myself of who I was, and who I’ve become, and hopefully who I can be. Maybe I don’t remember every detail, but I carry the most important feelings somewhere deep in my consciousness, a muscle memory just waiting to be awoken.
So I don’t need to do it over again, but I’d like to think that now, even I weren’t hiking alone and focused on taking cute pictures of myself, I would share my distraction between cute boys and cute girls. (Y’know, cause I’ve matured.) And maybe I could just ask someone to take a picture of me.