The four things travel taught me: Jennifer Clement, author

COMPLEXITY

I grew up in Mexico City and always appreciate the architecture of interior courtyards with fountains or sculptures in the centre and the colourful Talavera handmade tiles that often line them. It wasn't until a holiday to Spain as a young adult that I fully realised this architecture, along with the tiles, came into Europe through the Muslim occupation of the Iberian Peninsula and then moved to Mexico during the Spanish Conquest in 1519. This occupation is also why Spanish from Spain has many Arab words in it, but in Mexican Spanish one also finds the language filled with words from several native languages. When I travel I'm constantly aware of these layers of culture and history and how knowledge has moved throughout the world creating complexity.

OBSERVATION

Trees are often as interesting as the places one might be visiting. The treatment of trees tells you a lot about a country. The enormous Tule Tree in Oaxaca, Mexico, is like a cathedral. In South Africa I find the fever trees to be the most magical part of the landscape and in parts of India the banyan trees can be more exotic than the temples.

PRACTICALITY

As I travel all over the world, I've had to learn about mosquito repellents as the threat of mosquito-borne illnesses is in so many places today. The best insecticides I'm aware of are made with a combination of Deet and Picardin. I spray this on my clothes and hair to avoid spraying it on my skin. As planes are often very cold, I also always travel with a light down coat that rolls into a small ball and fits in my carry-on bag. There is not a single trip I have not used it on a cold airplane or in a cold hotel room.

POETRY

When I travel I take poetry books and always pick a poet from the country I'm going to. It also allows me to enter a country through the imagination of its writers. Recently in Turkey, where so many writers have been jailed, I read the poet Nazim Hikmet. His poem Things I did not know I loved, reminded me that so much of contemporary Turkish literature has been written in prison. On my trip to Australia for the Byron Bay and Bendigo writers festivals, I will be reading Les Murray. I had the good fortune of meeting him once in Mexico. In his poem Poetry and Religion he writes, "A poem, compared with an arrayed religion, may be like a soldier's one short marriage night to die and live by." I will also have Judith Rodriquez' poems with me.

American-Mexican Jennifer Clement is the author of the memoir Widow Basquiat and three novels as well as several books of poetry. She is president of PEN International, a worldwide association of writers. Clement is appearing at the Byron Bay Writers Festival (August 2-4) and Bendigo Writers Festival (August 9-11). See byronwritersfestival.com ; bendigowritersfestival.com.au

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