Traces we leave and follow
February 11th, 2023
There is something deeply moving and fascinating in retracing someone’s steps. I am not talking about police investigation, but about people that we find particularly inspiring and interesting.
Why do fans follow the traces of their favorite K-pop idol? It makes them feel closer to their beloved superstar, it’s exciting to know that that other person was exactly in the same spot, touching the same railing or taking a photo in front of that same backdrop. It feels like stepping into their world, the world that seems magical and wonderful just because it is theirs. Seeing and experiencing places that are important to them, such as their workplace, their favorite café, or the park they like to walk in can give a better feel of the person than no interview or photograph can provide. Sometimes it can be a possibility to learn more about their habits and preferences, a glimpse into their life.
Retracing someone’s steps can also be an incredibly rewarding and enlightening experience. It is a great opportunity to explore a place that you may never have seen before, while learning more about your subject. It gives you the chance to gain a unique perspective on the area. You may even be able to uncover some hidden gems that you would never have found otherwise. If you are retracing the steps of a historical figure, you can get priceless insight into a particular period of time, historical events and culture. Such exploration is more efficient than any guided tour as it allows you to uncover stories and secrets of the past by yourself.
I wonder whether some invisible traces of a person remain imprinted on a location, on objects there. Recently I heard of an interesting phenomenon that ghost hunters still observe in Ireland – in locations where bloody battles took place many years/centuries ago, battle noises are still heard (screams, moans, clinking of weapons etc.). It is called residual hunting. According to theories, they are expressions of stored energy that got triggered at a particular time/date or by an object. I wonder if such triggers can be found for an individual presence of someone, someone I’m interested in.
In addition, I have heard on multiple occasions that some psychics can walk to a certain place and find out who was there before them and what happened to them. I haven’t had a chance to check these paranormal abilities in real life, but if, supposedly, it is true, then it only means that everyone of us leaves traces all the time. Not just physical traces, but also emotional or energy traces on objects and surrounding that remain invisible to the regular human eye. It would mean that nothing ever disappears completely and that every place we have ever visited keeps our traces forever, even after we are gone.
I think it is fascinating. What if nothing ever disappears completely? What if every place and every object keep traces of people who were there, touched it or interacted with it? And what if there was a way of making these traces visible, of reading or decrypting them? How many messages we would have been able to transmit this way?
Finally, retracing someone’s steps is also looking for that person. K-pop fans retracing steps of their favorite idol are dreaming of meeting him/her. When we follow the traces of someone who is already gone, in a certain way, we are also looking for that person. In this respect, I was mesmerized by the street art artistic project called “LOOking for MaRIA” by NCNC. In this project, two researchers come to a city looking for traces of Maria Lai, an Italian artist who saw art as a stimulant for encounters. [Maria Lai’s wonderful artwork called “Legarsi alla montagna” (“Connecting with the mountain”) involved the villagers of Ulassai in the crafting of a long thread (nearly 17 miles) to link all the houses in the village to the mountain nearby, as a tribute to local folklore.] The two researchers studied Maria’s diaries and postcards, and are visiting the cities she visited or might have visited, exploring the collective memory and the cities themselves, trying to find out why she came or could have come there.
My most remarkable experience in retracing someone’s steps was and still is what I came to call The Hague Hostel Journey, or, if I make a nod to “LOOking for MaRIA”, it can be “LOOking fOrCaSey”. In this “quest”, I am looking for an American guy Casey Adams who traveled to The Hague at least once and who wrote his story in a diary that got stolen from him.
I did it twice already, and I am doing it again. Retracing Casey’s steps, admiring what he saw and experienced, and trying to imagine what he was feeling and thinking and, most importantly, why and how did his diary happen to be stolen in The Hague some time after the events that he has described there.
I couldn’t meet all the people he met and interacted with, but I did meet those that I was able to find. And it was deeply moving, exciting, enlightening. Still, I wasn’t able to find Casey. Or maybe he doesn’t want to be found. But even if so, this whole experience was so rewarding for me that I’m lucky to have the chance to live it through. I have discovered so many places that I probably would have never visited otherwise, and I have met wonderful people; some of them became good friends.
Sometimes life sends us small unexpected gifts, like traces that someone left ;-) , that can lead to a breathtaking journey, an awesome adventure. We just have to be attentive enough to notice them. :-)
Photo credit: NCNC - official poster for the project LOOking for MaRIA