The art of travel – Mercedes de Luis

“I have always liked reading and writing letters by hand. Have you tried to write one recently? Do it, because although the process is not as fast as an E-mail, your words will be gently carried by pen and paper. The paper invites you to think about what you are writing and if you believe you have a soul, you can embed it onto paper, if you want.

“But you should also think twice before putting your soul into a letter. See what happened to Hans Christian Andersen. He wrote many letters to his friends, but he did not allow this private correspondence to be published. Unfortunately for him, his friends decided to do it as a matter of public interest. They betrayed him and sent these letters to the press. I read about this incident when I was a guest researcher at HC Andersen Research Centre, with those wonderful archaeologists of Danish literature.”

Mercedes de Luis is a story teller who pays delicate attention to detail. Growing up in Palencia, Castilla y León in the North of Spain, she developed a passion for travel, nature, reading, listening and telling stories since she was a young child.

“Every place deserves a visit,” says Mercedes. “The important thing is not only where to go, but who is with you, all the ‘W’ questions are important (who, what, when, why, where).”

An unforgettable memory of one of her first trips away from home was on a trip to Istanbul with two of her close friends. To this day, she can still recall the train rides and the psychedelic tunes of the Doors that whirred in the background.

A desire for journeys

“Travelling ‘is a burning thing,’” says Mercedes. “Travelling is a fire; it easily starts and needs few reasons.”

“Purpose is a necessary suitcase when travelling. When it ends, there is nothing left but ashes. Travelling saves us from the sands of time. Imagine it to be like the Captain in “Wolzeyc” – Claudio Magris wrote of him in “Danube”- and getting desperate locked in a room, feeling the movement of the world outside, day and night.

“I simply like the moving to be ‘on the road,’ such as the rhythm of the train or the music in my ears or going by car. Since travelling for the sake of learning through experience seems to be a forgotten ritual, it would be a good idea to read Paul Virilio, Claudio Magris, Bruce Chatwin, Josep Pla and HC Andersen because they evoke the art of travel in a way that well deserves to be thought about.

The significance of nature

Mercedes is deeply interested in nature and its importance. “It’s truth,” she says.

“In Marienlyst Castle, there is project to rebuild a romantic garden as it used to be in former times. We may create and find beauty, instead of destruction. In Torres de Oeste, Catoira, the Ulla River and eucalyptus surround the towers, as if it were a silent cemetery of time, stones and nostalgia. This place- its legend- is cared by its inhabitants, year after year.”

“Nature is where we find ourselves. Our deep beliefs, our fears, our wishes – these all lay within wild nature. It seems it was this way at the beginning and I think it will continue until the end of times.”

Literature, poems and illustrations

Mercedes says it was her vocation to tell stories. She pursued her studies in journalism at Complutense University, taking inspiration from the film ‘La Dolce Vita’ and ‘Harry’s theme’ in ‘Patriot Games.’

She is now a “multidisciplinary professional,” which she explains using an original and beautiful comparison between nature and journalism:

“Journalism is formed with fiction of several landscapes and materials, not always with an order. That landscape is a reflection of what our culture is. Already created and formed by different instincts. Often the storm comes and the landscape turns wild again. We try to start again, looking for a plan, following a river. Words do not carry us anywhere and too many words lose their meaning. There is not only one media to express oneself and Journalism is not isolated, it shares space with literature. One just needs to want to find dialogue and connection, instead of noise.”

Travel literature

When Mercedes gets working, her strategy is to “write, write and write,” she says. “As with any art, improvement is a question of time. But when it is also a work, I try to accomplish my writing goals every day.”

Mercedes recently edited her little travel stories notebook, “Relatos de viaje,” which are tales of cities. She is currently preparing her next book.

“I have to improve my technique. Let’s try it here,” says Mercedes. “What about this beginning, it sounds catchy, does it not? En un lugar de la mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme…” Yes, we admit it does and we also bet it sounds equally catchy in English!

Mercedes illustrated and wrote “Travelogues” by hand. “It’s a little book of city tales, one for Copenhagen, another for Berlin, one more for a train and another one dedicated to Irikaitz. Many dreams were created in that fertile ground. It was a very good year. All my loved beings were full of projects, energy and nostalgia, at the same time. I tried to write about that mood in “Relatos de viaje.”

Always hoping to publish a book one day, to Mercedes’ excitement, “Travelogues” has already been sold!

Poems and illustrations

For Mercedes, a variety of wonderful things can serve as inspiration for her to create poems and illustrate. To her, painting is a pleasure to which she feels out of time constraints.

“The sea, music, friendship, silence, a good meal…create that atmosphere…to hear how the day disappears outside,” she says. “I guess that painting, poetry and music are ways for ‘the return to the woods.’ It’s where you feel wild and safe at the same time, so you can express all those ideas.”

A trip down memory lane

“One of the best experiences so far is working at, a place where innovation walks together with the old art of travel. Another great moment happened designing my projects of cultural travels.”

“I am lucky to have friends who always listened about my projects. Finally, the projects became real and I was able to travel to Denmark and do some research, stimulated thanks to the work done by J. de Mylius and J. Nørregaard and all those conversations with Josh and Jacob Bøggild, Anne Klara Bom, Ane Grum-Schwensen, Torsten Bøgh Thomsen, Anya Aarenstrup, the wonderful ideas by Solveig Brunholm, and the help by Katrina Gutierrez, calling to the sirens, at the HC Andersen Research Centre.

“Once I started writing the first sketches about the Danish writer, it was time to meet Malisa Castiñeiras Isorna in Catoira, where she guided me to see the backstage of an amazingly beautiful village in Galicia, feeding a cultural tradition which is still alive and kicking. In the august moon, I had the honour of receiving support from the Foundation of the Arts in Denmark for conducting my musical travel project. For which I was delighted to meet Morten K. Roesen in Copenhagen, a brilliant stage director of the Danish contemporary scene, to interview the musician Peter Bruun and some others amazing artists.

“All of them are somehow part of my projects. I luckily find myself researching into a topic that makes me enjoy and innovate in my way of thinking. And this art of travel is also what I find in, as a combination of internet and the old art of exploring the world. I can’t be but thankful to our nomad habits.”

My short text “Trans-Siberian”

To end the interview on an even brighter note, Mercedes shares a hint of her poetic travel writing with us:

“Just arrived to Yaroslavsky Station, Moscow. I have in my coat a small Moleskine and the Russian dictionary. I go into the crowd of soldiers, mothers and girlfriends, until the platform is cleared and I go inside the Trans-Siberian, I assume this challenge that will test my descriptive skills. I do not travel alone, at the next stop, they will come up my traveling companions.
As in a Paul Theroux’s book” I hope that all kinds of adventures occur without leaving the wagon. I walk to a widest window from where I want to see the landscape.
The train starts moving. Now I can hear it, the machine in motion. What a wonderful music! This is life in movement without end. I close my eyes to imagine what I’ll tell to my grandfather. Russia is one of his favorite trips.
“The Trans-Siberian is for adventurers” we said at home. I smile and desire to meet at the next stop with my fellow travelers.
The train moves over the catenary, the creeping vine and rusty beams. Soon my soul will wander along the universal dance, through the thick Arctic tundra, steppe, prairie wheat, taiga, pines and firs. Anton Chekhov said about taiga once: “His strength and his magic does not lie in the size of its gigantic trees, or in the depth of silence, but in the fact that migratory birds are the only creatures who know their limits”.
Almost 10000km through the Russian Federation up to the delicate shores of the Sea of Japan”.


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