Someone must have told the legendary writer Sandra Cisneros that I’m calling her from Taiwan because she greets me with enthusiasm. “I just love Taipei because you can get a foot massage in a public place with a whole bunch of other people next to you and it doesn’t feel creepy. That is so civilized!” says the author of the classic novel The House on Mango Street, who resides in Mexico and has just released a new poetry collection, Woman Without Shame: Poems. “I bought a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes at the flea market there for 20 bucks. Woo-hoo! I’ve never worn them, but who cares? They look so nice you could put them on a cake.”
Cisneros was similarly ebullient when discussing her travels through Sarajevo, Istanbul, and Venice. Ahead, she shares the pieces she always packs, the feature she needs in a hotel room, and how Americans could behave a bit better when visiting Mexico.
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How she absorbs a new place:
I take notes. I love mistranslations. I take pictures of mistranslations, when things are translated into funny English. I take notes about how places make me feel. I was in Istanbul in May, and just the names of places are so beautiful. Everything sounds like poetry to me. I’m usually seduced by the sounds of words. I can’t always remember them unless I write them down. It’s all of the senses, but especially words. I’ve learned so few words in Turkish because they were always so complicated, but they’re beautiful. No wonder Rumi wrote poetry! It’s just the kind of place that is very conducive to poetry. But every place is conducive to poetry, because poetry’s about being very present in the moment and paying attention. That’s the same thing as a tourist, isn’t it?
Her approach to packing:
I telescope a lot of bags inside bags, or I have to have a bag that expands. Everything has to function three different ways. I like to travel with Mexican shopping bags inside my suitcases, and I don’t use a purse; I’ll use a flat cloth bag. The Mexican shopping bag is for all my books. I don’t understand people that travel with one little suitcase, because I don’t want to live with regrets. I want to take things home.
What she keeps in her carry-on:
I always have my laptop, and I carry a little basket with my jewelry that I wear to become “the author.” I don’t carry much jewelry if I’m just traveling as myself, but if I have to be “the author,” then I have my favorite turquoise cuff, or something that has to do with my culture. I always have a rebozo silk shawl or some silver Taxco earrings or bracelet, something that can empower me when I speak, but also educates the public about my culture.