When you first think of plastic bags, what do you think of? For me, it is not the pollution issue or their threat to animals (although now you probably are thinking of those!). My mind first takes me to American Beauty.


The beauty of the piece of “trash” caught in the wind and the joy in character Ricky Fitt’s voice as he describes it makes me smile every time I think of it, which is surprisingly often. And his last line of that monologue, “Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in,” is so poignant, especially since he considers that video to be the most beautiful he’s ever taken.

In complete contrast to that serene image, my mind also associates the crinkling sound of plastic bags with an unpleasant but memorial part of my trip to Spain.

Tammy in Tree at Prado Museum
This is one of my favorite traveling pictures. Taken in the tree outside the Prado museum in Madrid.

Hillary and I regularly used hostels in our travels. They were excellent congregating points for us. After a long, glorious day of museums and sight seeing, we would retire back to our bunks, normally for a good night sleep.

On our last night in Madrid, however, the entire dorm room was awakened in the middle of the night by one of our fellow residents going through her belongings, all of which were kept in plastic bags. Crinkle, crinkle, crinkle. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but it seemed to go on forever.

I can’t remember if someone yelled out to stop it, but we were all mentally screaming  it. Finally the noise did stop, and we were eventually able to drop back into sleep for the remaining early morning hours.

I find it amazing that a decade later, Hillary and I both remember that scene so vividly. Strangely enough, whenever either of us mentions Madrid, despite all the really cool things that we did there, the first thing the other person says is, “The plastic bags!”

Do you have a lasting travel memory that has nothing to do with your travel location? or Has anyone else seen a plastic bag caught in the wind and thought of American Beauty?

12 thoughts on “Plastics”

  1. I love American Beauty. I’m like you in that whenever I see a plastic bag drifting in the wind, I can’t help but think about that scene in the movie. It’s just so poignant and well done. It’s uplifting. It was so good that I even mentioned it in a post about finding beauty in everyday life. Although I didn’t put the video for the movie in my post, but now I think that would have been a good idea.

    As far as traveling goes. I have a similar hostel story. When I was in Costa Rica, I was set up in a dorm with a bunch of other people. Anyway a girl walked in and saw me and looked shocked. She must have assumed it was a single sex dorm. But it wasn’t. For a while, I thought she was going to yell at me and I was going to have to defend myself. But fortunately, she figured it out.


  2. “American Beauty” is such a beautiful story. Even the first time I watched it (and I’ve seen it many times) I was so taken by the ending.

    I have been the one startled by an unexpected co-ed dorm situation, but hopefully my recovery was smoother than in your experience!


  3. This is one of those movies we rented and watched at home when we had three small kids running around. I have absolutely no recollection of this scene which makes me think I was out of the room cleaning up a mess or putting someone to bed. I probably came back and asked if I had missed anything and my husband probably told me no! Since that day I have had the privilege of watching my two daughters dance and sway in lovely, flowing white tutus. I can not believe how similar that plastic bag’s movements came to the graceful movements of a lovely ballerina.


    1. The movie would definitely be worth another go, especially without the interruption of three small children!

      I never would have thought to compare a ballerina to the plastic bag, but you are right that they are both so graceful.


    1. Your husband has great tastes! 🙂 It has held up really well, if you can mentally leap over all the video tapes he has. I think you’ll enjoy a repeat performance.


  4. I may be one of the very few people who have not seen the movie – now I have to and now I have to really take note of the plastic bag scene. I know just what you mean about the random but powerful memories that come up from travel. It’s those things that happen which we never could have anticipated that end up staying with us. Like your plastic bags when thinking of Madrid. Another of the joys of travel.


    1. It’s amazing how a night of interrupted sleep made the highlight reel of my trip! Then again, what is memorable about sleeping soundly?

      I do think you will enjoy American Beauty. The characters are so fully flushed and the juxtapositions that the director is able to put throughout are subtle yet startling when discovered.


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