Friday, May 28, 2010

The Wanderlust

I'm always telling people how much I yearn for adventure. For new experiences. For travel to new and exotic places. Don't get me wrong. I love St. Louis. I like being in the same city as my entire family. But it has long since been a widely acknowledged truth that I was born with the Irish wonderlust.

I was the one who seemed to be able to get out of my playpen at eighteen months with disconcerting regularity to show up across the street looking for cookies (my father never did figure out how I did it. No matter what he did, next time they turned around, two of the playpen bars would be lying on the ground, and the front door would be swinging shut). I remember discovering a storm culvert at the end of my block that stretched out into the woods behind the neighborhood and thinking how exciting it would be to follow it to the source, like a suburban Nile. To my huge disappointment, it went no farther than one street over where my cousins lived. I'd already been there. No adventure at all. (Although it did go through the woods, which still hold a strong memory for me as "The Place of Adventure.")

To my greater chagrin, my mother had to come find me when she once again found me missing. She was not pleased. She let me know with the business end of a hair brush. I'm sure I scared the bejesus out of her. If her memory is correct, I was four.

It was difficult as a child. We had no money. We had a family of ten, including my grandfather, which meant that our vacation choices were two: floating down the rivers in Missouri (fun) and my aunt Janie and Uncle John's cabin on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan), which turned out to be a magical place. The cabin is situated about fifty feet up off a private beach over the lake, and the cabin is separated from surrounding houses by dunes, so it was as if we were the only people around. We had the lake, which had stunning thunderstorms, we had the sand and woods, and we had the town, where massive tankers from exotic places pulled in with regularity (okay, so it was usually no more exotic than Detroit or Milwaukee. To a six-year old, that was exotic).

And yet, it was never enough. There was so much world out there, so many people to meet, so many foods to sample and historic routes to trace. There was so much to learn, and it wasn't in St. Louis, where, when I was growing up, the only language heard was English, and the most exotic people were the students at Washington University. I needed more.

Happily, I married the perfect man. Not only does Rick understand that if we have twenty dollars set aside, it goes to the next trip. He doesn't care that we'll never move from the house we've been in for thirty years, or that we never quite joined that country club or had season tickets to anything.

Not only that, but he travels the same way I do. Not something you hear in the wedding vows, certainly, but something that should have been in mine. As I share our travels with you, you'll understand what I mean. And how, if you are as lucky as I am to be able to see new places, you find someone who is happy staying in the same places, doing the same things, and eating the same foods.

I live by two mottos. From Auntie Mame, my mom's favorite quote: "Life is a banquet and most poor fools are starving to death." And, from somebody's bumper sticker: "Life is short, but wide." So I hope you'll enjoy sharing my experiences with me. Even if you're like one of our friends, who doesn't really want to get on a train in Calcutta, but can't wait to hear all about it from us. "We just got back from India," we tell him. "And you had a great time."

I hope you do, too. And if I can clarify anything, or tempt you into taking your own trip, or eating at any of the cool places I've gone (and no. I have not eaten eyeballs or grubs. Rick is another matter entirely), jump in. Because life is short. But it is very wide.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Going Back to Ireland

Funny, but this is the way I always think of it. I wasn't born in Ireland. Neither were my parents or grandparents. But from the time I can remember, I was always going to go 'back' to Ireland. It might be because that was the way my Grandpa spoke, and my mother. As if we'd only meant to visit the US for a few years and somehow forgot to catch the boat home. It was the first foreign country I wanted to visit. It's the only place on earth that I want to buy land. It figured in dreams and pride and memories that took on mythical proportions over time. And so by the time I finally went, it should have been a disappointment.

Not even close. I can vividly remember sitting in the plane as we came into final approach to Shannon. It had, predictably, been cloudy, a grim gray that wrapped the plane like batting. I kept my eyes focused out the window, though, waiting, breathless (really) for the first sight of that legendary green. I was trying not to hope for too much. After all, it was fall, and back home the ground was as gray as these clouds. The trees were at the end of color, and the sun rested lower in the sky. What could I honestly expect?

A miracle. At least to me. Suddenly, from one breath to the next, those clouds frayed like pulled cotton, and for just a second, I saw it. Blue-green. Chartreuse where the sun shone through. A checkerboard, an ocean, a stained glass window constructed f greens and blues and yellows.

A hint became a suggestion, and suddenly, like a magician pulling back a cape, it was there. And it was everything I'd dreamed of. Everything, I think, my mom and grandpa had dreamed of. I know a thousand and one people could look at that same sight and say, "Why, isn't that pretty?". But there are others, like me, who lose their breath too entirely to speak. They feel the sudden swell of wonder and don't even realize that there are tears on their neck. They hear a funny voice in their head that just says home.

I contend that there is some one spot on earth for everyone that says the same thing. The landscape seems to embrace you, to comfort you like a friend. The air is purer somehow, the sun more sweet (notice I didn't say brighter. I am, after all, talking about Ireland). Even if you're lucky enough for it to be your own back yard, if you pay close enough attention, you'll feel the world slip into place. You'll hear that seductive voice in your head. "You've come home."

That's the voice I heard that day in 1983. It's the voice I hear every time I go home. Yeah. I've long since given up. I might never have the money to actually buy land there. I might forever be the visitor from the US. But when I'm here and see that particular shade of green, a hot yellow spring green that turns inexplicably blue in the shade, I know. I really am home.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Going It Alone

I admit it. I like to travel alone. Not that I don't like to travel with my husband, or my children, or my family. I do, especially Rick. We travel in the same way, assimilating into a new culture by watching and listening.

But on this trip to England I'm all on my own. Which means that I don't have a wing man, true. But it also means that I can go where I want to, even if I catch a sudden inspiration and turn on my heel to go back where I came from. I don't have to worry about time or distance of whether the person I'm with can take my pace, or wants to see what I do. I can sit in a restaurant for hours nursing a glass of wine and reading, and nobody complains. I don't have to constantly worry I'll lose the person I'm with, or that they'll be distressed or angry or, the worst, bored by what we're seeing.

True, when I plan a trip I send out an advisory that goes something like this. “I'm the one planning this. We're mostly going to see what I want to (i.e., in the fall we're doing Italy, and by damn, we're seeing Pompeii. I've wanted to see it since I was seven. The nice thing about Italy, though, is that I can sit the non-participaters down in a coffee shop and let them watch people while I'm checking out 2000 year old salacious mosaics).

But here and now, with no one to rustle a map in my face or sigh loudly or try and give me the correct directions in a rising tone of voice, I can get completely lost on the back lanes of England and enjoy the lambs and wildflowers and quaint country cottages without worrying that I'll never find my way home. It's England, for heaven's sakes, which is about the size of Illinois. And while the bigger cities are woefully undersigned, you can't turn a corner in a country lane without seeing a sign to five other little hamlets. And I swear each of those hamlets is more pretty and quaint than the one before.

So the only time I have to be on time is catching the train. Other than that, I'm okay. I'm on my own, after all.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Travel Tip #342

Whenever somebody I know gets married, I give them the same advice. “If you don't enjoy yourselves, you're missing the point of the day. But remember. No matter how well you plan, something will go wrong. Plan on it. And when it happens, laugh. It will end up being a great story.” I have the same advice for traveling.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm about as organized as a soccer riot. But the one thing I organize to within an inch of its life is my traveling. I actually do color-coded spread sheets(when my brother the CPA saw that, he was speechless for a full five minutes). In fact, the trip I'm on now was so organized. I had spreadsheets. I had notes. I have a GPS, and plans to circumvent any problems.

I was going to get a SIM card for my phone so I didn't have to pay exorbitent US rates in England. I put Skype on my computer so that when I was in range of wi-fi I could call even more cheaply. I was going to blog almost every day.

Well, I have a feeling you'll be getting this late. I'm heading into my third day in London, and so far, a)the SIM card doesn't work, b)the Brits aren't nearly as wi-fi mad as we, so don't think it necessary to put it in every coffee shop in the city. Starbucks does have it, but you pay, and so far it's only let me online once for about half an hour(did I tell you computers hate me?) So much for Skype and blogging and Facebook.

Not that I'm not having a productive visit. I am. I spent today walking Mayfair and taking pictures(which did call me to the attention of the Metropolitan police who were standing guard at the Saudi Arabian Embassy, which was once a great Georgian house set back from Curzon Street(and which belonged to some Captain of the Guards, although I can't find out who, because I still can't get on the internet). I ate at a very cute bistro in Shepherd's market at the edge of Mayfair(and how a shepherd's market got to be anywhere near Mayfair, I'd like to find out....right after I learn about that house on Curzon), put faces to all the places I'd heard about, including Berry Brothers, Lock Hats and Purdey gunsmiths.

But for now, I can't share that with anybody. All I can do is write it down for the time in what feels like the distant future when I'll be able to post it.
It'll make a great story some day.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Travels with Dave

One of the fun things about traveling is bringing friends along. I love to show them new spots, share things I love, and discover things they love. Well, I've taken it to a new lever recently. One of my good friends died suddenly last year. I say he was a good friend; his wife is a better friend. She's the person who greeted me my first day in the ED years ago. She's the person beside my husband who encouraged me to write. Katie and I have been friends through years of trauma, marriage, children and her divorce. I had moved to a different hospital by the time she met Dave, so I heard about him at lunch one day. Her eyes glowed like a little girl's as she told me of this younger paramedic/firefighter who approached her at work. He was handsome, he was fit, he was an adventurer, which Katie had never been. She became an adventurer with Dave. Anybody would. Dave had a way of bringing everybody along with him before you even knew you were going. Sailling, climbing, hiking, climbing, flying. Especially flying. I never got the chance to go up in the plane Dave and Katie built. But I've certainly heard about it.

Two years ago this June, Dave took his plane up and never came back. He suffered a heart attack up there in the air. I want to think that he died when the world was the most sublime for him, that he never knew what happened. I do know that since he died, we, his friends, have been carrying him around with us. Not in spirit, although there is that. Katie divided his ashes into little pill bottles, and we carry him nestled in our purses, backpacks and luggage around the world.

Today i'm in Ireland, and on this trip, I've brought Katie along. We're going to take Dave around with us, and on the last night, we're going to give him an Irish wake in a pub, and sing to him The Parting Glass. The last lines are "But since it falls that I should leave and you should not, then gently rise and softly call, good night and joy be too you all." It's an amazing trip to take. I'm writing a journal about it. so's Katie. But for now, raise a glass to my friend Dave, who you see in this photo taken in a music pub in Kinvara, enjoying the music. He'd be honored.