Tag Archives: Travel

April 22 – The Beautiful Lady of Paris

by Sara Etgen-Baker

I spent the better part of the summer of 1970 traveling about Great Britain and Europe exploring many of the old world cathedrals and castles, and poking around historical museums. One hot June afternoon, I stood on Ile de la Cite, a small island in the middle of the Seine River, awestruck as I stared up at the towers and spire of the Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral. She was covered with sculptures vividly illustrating Biblical stories such as the Last Judgment. Even her rose windows and stained glass panes depicted Biblical subjects such as a triumphant Christ seated in the sky surrounded by his Apostles, Adam and Eve, the Resurrection of Christ, and Mary Magdalene.

Like other Gothic churches I’d seen, she was decorated with sculptures of frightening monsters including a gargoyle, a Chimera, and a Strix.

These sculptures were part of the visual message for the illiterate worshippers, symbols of the evil and danger that threatened those who didn’t follow the church’s teachings.

Beyond its religious significance, Notre Dame was a part of France’s history and the site of many French coronations including Napoleon Bonaparte. I couldn’t help but respect her, the imposing edifice who’d withstood the ravages of time, neglect, and war who towered above me, guarding Paris and perhaps the world from evil and providing hope for all Parisians and Catholics worldwide.But when I watched the news footage of the fire burning at Notre Dame, I felt powerless and helpless, as if hope itself was gone. I watched flames consume the venerable and noble Lady of Paris and in some ways, I felt as if I, too, was burning. How, I asked myself, could something that had stood the ravages of time suddenly fall victim to such a destructive force? Although I’m neither a Parisian nor a Catholic, an inexplicable sadness washed over me. Why is the burning of a cathedral thousands of miles away from me saddening me so? Was it the disbelief and helplessness I felt in seeing something so historical and beautiful destroyed? Certainly. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something more to the sadness I was experiencing and there was a lesson I needed to learn. But what?

In the aftermath of the Notre Dame fire, I was struck with something much deeper; the notion of impermanence. I had to face the fact that nothing, save one’s spirit, is permanent; not the structures we construct, the religious teachings we create, the history we build, none of it. Therein lies the truth that the mythical Phoenix learned. Our spirit as individuals and people survive the fire. Perhaps that is the lesson the Beautiful Lady of Paris intended for us. It is definitely one I needed to learn.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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March 18 – Little Joys

by Suzanne Adam

The words spoke to me. While scanning my email Inbox, the title of Maria Popova’s latest “Brainpickings” post caught my eye: “Hermann Hesse on Little Joys, Breaking the Trance of Busyness, and the Most Important Habit for Living with Presence.” I opened the post.

I read that in his 1905 essay “On Little Joys”, Hesse reflects on the busyness, the hurry-hurry and the aggressive haste of modern life. Terms coined over a century ago. I’ve learned the wisdom and truth contained in his words. Perhaps I developed this philosophy for living due to life’s circumstances and to the person I am.

Hesse advised everyday contact with nature. I grew up immersed in the natural world of a small northern California town. Trees occupied the views from every window in my childhood home. Camping vacations amidst redwoods started me on the path to becoming a tree hugger.

There were other signs. Searching for my first apartment, I’d check for the view from the windows. My chosen Berkeley apartment had a distant view of San Francisco Bay. In the slim space between my building and my neighbors’ grew a leafy redwood tree and a small garden tended by a few of the residents. I was forced to move out when the owner decided to demolish our three-story building in order to build a bigger, seven-story construction. Last time I went by, the redwood tree was gone.

When I moved to Chile to marry my boyfriend, we settled in the capital, Santiago, now a city of six million inhabitants. I learned to develop personal strategies for noticing little joys in this urban setting.

It is just a matter of noticing.

SAAndesAs a teacher in a school situated in the foothills of the Andes, in free moments, I’d gaze out the window at the glorious sight and feel nourished and replenished. During my lunch hour, I’d walk a few laps around the hillside track and maybe spot a kestrel perched on a post or hear the twitter of quail.

These city streets offer dozens of small joys: flowering Jacaranda and ceibo trees, a well-tended garden, a friendly dog, the chatter of playing children.

Now, although retired, I don’t get out of the city as often as I’d like. I miss the freshness of forests and the tang of sea breezes. To counteract this deficiency, each morning I step out into my backyard to inhale the exquisite fresh air still untouched by the scents of human activity. The dew releases a potpourri of fragrances from my redwood tree and the flowering buddleia. Nights I make another mini visit to my backyard to breathe in the nighttime air and gaze at the few stars visible in our city sky. Sky. Sometimes I realize that I haven’t looked at the sky all day.

Hesse advises us to cherish the little joys, inconspicuous and scattered liberally over our daily lives. They are not outstanding, they are not advertised, they cost no money!

Lessons for living.

Suzanne grew up northern California. After graduating from UC Berkeley, she served in the Peace Corps in Colombia before moving to Santiago, Chile in 1972 to marry her boyfriend, Santiago. She explores this experience in her 2015 memoir Marrying Santiago. Her latest book, “Notes from the Bottom of the World: A Life in Chile” was published by She Writes Press.

Suzanne blogs at Tarweed Spirit.

September 13 – Photos Fade

by Martha SlavinI turned the pages of an old photo album that my mother had kept of our trip to England and France the summer after my dad died. The photos had faded so much that they almost look like watercolors. I remembered how the tour gave my mother a lift back into life after nine months of being closeted in grief.

It has been 36 years since my dad died, and 14 since my mother passed away. I don’t think about them every day, but feelings of affection swept through me as I look at my mother’s face in those old photos.

The photos had been kept in one of those awful albums with stripes of glue to hold the photos and plastic sheets to cover them. Thinking about painting some of them, I scanned the photos into the computer. As I worked with each one, I remembered walking through the vast room of the Alnwick Castle library, filled with comfortable chairs, thousands of books and its collections of Medieval manuscripts and a Shakespeare Folio. Alnwick Castle belongs to the Duke of Northumberland and was recently used in all of the Harry Potter films. It is now a big tourist attraction. Our tour, organized by a group from my dad’s alma mater and long before Harry Potter, stayed in the castle keep with its dorm-like rooms. For several days we savored being part of the quiet life of a country village.Our tours of castles and cathedrals scattered throughout England gave life to my college Humanities classes. I thought of Chaucer, the Magna Carte, Henry VIII, the Bronte sisters, Wordsworth, and William Blake as we traveled the narrow roads from London to Scotland and back south through Stratford-on-Avon to Windsor Castle.

At Lindisfarne, we looked across the sea to Scandinavia. In Edinburgh, we walked on a foggy day on the narrow cobblestone streets leading us past iron gates to the Museum of Childhood. As we came south, we stopped at a pub built of the honey-colored limestone of the Cotswolds and stayed in a charming Bed and Breakfast near Windsor Castle.

My mom was in her late sixties on our trip. Very active, she continued to ice skate well into her 80s. I see myself in her face and her smile. She is of French and English ancestry, and so this trip was special for her. In Coventry, we found a grave with the name of Hart, her mother’s last name, and she wondered if they were related to us. In France, she compared my silhouette to a statue of Josephine Bonaparte and determined that we both had the same nose.

As I shepherded her throughout the tour, I began to feel the reversal of roles from mother to daughter, then to daughter mothering mother. It wasn’t ’till much later when she developed Alzheimer’s that my sisters and I became the mothers that our mother needed while she faded away from her memories and the people she knew.

Martha Slavin is an artist and writer. Her blog, Postcards in the Air, can be found each Friday at www.marthaslavin.blogspot.com She also writes poetry, memoir pieces, and essays. She creates handmade books, works in mixed media, watercolor, and does letterpress. She lives with her husband and two cats in California.

 

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July 28 – On the Road to Awash National Park, Ethiopia

by Juliana Lightle

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We left Adama early because the drive was long. The highway was good, paved, two lane, but very busy with truck traffic going to and from Djbouti. It made me think of Interstate 40 at home. Like all highways in Ethiopia, goats, cattle, horse-drawn buggies, people, and sometimes camels crisscrossed and walked down the road. Trucks and cars constantly dodged here and there. If you accidentally kill someone on the road, you receive an automatic prison sentence.

At first, the landscape remained green, not as green as in the North, but still green. Fields cultivated for teff lined both sides of the road. Eventually, the landscape transformed to desert acacia and thorny shrubs. Black lava fields and extinct volcanoes appeared. We were in the Great Rift Valley. There it was to my left: the rift from which the valley gets its name. Slowly over years, the rift widens, getting larger and larger. Later, we saw a dormant volcano; it last erupted three hundred years ago.

Now we were in the land of the Afar, a semi nomadic people who herd cattle, camels, and goats. Boys drove herds along the roadside, huge herds of animals. Herd size determines wealth.

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Suddenly, a loud noise indicated a blown tire. Carlo pulled over. Carlo and Dino, father and son, worked at changing the tire. First, a truck driver, his truck broken down the road, came along to help. He refused money, saying in Amharic, that people should help each other. Second, an Afar boy came walking toward us, stopped, watched, then walked off. Then, his back to me, I noticed the eight inch dagger in the back of his pants.

I saw the Afar man coming long before he reached us. He stopped to look, said nothing, walked around the SUV to me. He was tall and dark with an assault rifle slung over his left shoulder. With my hands, I indicated what had happened, trying through gestures to communicate with him.

Suddenly, Dino said, “Get in the car!” I kept trying to talk to the man. Dino repeated, “Juliana, get in the car!” I did, not understanding why. The man walked off down the road.

Later, Dino commented, “Didn’t you see how close he was standing to you?” I had not because I possess no personal space. I had felt no fear.

Note: The Afar consider themselves the most ancient Ethiopians, having lived the same way in the same place for thousands of years. Afar men are considered fearsome, protecting their domain historically with daggers and attacks on strange men. As recently as the 20th century, they cut off testicles of male intruders. Now they carry assault rifles.

Raised on a family farm, Juliana now teaches high school, blogs, sings, raises horses, and wanders the wild on the edge of a canyon in the Panhandle of Texas. Her collection of poetry, On the Rim of Wonder” was published in April. She returned from a vacation in Ethiopia two days ago.

January 27 – The Fork in the Road


by Pat Bean

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”–Neale Donald Walsch

It was a sunny day in 2004, just three weeks before I would retire from a 37-year career as a journalist, when I drove a brand new RV off an Ogden, Utah, sales lot. It felt like the butterflies in my stomach had developed thorns on their fragile wings.

Everything that had been a part of my past life was about to change. I had just blocked off all chances of remaining rooted in my small, but cozy home that sat in the shadows of the Wasatch Mountains I loved. There simply was not enough money in my future to both fulfill my lifelong dream of living and traveling on the road while maintaining fixed roots within a circle of friends that had taken over 20 years to acquire.

This day I had not only chosen the unknown road that lay ahead, but had wrapped my choice in cement. I had even traded in my Honda Odyssey as part payment for the undersized, 22-foot RV that was now my only form of transportation, and soon would be my only home.


By the time all the paper work giving me title to the 2004 Volkswagen Vista/Winnebago had been scrutinized, signed and finalized, it was early evening. I was too unsettled to take my purchase for a check-out spin. So, feeling tall and strange sitting behind the wheel with my new living, dining, sleeping, cooking and bathroom facilities behind me, I drove home. Emotional turmoil, good or bad, always sapped my energy.

On carefully pulling into my driveway, testing the wideness needed to turn my new RV, I heard frenzied barking from inside the house. It was how my dog, Maggie, reacted to the sound of strange vehicles invading her territory. She never barked when I returned home, nor did she at any of my frequent visitors. But she did not recognize this new vehicle.


When I opened the door, Maggie gave me a quizzical look of surprise. Then, realizing in a split second that something new was parked in the driveway, she dashed between my legs and ran out to explore.

I opened the RV’s side door and she eagerly hopped in. She slowly sniffed every surface she could get at, then finally hopped up onto the couch and gave me a look that I easily interpreted as: So where are we going? To explore America, the beautiful, I reply. I always answer my dog’s inquiring looks. .

And that’s how my my travels with Maggie began. It’s been a journey that’s now heading into its eighth year. And I still have nary a regret.

Pat Bean is a wandering/wondering old broad who is beginning her eighth year of full-time RV-ing with her canine traveling companion, Maggie. She is passionate about writing, nature, books and birds and writes a daily blog.

August 27–Lions, Elephants, Giraffes and the Aha Moment

by Pat Bean

Before this country went to war against Iraq, and while I was still a journalist, I wrote four editorials against such an invasion. As we all know, my efforts were for naught. In 2003, America attacked. It was an action that was not seen kindly by much of the rest of the world.

Four years later, on August 27, 2007, I found myself bouncing across a savannah in Tanzania  in a Land Rover, looking for lions and giraffes and elephants and ostriches, with my friend, Kim. Our driver and safari guide was Bilal, a native African who spoke English. We three had been together for five days, and so had  come to know a little bit about each other.

He worried about us two ladies, and asked who was going to take care of us when we were old. I guess he didn’t notice that I already was, although he did call me “Mama” as a sign of respect. Kim, who is quite a bit younger than me, didn’t get the same honorific.

Bilal, whom we finally figured out was divorced, said it was the duty of his oldest son to take of him when he was old. But we noted that it was his daughter he called on his radio at every opportunity, always asking if his grandson was being a good boy.

This particular day, for the first time, the subject of politics was raised. So why,” he asked, “does America fight in other countries?”

My outspoken friend was first to point out that not every American had been in favor of attacking Iraq. I added that as a journalist I had even publicly written newspaper columns against the invasion.

The three words that Bilal spoke next shocked me. “Who hid you?” He asked.

This was the day I realized how blessed I was to be an American woman.

Pat Bean was a newspaper journalist for 37 years. Today she lives and travels full time in a small RV with her dog, Maggie. Her passions are writing, travel, birds, nature, hiking and books.  Accompany her on her sojourns at Pat Bean’s Blog: Traveling with Maggie.

January 17 – I Will Take You Half-Way

 

 

 

By Janet Riehl

The rich cadence of an airport porter’s voice rises up singing. “Your voice does me a world of good,” I say, feeling as if we are in so many places, all at once. “I cannot begin to tell you. It’s like hearing good news from home.” His voice goes straight inside me.

“You just made my day,” he replies. That’s all we say or need to say. We’ve connected, and that’s enough. “It’s been a pleasure serving you,” he offers.

“And it’s been a pleasure being served,” I reply.

In this brief exchange we are enacting the ancient call and response of all African languages I’ve ever encountered. In Twi, the language of the Ashanti tribe in Ghana, West Africa, the leave-taking exchange literally rendered is: “I lie at your feet.” With the reply, “There is no need for you to lie there.” It is a way of say, “I am at your service.”

This exchange takes perhaps ten minutes, yet it makes my day, too. The courtesy and graciousness of his rich voice–a man whom I have not exchanged names with–connects me back to a dusty roadside in Ghana as I wait for a small bus (which runs on no particular schedule) to take me to the next village.

Two young women help carry my too-heavy bags and then stay with me. They keep me company until my uncertain transport arrives and I am safely on it and safely off. This is a scene I’ll repeatedly experience throughout the Africa of the 1970s–wherever I go, west, east, or south.

In Botswana, this is the custom of taking half-way. In a village one can spend the better part of the day faithfully performing this custom. It works like this. Upon the end of our visit, I escort you at least to the edge of my compound where the space of my home meets the communal space. This African custom is similar to the one in small towns of seeing off one’s guest.

If I have time, I’ll continue walking with you across the village toward your compound. Possibly, we may even hold each other’s hands, swinging them happily between us as we chat, until we reach some invisible intuited point at which we both understand we must part. Now our call and response ritual begins.

“Travel. Go well,” I will tell you, and you will respond, “Stay well.” And, I do as you take your first steps towards home, now traveling alone, with no one to protect you. And, I breathe in and out the perfume of your presence, turn, and make my way, now alone, with no one to protect me–towards home.

Thank you, dear man who talks with the good news voice from home. Thank you. That is where you took me when you carried my three bags and a box at the airport today.

JANET GRACE RIEHL–award-winning author, blogger, conference presenter, and Authors Guild member–lives in St. Louis. Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary is also an audio book Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music. Her poems, stories and essays are published in national literary magazines and anthologies. Visit http://www.riehlife.com/to learn more.