Category Archives: Travel

All… the way… home…

Good mornin’ Oklahoma. Ain’t you lookin’ bright and chipper today. Thanks o’ lovely Lord for a clear sky drive. Thirteen hours to go. May the road rise up to meet us. Coffee anyone?

Say hello to the sun, brother. It’s gonna be a ride of a day. What do ya say I slather us up a couple pieces of that baguette we got, cut some Gouda, munch those nuts (no fastfood for us), and we’ll pop in a Poirot. I wonder who did the rich man in? Nine more hours. Sure glad we’re together.

Peekaboo star? One grand, gold eye with a lash of trees? A face so good it’s gaze can’t been seen? Whatever you are, fare you well you bright, bold thing. We’ll follow you down the horizon. Day and storybook end together. The doctor was guilty. We knew it. Five more hours. Time to break out the Trader Joe’s chocolate. Stay open my poor old eyes!

Say goodnight to the sun, my Joel. Funny the way the sky weeps color when the light is ripped away. Funny, the way your soul wants to answer. Do you think our lives are like the bolt of those lights? Dash of a flicker, blinded by flight, while a sky of fire sings overhead and longs to take our light into its own?

Yes. I’ve been driving too long. Three more hours. I’m glad I’m not alone.

And, oh, oh my. Home.

Hello red chair. Hello new Irish calendar. Hello little note from Mom, and cup of tea, and art book open on the table, and lamp blazing away. Hello pillow. Hello bed. Hello…

Goodnight.

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In which I rant about travel and technology

Three grey day hours of delay in the Nashville airport, two caffeine-grabbing stops at Starbucks, and one restive ramble through terminals C and B had me in a serious state of mental exasperation last week. Three glorious hours of quiet, albeit unexpected, had been dropped in my introverted lap and I couldn’t do a thing with them. My brain was jammed with mental white noise, every channel of thought scrambled by the dash through early morning traffic, the monkey dance required to make it through airport security, and then, this sudden space of free time. I had tried my old steady; reading. Too fidgety. Same with writing. I tried to be quiet, to draw inward to those silent spaces at my core. No luck. I tried to pray. Even worse. Time sat in front of me with a grey, blank face.

So I draped myself in a sharp-boned chair under one of those wall size airport windows and watched the planes glide in and out like silent white giants. My eyes were red with lack of sleep, my brain was buzzing with it.  I was too exhaustedly restless to think up anything to do but watch the TV blaring another cycle of “breaking” news over my head. I looked around; everyone near me had a cell phone or iPod in their ears. They stared ahead, unseeing. I glanced down. There sat my plucky black Macbook. I stuck my book and journal back in my bag, pulled out my headphones. The impulse to flip my Mac open, find an online show or lose myself in cyberspace, was an itch in my fingers. I reached for it. Anything to distract me from feeling distracted.

Yikes. My idealistic self came spluttering to life. What was so wrong with me that suddenly, I couldn’t think of a thing to do but watch TV? Of all things in the world, mindless submersion in electronic entertainment is my pet peeve.  I have spent endless hours and a ridiculous number of journal pages in outrage at the amount of time my culture, and sometimes me, wastes on TV. We could be thinking, writing, cooking, carving, weaving, planting, loving, dancing… and here I was about to succumb to the temptation of the screen. What had brought me to such a state?

At that moment, I remembered Neil Postman’s arresting book, Technopoly. Bear with me. When I read it a few years back, the first thing that struck me was his explanation of the way that every new technology changes the shapes, needs, and spaces of our lives. Inevitably, an old way of existing is displaced by a new one. Fine and good, yes? Maybe not. The example that startled me into a keener understanding was his account of the written word as a new technology. As a lover of books who considers all things bookish to be old-fashioned and good, I was startled to read of how writing displaced the grand, oral tradition; the bardic art of poetic memory, of epics sung round firesides. To write something down is a wonderment, but it did replace an ancient way of remembering that was immediate, poetic, and highly communal.

The reason I remembered this in my airport reverie was that I had the abrupt realization that I was experiencing exactly what he was talking about. I watched, wide-eyed, as another line of toe-tapping travelers ducked into a tunnel to be whisked round the world, and I knew that my restless brain, my impulse to mindless entertainment, was a direct result of the processes of technology that Postman described.

Travel, as we moderns know it, is a technological innovation. What does it enable? Global movement. Business. Adventures. Connection with people halfway round the world. But what does it change? Our use and experience of time. Our connection to home and the rhythm of work, rest, play, and creation that we live within is disrupted and we are faced suddenly with what I’ll call vacant time. Normal life is suddenly suspended by the need to be in transit.  For me, this sort of time is on the rise, not only from airport jaunts, but also from the vast amount of time I find myself spending in the car, a habit shared by most people I know. We as a culture are living more and more in spaces of transition; hours that take us to and from our spaces of living, yet somehow don’t feel like real life themselves. Vacant time.

So what is the natural impulse when confronted with such emptiness? To get through it as quickly, and painlessly as possible. Boredom has never been something the human brain tolerates with equanimity. And if we don’t have recourse to the tools, stability, and quiet needed to accomplish our usual work, relating, or creating, what happens? We need to be entertained. We need some form of transportable distraction that will fill these empty hours, and allow us not to feel lost. Hello virtual reality. Hello TV and iPod, cell phones and endless sessions on the internet. Hello to me, perplexed in my metal airport chair, bewildered and bullied by the forces of technological change.

I know you’re probably wondering why this seems so vastly important to me. It’s just a few airport hours, after all. But hours add up to days, and days to years, and years to lifetimes. Time is God’s gift to me, and the way I use it is my answer back to him. In the airport, I forgot this. I was tired, distracted, and unaware of what had made me so.  Life happened to me that day, instead of me happening to life. That makes me a little afraid, and then, indignant. I don’t want to spend my life, even bits of it, with a soul disconnected from the people around me, the earth under my feet, the moment by moment possibility of doing something creative or good. My ideals mean nothing if I give up the fight to fill my hours with meaning. I don’t want forces outside my self to determine how I use the drip by drop flow of my precious, numbered minutes on this earth.

Epiphanies happen in strange places. I decided that day that I want to become accountable for the empty spaces of time which modernity hands me. My travel schedule won’t change, in fact I love it. Good grief, I’m the girl who named her car Gypsy because that’s what I wanted to be. But none of us gets any practice hours here on earth. To let time come to us, and then depart in vacancy is a waste, a sort of death. I want to require the same level of creativity, love, and wonder of myself in travel that I do when I am at home. I’m just beginning to figure out how. All I know is that nothing, not even airports and freeways and hectic hours should be able to shove goodness out of any given minute in my life.

What do you think?

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Snowbound!

I’m sure St. Brendan encountered a blizzard (well, the sea-faring equivalent) or two. It was swift, bright sailing until just after dark yesterday. I did manage to feel soaringly introspective most of the trip, helped by a mocha or two, and the friendly voices of Mat Kearney and Loreena McKennit. Kansas can be a stunning place in autumn. Just before dusk, there was a moment I wish I could have painted. I came out of a pocket of dark fog to have the skies suddenly widen. The rain storm I’d slogged through for hours gathered itself into a bright, navy line of cloud on the horizon while the sunlight fought as near to the earth as it could, turning the clouds into an opalescent canopy. The light got captured beneath it, thick, grey and gold, and it soaked into the harvested fields until they glowed up into rusty red, and this deep, wheaten yellow. I kept trying to snap pictures, but scared myself with my erratic driving and just watched instead.

But then, storms. When I had just passed the three hours from home mark, the pleasant rain patter changed abruptly into snow. Literally within ten minutes I was smack in a blizzard. Only one lane was open, I was slipping all over the place and there were four inches of snow. I will admit to being scared. Gypsy’s the pluckiest car alive, but snow is not her favorite terrain. Especially when those ridiculous semis whiz past her, shoving us off course and burying us in snow. Hundreds of miles of empty land, a wind screaming like a demon, and the snow piling up. A lot of praying got done in that half hour.

I was very thankful to make it to a motel (after finding the first one to have no vacancies). And I’m still thankful. Despite the fact that the highway is now thoroughly closed, and the electricity here dies every half hour or so. It’s amazing the sorts of panic-stricken thoughts you can think when you wake in the middle of the night to the pitch blackness of a power outage. It was about one am and people were out talking in the halls and I was very tempted to stick my head out and yell, “Ya’ll! Please. Some of us are trying to conquer our irrational panics about being stranded on the plains with no heat or light by sleeping through it all.” I didn’t though.

And now, here I am, writing to you. Strand me in snow more often and I’d probably get more blogging done. I plan to make the best of this. Read, think. Try to find some decent coffee. Maybe write for more than thirty snatched minutes. Oh, adventures. It’s like Bilbo said, you step out on the road, and you never know what’s going to happen. Good grief.

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Ocean gleanings

Today I:

Swam as far as I could out into the ocean. Jumped up to catch each fierce little crash and let it tumble me in cold salt water toward the shore. Swam until every muscle in my body was limp and exhilarated.

Laughed at Joy and Mom and their name for the swelling water that isn’t quite a breaker: ballet waves. Point your toes as you meet it!

Found a sea cave all my own, with tiny crabs in black, swirled shells, their feet pricking my fingers as I inspected the pearl of their doors. And in it, a carpet of jeweled little rocks, smoothed into miniscule gems that made a gravelly sand.

Ate superb cheese enchiladas.

Cried quarts and quarts at the death of Prince Albert in a movie about Victoria and Albert.

Wrapped up in my favorite sea blue, hand-crocheted blanket to read The Silmarillion, Green Dolphin Street, and The Private World of Tasha Tudor in enchanting, soulful rounds of thought.

Realized that I don’t have sharp enough eyes to see God’s goodness. Saw that he is always loving, always filling, always creating. And I so easily say I feel He doesn’t love me. Like a blind slip of a girl who can’t see past the end of her nose.

Walked until lungs and breath and sea and thought were all of twining, thumping grey rhythm.

Ate chocolate ice cream truffles and raspberry sorbet with new friends.

Vacationed.

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Over the redstone and through the desert..

To the California coast we go! We made it and are happily installed in our little cottage a stone’s throw from the pacific ocean. You’ll have to forgive me for not posting yesterday- it was a long last five hundred miles and by nightfall and bed, I decided I just couldn’t wait for pictures to download. The morning light introduced me to the thrum of waves and a cool, wet air. I’m a bit more refreshed. Now, a desert drive:

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Right at that hour of late, honeyed light, we reached a pass through strange mounds of rock, great sandstone towers, red cliffs, grey, hulking hills. It was startling.

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Oh, and then a peach stand. Right in Palisade Colorado, a town golden with the dust of high desert, and green with the snaky curve of a river valley. Right in those high mountain orchards grow some of the best peaches around. We bought a whole box to munch. (Which was later confiscated at the border of CA much to my bewilderment.)

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And now we’re here. Safe. And happy as clams. (Though, obviously, not the clams in the clam chowder we had for dinner last night- I doubt they’re happy.) Ocean pictures coming next.

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Glimpses

I can’t even begin to think of how to describe the flood-like rush of emotion, memory, and friendship that has marked this trip. For now, I wanted to say a quick hello from Beijing, our last stop before home. Below are a few of my favorite glimpses of China. This has been a soul-expanding trip. Here’s at least a few of the pictures that fill my mind from our travels. Hope you all at home (even in the general home of the US) are faring well in this springtime month. Sounds like I’ll be arriving to the iffy loveliness of springtime snow. Hope there are some flowers for most of you!

Soup dumpbling nested in soaked ginger. A memorable Shanghai meal. Balancing one between ebony chopsticks, plopping it hurriedly in one's mouth, and then having it burst in tangy mouthful of broth. Well.

Soup dumpling nested in soaked ginger. A memorable Shanghai meal. Balancing one between ebony chopsticks, plopping it hurriedly in one's mouth, and then having it burst in tangy mouthful of broth. Well. That's a taste sensation to remember.

 

The Great Wall.

The Great Wall.

 

We've eaten a LOT of these. Found this wide-eyed lot for sale by the bag full for snacking in a little river side village. You should try some!

We've eaten a LOT of these. Found this wide-eyed lot for sale by the bag full for snacking in a little river side village. You should try some!

 

I love this picture. I just love this picture. In Beijing, shopping for scarves, and there she was. A queen of her corner.

I love this picture. I just love this picture. In Beijing, shopping for scarves, and there she was. Queen of her corner.

 

"The pearl market," our friend said, "that's the one place I want to take you." Oh my. Real pearls, hundreds of strands in the muted luminesence of ocean colors. Everywhere. Stand after stand.

"The pearl market," our friend said, "that's the one place I want to take you." Doesn't it just sound exotic? Oh my. Real pearls, hundreds of strands in the muted luminesence of ocean colors. Everywhere.

 

Behold, our taxi.

Behold, our taxi.

 

And the translator was who?

And the translator was who?

 

In one corner of the gardens of the Summer Palace (created when one strong-willed empress appropriated naval funds to create a garden), this woman hand letters English and Chinese characters. She did each of our names in swiftly stroked letter pictures that turned our names into kissing birds, fiery dragons, and sunsets into

In one corner of the gardens of the Summer Palace (created when one strong-willed empress appropriated naval funds to create a garden), this woman hand letters English and Chinese characters. She transformed the letters of our names into fiery dragons, kissing birds of paradise, and splendidly setting suns. It was joy simply to watch her hands move.

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Postcards from England: Day One- London

It was in the blind of a light blue head buzz of sleepiness that we swooped into London, corralled our luggage, hopped the fastimg_0057 train to Paddington Station, caught the Underground to “Swiss Cottage Station”, and finally flagged a taxi to carry our weary bones the last half mile to the Regents Park Marriott. A swift, golden sunrise was just cresting the horizon when we collapsed in our hotel room. The temptation to curl up and catch up with the sleep that had run away the whole plane ride was very strong, but then, you could just glimpse the bold spire of some quintessentially British church on the horizon, and the streets below were cobbled and velveted by falling leaves. Upstairs we trudged to breakfast.img_00411

That’s when the slow, spine-climbing, skin-tingling thrill of waking up to breathe the air of a different country finally caught up with me. The hotel breakfast room was idyllically situated on the top floor with two walls of floor to ceiling windows gazing over the jumbled roofs and tumbled chimneys of London. I sat down with my first cup of tea, fresh fruit, cheese, and a tiny seeded roll just as the dawnlight escaped the mist. Rose light glinted in every apartment window, tousled the turning leaves, crowned the tallest buildings. We ate heartily (it is very European in general to eat a good breakfast and this is highly advisable if you are planning to traverse half the countryside on foot, which I generally am when I am overseas), donned fresh clothes, buttoned our coats and headed for the Underground.

I had painstakingly researched the best Dickens house to visit in London, so we headed thereimg_0050 first. It was a nondescript row house in a nondescript street, and though the tour and such was informative, the main thing I remember was the excruciating torture of trying to stay awake during the introductory video. There is this certain irresistible, head-bobbing sleepiness that attacks at the oddest moments whenever one crosses time zones with reckless abandon. I wish I could have been one of the very prim old ladies sitting behind the three of us girls during that video- we must have resembled those spooky clown heads on springs- up and down and up and down.

img_00651As with so many of the journeys I have taken, exhaustion laid waste to well laid plans and left space for a simple, wide-eyed wandering of the London alleys and cobbles that was better than any driven itinerary I could have conjured. We gave up plans for a museum, made peace with the fact of Westminster Abbey being closed (second time that’s happened!) and were tickled to catch a bevy of parliamentarians striding across the flagstones in patent leather shoes, white wigs, purple robes, and delightful pomp. Came up from the damp of the underground station to a stunning view of Parliament, Big Ben, and the domes of Westminster glimmering under the looming black of a coming storm. Joy scurried about with the camera, and we walked the bridge over the Thames, loving the sight of those old, beautiful buildings. By the time we reached Trafalgar square, the sky was a dappled dance of storm and sun and white- we kissed the old lions on their noses and then trudged the last little bit to a recommended cafe called Paul’s- right down from Covent Garden. It was superb. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting. Country French atmosphere, crusty bread, fresh coffee, and a Flan Normand (apple custardimg_0068 tart) worth a serious fork war.

By the time we reached our hotel and trudged up for a bedtime snack of hot chocolate and toast, we had crammed our first, jet-lagged hours with enough fun and laughter and stormy skies and walks up cobbled streets and cups of tea to fill us for the whole trip. But it was really just beginning…

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