Monday, 31 October 2011

Traditions endure

Before I forget,


Our first annual Halloween Cocktail Party went off beautifully.  I am very excited about this new development.  We don’t have much room, but we filled it with friends and good conversation.  The hats were fabulous and the Cocktails were shaken, not stirred.  Perfect. 

Tonight is Trick or Treat night in Greenwich and our pumpkins are waiting.  They have become a bit of a tourist attraction.  I have caught a few adults breaching our territory to have their pictures taken with our creations.  I get palpitations every time.  I can just see the orange orbs tumbling out of their arms and smashing to the pavement.  I don’t mind the photos.  In fact I love that people are taking photos and getting excited about a holiday that is really just a footnote to Bonfire Night, but is it really necessary to pick them up off our window sill?

 I don’t think so.

 Hands Off!!!! 

In other news, November begins tomorrow.  I know.  News Flash!!

But that means that tomorrow also begins  my second round of 30 Days of Thanks.  Last year I was in a really dark place when I began the Days of Thanks.  This year I am in a much better place and it seems a perfect time to reflect on how I have come through the darkness and hopefully how I will remain in the light.  As with last year, I will be travelling during this month.  This is not a necessary part of the practice of gratitude, obviously, but I find sometimes moving outside of your comfort zone reminds you of why you are so comfortable.  That outward movement can be difficult, but sometimes gratitude requires courage. 

I invite you to engage in your own Days of Thanks.  Either here in the comments, on your own blog or in private. 

Until tomorrow, thanks for reading.  I am very grateful for your attention. 

(That one is for free)

Friday, 28 October 2011

On the Fritz

The Reluctant Housewife and the relationship between my internet browser and Blogger are all on the fritz today. 

Deepest apologies and promises of a really good episode next week. 

Maybe even two if you're really good. 

Now go back to work on your Halloween costume.   If you're not dressing up this weekend I don't know if we can be friends. (Without good reason of course, like death or something, although that doesn't really work either.  Just throw on some thick make-up and backcomb the hair a bit at the very least.  I beg you!)

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Return and Return, again

You thought I dropped off the map. 
In a way I did. 
Bizarrely, we were better ‘connected’ during this trip than any of our other adventures and at the same time more disconnected from the experience than any of our other adventures. 
The disconnection didn’t come from the WI-FI searches at each hotel but from an attempt to re-live a magical time in our past that can’t be repeated. 
Our return to the African continent is at peril of being erased by our immediate return to the life we created since we last stepped foot on the red soil of Africa.  The only clue we returned and returned again are the mounds of laundry surrounding me and the two sleeping bags waiting to be stowed until the next adventure. 
As with most adventures, we learned a bit about ourselves in the process.  Some lessons were a welcome surprise others just unexpected and still rolling around in our heads. 
But, in case you sense a disappointment in our Moroccan Motoring, we are very happy that we finally saw Morocco and can strike that item on our ‘Place to See’ list.  We have rugs to keep our feet warm and shoes to keep them stylish. 
As I try to get a handle on the detritus that covers our living room floor and the dust that is settling over our memories, I will leave you with a few photos I posted to Twitter along the way. 

Over the next few weeks I will share moments and stories from the roads of Morocco.  Stay tuned for a return to the routine peppered with reflections of our recent return. 

Friday, 21 October 2011

The long road home

And so it ends.  The Guest Series and our tour of Morocco.  However, having learned our lesson on many other action/attraction- packed trips, we have scheduled three relaxing days in a luxury riad before we return to the inevitable crap weather than has descended over London. 
To be honest, it will take me three days to make sense of our luggage after two weeks of quickly stuffing clothes and shopping into backpacks with no chance to take stock.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I find I have left a pair of undies air-drying in a bathroom somewhere.  These three days will also allow me to panic about our return without the distraction of incredible vistas and unmissable experiences. 
While Emily likes to stay home and Petite plans for every scenario, I panic about the return.  Not in a I-don’t-want-to-leave way, although that is part of it.  But in a there-is-so-much-to-do-when-I-get-home way.  I tend to check out of holiday about three days to the end.  I don’t sweat the leaving for the vacation too much (oaky that’s a blatant lie, I’ll blow past it).  I expect the flight to be hell on earth and am pleasantly surprised when it is anything else.  But as the return approaches, Reluctant Housewife begins to fret about the to-do list that will spontaneously manifest by the simple act of returning home.
Pete is the complete opposite.  He lives in the moment.  He doesn’t get excited to leave until we are on the plane.  He goes through the motions of ordering money and gathering documents, but the act of packing seems almost an afterthought to him.  I, of course, have had lists and intricate laundry schedules going for two weeks leading up to the holiday. 
However, Pete’s aloofness is enviably while we are actually on holiday.  He goes with it.  His influence has allowed me to let go a bit and go with it as well.  Until three days to the end.  He has yet to figure out a way to get me from thinking about the return.  He doesn’t worry about the return until the moment we hoist our bags onto our backs at the baggage carousel and are heading for the train/tube/bus/cab that will take us home.  I stand by my claim that we are our best team while travelling, and part of that may be that we know our roles and play them well. 

So, while I pack and repack for the next three days and Pete roams the streets of Marrakesh un-accosted (if we are anywhere in the vicinity of ‘swarthy’ populations, Pete is mistaken as a local.  This has served us well in the past) I will be thinking of the lovely ladies (and gentleman) that kept you entertained these past two weeks.

Much thanks to all my guest writers and readers.  I hope you will stick around. 

Thursday, 20 October 2011

On the Road: better together

Today’s final offering is from my first and most frequent commenter.  I don’t know how she found me, I suspect APW, but I am so glad she did.  Kimberly and I have so much in common it is criminal we are separated by an ocean.  As we prepare to return, Kimberly prepares to depart.  She is about to embark on an adventure to South America and while I wish her well, I will miss her voice dearly.  I have mentioned before that Pete and I are our best team when travelling (and hopefully this claim is still holding water as we come to the end of our journey).  Kimberly shares this belief and expands on it here. 

Mmmmmm, travel. It can be exhausting and frustrating and bank-account-draining. It can be also exciting and adventurous, full of mystery and expectations, new experiences and stories to tell.
I used to travel for dance competitions as a kid, so for me, being at an airport or loading up the car for a roadtrip wasn't a hassle; it was the start of an incredibly fun time. Even now, in spite of impossibly long security lines and footing the bill myself, I always feel a bit of a thrill at the start of a journey.
Himself and I began our relationship while on opposite sides of an ocean, so I always knew that travel would be a part of our lives going forward. (With families in two different countries and us living in a third, it's kind of a must.) What I didn't know, however, is how travel would shape me, and shape our relationship.
"If you really want to know someone, travel with them." You've heard this before, right? And for the most part I'd agree -- you get to see how someone else deals with the unexpected (flight delays), the unfortunate (stolen possessions) and the downright ugly (being held up with a machete). But you also get to see another side of that person, and when that person is your partner, it's really refreshing. Sometimes you even surprise yourself with coping skills you didn't know you had. You have to jump right into a new language or orient yourself to a new city and all of that forces you to grow, and grow together. When we travel together to a new place, stripped of all of our day-to-day responsibilities, to-dos, and mundane tasks that make our little world go 'round, we're freer. We're open to be our pure selves, unencumbered and ready for the next bus breakdown or missed train . . . somewhow, it's a lot easier to reconnect with the person that we fell in love with, all those years ago.
Traveling is also a great chance for us to throw out the "wife" and "husband" roles that we fall into when dealing with cleaning and laundry and dinners and grocery shopping. We don't have a problem with the roles that we've assumed -- I like to think we play to our strengths and do what needs to be done -- but the "husband does this" and "wife does that" chatter that we're usually good at ignoring seems to naturally be a lot quieter when outside of our everyday environment. It's just himself and I, being us, doing what we feel like doing, day after day, week after week.

Ariel's request (yay!) for me to do a guest post around travel could not have come at a better time. As you read this, himself and I are gearing up for a couple of months in South America. We don't have an exact itinerary, and while we don't see this as our last hurrah, exactly, we're very aware that it probably won't be just the two of us forever . . . even more reason to be excited about hitting the road.
For some people, travel is a huge headache. For us, it's a breath of fresh air, injecting new life into our relationship.

We're always ready to inhale.

photo of NZ South Island supplied by Kimberly and Himself.
Even our photo choices are similar!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

On the Road: 'Galumphing at Gettysburg'

Today, while we bump along the road in a public bus from the beaches of Essaouira to the teaming humanity of Marrakesh, my father will entertain you with his memories of the Gettysburg adventure and its deep tradition.

            Our family was on an “American History” tour of the east coast for young Ariel’s educational benefit.  The route included Jamestown, Yorktown, Williamsburg and Washington D.C.  Heading east from Cleveland, Ohio, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was a logical first stop.  This rural hamlet is the carefully preserved site of the largest battle of our Civil War, (1860-1865), a tranquil picturesque slaughterhouse.
            It wasn’t my first trip.  We were somewhat re-enacting a visit my family made some twenty years earlier when I was a boy, so there were rituals to perform.

PLAQUE PERUSAL:  You must read all historic plaques and memorials to glean any morsel of interest from the multitude of stupefying minutia contained – and there are hundreds of them.  Example;  “On this spot Colonel Jubilation T. Cornpone’s Dog Patch Brigade arrived late, slept through the battle and heroically led the retreat.”

MUSEUM MARCHES:  There’s a lot to learn and a couple million ways to teach you about it.  Dioramas, artifacts, timelines, diagrams, (of battle days 1-4 broken down in six hour increments), movie clips and full size recreations – all there in Red, White, Blue and Grey.  So exhaustive is the educational onslaught that my wife had only one pressing question upon completion.  “So, who won?”

SOUVENIR SEARCH:  You’re going to buy something, so you might as well choose sides.  Tragically you can tell which area of the country visitors come from, (and the residual political scars retained), by which color infantry hats their children covet.  F.Y.I. to foreigners – blue’s a winner.

RAMPART ROMP:  What’s more fun than climbing around the boulders of “The Devil’s Den” taking cute family photos in the exact location that grainy battlefield tintypes recorded piles of dead snipers?  Or, charging full speed across that vast killing field and arriving sweaty and panting at the actual high water mark of the Confederacy?  Now imagine doing it with 80 lbs. of backpack, woolen uniform, and heavy musket through a steady murderous hail of mini balls and grape shot.

            Of course on such a family excursion all cannot be sweetness and light.  Besides the usual generic lunch menu disagreements and backseat travel fatigue there were site-specific highs and lows.
 The bitter disappointment of searching all day, (with multiple entrance fees), for that lovingly remembered 1/16th scale, three dimensional, hand painted, full battle field diorama with over ten thousand soldiers, horses, electrically animated cannons, and field hospitals complete with piles of amputated plastic limbs.
The quiet experience of crouching down with my daughter behind the low stone wall at “The Bloody Angle” in the shadow of a monument to Major Webb’s Pennsylvania Volunteers, (not necessarily a relation- but close enough), and listening for the ghostly footsteps of General Pickett’s rebels marching to their doom!   Of course, Ariel got scared and cried - because I always manage to overdo the spooky stuff.  But at that time and place, I felt her reaction was profoundly appropriate.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

On the Road: history lesson

Today I bring you Ria’s version of the Gettysburg Adventure.  I get the feeling Mom was just along for the ride on this particular vacation…

It’s a well-known fact in my family that I, like the song, “don’t know much about his-tor-y.”  My first History teacher in high school, Mr. Brown (yes, that was really his name) taught in a droning monologue that rendered the subject equally dull and colorless.  I never again found history to my interest or liking until Mr. Zubal taught World History 102 in junior college.  The man came in with a stack of reference material, dumped it on the desk in the front of the room and never looked at it once. He then commenced to tell mesmerizing stories about the French and English kings.  I hung on every word, but alas, I didn’t remember a thing.

So when it was time for us to embark upon an educational vacation for our daughter Ariel, that was to take us through early American History, I knew I’d better pay attention or forever be labeled as a historically-challenged mother.

The ‘historical’ itinerary included Gettysburg, Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown, and Washington D.C.  Gettysburg was our first destination – the sight of the deadliest battle of the American Civil War. Gettysburg was one of Craig’s favorite childhood vacation memories and he was excited about re-visiting the best, animated diorama of the battle – ever. We never did find it.

We went into every tourist establishment that promised just such an experience. I sat through live and model re-enactments. Saw wax museum exhibits. Viewed cyclorama paintings and presentations with miniature soldiers, horses, cannons, with blinking lights that explained each campaign of the 3-day battle. 

Now…I knew who won the war. The North (the Blue), led by General Ulysses S. Grant had beat General Robert E. Lee of the South (the Gray). I had read Gone With the Wind and seen the movie many times!!  But I just didn’t know who won the battle at Gettysburg and no one was sayin’!  I listened intently to every lecture and demonstration, but the winner of the historic skirmish was never announced. I guess it was assumed that if you were there, visiting Gettysburg, you knew the history. Damn!

I finally had to ask, “Who won?” 

To this day…it has become a family anecdote, which, if you haven’t already read…you will.

I paid close attention during the remainder of that trip. I learned that:

·         The settlers at Jamestown starved to death because the gentleman farmers who settled there knew nothing about survival in the wilderness. (We almost starved as well…there’s not a restaurant for miles and miles.) Editor's note: no wonder I can't remember anything. I was malnourished!
·         George Washington had his soldiers dig trenches at Yorktown…something the Civil War generals should have remembered instead of sending their troops charging down a hill into the line of cannon fire.
·         When you hear the beeping signal in the Washington D.C. subway …it means the train is about to leave so get on!  Craig did…. and Ariel and I didn’t.  We waved as Craig’s train left the station without us.
·         If you are driving to see the Lincoln Memorial you will end up in Arlington whether you intended to go there or not.
·         If you see something that you want to eat at the Carousel Cafeteria, do not hesitate.  It will be out of reach and you will have to wait for it to come back around, like luggage at the airport baggage claim.

It was a memorable vacation…otherwise we wouldn’t be writing about it.

Oh…by the way…the North, under General George Meade, won the battle at Gettysburg.

Monday, 17 October 2011

On the Road: it begins...

If all has gone to plan, and there is no reason to think it hasn’t, we are in Ait Benhaddou today.  We have probably survived the desert night camp without too much complaint (and lots of layers) and are looking forward to some days on the beaches of Essaouira.  I know, it all sounds so exotic, but my travelling bug comes from much more mundane and humble beginnings.  I couldn’t help but contribute a story from my early travelling days.  To make it a bit more interesting, I asked my parents to contribute their own stories from a particularly memorable family vacation.  If memory serves, which it often doesn’t, this trip was only the second, maybe third, family vacation, but it is definitely one of the most famous. 

My obsession with maps (and the related degrees in Geography) perhaps stems from a particular weekend during a family vacation/road trip.  To my memory, all of our vacations were road trips.  Which, when starting out from Ohio, inevitably means a lot of nothing on either side of the road. (As Emily hinted to last week).  This vacation was the ‘historic one.’  I was under the impression I designed the itinerary based on history lessons from the previous school year.  As I was probably only about 12 (at the most), most likely that is what my parents led me to believe.  I think I proposed Gettysburg, Williamsburg (I had a thing for ‘burgs’), Jamestown and Yorktown (apparently I had a thing for ‘towns’ as well).  D.C. was probably thrown in for good measure. 
Before I get to the main story, let me tell you what I remember from these locales:
Gettysburg I remember being awesome.  In D.C. I remember being very disappointed that my textbooks didn’t show all the homeless people (my first experience with ‘lying’ history books) and then losing my Dad.  In Williamsburg I got a tri-corn hat with quail feather instead of the stupid bonnet and spent hours playing with a hoop you push down the street with a stick.  (this may have been around the time my parents pulled the TV out of the house).  I don’t really remember the rest.  Jamestown is a vague memory of a fort in the middle of lots of trees (imagine that) and Yorktown was…..?

Return to the point.  Roadtripping from Ohio is tedious.  I was young and this was long before the age of in-car entertainment (which I’m pretty sure my parents would have been against anyway, since they took the TV out of the house during my most formative adolescent years!  I blame my TV addiction on them).  My parents kept me occupied by giving me the map and dubbing me navigator.  I’m sure this post was honorary as I didn’t as yet know how to read a map let alone translate that to actual driving directions.  (To be honest, after three degrees in Geography, in which you don’t actually learn to read and/or fold a map, I still read the map wrong when driving.  It’s a secret shame.)  Despite the honorary title, I would diligently follow the curves of the road on the map with my finger as we moved along.  Of course, I didn’t understand the concept of a ‘scale of distance’ so was increasingly distraught when it took us hours to traverse a state that only took two minutes to traverse on the Triple A trip-tic. 
Regardless, we eventually reached Gettysburg and what I will forever remember as ‘The Search for The Map. I recall we were there for about three days.  And while I have foggy memories of Black and White photos and boulders and plaques and fields, my overriding memory is my father’s search for a very particular map.  He was here as a child and remembered, fondly, a map with firing canons and advancing troops timed to a dramatic commentary.  I have yet to see my father drop more money than he did that weekend paying exorbitant tourist entry fees to every attraction that may feature a map.  This is a man who regularly dumpster dives and sources car parts from junkyards.  You may say he’s ‘green’ he fully admits to being ‘cheap.’
He was a man obsessed with a map.  A Map!  In the process of searching for this most holy of Gettysburg grails, I saw so many maps, with so much information, told in so many ways….

Well, let’s just say the trip made an impression on me. 

Friday, 14 October 2011

On the Road: armchair adventures

On this first Friday of the first guest series, I have given the Reluctant Housewife a day off.  She, no doubt, has her hands full keeping track of laundry in varying states of cleanliness having been hand-washed in hotel sinks across Morocco.  But all is not lost.  Today I give you a sister Reluctant Housewife in the form of Maggie. We are both overly-qualified and accidental homemakers finding a bit of contentment, albeit shaky, in ‘working’ from home.  Nothing gets the travel bug going like a good story and here Maggie gives us her favourites.

I’ll admit to being slightly stumped when Ariel messaged me the theme for the guest posts I’d be writing while she’s on holiday (that’s what they call it in the UK, right?). While I’ve done a fair amount of traveling in my time (mostly via the generosity of my graduate program), it’s been a while since I’ve been able to enjoy the luxury of traveling  overseas… or even outside my own state. We went to Florida on our honeymoon. Memorable to us, but hardly the stuff of zany travel stories or frame-worthy, panoramic vistas.

I considered writing out some of my favorite personal memories, but realized most of them are either embarrassing (the time I pulled an accidental Marilyn Monroe-over-the-subway-grate, at the amusement park in Vienna) or funny only if you were there, and possibly also jet-lagged (that day we tried to see everything—and I mean everything—in the Louvre 3 hours before closing time).

So instead, I’ve decided to talk about armchair traveling. If you’ve got the travel bug but no money or vacation time, may I suggest the following books:

-The Art of Travel By Alain de Botton
“Travel agents would be wiser to ask us what we hope to change about our lives rather than simply where we wish to go.” –Alain de Botton, (from another book, A Week at the Airport: a Heathrow Diary)

If you don’t know who Alain de Botton is, you must head to a bookstore or library and immediately to check out his work (my favorite being his semi-fictional works on love). A Swiss writer and philosopher who now lives in London, de Botton’s work is smart, introspective, and will make you think about cliché topics (love, religion, happiness) in new ways. In this particular book, de Botton ruminates on the psychological reasons people travel, how memory and anticipation both mislead and soothe us, how we individually experience the world, and so on. He also references a wide range of poets, artists, writers, and pop culture touchstones. It’s a meaty book, but still accessible and will have you nodding along with his pithy observations.

-The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure By Rachel Friedman
Maybe it’s because my post-graduate school confusion mirrored Rachel Friedman’s own “What do I do now?” post-college turmoil, but I could put this book down. The insights Friedman stumbles onto during her travels aren’t revolutionary, but they’re familiar in a friendly way: “Oh, I felt that way, too!” She has a gift for relating her experiences in a tactile way, so that I often found myself shivering with her as she slogged through a South American bicycle tour in pouring rain or rolling my eyes in sympathy as she endures irritating travel companions. It’s a memoir about feeling lost and trying to find your place in the world, a topic that most twenty and thirty-somethings will instantly understand.

-The Burma Chronices By Guy Delisle
I’m a big, big fan of graphic novels. As someone with a penchant for illustration and a lifelong love of books (especially memoirs), the genre seems to me like an ideal marriage of words and art, each enhancing and refining the other. Guy Delisle is a Canadian graphic novelist who has lived and worked in many different countries. Delisle moves with his wife and child to Burma, so his wife can continue her work with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). What follows is partly a serious, intellectual discussion of Burmese politics, and partly anecdotes about his struggle as a stay-at-home dad adjusting to a foreign culture. The Burma Chronicles is actually the latest book in a series of travelogues. I haven’t read his previous two: Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China or Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, but hope to get my hands on them soon.

-The Pages In Between: A Holocaust Legacy of Two Families, One Home
By Erin Einhorn
This isn’t strictly a travel memoir, since it focuses largely on the author’s attempt to find out the truth of what happened to her family during the Holocaust. But it is about memory vs. reality, about grappling with the past vs. forward motion, and about what it’s like to visit and live in Warsaw, Poland as an American Jew—a city that is beginning to thrive, but still carries deep scars from the past, like so many other countries in Eastern Europe. It reminded me of my visit to Budapest, a city that I loved, but one that is also still dealing with the after-effects of its tragic past. It’s a captivating, provocative memoir and a worthwhile read.

-How Did You Get This Number? By Sloane Crosley
This one is pure fun. While Sloane Crosley’s previous book, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, is a bit more giggle-inducing, these essays are breezy and entertaining, all loosely strung together on the theme of travel—and the inevitable misadventures it inspires. To give you a taste, here’s the opening line: “There is only one answer to the question: Would you like to see a three a.m. performance of amateur Portuguese circus clowns?”

-Marrying Anita: A Quest for Love in the New India By Anita Jain
I’m kind of obsessed with books on Indian matchmaking practices. Seriously. Name a book on that topic, and I’ve probably read it. This is a lightweight book about dating in India, more personal than scientific, but it really presents a close-up look at what it’s like to live in India nowadays, as an Indian-American single woman (not always easy). It’s dishy, honest, and fun; kind of like chatting with a girlfriend about her dating life, wrapped up in a discussion about the globalization of India and how things have changed—or haven’t.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

On the Road: home sweet home

When I sent out the requests to some of my internet friends to write about traveling I should have been more clear.  I know the go-to thought when one hears ‘travel’ is exotic locales and strange foods and while I admit to this thought-process as well, there is plenty of ‘travel’ to be had at home.  For me, travel is an escape, but an escape does not always have to be dramatic or scenic.  Emily escapes from the mess of DC with a good beer and pizza.  What’s not to love about that?

Hi!  I’m Emily.  Ariel asked me to write about traveling while she is, in fact, traveling!
However, I had some trouble writing about this because, well, I haven’t traveled much.  I’ve never left the east coast of the United States, except to go to Ohio.  Let me tell you, that definitely isn’t something to write home about.  So instead, I’m going to tell you about the trips I haven’t taken.  Believe me, you don’t want to hear about Ohio!
If you can believe it, I’ve never seen New York City.  I currently live a few hours away from the Big Apple and can’t seem to find the time (or money) to get away for a weekend.  I’ve never tasted a real New York pizza or bagel, though I hear they’re both fantastic.  I have, however, eaten at Mellow Mushrooms across the American South, and I must say, that pizza will be hard to beat.
I’ve never seen the Eiffel Tower!  Except in pictures, of course; I’m not that sheltered.  I have tasted macarons, but they were from a French bakery in Savannah, Georgia, not Laduree.  My French baguettes have, sadly, always come from Panera or my local grocery store instead of a café where I can sit and enjoy them with chocolate or butter…or both.  (Side note: my five-year plan is to visit Paris, mostly for food-related reasons.  Notice I didn’t mention anything but food and the most recognizable landmark when talking about the city.)
India is nothing to me except a backdrop in The Darjeeling Limited.  The colors, sights, sounds and smells are all about as abstract as they can get—I’m sure that whatever I imagine is nowhere near the truth.  I’ve never even eaten Indian food.  Though I do find this culture very inspiring, it just hasn’t happened yet!
While I’m not so sheltered that I haven’t tasted beer (I know some of you are reading this and are completely appalled—but I assure you, I’m living my life!), I’ve never had a Guinness, and I’ve surely never had a Guinness in Dublin!  I love my American craft brews; why would I cheat?
The families my boyfriend and I grew up in didn’t value traveling; our vacations were spent either at home or at our extended families’ houses out of state (Ohio and South Carolina for me; North Carolina for him).  We didn’t venture from those destinations often, except to take a daytrip here and there.  Our parents haven’t done much traveling, either; mine haven’t seen New England or much of the west coast, though my father travels for work, and the furthest away from American they’ve been is the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.  It isn’t seen as a priority, though I know we’re in the majority in that regard!
As I said, many readers (and people I know) are completely stunned by this lifestyle.  They ask, what is there to live for if not traveling?  What do you do with your vacations?  Well, I mostly take that time to see family or to focus on myself.  I’m a homebody who likes to cook, bake and sew—sometimes all at once.  I would love to have the time and money to travel to Europe, or even just the west coast, but until those happen, I’m content to spend my time in my apartment, curled up on the couch with a magazine and my cat.  Seeing the sights and learning new street names are fun and exciting, but home is exactly where I want to be.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

On the Road: the power of travel

H and I are pen pals.  I know.  In this day and age, who knew it was still possible.  We were linked up by the Mess that is Alyssa and I can’t wait to meet up for real and enjoy a decadent brunch and proper moan about the hell that is the PhD dissertation.  Yes, another academic.  What can I say, we are a self-selecting group.  Following on from Petite’s checklists to advert disastrous encounters in dark alleys and absentee house fires, I bring you Heather’s insistence that while home is lovely, and leaving it scary, adventure awaits.

The truth is, I’m quite the homebody. I love making my home “just so” with my comfy sheets, quilted fluffy mattress pad, oscillating fan that is there for the sole purpose of white noise, and I love the feel of my little family all tucked in and safe. It makes me feel like the safest securest person on the planet.

And, so, when I’m pulled to travel, and I’ve made all the necessary arrangements, and it’s the eve before the journey begins, I often have these few moments of “Oh, no, I have to leave this. What if I can’t sleep? What if there is no fan? What if there are bedbugs? What was I thinking traveling to ­<insert practically any destination here>” It is then that a panic creeps up inside and I feel scared. I don’t feel like traveling at all. I feel like staying tucked into my cozy 2 bedroom with my cobalt blue accents.

And that’s the moment I know I need to GO. The moment where I’m scared to do something for fear of being uncomfortable reminds me that I need more than anything to get a little uncomfortable. And usually, once the anticipation of the journey turns into the actual journey, the fear is overwhelmed by the adventure itself and I can’t believe I ever thought anything different.

Case in point, a backpacking trip with a dear friend of mine. Actually, let’s back up, she became a dear friend on this backpacking trip. I didn’t know her that well before I agreed to meet her for a few days while she trekked through Colorado. I had never backpacked before. I had never traveled with this person before. I had never carried what I need to eat on my back. I had never been at the mercy of nature. Somehow none of this occurred to me until the night before I was setting out to meet with her and suddenly I worried that I wouldn’t be able to sleep, that I would be hungry, that I would be tired, that I would encounter some wild animal. But knowing I couldn’t go back down, I succumbed to this thought, “Well, if nothing else, it will be an adventure.” An adventure. Thinking of it that way makes it OK, maybe even expected, that things are getting to get all sorts of screwy at some point in the journey and flexibility is going to be necessary.

Looking back now, I can’t believe all the things that “went wrong” but I do not see our trials and tribulations as wrong now and I did not see it that way then, either. I did not sleep well the first night. Unlike my traveling companion, I had not hiked miles and miles and could not force sleep at sundown. We hiked a long while in rain and cold. (And, after a long while, even shiny new raingear gets tired of the rain.) We knew we could not set up camp in a downpour so we happened upon a family and hitchhiked to a small town nearby. We stayed in the seediest hotel I’ve ever seen. I was so hungry at one point that I ate my protein bar after I dropped it on the ground. We hitchhiked back to a trailhead with some guys who were going hunting. With guns. We encountered a bear. We had to make up miles due to rain and hiked 17 miles in one day. On the last night with my friend, we giggled and giggled as we recounted our adventure. I fell asleep shortly after sundown.

I didn’t just survive. I thrived. I was living. My dad came to collect me, and the next day, the two of us decided to hike Colorado’s tallest peak. I know that this isn’t the case, but in my memory, I practically ran up the mountain.

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” – Mark Jenkins

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

On the Road: the checklist

To kick off the first guest series here on ArielGraphy, I give you Petite Chablis.  I don’t know how we found each other, but as a fellow academic we have much in common.  Although Petite continues on in academia while I observe, she does so with a great number of cocktail recipes in hand, which has to make the experience slightly easier, if not more entertaining.  However, she is also enduring a long-distance marriage.  All the more reason to drink, in my opinion.  Here is Petite’s guide to dealing with frequent travel anxiety.  Take note.

My husband and I have been juggling a long-distance marriage since ... well, pretty much since we tied the knot in 2009. He got a job in Boston; I was still in grad school in Jersey. A year later I finished my degree; the only job I was offered was in Toronto.  Since I took that job I estimate that a full 25% of my pre-tax income has gone directly into the pocket of Porter Airways to fly us back and forth from Boston to Toronto.  (I love you, Porter!)

Sound stressful?  Yeah, it kind of is.  What makes it even more stressful is that I have terrible travel anxiety.

I'm not talking about fear that the airplane will crash.  My fears are much smaller and far more legion.  What if I forget my passport?  What if I forget my wallet?  What if I left milk in the fridge?  What if I left milk on the counter?  Did I turn off the stove?  Did I remember turn off the coffeepot?  Where is my birth control?  For the love of God, DID I TURN THE STOVE OFF? Any time I fly or take the train or hop on a bus, I spend the day beforehand nervous and jittery and obsessively checking to make sure I've packed my passport and toothbrush.  When you travel as often as I do, that's a lot of passport-checking.

Send me to a new and unknown destination, and the nagging worries get even worse.  I worry that the hotel has lost my reservation, or that I won't be able to figure out the public transit, or that my flights will get screwed up and I'll be stranded in an unfamiliar airport, or that the person who's supposed to pick me up at the airport won't show, or that I will inadvertently wander into a scary back alley and be gruesomely murdered because I'm in a strange city and OBVIOUSLY that's what people in a strange city do, they murder people who don't know their way around.

Other people breezily tell me "but you travel so much!  You'll be fine.  What's the worst that could happen?"  This does not help quiet my travel demons.  Instead, I have developed the following type-A coping strategies.

1.  Over-prepare.  
I own a small, inexpensive green binder.  When I travel to a new location I print out everything I can get my hands on about where I'm going, punch it with a 3-hole punch, and put it in that binder.  And I do mean EVERYTHING.  Hotel reservations, flight information, a list of contact numbers, public transit maps, Google maps of the area -- anything that might possibly conceivably come in handy.  Ninety-five percent of the time I barely crack the green binder, but those times when the hotel's internet isn't working and I need directions to where I want to go?  I get to feel pretty damn smug about the green binder full of Google maps.

2.  Make checklists.  
After a rather embarrassing incident that involved me calling our Boston landlord in a panic because I thought I might possibly maybe have left the oven on (I hadn't), I started making a checklist for when I leave an empty apartment.  I go through this checklist before I leave the apartment, and yes, I physically check things off so I can be extra-sure I did them.  Now, when I get halfway to the airport and wonder if I remembered to turn off the A/C, I know that I completed everything on the checklist, so all is well.  Phew.

3.  If possible, fly in the morning.  
No matter when I fly, I rarely sleep well the night before.  But, if I fly in the afternoon or the evening, I also spend the entire day prior to the flight wondering if my flight is going to get cancelled or if the public transit will unexpectedly break down or oh my god what if I forget my passport AND leave the stove on?  If I fly in the morning, I can wake up, have breakfast, go through the checklist, and get out of the house before my brain is awake enough to start freaking out.

So there you have them, the type-A-crazy-person coping strategies I use when I'm on the road again.  Anyone else find that a busy brain makes getting there and back again a bit of an ordeal?

Monday, 10 October 2011

Buckle up!

Hello dear readers, to make up for my relative silence the last two weeks and to keep you occupied the next two, I have instituted what I hope will be the first of many (or at least regular) guest series.  I convinced five lovely ladies (and my parents, just for kicks) to write about being on the road, again.  The resulting series spans the spectrum of travel from the armchair to family vacation to machete-wielding provinces.  I hope you will stick around. 
I haven’t really written about my travel here and part of that is because some things aren’t for sharing, but more than that, I truly don’t remember a lot of details from my travels.  I have travelled more than I ever thought possible for a little girl from Sheffield Lake and I don’t intend to stop anytime soon.  There is a wide world out there that is constantly changing and I MUST SEE IT ALL!!!! 
What can I say, I’m an only child, the selfish thing rears its head in weird situations. 
But back to my lack of detailed memory of my travelling adventures.  I don’t believe it is due to frequency or overload.  I believe it is because I get overly excited and try to take everything in and inevitably don’t give my head time to really comprehend what it is I am seeing.  I’m also usually sleep-deprived.  I can barely sleep at home, imagine what I’m like in a hotel room overlooking the Grand Bazaar or in a campsite surrounded by a very active nightlife or a stifling bedroom with no screens on a mosquito rich farm.  I’m working on it.
This is not the case with what each place felt like.  I have very distinct feelings about each place I have visited and those stick with me much longer than the details.  For instance, Croatia = car sick, Paris = aloof (and rain), Eastern Africa = love and awe, Istanbul = colour (and stomach parasite), etc. 
I have no idea what Morocco will bring.  I have wanted to visit this place since I was a little girl.  I have no idea how I first learned about it, but it has been on the Wish List for a very long time.  This is a bit dangerous.  I hope I haven’t built it up too much in my head just to be disappointed by how built up it is in reality.  I remember Pete shattering my view of Cairo and the pyramids after he visited and saw the pyramids in what appeared to be the middle of a landfill. 
I still want to go. 
Sometimes I worry for my future children and their travel experiences.  I travel to escape to see something new, to get a bit of perspective.  More and more the places I go, get more and more familiar.  There are good aspects of globalization, but there are heartbreaking ones as well. 
But this is not the place to lecture on Globalization, I recommend you go out and see for yourself and make your own opinion. 
That being said, travel doesn’t necessarily mean leaving the house.  It is about physical escape for me, but escape and perspective can also be gained from the comfort of home, but it must be sought out. 
I beseech you to search it out.  There is a lot out there in our world to fascinate  as well as make your everyday problems seem small potatoes.   Go forth and explore. 

Thus concludes my public service announcement on the importance of Geography education.

Please join us for the rest of the week (and next) as my lovely guests take to the road, again. 

*photo of Pete's family's farm in Croatia.  The village of his father's childhood, Vrgorac, in the distance