Soulful Travel (or, No Eeyores Allowed)

 

“Soulful travel is the art of finding beauty even in ruins, even in inclement weather, even in foul moods.”

…..Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage

Last week, I was exploring the Scottish Highlands with my husband. The weather wasn’t completely kind to us, as they like to say here. We both had things in mind that we hoped for from this trip — my husband is an avid hiker and climber. He was looking forward to a good trek on the Isle of Skye and way up north in Ullapool. I was looking forward to visiting the spiritual, quiet Isle of Iona and hoping for a glimpse of the Northern Lights. We missed seeing the Aurora Borealis by one day. They saw them on Iona the night before we got there. So close, and yet… Sometimes that’s how it goes.

We had spent several hours on the bus up from Glasgow to Inverness where we changed bus. Then, we went to Eileen Donan, a beautiful castle that we happened to hit on a spring day when the sun shone and the gorse glowed and the Scottish flag flew proudly.

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We ate cullen skink – a soup made with smoked haddock – in the cafe at the castle. Delicious. We marvelled at our luck, and hoped, hoped, hoped that somehow our luck would last onto Skye and intially, it did.

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Portree, the Isle of Skye, May, 2015

But the weather reports continued to be poor for the following day (our only full day), so we decided to book a tour and got the last two spots on a seven hour van tour of the island. We joined three traveling students and a family of three. Countries represented in the van were Switzerland, Hong Kong, India, the United States and Scotland. Donald Nicholson, our fearless, hilarious driver/guide with Skye Scenic Tours tried SO hard to show us his beautiful island. The rain got worse and worse and showed no signs of letting up. We saw the Kilt Rock through pouring rain and blustery wind, waterfalls and Donald assured us there were lovely mountains behind the clouds. Fortunately, everyone in the van kept their senses of humor. We had no Eeyores among us and for that, I was very grateful! We agreed to go to Eileen Donan again because no one else had been yet and it seemed like a better wet day option. We enjoyed another fine bowl of cullen skink there and hoped, along with Donald, for a break in the rain, but it wasn’t meant to be. The traveling students were at a hostel far outside of Portree, so they requested a stop at a grocery store, for beer. We picked up one or two ourselves, along with some croissants for the morning. After resupplying, with still no break in the rain, we all agreed to call it quits on the tour. From the reviews I’ve read, and friends I’ve spoken to, I am sure this is a rare occurence on the tours in Skye — rain is not so rare, but steady, day-long, pounding rain accompanied by cold, cold winds is not so common. What’s more common are sporadic showers which makes outside touring much more possible — and outside is where you want to be on Skye. Try it if you can, but maybe allow a little more time there than we did to increase your chances for a good tour. And, don’t allow rain to lead to a foul mood – be open to what might come. If you’re not open, you might miss it.

That evening we had dinner at Sea Breezes, a fabulous small restaurant a friend recommended to us along the harbor in Portree. (Get a reservation.) During dinner, the rain stopped for a while, the sun came out, and yes, a rainbow graced our meal.

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So we ended our day on Skye, not tired out from hiking, but enjoying a beautiful moment in a beautiful spot together. And my friends, I think that is what Phil Cousineau would call “soulful travel.”

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Deeply Good People

First, a confession. I rarely read The New York Times. I know, my bad. Especially as a writer. But here’s the thing – when I was a freshman in college, I remember two seniors talking about The New York Times like it was their bible, like anything else, anything at all, was not a source worth considering. These were sophisticated, wealthy, yes, privileged young women. And they soured me, at the impressionable age of seventeen, on the NYT. I had some kind of reverse snobbery come in to play and I thought, well, if that’s what snotty rich people read then I won’t. Yes, yes. I know. Doesn’t make sense. To this day – to my shame – my eyes glaze over when someone starts spouting NYT news or features or, God forbid, book reviews. But when articles pop into my Facebook feed from friends and writers I respect, I do open them, I do read them, and more often than not, I am beyond impressed.

Recently, David Brooks‘s editorial The Moral Bucket List is one of those pieces. It didn’t just speak to me, it sang. Take a look at his first paragraph:

ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.

Oh, I do know what he’s talking about. I too love those people with all my being. My prayers, my most frequent prayers are these: Help me be a blessing. And, help me be in the center of your will. And I guess those prayers really add up to one thing – help me strive to be a “deeply good” person. I am so not that person, but I want to keep trying.

Brooks goes on to talk about the “resume virtues and the eulogy virtues.” In a true Julia Cameron moment of synchronicity, I also stumbled on a report yesterday of a young mother, Beth O’Rourke, in Paxton, MA who wrote her own obituary. So much of her words make clear that she was a “deeply good” person, but I doubt she ever, ever would have thought that! She was likely, as Brooks would say, a “stumbler,” someone who tries, repeatedly, despite obstacles, to do better. Or, as he more gracefully puts it, “The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be.”

Please, if you haven’t yet read Beth O’Rourke’s obituary or David Brooks’ editorial, do yourself a favor and read them now or bookmark them and read them later. Then give them both some pondering time. Please.

And, if you happen to be in need of an ear worm, you’ll know what song has been stuck in my head since I’ve been thinking about this post:

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Photography, Travel & Springtime in Paris

Let photography quickly enrich the traveller’s album, and restore to his eyes the precision his memory may lack;….. Let it save crumbling ruins from oblivion, books, engravings, and manuscripts, the prey of time, all those precious things, vowed to dissolution, which crave a place in the archives of our memories; in all these things, photography will deserve our thanks and applause. But if once it be allowed to impinge on the sphere of the intangible and the imaginary, on anything that has value solely because man adds something to it from his soul, then woe betide us!
– Charles Baudelaire

I’ve been sharing many photos of our travels on my Facebook page. I’ve been so happy with the comments and the feedback. I try hard not to share every photo I take, but to be choosy and share the ones that speak to me, that touch me in some way. I think often of Baudelaire’s worries about photography. He was quite appalled by it when it first came out and worried how much it would impinge on la culture francaise.

I was introduced to this idea decades ago in a French literature class at Wesleyan University, taught by Norm Shapiro, who happened to also teach a semester class of American Sign Language and share practice sessions with some of us at the on-campus pub over beers. Needless to say, Prof. Shapiro was a hero in my eyes.

We are in Paris now – soon to leave. And we have landed here for the most perfect springtime in Paris weather. We are lucky. We are blessed. For my husband and I – though we’ve been fortunate to travel many places, sometimes together, sometimes apart — Paris is still our favorite city. I’ve been here more times than I’ve been in New York City or Chicago or possibly even Boston, which is in the state I grew up in. We’ve been here enough that we no longer feel the mad obligations tourists sometimes experience — we MUST see the Louvre, the d’Orsay, the Picasso, Notre Dame, la Tour Eiffel, the Cluny, la Sainte Chapelle — whatever your list of MUSTS might be. So, for the perfect day yesterday, we wandered. Our hotel is not far from the Eiffel Tower and we have a small view of it at night from our window:

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We wandered through a garden and playground near the American University in Paris. I asked a mother there with her children if I could take a picture but she didn’t want them in the photo, so I didn’t. But the area there, looked like this:

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As we wandered, we wondered if we could ever spend longer in Paris — a summer or a semester? Could we figure it out? My husband doesn’t speak French, but his pronunciation is improving dramatically and if he studied, he could. So, who knows?
We spent a long time walking over bridges and along the Seine, because, well, here’s why:

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And also, because of this:

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And this:

 
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And let’s not forget, children playing, business folks enjoying lunch, happiness in abundance:

 

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In the afternoon, we landed in the garden park at the back of Notre Dame, where I had a lovely conversation with an older gentleman who reminded me of my great-Uncle John, and this man’s name was Jean and he was of Polish descent too. I have some notes of things I must look up after my long chat, en Francais, avec Jean. Be sure I know that I am fortunate to be able to converse – not perfectly – but well enough, in French, that I’ve been able to meet and chat with several folks. My conversations with Tim on the train from Carcassone to Nimes, and with Nathalie on the train from Nimes to Paris were also moments when I believe God winked. I don’t have pictures of Jean, Tim or Nathalie. I kind of wish I had them, I do admit that. But in these cases, there is a sanctity in choosing not to encase them in the format Baudelaire feared. I don’t want to disturb the “sphere of the intangible.” My conversations with them remain, pour toujours, in that sphere.

(For my writer friends, you may find some of these photos to be good writing prompts. J’espere que oui.)

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Dentists & Directions Abroad

I have a small chip in a front tooth. With the help of my son back in the states, I touched base with my dentist and found out that he recommended I see someone here rather than wait the two and a half months until I’m back in Wisconsin. I was uneasy. It’s not odontophobia, or fear of the dentist. No, no, it’s something far worse and inexplicable.

Fear of British dentists. Thank Sir Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man (never mind that he was playing a Nazi dentist, we all knew he was British).

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No, it doesn’t actually have anything to do with those awful scenes from Marathon Man. If you don’t already know, there’s this stereotype in America about horrible British teeth. I don’t know if that’s supposed to be from people avoiding dentists, or lack of fluoridated water, or could it be, God forbid, horrible dentists? Americans think of British teeth not unlike the Austin Powers images (not saying the stereotype is fair or warranted, just saying it exists and I’ve grown up indoctrinated with it.)!

 
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But….I googled and called a few dentist offices near my flat and made an appointment for this morning. Off I went, into the dreary grey morning, walking the 9 tenths of a mile to the office. On the way, an older gentleman with a professional air and a red scarf looked a little lost at a corner not far from George’s Square. We made eye contact and he approached asking if I knew where the post office was. In my family, I am famous for being directionally challenged. But, as it happened, I had just passed the post office – and noticed it – about half a block before. So, I told the man where it was and pointed. The expected question followed, which happens often when I speak here in Glasgow, “Where are you from?”
“Wisconsin, in the United States.”
“Ah, America. I love America. I’ve been to lots of places in America, but I love Miami,” he said as the drizzle developed some energy. And I thought, yes, well I wouldn’t mind being in Miami myself right now.
And then he said something I couldn’t follow, and I asked, and he repeated it, but I’m still not sure what he said. Anyway, he thanked me and I proceeded on to the dentist, feeling rather pleased with myself. I gave someone – a Scottish person no less – directions! And, they were accurate directions. My self-confidence soared. What was the deal with my worrying about a dentist appointment? Silly me. On I went until I found the right address for the dentist. I walked in, pushing my British odontophobia away, and rang the bell for help. A young man and woman in blue scrubs approached. The man spoke first. “Can I help?”
“I have an appointment for 9:30. Pam Parker.”
“Right then, let me look you up right here……” He typed on a keyboard and looked at a computer screen. “Hmmmm….You’re sure it’s here then?”
“Yes, 9:30.”
“Right, well, I think the best thing to do is to check right around the corner there. I bet that’s where you’re supposed to be.”
I started to step outside wondering what in the world was going on. I was at the right address, I was sure of it. When I stepped around the corner, I did see another dental clinic, but with a completely different name. So, I returned to the first one.
“I think something’s wrong. I have a phone confirmation of the appointment for the clinic with this name.” I showed the message to the young woman.
“Oh, I see the problem. You’re expected at our Clydebank office.”
“Clydebank? Where’s that?” All that feeling rather pleased with myself from my earlier opportunity to provide directions vanished.

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Thankfully, it’s all been sorted out and I have an appointment tomorrow at the office that I walked to this morning. I’m pretty sure. Yup, I’m sure. Oh boy.

Have a good day.

 

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Sense of Connection & Living Abroad

The Atlantic published an article yesterday called For a More Creative Brain, Travel: How international experiences can open the mind to new ways of thinking. I’ve written before about how I wish my friends could have the opportunity to live abroad because living far away from home does different things for me than vacationing away. The article is discussing a study by Adam Galinsky, Columbia Business School professor, on the impacts of travel on creativity. And, yes, I believe that’s true, travel can absolutely have a positive effect on creativity, but what appealed to me more in this article was the following quote :

“Cross-cultural experiences have the potential to pull people out of their cultural bubbles, and in doing so, can increase their sense of connection with people from backgrounds different than their own. ‘We found that when people had experiences traveling to other countries it increased what’s called generalized trust, or their general faith in humanity,’ Galinsky says. ‘When we engage in other cultures, we start to have experience with different people and recognize that most people treat you in similar ways. That produces an increase in trust.’”

It’s the “sense of connection” that matters most to me when I travel, when I write, and truly, as I live. The calendar is sliding toward my 55th birthday and as I reflect on where I am and where I’ve been, I recognize a need I’ve always had for connections. In addition, I think it’s fair to say I’ve had a need as well to be a bridge, to help form and foster connections. I’m grateful for that desire, and for any ways I can be an effective bridge.

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Pictures and words can help with connections, I do believe that. The picture above was taken not far from where I’ve been living the past three months. It’s true, “People Make Glasgow.” But really, for humans, people make just about everywhere, don’t they? The exceptions being those rare places where we go to leave people behind. But more often than not, what we seek is a sense of connection, n’est-ce pas? Maybe it’s that “sense of connection” which has driven my obsession (as my husband calls it) with taking laundry pictures everywhere I go. Who knows? More on that later.

Over the next few days, I will post some more pictures from my travels – talking about any connections I’ve made and letting you form your own.

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Travel Weary, but Loving our Lovely World

It happened, finally. I’m feeling travel weary. I’m typing this outside a coffee shop on the first floor of a mall in Tel Aviv. Last week, I was with some of my nearest and dearest in Italy — Cinque Terre and Firenze. Now, in Israel, I am catching up with some of my dearest friends from my working life. I visited Israel fifteen years ago and spent an amazing two+ weeks touring the country – we had marvelous guides and visited all over. This time, I’m intentionally not wandering so much. This time, I’m taking it much easier – smiling and laughing with friends, soaking in the lovely sunshine and colors, and admitting to myself that I am travel weary.

In Nahariya with two former co-workers from Milwaukee (one now resides in Israel).

In Nahariya with two former co-workers from Milwaukee (one now resides in Israel).

A friend who took a sabbatical a few years ago talked to me about how he contended with many different emotions and that is happening to me now. My dream life is more vivid than usual, or at least I’m recalling them more. They’ve often been mixed up snippets of important people, places and times in my past. So…a dead uncle walked in and smiled, looked very peaceful and shook the hand of a great uncle, still alive. Naturally, I woke up expecting an email or a phone call that my great-uncle had died. (Thankfully, not so.)  I dreamt that a writer friend, who I think is in her early sixties, announced that she was pregnant by saying, “Who gets pregnant when they’re fifty-five?” My fifty-fifth birthday arrives in May, so do with that what you will all you dream interpreters. I know what it means to me — my life is still pregnant with possibilities.  In a dream last night, I was back competing in gymnastics somewhere, but the floor mats had gotten wet. Now that I think of it, I’ve had a few gymnastics dreams since I’ve been overseas. Often some part of my brain is aware that it’s been far too long and that I can’t possibly do what I used to — I watch a lot and I’m happy to be with my friends, but I don’t actually do the old routines.

I am sleeping well here in Tel Aviv and yet, I am tired. I thought it was a good idea planning Tel Aviv after Florence – and it was in terms of the travel details, but I allowed myself no time to try to process all I saw and experienced in Italia before coming to Israel. Instead of “ken” for yes, I was often saying “si,” my first days. As I always do in a foreign country, I’m wishing I could understand more of the language – here though, when I hear Ivrit (Hebrew), I think of the Hebrew teachers from my old teaching days and I can hear them in the hall, or the teachers’ lounge. I hear a few familiar phrases or words and wonder why I didn’t listen to my first grader son when I started working there who said I should take Hebrew while there!

Unlike in Italy, there is less English posted on signs here. Most people do speak good English, but if I choose to explore on my own, it feels a little more challenging with less visible English around. Here’s a shot from the Carmel Market the other day:

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Yesterday afternoon, I took the train from Netanya to Tel Aviv by myself. My friend helped me get situated in Netanya and I was able – easily – to get on the right train. But when I got off — at the same station I had walked to without any problem from my apartment in the morning — I must have exited from a different door. I could not orient myself. I had walked over through a bus station and when I asked for directions to the bus station and walked to it, I was pretty sure it was a different bus station. I was getting ready to just flag a taxi when I thought I’d ask one more person for help – the walk was only ten minutes in the morning and it seemed ridiculous to take a cab. I happened to ask a young woman, Hagid, who pulled out her cell phone and looked up where I was going and announced it was too far to walk, she would drive me. So, I had a personal escort take me home – a kind spirit who works in the diamond district. This is the second time so far on this sabbatical that a stranger has offered me a ride — the last time I was in the Highlands of Scotland with a friend. We had planned on taking a taxi back from the end of our walk. When the director of a town recreation center, in Corpach I think, heard we were planning on a taxi, he offered to drive us back to the hostel. A taxi would be too much money. So, we took him up on it and had a lovely talk in the car.

Lovely people are everywhere in this lovely world. As are poor people. And rich people. And mean people, I suppose, but I seem to manage to avoid most of them.

This donne, geveret, frau, femme is one tired woman. Tired and grateful. Forgive me for sifting my thoughts by writing them down, but I am pondering a few Flannery O’Connor quotes and I guess, I’m living them:

 

I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.

 

I can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing.

 

And, later, when I’m less fatigued, I will figure out again how to capture those quotes as images and replace the typed versions above.

 

Traveling mercies, one and all.

 

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My Son Said He Wants To Kill Himself

An essay I recorded for public radio WUWM’s Lake Effect before we left for Scotland aired yesterday. It’s about a period of time, four years ago, when my younger son was going through a very hard time. I thanked my lucky stars that he voiced that he was thinking about killing himself — at least I knew he had a serious problem and could try to help prevent that. Yes, I asked him if it was okay before I recorded the essay. He read it and gave his blessing.

I knew the essay aired because a woman I’ve never met contacted me on Facebook with a private message, sending her support. She’d been in similar circumstances. Other messages followed.

It’s not often that a writer knows they’ve struck a nerve. But the messages keep coming on Facebook, from others. And I’m glad if somehow, my little essay might help someone. To listen, go to this link.  After you’re done, I hope you’ll also consider listening to the interview with Miriam Toews, a Canadian author, whose novel, All My Puny Sorrows is encouraging discussion about assisted suicide, a different issue, but no less painful.

And, please, try to always remember Plato’s words:

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Sabbatical Surprise

Sabbatical. It’s a loaded word or a lovely word, depending on your perspective. The online Merriam-Webster gives one definition of it as: : “(noun) a period of time during which someone does not work at his or her regular job and is able to rest, travel, do research, etc.” And, of course, it can be an adjective: “sabbatical   adjective sab·bat·i·cal \sə-ˈba-ti-kəl\
Definition of SABBATICAL 1: of or relating to a sabbatical year 2: of or relating to the sabbath <sabbatical laws>” As is the case with many definitions, one leads to another. How then does Merriam-Webster define the sabbath?

Definition of SABBATH   1a : the seventh day of the week observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening as a day of rest and worship by Jews and some Christians   b : Sunday observed among Christians as a day of rest and worship  2 : a time of rest

Regular followers of Pamwrites know that I am the lucky wife of a man who is taking a sabbatical for a semester from Marquette University at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. For him, the noun definition listed above completely applies: “a period of time during which someone does not work at his or her regular job and is able to rest, travel, do research, etc.” For someone who works as hard as he always does, trust me, it is well-deserved and he’s using the time well. He has completed a grant proposal, begun exploring new research ideas and done some traveling. Rest? Yes, some.

For me, it’s a sabbatical too, in terms of being removed from home and all that is familiar. I miss my writing community – my beloved Red Oak Writing — very much. And I miss reliable internet and long hot showers. But I love the opportunities to meet new people every day. Over the weekend, we were at Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow’s west end where we had a lovely chat over tea with a fellow visiting from Australia, helping look out for his daughter who’s been quite ill. (She’s a student at the Conservatoire.) Turns out, his wife, Annie West, is a many-times-published romance novelist. And a flicker came to me, a remembered idea, what if I tried to write a romance novel, published it and actually made a little money for my writing? Not sure if I’ll pursue it, but who knows?

One of the "hanging heads" in Kelvingrove Musuem.

One of the “hanging heads” in Kelvingrove Musuem from the museum’s Facebook page.

 

A sabbatical in the sense of sabbath, a period of rest and worship, is honestly not something I regularly experience in my “normal” life — and that is of my own doing. The two places I’ve been where I experienced the easiest possibility of actually participating in a true sabbath were Israel and Germany. In Israel, there seemed to be a real slowing down of life at sunset on Friday. I was there with a group from Milwaukee Jewish Day School and I remember being in a restaurant, our rabbi was praying, and a group of young adults walked in, stood still and did not proceed until we were finished. It was a form of observant respect I would not have expected in an American restaurant. In Germany, the sabbath possibilities I observed, and experienced, were more secular. Sunday was a time for family. Many shops were closed (this was twenty-five years ago). A long walk together was a common experience. For our little family then, when the weather was right, Sundays were a great time to visit a nearby park and spielplatz (playground). Granted, this was before cell phones and the pervasive flood of technology — I can only hope this tradition survives in Germany.

As I’ve grown older, and my children have too, I have some regrets for not creating more of a sabbath atmosphere in our home on Sundays. There were periods of time, especially when they were in high school, where I would insist on the four of us sitting down for Sunday lunch together because it became so difficult finding a supper-time when we would all be together.

I had expected to do more writing than I have thus far in Scotland. I have done some, but feel like the words are really only beginning to come – and we’ve been here almost two full months. Yet, I see something unexpected coming from these two months. A sabbatical surprise. This time has been a precious one for my marriage — a renewal and re-connecting of two people who have lived together for almost thirty-three years but had been drifting apart for the last two or three.

Every marriage — every important relationship — can use a sabbatical every now and then. It doesn’t have to be six months away, but striving to plan, create and honor some private time together is essential. I hope I will remember that when we return to our real life.

 

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“We’re All Americans, Aren’t We?”

 

Anyone who has been able to travel outside of the U.S. has experienced the phenomenon of globalization — the international interdependence of cultural and economic activities. It is difficult to avoid the lingering influence of American popular culture. Twenty-five years ago I sat in a bar-room with German graduate students, in Germany, and was disappointed to hear American rock music blaring. Foolishly, I had expected some oompah music, or perhaps some classical. In my travels now, the more obvious evidence of “Americanization” is in the spread of U.S. based restaurants and cafes – I’ve sat in Starbucks in Vienna and Glasgow, seen McDonalds, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken everywhere. And the movie posters!! Fifty Shades of Grey is everywhere. Here’s how the ads look in Vienna:

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And, here’s a street shot in Prague with a Hooters ad (yes, a Hooters ad) and a Starbucks. After that, a Vienna street scene:

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I attended a writer group last week in Glasgow that turned out to have a very international flavor. The leader was Canadian. Other attendees had roots in Guyana, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland. I was the lone American. When I said where I was from, the gentleman from Africa commented, “Well, we’re all Americans really, aren’t we?” I said no and watched the fellow from Ireland get pretty upset. He clearly did not want to be called an American.

After we’d discussed the writing that had been submitted in advance, I joined several of the group members for a pint at a nearby pub. The Irish fellow wanted to know, “What is next for America?” I wasn’t sure what he was asking about and said so. “Well, politically, you know. I mean so much of what happens here depends on what happens there – certainly economically.” I don’t know if I spoke well on behalf of the U.S., but I tried. I spoke of my concerns of the continuing healthcare issues – that even though we have healthcare for all (supposedly) now, it seems it will be a long, bumpy ride before we really do. I spoke of my ongoing concerns regarding the disrespect and polarization in our country – politically, racially, economically – you name it, we seem to find a way to “take sides.” I spoke of my concerns that the economy continued to be on quicksand, rather than solid footing – that I worry constantly for one of my children who has had a hard time finding steady work. I said that I wished I could explain how very large America is – how different individual states are – that I was only speaking as someone with a white, middle-class, mostly rural and then suburban, experience. I was speaking from a position of privilege and education – not the spot every single American occupies. Not the spot every single person in my extended family occupies, across many states. We are a large and diverse nation — I felt the responsibility of speaking on behalf of my country, with the reality that I could only speak from my experience and views.

So when my new friend from Guyana said, “We’re all Americans, aren’t we?” I was able to understand the statement after some thought. American television, fast food, movies and music are prevalent in other countries. The “American perspective” or “American experience” – whatever that really means – is shared abroad and experienced abroad. For some, these snippets of the U.S., will be all they know. And for Americans who don’t get to travel abroad, they may not realize why – for many foreigners – there is a subtext, a rankling unease, when they meet an American. “We’re all Americans, aren’t we?”

No. No, truly we’re not.

But, we are all people. We all get hungry and need to eat. We all get tired and need to sleep. We all – as global citizens – have an obligation to do what we can to enhance and not hurt our corner of the globe. At that writing group, I thought the best I could do was try to speak well of my country, while sharing my concerns. And so, I tried.

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Choosing Travel – No regrets

While living in Glasgow during my husband’s sabbatical, we’re trying to do some traveling but we have some considerations: 1) time — we can’t be away from Glasgow too much as he is working and 2) money. Time and money. Big considerations at most points in our lives, eh? But, we won’t be this close to the continent of Europe (obviously) once we return to the U.S., so before we left we did a lot of talking, dreaming, planning, saving and researching. We agreed to a few “longer” trips, 5-7 days and several long weekend trips, mostly in the U.K. — after all, we don’t want to miss seeing God’s country when we’re living there! But — traveling – even from the other side of the pond – is not cheap. We watch our British pounds, our Czech Korona, our Euros — whatever money we’re dealing with, we try to spend as little of it as we can so we’ll be able to take another trip when we want.

We are on our first longer trip away from Glasgow. For this trip, much of the planning and purchasing was done before we ever left the States. My husband is my travel agent and I always trust him, and appreciate the work he gives it. We flew on Easyjet from Edinburgh – which involved an early (around 4 a.m.) bus from Glasgow to Edinburgh airport. Easyjet is a low cost airline over here — it’s especially low cost if you’re willing to fly with a minuscule (by American standards) carry-on and no checked luggage — which we are doing. The size of the carry-on also limits shopping while away – there’s simply no way to bring back anything substantial without incurring a checked baggage charge of around $40 or more.

We arrived in Prague on Sunday. At the airport, my husband located an ATM and we got a supply of Czech Korona. Then, we found the bus from the airport to the main train station. (It’s a rare, rare event for us to use a taxi in a foreign country. We rely on public transportation which is much lower cost and not as challenging to figure out as you might guess. If you’re as directionally challenged and map-phobic as I am though, I highly recommend traveling with someone who is not either of those things.) From there we walked to our hotel, which allowed us to check in early. Had a great (and cheap!) lunch at a nearby restaurant and spent the rest of the day on our feet, exploring the beautiful city. My husband had been to Prague before, I had not. I’d read up, watched the appropriate Rick Steves videos, talked to well-travelled friends and I knew that tops on my to see and do list were the Jewish Quarter and Terezin. First though, that get acquainted with Prague walk on the first day there. I love being in a new place – love that jolt of recognition that you’re not in Kansas anymore. Like when you can’t read a sign:

PragueSign

 

Sometimes there are signs of events that you’re aware of from the news. For example, many years ago while I was in Paris, John Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette, died in a plane crash. Somewhere back in Milwaukee in print format I have a picture from a street ad for a paper in Paris the next day — a giant photo of John and Carolyn with Ooo La La and something else on it. Well, Prague offered its own moment of recent news in a picture for us. On November 17, 2014, Prague celebrated twenty-five years since the Velvet Revolution. If you were of a certain age in 1989, you can not forget the pictures and news streaming out of what we then called Czechoslovakia – what we thought of in the U.S. as a Soviet satellite state. In particular, the photos of students filling Wenceslas Square would become unforgettable. Remember?

ARCHIVES D'ARCHITECTURE MODERNE, BRUSSELS

ARCHIVES D’ARCHITECTURE MODERNE, BRUSSELS

Six weeks after the revolution began, Vaclav Havel, a writer, philosopher and dissident, became the first democratic president of the Czech Republic since 1948. He died on December 18, 2011 in Prague. Apparently, the anniversary of his death is marked by hanging a banner with his photo on the National Museum at one end of Wenceslas Square. When we arrived, the banner was still up.

havel

On more than one occasion I’ve felt more reverence for history in Europe than back home, but that’s a topic for another post.

For now, on the idea of keeping costs down, we enjoy our walking expeditions in new places. And, the internet has made exploring for deals easier than ever. Today as I write this post I’m sitting in a studio apartment in Vienna – my husband is sitting across from me doing some work on his laptop. He found the apartment on booking.com and it is a great value and location for what we want to do here. Today we walked to an information center and purchased a Vienna Card, which gives us discounts at some museums, restaurants and cultural events — enough of which we’d like to go to to make the cost of the card well worth it. In the end, we will save significant Euros. The apartment, with its small kitchen, means we can have our breakfast and lunches here, with supplies we buy from a nearby grocery store.

Because we’ve been careful here, we will be able to travel to Italy next month and Croatia and France in June. That will leave us a lot of time in April and May to explore more of Scotland. And, we should not be suffering from that terrible affliction of credit card debt. We think, we hope, we believe. If we’re wrong, we’ll adjust our future plans.

A quote often attributed to Mark Twain appears on several websites – and I love the quote, though mentalfloss.com says he didn’t say it. The “quote” – from someone – which inspires me is:  “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

I want to see as much of the big wide world as I can before the inevitable grim reaper comes calling for me (and, before my body can’t tolerate travel – with my arthritis, that may come sooner than it would for others). I want to hear as many languages as I can and speak a few words of each of them. I want to see that people are people everywhere on this earth — no one’s special, no one’s better. We’re all just plain awesome. I want to make people smile wherever I can. Not sure I’ve done that yet in Vienna today — time to get back out there. (Making others smile is free too.)

Hope you’re having a smile-filled day wherever you are.

 

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