Memories of Travel


William Shakespeare’s “now is the winter of our discontent,” seems somehow appropriate today as I feel a smidgen trapped inside an igloo.  From in here to out there I see ice, snow, and restriction.

Last year’s travel restrictions continue and our forced hibernation is making me a tad nostalgic. So, in the next few columns, I’m going a travelin’. 

I think the expansive quality of travel memories – to make negative experiences into positively amusing stories – defines travel.  Travel experiences invite embellishment and detail, just like big-fish stories, I suppose.

Our travel memories are a part of our developing life story.  We become the person of those tales.  And, maybe that person is not who we expected to be, because we traveled.

What does travel do for the people who engage in it?  Why bother?

I extemporaneously testified at my brother-in-law’s memorial service, to the joyful fact that his marrying my sister not only extended our family but expanded my worldview beyond my country of birth to his country, Canada.  “He changed my life by exposing a green, young girl from rural Pennsylvania to another whole nation, a couple of French swear words, hockey as a national sport, and the seed of a desire to travel – for which I will be eternally grateful.”

I wonder who grows up wanting to travel compared to home-grown folks that want never to wander past their birth borders.  My assumption was, if you grow up traveling – if your wonder-lusting parents took you to other countries, arranged back-packing adventures, taught you languages, sent you to semester abroad, etc., you would become an adult who travels.

I was raised with little concept of vacation – as in the annual, planned, family excursion to the beach or big-time amusement park, like many other middle class American families have.  Other than car trips most Sunday’s to visit aunts, uncles, and grandparents, either a few miles or thirty to forty miles; and once each to Michigan and Florida to visit extended family, I didn’t travel as a child.

But, thanks to my brother-in-law Fred, I graduated high school and headed directly to a travel trade school, thinking of becoming a flight attendant.  But it was rail travel up and down the eastern seaboard that captured my heart for the next few years; broken up by a flight or two to California with friends, culminating in a big, cross-country, coming of age car trip with my friend Barb, before landing back home for a time.

The words, expanse or expand come to mind every time I think of travel.  Travel moments especially, because of their combined qualities of fear, excitement, dread, desire, hope and disappointment have the unique and innate capacity to dilate, broaden, fatten, amplify, enlarge, stretch, and increase in scope, the persons we are intended to become.

What is it about travel memories that make us transform truly terrifying moments, into funny travel tales?  Negative experiences become amusing stories of mishaps, turned adventure.

I will begin with the 2008 tale which I call, Beam Me Up Scotty, which was my mother of all anxiety attacks with seasickness on the side, aboard the QEII, my first cruise ship experience.  I was led to believe seasickness was a legend of the past and departed with the Mayflower.

I was a twentieth century woman who had endured twenty-four hours of labor without a drop of pain medicine.  I was a female Jack Sparrow with modern ballasts beneath me – who laughed “nah-ha-ha,” to seasickness.

Who knew that once we departed the New York Harbor and cruised beyond the Hudson River, for the Atlantic Ocean, a pale would descend over me that enshrouded my whole being and caused me to scream inside for a helicopter to get me immediately off of that freaking boat?  If I had had legs at that moment, I may have surrendered to the panic mixed with nausea, vertigo, and crazy nightmarish thoughts and jumped, life jacket training on the Lido deck be damned.

But I was cemented to my berth, knowing no helicopter rescue was forthcoming and feeling rather certain this catatonic hell would probably never end.  That was fun.

The Tale of the Bologna Salad was the second or third time on that trip that I looked with envy at my daughter’s plate, back at mine, and really wanted to steal my child’s food.  We were weary and had just settled into our hotel in Germany, where the next day we had planned to briefly meet a business associate with whom we had worked from the states for many years but had never met in person.

It was one of those travel moments when you’re hungry, tired, intolerant of everything and everybody – you just want both sustenance and sleep – now.  You have morphed into a colicky, cry-baby who cannot be soothed.  Everybody nearby catches your misery, like a cold, unless they’re just as travel-crazed as you are, then all burst into hysterics at the slightest provocation.  “Somebody, please break out the Xanax!”

I wanted something to eat that was light but satisfying.  When I saw on the menu, salad with Baden Baden ham, my eyes lit up and voila, my travel-crazed mind confirmed, “this is it.”

In my mind’s eye, Baden Baden ham, a specialty of this part of Germany, would be a mouth-watering combination of prosciutto and Canadian bacon, and this atop an attentively-crafted garden salad of mixed, dark, leafy, greens, Asiago cheese, and maybe fresh tomatoes.  You can imagine my dismay when Baden Baden ham turned out to be julienne-slices of bologna, the lettuce was the tasteless, nutrient-bare, iceberg variety, and the cheese I swear was American or maybe cheddar, if you stretch.

We howled!  My tormented laugh, however, was like when you’re embarrassed at a public mistake you’ve made, like tripping over a crack in the sidewalk.  You know you’ve done it; you turn around and look at the crack like it was an evil moat, that you’d be a fool not to have tripped over. But you want to be the bigger person in spite of feeling cheated, robbed or offended.

Suddenly, I’m no longer trapped inside that igloo, and I’m in Europe.  Join me for some more inner travels next week.

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