My husband and I just celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary. By anyone’s standards, 24 years is a good chunk of change. It’s been two decades of perpetual motion, so it’s no wonder that I find myself reflecting on it this week in a blog named “Travels and Tomes.”
For all of the enthusiasm I have for the next few decades together, and all of the certainty that they will involve “settling down” soon, I look back over our past adventures and our many homes and travels and I think what a long, strange, and utterly remarkable trip it’s been.
Here’s the two cent version of that trip.
CONNECTICUT: This predates the 24–it’s where we met in school. Spring and autumn in New England were glorious; winter was long but happily punctuated by sledding on cafeteria trays. We hung out in coffee houses, bought cheap theater tickets at the Rep, frequented the Brew and View pub in the next town, and made the occasional trip via commuter train into NYC (where we splurged for a Broadway show once or twice, but usually used our pocket change to visit the Met Museum or Museum of Modern Art, or stroll Rockefeller Plaza at Christmas). We drove out to Cape Cod. It was a great start, tinged with a little wanderlust.
Our next stop was CHICAGO. These were our salad and frozen pizza days. We lived in three different apartments over 3 years and each one smacked of “Barefoot in the Park” in its own way. (Great play, and great movie with Redford and Fonda, if you haven’t seen it.) The first was at a fine address in the Gold Coast, but it was, literally, a closet. Literally. It was a temporary do.
The second was a coach house over a garage in the DePaul area. Charming. Until winter came, and we realized that there was no insulation. . . anywhere. Not in the walls, not in the roofing, and not under the floor. Cranking the heat did nothing but fill the apartment with gas fumes and heat the air in the middle of the room (as in, three feet up from the floor, three feet down from the ceiling, and three feet in from the walls). So when the owners raised rent, we went packing for warmer (and cheaper) digs.
Which we found in our third apartment, just north of Wrigley Field (home to the Chicago Cubs). We had a scant view of the top of Wrigley Field in the distance from our South-facing window, and an up close and personal view of a transient hotel across the street in our front windows…where we also had one bullet hole. During our stay, no more bullets flew, but our neighbors at the hotel regularly pulled their fire alarms at 3 a.m. (followed by a brigade of firetrucks), and on the rare occasion took firefighting into their own hands and threw flaming matresses out their windows. It was like having a front row seat at the theater each night.
In the winter this last apartment kept us warm, although ice crystals would obscure our view out the windows. In the summer, we would broil and spend our evenings walking through the grocery store and opening the doors on the freezer aisle, postponing the inevitable return home. Weekends found us wandering the boroughs of the city, eating in cafes and people watching–cheap entertainment, but always a good time. Each weekend, we’d walk a different neighborhood: German, Lebanese, Czech/Slovak, etc. We had no idea this would be good practice for the life of travels that was to come.
DC: A fast turn around — we lived there one year. Loved the city, hated the traffic. Great food, lots of culture, but far too much talk of politics. Some weekends, we’d storm the city for ethnic markets and museums, other weekends, we’d escape to places like Chesapeake, the Shenandoah river, or the Chincoteague shore–sand dunes, ocean tides, and wild horses. . . paradise.
- Steak–never liked it until I lived here. A revelation.
- Tex-Mex– again, no one does it like Texas.
- Tumbleweed and Mesquite– lots and lots of tumbleweed and mesquite.
Our time in Texas wasn’t marked by a wanderlust or cultural broadening–it was more of “going deep” into a down home experience of that region. It was different, but it was delightful. And we left town with a secret recipe for salsa from our restaurateur friends Ted and Lena– a priceless gift.
TURKEY: Culture shock after moving from west Texas to the mediterranean coast of Turkey, but absolute love after that. If you’ve ever wanted to time travel, rural Turkey is the closest you’ll come. Hop on a mountain bike and take off through the fields of sheep and shepherds, or explore ruins of ancient cities on the coastline with only goats for company, and you’ll know what I mean. And the people of Turkey are the most hospitable people I have ever met.
In lots of ways, Turkey is where life “got real” for us. We hit incredible highs; we hit incredible lows. This is one way living abroad differs from simple travel–you’re not just there to see the sights, you are getting on with the business of living a life. In Turkey, we saw amazing sights: the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia and homes hollowed out of these natural structures; old frescoed cave churches, in disrepair, but still dotting the landscape in remarkable numbers. We also endured some tough times: a miscarriage and a strong earthquake that crippled much of the surrounding town and tumbled houses in the older section of the city (which was very old indeed), leaving people homeless. But life cycles back to joy, always: our daughter was born in our final six months there, and our family began its travels together. Have dog, have kid, will travel–that’s been our motto ever since.
NORTH CAROLINA: Our return to my home state for 5 years didn’t involve a lot of travel, except to see grandparents in a nearby town. No, these were the days of total immersion in young parenthood. Puppies and children–we were dripping with them. Our daughter was six months old when we returned to NC, and our son was born a couple of years later. Both of our children were born at lightening speed. (I did make it to the hospital for my second, but didn’t make it into the hospital gown before he was born. I remember nurses RUNNING me down the hall on a gurney, shouting “don’t push, don’t push!”–but there comes a point when you really have no choice. . . just trust me on this one, men.) And so my husband insisted there would be no third child unless I was willing to move into the hospital at 8 months pregnant. He had no intention of delivering a baby on our kitchen floor. He had a point. No more babies. But we did adopt our sweet puppy Bebe in NC, and she was my furry baby for 15 years.
But, as I said, few travels of the suitcase variety. Loads of adventures in pumpkin patches and parks, on sleds and tricycles, etc. That’s how it goes with toddlers.
Oh, England. I love this place. For me, it combines new and exciting travels with the comfort of a culture that you understand intimately. It’s also the setting for so many childhood memories for my kids: dress up at the knights
school at Alnwick Castle (also home to many scenes from Harry Potter and Downton Abbey), being pulled onstage during theater productions of The Tempest and Robin Hood Tales, winning a contest for decorating the Queen’s Knickers (on Queen Elizabeth’s birthday), visiting with Santa at the local brewery . . . the list is too long. Every day that we walked into the market square of Ripon (pretty much every day!) was a treat for us. It was home, but it never seemed mundane.
As a home base, Yorkshire, England was a great jumping off point for Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy. We traveled by plane, we traveled by train, we traveled by car. We traveled. I had no blog then, so instead of posting travel notes and quips, I did send postcards from the road. That seems a little quaint and slow now, but there’s something solid and permanent about the postcard, isn’t there? It doesn’t say much, but it’s a tangible artifact of your travels . . .and it has the magical ability to fall out of a scrapbook decades from now and catch you by surprise with a flood of memories of a place and a time, of a holiday greatly enjoyed. I wonder if blogsites will age as well?
We’re traveling back to England very soon, and to some of our old stomping grounds in Yorkshire. It will be an absolute delight to walk the streets of Ripon, eat the scones of Ripon (!), and wander the dales of the surrounding countryside . . .but I think that it will be a little bittersweet too. We all have a soft spot for our old life there.
From England, we found ourselves venturing on to GEORGIA and ALABAMA. These states are next door neighbors, each with its own personality–please don’t take offense that I am lumping them together, but the truth is that this post is getting long-winded, so I’m picking up the pace. Do you know what struck me most dramatically about the South in our first weeks back? Tree frogs and cicadas! The sounds from the trees, especially at dusk each night, is fantastic. For me, it’s the sound of summertime and my childhood in North Carolina. About the time when you’d be out playing kick the can with the kids in the neighborhood, or with cousins at your grandmother’s house, the trees would come alive. You get used to the sound, you take it for granted, but once you’ve gone without for years, you really hear it again and it’s like a symphony. Give me a screened porch, a cold drink, a hot day, and tree frogs at dusk, and I am a happy girl.
And now we are wrapping up our sojourn in GERMANY. Time has flown way too quickly. There is no sense in listing out our recent travels here–you’ve seen many of them posted in this blogspace, and it will take me the next year or more to continue catching you up on the places, people, language struggles, and food (and how!), but I’ll do my best.
If these posts won’t have that magical ability to slip, pop, or leap out from a scrapbook at me in my dotage, reminding me of continents I traveled and tales I told, they do have another astonishing talent–sharing my thoughts and travels far and wide with friends I rarely see, and even some new friends I’ve never met. It’s like telling tales around a campfire that is surrounded with so many people–some out on the dark edges, beyond the glow, beyond my ability to know who is even out there.
This is the place where any self-respecting postcard would say “Wish You Were Here!” but it feels to me like you are.
Thanks for reading, and, if it’s not too much to ask, how about raising a glass for my husband and me– to another 24 years of adventures, big and small.