Jasper Johns, 1955
Don't worry. That disrespectful post title isn't as bad as you think.
I feel extremely fortunate to be a citizen of the United States. And especially a citizen of Austin, Texas. Two nights ago, I watched fireworks pop all over the sky with three of my tiny nephews, each of us oohing and ahhing in turn. I look forward to this tradition every single year, and tonight I'll search out fireworks again, celebrating the birthday of my country with sparkly, sky-filling magic.
But on this patriotic day, I am deeply craving a taste of something new. Something non-America. Something beyond our southern or northern territorial borders, something beyond this continent, something beyond this whole hemisphere.
I am reading Comfort Me with Apples right now, Ruth Reichl's memoir of becoming a food writer. In the late 70s, she lived in a commune in Berkeley, and at roughly age 30 fell into a restaurant critic position with New West Magazine -- New York Magazine's then-sister publication for the west coast. I'm not even to the end yet, and Ruth has already enjoyed magazine-funded trips to China, Thailand, and Paris to study the local flavor, and write about each region's food.
It's enough to inspire wanderlust in any reader. Ruth is such a passionate sensualist, consuming both her food and her foreign experiences -- drinking a bottle of 1911 wine with a lover in France, eating roasted chicken among their feathered kin in Thailand, strolling through the fish stalls of China, watchful eyes recording her every move -- with magnificent gusto. The most home-bound of homebodies doesn't stand a chance against her vivid descriptions; you long desperately to sidle up next to her, and help her slurp that steaming bowl of Asian noodles, tear off a hunk of warm baguette, tip juicy, vintage Bordeaux onto your anxious tongue.
I studied abroad in Italy almost 10 years ago, and it changed my life forever. For four months, I lived in an apartment perched atop one of Milan's noisiest streets. The train station that I walked to every morning for my subway to school was also the main portal out of town, to France, to Switzerland, to Spain or Germany, as well as to the airport, should Italy's train system not fling you far enough.
Every day, I walked underneath the huge departure/arrival marquee suspended from the ceiling of Stazione Centrale, and studied that great list for my next adventure. After class, should I visit Geneva, the city covered in flowers? Or gilded, oppulent Nice, where I could spy on French movie stars from a shaded outdoor bistro? Or perhaps I wanted something wilder -- something more off the beaten path -- like Croatia.
I stared at that marquee sign like it was a crystal ball.
In the three years following, I took a trip by myself to Oxford and London, visited Paris with my Dad, and spent two months in India with Ross (husband). We went to an outdoor Hindu wedding, where our plates were banana leaves, and the bride's family fortune dripped down her body in gold and jewels. We got stuck in traffic jams behind elephants, plunged our conspicously white hands into piles of ripe (often overripe) fruit at the Chengannur market, and at the school where we taught, listened to tiny Keralese children practice their English with admirable focus. "Thees cat is brown. FULL STOP. She dreenk her vater. FULL STOP."
I was happy to return home to my comfortably American trappings, what with its coffee shops, the abundant toilet paper, the sleeveless shirts that would have caused a scandal on the streets of Kerala.
But that was in 2005. Now, it is 2011. Am I simply approaching the seven year itch with my country?
I don't know how I'm going to do it, but sometime soon, I'm going to buy a ticket out of the U.S.
Maybe I can travel a la Ruth, and convince one of the outlets I write for that, while Austin's food trailers are fine and all, what the public really wants to hear about is blood stew in the Phillipinnes. Don't you, public? I thought so!
I visited a psychic last month, and she gave me two significant pieces of information:
A) Ross and I would have kids in 3-5 years,
B) Until that time, there would be lots of travel. And publishing.
"Publishing?" I asked. "Yes, publishing," she said.
Your guess is as good as mine, reader.
But anyway, following the psychic's predictions, I am now taking suggestions on cheap travel. I love my job, but sometime in the next little while, I'd like to visit someplace and stay there. Like, for a few weeks up to a month.
It's a little bit ridiculous, since Ross and I just bought a house and all. We are currently eeking out home decor little by little from our paychecks, and at the beginning of each month, the conversation typically goes something like: "Rug, or lights?" "Curtains, or grass?"
But I need to do this, and I know I could make it awesome. I could write about my adventure and regale you with stories of the natives, I could take photos. I would be a vagabond, but an engaged one, with ears constantly pricked and eyes always open.
I'm not sure why the hunger is so intense. Maybe it's the discovery that my passport is about to expire. Maybe I'm just sick of American politics.
But I suspect it's something cosmic. My New Year's Word was "openness," after all.
I'd love to hear your ideas for shoestring international travel! Where have you been, or where have you always wanted to go? My travel imagination spans far, and though the pictures above are quite lovely, I'm open to more rugged environs too. Hotels and huts, both acceptable.