Monday, July 4, 2011

America, I long to leave you.

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.

All Bali. 
Venice.  (All photos courtesy My Little Romance and CubaGallery.)

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.


Natalie @ said...

Tolly, before I finished reading this post, I had already bought both of Ruth Reichl's memoirs and scoped out Paris hostels on When you get paid to go abroad and write about food, tell your publisher that you need an intern... some college student with an adventurous appetite and a similar desire to be somewhere that is oceans away from my comfort zone. I pack light.

Austin Eavesdropper said...

Oh Natalie. I am so very excited for you to read Ruth Reichl. She is the Patron Saint of Foodies, and for someone like you -- not just a foodie, but a talented cook and writer too -- her memoirs will just make you faint with pleasure. Which one are you reading first? You must tell me how it goes!

Gwen @ said...

I'm dying to go on a foodie tour of India. LOVE Indian food; I hear there's a great place for Dosas here in Austin. Have you been?
I'm also curious... what psychic did you go see? I usually don't put much weight on what they say, but it's always an interesting visit.

DianaLotti said...

Hi Tolly!

I know exactly what you mean by this post. Sometimes you just need to take a break from your own life and experience something new, and if it is traveling...even better. You should check out this website,

It will give you some very good tips regarding traveling.

Austin Eavesdropper said...

Gwen -- it's probably Madras Pavillion! The dosas are huge, like trumpets. And very tasty. The atmosphere/interior decor leaves much to be desired, but the lunch buffet does not. I recommend going there on a week day and dosa-ing it up.

Diana -- Ooh! I totally will check out that site! And yeah, I feel lucky and fortunate every single day to be a happy-go-lucky Austinite, but I'm just craving a shake-up. I blame Ruth and her fabulous writer life. ;)

grown-up shoes said...

My biggest rule of thumb for cheap travel is staying with a friend. Even if it just means you'll stay with them the night you fly in and the night before you fly out. It's a great way to get around.

Also, Belize is really affordable.

Have fun planning a great trip!

The Lennings said...

Wherever you end up going, I am hereby calling shotgun in advance. Giddyup! -Jase

Jodi said...

Dream it, and it will come! I had that same aching need last year, and this year I had 3 weeks off between jobs to travel in Mexico, New Mexico, and West Texas....and this fall am going to Europe for 2 weeks! I can't wait to hear about your adventures when they come together.

Daisy said...

I had the exact same feeling this past fourth! I went to see Midnight in Paris at the Arbor and it made me want to cash out my savings and hitchhike my way around France. ONE DAY

amy said...

Tolly, I grew up a military kid, so we lived just about everywhere. We lived in Germany for 8 years, and went all over Europe, which was completely amazing (and I could definitely recommend places in Europe to you).
But... when I was in college, my dad was stationed in Turkey. A country I never once thought I'd want to visit, let alone live. But I spent two summers living with my family there-- and it was so fabulous. Kind of off the grid, in my mind. You can see amazing clashes in the culture there-- women walking down the street in burkas next to teenagers with tats and piercings. Insanely delicious food from street vendors. All kinds of historical places that date back to the 5th and 6th century. Gorgeous, sacred mosques in every city. You can stay at a beach hotel on the Mediterranean for next to nothing-- and meet people from all different countries who are taking their vacations there for the very same reason. My little sister went back to Turkey to teach and has been in Istanbul for the last couple of years. She loves it and I can't wait to go visit her there again.

Davinia said...

Oh you need to come to Malta! It's relatively cheap, very sunny, and right in the middle of the Mediterranean, so very close to Italy, North Africa, Spain. We have awesome food and the people are super friendly.

If you need anymore info, there's a whole category devoted to Malta on my blog:

Austin Eavesdropper said...

TURKEY! I love that idea, Amy. Two of my buddies, Jack and Alex, lived in Turkey briefly last year and similarly fell in love with it. I have always been fascinated with Turkey's east-meets-west vibe, and actually publicized a Da Vinci Code-esque book for work last year that was set in Turkey.

Perhaps it's destiny?

Davinia. Girl. You are tempting me with that proximity business -- and the awesome food part. How long have you been living in Malta? I just visited your blog ... you & it are darling. Are you American, originally?

Austin Eavesdropper said...

Oh and Daisy, I am DYING to see Midnight in Paris!! Have heard from several others that it's so good. PS, speaking of Woody Allen, have you ever seen Vicky Christina Barcelona? *Swoon.*

Jodi! Way to manifest! I read on your blog that your trip came as a direct result of all the reader support you got about this time last year, which I found so inspiring. So I am putting it out there, into the universe, that I am ready for my next travel adventure. What say you, universe?

Anastasia said...

I know this is a huge cliche, but after reading Eat Pray Love, I want to go to Bali. I want to stay in an open house and do yoga and ride my bike everywhere. Fantastic.