A Journal of Life Pursued

Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Thursday, 6.12.2014

In Life, The Examined Life, Travel on June 14, 2014 at 6:31 am

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Tallinn, Estonia. A week ago our bag was stolen in Amsterdam. We were standing outside the city-center train station, foggy after a transatlantic flight, hungry and disoriented. I stood post with our bags. Carole, Tim, and Candace huddled over the map, occasionally glancing up at the street sign. A man approached and asked for directions. That should have been warning enough, as if I had a look of the local about me. I responded that the train station was directly behind me. He nodded and moved on. A second  man appeared. I had not noticed him before. He locked eyes on me. I stared at him briefly, then he too moved on. He did not smile. The men disappeared into the crowd. My senses returned and I looked down to discover that one luggage bag had disappeared as well.

* * *

I wonder, if at night in their lair, thieves harbor misgivings at having troubled their victim? Will they use the shampoo they pinched? Will they sell Carole’s curling iron, or simply toss it aside in their futile search for pearls and diamonds?  Are thieves, by definition of personality, lacking the introspection necessary to feel remorse? I doubt it. More likely, circumstances demand that they ignore such sentiment. Like the rest of us, they have to eat too. Most times I worry that the world is lurching along this path of desensitized behavior, particularly with relation to the physical world, the environment: What can I salvage, rather than how can I contribute? Personally, too often I discover myself looking to see what can be secured, rather than conserved. We are all, to a fashion, practicing thieves.

Such are my misgivings.

Thursday 6.5.14

In Books, Creativity, Dogs, Reading, Travel on June 5, 2014 at 6:00 am
Injured Lucy

Injured Lucy

Lucy and I have resumed our morning walks after several months of doing without. Last Fall, during a walk, she limped out of the woods, her shoulder lacerated, obviously the result of running into something. Despite two operations we could not get the gash closed and had no option but to wait it out. We applied raw honey to the wound, kept it clean, didn’t let her run and so forth. Eventually she healed. We are back to our schedule but she is considerably more cautious, and avoids that part of the woods. I keep a closer eye on her as well.

A morning walk has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Now that I’m back at it I have a greater appreciation of the benefits to starting my day in this fashion. It is likely not a coincidence that, after resuming the routine, I am writing this and that I wrote a post last week about, indeed, the morning walk. The creative benefits of walking are well documented. “I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks—who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering….” wrote Thoreau. I have no genius for anything, but if I did, having it for the art of sauntering would be welcome.

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Daily Rituals, How Artists Work

Daily Rituals, How Artists Work

We leave this evening for Europe: Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Tallinn, St. Petersburg. Sixteen days. Whereas Carole has been concentrating on which clothes to pack, I have been thinking about what books to bring. This disparity does not frustrate either of us.  After 35 years there are no surprises and few tensions. I am bringing Lily King‘s new novel,  Euphoria.  There is no compliment of activities like a good novel married to new travels. But feeling decidedly in need of self improvement, I’m bringing along a book my friend Thatcher recommended, Daily Rituals, How Artists Work. Opening randomly, I find the chapter on Sartre, “‘One can be very fertile without having to work too much,’ Sartre once said. ‘Three hours in the morning, three hours in the evening. This is my only rule.’” Continuing the march to be a better self, I’m also bringing along Alain De Botton‘s, How Proust Can Change Your Life. (Jacket blurb from the NY Times: “A self-help manual for the intelligent person.”) I like to travel with books and feel no guilt about taking time to read them while on the road. (Indeed, I find guilt to be a generally useless and tiresome emotion and rarely invest in it.) Reading a book while in a foreign country, like seeing a movie with subtitles, enhances the experience. Thinking on Thoreau above, the ability to consistently “enhance experience” is a genius I aspire to.

“Take this,” he said. I refused.

In Travel, Writing on February 21, 2013 at 6:00 am
Mystery Doll of Cusco

Mystery Doll of Cusco

The roof over my office where I write is being replaced. I’ve noted this word “office” before. Office suggests a place where serious business is conducted. There is little I conduct, serious or otherwise, in this space, and such a laden and infused word feels at odds with the spirit of the place.

The building is old, like much of the Old Port, and even five flights up my space has a fireplace and a bold heavy mantle. The fireplace is no longer functional and I doubt it ever was. Who would carry wood up all those stairs? Atop the mantle I keep trinkets from travels. I have a Buddha from Thailand, another one from Tibet, still another one from India, and a beautiful silver Bodhisattva from Bhutan. A room cannot have too many Buddhas. I also have a cast-bronze dragon, long and lean, that I picked up in a market in China. It’s mouth is open and the tongue appears as fire. I just now realize that a fist-size piece of amber I bought in a village in Ecuador is missing. It had a wasp suspended in it, Jurassic Park kind of stuff. I must have lost it in a move. Most unusual is a lead doll. It stands about two inches tall and rests surprisingly heavy in the hand. I was having a restless night in Cusco, Peru, and decided to walk into town. It was dark and the square at the Cathedral of Santo Domingo was empty and I was sitting alone and enjoying the coolness when a man approached me. He was holding a small pouch which he handed to me. “Take this,” he said. I refused. “Please,” he asked. I told him I was just getting some air, that I didn’t have any money. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I came to give you this.” His English was good and he was nicely dressed. He opened the pouch and removed the doll. She is silver and naked and quite beautiful. The man disappeared into the mist. The doll rests in a place of honor on the mantel. Someday I hope to understand what happened that night.

On an opposing wall I have a little shrine, for lack of a better word, to my once-companion, Maggie. I have a couple of pictures of her and her collar. She was often a subject of these pages. Next to her, I’ve pinned a photo of my friend Michael, also now gone. There are other things in the space that I cherish, many of which I’ve attached to the walls with thumbtacks. There are my stamped entry papers to the Annapurna National Sanctuary in Nepal, as well as a thick strand of yak hair my guide, Ram, gave me. He knew I was concerned about a mountain flight scheduled for the next day. The previous day’s plane had slammed into a cliff, killing all but three. The yak hair was to protect me. It did. I have several photographs hung as well, most of them remaining inventory from the gallery I once owned.

I said they are working on the roof over the space, and today upon entering Lucy and I determined that it was not a good day to hang out there. She could not nap on the futon as normal, not with the pounding directly overhead, and I couldn’t hear myself think, not that thinking is always exercised, but it helps. We repaired to home where I write this, noticing, the effect, or lack thereof, an office will have on one. (I note the previous sentence and blame the folks at Downton Abbey.)

On My Mind

In Books, Life, Memoir, Reading, The Examined Life on February 15, 2013 at 6:00 am

A few odds & ends, things I’ve been contemplating recently:

I read about 50 books a year. I am 57. Let’s say I live another 30 years. That’s: 30 x 50 = 1500. Fifteen hundred books in front of me, given the assumptions. That’s a focus I need to get my head around.

* * *

There are 196 countries in the world. To the best of my recollection, I’ve been to about thirty-five of them. That’s about 18%. I would like more, but am satisfied. Fifty seems a nice round number, though. If wanderlust is your thing, you might want to check out The Art of Non-Conformity, Unconventional Strategies for Life, Work, and Travel. I met Chris, the unassuming force behind The Art of Non-Conformity, here in Portland a year or two ago as he was passing through on a book tour. He’s on country 193.

* * *

I’m a baby boomer. I was raised in a Mad Men world of: More, Bigger, Faster. That hasn’t worked out all that well. The future is: Less, Smaller, Slower. Not everyone agrees with my assessment and that’s fine. Eventually, however, more people rather than less must embrace the future mantra, Less, Smaller, Slower, or there will be no future to experience–or rather, no species to experience it. This is a hard thing and I worry we’ll not pull it off.  Wm. James:

“The world may be saved, on condition that its parts shall do their best. But shipwreck in detail, or even on the whole, is among the open possibilities.”

There is a blog I follow, Zen Habits, that might be of interest if you want to think more on a Less, Smaller, Slower lifestyle.

* * *

Alan Watts writes that the Zen mind is like a mirror: it reflects everything but absorbs nothing. This image has dogged me since I first encountered it. It seems much of what remains difficult, in politics, in business, in life, is the result of that which has been absorbed–what the Buddha called attachment. What is the cost-value ratio of that which we have “absorbed?”

* * *

Dostoyevsky wrote: “You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home…” Our recent snow storm prompted memories of my fondest childhood experiences: towering snow drifts, King of the Hill battles atop snow mountains, bundled neighborhood friends. I said recently that, as a species, we have no calling to a natal stream, no return to a territory; yet, perhaps the territory of memory is our blessing-curse natal shadowland. There is comfort there, but like a strong drug, memory over-use is addictive and ultimately debilitating.

* * *

The world remains a wonderful–and wonderous–place. There is not so much effort required to make this observation, though it does not come freely. I subscribe to a modest discipline to maintain this perspective: “Develop your legitimate strangeness,” said poet, René Char. The world would rather we not take this course and remain with the herd. You know my thoughts on this.

Thanks for reading and your continued interest in “…the house I live in….”

Birth of a Pilgrim

In Adventure, Memoir, The Examined Life on February 6, 2013 at 6:00 am
Mountain Man, Jeremiah Johnson. (No Robert Redford.)

Mountain Man, Jeremiah Johnson. (No Robert Redford.)

I am fond of the word pilgrim. For instance, I used it here just yesterday: “Travel, for a pilgrim on the road to the examined life, can be as important as the books you’ll read.” Recently I closed a correspondence with: “I’m not sure if any of what I’ve said is true or even accurate–I’m just a pilgrim.” The first time I recall hearing the word used not in conjunction with Thanksgiving was in the Sydney Pollack movie, Jeremiah Johnson. That was 1972 and I was seventeen years old. It is meaningful that I remember. The movie had a profound impact on me. In it a grizzled old mountain man named Bear Claw Chris Lapp (played perfectly by Will Geer), upon first meeting Johnson (Robert Redford) says, “You’re the same dumb pilgrim that I been hearin’ for twenty days, and smellin’ for three!” And later, toward the end of the movie: “You’ve come far pilgrim.” To which Johnson replies: “Feels like far.” Bear Claw asks, “Where it worth the trouble?” “What trouble?” Johnson replies. (The movie is based on the life of mountain man, John Garrison Johnston–or, as he was better known, Liver-Eating Johnston.*)

I was so captivated by the landscape portrayed in the movie that I sat through the credits to note where it had been filmed. I had to go there, wherever there was. The Unita Mountains of Utah. The following summer I took my first plane trip, leaving home in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and landing in Salt Lake City, where I made my way into the mountains. Consequently everything changed for this pilgrim. Everything. A life of curiosity pursued was hatched.

As an aside, the word pilgrim is related to the word peregrine, from the Medieval Latin, peregrinus, meaning wanderer, or migratory. It is the word we attach to our fastest falcon and is, in my imagination, a visage of feathered purpose and ability.

George Santayana said, “The mind of the Renaissance was not a pilgrim mind, but a sedentary city mind, like that of the ancients.”  This captures the spirit and intent of the word for me. The “sedentary city mind,”  it would seem, is a mind that knows it’s place, recognizes the task at hand, and moves toward accomplishment. That is how things get done. The mind of the pilgrim, however, is restless and its profile is one of longing, of motion, perhaps aimless motion, advancing toward a grail of the imagination. To the kid  in the theater in Ft. Wayne, the message was clear: You are not a Renaissance man, you are a pilgrim, and it is time to cast off the fetters of suburbia and its expectation of confinement.

My worldwide perambulations have tapered off, but the mind remains unfettered and still roams widely. There is no rest for the pilgrim. Perhaps, I hope, you understand this?

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* Johnston as scout led a party through Crow sacred territory. (Some accounts say it was Sioux territory.) Consequently, the Crow Nation declared war on him and sent its best warriors to kill him. Despite repeated attempts, year after year, the Crow braves failed in their mission. Johnston killed them all. The legend holds that he would slit open the dead warrior, remove the liver and take a bite out of it, leaving the organ behind, his intimidating calling card. The movie depicts the transgression, depicts the attacks, but fails in complete veracity by leaving out this business of liver snacking. That’s too bad. I would have liked Redford to show a bit more belly fire in his roll. If this sounds too Hollywood, it well may be. The very nature of mountain-man Johnston’s life is such that pinning down the truth is near impossible–a fitting end to a pilgram’s tale.

The Road from Machu Picchu

In Adventure, Memoir, Travel on February 5, 2013 at 6:00 am
Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

Travel, for a pilgrim on the road to the examined life, can be as important as the books you’ll read. For some, travel trumps everything. I understand that, and for many years practiced it accordingly.

My daughter, Allie, a kindred spirit, lived in Peru for six months in 2006. At the end of her job there I flew down to visit and travel with her. I hired a guide and we made the pilgrimage through the Sacred Valley, stopped in Cusco, then took the train to Rio Urubamba, the village at the foot of Machu Picchu. I thought you might be interested in this little vignette from that adventure. I found it in a journal of that period, a recovered memory.

Allie, the train to Rio Urubamba

Allie, the train to Rio Urubamba

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The bus back to Rio Urubamba from the summit of Machu Picchu carries about thirty people. It is a precipitous journey from the summit. The road switches back along the dusty 8km route maybe 15 times, plunging here, leveling there before dropping again. The trip down takes approximately thirty minutes.

We–Allie and I–arrived at Machu Picchu for sunrise. Our guide ushered us through the ruins and, four hours later, after

Huayna Picchu

Huayna Picchu

the tour and Allie´s summit of Huayna Picchu, we took the bus down the mountain. I looked over my shoulder at the receding ruin and could not help but think that I would never see it again. Dark mood.

At the first switchback a group of young boys waved at the bus and hollered. We waved from our seats. They were dressed in bright orange capes, traditional-looking outfits, and shook their arms in the air. They were animated. The bus trudged on leaving them in a cloud of dust. They closed their eyes and covered their mouths. At the next switchback one of the boys reappeared, again shouting and waving his arms. I thought it curious. The bus continued down the mountain. Then again he materialized, seven or eight minutes later at the next switchback–and again, appearing out of the forest, waving, shouting, then rushing downhill into the jungle, an orange blur. After maybe a dozen turns and untold vertical feet we came upon the bridge across the Urubamba. He darted out from the left racing against our flank and rushed in front of the bus, charging across the single-lane wooden bridge, arm extended as the bus roared on. Alas, on the other side, the driver stopped, the young boy jumped aboard, not even breathing hard, and shouted into the bus. He extended his purse. We bus passengers, amazed at his feat of running down the mountain, chasing and beating the bus, dug into our pockets and dropped our coins into his hand. I held out a candy as well. He looked at me and smiled. His eyes were big and brown and he snatched the candy and moved past us down the aisle. He sang goodbye and disappeared into the crowd at the station to a round of cheers and applause. This is the stuff of travel, I thought.