I am working almost 12 hours a day right now, so I am reposting an essay from simpler times when I had more time to write.
When I look back at the beautiful places I have been privileged to visit, I realize that my memories of these trips have been distilled over time to a few bright images, not all of which have been caught with a camera. Click on image to enlarge
I treasure the moments of breathtaking beauty from our visits to
Kauai, Maui, Oahu, and Hawaii which were enhanced by the
warm welcome we received from tourist-savvy natives.
Sometimes the single lasting memory is of a happy moment spent with a loved one. Some of these moments were captured by helpful passing strangers, like this shot of Gretchen and me on a beautiful and isolated north coast road on the Island of Maui.
The sunny memories from the Hawaiian Islands and most of the West Coast stand in stark contrast to the memories I have of St Thomas, in the Virgin Islands, where the lush tropical beauty was marred by hostile glares from locals, who could be heard muttering, "Ogly beasst.." as we shopped in village stores.
There was a vast gulf between the attitudes of shop keepers in Charlotte Amalie and the people in the outlying villages. When you looked closely, you realized the tropical beauty barely concealed deep social problems.
A similar situation existed on the west coast of Mexico, on the way down to Ensenada. The stunning ocean vistas were framed by hundreds of failed construction projects and barely habitable dwellings. These were not just signs of a hard life. There was subtle evidence of a broken society. It was not the kind of place you could get refreshed and revitalized.
The disturbing images from faraway places where society was breaking down were fortunately in the minority. Over the years, I started being more selective about where I traveled.
Sometimes the memory captures a moment of revelation. I have a vivid recollection of looking down from a railroad car window at a tiny village square in the French countryside, far to the southwest of Paris. It was late afternoon and the quaint shops and cobblestone streets were bustling with shoppers and commuters concluding their business for the day. It looked like the provincial village featured in Jacques Tati's movie, Mon Oncle (1958).
The train had stopped to discharge passengers and I toyed with the idea of joining the exodus and stopping for a meal in this charming out-of-the-way village. I restrained myself when I realized that visiting this picturesque square without the means to interact socially was an empty activity. I could make the most of the visit by observing the village and its people from where I sat.
I was visiting France on business as part of a corporate acquisition. My command of the French language was rudimentary at best. I enjoyed observing life in Paris and in the French countryside, but without the company of business associates, my interaction with the French was confined to pointing at menu items and murmuring "s'il vous plaît?" with a hopeful expression. It always worked, but lacked the richness of meaningful social interaction.
The images that shine brightest are connected with challenging activities shared by good companions. Among these are chartering sailboats and sailing the Elisabeth Islands, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Also learning to ski at the age of thirty-five at Berthoud Pass in Colorado and the subsequent years of skiing at Killington, Mt Snow and Sugarbush.
Time spent skiing and sailing with friends combined the best of being challenged physically, being surrounded by natural beauty, and performing aesthetic maneuvers.
Hiking in the mountains on the south coast of Crete exploring ancient cities was similarly memorable, probably because I had the services of a great guide, aptly named Jean Bienvenu, who introduced me to his friends and to the local culture. Between the incredible beauty of Southwestern Crete, the friendly people I met, and the great food, this was the most amazingly satisfying time I ever spent in a faraway place.
I returned revitalized and ready for the next phase of my life.
That's what we expect of a trip to far places, a new look at the importances in our lives.
With 24/7 access to the entire world via the Internet, we now get similar opportunities every day.
(A tip of the hat to Sippican Cottage for his approach to filling the void when work consumes the waking hours.)