Sunday 11 January 2009
Ive lived in Bellingham since July 2007, after 20 years largely based in Seattle. Its a nice-enough townnot quite too small, certainly not too largebut Id like to relocate to Portland for the next phase of my life.
My interests in world affairs and in travel overlap substantially, so Im producing a page of this site to be a combined base for relevant links, tales, and resources. At the moment, in the interests of providing more logical/convenient access to a couple of in-demand personal travel narratives, Im launching the page prematurely; its intended scope is well beyond being a vanity project rather I want it to focus on aspects of international history, current events, languages, cultures, and aspects of global connectivity which the Internet has made newly possible at the recent turn of the century.
But until I can get all that into place, for now its me, me, me albeit with as much outward focus as I can provide in the two travel tales that are ready to read.
Because He Can
Eastern France & Western Switzerland, with not even a smidgen of drama despite a daunting wordcount!
EuroTrash Eats France!
A foraging of France, a side-dish of Switzerland (Valais), and just a bite of Benelux
A Travel page has been long overdue on this website, so as I was starting to write out a narrative account of my most recent transatlantic jaunt I figured Id slap out an introductory piece to put it in context and give it (and its siblings) a proper, if sparse, home here.
I do love to travel, specifically by air and rail, generally for the sole purpose of experiencing places Ive never been. My first real trip, other than family car-trips into Alberta and British Columbia and a flight to Anchorage (and a drive back), was in 1989 at the age of 23: a week in London with a music/theatre friend, followed by what became two months in Paris without a plan or much of a grasp of French aside from the present tense. Because that trip completely exhausted my resources and was followed by years of clawing my way back to fiscal health, I was unable to travel outside the immediate Puget Sound region until my earning power (and a short-lived windfall) had improved by the late 1990s to allow for an occasional excursion.
Since then my challenge has been more one of finding the time to get away from my job; deciding where and when to go is usually a matter of circumstance or whimsy (or both). Winter travel suits me best, not for winter sport opportunities but because there are generally fewer other people about where Im wandering, and I like solitude and space as well as winter weather and night. But that undercrowding is not guaranteed and has let me down quite rudely at least once, and what with global warming and such, I often find unseasonably warm weather plaguing my wandering-ground of choice.
Still, theres always plenty to consider when travelling, and I do: just getting out of my tired old routines and into a new context is its own reward, but beyond that theres sensory fascination everywhere I turn. I travel to hear and to listen, to see and to view, to taste, to stretch, to touch, to smell, to seek and to find (and sometimes to lose), to ask and to answer, and above all to discover the essences of the places I go. Travel, for me, is about impressions and immersion.
I visit cities for two reasons: to get a feel for them as potential residences, if theyre sufficiently large and cosmopolitan, and/or to read them as living places. Ive found in recent years that I can get a pretty good read on a medium-sized city in about a day and a half, sometimes less, by walking around various parts of the town, dining, browsing market areas, climbing to geographical heights or strolling at waters edge (depending on the topography of the region), pausing to reflect in churches, observing the range and location of businesses and goods for sale, and above all simply noticing the locals all around me as they go about their days and nights. To find that a city feels ancient, lively, exhausted, tense, trite, earthy, dangerous, blasé, cold, smug, forgotten, robust, devout, remote, central, powerful and/or some combinations of those and other impressions is what I spend my days and nights passively seeking. Ive been to places that have been each of those things, and I never tire of either the exploring or the assessing.
Language is the biggest obstacle to my travels: I speak English and French and fragments of a handful of other languages, but I vehemently abhor being unable to communicate in the language of the place Im visiting, even if the locals are eager to demonstrate their ability to accommodate guests and encourage tourism. It drives me absolutely batty to be reduced to the vocabulary of an infant or to know only what main ingredients are involved on a menu item, so Ive been very reluctant to follow my longings to travel further east and north in Europe; I feel a strong attraction to the geography and climate of these places and a cultural hunger for Central Europe in particular, but when even German confounds me I know Id be a basket case dealing with, say, Hungary and the Magyar language (also known as Martian). I have great linguistic curiosity and I love to explore that realm of knowledge, but the actual use of most languages eludes me (to my intense irritation).
Thankfully theres plenty of places to travel where English or French are regularly spoken. The U.K., France, and Switzerland have been my main wandering zone so far, but Ive also sniffed around eastern Canada in the last couple of years, checking out Montréal, Québec, and Halifax as potential new home cities. In the U.S. Ive only visited nine of the fifty States (plus the District of Columbia), but frankly most of the U.S. and its culture hold very little appeal for me, especially as the television-driven homogenization of the country has continued to eradicate what makes cities and regions different. (Plus which the only regional climate up my alley is maybe that of New England, outside of parts of the Northwest.)
As far as practicalities and allegiances go, I usually fly United Airlines or Air Canada. I dont drive, as the need for a car in Seattle or while travelling has been a matter of rare incidents at best; since my old Alaska drivers license expired Ive not felt especially pressed to replace it and take on the hassles and costs driving can incur. If the U.S. had a rail network anymore Id probably travel domestically more, even if it were as patchily functional as the U.K.s piss-poor-since-privatization one, but we dont have even that; thus its always a nasty shock to return from Europe and the convenience of Frances SNCF network or the glorious combination of magnificent scenery and variety of options offered by the Swiss Railway (oh, I LOVE Swiss Rail!) only to find the dazzling range of two Amtrak routes available out here in the Apple Maggot Quarantine Zone.
Im not a particularly widely-travelled person, nor probably what true seasoned travellers would consider more than an amiable amateur, but I do love even my little experiences enough to muse about them here; certainly most of my friends over the years have considered my travel tales interesting enough to ask for them repeatedly. Maybe its just in the telling. In any case, I find I like to read them myself now and then, and they certainly whet ones appetite for travel, so heres hoping we all get something out of these tales.
Thanks for reading!