Friday, January 14, 2011


Moving into the “new” house has forced me to sift through a lifetime of accumulated things: furniture, dishes, books, records, photos, mementos, and travel supplies…ah yes, travel supplies and travel books and travel mementos and travel writing.
I have traveled as often as possible, and for as long as was reasonable, since age ten when my father took me to the big city of Chicago from the one-stoplight town of Waterford, Michigan, and my eyes were opened to the wonders of the wider world – indeed the wider universe - through the museums and planetarium that dotted Chicago’s south shore in the late 1940s.  They’re there still, although I have not been in that part of the country since my brother moved away from Chicago in the late 1990s.
But I have traveled to many other parts of the country and the world since then.  My first "independent" travel was on a boat (could it have been called a ship?) to Niagara Falls from Detroit when only fifteen years of age.  A friend, aged sixteen, and I decided that we wanted to go to Niagara Falls, and our parents gave permission; indeed, my folks drove us to the boat docks in Detroit.   We each paid for our trip with money we had saved from summer jobs car-hopping at the Dixie Spot near Clarkston, Michigan. I sacrificed new fall school clothes for that trip. After discovering that we had no parents with us, several kindly couples took us under their wings, but we were basically free to go and come as we pleased.  I loved the trip.  I loved the magnificent grandeur of the falls. I loved the sense of freedom and the thrill of unfettered exploration I experienced then. 

But it has not been just the sights of awesome places, the scenes I might try to capture on film, that so stirred my travel-lust. It was also sounds, smells, the feel of the air on my skin, the slant and hue of sunlight., the aura of a place as it penetrated my inner being.   Years later, I taught Anatomy for a semester at the University of Buffalo, and almost every week-end, I went to see The Falls.  They’re still awe-inspiring and stunningly beautiful; I never tired of experiencing the rush of water, the dreadful, thrilling sound like droning thunder as water plummeted and crashed onto boulders below, the mist glistening on rocks and tree limbs and cooling my lungs with each deep breath.  These were mystical experiences, like being in love; I always felt transformed as I left.
In 1956-57, I spent a year studying in Paris, long before it was fashionable for American college students to go abroad as part of a well rounded education.  I studied history and language in French; I spent mornings sketching and painting at the Atelier Julien. I wandered the streets of Paris, taking a new route each afternoon from the Left Bank across the Seine to my room with a family in the 19th arrondissement near Gare St. Lazare.  I stopped at coffee shops along the zig-zag meanderings of those afternoons.  I visited the Louvre frequently.  I crossed bridges and walked through cemeteries and sat in small parks beneath trees under statues of unknown Frenchmen.  When it was about an hour before dinner time, I would find a Metro station and travel underground to Gare St. Lazare. 
I can still see and smell and feel the streets of Paris in some deep recess of my memory.  Someday I’d like to live there again for a month or two.  But that probably won’t happen.  It’s like home or love; you can’t go back.  And I have also traveled to - and lived in - many other places with sights and smells and auras that were loved and left, but not quite lost.

Perhaps the value of a person, place or thing might be measured by the pain we feel as we leave it or lose it.

No comments:

Post a Comment