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Posts Tagged ‘Thailand’

Sobbing upon departure — when place sears our soul

In behavior, cities, History, life, nature, travel, urban life, women, world on September 1, 2012 at 2:13 am

This weekend I’m visiting Decatur, Georgia, speaking Sept. 2 at the literary festival about my new retail memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.” If you’re in the area, come on by!

I don’t expect to find it hard to leave, but you never know.

There are, I’ve discovered a few times, places in the world that sear your soul, where you unexpectedly feel so at home you can’t bear to leave, plotting your return even as you reluctantly pack your bags.

I rarely cry, especially not in public. But three places, (so far), left me in tears of regret and longing as departed: Corsica, northern Thailand and Ireland.

Corsica

I had one week between the end of one job and the start of another. I was single and craved something absolutely amazing.

I love France and speak French and friends had raved to me for many years about this island, known for its rugged interior — and fierce desire to separate from France.

Corse-bastia-port2

Corse-bastia-port2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I flew from New York to Nice, Nice to Bastia and rented a mo-ped at the port, while the hotel owner in Bastia helped me plot out a five-day circle tour of La Balagne, all in the north. It still remains one of the best holidays of my entire life, (and I’ve been to 37 countries, so far.)

Imagine buzzing along empty, winding country roads in brilliant sunshine, with the maquis, the island’s thick scrubby undergrowth filled with herbs, sending its rich, delicious sun-warmed fragrance into your nostrils. Meander down a series of hairpin turns to a hotel at the ocean’s edge, so close you’ll hear the surf from your bedroom window. It’s a lovely old house from the 1850s or so. You eat dinner, alone, on the terrace at dusk.

One day it poured so heavily I couldn’t wear my glasses, (which I really do need for driving), nor did my helmet have a visor. I got a black trash bag from a restaurant to cover me, and kept on going, whizzing past 1,000-foot drop-offs into the sea. People invited me into their homes for a meal. I chatted with a handsome young mason in a bar, who gave me several CDs, still some of my favorite music ever, the polyphonal a capella group I Muvrini.

The landscape is wild, untamed, primal, timeless. When my plane took off for Nice, I cried so hard the flight attendant came to comfort me and ask what was wrong. I couldn’t even speak for grief, watching the island disappear into the clouds.

I’d found, as I did in every place that has seared my soul so deeply: beauty, peace, scent, kindness, history, adventure.

Here’s the story I wrote about it for The Wall Street Journal.

Northern Thailand

I visited in January 1994 with my husband, our new marriage already in tatters and soon to blow apart.

We’d visited Bangkok and Chang Mai, both standard tourist destinations, and decided, spur of the moment, to fly further north to Mae Hong Son, which one guidebook called the most beautiful town in Thailand. I’ve only seen one other airport — in Bastia — so rural and tiny that sheep grazed a few meters from the runways. As we walked (!) into town, the only sound was that of bells from the temple across the unpaved street.

English: Mae Hong Son, a capital of the Mae Ho...

English: Mae Hong Son, a capital of the Mae Hong Son Province, Thailand Русский: Город Мэхонгсон, административный центр одноимённой провинции (Таиланд) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Guesthouses, then $15 a night, ringed a lake. We rented mo-peds, (clearly, my favorite mode of transport), for a day-trip even further north to the Burmese border. Madness! The road, quite literally, was under construction, with huge machines grading the land, their quizzical drivers gazing down at us in pity and wonder.

We went with Roy, an Englishman we’d met at our guesthouse, who’d worked in developing countries delivering vaccines. When the road forked, with a sign we couldn’t read, what next? “Follow the power lines,” Roy said.

The road dust was a thick, silky red, so deep I put my feet out on both sides and used them as pontoons to steady the bike. As we pulled into town for lunch, men wearing extremely large rifles across their chest stared at us — we were now in the Golden Triangle, then the world’s largest suppliers of opium.

We ate lunch, then turned south in the golden late afternoon light, back down the insanely steep hills we’d so eagerly climbed. On one turn, (no guardrails), I got off the bike and had my husband walk it down, too terrified of flying off the road and over the treetops to my certain death. I’d already fallen and shattered the bike’s side mirror, giving me a tiny scar on the inside of my right wrist as a permanent souvenir of the day.

When our plane took off a few days later, having witnessed the town’s legendary three mists, I cried hard. I knew I wouldn’t be back any time soon. And I knew I’d never be there again with that man.

As in Corsica, I’d been transported by the emerald-green landscapes, silence, the kindness and wisdom of strangers. Another deliriously crazy, ill-advised, adrenaline-pumping adventure.

Ireland

I’ve since returned four times, but this was my first visit — in the days just before Christmas of 1985 — visiting a friend, a fellow journalist, in Dublin.

With a surname of Kelly, you’d think I’d identify heavily as Irish, but I don’t and never had. Like me, my father was born in Canada.

But, there, everywhere, were people who looked like me. Who loved to chat, and prized witty, intelligent conversation. Who liked a good glass of beer. Who valued the ability to burst into song.

I felt at home in a way that hit me hard, that I’d never felt in my native land or my home city, Toronto.

Stores and restaurants and passing delivery vans had my name on them!

As I filed into the small aircraft that flew me to Bristol to visit my mother, I found myself blinking back tears.

And every visit back to Ireland since then seems to touch a sort of sense memory, a “me” that maybe existed 100 or 1,000 years ago. Maybe I was Grainne, the 16th. century pirate queen!

Here’s a beautiful post, recently chosen for Freshly Pressed,by a female American professor about how living in Afghanistan at the age of 10 so deeply affected her.

Has this sort of geographic coup de foudre happened to you?

When and where?

As the traveling sketchbook show heads to Melbourne, here are some of mine…

In art, beauty, cities, culture, travel, world on June 8, 2012 at 3:15 am

This is so cool!

A library in Brooklyn has amassed an enormous collection of sketchbooks – 7,500 from 130 countries — and their books are now traveling the world, currently in Chicago. They’re on a 14-city tour, ending in Melbourne.

I love every single thing about this:

sharing ideas globally

sharing one’s art with strangers

sharing the most private and intimate place to stash your drawings.

And they’re now collecting sketchbooks for the 2013 world tour. Jump in here!

I’ve sketched all over the world on my travels.

Here (gulp) are a few of what’s in one of my sketchbooks.

Les Halles, Paris

I spent the happiest year of my life, 1982-3, living and working out of Paris, on an eight-month journalism fellowship called Journalistes en Europe. We were chosen, 28 of us from 19 countries, ages 25 to 35, to live in Paris and travel all over Europe reporting. I got to know the Les Halles area, in the 1st. arondissement, well, as the CFPJ centre nearby was at Rue du Louvre. On one of my many later visits, alone on a frigid winter’s afternoon, I did this quick sketch with a sharpie. It’s still one of my favorites. (All these images are, in life,  4 by 6 inches.)

Le Loire Dans La Theiere

Here’s a pile of photos of the place to see what it’s really like! I did this one in colored pencil. This is a great tea-room in the Marais section of Paris. The name means The Dormouse in The Teapot, a reference from Alice in Wonderland. You’ll find it at 3 rue des Rosiers in the 4th. arondissement. Everywhere I travel, I seek out a cosy tearoom. Amusez-vous bien!

Freud’s Chair, London

Did you know that Sigmund Freud lived in London after fleeing the Nazis in his native Austria in 1938? And that you can visit his home, now a museum? I’ve been to London many times, and loved seeing his chair — which is battered brown leather — and the original psychoanalytic  couch, covered in an oriental rug, that his patients lay on. His family, a talented and eccentric bunch, has very much left their mark on British culture, from his grandson, legendary painter Lucian Freud to author and Financial Times columnist Susie Boyt, his great-grand-daughter who grew up desperately wanting to be Judy Garland. I did this quick sketch in pencil.

The paddock view, Castle Athenry, Co. Galway, Ireland

For a few years, my father owned a house built in 1789 in Galway, near the town of Athenry. It was one of the loveliest places I’ve ever been lucky enough to stay. This is a watercolor I did of the view from the kitchen into the stone-walled paddock behind the house. He sold it, sadly, and it’s now a nursing home.

Sydney Harbor, Australia.

In 1998 I was crazy enough to fly alone to Sydney — 20 hours from my home in New York — with the goal of writing a book about women sailors competing in a round-the-world race. It was an insane commitment of a ton of money and when I arrived they reneged on the deal! So it became a very costly, albeit lovely holiday I would never have dared embark on otherwise. I did this watercolor from the window of my hotel room. One of the things that intrigued me most about Sydney, which you can see here, were its corrugated metal roofs.

In 1994, I spent 21 days traveling Thailand, from very north to very south. This was a temple across the street (!) from the airport in the tiny, quiet, isolated town of Mae Hong Son, in the very northern corner, near near the border with Burma. The only sound you could hear after getting out of the airport — one strip — was the bells from this temple. I walked into town from the airport, a first, and felt I had arrived in heaven. This spot remains in my top five of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever visited.

Hope you enjoyed these!

Where In The World Have You Been?

In behavior, cities, life, travel on November 21, 2011 at 1:36 am
North America - Satellite image - PlanetObserver

And yet, despite my loathing of turbulence, I live to travel.

This calendar year, so far, I’ve been to Victoria, Vancouver and Kamloops, B.C., Banff, Alberta, Toronto, D.C., Minneapolis, Peterborough (Ontario) and Chicago. In January I’ll be in Tucson and thereabouts for two weeks (while my husband teaches a photo workshop there), then go to New Orleans on the 25th to speak at a retailers’ conference.

Spoiled by years of international — i.e. off the North American continent — travel, I still have a huge jones to go somewhere, soon, they don’t speak English as a first language.

I’ve been, so far, to 37 countries, from Fiji to Turkey, Thailand to New Zealand. In 1982, I won an eight-month journalism fellowship that required (heaven!) funded solo travel on 10-day reporting trips all over Europe. I went to Denmark, England and Sicily and did an eight-day trip in a truck from Perpignan to Istanbul with a French trucker who spoke not a word of English.

Some favorites, so far, include:

the Coromandel coast of New Zealand

Melbourne

Paris

Corsica (nice piece in a recent New York Times travel section; here’s my fun piece about it from The Wall Street Journal)

Mexico — Oaxaca, Cuernavaca, Patzcuaro, Acapulco, Taxco, Merida, Queretaro

Ko Phi Phi and Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Galway

Savannah, Georgia

The Banff Springs Hotel in Banff, Alberta.

High on the list of places I’m eager to visit:

Argentina, Morocco, Laos, Berlin, northern Brazil, the Hebrides, Jordan, Lebanon, Mongolia. And repeat visits to Paris, London, Italy, Corsica and many others…

Where are you dying to go, and why?

What have been your favorite trips, and why?

Here’s a gorgeous blog written by a woman as enamored of world travel (and a fellow New Yorker) as I.

The World’s Ten Best Airports

In business, cities, design, travel on August 27, 2010 at 12:53 pm
Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris
Charles de Gaulle airport. Image via Wikipedia

Pack, rush, stand, wait, take off shoes. Flying, so much fun.

Do you notice the airports you travel through? Here’s a recent list of the world’s top 10, which includes Paris Charles de Gaulle (which, built in 1974, looks like a cartoon idea of the future with all its tubes) and Rio’s domestic airport and Dulles, in D.C.

Here’s my top 10:

1) Santa Barbara, California. Tiny, red-tile-roofed. There are pool houses larger. Charming, cute, feels like vacation.

2) Mae Hong Son, Thailand. The only sound you hear is that of temple bells from the Buddhist temple across the street. The only airport I’ve ever flown into where you can walk right into town.

3) Vancouver. The architecture is spectacular — lots of glass, waterfalls, totem poles inside and out. One of the very few airports that actually makes specific reference to where you’ve just landed. The approach is also fantastic — the Rockies, the ocean, not to mention all the huge log booms on the water. I also love their use of YVR as its name — every Canadian airport code starts with Y. (YUL is Montreal, YYZ is Toronto. Go figure.)

4) Seattle. Think about it — when do you ever notice, in a good way, what’s at your feet? I’ve flown through this airport a few times and marveled at what lovely materials they chose for the flooring. Not to mention the inlaid bronze salmon inserted randomly. One of whom carries a briefcase.

5) Toronto Island Airport. You can wing into this one if you fly Porter Air from Newark. It’s set on a small island from which you take a ferry for about 1 minute, then a ten-minute taxi ride to downtown. The best way to see Toronto’s dramatic skyline.

6) Cuzco, Peru. OK. I admit it. I remember nothing of the airport but my immense, weeping gratitude that I saw it at all, after a hairy, scary descent on Faucett Air. (now defunct.) Think of a sewing machine needle threading up and down through cloth. That was us, trying to find a clear bit of air between many large mountains.

7) Shannon, Ireland. I love any airport that immediately gives me a strong sense of place. Landing in the west of Ireland, you look down over an impossibly beautiful patchwork of green, hundreds of small fields ringed by low stone walls.

8) Bastia, Corsica. Like Galway and Mae Hong Son, the landscape is at the edge of the airport. I remember seeing sheep within a few hundred yards of the runways.

9) Charles de Gaulle, Paris. Although many hate it, it is saturated with happy memories for me from my year living in Paris on a fellowship. From there, I flew out, or back, from Montserrat, England, Istanbul. I loved that CDG became “my” airport. Easy access to central Paris on the RER.

10) Westchester, New York. My home airport. It’s impossibly crowded but small and easy to get in and out of. I love that we walk across tarmac into the planes. You can sit in the restaurant and watch planes taking off and landing. I love being able to get to an airport in 20 minutes.

What are your favorites and why?

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Where Do You Want To Go (Next?)

In travel on September 26, 2009 at 9:37 am
Beach sunset in Cuba.

Image via Wikipedia

This photo is taken in Cuba. My Dad, (who like me has a Canadian passport so we could visit easily enough), keeps trying to get me to go cycling there with him. He’s 80, went a few years back, loved it. I admit, though, it’s not highest on my list, but I do still share his insatiable lust for travel. My mom traveled the world alone for many years and savors memories I still dream of acquiring. She saw the Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan before the Taliban blew them to smithereens and has touched down in Nauru. She taught me to wedge a chair beneath my doorhandle when staying in a dodgy hotel, just in case. When I was in college and she roamed the globe, I’d see her once a year, imported to wherever she was then — Fiji, Cartagena, Peru, Costa Rica.

When I was two, Mom and Dad took the backseat out of their car and drove from Vancouver, my birthplace, to Mexico, a country I’ve lived in, been to many times and love. No wonder I’m happiest on the road!

Today’s New York Times includes in their travel magazine the news that many travelers, with tighter budgets and perhaps craving the familiar in rough times, are returning to old stand-bys like London or Tuscany. As someone whose shelves bulge with travel books and guides, whose Times Atlas, passport and green card are some of my most precious possessions, I spend a lot of time dreaming of the next trip. I’ll be going to Atlanta in three weeks for three days, for a board meeting, a new-to-me city. After that, Toronto (hometown) for Christmas, then Tucson and New Mexico for vacation in January.

When I have more income and time, I’ll head for some more places on my list: Argentina and Patagonia; the South Sea Islands, Jordan and Lebanon; Norway, Finland, Iceland, Estonia; Morocco; The Magdalen Islands and Gros Morne National Park. My sweetie, a Buddhist, is desperate to get to Tibet and would love to see Ireland (which I’ve been to, luckily, four times.) I won’t return (sorry if these are your faves) to: Austin, (the Times raves about it, again, today) Salt Lake City, Orlando, Cabo San Lucas.

My top 10, so far: the tiny northern town of Mae Hong Son, Thailand; the island of Ko Phi Phi, Thailand; Galway City; Paris; London; Peru; Corsica; Tunisia [Tunis' Bardo Museum has one of the world's best mosaic collections]; Istanbul, Stockholm.

Where do you want to go next? What are some of your favorite places and why?

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