Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gibraltar behind me; North Africa ahead...

Here I am in the middle of the Straits, between Europe and Africa, sailing into Tangier as the Phoenicians did. Well, almost. On a cargo ship. We were the only passengers on board.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My journal and me...

Every journal I write and draw in takes on a character of its own. Normally I find a journal I like - leatherbound, with lines, without - and use that same journal for several years. But lately I've been given journals as gifts such as the one in this picture.

It was given to me by the wonderful students in my writer and wanderers class. They put a map of the world on the cover, made dots where they'd each been, then each did a page of original artwork and writing. It was a bon voyage gift because we were saying good-bye as a class, but I was also going off on some adventures of my own.

At first I had trouble using this journal. To me it was a precious gift, one I was afraid of damaging in some way. I'm not sure when it was - maybe on the fast train to Malaga, maybe on the ferry to Morocco. Or many right here at the Cafe Centrale at the medina in Tangier that this journal became mine.

By I know that from this moment on - this cup of coffee, this morning of writing and drawing - I lived inside this book as I have on almost every journey I've ever taken. I can't call them trips. Trips are something else - they seem shorter and planned. When people say "have a good trip," the assumption is that you're going to actually arrive in a specific place. But a journey. Ulysses went on a journey. Gulliver, Ismael. These were all journeys. They are open-ended. There is room for error.

I don't think I've ever taken a trip in my life. I've lived in the detours and the surprises. Nothing planned has ever mattered to me that much in the end. It's always the unanticipated that I love.

So this journal. It took a little while, but I lost my fear of damaging it. Of hurting it in some way.

I think it was right here that morning in Tangier after a good cup of Morccan coffee that this journal, and this journey, became mine.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

There's No Place Like Home...

I've often wondered if I clicked my ruby slippers together, where would I end up? Back in Illinois where I grew up, in Boston where I came of age, in New York where I've lived my adult life. Would it be Paris where first slept with a man, albeit a crazy Italian bakers son who marched through the Champs de Mars as 2a.m. singing the Bella Ciao partisan song or Mexico where I learned some lessons that have never left me? Rome when I became a writer? Basque Country where I dream of living?

What is home now and where is it? At times I feel badly that I really don't know. If someone said, decide. Where would I land? Where would any of us land? As I got off the plane from Iowa this weekend and watched all the travelers with their wheelies, I thought how we are all moving all the time. We are global villagers. We know how to pack, roll our luggage. We know when to power down our phones. We don't stand on docks any more with our steamer trunks and entourages.

So where is home? Where the heart is? Where we were born? In a way this picture on an Iowa crossroads, surrounded by fields, with a sign that reads "BROOKLYN" sums it up for me. Home is a series of intersections and crisscrosses and memories and all the places I've been and people I've known and loved and forgotten and lost. The animals I've seen and the foods I've tasted and the wine I've sipped. It's all the crazy things that have happened or haven't happened or I've wanted to make happen. It's a drunken night in Paris and a full moon setting in the Sahara. A sea cucumber swallowed in Beijing and a remembrance of my grandmother's brisket, tasted so many years later in Tangier. It's all the stories that have zipped through my mind; and the others that made it to paper.

I guess if someone put a gun to my head, I'd say that the Midwest is home. If I clicked my heels together, it's probably where I'd end up. But then I was just there this weekend. I gassed up at a place called Kum & Go. I drove behind a school bus, and almost rearended it, as I read its warning sign: "IT IS UNLAWFUL TO PASS THIS VEHICAL WHEN GIRLS ARE FLASHING." As I passed it, I saw that SCHOOL BUS had been painted over and "TIME WELL WASTED" was in its place.

I stopped at a rest stop outside of Des Moines. When I came back, someone had stuck a fake severed finger on my windshield. It looked very real. I hightailed it out of there fast.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


I always tell my students that if you don't know your ending go back to your beginning. Or in travelers terms given enough time and space most things will come full circle in this world.

Here's just one small instance. I met my husband, Larry, 23 years ago in Richmond, Virginia. My life was a mess, but he would not be thwarted. On our first date we drove to a theater to see Bull Durham. We always recall that night fondly. Me with my barefeet on the dash of his unairconditioned Honda or whatever it was.

Many years, many journeys later we find ourselves in Morocco where we are spending our dirhams (amused that the abbreviation for dirham for some reason is MAD which I always think means the Madrid airport which in airport jargon it does). We are spending them on food and hotels, on a rental car and trains, on a camel trek and scarves, and on a carpet we had no intention of buying, but paid for it anyway in many many dirhams, just to escape (and now I understand why people sign forced confessions. I would have signed anything to get out of there).

So we are spending our dirhams, recalling Bull Durham, and then realized that our flight home which was on a mileage ticket took us to NY via Marrakech, Madrid, London and then Raleigh-Durham where we missed our flight to JFK and had to spend four hours contemplating whatever if anything this meant in the grand scheme of things and though, exhausted and Larry in fact sick we agreed that it meant nothing there was still a certain symmtry to it all and anyway I like it when something in this world comes full circle even if it took us 24 hours to fly home.

Of course this isn't an end for us but just the start of a new beginning, but it was nice to have that layover in Raleigh-Durham to contemplate this and oh so much more...