travel


I can claim no service for myself, but my dad was a Marine for 30 years. He fought through the Pacific campaign in WW II and the Inchon Basin in Korea. Tough, bloody campaigns. He was one of the kindest, most thoughtful, and gentlest men I’ve ever known. That wasn’t necessarily the case when he was on duty. That was Business, and a different thing altogether. But we rarely saw that side of him, and never directed at us, only at fools.

I remember one time when my apartment was broken into and Mom and Dad came over to wait with me until the police arrived. When the LAPD showed up, Dad (who never forgot a face of anyone he served with) said to one of the cops, “You were once one of my Marines, weren’t you?” The cop acknowledged that Tom had been his gunney sergeant many years before. Mom, who only knew gentle Tom, said, “But I bet he was much nicer than those guys usually are.” The policeman looked a little embarrassed, but then he smiled and said, “M’am, in my experience, gunneys are never nice.” My dad laughed so hard.

But it proved a point. Being a badass when it’s required to get you through a tough situation is appropriate and will help keep you and those around you alive. But it doesn’t mean you have to carry that badassery with you everywhere you go or use it as an excuse to lash out. There was still room in Tom’s soul to be kind, thoughtful, and gentle.

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This reminds me so much of Temple Church which we visited in Cornwall. It was also built by the Templars. It’s not just the style of the church—which I understand was a pretty standard Templar construction (they built them all over), but the peaceful little green valley that it was built into. They chose their spots well.

Full URL: https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/temple/temple/index.html


Temple Church, Cornwall

I’m not a Christian, but this was a genuinely holy spot. There was peace that surpasseth all. Some churches are like that, usually in quiet, out of the way spots. Others are merely hollow shells.

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Don’t let anybody tell you any different: trolls exist in both sexes. From a female POV it may just seem like they’re all male, and maybe the preponderance are (I have no objective evidence to prove it one way or another), but trolls definitely swing both ways.

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I have good taste. I know because Pinterest is always telling me so.

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It’s rare when something lives up to its hype, but in the case of Fleabag, it absolutely does. A wonderful series, completely unique.

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This time of year I’m always so glad that I stopped following the Dodgers years ago.

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D*mino’s: Pizza that tastes like it was made really, really fast.

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Donald Trump apparently believes that betraying our Kurdish allies and unleashing ISIS on the Middle East again will distract people from his impeachment. His usual bait-and-switch but it may backfire on him badly. Unfortunately, it also is going to kill a lot of innocent people.

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Crone

I thought I understood
but it was yet
another posture,
something not
comprehended
until skin ripples
on bones
and toes curl
walking the walk.

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From “Demolition Man,” The New Yorker, Dec. 24 & 31, 2007:

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I think everybody goes through a clueless twat phase in their life. Some of us do it in our teens and twenties, some much later in life, but in the old days, the cluelessness was viewed by a handful of people who just shook their heads in disbelief and moved on. With the advent of the internet and so many people longing to be “influencers,” that clueless is often on display for the whole world to see and has the potential of haunting you for the rest of your life.

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I think Trump’s Syria move may be an attempt to have a safe haven in Turkey when he flees the U.S. legal system. A back-up plan to Russia.

I am an American, which is a complex thing. I know how some of us act in the world, and sometimes that makes me cringe in shame. I want to tell the world, “We’re not all like that.” But that’s a complex thing, too, because sometimes, in some moments, there is something in the American psyche which makes many of us go from 1 to 60 on the boorish scale in less than a second. Where does that American rage and boorishness come from? It’s entitlement, of course. I think it’s mostly a white middle to upper class thing. But sometimes even that’s a complex thing, an exercise in finger-pointing that no one, it seems, is completely immune to.

Some of us try hard not to be like that. I’m fortunate that I came from the lower classes, didn’t grow up thinking the world and everything in it was mine by right. Doesn’t mean I don’t snap sometimes and go into boorish mode. I’m human. And I’m American. And I’m white. But I’m always deeply ashamed and apologetic afterwards, so I try really hard not to go there—so I can live more comfortably with myself if nothing else.

I’ve been thinking about my last trip to England, in 2004. I’d been aware for some time how badly some of us acted overseas. So much so that if anyone asked if I was American, I would sometimes lie and say I was Canadian. It’s possible some rare Canadians act boorishly overseas, but I think it’s got to be much, much rarer than with Americans.

On that 2004 trip, there were three of us middle-aged ladies traveling together, and inevitably, inevitably whenever we overheard someone whining or complaining or acting childish in general, that person had an American accent. We decided we would go out of our way to be the polar opposite in every dealing we had with locals. This was about a year after the bombing of Baghdad and Bush’s invasion of Iraq, so Americans were even more unpopular at the time. Most people were decent to us, especially when we poured on the charm offensive, or when we voiced our own deep opposition to what Bush had done, but some were barely polite.

As I pondered all this, it occurred to me that Donald Trump is the Ugly American Made Flesh. He is the ultimate of loud-mouthed, ill-informed, corrupt entitlement boors. He is all American sins made manifest, a tulpa created from the worst instincts of the worst aspects of the American psyche, a thought-form embodying the American shadow. We made this tulpa—even those of us who would rather pretend to be Canadian. We allowed him to be elected, even those of us who voted for someone else. The 2016 election was the very embodiment of American arrogance and rage. How could we expect to have better candidates when we were all pulling so hard against each other? When we were all sunk so deep in our own arrogance that screamed, “My way or no way at all”?

Donald Trump isn’t just the worst president in American history, he is a reckoning for the American psyche, a lesson I believe we have failed to learn. Oh yes, he may (or may not) be on the ropes now, and good people are working hard to block him and bring him down, but have we truly learned anything from the last terrible years? I can’t say that I see it. Greed and arrogance and entitlement and “my way or no way” still abound. Americans have never been particularly good at self-knowledge, deep examination of our own souls, or acknowledging and working with the shadow. We’re still in denial. I fear we have learned nothing.

The ugly American lives on.

Random quote of the day:

“The utopian technologists foresee a future for us in which distance is annihilated and anyone can transport themselves anywhere, instantly. Big deal, Buckminster. To be everywhere at once is to be nowhere forever, if you ask me.”

—Edward Abbey, “Walking,” The Journey Home

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Key and Peele, Celine Dion, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Green Men are found in many cultures. They are commonly a symbol of rebirth and regeneration, the spring greening that inevitably follows the dying of winter. I’m fascinated with them. I have two of them, one in the back yard garden near the peach tree:

IF

The lovely lady to the left of him is the Roman goddess Flora, and the lady on the right is simply named Ivy. The man himself is cast iron and ages gracefully, rusting in interesting patterns.

I also have a Green Man inside:

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He’s smaller, also made of metal, but I doubt he’s copper as the green of him suggests. I believe the “aging” on this one is artificial—but I still think he’s rather cool. I’d have more Green Men if I had the space and money (so it’s probably a good thing I don’t). I like the ones with serious and slightly sinister expressions, and I like them to be made of serious natural materials like metal, not these comical cast resin ones that you see here and there and everywhere (though I admit, Flora and Ivy are cast resin). Why am I so fascinated with these Green Man images?

I’m a city girl, born and raised. If I want to get in touch with Serious Nature, I have to drive quite a ways out of town, and when I was a kid we never left town, unless it was to drive to Pomona for the county fair or to Disneyland in Anaheim. There wasn’t enough money for anything else, nor any time and inclination with my parents working hard. It just wasn’t in the program. As a consequence, I was 18 before I ever went on a real vacation, and as for nature spots? Mom didn’t see much sense in going places where you had to sleep on the ground and cook over campfires. She’d had enough of that “nonsense” in her roughing-it country girl days and found no romance in the experience. Why would any sensible human being want to give up modern conveniences?

So I grew up having to take nature where I found it. Fortunately, back in the olden days of Los Angeles, there still existed patches of it here and there. An immense vacant lot existed on my block on Fourth Avenue in Venice, for one. (It is now a public storage facility.) For another, my father planted a magical garden every year, a place of communion and nourishment. (I’ll discuss that another time, in The Green Man, Part II.) Occasionally, I got to visit my older brother in the Santa Monica mountains, where my nieces and nephews (all mostly older than me) would lead me on fantastical trips over the hill and through the woods following streams…until we popped out of the rough onto the manicured lawns of the Bel Air Country Club golf course. Then we’d hightail it back into the woods. These things were extremely important to me, as were long walks on the beach, about five blocks west of where we lived.

I loved the beach best when it was cold and rainy, partly because the things that drifted up on shore—the glass, the driftwood, the truly odd and puzzling things, were more interesting and less picked over by other beach walkers. Mostly, though, it was because I could walk there on cold days without much interference from other people, thinking my thoughts, communing with the vast rolling heart of the sea, feeling the chill pierce me to the bones. That chill always felt purifying rather than cold. I could not return from those walks with any black spots in my spirit. The wind off the sea blew them all away and gave me bliss in return.

That garden and that vacant lot saved my sanity during childhood; those walks along the sea saved my adolescence. Nature, my small neighborhood version of it, never failed to renew me. That, I think, is part of why I am so fascinated with the symbolic representation of nature: I want to recapture, to remind myself, of that need for renewal, that need to physically get out and get in touch with something green and greater than the mere mortal.

In my twenties I went on long hikes in the Angeles Crest. It’s a great, sprawling wilderness within easy driving distance of Los Angeles. Some of it, like Dart Canyon, is at a low enough elevation that on smoggy L.A. days the bad air penetrates them. You have to hike higher up if you want to avoid the city pollution. But on lovely, clear days Dart Canyon is a enchanted place, with maple and sycamore trees, waterfalls, the ruins of cabins and of a lodge destroyed in a great destructive flood in the 1930s. Higher up, there’s pine forest, ski summits, abandoned mines, and scrambling over big boulders to cross streams.

Those hikes were literally peak experiences for me: cleansing, renewing, exhilarating.

My favorite parts of any vacation, whether in this country or another, have been those times when I get into the countryside, touch the green, listen to the birds, feel the wind sweep through my spirit and blow away the black clouds. Nature is my touchstone.

These days—and in the long years of caregiving—that touchstone is mostly limited to the back yard. There wasn’t much time for anything else when Mom was alive; these days I still seem to be decompressing from that experience, trying to recoup my energy and my creativity. I’m far enough away from the beach that I’d have to drive, find parking, and my legs…no.

But the funny thing is, it doesn’t really take Grand Nature for me to get that sense of renewal. The Green Man is alive, curling in every leaf and bud; his skin is easy beneath my palm in the smooth trunk of my peach tree; he dances in the swaying branches of the white willow that volunteered to grow in my yard. All I have to do is sit for a few minutes, enclosed by walls and trees and wildish overgrown patches, listening to the birds, smelling peach blossoms, feeling the earth and grass under my bare feet…and the magic still happens. I am there. He is there. I am lifted up, I am renewed. Maybe the Green Man is watching over me, I don’t know. All I know is that I am grateful.

Random quote of the day:

“There are only three things which make life worth living: to be writing a tolerably good book, to be in a dinner party of six, and to be travelling south with someone whom your conscience permits you to love.”

—Cyril Connolly, in a Daily Express symposium, quoted by Alec Waugh in “Self-Portrait – Nearing Sixty,” My Brother Evelyn & Other Profiles

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

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Entrance to West Kennet Long Barrow by Adrian Pink
(I’m afraid I have to rely on the photos of others as I’ve yet to scan my own.)

On a cold day in late September with occasional showers of rain, many years ago now, I was pretty much alone on the A4 highway driving from Marlborough towards Devizes in Wiltshire, England. I was on a solo pilgrimage across the West Country, a few days out from London, looking for a group of stones I’d read about. I got distracted by the looming site of Silbury Hill on the right hand side of the road and I passed the small sign marking West Kennet Long Barrow. I had to double back. A little red brick farmhouse sat beside the road, and next to it was a turnout large enough for maybe four cars. A metal gate led to a footpath curving around the farmhouse and into the empty fields, disappearing over a low hill. As I entered the gate a white goat in the farmyard eyed me with wary curiosity. The only other creature in sight was a man on a green tractor far, far across the golden fields harvesting the grain. I wouldn’t learn until later, much to my chagrin at missing them, that two weeks before there had been crop circles in that grain field.

Once the footpath entered the fields, it was fenced on both sides to keep the tourists from getting into the farmers’ way. It seemed to go on for miles, most of it a steady incline, but the guide book reassured me it only traversed a half mile. I couldn’t see anything remotely resembling a Neolithic barrow, just more hill and more. I began to wonder how such an invisible thing could possibly be as impressive as I’d been led to believe. Then I noticed a section of uncultivated field pop over the horizon, autumnal wild grass and field flowers that, I guessed, the farmer had missed. But only one long snake of field was overgrown, and as I drew nearer I saw a little track of fencing around it. As if the sight of the fence conjured them, the stones appeared, popping over the top of the hill.

I’d expected something grander, I thought, with starker, more clearly delineated stones. Certainly the pictures I’d seen of the barrow had been dramatic. They seemed dinky as I climbed towards them—but I was still a victim of perspective. I climbed and the barrow grew longer, larger. When I finally arrived, the gray-brown guarding stones of the entrance seemed massive.

I didn’t go inside at first, electing instead to climb on top of the barrow, and stretch things out a bit. I spent a long time up there while the chill soaked through my exertion and turned my cheeks slowly numb. A little path ran along the top where God knows how many tourists had trod before, marking out the one hundred meter length of barrow with their soles, wearing away the grass until the white chalk of Wiltshire showed through the top soil. About mid-point the barrow dipped as if it had sunk or collapsed, then rose up again before an undramatic end merging with the hillside. Little white flowers grew in tufts here and there on the barrow and beside it. I started back towards the entrance.

I thought of the ancient people who had been buried here, and was glad I had time to be alone with my thoughts and with the place. I entered the tomb. The light dimmed inside, fed only from the entrance. One long rock chamber went back about twenty feet before ending in a wall. Four alcoves fed off the main chamber, and on a stony shelf in the last of these alcoves, someone had laid some of the wildflowers from the top of the barrow. I thought I understood this act of veneration, for I felt it too—reverence and regret for the bones that had slept here for countless generations, and now sat on the shelf of a museum in Devizes.

I felt something else, too—or thought I did: the presence of the ancestors in this place, something deep, fundamental, and as quiet as the earth beneath my feet. The stones fairly vibrated with presence. I touched them to reassure myself it was only imagination that vibrated in that place. Cold, silent, solid stone, but also something that defied logic, something tiny and barely perceptible, not even strong enough to qualify as vibration. Maybe just the stones breathing, maybe just the earth spinning on its axis. Or maybe, I thought with a stubborn realization, it was the blood in my veins singing to my own ancestors in recognition. I laughed at myself, but the feeling persisted, undeniable, and it filled me with joy.

“Endorphins,” said the logical side of my brain, my explaining away standby any time I have a peak experience. But I always laugh at it, defy it, reject it.

I went back outside and took a deep breath. The chill sank in all the way to my toes, but I hardly noticed. I was really sailing high, spinning out on a line of exhilaration grounded in the earth, but stretched out at its limit. I hoped in that one perfect moment that the line would break so I could go sailing up through the black rain clouds and never, ever come down.

But I climbed back down the path, as one does. On the way down I encountered a couple speaking German to one another, an older man dressed for the excursion, and a much younger girl in stylish clothes and impractical pumps. Maybe a father forcing a recalcitrant child to the summit? She looked sullen and miserable, giving me a pleading look as I passed. What could I possibly tell her, even if there was no language barrier? I’m not sure I even smiled at her as our eyes met. I was trying too hard not to lose the moment, not to be engulfed by the world and the present tense once again.

It didn’t work. It never does. I got back on the A4, on my way to Salisbury.

Random quote of the day:

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.”

—Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 7: 1966-1974

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day: 

“Travel has no longer any charm for me. I have seen all the foreign countries I want to except heaven & hell & I have only a vague curiosity about one of those.”

—Mark Twain, letter to W. D. Howells, 20 May 1891

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“There’s a certain moment in every memorable journey, often recognized only in hindsight, when the trip you are on presents itself, and the one you thought you were taking or had planned is jettisoned. It’s then that you begin really traveling, not merely touring.”

—Andrew McCarthy, “The Longest Way Home,” National Geographic Traveler, Nov/Dec 2006

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“All the pathos and irony of leaving one’s youth behind is thus implicit in every joyous moment of travel: one knows that the first joy can never be recovered, and the wise traveler learns not to repeat successes but tries new places all the time.”

—Paul Fussell, “On Travel and Travel Writing,” The Norton Book of Travel

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Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

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