The world is a caravanserai, with one entry and one exit… (Omar Khayyam)
(*Note. Most of my photos will be in a separate post, later today or sometime. They’re worth waiting for…)
Blogging while on the road is always being a ‘day late and a [post] short. It is Monday the 16th and today’s post or two will be from Saturday and Sunday in Bukhara. And, to prove me even more negligent, what you read will be a 2003 essay about the city written by someone else…fortunately for you the someone else is an excellent writer and wrote exactly the piece I would have wanted to …. she is Sheila O’Malley, a film critic and blogger (The Sheila Variations) https://www.sheilaomalley.com/
First though a word or two from tired me before Sheila’s smart words and my nice photos. I am so pleased that we started in Uzbekistan, a land at the very heart of religious and mercantile history with wildly and widely ranging tales of gods, greed, and great (in ways both gruesome and grand) men. Uzbekistan has a new president after 25 years of Islam Karimov and is moving full speed ahead into promoting tourism; as a consequence we have had three bright and knowledgeable young guides to get us up to travelers speed in the whys and wherefores of this most pleasant of countries.
But now I’m off to wash my socks, pay my rent from afar, and take a tiny nap before dinner and a healthy walk.
Bukhara was a medieval city-state, a very important commercial center. By the time Genghis Khan sacked the joint in 1220, Bukhara had already been around for over a thousand years. Genghis Khan laid waste to Bukhara, sparing nothing. Only minaret remained, and it still stands today. That minaret, called the Kalan minaret, was a marvel when it was constructed and it is still a marvel today. It is 148 feet high, and once was a beacon to the Silk Road caravans, letting them know that Bukhara was near.
There are bazaars in Bukhara which have been operating, nonstop, for a thousand years. There are madrassahs in Bukhara, built in the 1500s, which still have students today.
Bukhara was once seen as one of the centers of the world. There was a Sufi religious center here, built in the 1300s … a major mecca for Sufi scholars and pilgrims. Everyone passed through Bukhara, and the Silk Road helped establish Bukhara’s position as one of the premier city-states in the known world.
I don’t know much about the Samanids, but they were a dynasty in the 10th century, and under their reign, Bukhara blossomed. They built a great library here that had 45,000 manuscripts in it. The Samanids were eventually destroyed by the Mongols, everything destroyed, nothing survived of that brief great era.
An interesting fact: The Samanids had built a wall around their oasis. But during the time of prosperity, the Samanids let down their guard … they relaxed … they let the wall fall to bits, they did not maintain their wall … so when the Turkic invaders came along in 999 A.D., they easily captured the town.
First off, a quote, from Colin Thubron’s great book The Lost Heart of Asia:
Across this region, for some two thousand years, the Silk Road has nourished caravan-towns — Samarqand, Bukhara, Margilan — whose populace had spoken an Iranian tongue. The Uzbeks were latecomers, migrating south at the end of the 15th century. They took their name from a khan of the Golden Horde, for their origins were Turkic, but already their blood was mixed with Iranians’, and they added only the last layer to a palimpsest of peoples identifying themselves less by nation than by clan. On my map Uzbekistan made a multi-colored confusion. It was shaped like a dog barking at China. A country of 20 million — more than 70% of them Uzbeks — it butted against the Tienshan and the Pamir mountains in green-tinted lowlands and a sudden spaghetti of roads. But it remained an enigma: a land whose Communist rulers had persisted in power under another name, offering only lipservice to Islam, and loosening the economy without promise of democracy.
Thubron rhapsodizes about what the word “Bukhara” has always meant to him:
Bukhara! For centuries it had glimmered remote in the Western consciousness: the most secretive and fanatical of the great caravan-cities, shored up in its desert fastness against time and change. To either side of it the Silk Road had withered away, so that by the 19th century the town had folded its battlements around its people in self-immolated barbarism, and receded into fable.
So the Mongols sacked the joint in 1220, and trashed the entire town. But then along came Tamerlane the Terrible, and in the 16th century the mosques and madrassahs were rebuilt. They still stand today, but nothing older than that survives.
Once the sea route to India and to China was discovered, Central Asia was done. In a matter of 100 years, the place closed shut like a trap, forgotten by the rest of the world. Bukhara (and Samarqand, and others) fell into wretched decay. Nobody passed through. For hundreds of years, Uzbeks never saw someone from the West. The cultural exchange stopped. Technological advances stopped passing through the area. They were forgotten by history.
In 2001, when Uzbekistan let us operate from their bases (Russian-built), during our attacks on Afghanistan, that was the first time that Western soldiers had operated in this area since Alexander the Great passed through in 329 B.C. Incredible, no?
Colin Thubron, who traveled through the region during the first summer and spring of independence from Moscow, describes Bukhara’s own journey (because, like I said, Uzbekistan is not a real country yet. At least not like we would define. People in Uzbekistan, for millennia, have identified themselves as citizens of Bukhara, Samarqand, etc. Now, they are starting to identify themselves ethnically … “We are Uzbeks. Everything good comes from Uzbek culture!” So far, they do not have an identity as a coherent nation yet.) So Bukhara’s own story definitely can stand in for the whole, to some degree.
It was the failure of water, as well as conservative ferocity, which hurried on the isolation of Bukhara. The Zerafshan river, flowing 500 miles out of the Pamirs, expends its last breath on the oasis, and is withering away. To north and west the sands have buried a multitude of towns and villages which the exhausted irrigation could not save.
Even in the 19th century, the accounts of travellers were filled with ambiguity. To Moslems Bukhara was “the Noble, the Sublime”. It was wrapped round by eight miles of walls and fortified gates, and its mosques and medresehs were beyond counting. The Bukhariots, it was said, were the most polished and civilized inhabitants of Central Asia, and their manners and dress became a yardstick of oriental fashion …
Even in decline, the bazaars were rumoured magnificent, and teemed with Hindus, Persians, Jews, and Tartars.
Yet this splendour barely concealed an inner wretchedness. Men who walked abroad like kings returned at night to hovels. The city gates and walls were a gimcrack theatre-set, and the famed medresehs in decay … Ordinary people seemed inured to cruelty and subterfuge. Scarcely a Westerner dared enter before the 1870s.
The decline had begun in earnest during the end of the 18th century. And in the 19th century, there were two vicious and degenerate emirs who were brutal, and terrifying. Their behavior alienated them from their own people. The discontent and anger of the citizens of Bukhara made it relatively easy for the Russians to sweep in in the mid-1800s, and reduce Bukhara to a client state. This was part of the famous “Great Game”, played by Russia and England in the middle of Central Asia.
Here’s a passage about the czarist triumph:
In all their Central Asian wars, between 1847-73, the Russians claimed to have lost only 400 dead, while the Moslem casualties mounted to tens of thousands.
The ensuing years brought the ambiguous peace of subservience. The czarist Russians, like the Bolsheviks after them, were contemptuous of the world which they had conquered. They stilled the Turcoman raids and abolished slavery, at least in name, but they entertained few visions of betterment for their subjects. As for the Moslems, who could stoically endure their own despots, the tyranny of the Great White Czar insulted them by its alien unbelief. “Better your own land’s weeds,” they murmured, “than other men’s wheat.”
Yet there would come a time when they would look back on the czarist indifference as a golden age.
In 1918, Mahomet Alim, the last emir of Bukhara, repulsed the (now) Red Invaders, booting out the Bolsheviks. This wasn’t altogether a great thing for the people of Bukhara because the last emir was a tyrannical lunatic, with a massive harem, who sent tax collectors out to basically terrorize the populace. He wasn’t a great guy. But he did defeat the Russians. However, 2 years later, in 1920, as General Frunze, in the Red Army, advanced again on the oasis, the last emir flipped out, and fled with his harem, leaving the populace to fend for themselves.
And then followed six decades of communism. Stalin closed down all the mosques. He criminalized private property, and entrepreneurship … Uzbekistan was crushed beyond repair. They have still not recovered.
The story of what has happened to the Aral Sea is one of the most disturbing and devastating legacies left by the Russians. It has been described as “the world’s greatest environmental disaster”. It makes me sick to my stomach.
Thubron again, on strolling through the ancient bazaars in the early 1990s:
A hesitant free enterprise was surfacing, but the inflation raging through the old Soviet empire had turned everyone poor. Sad traders peered from their kiosks like glove-puppets, or threaded the bazaars with a predatory vigilance. But they had almost nothing to sell. Once the name ‘Bukhara’ had been synonymous with lustrous dyed silks and the crimson rugs of the Turcomans who traded here, and carpets of Persian design were woven on domestic looms all over the city. But under Stalin, home industries became criminal. Mass production laid a dead hand on all the old crafts. I trudged through the market quarter until dark, but found no trace of handmade silk or rug.
Nobody alive today can know what the ancient Bukhara was like. It’s lost. Lost for good.
I can see why everyone refers to the oasis as “monochromatic”. Everything is the color of chalk.
If you take a look at the lower left picture, you will see the old city gate, which still stands. Part of the remaining wall that has always surrounded the oasis. And the top left, the emir’s summer palace, is the residence of the last emir who flew the coop when he was threatened by Frunze. He and all his many many many lovely ladies. Additionally, in the last post I talked about the Kalyan minaret, erected in 1127, the only surviving structure from Genghis Khan’s attack in 1220. It is 148 feet high, and actually kind of homely, in my opinion, but there was a time on this planet, when that minaret (pictured in the right hand column, second photo down) was as famous a sight as the Eiffel Tower. I have never seen the Eiffel Tower but I know exactly what it looks like. The camel caravans on the Silk Road kept their eyes open for that minaret, knowing exactly what it would look like, counting on it to be there.
Oh, and also notice the bottom right hand picture: the Ulugh Beg madrassah. He was the grandson of Tamerlane, who took over the empire after his grandfather’s death. But Ulugh Beg was a scientist, an astronomer … and actually, quite brilliant. He built observatories and sponsored scientists visiting Bukhara. He wanted the place to be a cultural center, not just a hotbed of fanaticism, and a place to rest in between military ventures and wars. The madrassah you see in the picture was completed in 1420. It was one of the places shut down by Stalin, but now it is open again, and filled with students.
I am a little afraid of what they may be learning in there these days (“And today’s lesson … Americans are Satan.” “Don’t forget to do your homework … write an essay on why you think the Zionists are taking over the world.”), but still: the Ulugh Beg madrassah is an amazing structure, and actually was built by quite an enlightened and educated man. A curious man.
So perhaps that legacy will rub off. I can only hope.
I found some descriptive quotes of Bukhara in Thubron’s book that I wanted to share. It makes me feel as though I can see this famous city with my own eyes. Which is, after all, why I read all of these historical travelogues. I want to see the world. And not just Paris or Rome, although I’d love to go there, too. The places I really want to see are the so-called backwaters of Central Asia and the Middle East. Samarqand, Bukhara, Shiraz (in Iran), the Fergana Valley (in Kyrgyzstan), Herat (in Afghanstan)… all of Alexander the Great’s old hangouts.
Thubron strolls through Bukhara:
…I entered a dust-filled wasteland fringed by a pale host of mosques and medresehs. The din and pall of restoration shook the air. The earth dazzled. The buildings glared in a blank, shadowless uniformity. Dressed in cement-colored brick, they had not the rich plenitude of the tiled mosques of Iran, but were patterned only sparsely with a glaze of indigo or green. For the rest, they were the color of the earth beneath them: a dead platinum. It was as if the dust had hardened into walls and turrets and latticed windows. Everything– even the clay-colored sky — shone with the same bleached stare.
But above, in radiant atonement, hovered a tumult of turquoise domes. Beyond the high gateways and iwans — the great vaulted porches– they swam up from their drums like unearthly fruit, and flooded the sky with the heaven-sent blue of Persia. From a distance they seemed to shine in unified aquamarine, but in fact the tiles which coated them were subtly different from one another, so that they spread a vibrant, changing patina over every cupola: eggshell, kingfisher, deep sapphire.
These mosques and medresehs were mostly raised by the successors of Tamerlane or by the 16th century Sheibanids, the first and most glorious Uzbek dynasty that succeeded them. Little that is older survives…
The blanched aridity all around oppressed me inexplicably, as though the city were dying instead of being restored. Even the dust seemed to have been leached by some ghostly peroxide. But in fact Bukhara was being resurrected indiscriminately: walls rebuilt shoddily en masse, tilework reproduced wholesale. Work had started in the Soviet period, but events had overtaken it, and the mosques which had been reconstituted cold in the service of art or tourism were stirring again with a half-life of their own.
The following descriptive passage is also very interesting because it captures what appears to be the inherent contradictions not only in Bukhara but in all of Uzbekistan. They don’t really fit in with the rest of Central Asia … they are not homogenous, they practice Islam but with elements of shamanism and Sufism, they don’t subscribe to fundamentalism (at least not yet) … They try to resist being sucked into the issues plaguing Afghanistan, the civil war next door in Tajikstan, the tyrannical dictatorship in Turkmenistan next door … They are a milder people. But this struggle is difficult. Very difficult. Because, of course, there are many radical elements in the populations. There are millions of Uzbeks who do not live in Uzbekistan proper, who live in Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, China, Tajikstan … and these people bring home radicalism, fanaticism.
Thubron discusses the glorious Renaissance that Bukhara experienced in the10th century, a great era of art and literature, and although it was back in the Middle Ages, the tensions he describes in the society still exist, and still simmer beneath the surface.
He visits “The Tomb of the Samanids”, a 10th century mausoleum that stands on the outskirts of the city.
The tomb is all that survives of the precocious Samanid dynasty, the last Persians to rule in Central Asia, whose empire pushed south of the Caspian and deep into Afghanistan. The tomb escaped the Mongol sack because it lay buried under windblownsands, its builders half forgotten, and it perhaps finds its architectural origins in the palaces and fire-temples of pre-Islamic times. But its sophistication — the lavish, almost playful deployment of its brick — betrays an age more daring, more intellectual, than any which succeeded it.
For over a hundred years, until the end of the 10th century, a creative frenzy gripped the capital. Alongside the moral austerity of Islam, there bloomed an aesthetic Persian spirit which looked back to the magnificence and philosophic liberalism of the Sassanian age, extinguished by the Arabs more than two centuries before. As the Silk Road spilt into and out of Bukhara — furs, amber and honey travelling east; silks, jewellry and jade going west — the Samanids sent horses and glass to China, and received spices and ceramics in exchange.
An era of peace brought men of letters and science crowding to the court, and the Persian language flowered again in a galaxy of native poets. It was an ebullient age. Iranian music, painting and wine flourished heretically alongside Koranic learning, and the great library of Bukhara, stacked with 45,000 manuscripts,became the haunt of doctors, mathematicians, astronomers, and geographers.
The short era produced men of striking genius: the polymathic al-Biruni, who computed the earth’s radius; the lyric poet Rudaki; and the great Ibn Sina, Avicenna, who wrote 242 scientific books of stupefying variety, and whose ‘Canons of Medicine’ became a vital textbook in the hospitals even of Christian Europe for 500 years.
I’ll be back.
The Silk Road” is a series of interconnected trade routes linking Asia and Europe, consisting of a network of caravan routes running from China across Central Asia to the shores of the Mediterranean. Its starting point was the ancient Chinese capital of Chang’an (modern Xi’an) in China; the endpoints were a number of cities on the Eastern Mediterranean. Some of its branches ran into South Asia, while others ended at Caspian or Black Sea ports. Among the modern countries traversed by the various routes are China, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. (http://www.silkroadencyclopedia.com)
The map of the world is drawn by travelers and nomads. Built into it are steps, nights and days, stations and encounters.
By (Jasna Horvat-Vilijun)
9/13/19 (I think). At this very moment in time, it is 5am in the heart of Bukhara, an ancient silk route city. I would share profound thoughts about the history of this part of the world and how meaningful it is to all of mankind but it’s been a hard night. In this most charming of mostly-ancient habitations called Komil Bukhara Boutique Hotel in this most perfectly autumnal of travel seasons, there are challenges; true, they are insignificant and unworthy of mention by a serious traveler, but right now I feel quite put upon…but then, even as I wrote that, all crankiness dissipated—what a relief…my travel bona fides are still working—the ones that know that small stomach disturbances, unpredictable air conditioners and fitbit withdrawal (changing time zones by eleven hours has rendered fitbit a confused insecure undependable travel companion) are of zero consequences in the scheme of things. Please dear goddess of Travel Crones let me never be a churlish American in my waning years of globe trotting (perhaps trotting should better be pictured as slow-walking).
Since I’ll have little time to write today here’s the quick-and-dirty report from day-before-yesterday in Tashkent. . outline to which fascinating (sometimes you just have to be there though) tidbits can be added as time and the desire to edit permit.
Back to Day One: Arrival after roughly thirty hours, portal (Scott’s house) to portal (the Sharq hotel) in Tashkent. City tour. Perfect decision. Forced us to face and conquer jet lag early on. I liked Tashkent for its broad boulevards, cleanliness, greenery, and mix of architectural eras from drably-grand Soviet to bright and shiny modern—all information well stated in the travel guides. This is the point at which I would so like to drop in a pithy observation from an honored silk-road scribe but I can’t remember exactly what from the shelf of books I acquired over the last couple of years for this very journey I should use. When the Uzbekistan chapter of Window Seat is written the perfect quote will be here. But here are a few photos to get us to Day Two and the train to and brief walk about and first sleep-over in Bukhara. I’ll possibly be more eloquent tonight…soon.
A small update. It’s two days later and we are off on the afternoon train to Samarkand. Too much looking and walking and talking and eating and sleeping with Scott and Lace to get very much writing in…doesn’t matter if there are photos though does it? Here then is a quick look at Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
…and sorry, the serious travel blogging won’t start until the next post. This one’s all about me and September’s bout of angst…travel angst in this case. I promise next post there will be photos of plov.
Tuesday morning. Practically packed. New city walking shoes (Tashkent), big warm sweatshirt coat-like thing (plane), books (everywhere). Flight to Istanbul leaves this evening from LAX, change planes with a few hours layover, then on to Tashkent. Love to write that…
So this is my big birthday trip, ‘celebrating’ the day last spring when I ‘got old.’ My bro, sons and a granddaughter purchased this ticket and now two of them will do the heavy lifting on this trip. No, I do not mean carrying my bags or helping me up the stairs…I mean finding the right cab and knowing when to turn left on the way to the museum. I am fine at dealing with big planning stuff and, thanks to my gym, okay with lifting bags into overhead and squatting to pee, it’s just those small but essential details like directions back to the hotel or which cafe OR… slightly bigger…the energy and will to (ad)venture forth every day …after all who would know if I just skipped ‘traveling’ this one time and stayed in bed with a good book! (which, Bad Marj, I’ve been known to do now and then).
This trip is also a keeping-in-travel-shape exercise so that muscle and brain don’t lose too much journey-strength before the giant 2020 African Thelma&Louise-ish odyssey with Celia and a varied cast of characters. It’s like going to the gym…if you skip your daily/weekly/yearly regimen your important parts will atrophy. With travel the most important ‘part’ is probably curiosity with will and energy running closely behind.
Scott and Lace are putting in last mornings at work, Scott at his lab and Lace at the dining room table. Me…well I’m putting in a last few hours making lists of stuff I must do upon my return. It’s what I do best…make lists. Later then…Now we’re off…where IS that wizard?
Thursday. 4pm in Albuquerque, 3pm Friday morning in Tashkent (I think). Hotel room, can’t sleep since already did that from 6pm to midnight. Catching up here in order to post first Tashkent musings before the adventures become too exciting/exhausting. So far this trip is proceeding according to plan. It was a 12-hour flight on Turkish Airlines, LAX to here. Excellent food (for the first time on an airline within living memory—well, I do remember a few great moments with chewy baguettes in Air France but they probably stopped doing that about 2009). But today, tender flaky white fish and butterly-rich mashed potatoes. Squash, fresh salad, moist carrot cake…only the dry roll disappointed. Breakfast of juicy scrambled eggs, grilled tomatoes, nice cheese, fruit. Turkish would be my new favorite airline except for the cramped, oh-so-cramped, seating space. I know that’s the norm…but this seemed to go above and beyond…be even more-claustrophobic than the average. And…to continue this gripping travel doc…the plane was actually warm…almost too…and I was prepared for the worst with a backpack of fleece pants, that giant sweatshirt and brand-new REI wool socks. Hopefully it will snow at least once in the Tajik mountains so Scott and Lace will stop making fun of me.
I am so confused this damnably difficult birthday year. Travel for example. My love. Still my love…but now there’s an additional burden beyond time and money. There’s ‘can I do it?’ As in who am I? A traveler who can scale tall buildings…conquer snowy peaks…eat Mopani worms…? I have always been half intrepid, half bumbling; strong and brave enough to stumble through the awkward situations in which I put myself—sometimes just barely. On this trip, I should practice being the new me.
This is the new travel me. I accept help gracefully—from food advice to lifting heavy bags; no pretending I know all or can do it all myself. I’m a sweet thoughtful little old lady (in way above-average tennis shoes). On the other hand, like all those blue-jeaned hiking-booted elders wandering the mountains and trails of northern Europe, I’m tough enough to carry my own weight, fight my own battles, find my own new local delicacy (I found the rotted shark restaurant didn’t I?). Can you see why I’m having a hard time settling in on my new persona? How to be both is the question. But I’m sure I can do it with some smoothing of the edges, tweaking of the attitude, enough coffee and good drugs.
Hey, I’m in Tashkent, Uzbekistan with a couple of my favorite people in the world. I can relax and enjoy the view.
So complain about that you big dummy.
My grandson Steven and Ashley, his best buddy and true love of several years, were married on June 6th in front of San Diego’s City Hall. The event was followed by a scrumptious family dinner at the bride’s parents’ home and a most lavish and lively reception for the rest of the world the following day. There…you have the outline of two beautifully significant days in the history of the Yang-Halsey and Klotzback (Magalong and Neset) families. The first of my grandchildren to be married. And, while I’m not a totally-convinced fan of the ‘institution’ of marriage, as I watched these two bright and bold, loyal and joyful young people enter its precincts…I admit to being both thrilled and moved.
There’s another reason for my excitement and pride: this union really does represent the world the way it should be. Steven and Ashley bring together the Middle East, Asia, and Europe in love and respect and dancing and seriously good food. Then as we add extended family and friends the rest of the world joins in the party…Africa, Latin America, Native America. And the frosting is surely the large representation of strong independent women (starting in no small way with the bride!), and our extended family of differing abilities and diverse sexual orientations. We are multi-everything, I am most happy to report.
Here’s the story starting when the father of the groom picks me up at the airport and we share a fish taco at Mitch’s on the waterfront.
Next morning. Picture-taking time AND THE CEREMONY.
September 7, 2019: And we gather for the Party.
Time to PARTY.
The Party’s over … but a good time was had by all …
An important rite of summer is cousin-visiting: Audrey in Minnesota and Vivian in South Dakota. Up on the Canadian border with Audrey I indulge in piece after piece of walleye. Down in Sioux Falls with Vivian I eat dumpling after dumpling—perfect dumplings: solid and chewy like mom used to make–none of those fluffy Bisquick kind of fake-dumplings.
Vivian’s my cousin on mom’s side and, since she’s a little older, I’ve known her and hung out with her my whole long life. And, except for her rare trips to Minnesota or New Mexico, our visits have been in the house where she grew up just off Cliff Avenue in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Our moms cooked the same foods, basic farm food with a Swedish twist from Grandma Magnhild who grew up in rural Jamtland, Sweden. The second best (lefse being the first) of all foods is the chicken and dumpling dish as made regularly by the Floren girls, Ovidia and Mable, and passed on to only one of the cousins.
Here it is: Boil a big fat hen with carrots and onions. When the meat is about to fall from the bone, take it out of the broth and transfer to a frying pan where a goodly amount of sizzling butter greets it. Brown. Cover with rich milk or cream, season with salt, pepper and allspice and gently simmer. Meanwhile make dumplings with lots of flour and eggs and milk and salt. Drop tablespoons full into broth. Two large bowl go to the table: one of dumplings in rich chickeny broth and the other for chicken in cream. That’s all. Nothing more. No veggies, salad, or dessert. If you must have bread and butter, well that’s acceptable. Food of the gods. At least of the Nordic gods.
I’m a little fearful on my visits these days. When siblings or cousins or good friends live far apart and we’re old, how long long can we expect to make these journeys of fun and affection and memories? That is the question…for which of course there is no good answer.
Proper visits include as many family members as possible. Even those long ago moved to the peaceful old Pioneer Cemetery.
The epic-travel year of 2019 is more than half over in numbers of trips taken—if not in miles to go. San Diego and the Bay Area; Grand Rapids, International Falls, St. Paul, Minnesota; Montreal, Quebec Canada; Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Done. The more exotic destinations (Samarkand, Uzbekistan and Dover, Delaware for example) still to go. Remember this was the year of ‘sentimental journeys’. So how am I doing so far, I ask myself?
First a check-in as to whether the thrill of the ‘road’ has dimmed? If the shine is off that point ahead where the tracks merge or the wheels meet the runway? If the excitement of sighting the next ‘Welcome to Someplace New’ sign has dropped a level? Perhaps? Well, honestly…yes. But not so very much. It’s more like how bipolar friends describe the effect of medications on their highs and lows; the mood swings are tamped down—the elation that makes you want to go skipping down the road singing the high notes goes by the wayside in order to avoid the doom and gloom of depression. So—ready for the good news—age has the same effect. It’s not really a bad thing…who needs misery …but if you’re an obsessive traveler you do miss that earlier ecstasy of experiences like first sightings of the Sahara Desert or the Ganges!
But my 2019 travel is dedicated to family, friends, and memories as much as places. And here are moments to remember (wasn’t that a song back in the day…). Champagne at the top of Black Mountain with my two fine sons; slothing while “Killing Eve” with Teresa in the Bay; the sheer pleasure of friendships discovered, renewed, enjoyed in Minnesota; the sense of safety and tradition in lazy days with Robert and Marsha (and the burning-of-the-journals ritual up in the north woods); testing the crepes of Montreal with Patricia; and now sitting here writing in the little house on Van Eps Street in Sioux Falls, where I’ve been coming since I was a year old, while my cousin busies about the kitchen making the chicken and dumpling recipe from our Swedish Grandma Strom (Floren). Doesn’t sound like a bad few months’ work does it?
I’ve posted extensively about California, Minnesota and Montreal/Quebec City visits. Next up a photo album of South Dakota. Now however I am adding a small piece about friendship, the long-distance kind, because that’s part of what this summer’s travel has been about and will continue to commemorate. I always worry about sentimentality whenever I’m writing—a style I generally dislike in all writing (and art of any genre). But I ask for your patience as, in these pages about friendship, I veer a ways onto that mushily-trodden ground.
I’ve mentioned how pleasing it was to meet up with art friend Jordan in San Diego and lapse into conversation as easily as if it hadn’t been several years since our last meeting. Picking up on our semi- or total obsessions with dance and travel and moving right back into the competition of who gets to the most countries. We’re almost tied—and given that Jordan’s a youngish (sort of) guy competing with this proverbial ‘little old lady in tennis shoes,’ I think I’m doing quite well.
Next up—two fine Minnesota friendships. Pat from International Falls and I went through most of high school together. Friends but not friend-friends, as in besties and close and all of that. There was a professional/town versus lumberjack/farm social divide between families (and yes, that is as true in villages as in cities, and in the US as the UK). But with only 20-25 kids per class and with us being relatively bright and sensible young women, we were certainly friendly classmates. Then we all went away—and sixty years later Pat and I reconnected at a high school reunion. And—thank you Mark Zuckerberg—we’ve been able to explore our lives and interests over the last couple of years. So it was with pleasant anticipation I drove up to the Falls and, a few yards from the Canadian border, spent a bright northern June morning chatting, drinking coffee and eating scones with my old/new friend Pat. As in the coffee with Jordan, comfortable, pleasant, interesting—plus a blend of previously shared history, a fifty year void, and an unexpected compatibility.
Down to St. Paul, hanging out with a friend-friend with whom I’ve never lost touch—nor do I ever plan to… We refer to each other as Marge and Other Marge. Our friendship began in post-McGovern election days when we went to work for a mutual pal on the gubernatorial (or was it Senate) campaign of Roberto Mondragon. Since we were ‘…so much younger then…(I’m older than that now) our camaraderie extended to surviving parent/child/boyfriend/husband interactions and issues. Most friendships have one foundation more important than the others—based in an experience or a place, a trauma or need, shared interest or mission. Other Marge and I have history in all of the above, but the political mishmash of the world is at the bottom of ours. We don’t see each other so often, perhaps once a year, we only talk occasionally, and as Other Marge doesn’t indulge in social media we don’t interact on a daily political cartoon/puppy pictures basis. But how reassuring it is to connect seamlessly when we do. And who better to talk and scream and shout politics with…
There…my ode to friendship completed until I visit another of these friend-friends in Dover this fall. At this point in my life I am not so interested in making new friends…not really enough time to develop the welcoming familiarity that doesn’t require a recounting of personal history nor an explanation or apology for my goods and bads. Besides there’s no time in my schedule for new relationships as I continue to visit the oldies/besties/familiars in the next few years.
I’ll be back with ‘Tales of Sioux Falls’ before the fall wedding and Silk Route adventures begin.
My name is Marjorie and I’m addicted to travel. Right now however I am not traveling. I’m cowering on my couch in a near fetal position, blanket over my head. Denying my existential fear of the end of me…and the end of the world as we presently experience it.
Well to be more honest, I’m sitting up on my couch with all of the windows open, drinking some good strong coffee and enjoying the high desert dawn. My friendly cricket is chirping away, and I’m having skinny pizza and book talk with best friends later. So what’s that existential whine about anyway? It’s like this. One moment or day or year you realize that soon you will cease to exist…when you know the end is nigh…irreversible. That’s pretty fear-inducing. Existential fear.
Okay so there’s that. But when I extend the concept to include humankind’s apparent desire to kill the world…well that really ups the ante. Here are the most recent catalysts for my bad feelings.
Where am I going with this? I’ve just said I’m old and I’m scared—but before the world and me end…I’ll travel some more. I feel better just thinking about it. Travel as therapy. Alleviator of fears.
Next month (during the next debates), I’ll be traveling the Silk Route, at least an Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan piece of it. I’ll catch up with our political dramas on-line…anxious to know if just the right voice to quell my fears has emerged. And I’ll be pleased to be where I am before China’s New Silk Road Initiative changes the Stans area beyond recognition—that is if Putin hasn’t sent in the bombs by then to maintain Russia’s Central Asian influence.
I’ve added a new mission to my travels. Looking for sanctuaries to which we may flee when the boys at the top (with Pence as their leader) have made it possible for the name change from USA to the Republic of Gilead to go into effect.
Patricia and I returned to real life today, holiday over. We’re both ready since everyday life is what makes these lovely breaks all worthwhile. I am so very appreciative of this time…my theory that while family gatherings are fine now and then, the best way to enjoy one’s family is one-on-one…you know…like friends. I’ve increasingly insisted on, begged for, arranged opportunities for time with each of my kids and grandkids individually and they seem willing to humor me more often these days (something to do with my age you think?). As everyone’s lives are busier and busier it takes some scheming but it’s all worthwhile…right Patricia?
We probably would have arranged the times a bit differently if we were doing this over, maybe a little less time in Montreal and a two day boat trip up to an island in the St. Lawrence or more time in Quebec City. Still it’s been kind of nice lazing around after our daily excursions here and there. We’ve talked and laughed and read or watched a favorite show on line; we’ve slept a fair amount and hung out our apartment windows watching the street scene here in old Montreal. This apartment has actually turned out perfectly. We’ve each had our own bit of space unlike the best of hotel rooms.
To reiterate…spend time with the individuals that comprise your family. It will turn out that you like them a lot…probably much better than around the Thanksgiving Dinner table when everyone gets slightly annoying after a noisy gluttonous half hour or so.
One aspect of this trip has been a shock to me…not an unpleasant shock exactly but not entirely happy either. In all of the years of travel with my grandchildren, the people with whom we interface have generally looked to me as the authoritative voice, naturally when they were younger but generally true until recently. THIS TRIP, for the first time, many of the people with whom we interacted turned to Patricia with questions and for instructions FIRST. On one hand, it’s a lovely feeling; Patricia’s competent and confidant and I feel good being in her hands…it’s kind of a relief right? On the other hand, I must admit to some bit of indignation at the clerk or server or taxi driver semi-ignoring me…as in feeling the urge to say ‘Hey there, do I appear incapable or senile to you? But what if the response was…yes! Not ready to take that chance. We (women) have been fighting for a long time not to be ignored when in the company of males…however when you realize your role in the world has been replaced by grandchildren…much as you love them and want them to do exactly this…it is still……the tiniest bit sad. Bottom line though. Thank you Patricia for being a great traveling companion and an efficient arranger and guide of many things.
Here’s the album: although I’ve left out any photos of our most productive shopping adventure day before. Patricia found the perfect leather jacket, I found a wedding jacket and best of all I am now in possession of the warmest fuzziest thickest longest woolly-fleecy pants to grace an Albuquerque winter…I’m hoping for numerous blizzards or maybe I’ll build a shack up on the old place in Koochiching County, Minnesota. I definitely recommend Montreal for shopping if you want to beam yourself mentally to a snowy winter’s day with a little help from the new fall and winter clothes already appearing in Canadian department stores.
I’m wondering if I’m a negligent grandmother…just allowed my twenty-five year old granddaughter to go to the deli by herself in the scary foreign city of Montreal. That may sound innocent enough but you know Quebec is a socialist province where they speak French and eat poutine. I probably should run after her before she accepts crepes from strangers.
Today was lazily pleasant, somewhat unsuccessful in terms of mission but redeemed by the fact we’re both remaining slothful (a skill I’m trying to teach all of my grandchildren—so far Teresa’s the expert but Patricia seems to be catching on), the sole activity of the day being attempted shopping.
Forty years ago I visited Montreal for an art festival of some sort. It was just before Christmas and I bought a very smart outfit for my 16 year old son (he hated it but he did look quite urbanely handsome in it long enough to take pictures) in this city’s underground shopping mall. Patricia wanted to see this place, probably because she couldn’t imagine her dad having had any sophisticated moments. So we left our ‘home’ at about noon and walked for the next five hours, Three in search of it, one inside, and one back home. Turns out to be a most ordinary mall…just one floor down. Malls have all peaked and dwindled in popularity in the interim and we’ve all turned to Amazon.
We did manage to purchase something of course and stopped at a Spanish restaurant for tacos on the way home. My throat’s sore and I think Patricia might have had a minute or two this evening of wishing for a somewhat livelier companion but hey, we still pretty much like each other and tomorrow we’re going on a city-wide tour and maybe I’ll hit a big department store for a gray jacket for the grandson wedding.
Any responsible blogger would go out and find some great photos at the amusement park. Just imagine them please. I wouldn’t even be writing this but I can’t get the TV to work so I’m bored. I’ll try to get Showtime on my computer and finish Homeland. What a good idea. If it works I can include a photo of the screen. Nah, I have a good (although depressing) book to read. Ohio by Stephen Markley. Fine writer but wish I had a pleasant little murder tale along.