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.

So I already posted this once but we are so damn cute thought it should be shared again!

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.

Pat, probably about 1957. I threatened to post this with a caption that read, ‘…still standing before she finished the six-pack…’ but actually don’t think she drank all that much.

 

50s cheerleaders, Pat’s third from left. I tried out but was way WAY too clumsy. Couldn’t dance either. The expression ‘couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time’ may have originated with me?

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…

Other Marge is also my walleye eating buddy.

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.

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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.

Dying leaf … for which only I am to blame…not all of mankind.

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.

  • Day before yesterday  I went to my doctor to talk about listlessness/a certain lack of zest/low-grade gloom! Anemia was being considered. Turns out all things related to my blood and vital signs are in excellent condition. Good news⁠—except that the twinge and itch of anxiety is still coming and going, and this lackadaisical approach to each day continues. Yeah, well I had that birthday this year, the one where I got old; part of the problem perhaps. My young doctor agrees—but then what does she know about ‘old’?
  • Night before last I continued watching season seven of Homeland. Lately these are the shows I’ve been streaming, Handmaid’s Tale and Homeland. The first is acknowledged as a dystopian drama and the latter generally fits into that category, especially as it moves into seasons six and seven. Homeland is right now. Handmaid’s Tale a future we can’t quite imagine yet…well, we can sort of imagine it can’t we? Just a little? Nah. Maybe?
  • Yesterday I read a review of a new British show, Years and Years, described as dystopian realism that keeps “forcing us into the future, as the economy crumbles, the ice caps melt, authoritarianism rises, and teenagers implant phones into hands. It’s an alarmist series, in a literal sense: it’s meant to serve as an alarm, an alert to what’s going on in front of our eyes, and where that might lead, if we don’t wake up.” Can’t wait, my kind of show. Bring it on dystopiophiles…
  • Last night I watched the second night of the Democratic primary debates. My Democrats. The ‘gods’ I signed up for when JFK said “Ask not….” So over the two nights, like all of you, I had a few smiles, a few proud hopeful moments, and also—maybe this is just me—a foreboding that we’re not going to get out of this alive. The candidates said good things here and there. But the only glimmers of hope that they were actually ‘getting it’ (the dystopianness of our present trajectory) came from Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Andrew Yang . They were the only big idea people and, I fear, we may need substantially greater numbers of powerful visionaries to avoid the dystopias of my favorite TV series.

The spider spray killed the poor cricket too. There’s a lesson here.

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.

See you.

From Neon Dystopia.

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.

MONTREAL:

REALLY INTERESTING PROJECT. Habitat 67 in Montreal. You can google it.

AROUND TOWN

The Day: Crepes, City Bus Tour, Pasta. And here are the random photos to prove it.

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.

“There’s no place like home,” said Dorothy as she clicked those fancy red heels together and headed for Kansas. On every trip, it seems I must remind myself that having these moments doesn’t mean I no longer want to travel…it simply means that ‘home’ is where things are arranged to suit my idiosyncrasies and in these random apartments and hotel rooms it’s all slightly off kilter⁠!

About these little ‘homes’ on the road. All the overnights from the Ritz (that one time) to an Indian train on the way to Delhi…and oh so many abodes between. This morning in Montreal, Canada up early to the noise of god knows what mechanical units in the neighborhood and my own anxieties which have nothing to do with place and everything to do with time. Damn time. How many trips left in my life? Due to physical realities of age or mental relinquishing of curiosity and adventure? Stop it. Can’t.

My friend Pat posted that she bet I was glad to have a young person along. I had a momentarily negative response…like why would I need a young person along…am I not strong and brave and experienced? Three seconds later I said to myself…’self, admit you are most happy to be traveling with Patricia, not only because you love Patricia and she’s an interesting companion but ALSO because she can iphone her way to the next corner, figure out how to handle the multiple TV controls AND, best of all, she can make choices about where, when, why, so I don’t have to…because damn it…I’m less fond of choice making than in my bossy past.

Oh yeah…travel…this is a travel blog. Left our lovely QC hotel yesterday about noon, uneventful three hour train to Montreal through pleasant-enough lushly summer-green country landscape. Then wrestled with checking into our apartment. And herein lies the story of the day…the advice column…whatever: UNLESS you go substantially high-end or stick to Super 8’s along the Nebraska interstate, booking resting places for your travel nights is a … well … crap shoot … might be the best description. Sites like booking.com and Expedia were the easiest ways to go for hotels; airbnbs for the more intimate and often cheaper experience of in-home rooms or people’s briefly vacated apartments. No more. Now all travel-stay sites are booking everything, the competition is fierce and the standards are slipping⁠—always the case when the next buck is all that matters.

We are staying in three places this trip. All initially arranged through booking.com⁠—who should have stuck to hotels; our two apartment experiences have not gone well. Lack of check-in communication (unlike hotels, in the case of apartments you always have to arrange for key exchange etc.), readiness of space (in hotels, your room is either clean and you check-in or not and you wait and complain, but at least you’re sitting in the lobby complaining and not on the curb outside!), and the miscellaneous sock behind the couch (oh sure, that can happen in hotels too but stray articles of clothing seem like more of an affront in an apartment). In comparison our modestly upscale hotel was perfect! And these apartments in the $200 a night range⁠—not urban-expensive I know but couldn’t they have found that sock?

There…I feel better. Covered old age and minor travel gripes in one fell swoop or is that swell foop? I always like to say that.

Patricia and I are adjusting to traveling as two adults, not grandma and grandchild. Teresa and I covered this transition a couple of years ago. It’s not so different…well it is but maybe that’s another post.

Meanwhile this funkily charming apartment is on the waterfront (St. Lawrence river or a tributary? We’ll find out.) and there’s an amusement part out there and seemingly hundreds of restaurants and souvenir shops⁠…playground for the hoi polloi⁠…whatever are classy people like us doing here?

BACK TO YESTERDAY.

 

Booking a walking tour on Quebec’s hottest day so far this year might not be perfect travel planning. Whether we erred in judgement or the problems stem from the anger of the weather gods is uncertain. A nice day nevertheless…well except for my near heat stroke. I suppose given all of the pollutants I emitted in my years of cigarette smoking I am fair game for punishment.

Quebec City has led a fascinating life of cultural invasion, frontier rowdiness and weather extremes. It’s a beautiful city, historic in the Santa Fe, Bergen, etc. way of significant architecture, excessively cute (but often excellent) restaurants that make me quite sad to be a failed foodie, and way way too many people.

The first order of the day was a rather lengthy history tour with an articulate and knowledgeable guide; unfortunately by the end it was 90° and 51% humidity. We stopped for a way-above-average lunch, Patricia with eggs benedict and me with crispy toasts of baguette and beet hummus (who knew!). I had something called a milkshake IPA but it was too hot to drink most of it…unfortunate since it is the best IPA I’ve ever tasted…(Scott, if you’re reading this I, YOUR MOTHER, has discovered the best IPA when you always thought that was your forte…ha!)

Our next gig was a tour of the famous Fairmont Le Château Frontenac (better you google it than I try to reword the brochure for you) which Patricia was anxious to visit based on a friend’s recommendation. Here’s where things went slightly awry. As in after the morning’s walk and a steep climb up thousands of steps (maybe a few less…) I was feeling definitely unwell. I did make it up the many miles or so of stairs (so slight exaggerations are acceptable when one is promoting tourism, haven’t you noticed that?) but then collapsed under a tree in the small park nearby…along with a whole lot of others. Turned out fine. Patricia had a great time on her tour and I spent an hour pleasantly dozing on the grass. Honestly, it was quite a lovely way to spend part of a hot lazy day.

For our next act we walked back to our hotel, stopping along the way for a cafe au lait and what our guide had described earlier as ‘poor man’s pudding.’ The latter a decadent maple syrup, cake/bread and whipped cream concoction. Quick trip into a deli for provisions for the evening and now we’ve been home for awhile vegging nicely with yogurt (me) and wine (Patricia).

Back to Montreal tomorrow.

 

 

Truthfully, a bit of a blur. After so many years of rambles around the world, how can I not have the infrastructure of every trip down pat? In fact I seem to get the details a little more wrong each time…consider winding down you say…Oh.Shut.Up. Fortunately Patricia planned all of the good stuff, where to go, main attractions, and even a list of gluten-free eating in the neighborhood. I, on the other hand, planned the bad flight times and missed all the crucial checking in details for our rather strange hotel/airbnb/highrise overnight adventure in Montreal. All of this is just to say I feel tired and a little discouraged. Anyway here we are in our historic hotel in history-laden Quebec City in the historical center of the province of history-rich Quebec, Canada. It’s morning, we’ve finally had a long night’s sleep and soon we’re off for more crepes…gluten be damned…and a history walk.

The journey so far. Albuquerque to QC. Best I can do since life keeps feeling ever so slightly OFF.

Train Montreal to Quebec City.

Checking in at the Hotel Manoir d’Auteuil. History, expensive, friendly, so comfortable with an extra bed put in for us. Except Patricia like it colder and I prefer that warm and muggy summer environment.

A touch of history.

Patricia and I are ‘getting the heck out of Dodge’ for a week. Montreal and Quebec City. We’re recreating Patricia’s 16th birthday trip to Paris ten years ago. Well not quite, Montreal doesn’t exactly have the same vibes as ‘the city of lights’ but it’s way closer than Albuquerque. I’m posting this lame little entry for tonight primarily to get back in the habit of blogging while traveling… So unfortunately no pretty pictures or clever insights or even major complaints, just me trying to stay awake until 9pm. ‘So sad’ our faux-leader would say.  I wrote on the plane for awhile…it was early and I was anxious and tired and attributed my despondency to the sleazy one. Writing it down helped… so last mention of this for the entire trip I promise. Here on in it’s all about Canada and granddaughter and grandmother hanging out in the world.

I am always amazed at what excellent travel buddies all of my grandchildren are…well except for Sara on trains. Patricia for example is a great organizer/manager…exudes the kind of confidence I badly need when I’m tired and confused which happens more often than I will ever admit out loud.

Anyway today went like this. Airport at 4am gross scrambled eggs and potatoes at the Denver airport (Denver Central Market-avoid) sleepy so P. got fat new neck pillows for us booking.com messed up our hotel reservations because it turned out to be an airbnb kind of apartment that had intricate check-in instructions but now we’re in and we’ve been to the deli. Yeah, P. says, that’s about it. I had gluten-free crackers and cheddar cheese for dinner, P. has a salad in the frig. Dear Diary, on my summer vacation…

Train to QC tomorrow and an historic luxury hotel for two days. Pictures…many pictures.

TOURISTING

  MACROSTIE ART CENTER, GRAND RAPIDS MN

I think it’s a faux-birch bark dress. Whatever…it looked right for a winter party with mead and a roasted leg of animal.

 

BOB DYLAN HOUSE AND SCHOOL, HIBBING MN (where he grew up…although he almost never admits it)

 

GREYHOUND BUS MUSEUM, HIBBING MN

Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together
I’ve got some real estate here in my bag
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner’s pies
And we walked off to look for America
Cathy, I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
Michigan seems like a dream to me now
It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw
I’ve gone to look for America …
Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera
Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat
We smoked the last one an hour ago
So I looked at the scenery
She read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field…
Cathy, I’m lost, I said though I knew she was sleeping
And I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all come to look for America
All come to look for America
All come to look for America
(Paul Simon)
I’ve made a small fortune and you squandered it all 
You shamed me till I feel about one inch tall 
But I thought I loved you and I hoped you would change 
So I gritted my teeth and didn’t complain …
Now you come to me with a simple goodbye 
You tell me you’re leaving but you won’t tell me why 
Now we’re here at the station and you’re getting on 
And all I can think of is thank God and Greyhound you’re gone …
Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone 
I didn’t know how much longer I could go on 
Watching you take the respect out of me 
Watching you make a total wreck out of me 
That big diesel motor is a-playing my song 
Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone
Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone …
That load on my mind got lighter when you got on 
That shiny old bus is a beautiful sight 
With the black smoke a-rolling up around the taillight 
It may sound kind-a cruel but I’ve been silent too long 
Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone 
Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone
(Songwriters: Ed Nix / Larry Kingston)

HULL-RUST-MAHONING OPEN PIT MINE, HIBBING MN

This was, surprisingly to me, a remarkable site and sight. I’ve never seen an open pit mine of this size before, and for some reason I find heavy duty mining, drilling, industrial equipment oddly beautiful. (Thinking of the Petroleum Museum in Stavanger, Norway). It also prompts one to think of what the business of extracting the earth’s riches means in positive terms: work, (dirty dangerous, hard work it’s true), for millions all over the planet for centuries; and industrialization bringing us most of the comforts and ills of today. It is complicated indeed.