Traveling for the Purpose of Traveling

IMG_4021“For my part I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake.” Robert Louis Stevenson

I am one of those strange people who is infused with energy simply by the act of traveling. I enjoy airplanes and airports and my campervan. I enjoy sitting in parks and watching and meeting people. I enjoy conversations with strangers in coffee houses and pubs.

I enjoy walking the streets of cities with my eyes open and my ears tuned in so that I can soak up the sights and sounds of new places. I enjoy surprises and spontaneity, wandering and exploring.

I particularly treasure traveling with my grandchildren and watching them experience places, people, sounds, sights, smells and food that are entirely new to them. They seem to quickly migrate from apprehensive observation to eager engagement.

An enduring memory from last summer is of watching my son-in-law Rich play cricket with his boys in Hyde Park, and my daughter paddle boating with them in Regent Park while we sipped wine in the Boat House Café.

I have had the joy of watching my granddaughter Hunter dance with tribesmen and women in Kenya, and greet children in the Nairobi slum of Kibera and at an orphanage in the Rift Valley.

I was with her when she grieved over a sick baby seal in the Galapagos, measured herself against a giant turtle, and drank icy-cold coconut milk from a straw stuck through the shell while we sat in the shade on a Galapagos island. While she enjoyed her coconut and I sipped a beer we watched an amazing show put on by acrobatic birds as they dived, tumbled and climbed in unison over the water’s edge.

I was with her when she sampled a thick orange soup in Quito, Ecuador, sat on an Inca-era rock wall at the base of Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Volcano, and when she quizzed a ranger about the formation of a new volcanic island in Hawaii’s Volcano National Park. I snapped her picture when she posed like a fashion model in Paris, and watched her enjoy food that is foreign to her in the five countries we have visited together.

Later this week my grandsons will join me, my wife Kennon and daughter Suzanne in San Francisco for a run in the Bay to Breakers and time to explore the city I cherish. We will also journey down to San Luis Obispo and work our way back up the coast through Big Sur.

Later this summer grandson Smith and I will do a campervan trip across the USA to take in baseball games, and in late fall Kennon and I will be in Australia and New Zealand. Like Robert Louis Stevenson, my destination doesn’t matter to me as much as engaging the journey, particularly when I can do it with the people I love.

 

Easter in London

P1000075Easter in London was a wondrous experience. I know that this will surprise those of you who know me well, but on Holy Saturday evening I attended a candlelight Bach concert at St. Martin’s in the Fields: the Easter Oratorio and the Magnificat.

While my taste in music is more towards Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Mose Allison, and Eva Cassidy—this presentation moved my spirit.

Then on Easter Day the community of St. Luke’s in Islington took me even deeper.  The building looks like a traditional English parish from the outside, but inside it is one of the warmest and most hospitable churches I have worshiped in. Chairs were arranged in a horseshoe, with the Holy Table in the open space. Continue reading “Easter in London”

My City By The Bay

golden-gate-stockA few years ago my wife Kennon and I were sitting with a group of fellow pilgrims at an outdoor pub in Glendalough, Ireland. One of our colleagues posed this question, “If you could travel to anywhere in the world, where would you go?”

The answers were exotic: Kauai, Edinburgh, Rome, Jerusalem, Marbella, Caribbean beaches, Kenya for a safari, Tahiti, Pukhet in Thailand and Goa in India. My answer was San Francisco. Why, Kennon asked, with the entire world to choose from, would I return to a place so familiar?

The answer is best expressed in this passage from my journal, written in 2011:

“When I visit San Francisco— when I return ‘home’— a vibrant energy fills and buoys my body, mind and spirit. All of my senses come alive as I immerse myself in The City’s eclectic mix of people, places, life styles, vehicles, sounds, smells, weather, and activities.

“I love the hustle-bustle and polite jumble on the sidewalks: tourists craning their necks to see the sights, business people heading to the office, food carts selling hot dogs and pretzels, street people seeking a place of shelter, and wanderers like me.

“The mixture of sounds and the blend of smells entice me–––voices speaking different languages, cable cars clanging, sea gulls squawking, traffic grinding, street merchants hawking; outdoor restaurants, fresh-baked sour dough bread, sea air, garlic in North Beach and the pungency of China Town, crabs boiling in pots at the wharf and hot dogs at the ballpark.

“I grew up in the Bay Area and now live near my grandchildren in the mountains of western North Carolina. As beautiful as it is there, I have a vague feeling of claustrophobia… of being closed in without horizons. When I am in San Francisco I feel the openness: a high blue sky (after the fog burns off) and the ocean horizons that I sense in my body even when walking amidst sky-scrapping buildings. I love climbing the hills through diverse neighborhoods, every now and then catching a glimpse of the bay and the majestic Golden Gate.

“Traveling itself gives me energy; taking to the road stimulates something in my genes. But the feeling I have when I arrive in San Francisco is different and deeper. I am nourished at the soul level.

“As I write these words in my journal I am literally (to paraphrase Otis Redding)  ‘sitting in the morning sun, watching the ships roll in… just sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away…”

I know that San Francisco is beset with big-city problems. Travel + Leisure magazine rated it the 12th dirtiest city in the USA. There are too many food wrappers and other wind-blown trash littering the streets and sidewalks.

On the other hand, It should be noted that San Francisco is a national leader in recycling, was the first city in the nation to ban plastic bags, and is in the “top 10” American cities for environmental friendliness and quality of life.  Travel + Leisure readers rated The City high in diversity, ethnic food, coffee, scenic neighborhoods and views.

I visit there four times a year to attend meetings of the United Religions Initiative (and to take in a couple of baseball games). I spend much of my non-meeting time  — day and night— walking, meeting people in parks and squares, and exploring. I have never felt unsafe or hassled, I have never been treated rudely, and I always find a willing helper if I get lost.

I acknowledge that I love San Francisco, and like many lovers I don’t see the faults of my beloved in the way that others who are emotionally detached view them. And, my powers of reasoning are sometimes overruled by nostalgia. Even though Folgers and MJB no longer roast coffee south of the Bay Bridge, in my imagination I still smell the deep, rich aroma of roasters every time I walk under the bridge on my way from the ballpark toward the Ferry Building.

Most of the jazz and folk music establishments (such as the Matador, Hungry Eye, Velvet Lounge, Jazz Workshop, Purple Onion and various coffee houses) that once dominated North Beach are no longer there. But I can hear in my mind the sounds of Thelonious Monk, Mose Allison, Pete Seeger, The Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, Barbra Streisand, and The Limelighters when I am making my way to a restaurant on Columbus.

My visits to San Francisco are part reality, part myth and part memory… but they are always refreshing–––and I am returning in May with my wife, daughter and three grandsons to take part in the oldest consecutively run yearly footrace in the world, the Bay to Breakers.

 

Rearranging Cultural Furniture

“Travel rearranges cultural furniture and wallops ethno-centric self- assurance.” Rick Steves, Travel as a Political Act

It has been my privilege to have my cultural furniture rearranged several times since 1995. I’ve been immersed in different traditions and have in  engaged conversations with a variety of extraordinary people: from England, Ireland, Portugal, France, the Netherlands and Belgium… to Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, Israel/Palestine, Japan, Korea, India and Ecuador.

All of my excursions over the last 18 years have been illuminating and great fun, but two classics came in 2013: a journey to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands with my granddaughter Hunter in early spring; and to the great cities of London, Amsterdam and Paris with Kennon and our daughter, son-in-law and four grandchildren in the summer.

The experiences were great fun and full of learning about ourselves, each other, and the people and places we visited. But pictures, as they say, are worth a thousand words, so check out our trips at my shutterfly site: www.peoplesvisionusa.shutterfly.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travels with Amos: Amish Barn-Raising in Maine

Kennon, Amos and I are now moving south towards home. After climbing to the “roof” of Maine on Highway 11 on Thursday, we turned the corner onto Highway 1 Friday and drove out of the hills and potato fields to the sea.

We entered Maine after a beautiful drive through the side roads of Vermont and New Hampshire and camped on Eagle Lake. On the way there we passed one of the most amazing sights of the trip: an Amish community barn-raising. Kennon counted more than 25 men working on the roof, and many more were on the ground, both inside and outside of the structure. It was a symbol of community that is burned forever into my memory.

From Eagle Lake to the top of the state at Madawaska we drove alongside the St. John River, just across from New Brunswick, Canada. Some of the street signs were in French and English, and the two men in the booth next to us at a diner where we had breakfast were speaking a mixture of the two languages (much like the Cajuns of Louisiana). A large Roman Catholic Church was the centerpiece of towns and villages on both sides of the river.

Coming down the other side, New Brunswick remained just across the St. Croix River. We stopped for the night in Machias, Maine and today (Saturday) will drive to Bar Harbor and Stonington.

To see pictures from the New York and Pennsylvania part of the journey click here. I’ll post the Maine pictures when our visit here is completed.

The Amish community barn raising inspired me to ask the following questions: “What does community mean to you?” and “In what ways do we rally around our neighbors and help them construct a life?” Finally, “What are examples in our typical busy American communities of barn-raising?”

Let me know what you think by email (jamiesonwilliam@gmail.com) or in The Pub on my PeoplesVision website.

Thanks to those of you who have sent me comments.

David Keller wrote, “We can become united again with a willingness to accept the fact that diversity is a gift. Along with this challenge is the willingness to honor the integrity of other points of view, solutions, and perspectives, while at the same time realizing that compromise and working together within compromise is a sometimes “messy” process, but worth the effort.

“No…this is not “pie-in-the-sky” liberal dreaming. It is the hard work of living in a diverse democracy and it is a very practical goal. One key is to value being well informed about issues and to get involved in any way possible.

“The art of listening is crucial, to say nothing about compassionate relationships. Compassion is to realize we are all on the same ‘level’ of existence and to have heart felt concern for each other (in the midst of diversity).

“One crucial way to have this discipline of listening is through meditation. Listening to God, or to silence if we do not acknowledge any ‘god’, is the best way to learn to listen to each other.

“If we learn to listen to the ‘voice’ of God in silent meditation (in its variety of forms) we will be able to recognize that same voice in society, in the people, needs, and situations that demand our attention.

“Yes, some situations demand our attention. The alternative is self-serving isolation (the opposite of compassion). Apathy is probably our most serious problem today. Apathy feeds consumerism. As Bruce Springsteen says in his latest album (Wrecking Ball): ‘Let’s stand shoulder-to-shoulder and heart-to-heart.’ Not bad advice!”

Warren Mathews responded to a previous comment from David Keller by writing, “We are so disconnected from the land and from each other that all we can think about is ourselves.”

Matthews wrote, “I would go further to bemoan the extent to which we are disconnected not only from the land, but also from ourselves.  As we have become more and more urbanized, we have become more and more dependent on others, and indeed on impersonal collections of others (companies), for almost all of our needs as well as our wants. 

“There was something solid and meaningful about having to construct our own shelter, raise our own food, take care of our own pains and illnesses as best we could….

“I wouldn’t for a minute want to go back to those days, but I recognize that if, say in a massive disaster, I were suddenly cut off from the utilities (electricity, water, telephone), grocery stores, sources of maintenance for my house and automobile, doctors and pharmacies and hospitals, etc. that I depend on, I’d be almost totally lost. 

“Life has become fundamentally indirect, where we spend most of our time working to earn money (not of tangible use in it own right), with which we then buy (typically in an impersonal interaction with some impersonal enterprise) whatever we need to function, or want for entertainment. Incidentally, I’d guess that we found more real community with not-so-near neighbors in the agrarian society than we find with many of our next-door or close neighbors in the urban setting.”