Tag Archives: travel

The Discipline of Travel

Travel is the maze around my heart, the path that I keep following to find myself. Since my mother got me my first passport when I was four, to visit my father’s family in Zimbabwe, I’ve hit the road for destinations far-flung and near. They promise to teach me more about the world and my fortitude for living in it; I promise to listen.

Jewelry as comfort; literary festival entices; microphone to capture.

Jewelry as comfort; literary festival entices; microphone to capture.

Creature comforts and tools of the trade must be boiled down to essentials. I am a chronic overpacker, and jewelry reminds me of home and friends; notebooks, camera/phone, recording devices capture the journey; and I gather local event flyers and ephemera to turn into artwork at later dates. Flat is not digital, but it’s hard to so overstuff luggage with paper that you can’t carry it.

The metallic bassline of the tuba; couples, friends and strangers swaying on a street corner as a man from the band passes a metal pail for cash; a refined bowl of bouillabaisse at Galatoire’s — this was my entry into New Orleans after two days on the train at the start of my Amtrak Residency. New York to New Orleans: stop, enjoy, report. New Orleans to Los Angeles: repeat. And then, return. To think, to see. To be in my place and out of my place. What is my place? These are the questions that travel allows me to ask, if not always answer.

Paris: Murder, Immigration, Race, Islam and “Islamic Terrorism”, Neo-Nazis and the European Right Wing.

The news today is that terrorists — broadly Muslim or Islamic terrorists — killed 12 people (at last count) in Paris, targeting a satirical magazine. I feel sorry for my Jewish-Parisian friends; all Parisians; all Europeans; and all of humanity, roughly in that order.

I recently reported on multi-ethnic Paris, its richness and some of its political discontents.

As I posted on Facebook:
This makes me incredibly sad.
Sad for the loss of life — living humans killed.
Sad for their families and co-workers and friends.
Sad for Paris.
Sad for the rise of the neo-Nazi parties, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia in EU elections.
Sad that we have a world where we are being squeezed by both “Islamic Terrorism” (a very broad descriptor) and people like the Norwegian right-wing killer who killed 70+ people in 2011.
Sad that Europe is seeing a fight between extremists and extremists.

I remember being with an acquaintance who is black American and white-American-Jewish by parentage. We were discussing racial tensions +/vs anti-Semitism and he began singing “everybody hates the Jews,” a key line from Tom Lehrer’s “National Brotherhood Week.” I had never heard the song before.

I’m worried that everybody hates everybody, but in different ways and senses. Some people are corralled into faux-homelands and deprived of liberty; some are sought out and exterminated; some are proscribed from earning an honest living; in some cultures, women are prohibited from almost everything except being good wives and mothers, deprived of self-agency and choice even if what they want to be is a married mother. In some cultures, LGBT people have the legal right to everything heterosexuals have, but are murdered; in others they have less legal rights.

I haven’t give up on us, “us” being the human race. But if you don’t know your past, you can’t know your future. Are we even interested in having one?

God Is Good: Brooklyn Version

She was crying, in that quiet way that people do when they are in pain and not only don’t care if anyone notices, but wouldn’t know even if they cared. I was sitting across from her in one of the emptiest subway cars I’ve been on in years.

I took my bags and crossed over to sit next to her. “I don’t know what you’re going through, but be kind to yourself,” I said. When you say this kind of stuff, whether you are sincere or not (and I was), you might get a f-bomb dropped on you. Instead she looked up at me, and her eyes focused, and she said, “This is why I know I made the right decision to move to New York.”

She looked to be about 25. She had moved here three weeks ago from another city and hasn’t had any luck finding an apartment. I don’t know what else was on her mind, but that she told me. And she told me she loved that New Yorkers weren’t fake, and that they were kinder than people said.

“Life in New York is hard,” I said. “And we know that. And most of us” (I do truly believe this) “have each others’ backs.”

We got off at the same station. I gave her my card and said I might be able to pass on the name of a couple honest real estate agents. No promises I couldn’t keep. No promise of success either.

We were on the second to last 2/3 train leaving Penn Station, where I’d come from an event in Baltimore. As I left, rushing to beat the weather, my mother gave me an apple from her garden to take with me.

Hilarity and bitterness and a lot of alcohol, some self-spilled on the crotch of the man sitting next to me (much to his chagrin), were all present on the Acela. It got in at 6:53 or so, by schedule. NYC subways were set to shut at 7. As I emailed some friends, with the picture above:

Byotch here made second to last Brooklyn train. Divine gratitude.

Already got friends nearby willing to feed me. Or: potato chips and malt liquor from Bodega. Hoping grocery store is open (usually is til 9 but…)

I am so grateful. This is when knowing how NYC works makes a diff. 7pm service shutdown means last train originates at 7. I boarded past 7. And didn’t pay. They left gate open and told people to run.


So, as to those potato chips and malt liquor…. the grocery store was closed, taunting me with the promise of fresh vegetables as I gazed at the employees closing up. I went to the bodega and asked if they could run me some stuff from the deli counter. The older man, maybe the father, said yes. The younger guy, maybe the son, running the counter, turned on the radio for the Muslim call to prayer. The dad sliced some food and I looked in vain for bread. “Last bread,” the dad said, pointing. All I saw was chips and an ice cream freezer. I kept looking. “There,” the son said. “There!”

I used all the cash I had on hand, since there was no ATM, and had to return 2 cans of tomato paste to balance my order. I have plenty of food now. Not necessarily what I would have chosen at a “real” store, but plenty. The bread… well, I looked at the brand and said “I hate this bread.” Aloud. And then I thought to myself “First world problems. Take the effing bread and make yourself some french toast. And be grateful about it.”

Just about then one man walked in to buy blunts, and another, an older man, started trying to talk his way into my pants. The shtick was older than I was and stale as a week-old baguette. When his rap failed, he chanted at me — more like a threat than a prayer — “God is good! God is good!”

I don’t like it when dirty old men, or young ones, or ones my age ask me to smile for them as a parlor trick… or ask me to call-and-response God is Good. But tonight, I wasn’t in the mood to split hairs.

I do believe in a divine good, if not the dogma of most religions. And I believe we can all be ports in storms, whether Hurricane Sandy or something a bit more existential. “God is good,” I said. And to the shopkeepers and the drunk horny man, I said, “Thank you. Get home safe.”

I’m home safe. The divine is very, very good.

P.S.: While I was writing this, I learned a second man I knew personally in college committed suicide. Life is hard. Feel your pain. Then give it over, if you can. RIP.