Saturday, June 13, 2009

Far Away and Home

bookcover in airport in Helsinki, Finland

I love to travel, it's exhausting and exhilarating. When I travel, the past becomes enormously present, and my future becomes a little bit clearer. You lose yourself, but you find yourself in the oddest places possible.

I laughed out loud when I saw the book cover above. This is only one of the many ways people misspell my name, and it recalled the dozens of times a man has sung a few bars of the song "Hello Mary Lou" to me. I just wished I could read Finnish! My crisp Helsinki present was more mellifluous with tunes from the past.

Below are some other random time / space signs from the past few months:

My sister Helen sent me this picture of early 1960s Calgary (our birthplace) recently. At my various schools (Christopher Robin, Milton Williams, Henry Wise Wood) I understood that I must engage with the outside world.

We took French starting in kindergarten (and that skill came in handy when I gave lectures in French in Morocco a few years ago, it's amazing what I remembered and what you don't learn in grade 2, like "inflatable"). I distinctly remember writing my paper on the Appian Way in grade 6. I also remember my news clipping archive on the F.L.Q. (Front de liberation du Quebec), whose kidnapping and murder of Pierre Laporte was our Vietnam.

My favorite school activity was my morning group with Mr. Kemper, our social studies teacher, who talked about Africa, showing us slides of his travel. This began my dream of living in / traveling to Africa, pink flamingos included. I understood from my teachers that travel would show us that humans are alike beneath the extreme differences of social and political histories. Travel would be both comforting and challenging to our notions of the formation of self.

Pood: I took this picture in the KUMU Museum in Tallinn, Estonia, during my recent trip. This reminds me of when my friend Diane and I went to Italy together (she got a group together to rent a villa outside Florence for two weeks, my first real vacation in years!) and we arrived in Amsterdam's Schiphol airport (one of my favorites) on our way to Milan. In a haze we were looking for coffee when we noticed, on an elevator sign, that "winkel" is the Dutch word for shopping. The whole two weeks was filled with winkeling, winkeling recaps and winkeling awards for best buys (one of our group bought four pairs of shoes in one day), and we still use the word winkel to recall that fun-filled, if rather soggy, few weeks. Although "pood" could have been the next "winkel" it somehow seemed...a little too scatalogical, but the Estonians have a great word anyway.

Saguaro in Helsinki: And of course, this neon sign is about my present (nearby was a sleazy bar called Phenix). The saguaro is only part of what makes the Sonoran desert so beautiful and green, but in the context of a bar (I saw another neon saguaro bar sign in Beirut last year), I suspect it is the pointy, phallic quality that is most desired. If these are gay bars then the signage is a witty take on the cliche of the macho American West. If Phoenix is exporting these signs because of environmental restrictions in the U.S., then these are a sign of our exporting our waste. In any case, I will always be reminded of these neon lights when driving down my hot Phoenix streets.

With the global financial collapse we'll see how much travel will change. Airlines are cutting back flights, costs will go up, and if you think it was hard to use bonus miles for flights in the past, just wait. We'll likely be finding more of the world at home.

Below is a picture of the garden I'm making with Kevin's Mom Lu (with his occasional help when he can't avoid it) at her home in Milwaukee. The garden has changed and grown tremendously since we first started a few years ago, we're running out of room (less grass, more flowers and food!) Although we have focused on indigenous perennials (coneflower, liatris) we also have some spectacular things (poppies, bearded iris) from other parts of the globe. We can dream of the travel these plants have made through time while feeding them with mulch and Miracle Gro.

The faraway is always nearby. Staying at home doesn't mean you can avoid being a global citizen.

photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki

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