A conversation I overheard during the Travel Writers and Photographers Conference:
1st Woman: “Did you meet the king?”
2nd Woman: “No, he was too sick. Did you?”
1st Woman: “Yes,” she says, offering up the traveler’s coup, “and the crown prince.”
2nd Woman: leans back, takes it in, then moves conspiratorially toward the 1st woman, and, not coincidentally, away from me, “I could talk about Nepal all day.”
I could not, clearly. As my thought was “Nepal has a king?” [I was thrilled when I got home and my extremely well-traveled, nearly lives on planes and in hotels friend Jane had the same response to that conversation. Oh, and the answer is “not anymore” and this is the crown prince:
so really, I feel like you could have that encounter in a bar. And the other answer is 25. Jane has been to 25 countries. Though now that she knows a rank amateur like me has been to 19, her passport will be on fire, I’m certain.]
The conference experience, like most experiences (most…definitely not all) was not all bad though. I learned some good writing techniques, met some fascinating people, bought a ton of books, and wrote this small piece for a class I took. I thought I’d use it in my travel memoir, but in case that never happens, here it is for you:
We circled around for what had to be the third or fourth time. My brother was driving and I was attempting to navigate.
We were stuck in what I had come to call a “rousta-bout,” more commonly known as a roundabout in Ireland, somewhere south of Dublin and north of Cork, where we were headed. In our native California the signs would have indicated “Sacramento” for north and “San Diego” for south—big cities, easily recognizable, guiding you in the direction you meant to go. But in the countryside of Ireland the signs didn’t point you to the next metropolis. They pointed you to the next village, or barn, or, sheep. Specific places unknown to visitors and unnecessary for locals. Since I didn’t know the names of any sheep on our route, I decided to guess, before the carsickness set in. I didn’t come to Ireland to spend my time on the Gaelic version of Disneyland’s teacup ride.
“Exit here! Kilkenny! That sounds good.” I shouted. Killing anybody sounded good at that point.
My brother swerved, exited the roustabout and drove only a hundred yards or so on the right side of the road before moving to the left. To my surprise, he pulled all the way over to the side of the road and stopped. He rolled down the window and did the unthinkable. He asked the old farmer in the field for directions to the ferry we were trying to catch.
“You’re lost are ya? ‘Tis a beautiful day to be lost.” The farmer said.
“’Tis” my brother responded with a ridiculous grin, I knew was born of the fact that the only book he’d read in his adult life was Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes” and he was now reading the sequel, ‘Tis.
“You’ll want to head out this way—down this road. Ya see the house there? That’s the O’Reilly’s. Lovely woman she is. He’s a bastard though, ya be lookin’ out for him. A problem with the drink, ya know.” He motioned with his hand—a sign that in Hawaii means “hang loose” but with the thumb near an Irishmen’s mouth and a bit of a shake means a pint. Or more. “Terrible thing, but it’s trew.”
He continued on, kilometers, and cows, and farmers, and wives, and fields, and weather. But I heard nothing else the farmer said, lost in his brogue and the cadence of his speech, hearing and feeling my grandfather after all this time. My grandfather, “Granddaddy” to us all, had been dead fifteen years by then. And though we’d been in Athboy with our cousins, three generations down, and visited our great grandparents grave sites, I’d yet to feel connected to this land Granddaddy left in his early twenties, and I’d only now, in my early forties, visited for the first time. I was a foot taller, blonder, and more sullen than any cousin I’d met. But here was this farmer, in his field, telling stories disguised as directions, cursing, laughing, winking, and blessing us. Bringing Grandaddy to life as though he’d walked from the field himself and leaned in our car window, smelling of whiskey and tweed, a limerick on his lips, his large hands shadow boxing to the beat of the story he told. It felt like home. It felt like comfort. And I didn’t need to go anywhere else. I no longer needed directions.
“Ya go on now. I’m trew wid’ ya.” The farmer said, sending us on our way with a wave.
My brother maneuvered the small car back on to the road and turned to me, grinning. “Did you catch any of that?”
“I have no idea how to get to the ferry if that’s what you mean. But I caught it all.”
“Granddaddy,” he said.
“”Tis.” I said.
I thought that wasn’t bad for a late night post dinner post wine writing exercise. We were to write a scene that begins at a superficial level (e.g. getting lost) and then dives deep into a memory (e.g. Granddaddy) and then comes back out again (e.g. “’Tis”). Maybe I should just write about Ireland.
Go back, meet some dogs, travel around sayin’ fookin’ a lot, or at least hearing others say it. I don’t know. But in the midst of the mild misery that was me at this conference, it felt good to be writing.
It’s just that I now have a huge bit of a writing block about the Awkward Traveler book. I’ve lost my enthusiasm and I keep hearing these voices (“you’re not a travel writer” whispers the ghost of conferences past). So what else do I write?. I’ve written some magazine pieces lately and that’s a ton of work enjoyable but doesn’t pay much and involves a lot of others having control and say so, and not always living up to their end of the bargain (why oh why do people think writers should just write for free? ). I don’t write for the money (thank god, as that would be a ludicrous endeavor to say the least); I write because I enjoy writing and sharing stories. But still, some sort of reward would be good. Wouldn’t it? Shouldn’t it? How best to write with some sort of purpose has become the question now. So I don’t know what I want to do at this moment in my writing career. What makes sense? I just don’t know.
But here’s what I do know. I like to write and writing well takes practice. Lots and lots of practice. So I’ll keep writing, though it doesn’t look like there will be a third book anytime soon. The writing just may be this blog. Maybe a magazine article here and there. And when my book writing juju returns, I’ll get back to that. Maybe it will be this travel memoir. Maybe it will be a dog book. Maybe it will be something entirely different. I don’t know. (Have I mentioned I don’t know?) And when I plan, well, that’s when the universe laughs, clearly. Obviously, I’ll have to sit in this “no plan” space for a bit and see what happens.
Here’s the other thing I learned. Again. Drumroll please……I do love to travel. I just travel my way, and that will not likely involve endangering my life in sensible shoes.
And I really, really want to travel more. So, Chris and I are booked to join Jane and some other friends in Italy next year at a Tuscan villa. who knows, I might even write about it. And if we’re that close to France, we’re going back there too. That keeps my number at 19 (I’ve been to Venice, and to France several times), but bumps Chris (who has not been to Italy before ) to 15. But hey, who’s counting?
Thanks for reading. I appreciate your support. We’ll return to regular doses of Daphne and Percival soon, no worries.
P.S. Allow me to give two shout outs from the conference.
On the first day I met a wonderful photographer. She and I both stood off to the side in the café’ with our coffees trying to wake up before taking the ferry to San Francisco that first day and so struck up a conversation. On the last night we again stood apart, this time in the back of the room, chatting and avoiding the karaoke going on. She won second place in the photography contest and I loved her work (especially the monkeys!), you might too (hint: there are animals!): http://www.pamvoth.net/
Also, Tim Cahill is a really well known travel writer who participates regularly at this conference. I had not read his work before because I thought it would be too manly, macho, adventure-y for me. Then I heard him tell a hilarious travel story at the conference. I bought one of his books and he graciously signed it while both of us made inexplicably awkward and lame jokes. I’ve devoured his book this last week and it’s been one of the best parts of my month off (perhaps I just needed to sit and read…hmmmm…..). He’s a spectacular writer who is hilarious, articulate and oh-so intelligent. So you should read him. I read “Pass The Butterworms” but will soon be buying the rest of his books.