Last week, my daughter invited me to drive her home (to New York) from San Francisco where she was taking a summer class. She and her friend had driven there. Her friend needed to fly home early. Could we drive her car back to New York?
YES! I texted back, fizzing with champagne joy.This was exactly what I needed – the adventure I’d been asking for (I had literally been saying, “I need to have an adventure now.”)
The next day, my friend Suzi called to invite me to accompany her to India. “I will pay your way,” she offered. “I want to do this with you.”
YES! I said. YES!
I said yes to everything that week. To new ideas, to lunch dates, to things that I’d left stacked in piles on my desk. Yes! I whirled through the house like fresh wind – clearing, finishing, filing.
Two days later, it was all over. India was shelved. The cross-country car would be shipped home by train.
I don’t know if i have ever been more disappointed – far beyond the bounds of the situation.
A few weeks earlier, when my poem was published in Bent Lily, I’d started listening to the recordings of Irish poet, David Whyte’s, What to Remember when Waking, a gift that my sister had given me last year. I let the brilliant poet take me apart and put me back together. I listened in the car, as I drove to my mother, my father, the grocery store, savoring each syllable of his beautiful readings: Wordsworth, Keats, Shakespeare – and his own illuminated verse.
Caves were spelunked; inner doors blown open. My heart propped on velvet pillows, spoon fed honey and melted gold. I’m pretty sure that opening myself back to poetry and this wonderful teacher had sparked the great YES! that seemed to be bubbling up from my toes.
And when David Whyte mentioned “The Grand Tour” I began to understand why having and then losing those two travel adventures had so upset my apple cart. What had seemed like a response to my call for adventure had been transformed into a symbol for a lifetime of missed opportunity.
A few hundred years ago, it was the custom of the aristocracy to send their offspring, following graduation from university, on a Grand Tour of the schools and cities of the old world; Rome, Florence – they’d visit the world’s great masterpieces and sip strong coffee in the salons of the master thinkers and artists of their time.
The Grand Tour gave these future captains of industry a full experience of the multi-faceted world in which they lived; the layers of culture and history in which their own lives were nested and held and influenced.
I was mesmerized by this notion. It reminded me of a time when I’d had a Grand Tour of my own…
I was 19. In Paris, searching for a place to live when, graced by the fates, I encountered a kind American gentleman who invited me to live and work in his home -as au pair to his children.
A widower, with two teenagers, this warm and lovely man was ethical and generous, he took me in, along with two other stray college students from our exchange program, for $50- a month- in exchange for a few household tasks: buttoning his freshly-laundered shirts onto hangers just so, making the morning coffee and picking up the baguette.
My father-in-a-strange-land turned out to be Stuart Troup, the Jazz Editor of the Paris Herald Tribune. And those kids we were ‘au pairs’ to; well, they turned out to be almost as old as we were; they guided us through the snaking streets of the Latin Quarter where we lived, coaching us in the language we could barely speak.
Meanwhile, their father was introducing us to the city beneath the ‘City of Lights’: the smoky jazz caves where European celebrities and sports stars gathered after-midnight to hear music legends like Memphis Slim (if I can dig out the photos I will post them); and the Ville Juif, where Jews were hidden during the Nazi invasion.
Guided by this little family that loved life in a richer, deeper way than I’d known was possible, I fell in love with life, too – I also fell a little bit in love with myself.
I was different there – easier, more fluid. More at home. I wanted to live this way forever – connected with the world, poking through flea markets and old cities for treasure.
I dreamed up a future: with Paris as home base, my Eurailpass in my pocket, a globe-trotting husband, our two or three kids; the pages of our passports filled with stamps. I saw it – their little backpacks and Birkenstocks; the languages we’d speak, the things we’d see and learn. The constant adventure. At home in the world. I saw it, clear as day.
And it did not happen.
Instead of a globe-trotter, I’d married an artist, a gentle architect with peacock feathers in his eyes. A loving father, a generous lover, as spontaneous and playful a man as I’d ever met. Yet, every time I showed him a spread in National Geographic or Travel and Leisure, ”Let’s go here!” he’d scan the images – glittering cities, ancient ruins, blue lagoons, emerald rain forests – and shake his head. “I just don’t get it,” he’d say, truly puzzled. “What’s the point of travel?”
I used to be angry about this. I used to blame him for stealing my dream from me. But you know what: it was my dream, not his. He liked being at home.
If I wanted to travel, he wasn’t stopping me – he just didn’t want to come along.
So I booked vacations for three: Martha’s Vineyard, where Max, Katie and I paddled kayaks ’round a smooth, shaded pond. Later, when my children rode the wooden carousel in Oak Bluffs, 12-year-old Max caught the brass ring 10 times.
“I never knew I was lucky!” he crowed, leaping into my arms.
This is what travel can be, I thought. This is what it’s for!
Suddenly lucky, ready for more, Max traveled to France on exchange at 16. When he came home, four months later, I didn’t recognize him at the airport. Taller, with blonde hair to his shoulders, he looked me straight in the eye.
Four months of travel had transformed our shy, self-conscious boy into a confident, radiantly beautiful young man!
Back to this summer, and my cancelled adventures:
As i sat with the deep disappointment of finding and then losing those two adventures, I began to sense a treasure hidden there: a truth that I’d been carrying since I was 19: I was different there – easier, more fluid. More at home.
It wasn’t travel I missed, it was that feeling.
And I could have that feeling anywhere – like right here, right now.
The truth is, this IS my Grand Tour: working with stories, meeting people from all over the world, sharing light.
This. Now. Here.
So, the next day, when my daughter texted: Come to California. Come anyway. I am so so freed by this trip. You will be also. Just because you came. Because you can. Because the world is only for running around in, my heart responded…
As my daughter reminded me: The world is only for running around in. So where has your Grand Tour led you? Where is it leading you now?