Posts Tagged With: Travel

Of Plimoth Plantation

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I don’t know if you have ever been to Plymouth, Massachusetts, but it seems like much of the East Coast at first glance.  There is a gray quality to the light that makes the beaches blander, the seas bluer, the greens more vibrant.  Unless you are in a formal town and there are slim granite curbs, the roads are all rimmed by gravel and scrubby grass that collects spindly wildflowers and clover.  The trees beyond the green strip all mound together into a heap of foliage that follows next to you as you drive.  Tucked between the trees are clapboard houses with shutters.  They’re boxy and white, or maybe there’s a wide porch with a blue roof, or a tin star tacked to the siding.  All of them have shutters, new and old.  The beachfront in Plymouth is busy and modern.  There’s an ice cream store with a teal marquee and gold gilded letters.  Pilgrim Gifts hugs the triangle-shaped corner.  A granite pavilion houses a small, disappointing rock that says 1620, and out in the bay stands the medium sized Mayflower II.  The shore stretches, flat, brown and blue, to the horizon.

It’s beautiful.  And it makes me think of winter snows and a shallop speeding through the waters, everything unknown.  But it’s not any different than any other seaside town boasting a historic item or two, really.  Not unless you know the history of the place. Not until you step into the museum that is a recreation of the village as it was in 1627; Plimoth Plantation.

There are places you go to that steal your soul and you never belong to yourself again.  Places you’ve dreamed, somehow, or maybe it’s just that the air is in your blood in a certain way.  But all you need is one whiff and you’re home, the angst in your soul is quiet, all is right with the world.  Maybe they have nothing to do with you before this moment, but it doesn’t matter.

Plimoth Plantation is that place for me.  The gray houses, their roofs thatched, seem to grow out of the scrubby kitchen gardens that are rimmed by uneven gray fencing.  A dirt path stretches down to the ocean, which is ever more blue than you remember it.  At the top of a hill is a boxy fort housing cannons and also the church, the inside dim, broken up only by a few slim windows.  The village smells of wood smoke even on the hottest day.  Inside the houses, people in bright period garb will speak with you in a foreign accent about everything from religion, to thatching a roof, to their opinions of their neighbor.

There is always something that doesn’t quite dawn on you that comes out in these encounters.  Most people know that the pilgrims landed far north of where they were supposed to.  What struck me this time was the woman who lamented that most of the Mayflower crew had died, and if the ship couldn’t get back to England then their supply ships would never come to the right place.  At best they would be declared lost at sea.  At worst they would all starve in a wilderness that had already claimed half of them and looked to claim more when their wheat wouldn’t grow properly like it did at home.  This was before Squanto and Samoset.

Or the gentleman who had relied on the advice of a few summer fishermen who touted the mild and warm climate in New England, always home before the fall frosts set in.  He had not brought a winter coat over, and his neighbor charged him a fortune for an extra one.  Because no one knew what the winter was like.

Chickens roam in the streets and attempt to forage in the houses if someone doesn’t kick them out.  There are reddish bulls in the far pasture.  Unless the task is a dangerous or fiddly one, you will likely be asked to help hoe the garden or tie knots in the fishing rope.  The words in the bible all have an “s” that sometimes looks like an “f.”  Their earthenware cups have too many handles.

I hadn’t been for, oh, probably 15 years.  But I got to go again this summer.  It’s just as much mine as it ever was.  It’s a better experience than I remembered.  I wished again, for the millionth time, that I could move in and stay in that blue and gray world forever.  I ate authentic food, reveled in the green streets, asked questions on horn books, thatch, wood storage, and religion just to hear the answers.  Brian helped Patience Brewster hoe a row in her garden. I wished all over again that I could don those clothes and pretend to be a pilgrim for a year, even if I did have to go home at night.

But it was back on a plane for me, and I’m now residing in the golden dryness that is California again.  I hope I can get back there sooner than 15 years next time.

And in the meantime, I’ve pulled out some of my pilgrim books again.  First on the docket?  A collection of primary source writings called “The American Puritans, their Prose and Poetry.”

I’m also enjoying all the pictures I took:

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A Busy June

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Hello Again!  I know there’s been radio silence for quite a while over here.  Sorry about that.  But in good news, the novel is finally finished!!!  Which means I’ll be slaving away on the synopsis so I can start shopping it… That’s the worst part. Ugh.

And here’s another warning that posting may not be as regular as I’d like for the next month or so, although I’ll try.  I’m traveling quite a lot in June and will probably forget that it’s Monday and there is a blog due, or Thursday, or whatever.  I shall try my best.

The novel being done means I’ll have to decide what I’m working on next.  I have 3 other novels that are currently in first draft form, and I assume I’ll pick one and start editing that one up.  But I’ve been working on a novel constantly for 5 years now, and I’m a little loathe to just dive right into another one.  Plus, I’ve been reading about the benefits of practice in artistic endeavors.  I’m taking June to have a little fun.  I’ll be using my 20 writing days to do a little practice writing with no outcome expected other than weirdness.  I’ve created sort of a Pinterest board for things I’m thinking about, if you’d like to see what I’m planning for those few stories.  It’s here.  They may or may not appear on the blog, depending.

And that’s all the shop I’ll talk today.  Brian and I went on an epic journey last weekend to see a VW Spider sculpture, visit the bearded cowboy muffler man, eat shakes at the International Banana Museum (it’s not just a banana museum… it’s international), and ended up at Salvation Mountain, which was a little like being in a Seuss book if Seuss had been rampantly Christian.  It was a lovely day, and we couldn’t stop giggling through the whole thing.

We’re off again on a secret birthday adventure this weekend.  Brian won’t tell me where we’re going.  It’s a tradition. Here are the clues I have so far: it’s an outdoorsy thing and I should pack for hiking, but we’re not actually camping.  I don’t really need to worry too much about the 100+ temperatures forcasted for Redlands and the desert areas east of us.  He’s packing breakfast and lunch fixings.   It could be anything, right?

And then we’ll be in Massachusetts next weekend for a wedding and much pilgrim goodness.  Yeah, it’s pretty crazy around here.  But it’s all fun, so I’m not complaining.

See you when I see you.  I’m sure it will be soon.

Categories: Life, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Summer Vacation Reads

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It’s summer, and I have been thinking about vacation.  I just got back from a lovely weekend in Oceanside, and it looks like I’ll have another trip on the horizon to Maine.  The all-important decision, of course, is what to bring to read.  I have found that by practicing careful vacation reading curation, I am left with books I’m unable to separate from the landscape.  It’s a lovely thing to have happen.

So in that spirit, I thought I’d make some recommendations.

It’s a bit of a mish-mosh, these lists.  They’re to my taste and to my whims as they stand today.  I tend to agonize over what I’m reading and pick a theme, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with where I’m traveling.  My first trip to Yosemite was steeped in Tolkien.  The Ross Lake adventure was mostly dystopia amid stark mountains and placid, cold waters.  I spent a bit of the summer in Maine at my Aunt’s house by the river, in a sunny room full of antiques, reading Jane Austen.  But if I had to pick on place alone, these are what I would recommend in this moment, depending on where you’re traveling.  It’s a little bit of heartbreak, some silly, a heap of amazing prose, and a pinch of magic to round it all out.

I also want to say that in reviewing this lists, there is not nearly enough Rainbow Rowell, nor Diana Wynne Jones here.  They didn’t seem to fit into categories very well, but you can’t go wrong in reading ANYTHING by these two.  I especially recommend starting with Dogsbody, Fire and Hemlock, or Howl’s Moving Castle with Jones though.  She has so many, it’s hard to weed-through.  Rowell’s backlist is still fairly manageable.

Happy adventuring, and happy reading!

The Beach:

  • Colony, by Anne Rivers Siddons: four generations of family secrets and betrayal on the shores of a summer colony in Maine; and the strength of the women who keep the colony intact.
  • The Moonspinners, by Mary Stewart: While on vacation in a remote part of Crete, Nicola runs into two travelers who have witnessed a murder and are being hunted by a man from the local village.
  • Lake Woebegone, Summer 1956: A coming of age novel about Gary, self-described tree toad, who writes stories about talking dogs and is somewhat obsessed with his bad-girl cousin Kate.
  • Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray: If you mashed up Lord of the Flies with the Miss America pageant, and then added a smidge of reality TV, you might get this novel.
  • The Summer I Turned Pretty, by Jenny Han: Belly is used to tagging after the boys all summer long at the beach house her mother’s best friend owns.  But now they’re all older, everything has changed, and the boys are running after Belly.  And the adults are hiding something life-changing.

Camping:

  • The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien: Bilbo is very surprised when twelve dwarves show up on his doorstep and sweep him off on an adventure containing elves, wizards, a dragon, talking ravens, and a very strange ring.
  • Always Coming Home, by Ursula K. LeGuin: An ethnography of a matriarchal culture in California that exists after the nuclear apocalypse. Weird and interesting, and just beautiful.
  • Watership Down, by Richard Adams:  Because of Fiver’s presentments of doom and destruction, a group of rabbits go on an epic journey to find a new home.
  • Chalice, by Robin McKinley: With the Demesne ravaged by misuse, and a new Master who is part fire-demon, Marisol must attempt to hold the land together with her hives of bees and her chalice, or lose everything to the men who seek to usurp them.
  • Plain Tales from the Hills, by Rudyard Kipling: A collection of short stories featuring soldiers and others in India.  Usually of the heartbreaking sort.

The City:

  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith: Francie grows in Victorian New York, struggling against gender roles and poverty to become the woman she needs to become.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot: The strange and sometimes terrifying story of a woman whose cancer cells are used in almost all stem cell research, yet her poverty-stricken family cannot afford health insurance.
  • Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott: A tale of Miss Tribulation Periwinkle and her time as a nurse in Washington during the Civil War.
  • Isla and the Happily Ever After, by Stephanie Perkins: Isla has a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh.  When they both end up friendless at the American School in Paris, it looks like something might blossom – during senior year.  Just in time for them to have to part.
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris: A hilarious collection of essays, including his life as an artist in New York, and the time he spent in France.

Road Trip:

  • Paper Towns, by John Green: Pretty, perfect Margo Roth Spiegelman climbs through Qs window one night and they go on a spree of pranking.  But then she disappears, and it looks like she’s left him clues to find her.
  • Candy Freak, by Steve Almond: About one man’s search through the candy factories of America and abroad in an effort to sate his sweet tooth, or perhaps just to ferret out the other Candy Freaks.
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman: Richard runs into a woman bleeding on the pavement one night, and finds he must help her.  He wakes up to discover that he no longer belongs to London.  He belongs to a strange world called London Below; and he must go on a perilous journey to restore the status-quo.
  • Forever Liesl by Charmian Carr: a lovely memoir not only of the making of a Hollywood starlet, but of the movie The Sound of Music and of the lives it touched across the globe.
  • Travels with Charlie In Search of America, by John Steinbeck:  Steinbeck travels America in the 1960s, with nothing but his trailer and his poodle, Charlie.  This is his beautifully written memoir of the people and attitudes he encountered along the way.
Categories: Book Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Weekend Miscellany

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This weekend has mostly been a confluence of crazy events and family.  My father, a teacher, set out on his motorcycle two weeks ago and hasn’t been back.  We usually have breakfast every Saturday morning.  He texted me this week to say that he’s east of the Mississippi.  Must be nice to just pick up and go like that.  Hop on the back of a bike with the wind in your hair and see the country. 

Brian’s mom put on a fabulous Thanksgiving in August for us on Saturday.  His sister Julie is here from Virginia, a rare occurrence.  There was a turkey in the freezer.  It really was kismet.  Brian and I brought the Martinelli’s and tried to stay out of their way in the small kitchen.  I brought my knitting and my ukulele, and played while Brian sang LP’s “Into the Wild” for Julie, who had never heard it but loved it.  We went home with many leftovers.  I ate almond green beans and potatoes with gravy most of the weekend.   

I had a job interview scheduled for Monday, and very faded red hair with atrocious roots.  Cue the other sister, mine, who helped me navigate through the complicated world of box dye.  It was much easier than we thought it would be, although it’s a miracle that no one passed out from the toxic fumes.  It still lingers in the bathroom.  I ruined the towel I accidentally stole from Yosemite a month ago.  It is streaked brownish red. 

“So not only are you a thief, you’re also a vandal?” said Brian. 

“Yup,” I said.       

My mother gets back from Maine tonight.  We’re picking her up at the Long Beach airport.  Julie flies out early Thursday morning and she’s bunking at our house Wednesday night.  We’re having beef roll-ups for dinner. 

That’s all.  It’s been a crazy week of comings and goings and family.  I’ve taken a hiatus on writing because I’m making an afghan for a non-blood related family member.  I expect to start draft 3 on the 26th.  In the mean time I’m hooking furiously while listening to much bad TV, and some good TV.  I recommend Netflix’s “Orange and Black.”

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What I’m Not

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Sometimes you can’t see what a thing really is until you’ve seen what it isn’t.  I felt this way about English when I learned American Sign Language.  I love Sign, the way hand shapes suddenly become something pictorial, like a movie in front of your body, the vast expression and freedom that gives.  But English has many synonyms where Sign uses just one word.  I realized that I loved that about English.  The ability to pick a synonym by sound or subtle meaning, the freedom of language that English provides.  Telling a story verbally in English is so much flatter now that I see the cinematography that Sign provides, but I never knew how much I would miss those vast options of expression until they were limited.  I fell in love head over heels with Sign, but I also fell in love with English at the same time.  I didn’t know what it was that I loved until I saw what it wasn’t.

I thought I would feel the same about being an American, which is one of the many reasons I’m dying to travel to Europe.  My quick trip to Montreal last Sunday night, a flighty three hours when I was not in the States, proved my assumptions to be true.

When I asked Brian if he would be OK with us nipping over to Montreal for dinner at 4:00 in the afternoon, I don’t think either of us had any idea what we were getting into.  I expected it to be like crossing state lines but with more security.  Things would be mostly the same on the other side, of course, but we wouldn’t have the GPS to guide us.  I copied careful directions from Google Maps, and we were on our way.

The line at the border crossing was long.  It took us almost an hour to get through.  There was more than one car with Canadian plates having a dance party, though.  Brian and I laughed at the boys in the brightly colored shorts and backwards baseball caps as they slid open the doors of the beat up blue minivan and had a Hammertime dance break on the shoulder of the highway.  The border patrol agent asked us, “got any bombs in the car?” with a jocular grin.  And then we were speeding through the most beautiful farm country on route 133.  Hot air balloons flew over silver silos amid green fields.  Stone farmhouses with white Victorian trim peopled the roadside.  Things went downhill from there.

The signs were in French.  Why it did not dawn on Brian or I that Montreal was the FRENCH part of Canada, I will never know.  I feel like I’ve failed the Chapman University history department with that one.  The only French I know is limited to telling people that the chickens are disguised as cows.  I failed high school French in a travesty of garbled verbs.  Neither of us could read the street signs.

Street markings were different, too.  Thick white lines did not mean that the lane was ending.  Signs above the highway with arrows did not mean that you had to pick one of those options – if you followed none, you just stayed on the current road.  I misread the directions, and we were suddenly lost on a back road in a foreign country with no cell phone service, no GPS, and no way to pull over and ask for directions.  It took us only a few minutes to turn around and find the highway again, but we both realized the full implications of what we had done, and how terribly ill-prepared we were for this jaunt to have dinner.

We parked just off the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal.  Brian had looked at Trip Adviser for the best restaurants in the area, and we found ourselves standing outside the first on the list.  I never felt more hickish than when we walked in and asked for a table.  No reservation, in jeans and t-shirts.  They fit us in.

I realized, sitting next to Brian in that restaurant, what our essence was and what America had made us.  There we were, boisterous, full of jokes, too casual for the environment, barely able to bumble through the menu.  We misunderstood the word “Sortie” to mean bathroom – the exit was evidently down the hall from them – and embarrassed ourselves in another store.  Brian wandered into the woman’s restroom because he didn’t know whether to pick the H or the F.  By the end of the night, every subsequent mistake just set us giggling.  We cajoled the waitress with the stories of our embarrassing exploits.  I understood just a little why the rest of the world sometimes hates us.  Put this vibrant ignorance together with the conviction that all others want to be American, too, and it is easy to see how we become insufferable.

Old Montreal was the most beautiful city I have ever been to.  It was like something out of a movie, out of a history book.  I bought postcards in a kitschy tourist trap and took a million pictures in the yellow glow that surrounded the gray, opulent buildings and spilled into the slim alleyways.  Brian and I drove home, fearful in the darkness that we  would lose our way again, and crossed the border with no wait back into the States.  We sped through the border checkpoint with a sigh of relief to be back in a place where the GPS worked, where we could ask for directions, where we weren’t total idiots.

It is the Fourth of July today, and I can honestly say that I love being American with all my heart.  It is nice to be able to fully appreciate what being American means.  It was a flighty trip, a scant three hours in a foreign country, but it gave me something.  It makes me eager to travel more and explore other facets of the identity I gained simply by being born in this beautiful country.   I usually use the 4th to quote sappy lyrics of my favorite American songs, but I’ll skip it this time.

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