In popular culture, youthful freedom begins when one is handed a set of car keys (or today’s far-less-romantic equivalent, a fob). But those of us of a certain age know that the car is only a promotion: Our first real taste of freedom had only two wheels.
With the exception of Pittsburgh, where inter-generational families cling to each other like refugees in a lifeboat, a preponderance of Americans, particularly the college-educated, eventually leave their hometowns behind. You can find no end of sociological studies (and lamentations) online about the decline of the geographically proximate extended family.
Cash grew up poor and never lost his workingman’s sensibility. He sang songs about the lower-crust: the thwarted factory worker, the soldier home from war with crushed limbs and broken spirit, the Native American stripped of his land and his pride, the highway patrolman who chases his law-breaking brother to the state line and is relieved the law compels him to turn back.
The Nachez Trace Parkway is a miracle. So is finding it with your phone’s GPS. Since the Trace doesn’t have a route number, Siri sent me to and fro, to this side and that side of Nashville. Finally, after two hours of tracing and retracing interstates to the east, west and south, I got off the highway and asked an old farmer how to get there.
Last week, I swept across the American South like the needle on an old-time radio dial – tracking west from about AM 650 to 1500. Starkville, Ms., to Amarillo, Tx. Nine hundred miles in one throw. That’s an adult portion. Whew.
Yellowstone is spectacular – so much so that waiting in line to enter it can be like idling on L.A.’s infamous I-10. And, when you do finally get in, you experience all that splendor with 75,000 or so new friends, many crawling along in RVs with tiny cars in tow.
I grew up in a different era than my students, in a time when the adventures described by wanderers like Hemingway or Kerouac still seemed plausible; like, okay, the world has changed quite a bit since then, and there are more channels on television, but leaving the world of what you know and getting lost in the elsewhere is still possible.
Today in the rush to escape the crowded elevator at Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, I lost track of a brown sling bag which contains: My laptop, my DSLR, 2 smartphones, a kindle, and an I-pod. All told, about two grand worth of gear, as well as my lifelines to our group, and to home.
I hope it will happen on every trip. And it always does. But until it does I don’t really believe it will. It’s that magic moment when you feel you are not just far from home but have transcended the concepts of far and near and strange and familiar and are embraced – just embraced, not immersed – in the place where you are.
Today I accidentally took a 22-mile bike ride through eastern Paris. I say “accidentally” because soon after setting out for Père Lachaise cemetery – about a four mile ride – I got distracted by an interesting lane that led up past an old canal and when the canal ended I took my best guess at where Père Lachaise might lie…
Teachers, of course, are delighted by such students because it is clear that as a teacher you have sparked some interest in a bright young person who finds you interesting and credible enough to seek you out for conversation and advice.
We had a nice group dinner at a trattoria near the hotel last night and it was fun to hear everyone swap tales of their adventures in Paris. It is impossible to see and experience everything Paris has to offer in six days, but no one is leaving feeling that they did not make the best use of every minute.
France has seen many upheavals, defeats and resurrections since its bloody Revolution. World War II was likely the most severe test of its survival and its principles. My father played a role – a small role, a soldier’s role — in restoring to France its freedom and culture, which myself and my students now enjoy and marvel at in our wanderings through Paris.
When we discuss International Media, we think first of the big companies and institutions like Radio France and Burson-Marsteller, but I believe our visit to the Louvre is equally important. After all, art is the first medium — the graphical representation of someone’s idea of reality.
Long ago, the mayor of Zagreb was beside himself because the church bells that signaled noon and dinner rang at wildly different times. So, he installed a cannon high in a tower that overlooks the Old Town. Twice a day it would be fired and then the churches were to all ring their bells at once.
Last night people thronged Zagreb’s central square, which is lined by cafes and clubs and is a gateway to winding streets with more cafes and clubs, and also to the “old town” which is home to ancient churches and the national parliament. On a raised stage, musicians sang passionately about Croatia while images of the country’s scenic wonders panned by on a plasma screen behind them.
My friend and colleague Charlie and I had rented bikes and ridden 15-20 miles along the Danube Sunday and marveled that we rented bicycles for two hours for only 225 dinars – less than 4 bucks!! I couldn’t believe how “cheap” the rental was, but it was explained to me that what is cheap to Americans is dear to Serbians.
Centuries of misery have been visited upon the countries through which we are traveling. They have been invaded, sacked, bombed, absorbed, cast out, had their people driven into exile and their soldiers sent home blinded and humiliated. On occasion, their territory has simply been a convenient theatre for bigger empires to wage war against each other. Conflict and defeat have left scars on the land, the buildings, and the people.
I had studied Cyrillic characters and common Bulgarian words and phrases prior to our departure but confronted with the reality of navigating the language and having to act quickly, in real time, I could make neither heads nor tails of the language.