Saturday, May 10, 2014

Word by Word; or A Travel Memoir

London: Shoes.

Being a mostly country girl, I was not prepared for the unyielding firmness of days spent walking the pavement of a real international city. Sure, this was not my first sidewalk, but I was shockingly unprepared for the daily pounding my feet received from walking the miles demanded by a life in London. Within weeks, foot pain was a reality. Feeling like a character in a film about overworked labor class waitresses and construction workers, I would kick off my shoes at the end of the day and rub my tired feet. I was far too young for pain like that. The shoes I had been wearing that had seemed more than comfortable when I had bought them and broke them in by wearing them for my life in Chico CA were woefully unable to bear the brunt of my 5-10 mile pavement pounding escapades through the streets of London. Finally, on a day when even my morning dose of ibuprofen could not assuage the pain in my feet, I caved in and bought a pair of fancy trainers that were by far and away the most expensive clothing purchase I had ever made. I remember putting on shoes that cost more than I could imagine spending and feeling like I was wearing clouds. It is 11 years later, and I still have those brown leather Timberland trainers. When I stepped  out onto the London sidewalk, in my new shoes, I felt like a Londoner. They are well-worn now, but still, when I travel and I know I am going to be walking a lot, those are the shoes I reach for.

Lake Havasu: Mustard.

MTV Spring Break was filmed in Lake Havasu, Arizona in spring of 1995. It was a fleshfest of twenty-somethings partying on houseboats. I watched with the singular envy only known by a sheltered small town girl. When it just happened that I was driving across country to visit my Great Aunt Katherine--yes, I am named for her-- in Indiana and when I saw the sign to Lake Havasu, I just had to detour. My excitement turned to disappointment when I realized that Lake Havasu is really a retirement community. I shuffled dejectedly through a town that obviously catered to senior citizens not college kids. Gift shops full of tote bags, rhinestone studded sweatsuits, and t-shirts about grandkids. Not what I was expecting. Always the trooper I refused to be bowed, I boarded a houseboat to go out on the lake. The houseboat captain was a self-ascribed Lothario. A somewhat attractive man in his late 50's is was pretty obvious that the senior ladies also thought he was Lothario. I, the lone dark-haired lass sitting in a sea of silver, was decidedly not as impressed. The captain flirted and the ladies just ate it up, his big joke was that when we would sail close to the other boats filled with even more silver-haired ladies--who were all gazing longingly at OUR captain--he would hold out a jar of Grey Poupon and shout, "Pardon me, but do you have any Grey Poupon?" And everyone, but me, would laugh uproariously.In the last hour of the trip I discovered that the original London Bridge had been moved to Lake Havasu. They took the bridge apart, brick-by-brick, and reassembled it over Lake Havasu. At the end of the day, that fact saved that trip for me. It just seemed so ridiculous that London Bridge had been erected in AZ. It was so out of place, and was the only part I liked. It was like me. I remember standing on that ridiculously placed bridge watching the sun go down and below me a boat skimmed the lake and a voice shouted, "Pardon me..." Finally, I just had to laugh.

Edinburgh: Wet.

My memories of Scotland are rain-soaked, really. I have only been twice, for only a handful of days each time, but it was nothing if not permeated by rain, and well, being wet. Visually, this city in memory is a mix of green and gray: The rain and the pavement, and walking so much I was drenched with sweat. The rain coming in an open hotel window to land on a bed soaking rumpled sheets and clothes discarded in passion. I am sure the sun shines in Edinburgh, and I am sure there are paths that would not force me uphill or up a set of stairs, but I don't remember any. Every journey through that city was a climb that left me breathless and slick with sweat. Tired, wet, and breathless became a default state; but, the arduous path was always worth it. Always. At the top is a castle, a view, a monument, a hotel room... a boy. Each soaking me with rain or sweat.

What about you? What is one word that you associate with a trip or a place?

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