Friday, June 19, 2009

The June Journey: 2009

The yearly Oregon-Washington Trip

It’s been a lazy spring-summer so far, with my only traveling occurring earlier this month: the yearly trip to the Ashland, Oregon, Shakespeare Festival - done that since the mid-l950s - and then, onto Washington where I visited my husband’s family - done that since he died five years ago.

Should start with Ashland, a pretty town with well kept old time frame homes built during the 1800s and a park, Lithia Park, that is one of the most superb patches of greenery I’ve seen wherever. I stay downtown at the Columbia Hotel, upstairs above the various retail shops, a place with a Victorian motif throughout. Some rooms have facilities but I stay in the back with toilet and shower down the hall. You just try to avoid the sunny side for one will sizzle and fry on a hot day, despite window and ceiling fans. Even in the high season, it’s reasonablly priced.

I fly in to Medford and take the shuttle into Ashland. In past years, I have driven up but it is a long, tiring journey. I did take the bus one year when the bus still stopped on the outskirts of Ashland and I may try the train next year: Bay area to Sacramento or Grants Pass with a shuttle from there. Anyway, Ashland and the plays were fine; the only problem was finding a workable computer. The library PCs didn’t like AOL (or vice versa) and the coffee shop’s IMac also was a bit taken back by AOL. So the cell phone got some use.

There was an ongoing crisis - isn’t there always with families? My sister-in-law’s oldest daughter was seriously ill, in and out of the hospital, so there was some question whether I should go on to Washington. Turned out I did and it worked out, particularly as I left a day early (which cost but was worth it!). Concurrently, my nephew, who I had hoped to see, was down in Southern California, cleaning out his recently deceased mother’s place. So what had seemed like a good plan in April was a bit of a disaster, come June.

The plays were good: Henry VIII and All's Well were in the outdoor theatre where, even with three layers, I had a hard time staying toasty. It always is warm during the day and cold at night. Both plays were well performed. Music Man was the musical and I had a hard time erasing Robert Preston from my mind as I saw this very professional production. Nice choreography! Dead Man’s Cell Phone was sold out when I ordered tickets in “April and was still sold out when I went to the Box office on arrival. So I sat out front until someone came up with a spare to sell - and at face price. The play was a commentary on cell phones and relationships: a bit crazy but enjoyable.

The two I liked best were Equivocation, woven around Shakespeare and the Gunpowder Plot, and Servant of Two Masters, an outrageous Italian commedia dell’arte piece. Both were well directed and very sharply performed. If I hadn’t gotten into the Cell Phone, I was going to try for River Rafting - ah, next year!

I enjoyed the Washington visit with my sister-in-law and her family but three days was enough for all of us, especially since I wasn’t going to have a day with my nephew. Got to Pike’s Market in Seattle which I always enjoy. My sister-in-law’s youngest daughter, with whom I am very close, is a professional editor. I had a screen script with me I had been asked to critique so we spent sometime with that.

I stay at a Days Inn in Kent, walking distance to family, which gives them and me some independence. It was a day with each of various family members, all enjoyable. And the Days Inn has a shuttle to the airport so there is no inconvenience to anyone. Just hope all our various crises are down to a dull roar next year.

Since my return, I was googling to get information regarding the author of the screen play (he’s on Facebook) and ended up googling my name: I found that a gracious writer, Julia Ross, named me as one of Twelve Inspirational Women Travelers on WorldHum.com. I’m keeping company with Martha Gellhorn, Julia Childs and Gertrude Bell among others. And I was really impressed that she liked my writing! Thank you Julia! (And thank you, Warren Price, my old J School Prof, wherever you are!)

Monday, June 1, 2009

April-August 2009: At Home

For over two months, I’ve been at home. Not traveling, little writing. Reading. Some worthwhile things like working on Robert Fisk’s tome on the Middle East and Dalrymple’s work on the Indian Mughals and some fun stuff, like Jack Higgens’ and Gordon Kent’s adventure writings. Recently, I discovered Dan Fesperson, a worthy equal to John LeCarrĂ© and Frederick Forsyth. It was one of his books that was out on the local library’s display table that I casually picked up and checked out.

Most interesting, he writes very human stories that are, incidentally spy/adventure tales, with locales familiar to me: Sarajevo, Berlin, Peshawar, Amman. Amman less so for basically, I’ve been in town only for flights in and out. But I have been in Jordan several times - going back in November for another shot at the GARP archaeological dig along the Hejaz. But his descriptions of Amman provide an excellent guide. And with luck and a second passport, I’ll have time in Amman enroute to Israel and Palestine in December. (Second passport is necessary for any indication of an Israeli visa/entry stamp precludes admittance to Mid Eastern/Muslim countries, excepting Egypt and Jordan).

Anyway, I have become hooked on his novels and have several more recent ones to track down. Like several good writers, he’s a journalist. Journalists - and I was a wanna be - tend to be very observant of details of both the physical and the personal. They use language respectfully as it is the tool of their trade. So these skills serve them well when they move onto to fiction, particularly if it is a combination of reportage and imagination, as in Fesperson’s books.

In my early days, I was a J school student who also enrolled in Short Story classes. I could report but didn’t have the imagination to make it as a fiction writer. As it turned out, for over thirty years, I wrote reports for Courts’ use in sentencing criminal offenders. Often, I tried to find a word or phrase out of the ordinary that might catch someone’s attention; I never knew if I succeeded as there wasn’t a response.

But unlike most of my coworkers,who viewed report writing on the same level as having a root canal, the writing for me was the fun part of the job. Interviewing, yes, but then trying to put a thumb nail sketch of the offender and the crime on paper, particularly within the confines of an imposed outline was a challenge.

And then I got to tag around after him/her, assuming they were not incarcerated, for several years and fine out how right or wrong I was in my assessment It was fun while it lasted, And I have missed the writing, which is one of the reasons for the blog. The other is, to keep track of myself.

For two years ago I was in the Swat Valley, today part of the turf battle between the Pakis and the Taliban. I remember it as beautiful, peaceful place. I looked up my notes: there was a bad road (oh, I remember that, one of the worst!), I ate at Charsadda and stayed overnight at the Rock Resort Hotel. I walked among Buddhist ruins and was impressed by a lovely carved Stupa. I fear all that’s left is the bad road. I see news shots of the area, the distruction in Mingora, the refugees!. A sadness! Man’s worst enemy is man, someone said, and at the rate we’re going, we are going to knock ourselves off before another century.

Come August, I’m back to Afghanistan, this time in the countryside. Up north to Mazur-e-Sharif, over to Herat and Banyan and then through the central part and the Minaret of Djam. Maybe, coming in through the Khyber Pass, depending on safety issues. There are three alternate itineraries. I’m excited about returning to the Land of the Great Game and the unbelievable Himalayans. They are at one end of my spectrum with the desert at the other. People who have conquered either are high on my list of heroes: Ran Fiennes (who also has the two Poles under his belt in addition to Everest) and Michael Asher (ex-Para, SAS and author who has lived in the deserts of Africa). In fact, in October, I will spend my birthday on a camel trek led by Asher - a real high point for me despite a probable sore butt.

In the meantime, I mark time at home: setting up future travels, doing household stuff, taking ballet and doing Pilates, tutoring a foreign speaker and reading. The four months I’ve been home this spring/summer is the longest I’ve been around in five years - the cat appreciates it. Though I am fudging a bit by taking off a week this month for the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon and then, several days with family in the Seattle area.

The late summer and fall will have me on the run, between Asia and Africa and the Middle East, with ten days in the UK stuffed in there some place. At one point, I think I’m home little over a week in between trips. But this is the life I’ve chosen, once I left my day job: travel as much as you possibly can!