by Dan Sapone
I’ve often been asked, “How did you become so interested in travel? Where did you get your curiosity for the world?”
I trace my excitement for travel to three life-altering gifts from my father.
A World Globe: The big picture
One Christmas morning when I was young enough to have written a letter to Santa Claus, I found a world globe under the tree. It wasn’t a surprise, because my letter asked for a “revolving globe.” It was more than a foot high and rotated on a tilted axis — just as I had expected. But as I lay on the floor examining the different-colored shapes, some surprises emerged.
I asked my dad, “Where are we?” Since the Christmas before, when I got my first big-boy bicycle, I decided that my hometown was huge. I could ride my bike for half an hour and not even get to 18th Street. So, I was surprised when my dad said, “Our town is so small you can’t even see it.” When he showed me that our town was half an inch from San Francisco and three inches from Disneyland, I was stunned.
I looked back at my globe with new respect and suddenly I was full of questions: “Where are the New York Yankees?” “Where does President Eisenhower live?” Then my dad opened my eyes to a new subject: “Let me show you where my father came from." To my amazement, he turned my globe to the other side and pointed to an orange shape that looked like a boot. “Italy, Reggio Calabria, down here near the toe.” I looked at the ‘boot,’ back up at him, then down at the ‘toe.’ I remember wanting to ask more questions, but I didn’t know what to ask.
As time went on, my globe helped answer more complicated questions. As a kid, I noticed ‘old people’ like my grandparents talked in words that I couldn’t understand. I also noticed that the ‘middle-aged’ people in the family understood those strange words, but still spoke to me in words I understood. So, I drew a logical conclusion: when people got old, they started speaking in a strange new way — “old-people talk,” I called it. I figured that when you get to be “half-way old,” like my parents, you talked funny to older people but hadn’t lost the “right way” of talking to younger people. I concluded that when my parents got “old,” the transformation would be complete.
When my Dad overheard me explaining this “fact” to my nephews, he took me over to the globe and explained that grandma and grandpa spoke “Italian.” He spun the globe and showed me; “People who grew up here, spoke Italian from the time they were little. When grandma and grandpa came to America they had to learn to speak English.”
Then came the really interesting part. “In America,” he told me, “We speak English because many of the people who came here a long time ago came from England.” He spun the globe again. “Right here.” The different colors I had wondered about on my globe turned out to be different countries where they spoke different languages! People in France spoke French. People in Spain, the yellow one there, spoke Spanish. And so on.
Between that Christmas and the next one, a second gift from my father dramatically increased my interest in spinning the globe.
View-Master Reels: A 3D view of the world.
Another year I found under the tree a Fisher-Price View-Master viewer. It looked like a pair of binoculars only you inserted a three-inch cardboard disk before you put it up to your eyes. Each disk contained twenty color slides. When you pulled the handle, the disk rotated to the next picture. The disks were labeled “Egypt,” “China,” “England,” “France,” and “Italy.”
This gift taught me about leaning towers, pyramids, and Great Walls from all around the globe. Looking back, the pictures made the countries seem bigger and the globe seem smaller.
I learned something more when I showed my dad the leaning tower in the Viewmaster and asked, “Was that tower leaning like that when you were there?”
“I’ve never been there,” he said without taking his eyes from the Viewmaster. “But you need to go there someday”; and he said it more than once.
Stamp Collecting: The language of postage stamps
One summer day, my dad brought home a booklet: Collecting Stamps for Fun and Profit. He told me that all the countries on my globe publish their own postage stamps for sending letters and packages. He showed me that the words on the stamps were written in the language of that country and that the pictures on them illustrated the people and places that were important to them.
When he took me to the hobby store and showed me stamp-collecting albums with pictures of the stamps from different countries, I was hooked. I brought home the “Regency” stamp album (I still have it), a booklet called The Stamp Finder to identify the country a stamp was from, a magnifying glass, and a package of assorted stamps from around the world. I learned that other countries called themselves names that were different from what we call them — Francais, España, にっぽん, Italia. It didn’t take long for me to determine on my own that “I needed to go there someday.”
Fast-forward to today and I can look back on those three gifts from my father as the source of my desire to travel to places “where they don’t speak English and don’t even want to.” As a result, I have been to Italy, France, Japan, Austria, and the United Kingdom, and I still hunger for more.
P.S. There was another gift: On my tenth birthday, my father gave me a telescope and a poster of the Solar System. Where this gift will lead me has not yet been determined— but I suspect that will be for my grandchildren to decide.
Dan Sapone grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, graduated from Santa Clara University, and has been an editor and writer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for nearly three decades. He and his wife Gretta live in the East Bay, where they are travelers and grandparents.