Lost In The Mail

by Maureen Elizabeth Magee

 

I adore postcards. But I can’t remember the last time I received one – can you? Probably sometime around the mid-1990’s, just before email sucked the life out of stamps.

It seems that, while I wasn’t looking, sending postcards went out of style. Well, let’s face it – everything does, eventually. But it hit home this past holiday season, when assorted friends took off for Australia, New Zealand, Guatemala, Spain and Dubai – and the mailman never delivered a single card to me.

Am I the only one who loved to send them? Most people are quite happy to receive one in the mail, but a particular joy of mine while traveling has always been to spin those metal racks in the tourist shop and study various options in order to find the perfect photograph for each individual on my list. (Mount Fuji for the climbing buddy, Kyoto cherry blossoms for my gardening pal, the Uwa Jima Pornography Museum for….well, never mind.)  I would send postcards to everyone; friends, co-workers and neighbors.  Including some folks I would never consider writing to otherwise, but now wished to impress with my fabulous life exploring exotic places, while they never got farther than their mailboxes.

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VACATIONS ARE A NECESSITY, NOT A LUXURY

by Judith Fein

Some people I know, when they are really stressed out, take an afternoon, evening or full day off. The next day, they are back to work. Others kick it for a weekend, and then dive back into the daily routine on Monday morning. I’m flipping through my mental rolodex of friends, associates and family and, to my horror, I realize that I don’t know anyone who really takes vacations.

“What?” you say. “I take vacations. I went white water rafting on the Snake River in Idaho for five days. And last year I spent six in Kauai, hiking and snorkeling.”

I am sorry, amigos, but five or six days are a break, an experience, a change of scene and pace, but not a real vacation.

A real vacation is at least two weeks. And even better is a month. This is a startling idea in the U.S.A., where most people are afraid to take off more than a long weekend because they may lose their jobs. This means we are certifiably nuts in the U.S.A.  Are we born to work, stress, eat, shop, have sex and then croak? Will we actually take our cell phones and laptops with us to the grave, so we can check the headlines on After Life News or shoot off one last post-mortem tweet?

Talk to people from Europe (they will call it “holidays” and not “vacation” in Britain, but I swear it means the same thing).  Ask folks from South America. They get time off from work. Off from work. Not a few days here and there where their nervous systems hardly have a chance for a good yawn, and certainly not a real rest.

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H i s t o r e c t o m y

by Paul Ross

Remember when you were a kid and some relative dragged you, with the best of intentions, to an historical “re-creation” because it was fun AND educational!? You don’t remember what you learned -- so much for education. And it was only slightly more fun for you than for the poor souls who suffered through the real thing ... because they were so miserable, they didn’t mind dying at age 19 from enlarged pores while semi-skilled barbers attached leeches to their appendages.

Photo Slide Show by Paul Ross

These glossed-over, sanitized, falsely nostalgic, contemporarily cosmetic pseudo-experiences invariably celebrate a time of exploitation. And the POV romantically, religiously and ideologically chosen is from the lowest rung of the social ladder. The idea may be noble, but you are not.

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Keep the Americans out of Cuba

by Patricia McGregor

Now that the US ban on Cuba travel seems about to disappear, and hordes of American travelers are poised to save Cuba from itself, I say, keep the ban. It will make very little impact on the average Cuban’s lifestyle and merely serve to line the pockets of the rich.

photo via Flickr by Robyn JayFor periods of time over the last four years I have lived with a musician in Havana. Because of him, my Spanish improves and his friends become my friends. I live like he does. I become Cubana.

Parties and discussions are our entertainment. His friends feel that they have nothing to gain by having American tourists in the country. Tourist money will not filter down to them.

Although there are many hotels, with the current tourist numbers it is often difficult to make a reservation. An influx of Americans (one estimate is 1 million per year) will put pressure on the tourist infrastructure.

Where will they stay? If they bump out tourists already on a Cuban holiday routine, hostility will surely grow.

New hotels will have to be built. Most Cuban hotels, like the Sol chain, are financed by foreign interests. Are these companies stretched to their last euro in this time of financial difficulties? Will they start up dozens of projects only to abandon them half-built? Will American companies be allowed to invest? Construction workers and such might be busy for a while, and then it will be back to the old life. If they are thrifty, they will save the money. There is no unemployment insurance.

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RIVER MADNESS

by Sharon Spence Leib

BELLINGHAM, WASHINGTON

rafting the Nooksack RiverPlanet Earth has areas so gob smacking beautiful, they captivate the humans living there. At any given moment, Bellingham Washington residents are hiking, biking, bird watching, fishing, river rafting, sailing, kayaking, skiing…. or sipping microbrews at funky pubs while planning their next adventures. With stunning mountains, wild rivers, mystical forests, and the beckoning Pacific Ocean, staying indoors is pretty impossible.

In “Bellingham and Mount Baker,” author Mike McQuaide explains his twenty-year love affair with the city: “If I had ever imagined my perfect city and surrounding area, it would have been a place remarkably like Bellingham…. I could kayak and watch stunning sunsets, but also scale the heights and snowboard into May. Since I like to run and bike and hike, a place laced with miles of forested trails where I could lose myself in my thoughts…. I’ve always had a wildlife jones for critters like orcas, bald eagles, and owls, so it’d be a place that had some of those thrown in as well…. I welcome you to Bellingham and Mount Baker and I think you’ll agree: It’s a special place.”

RIVER MADNESS

“Every time I breathe this pure air, my life gets longer,” smiles Dylan Tougas, our Nooksack River guide.

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Fresh Eyes

by Jules Older

When you live in a place, after awhile, you lose your fresh eyes.

© Jules Older. 25 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CAIt doesn't mean you're dumb or insensitive or unaware of your surroundings. Unless you work hard to correct it, sure as fog, sooner or later you're gonna misplace your awareness of what you see and smell, hear and taste on your way to work or walking home from school or going out for the Sunday paper.

Sometimes it’s actually a relief. As one travel-writer friend sighed about her blissful oblivion to her hometown surroundings, “Ah, the luxury of not seeing!”

But, ah the pleasures of seeing through fresh eyes. Everything is new, everything is fascinating. Every pungent smell from a Chinese grocery, every touch of salt spray on a beach, every clang of a cable-car bell and visual surprise of a public wall mural — they all capture your attention, alert you to what makes your new home different from the old place.

My old place is rural Vermont. More, it’s the coldest, snowiest, most isolated part of Vermont, the northern end of the three northern counties known collectively as the Northeast Kingdom. That’s where I've lived since 1986, that’s where I was a justice of the peace, that’s where I grew garlic and basil and tomatoes. Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom: where I've shoveled snow off the roof and cowshit out of the barn. The old place.

The new place is San Francisco. Yeah, I just moved here.

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THE TRAVEL WORM HAS TURNED

by Judith Fein

Last night, I was sitting in an auditorium, waiting for the audience to file in, and an open-hearted woman I know sat down next to me. We exchanged a little chit chat, and then she asked me where I had been lately. I told her we had started out in Tunisia, headed for central and northwestern Spain and capped our travels in northern and then southern Ireland.

“You can’t take it with you,” she said, half to herself and half to me.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, last year I couldn’t imagine how I could spend what was left of my money on travel. Now I’ve had a change of heart. When you’re gone, the money is of no value to you, so you may as well spend it on things you love.”

“And?” I prompted her.

“And I love travel. So I’m willing to spend my money on it.”

To the best of my knowledge, the Recession, which looks like a lot like a pre-Depression to me, isn’t over. People are losing their jobs the way folks used to lose cell phones or keys. Empty houses are growing old and weary as they get battered by the market. I haven’t been in a crowded store since autumn leaves were falling. Expensive restaurants are offering prix fixe menus that barely cover the cost of the wait and kitchen staffs. And with all of this, folks I know are taking down their suitcases from their shelves and are ready to travel again.

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Hidden Encounters With Saudi Women

by Patricia McGregor

Even in our black abayas and scarves it’s obvious that we’re foreigners. Saudi women rarely venture on to the streets. This is a man’s world. I know the women are somewhere and I’m determined to make contact.

photo by Dave G. HouserWe travel in a full- size tour bus; an escort of police cars, with flashing lights, and secret security men, with big guns, drive ahead of and behind us. No one can miss us.

This works to my advantage. Not being allowed to drive, women stare out of their car windows. We make eye contact.

As my face isn’t covered, it’s easy for them to see my smile. All I can see are their eyes smiling back at me. Some women even return my subtle wave. One lifts up the corner of her veil to get a better look.

Thank goodness for malls and washrooms. It’s there that I get my chance. Curious about me, the women initiate conversations as they touch up their makeup. Why I am here, school, their great shoes, my beaded abaya, Canada. We laugh. I have a brief encounter with woman after woman. As a new grandmother, I admire their babies and show pictures of Claire. We smile and a bond forms in spite of the language barrier.

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A Year On The Ground: Riding the Rails

by Sallie Bingham

Train travel is becoming, rapidly, as comfortable as an old shoe, and it takes the elegance of Union Station in Washington to remind me of the miracle of this way of moving along the ground.

But first, we stand for a long time in freezing drizzle in the Amtrak station in Richmond, modernized to dreariness, although the old photographs on the walls of the waiting room attest to the day when this was a major terminus. In those decades, eighty or more years ago, three train tracks crossed here, bearing engines and their massive loads, human and material, north, south and west. During the War, as my a historical Richmond grandmother called it, a major Union objective was to choke off these rail lines that were carrying supplies to the beleaguered Confederacy. All that is reduced to a shadow, now; only a few travelers wait to board when the train crawls in from Newport News.

The roommate and I are growing particular. The bedroom I reserved, which seemed so well appointed on the leg from Florida to Richmond, now promises to be horribly cramped. We try, at the ticket window in Union Station, to upgrade—in airline lingo—to a bedroom, which has actual beds and a bathroom, but the additional cost would be almost a thousand dollars, out of reach for nearly everyone traveling by rail. These bedrooms remain mostly empty, and it seems to me that Amtrak might reconsider what they are charging.

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