Land: A World in a Word

What is land? Land can have many different meanings. Land can mean wealth, profit, prosperity, privilege, prestige, power, control, status, accomplishment, satisfaction, success, fame, respect, honor, dignity, safety, security, stability, continuity, contentment, freedom, happiness, hope, joy, beauty, love...

Land, for most people of the world, means wealth. Wealth, like beauty and love, is in the eye of the beholder.

 

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My Kind of Wasteland

by Izaak Diggs

 

It would be easy to dismiss Barstow as a wasteland: You've got the heat in the summer and the poverty year round. Faded mobile homes and salvagers making monkey shapes as they strip valuable tiles off collapsing houses. To the casual glance it is just a place to fill your gas tank or grab a burger or use a restroom. Just another desert town, just another exit or two along the interstate to somewhere else. Why was I there? Was I following a genuine spark of inspiration or had I lost my mind? All I could do was wring my hands, question my sanity, and take more notes. 

Barstow has always been a hub. Starting in the nineteenth century it served long distance travelers and the mining towns in the region. The desert is a popular place for mines: Men digging holes in the ground, getting a little closer to Hell in the hope of cheating the Devil at poker and getting a monopoly on brimstone. Gamblers with chin beards and suspenders who directed other men into the dark recesses of the earth. They oversaw the creation of towns that thrived for awhile only to die and be reclaimed by the desert after.  Fortunes made and lost; a story told countless times in the history of mankind. The story of Barstow is nearly identical to scores of towns scattered like seeds throughout the Southwest.   

I went down to the desert with nearly every penny I had. I stood on a salt flat, waited for the wind to rise, and tossed all the bills in the air. They were carried in every direction; to fast food restaurants and cheap motels and gas stations. Like those men with chin beards and suspenders I gambled everything I had on a dream, on an idea.  I gambled it on the desert; I gambled it on all the little towns like Barstow and Lone Pine and Tuba, Arizona and Capitan, New Mexico. I rolled the dice that there was a story there lurking like a scorpion in a yucca.

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The Quest for La Baguette

by Ingrid Littmann-Tai

Ahh, la baguette, quintessentially French. Biting into your favourite baguette is a soothing affair that will bring a smile of contentment to your face. When you find a good one, all others pale in comparison. Every time my feet land on French soil, I start anticipating my first tasty baguette that will welcome me back to my second home. But it has to be the right baguette. Just as not all French wine is worth drinking, not all baguettes are worth consuming.

Crusty on the outside and hole-y on the inside, the perfect baguette is not too chewy, but rather soft with small bits of bread that ball up in your mouth as you chew. It can be slightly tangy and definitely has a distinct aroma. And baguettes are serious business in France with the average person consuming half a loaf per day. Precise laws protect this French institution with strict regulations concerning the ingredients; any kind of additives are an absolute faux pas.  Flour, yeast, water and salt are all that is needed. A light dusting of flour on the outside, and 20 minutes later, voilà, your baguette is ready to devour.

As serious baguette lovers, I knew my daughters and I would have our work cut out for us when we moved to Paris. With over 1800 boulangeries in the capital and 12 within a 10-minute walking distance of our new apartment, some taste-testing would definitely be involved. As soon as we dropped our suitcases in our new Parisian flat, we happily took on this challenge. I felt like Goldilocks of the three bears fameI knew it would take several attempts until we got it "just right."

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Making Sense of Centimes

by Dorty Nowak

Over the past nine years that I have lived in Paris, I’ve acquired a passable knowledge of the language and can navigate the city’s interconnected web of metros and busses with ease.  Ask me the name of a good restaurant in the Marais, or the best time to go to the Louvre (Wednesday evenings) and I have a ready answer.  

However please don’t ask me for change – I have a problem with centimes. 

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Transportation As If People Mattered

by B.J. Stolbov 

When I was in the United States, commuting every day by bus to work in the Financial District of San Francisco, I took the #2 Clement Street bus. Since I lived near the beginning of the line, there were always plenty of empty seats to choose from, if I got to the bus stop at 7:38 a.m.  If I got there at 7:39, the bus was gone, and I would be late for work. If I got there at 7:38:01, the bus would be pulling out, its engine revving, exhaust fumes spewing, as I ran as fast as I could, and shouted as loudly as I could, and pounded as hard as I could on the side of the bus. Sometimes, the bus would stop; most of time, it wouldn’t. 


When I first got on a bus, actually a small van, in my province in the Philippines, I was on time; in fact, I was early. I had the whole van to myself and I had my choice of seats. I was so excited! This was great! And then, we waited and waited. We did not go anywhere, as passengers, one by one, or two or three, climbed into the van, and we waited until the 12 seats were filled, and, if the driver wanted, we waited until 13 or 14 passengers were crammed into the van, and, maybe one or two old people sat on the front seat beside the driver, and perhaps one or two young men climbed up onto the roof, and we waited, maybe 45 minutes to an hour, until the driver decided that the van was full. 

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Alcohol, Altitude And The Middle Class: I’m out of my depth.

by Martin Nolan

Growing up on a council estate in England, there wasn’t much opportunity to strap two pieces of wood to my feet and slide down a hill. There were plenty of hills but not too many skis. In fact, there was only one person on the estate who had gone skiing. He was the guy who had fancy tea bags and premium range biscuits. In England council estates are areas where low income families reside (like trailer parks but with bricks, mortar and no tornados). They are for working class families, who work all year to save enough money to go on a package Holiday to Spain. We didn’t indulge in expensive tea and we certainly didn’t indulge in skiing. If it was Victorian times, we would have been the good natured chimney sweeps and everyone knows chimney sweeps don’t ski. 

Council Estate, England. Photo file via Wikipedia Commons.

In the intermitting years, I had become wealthier and skiing had become more affordable. Although only ever so slightly. So it wasn’t until my early twenties that I was able to go skiing. It was an attempt to expand my horizons beyond my football loving, gambling, sun seeking past that lead me to book a trip to St Anton with Crystal Ski. I pretty much chose the resort because the people there seemed to like a drink. So in hindsight, it may not have been that big a departure from my usual ways.  A leopard can’t change his spots and all that.  So I packed my bag and went to the capital of Après Ski.

Travelling by myself did not come naturally. I’m basically a socially inept, mumbling wreck of a human being. Mumbling became a way to avoid my ill timed comments from being heard. My jaw was starting to ache from constantly having to dislodge my foot from it. Since my filter wasn’t capable of stopping the words passing through my teeth, I could at least say it in a way that they wouldn’t properly hear it. People being offended were replaced by nods of politeness. No one ever wants to admit they weren’t listening properly.

So booking a shared chalet may not have been the greatest of ideas. Strangers, small talk, me. A potential melting pot of problems. “Have a few drinks... you’re really charming when you loosen up”. That was my well thought through plan. Use social lubricant to slide your way into the group.

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Thoughts on Happiness

byB.J. Stolbov

Living in a foreign country is an opportunity to learn about a different culture, a different way of seeing and responding to the world.  It provides an opportunity to immerse yourself in new customs and traditions, and to see what really matters and is important to people around the world. It is also an opportunity to examine, from a distance, your own customs and traditions and, most important, your own cultural assumptions.

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All That Money Can Buy?

story and photos by Paul Ross 

I suppose that, like most people, topping my “What if..?” fantasy list is the question, “What if I had a lot of money?”–So much money, that not only would I not have to worry about it, I would never even have to think about what I spent. What would I do with those kinds of assets? Support charities? Fund politicians? Gamble (and I include the stock market)? Or just buy a lot of stuff? And what form might the purchasing take? I already travel, so-- Cars? Clothes? Jewelry? Boats and planes? Art? 

$9500 bottle of wine.

In this last category, I had a chance to see what that indulgence might look like at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in the Laurel Highlands region of Pennsylvania. Grillionaire Joseph A. Hardy made megabucks through 84 Lumber, his building supply chain store. I didn’t meet the man but, from what I heard, what I saw in images of him scattered throughout the expansive property and the nature of the complex itself, I got an impression: big, brash, determined, impulsive, self-motivated, assured beyond surety, independent and generous; in short, a real American. Let me paint the picture for you from what I experienced. See if you get the same mental image.

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What If We Didn't Go Home?

“So, when exactly are you coming home?” my father asked.

“I don’t know, Dad. Our visas allow us to stay in Peru for at least three months, then we’re thinking of heading on to Argentina and Chile...”

The broken and sputtering magicJack connection at the South American Explorers Club in Cusco broadcasted about every third word of our conversation, but the message that traveled down the steep stone streets of the ancient Inca capital and across the continents to the lush green lawns of Newark, Delaware, the college town I’d grown up in and where my parents still live, was crystal clear: We weren’t coming “home”. 

The truth was, my husband, Hank, and I had no idea when, or if, we were going home. We didn’t even know what “home” meant anymore. We’d been winging it, temporarily inhabiting Mexico, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Peru: itinerant and loose in the world in a manner that both worried and intrigued family and friends back home.

We were four thousand miles from our homeland, eleven thousand feet above sea level, south of the Equator where summer is winter, and living in a fourth-floor walkup without heat. Yet, life felt sweet and rich and fortunate. 

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Have a Happy Crappy Christmas Catalonia-Style

by Elyn Aviva

 

Bon Nadal and Feliç Any Nou! That’s Catalan for Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. 

It’s the holiday season in my home town, Girona, Catalonia, and things aren’t quite what you might expect. Yes, there are the familiar ho-ho-ho Santa Claus figures dangling from buildings, and three-foot-high Christmas trees with matching pink and purple ribbon decorations are lined up outside stores on the main shopping streets.

There are brilliant-colored lights strung across the avenues, and a glittering conical abstraction of a Christmas tree pulses on and off in the Plaza de Catalunya. Christmas carols (sometimes in English) echo through the halls, the beauty salons, and the restaurants, and carolers emote as they stroll down the pedestrian Rambla, songbooks in hand. Flame-red poinsettias are for sale in the market, and school-club fundraisers hawk chocolate bars and handmade knickknacks. And there’s the cheery Firanadal (Christmas Fair) offering artisanal goods, felt slippers, jewelry, plastic toys, and boxwood spoons.

Yes, all of this is vaguely familiar, even if gigantes (giant dancing king and queen figures), a marathon Nativity play (Els Pastorets), xuixus (pronounced “choochoos”: sugar dusted, cream-filled pastry rolls), and turrón (a kind of nougat) aren’t usual Christmas fare.


But you really know you’re in a foreign land when you seen the rows of squatting miniature figures—including SpongeBob SquarePants, flamenco dancers, Obama, Barça soccer star Messi, Queen Elizabeth II, and Death—their pants pulled down, a brown plop of poop deposited behind them, for sale for inclusion in Nativity scenes. Correction: the plop of poop behind Death is white, not brown. 

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Searching for Happiness with a child in Copenhagen

by Jenny McBain

Perhaps my nine-year-old son has the makings of a therapist.  A Scottish friend was hosting us in his deluxe apartment in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile the ancient street which wends its way from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace.   In addition to owning a number of desirable properties, my friend is in possession of a title and sports a   "Sir" in front of his name; but wealth did not buy him happiness feeling distinctly discontent when he sought my son’s council. 

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Traveling the Side Roads

by Barbara Benjamin

People travel for many reasons: to get away from the routines of daily life; to face a new challenge, to see new sights, or just to kick back and relax. I travel to experience new cultures, to come away knowing what it is like, day by day,  to live in a place I’ve never lived in before. So, when I travel, I always travel on the side roads.  Rather than booking accommodations at a travel agent’s favorite resort or hotel, I often land in another country I’m visiting without reservations, and, speaking to the airport cab driver or questioning some locals I meet on the road, I find out where I can rent a house.  Occasionally, I am able to find a house far away from the tourist areas  that is advertised in my hometown newspaper or on the Internet, and I can book in advance.   


Once I find my temporary new home, whether a cottage in the tropics of Jamaica, West Indies, or North Wales or a pre-Revolutionary farmhouse in Downeast, Maine,  I begin my adventure of setting up my new household, shopping in the local markets, cooking the local meals, conversing with the local people, and attending the local church.  Mingling with my new neighbors in this way, I often make friends and have the good fortune to be invited into their homes for lunch or afternoon tea.  That’s when I really learn what it would be like to live in the place I’m visiting, as my new friends enthusiastically share stories about their lives, all the latest town gossip,  and their secret recipes for national dishes. I should explain that, whenever possible, one of my first purchases is always a local cookbook, and I often learn more remarkable information about the people I am living among from their cookbooks than from all the history and guidebooks available.  

Traveling this way, I always have a  chance to observe the demographics of the culture, the rhythms and mores of  diverse people in the region I’m visiting, and, unfortunately, the inescapable and ever-present antagonism that exists between different groups of people within a single culture and between cultures.  No matter how majestic and serene the snow-capped peaks or how deep and placid the waters that mark the landscape, there is always an underlying tension between the diverse groups of people who live there.  Like the tension created by the tectonic plates that rub against or move away from each other under the earth’s surface, the people in every culture rub against each other and move away from each other,  often leading to violent social eruptions. 

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Omnivore’s Revenge

by Jules Older

 

I am not a vegetarian.

I say it with pride: I am not a vegetarian.

But I live with a vegetarian — well, a mostly vegetarian, and when the vegetarian’s daughters (and mine) come home, then we get into serious vegetarianism. Because I'm outnumbered, three to one.

Now, I have nothing — well, almost nothing — against vegetarianism. It’s true, I think the best diet is a richly diverse one. And it’s true that I think everything about us, from our taste buds to the shape of our teeth to our digestive systems, indicates that we are built for eating meat as well as tofu.

But at home, I'm more likely to get tofu.

That’s why it gave me such pleasure when the editor of Vermont Magazine called and said, “Jules, m’boy, we’d like you to get yourself down to Windsor. Write us a story on the New England BBQ Championships.”

And I was even happier when he added, “Oh, and bring the vegetarian photographer with you.”

Payback’s a brisket.

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Confessions of a Slow Traveler

by B.J. Stolbov

 

I don’t like jets.  Yes, I know, they are the most convenient way to get somewhere far away quickly, but I still don’t like them.  Jets are just tubes with seats.  Soulless.  They make me feel detached from the earth.

I don’t like taxis, either.  I know that they get me quickly from place to place, mostly to or from airports.  They are a necessary convenience.  I often try to engage the taxi driver in conversation, but we both know that this is only a business transaction, and I know that the taxi driver’s job is to make the most money from an uninformed traveler.  I find it unpleasant, and I’m glad to pay and get out of a taxi as quickly as possible.

I do like to travel slowly.  I try to choose the slowest form of transportation available: be it car, bus, motor scooter, bicycle, boat, canoe, kayak, raft, horse, mule, elephant, or, my favorite, walking.  I like to see the landscape; I like to see mountains and rivers, rocks and caves, trees and plants.  It is the scenery moving by me slowly that soothes my soul.

Sure, I want to go somewhere, but the where is not really the point.  A hotel room is just a bed with a roof (when you close your eyes, all hotel rooms look the same).  A simple guesthouse with a friendly host is fine for me.  A bed under the stars is better.  When I want to see places, I want to see the roads, rivers, and paths that connect these places.  The adventure is in the getting there.

For me, traveling is in the snap of a twig underfoot bringing me directly into the world around me, the creaking of a bicycle seat at the turn at the bottom of a hill, the rocking in the wind and waves of the small boat, the bumping and bouncing of a bus, the road and the trees and the fields rolling by, the houses with their doors open, and the people, especially the children, smiling and waving as I go by; they are all a part, the most important part, of my journey. 

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The Great Migration Outside My Window

by Kristine Mietzner

Eyelids closed, I postpone viewing the new day. I linger in dreamtime until a familiar honking breaks the morning stillness in Benicia, California, a waterside community thirty miles north of San Francisco. The world outside my window rests under the great Pacific flyway, the north-south path of North American migratory birds. 

Eyes wide open; I peer through the bedroom window in time to see Canada geese, a trio in flight, noisily bound elsewhere, calling to one another, beaks pointed, necks stretched; chests lifted upward, wings flapping hard. I track their flight over Southampton Bay, the cove on Benicia’s west end. The pale gray clouds of the marine layer blanket the opposite shore of the Carquinez Strait. This wide watery ribbon funnels fully half of California’s water drainage through a deep channel on its way to the Pacific Ocean.   

Cuddling under a soft, embroidered, cotton quilt, while I marvel at the waterfowl, Franz Kafka’s translated words come to mind.  

You do not need to leave your room.

Remain sitting at your table and listen.

Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, and solitary.

The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, 

it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

The universe blesses Benicia with a significant year-round presence of waterfowl—mallards, coots, the great blue heron, and snowy egret. Spring brings an upswing in activity: nesting and the annual migration of some birds to points north. 

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The Philippines: New Life, New Priorities

by B.J. Stolbov

 

Mortgage, insurance, car, cable, gas, electric, water . . . drowning in bills, bills, and more bills . . . money going out and out . . . oh, what to do. . . .  What to do?

Two years ago, I joined the Peace Corps.  I sold or gave away most of my stuff.  (Don’t worry: stuff is replaceable.)  I took a suitcase and a backpack, a whole lot of trust and my little bit of courage, and I moved to the other side of the world.

 

Now, I have two suggestions for you. 

Suggestion #1: The Philippines.  I live in northern Luzon in a beautiful province called Quirino.  It is a quiet, peaceful, rural province.  The place reminds me of Northern California, only with palm trees and fresh bananas.  The people here are warm, friendly, and hospitable.  (Hospitality is THE cultural trait of the Filipinos.)  The Filipinos will invite you their homes and will treat you like family.  You will not go hungry here, we eat as often as six times a day, and the food is simple and good.  The living is relaxed and basic.

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Triathlon to Tree Pose: Discovering the Power of Breath in Mexico

by Caren Osten Gerszberg

I am married to a man who loves to compete. He is long, lanky and as strong as an ox. Much less competitive but also athletic, I have shared many challenges by his side for more than two decades—from running and cycling to rock climbing and skiing. While he strives to win, I just want to sweat, stretch and inhale some fresh air.

Every year since our wedding 21 years ago, we’ve celebrated our anniversary with a trip—like biking in Croatia, skiing in Park City, Utah, museum and pub hopping in London, and golfing in Hilton Head, North Carolina. As soon as each trip is over, I start thinking about our next springtime getaway—a rare chance for us to have extended time together, away from our three beautiful kids and the stresses of daily life.

When it was time to plan last year’s trip, I was intrigued after hearing from a friend about Esencia, a small 29-room resort on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. I love Mexico not only for its food, climate, and culture, but it also makes for an easy trip—a non-stop flight from New York to Cancun, and then a one-hour drive.

Once the beachfront estate of an Italian duchess, Esencia is a 50-acre white-walled property that looks out over the Caribbean. It is a peaceful oasis with two pools, a day spa that uses ingredients like juniper berries and rosemary grown in its on-site garden, and a welcoming open-air restaurant called Sal y Fuego. 

But what really grabbed me was learning that Esencia offered yoga—every morning, free of charge, outside in the open air.

This was my chance. A rare opportunity for my point-scoring, lap counting, time-keeping husband to perhaps let down his competitive edge and try something that would greatly benefit his body—and soul.

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My Dream House

by John Lamkin

Sitting here watching the sunrise on the lagoon—Laguna Bacalar--I recall the time we arrived by canoe at the little cove here and decided that this would be an excellent spot to build a house. It was covered with scrub growth, weeds, some trees, coconut palms and the jungle was trying to reclaim it. Now, looking from the terraza of the house, it looks manicured, with lawns, flowers, intentional landscaping and the jungle held at bay. We had the house built by a Mexican architect friend with the unlikely name, Shiva. It's small, sets back about twenty meters from the water and has views of the Laguna from every room except the large bathroom which has its own indoor garden. It took awhile to manifest after the canoe ride, some looking at other places in Mexico, but it happened. It helped that it was on part of the land we already owned.

It seems there comes a time in a man's life when he has the strong urge to build, maybe something for 'posterity'--to make his mark on the land. I found locations for two other homes in somewhat the same manner as the Laguna house. The first was what they called a 'camp' in Nova Scotia. Back in California, where I came from, it would be called a cabin. I bought the 149 acres sight unseen.

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Living With Less

by Sylvia Fox

For the past 10 years - more if you include summers - Michael and I have chosen to live what my parents would have called a 'bohemian life' that meant living with limited utilities, limited comfort.

In 2000, we impulsively sold our home in Sacramento, California and bought a 48’ cruising sailboat with plans to unplug, untie and live a less traditional lifestyle. The impetus, in hindsight, was having our youngest child move out to go to college. 

As I wiped a tear away while I said goodbye, my other thought was ‘My turn!’

And off we went --- sailing out under the Golden Gate Bridge, turning left and heading south until the butter started to melt.

But over the last decade, whether we were cruising California and Pacific Mexico aboard our 48' Maple Leaf sailboat, Sabbatical, or living in a home we later built in a rural surf village on a Pacific beach in Mexico or spending summers in our 100-year-old lake cottage in rural upstate New York, we found we had to constantly monitored our usage of what most Americans take for granted: water, sewage, gas, and electric. And garbage.

We had to know what we had, what we used, what we stored because of the lifestyle we had accidentally chosen when we stumbled into our grand adventure.

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