Wish You Were Here

December 14, 1930 ~ Barbados
A lazy feeling in the air. Anne decided to go swimming, so departed in a motor launch with Percy and Charlie, which goes directly to the Aquatic Club pier. I was going to spend my time writing my postcards, which we had bought the day before, but being idle was much nicer so I wandered about dispensing conversation here and there to the Capt., the purser, the doctor, a few passengers and pretty soon it was noon.

Anne returned and we had lunch and soon after went to our card writing in earnest. We settled a table near lift boat 5 on the starboard boat deck and prayed that we be not interrupted. It was quite warm and got warmer as we raced with our writing to get the cards off before sailing. As usual, the old rubber stamp “Wish you were here” was cutting down Anne’s writing efforts. Percy came along and we sent him to find out when the mail would leave. Alas, the mail had already left.

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Anne finished her batch and raced to Payn with her troubles. She came back to tell me he would send our mail ashore with one of the shore-going men. It started to rain so we ran below where we stamped our written cards. Anne took all that were ready to Payn who put them in a large envelope and then waited for the rest of mine. I finished a few more and rushed to the landing stage where the messenger was waiting. The envelope was sealed and we hoped that the cards would be safely deposited in the post office. I had a few more to write and would have to wait until our return to Barbados to mail them as I had the necessary Barbados postage stamps.

July 13, 2020 ~ Weston, CT
I’m still a proponent of cards sent by post
Just a quick note to say “I’m thinking of you”
Signed and stamped and left up to chance
As to when it will finally reach you

If I were to send one from where I am now
My greetings from isolation most sincere
With a picture of my quarantine “paradise” on front
On back I’d write, “Wish You Were Here”

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I’ve always loved postcards, both writing and receiving. They come out of the blue, with regards from abroad, a Twitter-length documentation of place and time and ramblings. I started making my own postcards for a school project in college, swapping out the cliché photos of touristy things on front for something slightly more artistic and personal. It combined so many of my loves – handwriting, photography, stamps, news from elsewhere. I would send the cards abroad to friends or acquaintances in the places I’d traveled to, asking them to write me a note and mail it back, eagerly awaiting to see the post markings and stamp of choice. Sometimes they would be quick. Others would surprise me by showing up months later.

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This project started in the isolation of the darkroom, feeling as free as ever. Painting the emulsion onto carefully chosen card stock, seeing foreign landscapes come to life again on the enlarger. My mail smelled slightly of developer and fixer, just an added bonus if you ask me. When those darkroom days were no longer available to me, I turned to digital. While not as rewarding, I do appreciate the pop of color the prints add to my collection.

 

Last post I wrote about missing strangers as a result of this lonely quarantine business. Another thing I’m longing for, without question, is sending postcards or having them sent to me. Since no one is traveling right now, if you want to send me a postcard from isolation, I would be most grateful.

xo,
Monster

Stranger Encounters

August 17, 1929 ~ At Sea
Dinner in the dining room but didn’t find it as enjoyable as lunch on deck. “Mrs. Prolific” and children entertained on deck. Walked the deck a couple of times with Mr. B but then stopped off to chat with Anne, Bill, the first officer and Al the chief engineer. After a while Mr. B. left us and Bill and Al went below to play cards.

Dancing of a sort with the aid of my not-so-good phonograph records was in progress in the music room. Mr. B, hereafter designated as Irving, asked me to dance but I refused. Later in spite of many refusals, I was persuaded by a stout Spanish gentleman to take a turn. He was a good dancer. In quick succession I danced with 3 young Mexicans, one an aviator, another a salesman, and the third I know not what. They are all extremely polite and two of them are quite good looking.

June 29, 2020 ~ Weston, CT

Dear Aunt Jean,
It’s been a little over three months since I last wrote. I thought things couldn’t have gotten worse, but they have, in ways that I’m still trying to comprehend. We’re still under quarantine rules, holing up in our woodland home. I’ve spoken to more animals of late than humans. Any interactions with other people have been limited and heavily calculated or they’re virtual. While I’m not aching for things to go back to the way they were, I’m realizing slowly some random things that I’ll miss without traveling this year, like meeting strangers.

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This caravanning crew at the Salt Flats looked too cool not to snap their photo

Much of what you wrote in your journals describes what it was like on ship, sailing for days in close quarters with people you’ve never met before. I enjoy your quippy character descriptions and bizarre factoids about these folks. I suppose I’ve taken to doing the same.

“We sat next to a tall fellow from Europe at breakfast who was here on holiday to study the giant damsel fly. He was a scholarly type and I don’t mean that kindly.”

I often think of the people I’ve encountered on my trips over the years, whose names I may or may not know, whose paths I’ll likely never cross again. We’ve met unexpectedly in taxi cabs and galleries, on city streets and in the middle of nowhere. Maybe we exchanged words, perhaps we only locked eyes for a few seconds. Our meet cutes were short and by chance, standing out among all of the minutia and all of the newness that comes with a trip to become part of my memories and stories.

“We sidled into the Dominical Free Art Experiment gallery to get out of the blazing sun. There was one young guy inside, sitting on the floor, sketching. He was darker skinned, had one feather earring dangling from his left ear, and he had a welcoming smile. The other artists came in shortly after we entered but they didn’t so much as say hi. Moose was granted permission in Spanglish and sign language to play the sweet kid’s guitar. It was missing a string and had a sensual painting on the back. Hearing her sweet melody lit them both right up.” 

These are the folks that made such an impression on me, for better or worse, that I bothered to write about them in my journals. I think of some of them often as I muse upon the bizarre ways in which the world works; to know that our interactions in the universe, whether we’re conscious of them or not, send out little ripples, affecting others’ lives in ways we may never be aware of. Who knows, I may be written about in someone else’s travel journal and I think that’s pretty cool!

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Sharing a smile in Lalitpur

Oddly (and awesomely) enough, a number of these encounters have included chocolate chip cookies as a sweet ice breaker and a familiar gesture to bond over. I mentioned before the funeral cookies we got from the bartender in the Faroes. When I was farming in Hawaii, another cookie connection happened in the back of a taxi. I was at the Kona airport dropping off our rental car from a mini road trip that Arianne and I took around the island. By some magic, the local bus, which usually doesn’t run on its schedule, was at the airport 20 minutes early. It was sticky and humid out and the bus had no air conditioning. The driver was taking a nap on his break and some minutes after we were supposed to leave, a few of us started to stir, trying to wake him from his slumber. If the driver was this tired, I didn’t want to be at his mercy on a long bus trip back to the farm. I shared glances of hesitancy with an older woman across the aisle and we opted to take a cab together back to the other side of the island.

Along the way we traded stories about work and life. She was from Alaska, living half the year on Hawaii. She shared a bag of her homemade chocolate chip cookies with me, a sweet gesture that made up for the aggravation I was feeling about the bus. The cabbie dropped me off at the Choice Mart at the bottom of our hill, my friend still had to ride a good hour longer. It was then that the cabbie told us he was cash only. You’d think he would have mentioned this earlier. It was going to be $70 just for my half, ridiculous, I know, considering the bus would have only been $2. The $20 in my wallet wasn’t going to cut it and after some bickering with the cabbie, the woman kindly offered to pay in full, all but laughing at the experience. I made sure to send a check and a sweet note to Alaska.

While cookies have been my preferred ice breaker, I’ll never forget the woman in Iceland that pulled tiny rubber chickens out of her coat pocket and placed them casually on the table before us. We were horseback riding in Akuryeri, in winter no less, and after our ride was over, the group went back to the lodge to warm up over some tea. Jeanne sat next to us and began chatting about Iceland, asking why we were there and so on. She, too, was an avid traveler and liked to ask fellow globetrotters to take pictures around the world with these little toy chickens and email them back to her, just for the hell of it, to see how far these chickens could go. She had a pocket full of them and gave us a few to hang on to given that we were on country number one of an eight country trip. It reminded me of the wall at Stew Leonards, our local grocery store/dairy back home, where shoppers would post pictures of themselves around the world toting their iconic plastic bags with a cow on it. For nostalgia’s sake, I happily obliged.

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“The chickens are having fun. In the Faroe Islands we found a church that was abandoned in the 1500s! Yesterday we spent a chilly night at the Ice Hotel in Sweden.”

Unfortunately I think we misplaced them, or possibly stopped caring, around Finland.  I wonder where those chickens are now?

 

Quarantine

June 21, 1926 ~ Kingston, Jamaica

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The ship was scheduled to reach quarantine at 9 A.M. but it wasn’t until 10 A.M. that the Jamaican officials boarded the boat to examine the debarking passengers. Those of us getting off at Kingston were summoned to the dining salon where the two officials, the ship’s doctor and the purser, gathered at one of the tables. The purser called the names alphabetically and we marched over to have our tickets examined and to state the duration of our stay in Jamaica. After this business was finished the two officials got back into their small boat and we continued to the Kingston dock.

Among the last, we descended slowly and carefully down the companionway hovered along the side of the ship. According to Anne it was a hazardous feat.

We entered the pier by a regular freight entrance. There were stacks of cases and bales piled up and we walked quite a distance until we reached the enclosure where the customs men were gathered to examine our baggage. All our bags had been labeled “R” and were piled on the counter in section “R” and we were prepared to open them all for their inspection, however, they were content with our statement that we had nothing dutiable.

While we hadn’t been kept waiting very long, it was so hot that perspiration was trickling down my back as well as my face. Everyone else seemed to be suffering as much.

March 21, 2020 ~ Weston, CT

Dear Aunt Jean,
The world is under quarantine. I wish I could tell you that was a metaphor, but it’s not. We’ve not received official orders here in the States yet, they’re mostly self-imposed or by local government, but schools are dismissed, non-essential businesses are closing, we’re urged to confine ourselves at home in order to keep everyone at a distance. A virus has spread very quickly around the globe and we’re at a standstill, waiting. Waiting for direction, waiting for it to pass, waiting to resume “normal” daily functions like going to work or meeting friends for coffee. Travel is suspended, borders are being closed. It feels like we’re living in a bubble.

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Just two months ago, Moose and I were in Costa Rica, isolated by choice up in the mountain jungle overlooking the ocean. Social distancing wasn’t an issue. A broken up dirt road was preventing anyone from coming up there unless they lived there. We had space, breathing room. There were days when we didn’t want to leave our little oasis. It was the perfect place to write and to be inspired. The sound of silence was welcome. We had not a care in the world. Fresh fruits and veggies growing right outside our door, should we need nourishment. I would give anything to be back there right now. Maybe being under quarantine in Hatillo wouldn’t feel so…jarring.

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Awash In Spontaneity

June 24, 1926 ~ Jamaica
After riding a while we sighted a nice stretch of beach so asked the driver if he would wait while we sat on the beach. To Anne, the surf brought an intense longing to get into it and before we knew it she had her shoes and stockings off. Miss Todd followed her example and they both walked into the water holding their skirts high. The sea was rather calm so they ventured in almost knee-high. Suddenly a wave came along and before they could retreat, they found their skirts etc. drenched in spite of their frantic efforts to avoid the obvious.

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The Caribbean’s nasty trick dampened Miss Todd’s spirit as well as her skirt so she decided to get back on the beach. Anne followed her hoping the tropical sun would quickly dry her clothes but such miracles are not performed in two minutes so she had the discomfort of sitting in the car in wet clothes, and eventually the car seat was also well moistened.

We passed through a light rainfall on the way to Port Antonio and the temperature was comfortable passing through the hills but lower down we found it quite warm. The ride home from Port Antonio was quite long and the least bit tiresome at the end. We were scheduled to get back to the hotel at 6 o’clock but didn’t arrive until 7:30, which gave us just enough time to dress for dinner.

 

October 24, 2018 ~ Route 66, Amarillo, Texas
We set out in a leisurely way for the 16 hour road trip from Denton, TX to Phoenix, AZ, leaving one hot climate for another. The roads were flat and hazy, oil rigs and cattle farms dotted the fields. As much as I adore the trees and woods of New England, I’m always in awe of the open roads in the Southwest. It’s pretty amazing to be able to see for miles ahead without the road hair-pinning in front of you. The hours passed by quickly in good company. My rain goddess status seems to prevail as it rained halfway to Albuquerque. These parts hadn’t seen precipitation in quite some time, I was told.

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Not far off our path was a roadside art installation I’d heard about years ago. Knowing it wasn’t far away, I figured it would be a good spot to stretch our legs. We pulled up to Cadillac Ranch, spying the cars in the distance. If I’m being honest, the pictures I’d seen were so much cooler than what lay before us. Sure there were a bunch of Cadillacs buried nose down in the ground, and where else are you going to see such a spectacle? But.. it wasn’t as impressive as I’d hyped it up in my head! Perhaps the gray of the day was dampening the vibrancy of the graffiti, and my spirits.

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The temp had dropped significantly since we left Denton, the rain at a steady drizzle. The parking area is about a 100 yards to the cars and we narrowly avoided puddles the whole way. One of the coolest parts about Cadillac Ranch is that new art is encouraged on the bodies of the vehicles. I can’t really say it’s fortunate that people left their half-empty spray paint cans littering the ground, but it allowed me to make my mark, until someone comes and covers it over with theirs. The ground was pure mud by this point, but, hell, I couldn’t resist! I proudly rolled up my pants and trudged ankle deep through the ice cold water to the cars towering over me.

DSC_8320DSC_8325Our feet squished in our shoes on the way back to the rental car. We quickly threw those in the trunk (they never fully recovered) and I stripped out of my wet jacket and blasted the heat on my toes and wet pants in the hopes they’d dry out soon (they didn’t). We kept on toward Albuquerque, our halfway point for the night. The rain was slowing us down, so we opted out of the out-of-the-way AirBNB we had booked for the night. Our hosts had gently warned us that their road was near impassible in the mud without a 4×4, so we eyed a hotel in New Mexico on the map. Just before we packed it in for the night, we stumbled upon the Wow Diner, a legit 50’s gem in the middle of nowhere next to a truck stop, a veritable godsend sandwiched in between the highway exits that only boasted a Denny’s, and fancied ourselves some hot food and $2 glasses of generously poured wine. DSC_8332

 

Home Looks & Feels Strange

December 24th, 1930 ~ New York, NY
Get up before six. Haven’t slept much during the night due to knocking on doors and footsteps and general sleeplessness, so when the steward announces my bath, shortly after 6, I am “Jenny on the spot.” Anne has no urge to get up even for a bath. Arrive at breakfast after all the other passengers are through. Our waiter is distracted and doesn’t give us good service but we don’t mind. The immigration officials having just arrived in the dining saloon, we walk over, have ourselves passed and return to our breakfast while the line forms on our right.

Having docked, we gather our belongings and say our goodbyes to the various officers. Mr. Offer, polite as always. The Doctor, jocular, — glad to get back. Mr. Payn, studiously absorbed in his duties, which involve the rating of two of the crew, who can be neither listed as crew, nor passenger, nor fish nor fowl. Our adieu to the Captain is very touching. He has been ill for the last several days, and we find him in his room, lying on his sofa berth. His pain is tearing his insides out, and he remarks that if we want to see him, we will probably find him in the Long Island Hospital. Nor is his prediction wrong. 

Our stewardess is a friendly soul and provides me with a swivel stick in the nature of part of the boat’s decoration. I walk around with it, attached to my coat, and on the dock the custom’s men assure me that I am Santa Claus, and fittingly got up.

The customs examination is a farce. On my part it consists of nothing but conversation, and we discuss the number of passengers the boat has brought up, the excellent treatment accorded us, the low price of passage, and the hard times New York is enjoying. That we did not bring in a boat load of liquor is another regret. 

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On the dock I receive a letter from the girls in the office telling me not to go to the office until the day after Christmas. It is snowing, a cold wet snow, and we shiver involuntarily, regretting the warm weather left behind. We lead our baggage and packages into a taxi and depart homeward. I drop Anne off at her office and continue with all our baggage, leaving hers at her home for her. 

Home looks and feels strange and I wish I were back on the ship.

The fact that the trip is over, and the many nice people from whom we are loth to part. We shall probably never see most of them again, but we regret, nevertheless. And so endeth our voyage and vacation. Our tale is told. Finis. 

 

May 30, 2017 ~ New York, NY
Hawaii always has this hold on me. I’ve made the 10-12 hour flight three times now and I never mind it despite my loathing of the stale tubes. This time was more than a vacation. I had an address and received mail. Locals knew me by name. I was both ready and not ready to leave when the time came. I was ready to move on from the stress on the farm in the final days, but I would give anything to be back in the tropical sun, with my peekaboo ocean view, enjoying all the fresh fruit and veggies I could desire. I was ready to make a surprise birthday visit to Jill and to see my family and friends, but how could I leave the turquoise blue water, the spring fling that might have flung, my animal friends, the sunsets, the palm trees and warm breeze? Home held promise, unlike when I left. It’s a shame sometimes promises get broken.

 

My last day on the Big Island was glorious. I woke up in a hammock to the sound of the roosters at dawn. I feasted on glorious views and amazingly fresh sushi. I lazed about on a quiet beach drinking an iced Kona coffee and nibbling on macadamia nut chocolates made fresh at the farm a few days prior. I said my goodbyes to the ocean as I watched the sun sink into her being. It was a perfect day, no reason at all to be sad or unhappy. But why couldn’t I keep a smile on my face?

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The flight home was uneventful. J, who had come to visit for my last few days, flew home with me. We were seated separately, different cabins of class between us. A metaphor I couldn’t have even begun to understand then. Arrival into JFK was a bit of a shock after the open-air departure from Kona. Too many people, too many sounds. The island bliss was beginning to drain from my body, as if from an hour glass once filled with tropical sand. The Belt Parkway was bumper to bumper all the way home with incessant honking only the way New Yorkers can fill still air. Billboards, strip malls, all the imaginable lights shining in my face, and not a palm tree in sight. Where was I? Why does it seem so foreign to me? The air smells different than I remember. I go to the grocery store the next morning, hungry for comfort. I start shivering the moment I walk in, the chill too much for my tanned skin. The first thing I happen upon is a bin of avocados. A familiar feast, I thought to myself. But… why are they teeny, unripe, and greatly discolored? And I have to pay how much for them?

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My reassimilation never quite happened to the home I once knew. I already miss the avocado tree that produced fruit the size of my head, the one who’s bounty I could reap my afternoon snack from. Jean was right. Home, sometimes, looks and feels strange. You change, but the folks at home haven’t. I longed desperately to be back on island time with warmer weather and people.