THE titanium spork was a Christmas gift from my brother Gregory, a choice that seemed random at the time. I had no use for ultra-lightweight dual-use cutlery. But nine months later, almost 7,000 miles from my home in New York City and nearly catatonic with exhaustion, I was thankful for its lack of heft.
From L in Costa Rica:
I feel the need for adventure, new things, new people that could possibly understand me a little better. Nobody at home does. I grow bitter sometimes, because I can’t travel as freely with a third world passport as I wish I could. You need visas, and don’t even dream about a working holiday one. It appears, that to the eyes of immigration in developed countries, a young, third world person with wishes of traveling is unheard of. You know how money works. With exchange rates and a worthless currency, things get very difficult, but I can’t seem to let go of my wishes. Sometimes I resent being born here, or my friends with dual citizenship from developed countries, and I can’t for the life of me understand how on earth they haven’t left this place already.
Discussions of integration are ubiquitous, inexhaustible. Your Spanish barber says: “We are living in bad times. Es una pena.” The French waitress tells you: “It’s going to be very difficult, vous savez. How shall we live?” The English lady sitting near you in the Café de Paris is heard to remark: “Isn’t it too sad? But I do think we shall be able to stick to it, don’t you?” The American bar owner stares nervously around his establishment and confides: “I don’t want to be in on it. I’m getting a line on a little place in Tobago. I think that’s for me.” “It” means official integration; non-Moslem Tangerines are more inclined to wonder when it will come than they are to consider exactly of what it will consist. They are convinced that it won’t be good for them; beyond that there is no way of being sure about anything.
-from the essay “View from Tangier” by Paul Bowles, published in The Nation on June 30, 1956, and collected in his “Travels: collected writings 1950-1993.”
Last week I stayed at the (named by committee?) DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld. Unable to detect a city using my eyes, I had this conversation with a clerk at the front desk.
Me: “How do we get into town?”
Clerk: “Where do you want to go?”
Me: “Um. Downtown?”
Clerk: “This is a big city. Do you want to go to Downtown Orlando or Downtown Disney?”
Me: “We’d like to go have some lunch.”
Clerk: (Seemingly baffled) “What do you want to eat? Do you want pizza, fine dining?”
Me: “Something local?”
Clerk: “They have all the big chains on International Drive. Like you can get Chicago-style pizza.”
Me: “What about something local? Something authentic?”Clerk: “People in Orlando don’t really do authentic.”
The New York Times reported that Jill Kelley, instigator of the Petraeus-Broadwell-Allen-etc. probe, called 911 several times to complain about snooping reporters:
In at least one call, she asked for “diplomatic protection,” saying she is an “honorary consul general,” a designation she reportedly received from South Korean diplomats.
Wondering what an honorary consul does? Take it from Charley Fortnum, aging alcoholic father-to-be and the title character in Graham Greene’s “The Honorary Consul,” complaining here about his boss, the British ambassador in Buenos Aires:
He wants a report on the maté industry in this province. Why? Nobody drinks maté in the old country. Never heard of it probably, but I’ll have to work for a week, driving around on bad roads, and then those fellows at the Embassy wonder why I have to import a new car every two years. It’s my right to have one. My diplomatic right. I pay for it myself and if I choose to sell it again it’s my concern not the Ambassador’s. Fortnum’s Pride is more reliable on these roads. I charge nothing for her, and yet I’m wearing her out in their service. What a lot of mean bastards they are, Plarr, at the Embassy. They even question the rent I pay for this office.
I get many letters about “Wanderlust” from twenty-somethings, and they always mean a lot to me. But this is the first from someone in her seventies, so I find it very interesting. And I like the fact that she stumbled upon the book near one of my old haunts. From K in Paris:
Last week I found “Wanderlust” on a bookshelf in a former embassy apartment on the Rue de l’Universite in Paris. It gave an unexpected edge to my trip and now my travel companion is captivated with your adventures. Her text this morning: “I was up with Wanderlust late into the night. Her experience in Yemen! RUN!”
Seventy-something women identify with the idea of seeking thirst, not water. And we struggle to find what you have: a true voice and the capacity to make decisions beyond the influence of lovers/husbands and parents, alive or dead.
I was recently reminded of this lovely passage from Jessie Sholl’s memoir Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About her Mother’s Compulsive Hoarding. She’s sitting in an airplane on the tarmac waiting to take off for Italy:
My Italian teacher last semester used to say that it’s helpful, when learning a new language, to come up with a new “self” for that language, to think in terms of your “Italian self,” when speaking Italian. When he said it I was intrigued: I liked the idea of having an Italian self. I liked it a lot. But I’d forgotten about it until now.
Perhaps in Italy I could be a new person—I could be less anxious, less shy. More outgoing. I could finally stop caring so much about other people’s opinions of me. I could even be bug free.
The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of an Italian self.
My Italian self does not let her secrets eat at her. My Italian self doesn’t even know what hoarding is. And why would she, when her life has never been touched by it? My Italian self had a lovely, idyllic childhood and as a result is bursting with self-esteem. Did my Italian self ride horses? She considers it …but no. My Italian self played tennis instead. Or maybe squash.
My Italian self is never angry, nor is she self-pitying; she is totally unfamiliar with the concept of self-doubt and has never felt even vaguely ratty or ragged next to well-groomed, well-dressed strangers. Wherever she finds herself is exactly where she belongs and the people around her are lucky to have this Italian Jessie.