WEATHER OR NOT (I)

 

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

WEATHER OR NOT (I)

 

Weather is one variable of travel that cannot be ignored. Have you ever had a trip partly spoiled by packing the wrong weight of clothes? Have you ever tried in vain to peer through fog and mist at some world-famous landmark?

Weather in tropical Indonesia, where we lived for thirty years, is fairly predictable. Most people will tell you that Indonesia has only two seasons, rainy and dry. From long experience I’d modify that to “rainier and drier.” There can be brief rainy spells during dry season, and there can be brief dry spells during rainy season.

It’s interesting to note that in their own language, Indonesians themselves do not speak of “rainy season” and “dry season.” They speak of “rainy season” and “hot season.” Yet it’s always more or less hot in the tropics. And sometimes during the so-called hot season there are those blessed blue-sky days that feel distinctly cooler than most days when the rain is frequently falling.

There are few variations in Indonesian weather during the rainy (or rainier) season. At almost every place we have traveled in that immense archipelago, the normal daily pattern has been much the same: The seasonal rains start about the middle of the day and may continue off and on into the night.

Yet there seems to be one exception. On the great half-island of Papua (which is Indonesia’s Far East), the daily pattern is apparently reversed — at least during my only visit there: It rained every morning and cleared off every afternoon.

Actually my family and I couldn’t complain about most of the weather we experienced in Indonesia. We lived in a city half-a-mile high in the mountains. Thus we got to enjoy year-round warm springtime, rather than perennial sweltering summer. (Of course we still got drenched sometimes on hikes and picnics.)

Indonesians aren’t such careful nannies as Americans: Swimming pools are generally allowed to stay open during a gentle rain. In the warmth of the tropics, it feels strangely pleasant to swim during a light sprinkle. I used to tease our sons, “Stick your heads under the water, boys, so you won’t get wet from the rain!”

Once Fran and I were leading a group of Indonesian youngsters in a Christian musical about the biblical story of Noah. Its title in English was 100% Chance of Rain. Wisely we practiced for it during the dry (or drier) season. Wisely we presented it on a Sunday morning when rain rarely falls, even during the rainy (or rainier) season.

Would you believe . . . on that particular Lord’s Day, after we had sung and acted out our story about the Flood, there came such a heavy morning deluge that all of us had to wait awhile before we could even leave the church building?

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

“ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE”

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

“ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE”

 

When William Shakespeare wrote that famous line from As You Like It, he had seen only a little of the world. We have seen a lot of the world, and we can testify that Shakespeare was right.

Shakespeare is as good a place as any to begin, in giving an account of our worldwide adventures while attending plays and operas, concerts and circuses. We have seen staged presentations of the Bard’s works at Stratford, at London, at Pitlochry in Scotland, at Jakarta and Bandung in Indonesia, at Louisville and Paducah in Kentucky, and at Asheville and Raleigh in North Carolina. We have taken in live performances by such celebrated Shakespeareans as Sir Michael Hordern, Sir Derek Jacobi, Jane Lapotaire, Albert Finney, and Mark Rylance.

When we had the opportunity of watching Mark Rylance (a recent Oscar-winner, by the way), the circumstances were a bit unusual. This was at the replica of the old Globe Theater on the south bank of the Thames, not far from where the original once stood. It was not a customary day or a conventional hour for a public performance. However an international convention (of lawyers, perhaps?) was paying for a special presentation of the trial scene from The Merchant of Venice, and we mere tourists lucked up by being there at just the right time when Rylance and his colleagues were in rehearsal.

Being in the right place at the right time! This colors many of our memories. Once we found the Gran’ Place in Brussels being overrun with visiting children’s choirs. Once as an usher in graduate school I got to sit quite close to the legendary Marian Anderson during the second half of her vocal recital. Once we bought cheap last-minute tickets for Amsterdam’s renowned Conzertgebouw, and found that we had incomparable seats behind the great orchestra.

Time and place! Once we arrived at Edinburgh and asked our friendly landlady about the possibility of hearing bagpipes.

“You mean you dawn’t knaw?” she asked.

“Naw,” we confessed,  “we dawn’t knaw.”

“Tomorrow is the All-Scotland Pipe Band Championship!”

And so the next day we got to hear bagpipers blowing their blasts all over Princes Street Gardens.

Once a French children’s choir on a worldwide tour was scheduled to sing at the cathedral in Bandung, West Java. The concert that evening was free, but such a crowd of the faithful and the curious had showed up that we despaired of even getting inside the building. Then a polite Indonesian gentleman appeared out of nowhere, plucked us from the waiting line, and whisked us around to a side entrance. Boldly he ushered us in through a backstage room where the young singers were preparing for their program. Ceremoniously he seated us on the very front row.

We never saw him again. Our only explanation? Either that man thought we were visiting Roman Catholic dignitaries, . . . or else he was an angel.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

CASTLES AND PALACES, RELICS AND RUINS (II)

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

CASTLES AND PALACES, RELICS AND RUINS (II)

 

In the process of traveling six and a half times around the world, we’ve always tried to be open to new experiences, especially as connoisseurs of art.

Through the years some of the exhibits I have most admired in art museums have been reliquaries. I don’t agree with the type of piety that tries to preserve physical relics of past saints. Yet the gold and silver, gems and rock crystal of their hallowed containers can be dazzling to the eye.

Even ordinary relics and ruins can be interesting. It fascinated me as a child to poke through the blackened remains of a burned-down house across the back lot from our home. When our older son was still small, he found a similar slightly scary sense of discovery in exploring burned-out Dutch colonial villas on hillsides in East Java; Tim dubbed that entire area “Fireland.”

Not all famous ruins are former residences of the rich or the royal. Many of them are instead ancient places of worship. I well remember hiking up into the mountains of West Java that surround the city of Bandung, where we used to live. There I discovered several round stones stacked together; an Indonesian friend told me that day, “These were thought to be the guardians of the hilltop.”

At another West Java site, we rode a long bamboo raft across a shallow lake choked with pink and white water-lilies. We landed on a tiny wooded knoll haunted by bright red dragonflies. There a small ruined shrine marks the place where worshipers of Hindu gods used to bring their offerings long ago.

Nothing speaks so clearly of relics as does a cemetery. My wife and I once tried to find a grave in a dusty old cemetery at Serampore, upriver from Kolkata (Calcutta) in eastern India. There we viewed the burial place of the great English missionary William Carey. There we saw memorials to the three heroic women who in turn became his wives. But we never located the lonely tomb 0f a certain little boy, . . . even though we knew for sure it must have been around there somewhere.

In 1828 the devout German missionary Gottlob Bruckner sailed away from the Indonesian seaport of Semarang. He was seeking help from William Carey and his associates in India for the finishing and printing of a pioneer translation of the Javanese New Testament.

Two young sons accompanied Bruckner on the long sea-voyage to Serampore. We know that one of them died there and is buried there. Yet we never succeeded in finding the grave of this child-martyr to world missions.

We also know that Gottlob Bruckner and his one surviving boy at last sailed back again to Semarang. On that perilous homeward voyage they survived a tropical typhoon — clinging to the mast as the captain shouted, “There’s no hope!”

Their priceless cargo of Javanese Testaments also arrived safely with them. And so at last the dominant people of Java, heirs of great royal dynasties, could begin to read the Word of God in their own mother tongue. 

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

CASTLES AND PALACES, RELICS AND RUINS (I)

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

CASTLES AND PALACES, RELICS AND RUINS (I)

 

For a long time I thought all castles were palaces and all palaces were castles. The fairy tales I read in childhood tended to muddle in my mind those two distinct dictionary entries. It took me a while to figure out that castles were mainly built for sturdy defense, whereas palaces were mainly built for luxurious display.

Neuschwanstein in Bavaria is world-famous for looking like a castle (think Disneyland’s Enchanted Kingdom). Yet it’s actually a palace, built during the mid-1800s in a retrograde style. Equally charming are its two Bavarian neighbor-palaces, Linderhof and Hohenschwangau.

Of course many ancient castles and palaces are only ruins today. One of the most impressive of these we’ve ever visited is Chinon. It’s eerie to walk across a grassy field between high stone walls and remember that this is the very spot where a brave teenage girl once recognized a cowardly prince hiding behind his courtiers in a ballroom. Of course I’m referring to Joan of Arc and the unworthy Dauphin whom she helped to place on the throne of France in the early 1400s.

A longtime favorite in our family’s sightseeing has been the famous Water Palace in Yogyakarta, Central Java. In the 1700s foreign artisans worked there to construct a remarkable pleasure dome for an Indonesian ruler. It’s mostly in ruins now, but we’ve stood where the lordly sultan used to look down on his many wives and children as they bathed in a great outdoor pool. We’ve seen the many fruit trees he and his courtiers used to enjoy. We’ve noticed how the pervasive flow of water helps to ease the tropical heat. And we’ve ventured into half-collapsed tunnels where the sultan used to take his princely galley down to the South Sea.

Another great royal residence that utilized water as one of its major architectural components is the Alhambra, at Granada in southern Spain. Especially striking is the Court of the Lions.

First a castle, then a palace, the Alhambra was for a long time the home of Moorish rulers of Andalusia. After they had been driven back across the Straits of Gibraltar, a part of it was rebuilt as a palace for the Emperor Charles V. On our second visit there, we also climbed a higher elevation nearby and found it crowned by a royal villa known as the Generalife.

Some of the most impressive ruins we’re ever seen have been the remains of monastery buildings destroyed in the 1500s when King Henry VIII decreed that his realm should no longer be a Roman Catholic country. We were especially struck by the stark decayed beauty of Talley Abbey in Wales.

Castles and palaces, relics and ruins! Read more about them in next week’s blog post.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

FEAR OF FOREIGN FOODS (II)

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

 

FEAR OF FOREIGN FOODS (II)

 

Who’s afraid of foreign foods? Not me or my family. In fact, international travel has tickled our taste buds in several unique ways.

By the way, do you know where the world’s best French fries come from? Not from France but from Belgium! Part of their greasy charm lies in the wide variety of delectable sauces available for dipping them in. (The Belgians, by the way, call them Flemish fries.)

At a Baptist women’s meeting in Kenya, Fran got acquainted with something that looked like green mashed potatoes, served without silverware. The coloration came from beans, corn, and a leafy vegetable that had all been pounded into a mixture.

First each woman’s two hands were ceremoniously washed by the servers. Then a large cooking-spoonful of “green mashed potatoes” was dumped directly into each pair of clean cupped hands. Fran remembers, “The warm food was refreshing on a chilly, rainy day.”

One morning in the Bahamas, we learned that conch and grits can make a hot tasty breakfast. One morning in a cheap London lodging-place, our breakfast waitress sounded ever so British as she primly explained that the only dry cereals she could offer us were “Corn Flakes or Rice Crispies.”  But when we got past those first few memorized sentences, we learned that she was actually Italian: “Oh, you stoppa in Napoli? Howa you like it down there?”

One way some travelers cope with fear of foreign foods is, by taking advantage of familiar eateries that have spread around the globe. Even before American fast-food chains became so ubiquitous, there were enterprising food-sellers who ventured far from home. Lebanese restaurants are common all across Africa. Spicy foods native to Padang in Sumatra may be purchased on many other islands of Indonesia.

And then there are Chinese restaurants. Where in the world have Chinese restaurants not yet reached? Peruvians have even enriched their dialect of Spanish with a special word for them: chifa. Once near Gibraltar we had gotten tired of Spanish and Moroccan food, so we were delighted to discover a Chinese eatery.

All across the Muslim Middle East from Morocco to Jordan, we have encountered delicious candies that taste of sugar, honey, almonds, and pistachio nuts. In fact, sweets are some of the most inviting of all foreign foods.

In Shakespeare country we discovered Thornton’s Special Toffee, arguably the best candy in the world. Before leaving Stratford-upon-Avon, we wanted to buy another big box of this incomparable toffee. But the hour when our morning train would be leaving was uncomfortably close to the hour when the Thornton’s outlet would be opening.

Our sixteen-year-old son, who fancied those delectable jawbreakers just as much as the rest of us did, solved the problem. He offered to stay and wait outside the store while the other three of us struggled toward the BritRail station with all of our baggage. Sure enough, his long legs brought him galloping onto the departure platform in plenty of time, bearing his sticky brown booty with him.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

FEAR OF FOREIGN FOODS (I)

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to the strangely uneven global total shown above. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

FEAR OF FOREIGN FOODS (I)

 

One reason why many people shun foreign travel is, their fear of the strange foods they might encounter along the way.

I could easily have given that same reason for staying at home. Since my early years I’ve had an inconvenient digestive allergy to the whole onion/garlic family. In old age it has eased up enough so that I can now enjoy a moderate amount of sweet onion. But I still shy away from garlic, especially when it overpowers more delicate flavors.

For years I had to make a point of learning how to say onion and garlic in various foreign languages, so as not to get an upset stomach from various foreign foods. For some strange reason the terms that still stick in my brain right now are the Greek skorda and kremilia. 

Oh, of course I’ve had digestive problems now and then. One of my worst times came when we discovered sweet cherries in southern Europe. Where I grew up, cherries were generally too tart to be enjoyed raw; instead, Mother would usually bake them into a pie. But Greek and Italian cherries are luscious. By actual test, a family of four can dispose of seven pounds of sweet cherries in less than a week.

During that warm summer in southern Europe, what we didn’t know at first was that drinking a lot of water can have peculiar effects on a tummy full of raw cherries. Ever since that annoying experience, we’ve held down on our consumption of water whenever cherries are in season.

A sour apple, just like a sour cherry, can cause a wry mouth. Once when we were visiting the beautiful château of Villandry in the Loire Valley, we noticed many small green apples that had fallen from miniature fruit trees being espaliered along the walls. Our French travel guidebook assured us that nothing in the château garden was being grown for food, only for looks. So . . . my young sons and I surreptitiously filled our pockets with windfall Villandry apples. Later on we discovered that the only way we could eat them was by alternating bites of sweeter fruits at the same time.

Color can affect how we take to certain foods . . . or don’t. At Burro Alley in Santa Fe, we first encountered blue cornmeal tortillas. This proved to be good preparation for a lunch stop along the road to Chanthaburi in rural Thailand, where we ate delicious hot blue crab soup. Tiny specks of blue shell were clearly visible, floating in our steaming bowls.

Have we always eaten whatever is locally available, wherever we have encountered it all over the world?

No.

At various places and various times, we’ve eaten ostrich, alligator, rattlesnake, conch . . . yet during all of our travels in Scotland, we’ve never brought ourselves to the point of trying haggis. (If you don’t know what it is, don’t ask.)

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas 

TRAVELING THROUGH A TIME WARP (II)

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

TRAVELING THROUGH A TIME WARP (II)

 

For three decades we periodically moved back and forth from our regular jobs as missionaries in Indonesia to home assignments based in North Carolina. Sometimes we felt as if we were moving back and forth in time as well as in space.

For good and for ill, Indonesia eventually caught up with America and the rest of the world. E-mail and social media work just as instantaneously there as here. But in the mean time, things were changing back home, so we still felt as if we were somehow traveling through a time warp.

One way we could notice this was, by looking up at the sky. When we first arrived in the mountains of West Java, we were startled by the blueness of the heavens. By 1965, American industrial pollution had already washed some of the color out of our own “spacious skies.” But by the time we got to America in 1969 and then back to Indonesia again in 1970, the situation had largely been reversed: Unbridled growth of factories had faded the blue over Indonesia, during the very same years when environmental regulations had deepened the blue over America.

Nowasdys the phenomenon of cultural lag is pretty much over and done with – at least when you compare urban centers of Asia with urban centers of America. Yet — still we sometimes feel as if there must have been a time warp somehow.

In January of 1990 we visited an incredible conference center in the uplands of Kenya. Only 45 minutes from the metropolis of Nairobi and almost right smack on the equator, we seemed to be experiencing England in June of some bygone year: alternating sunshine and rain; distinctly cool air at an elevation of 7800 feet; donkey carts toiling up steep grades; clipped green slopes, hedges, and flower beds in every direction; clipped British accents coming out of coal-black faces; British-style tea and biscuits served punctually at four; and a delightfully quirky little cottage (complete with a very old-fashioned bath) that looked as if it could have been lifted bodily out of the Cotswold Hills.

Another vestige of colonialism which we once got to enjoy was the old Raffles Hotel in Singapore. At the time we stayed there, renovations that have now made its prices sky-high were not yet complete. Our roomy suite in the old wing showed no signs of modernity except an air conditioner mounted in the window.

How we reveled in that old-style British hostelry! An alfresco meal in the Palm Court of the Raffles was also something to remember.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

TRAVELING THROUGH A TIME WARP (I)

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

TRAVELING THROUGH A TIME WARP (I)

 

Indonesia is about as far away as you can get from North Carolina, before you start coming closer again around on the other side of the globe. For three decades we periodically moved back and forth from our regular jobs as missionaries in Indonesia to our occasional home assignments in the States. Sometimes we felt as if we were moving back and forth in time as well as in space.

Since there is no winter in Indonesia, while living there we would sometimes tend to forget which season it was over in America. Occasionally I would find myself idly thinking it must be football season again, when it would actually still be baseball season.

Differences between the tropics and the temperate zone caused an interesting incident in the process of our very first move to Indonesia. Back in the 1960s it was financially advantageous for our sponsoring agency to purchase an automobile in the name of each new family and have it sent into the country along with their own personal ocean freight. In my case, I even picked up “our” VW Microbus personally at Richmond and drove it to the shipping dock in Charleston. The January air was nippy, so of course I used the heater.

Months later, the missionary colleague who picked up that same sponsor-owned vehicle at the port of entry in Jakarta confessed, “I thought the thing was going to catch on fire!” Most cars being driven in the tropics aren’t even equipped with heaters, so he was slow to realize that the heat must have still been on when I turned off the ignition key in Charleston.

During our early years in Indonesia, the relative backwardness of that Third World country added to our sense of disorientation. Societal trends sweeping the West were often slower to arrive in the Far East. For example:

Years ago we Americans tended to think it was a sure sign of progress when roadside trees were cut down, so that important traffic-ways could be widened. Then we began to wake up to the damage this was doing to the environment.

During our first years in Bandung, great metropolis of West Java, we often admired the majestic rows of stately trees that lined some of the city’s busiest streets. And we shuddered to think of those tropical giants being felled in the name of progress. Fortunately, environmental concerns overtook the concept of progress, so that at least some of those busy thoroughfares were turned into one-way streets rather than having their beauty shorn.

In other ways we were reminded that half a world of distance can also cause considerable culture lag. When commercial airplanes were smaller and chancier, passengers had to state their body weight as well as having their luggage weighed. Guess what? Even into the 1960s we still had to state our weight when boarding Indonesian domestic flights.

While studying the Indonesian language, we read about hand-turned sewing machines. By contrast I mentioned to an instructor that even when I was a small child, my mother already had a pedal-powered model. “Oh, yes!” he enthusiastically responded. “That is the very latest kind!”

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

LITERARY LANDMARKS (II)

 

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

LITERARY LANDMARKS (II)

 

Once when we were returning from the U. S. A. to Southeast Asia, space in our crates and barrels was running short. We decided to deal with the excess by shipping several boxes of books addressed to ourselves in Indonesia. Knowing the uncertainties of international sea mail, we realized that the books might make it to our home away from home . . . and then again they might not.

Our younger son vigorously protested: “Why can’t we ship instead some of the stuff we don’t really need, like clothes or things? We can’t live without books!”

Books for children and youth have often become our travel guides. When our boys were young, all of us were fans of Marguerite Henry. Her White Stallion of Lipizza still helps us recall the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Her Brighty of the Grand Canyon stirs many memories of the American Southwest. Her Misty of Chincoteague and Stormy, Misty’s Foal led us to those tidal islands off the coast of Virginia and Maryland where they still round up the wild dune ponies every year.

Some years ago, British author Agnes Allen wrote a juvenile biography entitled The Story of Michelangelo. This dog-eared children’s book guided us all over Florence, that famous city of sculptors and artists on the banks of the Arno. Our penciled notations on the margins told us where to look for Michelangelo’s masterpieces: in the Uffizi, in the Bargello, in the Accademia, and in the Church of San Lorenzo.

Hans Brinker came to life for us in Holland, . . . even though Mary Mapes Dodge herself had never visited Holland at the time she wrote it.

When we saw where intrepid boys used to coast down Mount Washington in New Hampshire, I remembered from childhood reading a story in my old set of Junior Classics about how they used to bring morning newspapers to subscribers in the valley.

Young readers have long loved Beatrix Potter’s animal stories such as Peter Rabbit. We found tracks of Miss Potter all around the English Lake District which she so dearly loved – not only writing about it but actually farming there for many years.

Among those same lovely lakes we have also seen for ourselves the magic of springtime blossoms that inspired Wordsworth to write “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.”

When we toured the Isle of Skye, we recalled that some of my own ancestors are said to have been hereditary bards for the McDonalds who were once Lords of the Isles. Skye also helped us recall vivid scenes from Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson.

When we visited the excellent interactive museums in Hannibal, Missouri, we felt as if we had somehow stepped back into the pages of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. That mischievous boy Sam Clemens, who later wrote under the name of Mark Twain, seemed very real to us that day.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

LITERARY LANDMARKS (I)

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

LITERARY LANDMARKS (I)

 

In our world travels, Fran and I have run across many literary landmarks. Near the Black Sea, for instance, we noted a statue of the Latin poet Ovid. Thus were we reminded of how far Roman cultural influence once spread across southeastern Europe.

We have hiked the same path across green fields that a Stratford teenager named Will Shakespeare must have followed more than four hundred years ago when he was courting Anne Hathaway.

In London we have viewed a modern reproduction of the Globe Theater, built on the south bank of the Thames not far from where the original once stood.

We have stepped off an Italian express train onto the very street in Florence where Shelley was living when he wrote “Ode to the West Wind.”

We have found Byron’s name scratched onto a pillar in the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion in Greece.

We have taken in a performance of Strauss’s Gypsy Baron in the very same Viennese theatre where it was first produced.

In New England we have seen the famed Minuteman statue and the nearby “rude bridge that arched the flood,” as Emerson worded it. We have passed by houses once inhabited by Emerson, Hawthorne, the Alcotts. On our way to church, we have ridden past Thoreau’s Walden Pond. And we have even picnicked on Longfellow’s lawn.

When we traveled to Prince Edward Island, of course it was Anne of Green Gables who turned up everywhere. Even though Anne was a fictional character from the fertile imagination of Lucy Maud Montgomery, she seems very much alive in Atlantic Canada. We actually saw the house she called Green Gables, the pond she called The Lake of Shining Waters, and all the rest. We even saw a young Canadian redhead playing Anne Shirley herself in a period drama.

Another favorite among young readers is The Trumpeter of Krakow, which won the Newbery Award for Eric P. Kelly in 1929. Fran and I remembered that story as we heard the haunting historic trumpet call (intentionally left incomplete) echoing over the cobblestones of old Krakow. In fact we heard it more than once, for in accordance with ancient Polish tradition, it was sounded four times in four different directions from the medieval church tower.

Books for children and youth have often become our travel guides. Find out more about that in next week’s blog post.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

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