I just finished reading National Geographic Traveler magazine, and I can’t sit still. I spent an hour reading about the green chili breakfast burritos you can eat as you watch the balloons inflate at the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival; the colors that dominate the wine lands of Piedmont Italy; one woman’s mission to taste street food in all the parts of the world she can; and about how these days, St. Petersburg is “all about the coexistence of light and shadow, imperial rule and revolution, haute couture and savage invasion.” I gaped at photos of pristine powder snow banks at sunrise next to the St. Lawrence River in Quebec; I gazed at images of hundreds of people praying in the Ganges River. And I took a deep breath when I read Andrew McCarthy’s latest stories, exalting the softness of the air in a dusty town along the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain.
And that’s just the latest issue.
When I get up from a lazy couch and coffee session of enjoying NG, I feel both completely stimulated and a little… stuck. Why can’t I go to all those places now? (Money, mostly.) Will I ever get there? (Yes.) Do I have what it takes to be a successful writer who travels and inquires and learns and shares her experiences through words and images? (I sure hope so.) In my own way, I’ve already fallen in love with being a writer who travels, and I’m beginning to feel ready for a life-long love affair with words and places. I so enjoy people and their stories, asking questions, and getting glimpses of truth in the lives all around me. So, for everyone who has asked and everyone who will continue to ask me what I want to be when I “grow up”: I want to be a writer who travels and learns and creates and shares – and I want to do anything and everything that may entail. There! That wasn’t so hard. (She says now…)
As my friend Peter said recently, “We’re the kind of people who want to learn for a living.” Amen. I actually have an ongoing list of things I want to learn about or learn more about, and the items on it vary greatly: from psycholinguistics to intellectual property law to the rules of engagement; from eco-terrorism to eco-spirituality to exploding trees; from cartography to Creole to that canary in a coal mine. It’s a long list, and whenever I look at it, I ache to go back to school. (Not that one can’t learn things outside of the classroom — I just really love being inside the classroom.) But few things fascinate me as much as languages do, and it’s high time I learn more of them. (Starting with Sinhala in Sri Lanka, where I’ll fly to one month from today!) This spring, I read Yann Martel’s latest novel, Beatrice and Virgil, and I love this excerpt illuminating different languages:
“…English’s drive to exploit the new and the alien, its zeal in robbing words from other languages, its incapacity to feel qualms over the matter, its museum-size over-abundance of vocabulary, its shoulder-shrug approach to spelling, its don’t-worry-be-happy concern for grammar — the result was a language whose color and wealth Henry loved. In his entirely personal experience of them, English was jazz music, German was classical music, French was ecclesiastical music, and Spanish was the music from the streets. Which is to say, stab his heart and it would bleed French, slice his brain open and its convolutions would be lined with English and German, and touch his hands and they would feel Spanish. But all this, an aside…”
I also love this passage because – as anyone who knows me can attest to – I’m a grammar geek. English is a sometimes frustrating but always fascinating language, and I love wrestling with it and wrapping my head around its lovely idiosyncrasies.
So. Where was I? Oh, right. On the couch, being inspired by the glossy pages of a certain yellow-bordered magazine that I’d love to write for someday and whose columnists I can only hope to one day match in frequent flyer miles. Back to those worldly words…