One of the things I so love about travel and touring is getting a much more powerful sense of history; standing in and on the places where events and lives long past have happened, whether grand or insignificant, utterly changes my understanding of those people and occurrences. My first trip overseas, that Grand Tour I was so privileged to take in college with my older sister, was an awakening I never expected. I hoped the trip would be a cure for my sophomore blues, and indeed it was, beyond anything I could have planned or dreamt before, but more than that I was startled by how connected I felt to history.

The drizzly and cold autumn day when we visited Canterbury Cathedral was atmospheric enough in its way, but I remember standing on stone steps worn into a soft bowl by the thousands of footsteps that had passed over them in the centuries of its existence, looking up into a palely gold ray from a lamp, seeing the motes of dust whirling in it, and feeling that time itself was floating down around me in delicate pieces, that the spirit of every person who had ever set foot on that same smooth hollow in the stone was present there with me in that very moment. It was almost as though I could hear their voices and see the scenes of the past play out in the faint gloom around me, all overlapping and yet perfectly present. I felt my own place in the whole of the human timeline in an entirely different way than I ever expected, tinier than ever, yet surprisingly more concrete and tangible.

This was reinforced later in the same journey many times, as we passed through or visited (not necessarily in this order) England, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland and stood in the very footprints of many a person, going down the winding passages and cobbled side-streets that had seen multitudes of significant moments long since fled. As this was the first time I visited Norway, the rooting ground of my ancestors from every branch of my family tree, it is no surprise in retrospect that many of those potent realizations came to me in that place—but as usual, hindsight is ever so much clearer than was my youthful wisdom in those days. It was moving, more meaningful than I can express, to get to know the relatives in Norway with whom my family had maintained contact: my maternal grandfather’s sisters and brother-in-law, nieces and nephew. These were days before cheap telephonic long distance, let alone email and internet communiqués, so we had only briefly even met most of these people when they visited America once in my younger years, yet they not only took us in as visitors, Tante Anna and Onkel Alf kept my sister and me with them for a full month and took us to see the family’s two longtime farms, the graves where many of our ancestors were sleeping underfoot. This was incredibly touching, a genealogical history lesson, but the more so because it was taught by the eldest of our remaining family there.

What moved me the most, in fact, was when on arriving in Oslo at our mother’s cousin’s home before we even came down south to be with his parents, we explored the great city a little on our own during the days, while he was at work and his wife and children off having their own day of adventures. It was all so humbling and so magical to feel for the first time that I understood a tiny bit more of my own family lineage and how our people fit into the larger world. We did visit many of the obligatory and famous tourist sites, knowing that there was no direct link to our ancestors, only cultural ones. So I was quite stunned when we visited the Viking Ship Museum and, standing before these ancient vessels, I was absolutely electrified with a sense of shared history coursing through my veins. My forebears were undoubtedly humble subsistence farmers, not the bold and violent and adventurous Viking strain we know through film and television, never mind through the great Sagas—but I felt for the first time something connecting me to those long-gone people all the same.
Photo: Enter the Time Machine

By now I have traveled a fair amount more. I have been on this planet more than twice as long, and I think I might even be a little bit wiser through my experiences in that life than I was back then. But I approach every narrow stone passageway, every weathered door, every window with its rippling antique panes presenting everything that’s beyond them like a warped post-impressionist fiction of itself, I expect to learn something not only about what is there in front of me and around me, but what is inside me. And I know that I will learn something, too, about how I fit into that larger, and ever so mysterious, world if I am wise and patient and alert enough to notice it. So much has gone by. So much remains ahead, yet unknown.

Show Me the Pony!

There is a lady who is the Ring-mistress, though she claims to be a “domesticated clown”, in her family’s circus of life, the lovely Belle of the Carnival. While busy juggling the necessities of family life artfully, she is also a graceful philosopher-provocateuse, posing and dilating upon and otherwise exploring questions of interest ranging from the when-why-how of developing creativity to her 4 January post asking whether ‘grass is greener syndrome’ is not still a very common problem among us. I, for one, can raise a hand affirming my vulnerability to that ailment.

It’s not exactly news that I’m always peering over fences and into shop windows with an acquisitive eye. My magpie lust for all things shiny, fabulous, mysterious, arcane or otherwise alluring is hardly a surprise to anyone, and I am certainly not above wishing myself as brainy, as desirable, as clever, as witty or as talented as another person. If not more so, she said sheepishly, for who doesn’t like the idea of being the best at something once in a blue moon? I thrive on the drive for what’s rich and beautiful and compelling.

colored pencil on paper

Mr. Congeniality

That’s when I look in the mirror and see someone who looks like Rasputin, and I mean the after-assassination version, when he’s been poisoned and shot and stabbed and clubbed and drowned and dismembered (!) and whatever else the Keystone Killers ultimately tried to bump him off. (This, because no matter how charismatic he was to some–and he really must’ve been charismatic to have the influence and power he gained, because let’s face it, he wasn’t exactly a Hollywood hottie and I’ve read that his personal hygiene, if any, was apparently ineffectual–there were those, including his assassins obviously, who found him wonderfully repellent.) So there I am, mirror gazing and seeing this unpleasant creature gawping back at me, and I think, Self, you need to switch out those nasty green glasses of envy for something a whole lot more rosy-toned. To which my inner self responds that clearly I am smarter than I look at the moment.

And I know it’s time to haul my inner Pollyanna back out of the cupboard. I need to be so optimistic as to not only see myself as perhaps worthy of a little envy myself but also to be surrounded by stupendous and spectacularly fine people, things and circumstances. Then I remember that I really am ‘all that’. Where others may be looking at life as a massive mound of manure and seeing only the steaming heap, I’m the village Natural who says, Well, if there’s all of this fine compost, why there must be a pony in here somewhere!

colored pencil on paper

Quit horsing around and show me the pony!

So I start digging. And I think, yes, I have got it great and I’m not such a slouch myself. Heck, I would trade lives with me if I were someone else! There might be enough little occurrences of peeling paint or math-phobia or hangnails or totaled cars or intestinal indisposition here and there in my oeuvre to keep me from appearing in any way fiction-perfect, but the sum total of my existence is, was and ever shall be (hope, hope) mighty nice indeed. Here I am, rolling on into my second half century with twenty-eight undaunted original teeth, working body parts basically functioning tolerably well, a decent education under my belt (any indecencies having been added by the recipient), living a comfortable and entertaining life with the Love of it (my life), and having a remarkable quantity of chances to meet fascinating and admirable people, to go astounding places, eat as much hypnotically delectable food as I dare (plus a little extra), wear whatever I jolly well want to wear, and not talk on the phone for whole days if I don’t feel like it.

In fact, my life is so good that I can admit to you that yesterday’s post about fantasizing favorite things in life is essentially all stuff I’ve already had the privilege of experiencing, some of it many times in different ways and combinations. Clearly, I don’t even have to be a terribly imaginative person to invent a fantastic life when I’m simply privileged enough to live it, do I. When you’ve seen a field of blue poppies pierced with late afternoon brilliance, you’ve stood in the hollows of the worn stone steps of Canterbury Cathedral watching history sift down in the dusty lamplight, you’ve eaten the exquisitely dainty Toast Skagen in Vaxholm where the shrimp apparently leapt from the sea directly onto your piece of buttery bread, you’ve crossed the Charles bridge over the Vltava in an evening mist so pearly that the statues seem to hover between inanimation and life–you have no need to go far to summon magical thoughts of all sorts into being. When you’ve carried a squalling baby over your arm singing an old nursery song until the colicky tension finally leaves her body in a sigh and she droops asleep, you’ve built forts in the shadowy midst of the tall Douglas-firs just to picnic there, you’ve ridden a train along the flanks of the Italian Alps and you’ve wandered Viejo San Juan to stand on the sandstone overlook and blink in amazement at the surreal turquoise of the crystalline seas, and you’ve had a sweet young calf nuzzle up against you in a grassy spring pasture, well, miracles must seem almost an everyday phenomenon.

It would be crass, given all of that, to sulk over things not had, places not gone. I’ve admitted to the infrequent twinge, more of a tiny zip of static really, but let’s face it, if I were to mope around coveting and envying I would be as big a heap of steaming whatsis as the aforementioned one that might or might not have contained the proverbial pony. So I will simply say that I am never permanently surfeited, what with being a mere mortal and all, and only consider each fresh miracle dropped into my undeserving but avid gift-receptacle lap as so much additional icing on the cake, another sparkler to add to my coronet of childish cheer and delight.

On which note, I must tell you that yet another unreasonably generous person has granted me the Versatile Blogger Award today. Pamela Zimmer, having been a most deserving recipient herself as the writer of the engaging and inspirational blog Stories of a Mom–ostensibly about being a mother (having devoted herself to this admirable and challenging art in trade for her previous profession as an architect)–sets a high standard for versatility herself. Somehow it seems appropriate that her name means “room” since her blog provides a welcoming place for finding like-minded and thoughtful and spirited companionship and insight, one of those homes-in-the-ether that are such a grand find through blog reading and writing. Many thanks to Pamela for this great kindness, and for reminding me indeed of this other boon I’ve been granted in the last year: finding a whole new world to explore and in which to meet, learn, rejoice, ponder, commiserate and laugh. These are among the riches that anyone viewing my life should well find enviable–though I’d love nothing more than that no one had need to envy me but would rather be equally rich and content.VBA logoI wouldn’t mind having a pony, mind you; however, our back patio mightn’t be the ideal digs for one, especially if that bobcat still lives in the greenbelt backing our property, so I’ll gladly accept in its stead the VBA, which I believe requires less hay and currying and de-worming medication. And I say, Thanks again for Everything!