Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Far Away Lands

Posted by Barbara Samuel

When I was about fourteen or fifteen, I wrote a diary entry that read:


Write books

See the World

Be HAPPY and have a family.

The last bit was because this was the seventies, and most of the examples of contemporary women writers were of the Virginia Woolfe/Sylvia Plath, model (also know as the “life sucks, then you die” model of literary accomplishment). I really wanted to be a writer (I was, but I didn’t want to kill myself. A nice family, nice books, a husband who loved me—that sounded a lot better.)

To tell you the truth, I didn’t really think I’d be able to travel. I put it on the list because I burned to go to Europe, but I’d never even been on an airplane and we’d lived in the same city for most of my life, aside from a two-month stint when our family followed my grandparents out to Temecula, California. My grandfather had a wild hair and opened a restaurant called Ed’s Kitchen, right on the highway, where my mother and grandmother worked as waitresses. My father hated it, couldn’t find a job, and we all took the train back home to Colorado Springs, and there I stayed. Endlessly dreaming of the Far Away.

It was the two months in California that ruined me. I was seven. We rode the train and ate oranges bought from a cart a man pushed down the aisle. I read and read and read, and when I wasn’t reading, I looked out the window at mesas and mountains and deserts. A terrible odor filled the car one night and my mother said it was a skunk that was run over. I saw a man in a sombrero, and declared us to be in Mexico. My mother said no, but what did she know? Once we arrived in California, we went to school in a building that had open hallways and palm trees. Palm trees! We ate our lunch on picnic tables outside. We went to the ocean, the gray and crashing beauty of which thereafter haunted my dreams. I played hide and go seek with my uncle in grass nearly as high as my head. I sat at the counter of my grandpa’s restaurant and eyed the pie safe and refused the quarters a man offered me, even though I didn’t see why I couldn’t have tips if my mother and grandmother got to take them.

And then we went home and my father found us a pink house to live in, and it was fine and beautiful, but forever after, I dreamed of travel. I wanted to see the whole world.

Time passed. Now and then, I got to take a road trip--to Seattle and San Francisco, where I walked along the beach by myself in the early morning, and Arizona, where I saw a man in a sombrero. I studied journalism with an eye toward being a foreign correspondent.

Then, you know, I fell in love, as we do. I had a baby who was great enough I couldn’t leave him to go wandering. I did write books, and once a year, I went to the RWA National Conference [LINK], which actually went to some very thrilling places. New York City—how I remember flying in over that familiar skyline the first time! Los Angeles. St. Louis during the big flood.

But I was writing historical romances and really needed to see England. I’m a hands-on kind of writer, and I wanted to see the trees and the birds. The light. Smell the air and feel the winds. I finally found the courage to arrange a trip to England and Ireland when my boys were in their early teens. My mother went with us. I arranged everything, everything through the Internet, and miraculously, it worked out beautifully. I think now I was very brave to do all that. We spent a week based in an apartment in Ealing, another in Ireland.

I was hooked. I remembered my old goal of seeing the world, and bought a map of the world to put on the wall in my office, and stuck a pin into it for each place I visited. Far away and close at hand—it doesn’t matter. I went to Telluride for the first time last September, and happily stuck that pin in my native state. A few weeks ago, I was in Minnesota for the first time (so beautiful), and even slid across the line to Wisconsin, where I ate lunch, so I got to put a pin there, too. The farthest away is New Zealand, and I’m pleased to see a diagonal line of pins from the far northwest of Scotland down through the southeast corner of France, like a fault line.

Where I go, I walk. And write—which is why my blog is called A Writer Afoot [LINK:]. Currently, my partner and I are planning trips to China (for him) and India, because I’ve been burning to visit for years (India, India, India!). I can’t wait to walk and write, write and walk in those Far Away Lands.

What I like about my world map, bristling with its pins, is the pleasure in seeing a dream materializing. The travel feeds my books, of course. A trip to Scotland a couple of years ago has been incredibly productive, and the Telluride trip last spring yielded a trilogy of romances for Silhouette Intimate Moments that begins this month with JULIET’S LAW [LINK:].

But mainly, travel just feeds me. My heart, my soul. It makes that little girl happy. It makes the old woman I will be more interesting. It makes me, as I am, a more vigorous participant in the world. There was a moment on a hiking trip in France [LINK:], when I came down the narrow black steps of a homey old hotel in a tiny town in Provence. It was so exactly what that fifteen year old had dreamed of when she whispered Europe to herself, over and over, that I wanted to stop and do a little dance.

Now when someone says to me, “Oh, I so want to see Scotland/Romania/Australia/Tuscany,” I say, go. Go. GO! You will never, never regret it.

Is there a place you burn to visit? Or have you already visited a place you burned to see—and found it wanting? Or just exactly as you hoped, and more?


Helen Brenna said...

Barbara, let me first welcome you and thank you for coming to visit today.

Throughout the years, there have been so many of your talks that have helped me along my writing path. You've been an inspiration to me and so many other writers I feel truly honored to have you here with us. Really!

As for travel ... oh, boy, that's a big one for me. It really does get my creative ideas moving. But there are so many places I'd love to go and haven't had the chance. If I had to pick one or two I'd have to say Ireland and Greece.

I'm Irish and everytime I see an Irish movie something in my heart yearns for that place. And Greece ... sunshine, water, great food. Need I say more?

Betina Krahn said...

Welcome Barbara! We're so glad to have you here in the shotgun seat!

Whew. . .destinations of the heart. . . I've been to two of them. London and Rome. As a long-time historical writer, I finally made it to England for the first time in '96 and it was a magical trip. It introduced me to some things I never would have guessed-- like the fact that most of London is 4 stories high or less. Amazing. Only one section, the financial district called "The City," rises above that. Looking out from a 30th floor hotel room and seeing the city arrayed below was a revelation. Stonehenge and Stratford On Avon were something of a disappointment. Bath was regency fabulous still, and the cathedrals were astonishing, especially Salisbury's. The food (except for high teas, which were fabulous) was mediocre to abysmal.

Rome. . . I was there with my 22 yr old son the first time and it was amazing. 2200 years of history cheek-by-jowl with modern life. You can sip cappuccino at a sidewalk cafe while staring at Trajan's column, or eat magnificent gellato while adoring the Trevi Fountain. And the Colliseum. And the Palatine. And St. Peters. Wow. Just wow.

The interesting thing is, my subsequent reading and movie viewing has been truly enriched by the travel. Every time I see a movie or read a book set in London or Paris or Florence or Rome-- now even Provence, Monte Carlo, and Nice-- I'm immediately grounded by my experience there. It comes alive for me.

(Monte Carlo-- something of a disappointment. The royals there could have taken a page from almost anybody else in Europe and built a worthier palace than that! And I didn't get to go into the casino because my slacks didn't meet the dress code. Go figure.)

Thanks, Barbara, for the chance to recall and revisit. And to anyone contemplating a trip. . . listen to Auntie Barbara and GO!

:) Betina

Barbara said...

Thanks for the warm welcome, you guys! Helen, I'm Irish, too, and just about had an emotional breakdown at Cobh, the departure point for the ships going to America. The museum is quite intense.

Betina, what great stories! Agree with you on the food in England, though I do love my tea. Tea and biscuits, biscuits and tea. Tea, tea, tea. :)

Did you travel for research on TRUE DESIRES? (I had an advance peek...yummy book!)

Helen Brenna said...

That reminds me - Peru! My second book is set there and I'd love to see it.

Betina Krahn said...

Barbara, I didn't get to travel far for True Desires. . . just to Tampa and the old Tampa Bay Hotel. Missed my chance to go to Veracruz, Mexico and see the "hills with doors" in person. I'd love to go to Ireland; they say it casts quite a spell.

And Helen, wow, Peru. . . Macchu Pichu (Sp?) I hear it's a life-changing experience. If you decide to go let me know. . .

:) Betina

Michele said...

So interesting that you word the one question about burning to see a place, yet did we find it wanting?
I jetted off to Paris this past Feb. Have dreamed and pined and studied it for years. Once there, we walked the entire city, and whenever we got lost, I always knew how to find our way because I'd studied the Paris map so long, I just KNEW the city. And I feel in love with the metro! But you know, I did find it lacking. Not exactly the experience to fit into the dream image I'd had of Paris all this time.
And yet, when we visited Versailles? Oh, now there was home. I hadn't been there for centuries. It was good to get back.

Debra Dixon said...


Hello! And welcome. I'm so thrilled to have you hangin' with us.

Travel is such a "mixed bag" for me. As a child my parents dragged me through every civil war battlefield, fort, monument,lake and museum on the continent.

As an adult I travel so much as a speaker and for business. Travel is never the first thing I dream about.

So I dream of "a summer there." A chance to ensconce myself in a villa and leave the world behind for a while. To dive into a foreign culture when I'm on no one's schedule but mine. I'm free to shop, sun, sleep, samba, whatever.

Wait...A SUMMER THERE...could be a book title...hmmm...

scrapperjen said...

Where would I start my list??? : ) I would love to visit: Hawaii, some of the Caribbean islands, England, Ireland, France, Italy, know....I could keep going....

I enjoyed your post and linked to your personal blog (I hope you don't mind...)

Helen Brenna said...

Betina, if I ever do go to Peru, I'll let you know. Machu Picchu, all those ancient Inca ruins, and the rainforest. Wow.

Michele, I know exactly what you're saying about a place not measuring up. Sometimes we can be so excited, like seeing a movie everyone thinks is so great.

Deb, that's what I'd like to do in Greece, rent a villa, relax, and stay for a month, or more!

anne frasier said...

i worry that i don't have the stamina for travel. just a trip to madison wipes me out. when i was little i didn't like vacations or travel. i used to wonder if it wouldn't be more fun to just daydream about going rather than physically doing it. (imagine the deathbed scene in soylent green. that was my idea of a perfect vacation.) but my daughter has lived in sweden and i have friends there. i would love to go to sweden. and england. and scotland.

Barbara said...

(Helen, cover your ears.) Michele, that was how I felt about Ireland. I'd dreamed of going for so many years it was practically tattooed on my chest. I liked it. It was beautiful. I was moved to tears by the stories of the famine times....but I essentially! Next!

Scotland, on the other hand, was a place I never even thought of visiting, and it body-slammed me from the first moment I stepped on the land. Must be past lives.

Deb, I'd love to go to Greece, too. For a long, long lazy stay. I'd really rather go for a month and hang out somewhere, especially if there's a long flight.

Anne, it does take a lot of stamina, and not everyone seems to be happy away from home. My father is quite unhappy if he's away from his dog and his stuff and his house for very long.

Jen, I don't mind AT ALL! Link away! And you mentioned another of my wishes: Africa.

Helen Brenna said...

Barbara - I heard that!! You were supposed to say cover my EYES!