I am in San Francisco. I am in Texas. I am whirring on the back of a golf cart speeding to the closing gates of a midnight flight to Bogota. I am breathing, living, moving from one life to the next, remembering my always-on travel mantra that helps me dive full-in whenever I travel: I am that.
All of it. Everyone I see, all the idiotic things, the lamentations and prejudices, the angelic offerings and the petty short changings. The joy in the eyes of the smiling grandfather whirring along side me, on his way to a family reunion in the countryside of Colombia. The passive voice of the driver echoing- anyone else going to Bogota? Anyone?
The plane doors shut. I am asleep.
I am in Bogota. I am waiting. I am in Lima.
I am in Piura. The airport.
I am waiting for an official cab, though the gypsies hover on the other side of the curb with laments and pleas and intensity. A legit taximan with lines on his face deep like ocean trenches pulls up, helps me get my bag in the car. He eyes me with a weary friendliness through the rear view. Where are you from? He asks in Spanish.
Guess, I say.
No. Guess again.
a) One of the first things you see after customs. DON’T FUCK WITH BJORN BJORG
b) Swedes take care of things. I rode ferries and subway cars my parents’ age that are in prime condition.
c) Old Town is full of old, quiet buildings.
d) The military band plays ABBA. Not kidding.
e) Actual Swedish fish.
f) Gift shop > gallery @ Moderna Museet.
g) A coffee break on steriods. They call it “fika.”
h) Skansen, a park of Swedish history. Peacocks roam free.
i) Sweden does pickled herring and boiled potatoes, not burritos.
j) The archipelago is full of tiny, perfect islands.
k) Candy bins like this are everywhere.
l) With eighteen hours of daylight you can hang out in parks all day*
m) *and go to playgrounds after dinner**
n) **did I mention playgrounds after dinner?
o) This makes me happy.
p) The sky looks like this at 1 am.
q) Music all over Stockholm on National Day. Old Swedish men play jazz and sing in English.
r) Summer in Stockholm is drop-dead gorgeous.
s) This boat might still be for sale.
t) Even the bittersweet train ride to the airport was smooth, fast and quiet.
Hey, I recently took an interesting trip. It wasn’t to anywhere cool like India, Jack Daniel’s home state or San Miguel de Allende — no, it was to the California Pacific Medical Center on California Street, here in San Francisco.
It all started at 3:30 am when I woke up with a slight ache in my stomach. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but by 6:30 it had gotten worse and ejecting my dinner did not help. At 9, I found myself in the waiting room of an urgent care doctor. Unable to pinpoint the problem, she sent me to the biggest crooks in the medical industry, [name of testing place redacted for lawsuit reasons], for the usual rigamarole. From there I was instructed to go to a radiology center for a CT scan. After two hours of increasingly painful waiting for an insurance authorization, I opted to foot the bill myself and had the scan of my abdomen performed. Needless to say, something is wrong with the insurance system if it requires a person in pain to sit and wait while some office drone passes around an authorization form. But I digress.
In Russia, for some damn reason, they call a restaurant a “pectopah” and a bar a “bap.” But you could certainly argue that the drinking establishment in this St. Petersburg hotel deserves a special name of its own. And maybe it’s “movie,” because that’s what the whole experience feels like.
It’s an epic movie, to be sure, as we hang most nights past 4 a.m. But putting in the hours means we get to see the whole story arc. How the hookers, who don’t look like hookers at all — in the US they’d be the most elegant ladies in the room — periodically shift tables and take turns discreetly trolling the crowd. How the smooth-as-silk manager signals to them with a silent nod that he needs their table and they temporarily move to a seating area in the hall. How every hooker has a rose-colored drink, non-alcoholic, on her table with a straw in it. Some kind of high-class red light maybe, but mostly, I think, to signal the staff.
But enough of my ogling the working girls. What I wanted to tell you about was the gangster part of the movie from last night.
Fluorescents reflecting on the inside of the train windows make it impossible to see out as we pull into the New Delhi station around 10 pm, back from a day-trip to the Taj Mahal. So we have no clue. We file slowly out of the air-conditioned first-class car into the sticky, 100-degree heat and onto a dusty concrete platform that is nothing less than carpeted in humanity: sleeping, sitting, eating, talking, standing, lounging, smoking, cradling, shuffling, cuddling, walking and, frequently, maneuvering a large bundle of belongings, in sandals and saris and ballooning shorts, open shirts and khakis, over every square centimeter. We edge, mostly sideways, through this density toward the pedestrian overpass that will deposit us on the opposite platform that leads outside the station. We hold hands, like we never do anymore, tightly, but functionally. We’ve read about stampedes in those undifferentiated foreign places that seem exotic to gringos. We don’t talk about it. But we’re all pretty sure that one spark and people would die. And maybe some of those people would be us.
The stairs are impassable. But somehow as you lift your foot to the first step you find a toehold that you didn’t see a moment before or that wasn’t there. Like some gelatin river, the crowd haltingly, imperceptibly flows around you, even when the crowd is not moving, and you flow around the crowd. You make it to the overpass and glance back down the stairs to see who you’ve lost, maybe forever. Where’s your friend from Australia? Where’s the Indian account executive who’s been assigned as your guide? No time to do anything about it. You have to hold that hand and keep flowing.
“You’re from California, and you came to Nashville for vacation???”
Why, yes. Yes, I did. The cashier at the coffee shop asked that with a note of disbelief. But it’s true. This year vacation took me to Tennessee, namely Nashville, Memphis and whatever towns happened to separate the two (I do remember seeing a sign to turn off for Oakland, and wondered momentarily whether it was all just a dream).
You know those folks who take long vacations and feel the need to explain that it’s their first vacation in five years/ten years/since I can’t remember when/since I started working here/since I got married/since I had kids/since I moved to California/since I moved back to New York. (Or, as the Hold Steady put it in “Chill Out Tent”: “…it was his first day off in forever, man.”)
Well, I won’t put you through that. I was away from the office for two weeks. And fuck it.
I also won’t try to explain that the vacation actually started out as work. Because you’d never believe that attending Hard Rock’s concert series in Hyde Park is work. Certainly not if you were there, what with the amazing VIP tent and free food, booze and service all day, not to mention guys named Springsteen, Neil Young, Paul McCartney and the Killers onstage. Not to mention the after-parties.
Yeah, I won’t even try. It was work. It was fun. And it rapidly devolved into pure, stout-soaked sloth.
See all the photos on Flickr.
Patagonia, Uruguay, Argentina: they’re all part of the area known as the Southern Cone. And each in its own way is beyond words. Or, at least, my words. Anyway, I hate that question, “So what was the best part of your trip?” Well, there’s the stunning natural beauty of Patagonia, with the relentless winds of the high mountain steppe of El Chalten, or the grandeur of the glaciers just outside of Calafate. Or unassuming Uruguay, with its extreme lack of tourist information, despite being one of the most charming countries I’ve ever visited. Or urban Buenos Aires, whose vibrant soul resonates throughout its distinctive music, art and history. The best part? No, instead of going on for pages without answering the question, I’d like to let these diecinueve photos speak their thousands of more eloquent words.