Saturday, May 16, 2009

Discerning Travel

It's been nearly 8 months since I last set foot in Virginia. As hard as the Community Voters Project I helped run down here, I definitely look back on my time here fondly. Even when you are working long hard hours towards a seemingly unattainable goal, if you are near the beach, things all seem better.

You might have to wait 20 minutes at a street corner in the projects to take a 1 hour city-bus ride home at 11pm at night, but when you wake up to this . . .

life will seem better. I firmly believe that a little reprive in nature does the soul good. For me my ideal natural setting is water, so here I am again in Virginia Beach. My friend is turning 30 (:::gasp::: am I nearly there too?) and I took the opportunity to use my vacation days.

I still don't share the view that vacation days should be used to go somewhere and then just lie somewhere, so its a bit of a tension to fly somewhere and then have no agenda or things to see. I know, however, that this is many people's idea of a 'vacation.' Why else are there cruise ships and places like Sandals Jamaica.

Somehow my regular mastercard got upgraded to a "World Elite" mastercard. Now I get big glossy brochures mailed to me with great deals like get your 8th night free when you buy 7 nights at a "couples resort." What is a couples resort you ask? It's an all-inclusive, every detail planned for your, vacation spot in a beachy locale where only couples are allowed. (Who does this appeal to? What are they implying about single people here?) Or book a 7 nights Chianti package and get a Ferrari tour with free police escort. (And what are they implying about having a Ferrari in Italy?)

Is it worth it to spend $4709 for 4 nights in Lima, roundtrip private transfers, private city sightseeing tour and business class flights? When traveling half the experience is meeting people, private tours and flights might save you a few annoyances, but take away half of the memories of your trip.

They bill their packages as being for the discerning travelers. But do discerning travelers really have it better? If discerning means having special insight and understanding, aren't you missing the essence of a place by setting yourself aloof and apart?

One of my most memorable truely discerning stays was in Barcelona. After e-mailed a few dozen Barcelonians for couch space, we finally got an affirmative reply back. When we arrived it turned out our host, a generous, gregarious Italian had said yes to a German couple and two French girls as well!

Freddy showed us his roommates' room. "She's gone for the weekend--put everything back exactly as it is when you go." What a great roommate!

During the day we all went our seperate ways exploring the city, but at night we came together for a big dinner party. Other Italians and Spaniards were invited over. I cooked an impressive risotto with fresh, chewy mushrooms from the market. We opened a half dozen bottles of wine. Ate glorious olives and ripped pieces of bread off from a loaf from the downstairs baker.

One Italian brought his guitar and as we settled into our spots on the floor, the couch, in folding chairs, he strummed us a flamenco. A girl from Seville sang a sad song and danced a Sevillana. I asked for a basic blues, sang Goin' to Chicago and danced a little charleston. When it got to a proper 'going out' hour, say 2am for a Spaniard, we headed out to the student barrio to duck into dark smokey bars and hear more music.

At the end of the weekend we compared our digital picture of the items that had been on the bed to our recreation of the scene--a sock just so, a book laid open, a blanket pulled back. We showed it to our host--"Perfect, she will never know!"

Saturday, May 09, 2009

My Backyard

This week I drove practically the whole big rectangle of Massachusetts.  Following the coast from Boston I spent Monday on the Cape.  

Not wanting to miss a opportunity to spend some time on the beach I booked a campsite at Scusset Beach.  We were assigned the same site my friend Libby and I shared 6 years ago our summer of canvassing.  A bit errie.

The weather didn't cooperate and while we enjoyed a nice, warm hearty meal at a British-style pub in Sandwich, our attempts to start a fire took a lot of time and lighter fluid.  I managed to warm up enough marshmallows for s'mores and chugged a couple glasses of Cape Cod Beer poured from a growler. 

The next day I drove back up through Boston, across the top of the state to Greenfield, down to Northampton, back to the top Northeast corner to Williamstown, down to the southeast corner and all the way back home.  The rolling mountains and stormy lakes didn't get much exploring as I zipped by meeting to meeting, but I got a few shots out the window.

Lastly, Friday was perfect.  Finally the sun came back out and every tree, bush, flower, lawn, having had it's fill was glowing green.

I spent the day in historic Concord.  In between meetings I did lunch and a walk around Walden Pond.  
Staring at the site of Thoreau's cabin, I too decideded to live deliberately.  

I caught a bit of the Sleepy Hollow cemetery--final resting place of Thoreau, Emmmerson and Louisa May Alcott and did a quick drive by Alcott's childhood home.

 My pictures capture some of the gorgeousness of the old history lain in the green, but I'm sure if you are in any area of the country that is waking up from winter, you can fill in an even brighter green than the camera could capture in your mind's eye.  

What a whirlwind of a week! 

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Travel and advertising

I really hate travel ads of today.  Open up any travel magazine and it's cover to cover ads of cheesey slogans ("Life's a breeze" "Recharging is invited" "Big State, Big Family Fun") and pictures of gleeful women in heels clutching shopping bags.  This is a shame since there's so much power in a real picutre of a place that can draw one in.

Old vintage travel posters get at that a bit.  I've taken to decorating my room in them.  Like these two on my walls now.

No slogans, no gimicks.  But who wouldn't want to jump on the next plane and go?  Both pictures take you from your room to a place just a mile or so away from the cities--not all the way there.  As if to say, you're not so far away--let's go.  

So I'm not one for today's advertising, but this recent film/ad  makes me want to jump on the next plane to France and Morocco.  Probably because it's not an ad for travel, but for Chanel 5 perfume.  

The ad is a 2 1/2 minute movie starring Audrey Tautou of Amelie fame.  It is a tale of eros as two strangers cross paths while traveling, but for me, it is the travel that takes my breath away.  Forget the man here, we're hopping on the train in France, hanging out the window as it whisks through the mountain passes, boarding a boat in the Mediterranean, and meeting again in the stately train station lobby as Billie Holiday sings in the background.  

How could you not want to go with Audrey?  To me, nothing is more romantic than travel.  Already, your senses are awakened by the new, that everything looks lovely--the train,the  mountains, the sea, the sky, oh and yes, the man.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Well Read (and Drank) Weekend #8

This week's book has served me well so far: The Good Beer Guide to New England.

How is screwing in a canoe like American beer?  It's fucking close to water. 

But not the craft beer of New England!  These past two weeks I've dove into the New England beer culture head first.  The Good Beer Guide to New England is a great beer-tasting companion.  
First on my beer tour is Brookline--no breweries here, but 2 beer tastings which I happily, and a tad tipsily biked in between.  Last weekend was a perfect day for biking and beer.  My favorie find?  A chipotle beer from Cisco Brewers on Nantucket and a mango-tinted IPA from Mayflower Brewing Company.  The Wine Gallery provided a great location for the local beer and cheese tasting.  The venue has a built in tasting room and a "wine jukebox" where you can spin a crazy looking contraption and make your own tasting any day.

 My own neighborhood of Boston is home to the Sam Adams brewery, but I haven't been there yet, so I'll leave a review of Sam until another day.

My first stop outside of Boston was the Beer Works while I had to kill some time out in Lowell.  I sampled a bit of quite a few brews, but settled on one (I was working, after all)--the Boston Garden Golden.    Lowell was a suprise.  Once the 3rd largest city in New England, Lowell's decaying factories and poverty problems are what it's known for these days.  Certainly, with with different weather, the city would have been more depressing, but as it was the river and falls I found gorgeous.  I spent a nice afternoon at the brewery where there was, thankfully, great internet connection.

Next stop: Cape Cod!