The time when I will no longer feel like strapping myself into a pressurized cylinder for hours at a time is at hand. I’m not there yet, but I can feel it coming. So the question becomes: are there any places that I would really like to see before, let’s say, the opportunity passes into history? How about things, are there any things that I would love to have owned but never had the chance? That would be things that I could still afford, if they were a priority. Are there any experiences that I would like to add to my resume, experiences that I might still have the strength, money and inclination to arrange? It’s worth thinking about, and now is a better time than even six months from now, owing to the uncertain nature of our mortality.
“Experiences” is an easy category to disregard. There’s no way to discuss that subject in polite company.
“Things” might be tempting. When I was a young man, for instance, I would look longingly at Rolex watches in store windows. (I’ve got a post here on this blog somewhere about Rolexes.) I am no longer such a romantic, though, and I already own a forty-five dollar watch that keeps very good time. My last cheap watch lasted me ten years, so this one might last for the rest of my life.
A car might be a possibility. There was a time when I loved cars and driving, but my last car would be hard to top. That was a 1997 Honda Prelude, and boy it was a swell car, a regular luxury hot rod. I am content with my memories of driving that, and other cars and motorcycles, way too fast. It was fun while it lasted, and I don’t regret any of it. I am grateful to God for having survived it! Now I love taxis (riding in them; I don’t want to own one).
How about “Places?” This is the richest subject for longing.
I’ve been luckier than most people when it comes to traveling. I’ve been lots of places in Europe and Asia. I spent a summer studying in Germany. I’ve been off the beaten path, too. I’ve been to Poland (Lublin and Warsaw), and Canada (Montreal, Toronto and Guelph). I’ve lived in Thailand for thirteen years now, and I’ve actually visited over thirty provinces, adding another thirty if you count riding through on the bus. I speak German and Thai, so I’ve gotten a more accurate read of those countries than typical tourists get. It’s safe to say that I have traveled enough to prevent me from longing for more, but the question remains: are there one or more places that nag at me because I’ve never seen them in person?
That’s the crux of the matter these days, the verb, “to see.” There are certainly places that I would love to see, and God knows that there are many museums that I would dearly love to explore. But these days it’s so easy to “see” just about anything on the Internet.
It would be lovely to travel to Madrid and spend time in the Prado. Ditto Florence and the Uffizi Gallery, and many others. This, for me, is the most frustrating aspect of traveling as a tourist. There isn’t enough time to really absorb the available experience of a large museum. I’ve been to Amsterdam twice, and on one occasion I did go to the Rijksmuseum, which is fabulous. It would, however, take a week to even begin to see it adequately, and my schedule was so accelerated that I couldn’t even give it a day. Here’s what I did. They had just completed a big cleaning of “The Night Watch,” by Rembrandt von Rijn, and it had come out great. So I immediately ran, ran, mind you, to the location of the Night Watch. I walked through the room describing the cleaning process, because conservatorship is an interest of mine, and then I spent about forty-five minutes staring at the painting itself. It was bright and magnificent; it was a lovely experience. A privilege! Then I went to the gift shop and bought a few things. Then we left the museum to go back to wandering around the city. You just can’t do everything you’d like to do. On that same day, we walked past the Anne Frank house, and we were very interested to see it, and its neighborhood, with its tree-lined streets and beautiful canal, but we did not wish to wait on the rather long line to enter. All touristy traveling becomes an exercise in cutting corners.
So if I wish to look at the paintings from the Prado, or the Uffizi, I look on the Internet. This shortcut would work for most cities and many natural phenomena as well. So what are the things that you must do in person?
First of all, there are the unphotographable wonders of the world. Take the Grand Canyon, for instance. You may have been a fan, you may have seen thousands of beautiful, professional photographs of the Grand Canyon, even high resolution posters, but I guarantee you that the first time you approach the rim of the canyon itself on foot you will be experiencing it in all of its majesty for the first time. The scope of it, and the colors and textures, cannot be captured in photos. This happens not only with natural places, but also with certain buildings or monuments. One example is the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumper, Malaysia. I had always admired them in photographs, finding them to be among the most beautiful sky-scrappers, architecturally speaking. The first time I laid eyes on them, however, I was stunned; I actually swayed back on my heels and caught my breath. The sun was full on them, and the effect was electric. It turns out that they are entirely clad with high-gloss, lush stainless steel! There’s no way to get the full impact of that on the Internet.
There are certainly places the seeing of which could be as exciting as the Grand Canyon or the Petronas Towers, but I’m choosing not to think about them too much. I certainly have no intention of making a list of some kind. There is, though, one category of places that tugs at my heart.
These are the experiences that transcend the mere act of looking at things. I worry that there are places in the world where it would be important and meaningful for me to simply be for a while. Just to BE in that place, to see it and smell it and hear it, to touch the trees and the grass, to eat the food. This is something that most people probably don’t think about very often, but if you think about it right now I’ll bet that you can come up with a few ideas.
I can think of a couple of such places that I have been in my life and would love to revisit. Lake George, in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, comes to mind. Sure, the environs and the appearance of many things would have changed since my many visits long ago, but the lake itself and the forest and the mountains (hills, really) around the lake would be the same. I’m pretty sure that Rogers’ Rock looks about the same. I often have the experience in my thoughts, or in my dreams, but it would be wonderful to be there again.
Then there are the places that I have never been. I was considering the entire idea of vacations earlier today, and it was on the verge of seeming like a waste of time. I’ve been so many places already, why bother? I already live in Thailand, and even after being here for so long it’s like being on vacation all the time. Then I thought, what about Ireland? I know so much about Ireland, and five of my great-grandparents were born there. Wouldn’t it be lovely to be there? To see the green, and feel the breeze, and smell the rain? I’d be happy just to sit on a bench in a park in Dublin for a couple of days, then go down to Waterford and Cork, where my people left from, on the intercity bus, or train, or whatever they have in Ireland. Having Irish blood running through your veins can be a strange feeling. It seems to bring a set of hopes and dreams along with it, unbidden. It brings physical things as well, like the Celtic Palate, the melancholy, and the thirst. I have suffered, more or less, from these things, myself and through the actions of my mother and grandmother. (God rest their souls, and he may have. Either way, the matter is settled by now.) And yet I’ve never been to Ireland; I am a stranger to my own place. Maybe I should correct that oversight.
In the instant that it took to move to this paragraph I started to over-think such a vacation. Luckily, I caught that error immediately and have resolved to just fly to Dublin if the trip ever becomes a reality. I wonder if this is the sum of my bucket list. It might be, and it might just happen at that.