Tuesday, July 10, 2012

thoughts and photos

1.     Thoughts

An article in the NYTimes, written by a literary types, attempts to set forth the context for why people travel and how they go about doing it. (Through managed tourism? Through a more humble exploration? Through uncomfortable encounters and enlightening observation?)

I had to read it, of course. I spend every spare penny on travel (and in younger years I spent money I had yet to earn on it too); indeed, I find a period of several months without leaving home to be – tough. Having someone explain to me why I do this is... interesting.

As usual when reading these kinds of speculative essays, I find myself protesting the stated categories: it’s this or it’s that. Well no, for most of us who are energized by observing (through a lens, or at a cafĂ© bar on the village square) a world of strangers, it’s most of the above.

The world elsewhere is never better than my own, even as some things there, far away function in ways that are more to my liking (and of course, some things function significantly less well). And while I’m on this topic of “better” (or worse), let me say a word about showers. I mean the public ones – at beaches. Both France and Spain have lovely outdoor shower heads (the Spanish ones are newer, aesthetically delightful, but in both countries, they are superb) for the general use of the public. We found them indispensable – wash off the salt, the sand, refresh yourself, move on.

Yesterday, at Devil’s Lake, as I noted here on Ocean, we read posted warnings about swimmer’s itch (in case you don’t know, it’s a gross parasite that enters through your skin and causes rashes, swelling, etc etc, sometimes for weeks on end). Tips on how to minimize the possibility of this include rinsing yourself in a shower right after the dip. Ed swam, I waded – so a rinse was in order.

A rather large and ugly building to the side housed a toilet and two shower stalls for each gender. A line was forming at the female end of things and I poked my head inside to see what the hold up was. Close the door! I was told emphatically. It’s crowded enough in here. I closed the door and waited. Minutes passed, nothing. I looked in the door next to the showers – a general toilet area. I poked inside the shower area again and got the same  -- close the door! Two women, not showering at all, were changing. Well okay, but I suggested that, since this was taking a while, they may want to use the space next door, as the line was getting long for a shower. I got the loudest public scream in my face I ever remember getting. Shut the door now! We want privacy! There was spit and fire in her eyes.

I thought about this for a minute. Privacy. Our big entitlement. Mine, mine, not anyone else’s. It struck me that if someone screamed at me in this way in, say, France, I’d have to think that there’s pent up anger seething there, among the people. But then, France doesn’t have closed off (in ugly buildings) shower stalls, so I’m not likely to ever face this problem there.

So I wondered if maybe we are a nation of very angry people. As the media broadcasts our general dissatisfaction (with Congress, with each other), as opportunities for expressing anger flourish (blast away at the person you don’t agree with – it’s your right!), maybe we let it all out at the expense of looking for something less... well, loud?

I am reminded sometimes of a children's book I had for my girls a long time ago -- "Screamy Mimi." We live in times of very many screamy mimis.

I’m allowed to express my opinion! Yes, but must you? Isn’t it like second hand smoke – it so often harms those in the vicinity and it seems more and more that we cannot get away from it, because everyone is smoking angry words of rage?

So back to my thoughts about why I travel (and, too, write about travel): for one thing (and there are other things), it helps me see the good ways people treat each other. Sure, I'm on the prowl for it. There are plenty of hopelessly angry and disenfranchised people in France and Spain. I know that. But how does the rest of the population cope? We can always use additional insights here, no? I’m interested in finding this out. And so I like watching the small everyday things: the way people greet one another in the bakery or at the market. Or leave stale baguettes for someone's chickens. The way kids learn to surf on the beach. The way they all use public showers. Kindness to strangers, even when the strangers are a pain in the ass, toting cameras, knowing too few words and understanding too few customs. I like that. It gives me hope.

2.     Photos

My daylilies [“Hemerocallis” -- or hemera ('day' in Greek) kalos ('beautiful') -- the flowers that are right at the front of the farmhouse]  should be starting their colorful parade in July, continuing at least until mid September. I plant them with that in mind. Instead, they’re nearly done for the season. A final tribute then, to the flowering of the farmhouse pretty girls: