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Seen once, remembered forever: a tale of time and travel

Cheshirecheese“We’ll have to come back here!” I said to my husband, or perhaps he was the one who said it to me in a charmed moment a few vacations ago. Where were we, exactly? On a stone wall in the Dordogne, perhaps, licking runny farmhouse cheese off our fingers. Hiking through a forest in Alsace, where a ruined castle suddenly loomed before us like the hideout of a fairy-tale sorcerer. Quaffing a pint at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, the half-timbered London pub where Samuel Johnson used to bend an elbow. Watching spider monkeys play in a Costa Rican jungle, or surfers ride the waves off the southern California coast (so impossibly bronzed and buff, we could practically hear the Beach Boys singing “Surfin’ USA”).

Oh, who knows which moment sparked the dreams of return? Let’s just say “all of the above,” plus an album’s worth of others. Ever since we escaped the March Break years, when every vacation featured mini-golf and Happy Meals, we’ve been finding places so rich in discoveries, we left with a must-see list for next time. For the first 15 years or so of post-parental travel, it never crossed our minds that there might not be a next time. Our future vacations stretched before us the way summer used to do on the vanished June nights of childhood.

This was before steep climbs began to take a toll on our knees, before people in our circle fell gravely ill or found themselves housebound with ailing partners. Somewhere I’ve got a copy of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die: A Traveler’s Life List. But I’ve barely cracked the spine. I don’t want to face the reality that if we go back to the Alhambra, we might miss the Great Wall of China.

Truth is, there’s just no reliving the moments I hold in my mind. Their aura has less to do with physical places than what brought me there as the light fell at a particular angle. If not for a vigorous morning hike in the Dordogne, and a fleeting shower that was pierced by the sun just in time for lunch, that stone wall would have looked like any other wall, and not like a rustic throne that appeared to have been waiting just for us. We let our legs dangle, knowing we had miles to go before we slept in our next feather bed. But that was the whole idea. Besides, dinner would be liberally garnished with the region’s incomparable specialty—foie gras—and maybe chunks of bacon as well. Calories be damned! We had earned every one with our sweat.

Argentina Buenos AiresNow we’re packing our bags for Buenos Aires, where I’ll be attending a conference of the International Women’s Forum, a wonderfully diverse community of leaders from every field you can imagine. The conference lasts three days; we’ll be spending three weeks in South America, to the astonishment of friends who’ve been watching us move for the past several frantic months. We’ve been living out of boxes since February and now we’ll be living out suitcases?

Well, why not? This trip is likely our one shot at South America. So we’re going to Iguacu falls. We’ll see all three of the houses in Chile where Pablo Neruda (lover, politician and Nobel-prize-winning poet) mixed his famously lethal cocktails for assorted merry-makers. We’ll sample empanadas and pisco sours. We won’t get anywhere close to Patagonia, but so be it. Years from now, we’ll trade memories of the highlights from this journey. And with luck, we’ll still be planning to go, just once, to some enticing corner of the world where we’ve never been before.


Posted by Rona

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