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Interval: Musing on Travel

It's a bit crazy out there in the world right now. Coronavirus and a plunging stock market. Talk of recession and rationing and martial law. An entire section of yesterday's newspaper devoted to What Is COVID? What Can We Do About It? What's Going to Happen??

And yet...

This morning, checking my email inbox for any new dramatic developments, I could hear -- creeping in around the edges of my awareness -- birdsong. The birds in my backyard singing their spring morning songs. And with real heart, y'know? You can really hear the effort as those little guys are really giving it their all, perfecting their songs and belting them out for all the other birds to hear.

So I opened the patio door, in spite of the near-freezing morning temperatures outdoors, to be met with a blast of cool temperatures and spring aromas which immediately put me in mind of Paris.

I don't know why it reminded me of Paris but it did. And sometimes it just does, doesn't it. Just the right combination of a day's temperature and the morning light and the smells of new trees and plants starting to open up to the season, it can take you right back to a place.

So then why Paris? Well, for one thing, over the years I have tended to travel in early spring to avoid the crowds and the hot summer temperatures in Europe. And in fact, when I think on it, my very first trip to France began the day after tomorrow seventeen years ago. And of course unpacking that box of memories yields a veritable treasure trove. It was my very first real trip abroad, a journey I'd been trying to make since I had been unable to accompany my high school French class on their senior trip twenty years previously. To a midwestern girl like myself, it seemed an impossibility that a person could simply buy a ticket, board a plane and alight in another country. Of course by now, nearly twenty years later, I've done it dozens of times, disembarking in France and Germany and Spain. Iceland and Siberia. New Zealand, Turkey, Costa Rica. But back then it was the single most magical experience of my life.

But something remains of oneself during travel, and I was no different. I have always been -- and probably alway will be -- a "morning person." Ask any morning person and they'll tell you how they enjoy being up before other people, relishing the relative quiet, watching the world wake up around them. Any time I oversleep and wake late in the morning, I feel exposed somehow, as if I'm already behind and I've missed something crucial. Like waking up on a crowded train platform, with people rushing past already busy busy busy.

So even when the morning I'm waking up into is in another country, I tend to waken early. I enjoy walking the streets of a town or city before the hustle-bustle sets in. And of course, in most European towns, there's a small bakery or boulangerie open, with the delightful scents of fresh-baked croissant wafting through its door as it gently opens and closes, sometimes tinkling a small bell in the threshold, as if the tableau weren't already charming enough.

Some years ago I took a trip to Paris with my sister, who'd never seen the city. It was my chance to introduce it to her, having been there several times myself. The travel was a bit arduous on that trip, a long flight, the city overly warm the day of our arrival. We set our bags down in the flat then wandered the few blocks to visit Notre Dame. It was packed. Hordes of people not only swarming in and out of the cathedral itself but also lounging around on benches and verges and standing in globs and gluts at the vendors' stalls. It was horrible. I was beyond tired and wondered whatever possessed me to think this was a good idea. -- But the next morning, bright and early, I left the flat to go fetch a pain au chocolat for my sister, who'd never had the real thing, and immediately upon emerging from my doorstep, the city's charm had returned. The cool morning breeze, the sounds of the morning workers cleaning the streets and picking up the rubbish. Commuters starting their day, at this hour only trickling in and out of the Metro stairwells. Everything fresh and new, the promise of a new day ahead.

Maybe that's the true significance of all this morningness: the potential of it.

I'm grateful for moments like these, which take me out of the now and transport me to another time and place, fond memories of exciting and beautiful and lovely places, and the promise of maybe having that again, once all this lunacy is over. So when the realisations of, No, I'm still in Oregon, and still in the US, and still in the midst of a global pandemic.... when those realities come crowding back in, at least I have a buffer. This morning of birdsong and memories of travel to other times & places, for however, brief, is a comfort to me. More valuable than any postcard or t-shirt, these are the souvenirs which matter the most.


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