As the wind whistles down the mountain and the few remaining leaves are whipped off their branches, it’s time to order the holiday fowl. This year, it’ll be a Bresse chicken, the softest, most tender bird one can find in France. Or, as the French would have it, in the world.
Is it only me or is time running by more quickly? I feel I’ve barely let 2016 go and yet, here I am, plotting 2018.
As I sit down to write, I realize I’ve made a capital mistake: I read last year’s entry. To my horror, most of the things I was going to write this year – about finishing the renovations on my farmhouse, losing weight and getting healthy, taking more time for friends/family/life… all those were last year’s goals!
So what does that leave me with for 2018?
First, let’s put last year to bed.
I traveled the world…
At times I hardly bothered unpacking my suitcase. I just pulled out the dirty laundry, replaced it with clean clothes, and took off again. My travels this year carried a good deal of emotion with them – they were often linked to friends, to beliefs, to things I consider important. They were less about seeing and more about being.
I spent two weeks in South Korea, a country I had never even thought of visiting – and probably never would had my long-time friend Sandy not been working on a screenplay there. The combination of unknown lands and strong friendship was magnetic (as was the incredibly cheap ticket I was able to get from Geneva). Seeing Sandy brought back sweet memories of my early reporting days in Montreal – 40 years ago.
South Korea, on the other hand, screamed New! Savvy! Quirky! Cool! I have no idea what I expected but I fell in love with the country – and its food, because no, I had never tried Korean food before. Three days in the country’s gastronomical capital, Jeonju, had me flitting from dumpling to dumpling. My one holdout: kimchi. I just can’t seem to a appreciate its pickled sourness.
Friendship was also the theme of my second trip of the year, to Portugal’s Douro Valley where three Taureans – Manuel (Portuguese), Tony (Australian) and I – met up for our birthdays in early May. We stayed with Manuel’s cousin in the most impossibly picturesque country home north of Porto.
In the mornings, as a pack of dogs rushed past my window for their breakfast, I would look past the orange groves at the boats plying the river. An antique dealer, Cousin Pita’s house was extraordinary – my biggest challenge was not tripping over works of art.
For several days I did things I wasn’t used to – I talked, breathed, relaxed, gazed into the distance, meditated, and simply did no work. If ever there was a lesson, that was it: I can spend a few days away without working or writing about it. But only a few days because soon I was anxious to get back to my keyboard…
We ended our Portugal trip over the border in Spain, driving through the pouring rain to Santiago de Compostela, a city that keeps calling me back, for its spirituality or its tapas, I’m never sure. It rekindled my desire to walk the Camino de la Plata, the route that starts from Seville in southern Spain (flatter, fewer people, less popular – perfect for me). I thought 2018 – when I turn 65 – might be a good time to try this.
My 18-year-old niece, who lives in Washington DC, dropped in and out of my home in France several times this summer as she made her way through Europe on her first independent journey in a time-honored manner, by train. Since my brother moved his family to the US, I haven’t seen enough of them so a visit, any visit, is to be cherished.
It also reminded me of my own youthful trips here and there, although young people these days are ORGANIZED. They have plans and apps and numbers and friends. Back then, we had Europe on $5 a Day (yes, really!), which was considered revolutionary – so detailed, so encouraging, so cheap! I would fly standby (go to the airport, find a flight with an empty seat, buy an incredibly cheap ticket) and land somewhere unexpected. Amsterdam. Mexico City. London. Bangkok. No plans, no reservations, no apps. Not better than now – just different.
Writing about rights
This was the year my freelance writing turned the corner and allowed me to earn a (borderline) living. Most of my travel writing doesn’t pay (I tend to write right here, for Women on the Road) but I do work as a writer for various organizations that let me write about issues I care about – public health, the environment, human rights.
Human rights took me to Kenya and Colombia.
I had visited Nairobi a number of times in the past and frankly, I disliked it. This time was the opposite. Not only did I like the city, but I was reintroduced to the Kenyan sense of humor, surely one of the most contagious on the planet. I was there during the election furore, when votes were being nullified, Supreme Court judges assailed and streets filled with loudly demonstrating crowds. Part of my work involved writing about the electoral situation, which allowed me to see sides of Kenya – slum areas, human rights defenders, environmental damage – I hadn’t witnessed yet. And I got to take a picture of the iconic tusks in Mombasa…
Somewhere between my trip to Kenya and preparations for Colombia, the strangest thing happened: I redeveloped a fear of flying. I say “redeveloped” because I was once terribly scared of flying and got rid of that fear, so I cringed when it came back years later. The thought of small Colombian planes and airports wrecked me and I sought help. It worked, and I flew about a dozen flights in the space of ten days, somewhat apprehensive, but far from fearful.
Colombia was eye-opening as a country in transition can be. With peace barely a year old, this is a country in the dual throes of hope and skepticism, with one foot in the future and the other in uncertainty. Much will depend on how the government manages to bridge the gap between rich and poor, urban and rural, and on whether politicians keep their promises. After more than 50 years of internal conflict, Colombia deserves peace.
Of course I visited the coffee region and sipped my way through every possible brew, learning that coffee has some 800 distinct characteristics, compared with wine’s 400. Since I don’t drink alcohol, for once I felt knowledgeable.
I fell hard for Colombia, its joyful people and incredible beauty. A few weeks aren’t enough – I’d suggest two months. I met coffee farmers and former guerrillas, gold miners and ranchers, politicians and priests. I stayed in hotels and rural guest houses and once, in a coffee farmer’s home when the narrow road to get off the mountain was cut off by a bus with a broken axle.
Rarely have I felt so welcomed by people who had so little and yet were so happy to share it with me. And even Colombia was about friendship – I was able to get together with a Colombian friend I hadn’t seen since we’d worked together back in… 1993.
My health surprised me somewhat. I started the year in bits and pieces; I have heel issues and was beginning to think an operation would be the only cure for the pain; my back ached so much I gave in and bought a new mattress; and my diet – well, my diet. What can I say about it that hasn’t been said…
The mattress and regular physio fixed my back, and all the walking on my travels seemed to get rid of the foot pain, so I’m incredibly grateful for the lessening pain.
What’s left? That perennial resolution I seem incapable of keeping: losing weight and getting into shape. Sound familiar?
So I won’t commit – I’ll just lightly throw it out there, hoping that it will magically happen (you know, like losing weight because you’ve read a diet book?)
And of course there’s Women on the Road. I didn’t post as much as I would have liked, but I did do quite a bit of work behind the scenes – things that make this site go faster or help you find information more easily or update old, very old content (as in “I celebrated ten years online” old). I usually make predictions about where the site will go the following year, except I can’t. Because I have no idea. Do I keep writing about the same things? Do I move into different directions? So many bloggers have branched out that I can’t help but wonder… So I’ll just hand it over to the universe and see if a pattern emerges.
What I do know is that this year, things whipped past me too quickly. I barely had a chance to take a breath and perhaps that is a distinct sign of age, when time becomes telescoped. I know I need to stop working 18 hours a day. I know I need to read great writing. I know I need to write things that I love. I know I need to take time off to be with my partner, to play with my dogs, to call and visit friends and family.
Having decided to choose a word to guide me in 2018, I choose the word CLARITY. I need a bit of that.