Written by Joe Wilkins Tuesday, May 20, 2014 05:00 am
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There is a happy tradition in the 14 or so weekly papers of Catamaran Media, LLC, which includes the Currents, the Gazettes and the Wildwood Leader, of asking readers to take a copy of the paper with them as they head for distant lands and, when standing before such landmarks as the Pyramids or the Eiffel Tower or Mount Fuji or the temple of Angkor Wat, to hold up the paper with masthead proudly displayed and take a picture of themselves, the paper, and the spectacle as proof that the readers are a well-traveled bunch.
As indeed they are. I wrote last week about my annual search for the perfect writer’s café, preferably outdoors with decent wine. A still-growing collection of my wandering readers chimed in with suggestions. One had landed in Paris after a slow cruise on the rivers of France and assured me there’s a rich supply of outdoor tables all along the route, and certainly in Paris. Lucky devil! Another with a keen eye for detail and far-traveling feet, suggested I try the outside table overlooking the river at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in Phnom Penh, Cambodia “just before sunset.” Now there’s a man who treasures the right things! Still another old friend offered deck privileges and good wine at his home along the bay in Ventnor.
Wonder what it would look like if we asked a summer intern to build one of those Google-Earth maps, putting place markers everywhere a photo of the reader and the paper landed? It would probably be a crowded map. We Americans are a travel-happy crowd and our readers seem to be right up there with the best. Nor are we shy about exotic destinations. California and Florida and Maine and Wyoming get lots of visits from us, but so too does Hong Kong, Machu Picchu in the high mountains of Peru, Easter Island, Africa, Australia and other off-the-beaten path lures.
I’ve been luckier than I deserve in such travels. The first time I crossed the Atlantic was to watch my son take part in the world-famous Henley Regetta in England when Holy Spirit’s coach Stan Bergman galvanized a then-moribund South Jersey by showing us to aim for the stars, taking our local crew to a level none of us had dreamt of before he began. When the crew returned and came from a New York Airport by bus down the Garden State Parkway, there were miles of whooping sirens and blasting horns on fire trucks, police cars and private vehicles that escorted the victorious rowers from Tuckerton all the way to Absecon where the high school parking lot was filled with joyously screaming fans.
My trips after that were quieter but just as much fun. To Paris, to Tuscany, to England again and again, to Germany and Austria and Ireland and Israel and Rome. But that cruise on the rivers and canals of France remains a daydream as yet unlived.
A fellow I knew in Washington put me on to the thing; a cruise on the canals of France dedicated to learning how to cook and how to appreciate good wine. You get a comfortable room on a spacious canal-boat that glides you from country town to country town, stopping for the night here and there to learn how to properly cook chicken and fish and all the vegetables and select just the right wines to go with them. It’s good to keep such daydreams handy to comfort you on the winter days.
But you don’t have to get out your passport to enjoy such travels. San Francisco and the Florida Keys have their own claims on your dreams, and the coastline of Maine or the beauty of the Painted Desert at sunset and New Orleans are hard to beat.
I said I’ve been lucky, and so I have. But what amazes me is that in the most local of breakfast cafes or back-road restaurants, you will find ordinary folks eager to talk about their own travels. Not just the well-off, but the carpenters and waitresses and cops and firemen and schoolteachers who work all year long but seize the days of their vacations to see the world. That’s one of the greatest things about America; that no matter how many media clowns and political doomsayers insist the American dream is dead or dying, we know better.