Friday, May 11, 2007

Not Quite a Kodak Moment

With my long anticipated Upper East Side fantasy trip slated to begin tomorrow morning, travel is on my mind.

Thinking back over the many trips I’ve taken, most for business but lots for pleasure, moments and memories from my mental photo album pop into my head.

I can recall returning to a Royal Air Force Base in the UK from Heathrow after having spent that first Christmas (was it Christmas 1981?) back in Boston. There was snow on the ground, the holiday spirit was still tangible and a stranger on the train to Ipswich offered to drive me from the station back to the base so I wouldn’t have to take a taxi. We stopped at a pub on the way and were asked to join a group of footballers who were still singing Christmas songs. Frank Sykes (so Dickensian!) dropped me off at the front gate that night while the snow fell and I felt like I belonged in England.

It’s midnight after a Christmas party an eight hour drive north of Adelaide. I’m outside with a group of slightly intoxicated Australians and a handful of drunken Americans. We’re trying to locate the Southern Cross and we finally do. I see that constellation, a view so different from my Big Dipper at home on the other side of the earth and I feel a part of the universe.

I’m standing alone on a bridge in Amsterdam, in the quiet of the early morning, looking in the distance at bridges and more bridges, houseboats sitting permanently on both sides of the canal, narrow, tall buildings with their impossibly narrow, steep stairways and I’m thinking that if I were to fall into the canal and disappear, no one would ever know what happened to me.

At the National Gallery in Washington, DC, I’m standing in front of the only painting by Leonardo DaVinci in the entire country. There are only fifteen known DaVinci paintings in the world. It’s so physically small, yet so large. I wander through the Dutch Masters; the French Impressionists then find my way downstairs to a room full of Degas sculptures. I can stop at each piece for as long as I want to and all of them belong to me.

I’m wandering the streets of a small town in eastern Turkey. It’s Kurdistan and nothing like the western city of Istanbul. It’s the first time we’re allowed off of the base where we’ve been restricted for three weeks to support some Air Force Reserve exercises. We are a freak show here in this tiny corner of the world where few westerners ever go. I’m a woman (with skin covered to the ankles and wrists despite the heat), one of us is Hawaiian, one is blonde, and one is a giant of a man with a shaved head. Little Turkish kids are literally bumping into adults on the streets while they stare at the spectacle that we are. We don’t belong here.

I have hundreds of these moments. It’s funny, but most of the things I recall from my travels were never Kodak moments. They were times that burned themselves into my mind for reasons I can’t quite explain or understand.

Do you have these travel memories? Are there moments that stayed with you from trips either alone or with a group? Were there people you saw or met briefly that you will never forget? Have you experienced feelings that overwhelmed you unexpectedly in a place that you found intensely beautiful, lonely or frightening? Do you have, as I do, moments you’ve never tried to explain to anyone else because they were so powerful you wanted to keep them all to yourself to preserve the magic?


Leslie said...

This is why you're a writer! I think many of us have these kinds of memories but the ability to describe them in a way that makes the reader vizualize and feel them is an incredible talent - and you have it!!

Lisa said...

Leslie...thanks! Hopefully, I'll be collecting some more of these gems over the next few days. Have a great weekend!

Larramie said...

Magic moments, Lisa? That's what this post was -- beautiful!

Your mention of the Upper East Side brought so many moments of awe to mind, including riding to the top of The World Trade Center to dine at Windows on the World. NYC and (even) NJ glittered beneath and around us, all so breathtaking. Then one brilliant September morning I watched from my breakfast table as one Tower and then another crumbled to the ground, leaving me breathless of innocence.

John Elder Robison said...

I have countless memories like that. Maybe they had to accumulate for a while, and then suddenly, I transformed into a writer.

After pouring into me for 40+ years, they will begin pouring back out.

Therese said...

Experience and perspective allow us to recognize certain moments after the fact, but I'm especially enamored of those times when I'm aware of the power as I'm living the moment.

Your vignette about Turkey reminded me of a time when I was visiting a convent in Baguio City, in the Philippines. I was a young, naive, blond woman amongst mostly old Filipina nuns who supervised a silver-craft workshop for disabled people. One especially compelling man, who was missing one hand, offered me earrings he'd just made as though I was what was special and unusual there.

They were, and are, exquisite in detail, and each time I wear them I see that man and revisit that place.

Lisa said...


What a poignant juxtaposition of images. That day not only changed us as a culture, but I believe as a species.


I think I had a similar experience. Some of those memories stayed with me from the moment they were formed, but as I write more, I find that more of them surface all the time. Some are good, some are not so good, but they seem to be an almost bottomless wellspring of inspiration.


I could see the event playing out in my mind's eye as I read your words. What a wonderful story.

Yellow said...

Lisa, thank you for sharing these moments with us. Reading each one, I felt I was there too, sharing in the intimacy and magic of them. I too have a small store of moments, and yet could never find the words to express them. You have those words, and it's a gift. Thank you again for sharing.

Lisa said...


Thank you so much for your kind comments. I'll bet you have the words and lots of beautiful memories -- it sounds like you've led a very interesting life!

Patry Francis said...

I could really FEEL each of these moments, but perhaps it was the existential loneliness of Amsterdam that touched me most of all.

Lisa said...


Existential loneliness -- perfection and economy of speech. I love your use of language. Yes, that was it.

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It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

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