Horizon at Sandy Point

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Travels with my aunt

Who knows when or how a child develops the yen for travel. Being moved from Trinidad to London to Africa will certainly condition the children in one family. But "reward trips" given for passing exams, however few and far between are wonderful incentives. Books spur mental travelling, but nothing compares with setting foot in a new country for the first time. A body feels the earth differently, perceives the angle of the sun filtering through clouds or blazing from blue sky, feels an unusual wind bringing scent and heat, or cold. 

I fell in love with airplane travel and being in a different place when I first visited Miami in the early sixties. Miami as a frontier town, just opening up new residential, shopping and amusement areas! Always a beach front. Every bit of the experience is stored in some brain cell, easily ignited by smell or sound or just the way the sun feels on bare legs - a Miami state of being.

The feast for my travel senses came more than a decade later when in my second year at university, my hot-foot traveler aunt took me as her companion around the world. We started in May and arrived in Trinidad in August. Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Victoria in Canada. Hawaii. Hong Kong. Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto in Japan. Malaysia and Singapore. A day and a night in Bangkok. Istanbul in Turkey. The Greek Isles. Geneva, Switzerland. Paris, France. Rome and Naples in Italy. Madrid and Barcelona in Spain. Lisboa and a bullfight in Portugal. Amsterdam, Holland. Copenhagen, Denmark. London, Brighton, Leeds in England. Not necessarily in that order! In most of the places Auntie had a friend or friend of a friend to stay with. Hotels, guest rooms, pensions in Europe were a different kind of treat.

Of course, it was too much to take in - far less absorb - even with the agile mind of a 20-year year old, (so many different currencies - my aunt took care of that, she was a bank manager!) two Samsonite hard-cases and city maps, and the most basic Kodak camera. Don't know where the memories are stored, but they can be called up by an idea, a smell, a feeling, a passage in a book. Black cherry juice and hot pretzels on the Bosporus in Turkey. The Blue Mosque and the smaller Sofia in Istanbul. Small flowers in crags on a stony Greek hillscape. The sweet sicky smell of durian everywhere in Malaysia. Buying a silk kimono in Kyoto. Sweating for a tan on the shores of Lake Geneva before plunging into icy waters. Mini-skirted and bareheaded at the Vatican, and denied entry. Taking the ferry in Hong Kong. And walking, walking, walking - the breadth of Paris on the Seine; cobbled streets of Amsterdam and Copenhagen, Rome, Madrid, Lisbon, London.

Auntie was a world traveler for as long as I knew her. The quintessential Auntie, glamorously decked out in the highest spike heels and tight skirts of the 50s, fully employed, independent and financially astute, she helped raise her sisters' children; had hundreds of god-children, official and un-official, staying for members of the family as well as the families she was adopted into from her work at the bank. She continues to be sister, friend and auntie of many scattered in countries around the world. How lucky to have her make my introductions to cities, to so many feasts, and guide me to see the world through all my senses.

I think human beings have a gene for going, for setting out and for exploring. It's strongly linked to the other gene - the one for coming back, the one that takes you home.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if every family has one member like your aunt? I had one aunt also, who traveled the world with her boss.

    She was like an exotic mystery to us. She was not married, and had no children. That in itself suggested possibilities. She also invested her money, and that too was a clear sign that she was knowledgeable and worldly. Whenever she made money from her investments, she would buy us all an extra gift. Or she would give my mother a gift of something that she had always wanted, or needed.

    Post cards would arrive in our mailbox, from all parts of the world. And when she was home, between trips, she would come for a visit and bring each of us a special gift, from the countries she had most recently visited.

    She was alway elegantly dressed, and had the smell and texture of 'city' and airports. When she opened her suitcases there were beautiful strange smells of perfumes, and candles and fabric. It was as if for a second, we too had visited these wonderful and strange places.

    She would pull from her suitcase, balls of strange colours, and scarves, and dolls and trinkets. These items we would treasure dearly. They were clearly not the kind that you just went and played with. They were to be gazed upon!

    Every Christmas, she bought every single niece and nephew a gift. You could count on it. And when we had our children, she sent gifts for them too! But by this time the gifts were in the form of a cheque, as she had retired from the traveling life. She continued to send these gifts, well into her eighties!

    And on the occasion that my aunt left some of her elegant, high-heel shoes at our house,for storage between her trips, we would sneak into the trunk or suitcase, against all warnings, and walk in these elegant shoes, imagining that we too were gazing at foreign horizons!

    Your article brought all of those special moments back to me.

    (Rest in Peace Aunty Irene)