Friday, June 29, 2012

Setting Off On A Word Pilgrimage

My pilgrimage starts most mornings at my café

“That’s what I like about traveling – you can sit down, maybe talk to someone interesting, see something beautiful, read a good book, and that’s enough to qualify as a good day.  You do that at home and everyone thinks you’re a bum.”
--Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan, from their screenplay for the movie Before Sunrise

What kind of traveler are you?  That’s the question I ask myself every time I hit the road.

There are times, of course, when I have to hit the road and absolutely make the trip from St. Louis to Atlanta before dinner.  But I pass signs all along the way for flea markets, Civil War monuments, and tiny towns like Bell Buckle that must remain a longing in the gut for the sake of the clock.

In the first ten years of our marriage, Brad and I covered a lot of ground on ten-day trips, changing location almost every two days because we felt like we’d never return anywhere or trying to visit every family member in a 200-mile radius of wherever our plane touched down.  But that kind of travel got old.  We found we loved to linger.

And now I sit in France, reading my many books (hooray for e-readers and travel), catching a peek at the beautiful secret gardens that appear like Brigadoon when the enormous courtyard doors to grands maisons open slowly, and making arrangements to meet ex-patriots who live here for lunch because I stumbled upon them online.

However, I want my travel to mean something more than miles traveled and places checked off a list.  I travel knowing I have friends and family who will never go to the places I have the freedom to travel.  That means I try to make my travel count for something, to travel mindfully for my sake as much as theirs.  That’s why I’ve been reading Lavinia Spalding’s book, Writing Away, on travel journaling and Phil Cousineau’s travel book, The Art of Pilgrimage.

“[R]emember that one word trumps no words.”
-- Lavinia Spalding, Writing Away

This is the whole of Spalding’s book condensed into one sentence.  When traveling I always try to journal, but I’m only partially successful.  My inclination to get it perfect means I get behind.  Many journalers might be like me and say, “Oh, I’ll never forget the woman dressed head to toe in shamrock green.”  However, too much happens when traveling and so much pushes that shamrock wonder out of mind.

Her book has a million ways to make your journal count for something and to make it easier than you think it would be.  For example, just pull out the journal five times a day, whether you have anything to say.  It’s all about the habit.  I’m using her example of writing down the alphabet over two pages and jotting down one thing from the trip for each letter.  “P” will stand for “plumbing” since we’ve had trouble with our water heater at the apartment since my arrival and, unlike in the States, you can’t call a plumber and have him there by lunchtime.  Or tomorrow.  Or the next day.

Pictures you scribble, candy wrappers, restaurant receipts, autographs of people you meet.  Anything can be part of a travel journal so you can remember it all.  And when you return home, much of what Spalding said can be applied to daily life if you’re one of those people who’ve declared that you always wanted to keep a journal but thought it would be too hard.  It’s just about a commitment to at least one word a day.  The rest will come.

This photo and the next are from a mural by Khaled Mourani, on the back of a bibliothèque municipal in Dijon.  Wish I knew what it said, but it makes me think of a pilgrimage of the mind

“I also believe in pilgrimage as a powerful metaphor for any journey with the purpose of finding something that matters deeply to the traveler.”
-- Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage
Cousineau doesn’t tell us all that we must travel to holy places.  He just wants us to find what is holy to us and travel to understand it or experience it more fully.  He wants everyone to travel and he wants us to find what is sacred along the way, what takes us out of our everyday perspective.  That’s not to say you can’t go a theme park with your family and have a rip-roaring time.  But there is also value in traveling with a purpose, e.g., making it to every major league baseball park if that is your passion, or finding your way back to your family’s origins.

And I’m sure he’d give a big thumb’s up to keeping a pilgrimage journal.

In French travailler means “to work”.  Yes, “travail” and “travel” share a history.  It’s easy to plan a quick weekend getaway.  It’s work to plan a pilgrimage.  But which brings you a greater return?

So of course, you may ask, “Julie, what’s your pilgrimage on this trip to France?

Fair question.  Well, it’s not so much to go to a place as to be in a place.  I came to write, to read, to think about my writing program in a place where writers and thinkers are worshipped.  The streets around me honor Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Michel Montaigne, Emile Zola – even Benjamin Franklin.  I want to write in a place where ancient buildings have plaques announcing un écrivain was born or lived there.  It doesn’t matter if the writer became an international sensation or not.  It is enough that he wrote.

I wish I could say I’m putting down 10,000 words a day.  However, in the silence of my apartment I’m actually doing what writers do.  So that’s something.  I may make a habit out of this – pilgrimaging periodically to write where my favorites have written.

But for now, I think I’ll focus on Spalding’s directions to get at least one word down a day on this trip.  And one after that.  And one after that.

If you’re one to keep a travel journal, tell us about your process.  If you have a pilgrimage of any sort that you have made or would like to make, share that wonderful experience with us in the comments box.  Inspire us all.

Where might your journey take you?


Nadine Feldman said...

I love this:

"Well, it’s not so much to go to a place as to be in a place."

When hubby and I first started traveling, we wanted to go everywhere and see everything. On our second visit to Paris, I said, "Let's slow this down." My feet had blisters, and I felt like a whirling dervish when I just wanted to soak up the atmosphere. Now, taking time to move slowly through a new environment is mandatory. I've seen the world's great art and plenty of fascinating ruins. Now, I just want to absorb, to observe, to feel.

Julie Farrar said...

There are still so many places left to see, but seeing is not the same as experiencing, and that's why I'll never see 1000 places before I die -- or go on a cruise of 10 cities in 12 days.

Nancy said...

Love your post, Julie. Of course it speaks to me as a writer and a traveler. I visualize you sitting at a French cafe, savoring the most of your personal pilgrimage. The good life indeed . . . Soak up every moment!

I, too, enjoy Lavinia Spaulding's book, Writing Away. Another one you might enjoy is Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip), by Dave Fox.

Beautiful photos, as always ~

Julie Farrar said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Nancy. Today, when I should be catching up on my extended journal, I'm being lazy on a couch reading.

Ellen Gregory said...

Love this post, Julie. I love travelling, although tend to have limited time and keep moving onward. But the first thing I will do in any city is walk through its streets, sit in a cafe, and soak up the atmosphere. The first time I ever travelled I kept a comprehensive hand-written journal -- largely descriptive of the things I was doing and the places visited. On my most recent trip I took a netbook computer and blogged almost every day, rather than journal. I did this at night or on the train between cities. I also wrote fiction on trains, which was very satisfying :-)

Julie Farrar said...

I wish I could blog every day, but then I would get caught up in the blogging and not the experiencing. I'm a slow writer. And I cannot write on trains, cars, etc. -- motion sickness. I wish I could use that time better.

Scrollwork said...

After our 14-night cruise to Hawaii's four islands in April, I'm done with cruising. It just doesn't allow for much soaking up. Perhaps because you are laminated against the experience by the veneer of shipboard schedules and familiarity.

And it didn't help that when we came home I was missing the little notebook in which I'd scribbled blog prompts about the trip. Bah!

So now I trust my camera rather than my journal. As we have used up the travel budget for the year, we went to the county fair the other weekend for the first time in years without little children in tow. For once I could meander around and just be, registering the lights and noise that used to be excessive stimulation but is now neutral. I could look around at my leisure, without an agenda, without urgency about whether or not a thing was bloggable.

Julie Farrar said...

I do like my little travel notebook. However, my camera is one of my primary writing prompter.

Lee I said...

Julie, have I ever mentioned Sea-Bands to you for motion sickness? They've been my salvation IN LIFE. If you'd like to try some, private message me on Facebook with your address and I'll send them.

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