Dinner Over Athens
We look down at the ancient city below us and we eat delicious foreign fare, fresh fish from the sea we can see, sauces made with fresh vegetables, wine from local vineyards. We are hundreds of feet above Athens, the air as fresh as the food, smelling of ancient history and spirits.
Wandering the Canals
At night, Amsterdam is a city of lights and reflections. The cable cars beep, the bicycles beep, the boats blow long into the darkness. Everything is cobblestone and covered in a fine layer of dust and oil paint and soil from the tulips.
Drinking at the Brazen Head
This Irish pub is older than my country by several centuries. The wood and dirt stain dark with spilled ale and stories catch in the grain. I drink my Bailey’s and watch the lute player, who could just as easily be playing that ancient tune five hundred years in the past. I don’t know what year it is. I have to catch a plane in the morning, but nothing to tether me to the now.
Venice By the Moon
Venice whispers. It comes in the sound of lapping waves, tangling fingers against the aged stone. They say Venice is sinking, and it is, stairs disappearing below the water’s edge, but it could also be the mermaids, pulling the whole city beneath the brine. There is no question why Venice is known for Carnival.
Germany is For the Young
The Germans know their past, and build their cities with straight, hard lines. We take punctual metro trains to an underground warehouse– no sound regulations, the locals tell us. We are dressed for an American club, all tight skirts, and tall boots, but this dubstep madness is projecting Kafka on the wall and rolling cigarillos and plastering the bathroom in band posters to the beat of electronic reggae. We get back to the hostel when the sun is coming up, but it is a youth hostel and time has a different sort of value. Don’t worry about checkout, they tell us, sleep as long as you need.
Paris is Not a Cliche
A young man in a suit plays a full-sized cello to a woman dancing in a red dress along the Seine. They have a basket of wine and cheese and flowers, but in the glow of the Eiffel Tower and the moon on the water, everything comes out the same, dark red. We buy postcards at vendor stalls that grew from the ground and sing songs in French we don’t know the lyrics to.
I have been a great many places in my life, watched the world unfold, sometimes new, sometimes old. I have eaten, danced and explored a hundred cities, a thousand towns. How can I pick the most beautiful, of these mirages and fantasies? How can I say one of these ancient histories sparkles more brilliantly than the next, when they all glow with their own stories, just as I glow with mine?
Every place I visit, every place I see, fills the pages of my books. Sometimes, it’s intentional, a book set in Paris or Amsterdam. Sometimes it’s an alley in London or the face of a man I once saw in a park. Sometimes, it is nothing more than the eternal quest for adventure. Travel is just as important to the writer as the pen or the keyboard. It opens the mind and whispers of details and promises of stories to come. Travel is the very best medicine for a blocked mind or a stalled story.
I can’t pick the most beautiful, because they are all beautiful and they are all mine–in those fleeting, indulgent moments I borrowed them from the world. And I will share them, give them back, every time I write and every time I dream of the next most beautiful place. ♦