Hat on Top, Coat Below


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August 1, 2002

I would like to go to:

1. Hawaii. I think of it as the most romantic and exotic place in the United States, a place of magic. Everyone I know who’s been there says I should go see for myself. I am just hoping it can live up to the hype, and that it’s not ruined by the time I get there.

2. France, again. The two trips I’ve been fortunate enough to take there so far just whetted my appetite. There’s a lot more I want to see in Paris, sights we weren’t able to fit into the schedule when Mr. Karen and I went in 1996 to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. They’ve got a new Disney park now, which we need to see as well. It would be nice to revisit the Savoie, where we did a ski trip with friends several years ago, in warmer weather. I imagine us driving up the valley, stopping at roadside cheese stands, maybe going over the mountains into Italy. There’s Provence, of course. That’s almost stereotypical, I know, but I still want to go.

3. New Zealand & Australia. I’ve written about threatening to run away to Australia when I was a girl. As a grown-up, I want to go and see the koalas and kangaroos and striking scenery and so much more. Yes, I realize that Australia and New Zealand are two different countries, but in my mind they’re one trip. They’re so far away from me and so close to each other that it seems only reasonable to do them in one trip. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I also know people in both these places that I’d love to meet in person.

4. The Corn Palace in South Dakota. Missing this is my only regret from the driving trip we did to Seattle and back (well, that and not slathering myself in DEET inside and out before I got out of the car at that one campsite in Minnesota). A building made of corn—what could be better? Okay, so the building is not actually MADE from corn, it’s just decorated with corn, but it’s fascinating nonetheless. Similar to the woman I saw in a quilting magazine who made a quilted slipcover for her car. Not her car seats, but her whole car. The outside. The part that gets dirt on it when you drive. All I can do is stand back and admire the commitment it takes to bring such wacky ideas to fruition, regardless of my opinion on the aesthetics of the finished project.

5. Japan. My dad went to Japan for work when I was very small. This was news in our little town; he got his picture in the paper, standing stiffly at the airport wearing a suit and tie, his hard-sided suitcases set down next to him. Some of the people he worked with in Japan came to the States for a time, too. I’ve got black and white snapshots of myself at two years old, all dressed up to say farewell to these visitors at O’Hare. My mom tells the story that one of the gentlemen was holding me in his arms close to the time he had to board, and the gate agent asked if the baby was going to Japan. How different my life would have been if she’d said “yes”! Though he never went back, my dad remained fascinated with Japan, and I grew up doing origami and playing Go at with his encouragement. I’d like to go see this country that had such a hold on his imagination. I’d also like to see some of the quilt shops and shows there. I’ve seen some very fine and interesting work done by Japanese quilters and would like to see more. And of course there are the two Disney parks.

Those are my top five, in the order they came to me. They’re all places unlike home and, in most cases, unlike places I’ve been before. That’s one of the reasons I travel, to collect experiences I can’t get in my everyday life. So what’s stopping me from seeing these places? Time is the biggest issue. I’m fortunate in having more vacation than a lot of people in this country, thanks to a reasonable boss who let me negotiate more than standard when I started and also agreed to my request for increased vacation in lieu of part of my raise one year. Still, it’s not enough to do all the things I want to do. If I had more time, money would be the major obstacle, assuming I hadn’t won the lottery or a genius grant or inherited a fortune from a rich aunt I didn’t know about. We don’t travel extravagantly, but we don’t go the super cheap route, either. Part of the fun of vacation for me is not having to watch every penny, to be able to afford indulgences.

For the Japan trip, fear is also an obstacle. I’m afraid I won’t be able to figure out how to get around, won’t be able to communicate with the people I need or want to talk to. The language is just so different than English. I guess that’s why people go with tour groups, to have someone else to handle those issues. The only tour group experience I have is from going to Mexico with my Spanish class in high school. That was fine, but I was less independent then. Now I worry that I’d chafe at the restrictions inherent in having to be at a certain places at a certain times to see the predetermined sights. My ideal vacation has more flexibility than that. I should really do some research; I’m guessing there are many different types of tours to take. I know there are quilters’ tours of Japan, but that wouldn’t delight Mr. Karen, I don’t think.

Some places didn’t make the list because my impression of them is that they are so foreign that I’d feel stressed just being there. I don’t have any desire to spend my precious vacation days feeling anxious all the time, worrying about what to eat or where to pee or how to keep from getting robbed or kidnapped. Not that I don’t worry about those things once in a while when I’m not on vacation, it’s just that when I’m home, I feel more confident that I’ll be able to find a good solution to the problem.

I asked Mr. Karen about where he’d like to go, and his list overlapped mine to a great degree. The one exception was the Corn Palace, which he isn’t exactly pining to visit. He didn’t remember that I’d wanted to see it on our trip through the South Dakota. He had heard of it recently, though; evidently there was a story on the radio describing how it wasn’t as good as usual this year due to the drought affecting the growers who supply the special colors of corn for the murals. I hadn’t even considered that angle; timing my visit based on the quality of the colored corn crop.

He had Alaska on his list, and I would happily go along on that trip. If I’d expanded my list to a top 10, Alaska would probably have been on it. One of the reasons it’s on his list, along with Hawaii, is to complete the set, to have visited all fifty states. I’d like to do that someday, too, but I’m many states behind. He got a head start on family camping trips growing up, when my less-stable family unit was not going anywhere together. I’ve been to 38 states, counting the ones I’ve only driven through on my way to somewhere else. I’m missing Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island (though I’ll pick that one up before the summer is out), and South Carolina. Looks like a driving trip through the southern states is in order.

He also wants to kayak the Grand Canyon. I’m not enamored with the idea of accompanying him, even though I wouldn’t have to kayak myself. Last year, he bought me a book with profiles of women who worked as guides on river trips through the canyon, hoping I’d read it and get fired up about going on a trip myself. I did read it, but it didn’t convince that I wanted to go. It’s such a big time commitment, for one thing. Half of my annual vacation is a big chunk to spend doing something I’m not sure I’ll like. Why wouldn’t I like it? It’s outside, for one thing, with no possibility of going inside if the weather is inclement. I know it’s wimpy, but I don’t like to be too hot or too cold. When we car camp, the only kind of camping I’ve done, I know that if things get very bad, I can always get into the vehicle and drive away. That’s not so on a multi-day river trip. I’d be stuck. It’s that lack of control that bothers me the most, I think. I wouldn’t have any say in when I got up, when I stopped to pee, when or what I ate, how long I’d stay at any given spot. Plus, I’d be isolated, stuck on a raft with strangers while Mr. Karen paddled his kayak in relative freedom. None of that sounds fun to me. The descriptions I’ve read all talk about the beauty of the landscape, the power of the experience, and the disorientation upon having to leave that world. Man, I have enough trouble getting my brain back into work mode after a weekend off, much less after two weeks of wilderness transformation. Why would I want to put myself through that? Because it’s important to Mr. Karen, that’s why. I expect I will talk myself into doing it before too long.

I’d like to promise to myself that I’ll take all these trips in the next ten years, but fifteen or twenty might be more realistic. The Grand Canyon trip is something that will have to happen in the next decade, while Mr. Karen’s skills and strength are still up to paddling the big water. We’ll continue to use vacation time for ski trips while we’re still able to throw our bodies down the mountain with relative abandon, so that cuts into the time available to do other things. There’s no particular rush to get to the other places on the list, other than the life is uncertain argument that says we should experience as much as we can sooner rather than later, because later might not arrive. I’m enough of an optimist to think that I will have a nice long later in which to travel, so I’m not feeling tremendous pressure to race around right this minute, this year.


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