Archive for April, 2012

None of my traveler friends had ever visited Bristol, so naturally I had to go. For visitors to Great Britain this city in the south west corner of the island is a little hard to get to, it is officially ‘off the beaten track’, a perfect destination for me. I was feeling quite smug about my choice until I began to research the city who’s river Shakespeare had set into history, the River Avon, where he lived at Stratford on Avon. But long before that, some 60,000 years before, people have been known to have inhabited the area. I set out to find out why.

My plan was to settle in for a two week stay, long enough to get a feel for the comings and goings of the place. I always like to meet the area residents wherever I go so as to find out what their lives are like. This is part of the travel experience I enjoy the best. Over the many years I have traveled I have seen more than enough ruined piles of stone to have shifted my interest to the people who live in these places. I find that when shopkeepers and publicans, grocery clerks and post official countermen have seen your face on a regular basis they open up and don’t mind telling their stories. As I usually do when I hunker down in a single location for an extended period of time I book an intermediate stay apartment with a corporate provider. I found a fantastic period architectural place fronting the River Avon and one of the many bridge crossings in the heart of town called the West India House.

The first thing I noted were the numbers of young people in town. The University of Bristol is a popular place for foreign students coming to Britain to study. The campus is quite illustrious and looks as if it has stood for a thousand years, but looks are deceiving in the case of Bristol. Although the entire city appears to be original and ancient it is in fact a reproduction in it’s entirety. Bristol was heavily bombed during the second world war and lay in ruins for the better part of the period after Nazi bombers attacked the area because of the aircraft manufacturing facilities and airstrips. In fact one fine Sunday morning while we were having coffee in the High Street we were fortunate enough to set into conversation with an older gentleman who lived through that horrible time. He told us a very sad story of how his best friend had been killed by a bomb that had landed with only meters between them. How fickle is fate in times of war?

The faithful architectural reproductions are remarkable. As with the rest of Europe that had to rebuilt after that great war, it is almost unnoticeable to the naked eye that this rebuilding of thousands of buildings isn’t original. St Mary Redcliffe church is remarkable in that it’s many 13th century fittings of medieval knights and dignitaries buried for centuries under stone sarcophagi have been preserved. I happened in while choir practice was underway and the atmosphere was heavenly. The Georgian Period Queens Square has been so lovingly rebuilt that it almost seems as if the first bricks of the 17th century were painted only yesterday. Many of the cobblestones streets are lined with modern shops and coffee houses but you don’t have to look very far before finding an unaltered gem like the Llandoger Trow, an ancient public house in the center of the old city or The Nails in Corn Street where deals were made over shipping concerns that spanned the globe during days of empire and the term ‘cash on the nail’ was coined due to the requirements that Sterling be laid on the top of the brass topped tables.

Bristol had been a famous shipping port for exports and imports from around the globe through the Elizabethan to the Victorian ages. The port was also a wooden shipbuilding mecca for square rigged sailing traders who sought commerce on the far reaches of what was then unknown territory in the dangerous competition of the day. The term ‘Bristol Fit’ described a ship that was rigged to take any sort of challenge including armed confrontation. Much of the trade was legitimate but Bristol was also the main port in Great Britain for the African slave trade which saw millions of black Africans captured and enslaved by Arabs , West African man hunters and tribal chieftains selling their own people , finally to European ‘Blackbirders’ who transported the slaves to colonies as labour, particularly the newly established sugar plantations of the America’s, French, British , Spanish Caribbean and west coast of Portuguese Brazil. The slave trade was outlawed in Britain in 1833 but is still unfortunately an active practice amongst certain Arab and African nations.

One famous legacy in the City of Bristol is the home of a slave ship captain that was built upon his rich return to England after years at sea as a ‘Blackbirder’. This ships captain, John Newton, wrote the original hymn ‘Amazing Grace’. The house he built is a time capsule of all the mod cons a rich man could buy at the time, including a plunge pool on the lowest level of the six floor residence. On his return to England his guilt may have gotten the better of him and he became an Anglican minister.

It’s always best to walk around a new city, this is how the place will reveal it’s personality and it’s secrets to you. Bristol is punctuated by open pedestrian squares and green parks that appear as if by magic. The first walk-about I took led me past the ruined keep of a Norman tower, there since the first occupation by William the Conqueror in 1066 in the famous battle of Hastings. Plain functional buildings from the 1960’s abut Shakespearean row houses laced with odd graffiti scratched in the stone, the meanings of which have long been forgotten and covered with ivy sprouting from the cracks. Narrow lanes abound through the core of Bristol’s original founding. Lively pubs are raucous and carousing well into the night. The sound of ebullient laughter pours down the cobblestones stairwells like rushing water. One Sunday morning constitutional led me straight into an all morning jazz blast where the street performers were wildly costumed and in riotous makeup. The occasion seemed to be lost on anyone I asked.

I was in love with Bristol within hours of arriving and the attraction has continued to grow in my absence . The lively boathouse restaurants lining the river offered an array of entertainment steps from my door. The streets all seemed to lead me around in a fascinating circle hemmed by river water and locks. I spent several hours in the area around the railway station as it seemed so perfectly decrepit that I would not have wanted to change a single line of red brick and wrought iron left over from the restoration after the war.

Though I am a staunch budget traveler I found myself being drawn in to the many welcoming public house establishments for a quick drink and conversation. Travelers are unusual fare for the cosmopolitan denizens of Bristol who all seem to come from somewhere else. The city is full of tech workers on contract, visiting professors and students sharing this comfortable space. I was welcomed with interest and courtesy as a tourist as if I were something truly unique to the social mix. If you ever get the chance you should certainly give this rare city a visit, you might fall in love, as I did, forever.

my dreams haven’t come true
i languish between worlds
though i have worshiped at every temple
kept my faith
aflame in my heart over mendicant miles
tried to touch your mind as fervently as a penitent with eyes on fire

i remain outside the lines
and have been for so long
that i forget who i ever was
i have not been touched
by the devils hand
nor have i been sought out by any church
to wash my soul

fate and karma
are dog eared books in the library of my life
i sought answers in likely places
traveled the world in search of knowledge
i have never understood
why life has passed me by
even as i walked the straight and narrow
no gentle slopes have filled my landscape
only jagged hills and dark forest
a man forsaken

i have wandered the world with less breath than a dead man
living hand to mouth no stranger
unobserved and discarded like dust
untouched by the hand of glory
oh lord challenge me with some thing other than pain
i have lived with the patience of job
one tentative step at a time
to no avail
the will to fight you is all that remains
my in-generous companion

the constant and unremitting rain
has killed the seedling
you brought to earth
and now threatens to wash away
the bitter husk
along with the memory of all i ever was

what did i do but be born
to deserve an inglorious fate?
if this is all there is
then leave me alone
at least give me the peace that will surely exist
in the void left behind
by your absence

in the past i fought bad luck to a standstill
never letting opportunity pass me by
but the price was steep
no silver spoon has touched my lips
my birth right
or the graveyard
the dark dreams of my broken sleep
raucous witness of what has transpired
i wish it had been easier
i wish i would have been blessed to receive
i have witnessed easy, i know what it is
but that was never my fate

and now that i’m weary I see dreams sliding past
stolen from the air by wolves who live outside my door
they are hungry and prepared
as i once was
but now i must starve
in some evolutionary game
dreams are for the fortunate and strong
i can only dream of the dreams
that didn’t come true

the neon streets are burning bright
in the city
i’m running out of time
it’s like living on the face of the sun
i trip from step to step
like a cat on a hot tin roof
as if the sidewalks are on fire

i’ve been here too long
i’m sure you won’t mind
if i roll up my bag and move on
i’m no longer fresh or a novelty
i know the vibe when a welcome is worn
the streets get mean
when you transition from traveler to homeless
from god to leach in one easy step
it’s a fast set of stairs to the bottom from the top
best to manage your image
and stick to the script
‘out before winter’ so you don’t end up sleeping in a shelter
where the knives are out
and the lost souls scream all night
amid the stink and bedbugs

hanging around the cafe’s and bars like a binary star
i begin to lose the essence and wonder of who i am
the demands of the maddening crowd
the same stories over again
sap my creativity
i begin to need things
as if i had a place in this trap
as if the walls are closing in
i’d collapse and explode
like that heavenly body
that wasn’t meant to last
taking everything with me in a sudden explosion
if i didn’t move along

there’s a dance that we do
on the concrete shoulder of the highway
when the final rig of the night has passed by
off in the distance
far away now the city lights have diminished
the glare is nothing more
than a dimly glowing menace on the horizon

twilight reveals the true face of the sky
my favorite constellations appear at long last
clap and pay homage to the passing of another day
as i dance around
enjoy the circling night
so far removed from civilization
that we’ve become tribal again
loyal only to the road we travel
the straights seem so alien now
as if they’re a separate species

halleluiah i sing
i will sleep out of doors tonight at last
i don’t have to entertain anyone for a bed
or give myself to some wanna be woman
in exchange for hot water
because she thinks you’re just so cool
that she just has to have you
to give her something to talk about with her friends

what tomorrow will bring i don’t care
the gas station attendants on the corner have been kind to me
to allow me to wash up and get ready for bed
i have shared my precious gifts and we’re all high
and they in turn have microwaved my meal
ah, to lay down on the grass and the dew in the ditch
with a cheap bottle of wine
out of sight of the local renegades who ply the highways at night
and have been known to make sport of
a weary traveler

i am sleeping on the bed of a king
inside my castle of dreams
if it rains i’ll move under a bridge
where other travelers have built a fire
even though it may be a long night
sleeping with one eye open
it’s hard to get a ride if you’re soaking wet
and a shitty way to begin a road trip
if you get ripped off
by others less fortunate
not to share the philosophy
of the true routard
so you keep to yourself when you can

i have nothing, i am happy, i am free, unencumbered
there is only undiscovered country ahead
when i get to the next town
i’ll hunker down on the sidewalk
with my magical trinkets displayed around me on a blanket
telling stories and singing songs of the wild places I have been
for the passers by
i’ll beg my daily bread and cigarettes
because i am nothing like any have seen
in these small towns where darkness reigns

sometimes they take me home
good people with no life aside from their drapery of possessions
welcome wandering spirits like myself
to sleep in their garages and garden sheds
the house is not safe
they’re not that trusting
even though they keep telling you how amazing you are
and how they wish they could live just like you
but have no idea how to leave everything behind

come the dawn i will follow the sun backwards
this year i’ve decided to head east and then south
it could be that i will rest a thousand miles away
my occupation as an oddity will fade in time
i feel the pressure as i get older but i resist temptation
there is too much left to see
and life will go on
as i will, until i spin around and face my regrets
the ugliness that shadows my soul
retracing the lines i have written on the backs of mile markers
like hobo script on white picket fences
maybe someday I’ll find a place to call home
it’s too early to make that call

another city, another neighborhood whirling in an orbit
of artifice and conformity
but i remain constant around a credo that i hold dear, but few want to share
who can blame them
those times have past
i live like a honey bee skipping from flower to flower
with no hive to return to
all my efforts in vain
i dance and sing by the side of the highway
i’m lost in the sky and may never come down
king of the road and a penniless fool
this is not what they taught you in school
the road calls out to the aimless
and captures the vacant, the wanting, the lost

i am on a celestial mission that is still a work in progress
to map all the stars i have seen in the heavens
the final plans have not been laid to hang this tapestry
there will be no happy ending
some strange force has me reeling
to spend a lifetime exposed to the elements
without any skill except to wander
called out by a sirens song and never return
i can’t explain this lonesome doctrine that i adhere to
this life on the road

As you take your first tentative steps
towards what you think is freedom
suitcase in hand
you pause and think of an unusual old man
from the past
who sang in the corner
of your childhood home
when holidays came around
and then he’d vanish
like a wisp
left unspoken
as if he’d not existed
except as party favor your parents brought out
when their ability to converse with each other had died
he left leaving only post cards and fridge magnets
laughter and the fog of mystery behind
as proof of his existence
“look at what he was wearing” your mother had said
and indeed he appeared not to belong
in this world or the next

you always called him uncle, but knew
from your fathers sly smile and your mothers close patience
he was some kind of pretender
you barely remember what he said anymore
from when he held court in the sun rays
escaping indoors to seek warmth from the winter
and stirred the floating dust with his hands
as the company sat at his feet
his thralls

he called himself a traveler
that meant precious little to you
you remember hearing your mother’s shrill voice say to your father time and again, ‘don’t you dare’
as if she had been pierced with fear
discomfort would reign between the two rooms
your father laughed against mothers remonstrations
hard words cut off by a swinging door
as they left off and began
an ongoing argument
between trips laden with gravy boats
and giant trays of meat and berries

in your mind you think he’s a rambling fool
a wrangler of conflicted stories
the laws of time and space interfere with his logic
he’d have to have lived for a million years
he defies the obvious
you hold your tongue against polite confusion
do others also hear it?
what did he say about
living under water?
or was that a material metaphor
about how buckets of rain could fall from the sky
but i became immersed in the ticking vibrations
coming from the image of an oriental god
he wore as a pendant around his neck
i got the distinct impression
that his time on our plane
was quickly coming to an end

you forget the specifics because you couldn’t listen
your mind is wrapped up in a blanket of rainbows
it doesn’t make sense that he’s speaking in tongues
about people and places that lay dead in your home
encased in paper spines and brushed ink
instead you got lost in a rhythm of words
that fall from his mouth like butterflies
on the vine
the dreams you had later that night
were as strange and wonderful as your young mind
could comprehend
and you woke knowing something inside you
had changed
but you didn’t know what
a luftmensch was
how can one live in the air?

in your malleable state
the old man speaks only beautiful nonsense
you thought him insane
the mind worm beat towards your subconscious like a drum
pictures forming into words that can’t be translated
but only remembered as emotions decades later
and here you are thinking that
it would be the easiest thing to find yourself alone
he’d said
a voice in your head has begun to repeat
his long lost song
and that look on his face
as if he were transcendent

wander away and you’ll never come home
the same
he’d said
look at me, i’m a breath of homeless air
wander the world and try to come back
after years of living on the road
after making your bed in the clouds beside the highway
you’ll be different when you return
you’ll be immutably different
if you return
his eyes held something secret that you couldn’t quite see
like silver dogs building around the blazing sun

i saw something out of my peripheral vision
a ghostly glimpse from the corner of my eye
his words were my spirit guide and i was wandering through ruins
the old haunts you cherish are empty except for the ghosts in your mind
the ones you’d held close have moved on
at one point I paused when he pointed at me
as if he could read my mind and he said
you can be away for too long to remember what you’ve left behind
his dangling refrain
lodged somewhere
faded but never to be forgotten
an image of myself resembling what i can only describe
as an alien gypsy unlike any i’d seen
“is that me”?

just as you blew across the face of the world
they will have
and he pointed at your parents
settled into the ground
planting deep roots
spouses, girlfriends and lovers will interpret your presence
as a threat
a dark shadow from the past
come to steal away the security of the nest
by planting dreams that grow like weeds
in the garden so carefully groomed
they will challenge your freedom with hatred
and covet those things that don’t exist
which you hold dear

you realize that in your reverie
you have not heard your parents behind you
you stand in the doorway
half in and half out
somehow you’d wished you could have vanished
like that old man
who’d seemed to make something out of nothing
creating substance out of what hadn’t existed
while floating between worlds
you turn to see two kinds of hope
one for a freedom never realized
one for loss that will tear at the fabric of an impossible dream

your father pines for what might have been
you’ve always known that
he’s told you as much
whenever he drank himself through another lonely night
when he spoke about the things he had lost
your mother see’s nothing but the dark shadow
of the story teller
she wishes she could reach back into the past
to make it stop
she wrings her hands
she’d known all along
that you’d be leaving
you had the stain of the traveler on your soul

“you’ll regret it if you do’
you’re mother cries
“you’ll regret it if you don’t”
you’re father stands his ground for once
a vision of the traveler appears
you can see the butterflies
falling out of his mouth
and the sweet smell of nothing on your hands
as you prepare to leave everything behind
except memories
to answer the longing
in your heart
and as a supernatural force lifts you into the air
as it has when you’ve astral traveled
you finally understand
the luftmensch
and his place among the stars

I never use guide books. I’m not a ‘follow the leader’ type of person. If my imagination is ever reduced to walking the same path, seeing exactly the same sights at the same time and ‘hot bunking’ the same hostel/hotel flop as tens of thousands of other newly minted ‘globe trekkers’ , I will stop traveling altogether. In recent years there has been a spate of homogeneity that has brought traveling to a new level of boring. Mass tourism began with the publication of guide books. Starting in the 1950’s with the ‘Europe on $5 a day’ issues up until today’s ‘The Lonely Planet’ and ‘Rough Guide’. The ‘guide book’ has reduced the world to a deep overused wagon rut over a field populated by mindless unadventurous pap, all following in each others footsteps.

The guide book mentality has been followed up with a new phenomena, ‘the bucket list’. How non-spontaneous and unimaginative can life be if you have to plan your ‘fun’ in advance from a list mapped out by someone else that has been based solely on current popular trends? What if you were to miss out on line item ‘a’…’jump out of a plane’…would you go to your grave a failure? What ever happened to ‘live for today’ and ‘living in the moment’? The ‘Bucketeers’ now have a new resource with which to plan their lives, there has been dozens of ‘1000 must see places before you die’ books published in the last few years. This attitude to travel is an extension of the limited imagination expressed in guide books. “OK, everyone stand in a line and march like brainless robots and take a picture”. There are popular ‘travel destinations’ that more resemble meat processing plants than anything that might have attracted travelers in the first place.

I think the worst example of this lemming-like behavior can be exemplified in a movie, ‘The Beach’ filmed partially in Thailand. It starred a perpetually boy faced character who ‘left home’ supposedly ‘seeking’ a quasi-spiritual ‘experience’ by ‘finding’ a secret island already populated by people who looked, dressed, talked, obsessed and bitched in exactly the same jargon while expressing the ‘entitlement generations’ expectations as he had. Apparently the producers of ‘The Beach’ found communal ecstasy in sameness and this attitude towards accepting homogeneity as real life struck a popular chord with like minded simpletons the world over. Since then, one street in Bangkok in particular, Khao San Road has been completely made over to resemble ‘the tribe’ scene from the movie set. Freshly pressed dreadlocks and corn rows, newly cut tattoo’s, Bob Marley pants and every other de rigeur ‘beach’ fashion accessory is ubiquitous. A movie about life’s individualism’s has produced an entire cohort of followers that have descended on Thailand to be fleeced by sharp eyed trinket sellers, how apropos.

As expressed in Newtons ‘Law of Motion’, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”, there are people who refuse to be herded and corralled by the guide book mentality of homogeneity. They are impossible to meet in hotel hot spots deluged with ‘tourists’. These are people who refuse to accept that the grinding conformity that working and professional life imposes on a person should extend to their travel time. I’m certainly not talking about the dentist who pays a Sherpa to carry him bodily up a trail on Everest so that he may ‘conquer the mountain’. I’m talking about the people who can find their own path by visiting unusual places, places whose names do not appear in any guide books, bucket lists or ‘places to see before you die’ publications.

I am suggesting that a person accept more unpredictability by going outside their comfort zone. This may mean anything to any number of people. I don’t expect anyone to throw themselves into life and death situations such as I am fond of doing. But, I do suggest that when you have driven, de-trained or disembarked at your destination, don’t follow the crowd. Just for fun, next time you find yourself in some tourist hot spot, head in the exact opposite direction than the crowd is headed. Look for places on the map that don’t appear in any guide book. That’s where the real action is.

at journeys end
you wonder about
the reasons
that caused you to fly away
in such a hurry
as if you were fleeing from some loathsome task
anxious to put it at your back
seeking peace, higher ground and greener pasture

now the pendulum has swung in it’s full arc
and you count the reasons why it’s good to be home
all the pleasant things that have happened in your life
since you landed here between the mountains and the placid ocean
after jet and the wicked tropo
and you realize that time has slowed down
in the blue light spectrum
after time had sped by in the red

you awake to find the brooding threat of winter has passed
storm clouds and dark days
no longer part of every waking moment
threatening to decapitate the horizon with razor winds
from the frozen north
heavy coats and other armor hang unused in the closets
waiting to be hidden away
as if you didn’t own them
and yet you know them well

sitting on a park bench in the warming spring sun
a cascade of pink rain fell upon your face and hair
cherry blossoms falling away from the stem as the north wind shifts to the west
the petals soft and sweet to the taste
your lover has been crowned with a halo of scented crushed velvet
your mind darts back to the day you married
and she wore a veil of fragrant flowers
that filled her hair
and she looked at you with such love today
her eyes
beset with a reflection of rose diamonds

the same vagrant breeze
blew through the window as you wrote
her a love song
lifting a curtains hem across the strings of your guitar
to strum a lilting tune
without measure or chord
as if nature had her own way of expressing herself musically
that set your mind in motion
such whimsy is so rare
that it captured your heart

at journeys end you find that your accidental plum tree has bloomed
the one that had grown magically
as if resurrected
you husband her with gentle touch
for she lacks a natural mate
there’s a stranger outside the gate
that will do
and as you introduce the pollen to the flying bee’s
who will cause the tree to bear fruit in the fall
you hear her sigh
like a virgin at your touch
the signal of your passing once again
through this cycle
into the next

you will in time
fear what is sure to come
sweeping south from the arctic
with a sharp winters scythe
ready yourself to fly
you are the object of it’s frozen capture

once again you seek
the object of your desire
a journeys end
so that you may sing again of your freedom
while the wind strums your guitar
that lilting song
the meter of your heart

I could never say no to a travel opportunity. As a kid I would hitch hike across continents to catch a concert, visit a friend, on a dare, or just to see something strange, with no more than a moments notice. A recent invitation to revisit Paris was irresistible to the wanderlust side of me. Traveling half way around the world on a whim has become something of a normal occurrence in my life. Thanks to the Internet it takes no than a few wireless minutes to have arrangements made and reservations confirmed. I believe in living spontaneously, I’ve based my life on it. When I was younger I never thought about how I’d get to my destination, or where I’d be sleeping, all that was just a rough guide as to the direction I would travel. These days, with a gold card and a passport I’m good to travel for years without a hitch. In essence I’m reliving my childhood. Perhaps I should question whether I ever grew up.

My travel muse Patricia and I were in London. I was finishing a novel ( The Bloody Oath) that I had been working on for almost ten years. It was an exciting time as this was my largest project to date and had been a wild ride in terms of time and research. The climax and conclusion swung between Amsterdam and London. I had the visual stimulation of being ‘on scene’ and the book flew towards it’s inevitable final chapters. The idea of going to Paris came up in one of those idle conversation travelers often have over lamb chops and tea. I had lived in Paris as a young man and had always carried a torch in my heart for the city. The history and romance had overwhelmed me. Patricia and I had previously visited many times as a couple because of the explosive romantic appeal this ancient darling city has on a person and an intellectual curiosity we share with millions of other museum aficionado’s. Paris has several of the worlds most fantastic and complete museums and art galleries.

Whenever possible I like to travel by rail. Europe allows me every opportunity to indulge my fancy. I grew up with the railroad. You might say it’s in my blood. If you want to read about my fact-ionalized history with the railroad you might read my novel, ‘The Revenant’. I describe in detail my very first impressions of those smoking leviathans. When I ‘m riding the train I am transcendent, and I sleep better than at any other time. There’s something about that steady ‘clickety-clack’ of steel wheels on rigid track that sets my mind free. Naturally, the best place to begin a journey to the continent from England is St. Pancras Station, London. Another thing about me is that I am a creature of habit and I like to revisit memories as well as places and things. One of my favorite fish and chip shops, The Golden Hind, is on Marleybone Road. I can never visit London without a ration of Cod & Chips from a spectacular ‘Chippy’, mere blocks from the train station.

Our destination in Paris was the Gare du Nord where all the trains from Britain arrive. Fortunately , transportation into the heart of the city is as easy as the famous Paris Metro, attached to the station. From the station we were able to go direct to our stop at St.Michel, also known as the Latin Quarter. There are many districts to stay in Paris but St. Michel has always been my favorite as it is at the very center of the old city along the river Seine and at the epicenter of the Parisian culture dating back to the time before Roman occupation. I can’t explain why, except perhaps with my belief in reincarnation, but I feel an affinity to the winding lanes that splinter this district, as if I have lived there before. Every time we go to Paris, Patricia and I make a kind of obsessive compulsive pilgrimage to all our favorite sites. It’s almost as if I have been ordered to check in with the ghosts of ancient souls, the sinuous streets, that brooding river, and the beauty that exudes from every follicle of the porous limestone upon which the foundations of each building rest. The eyes on the faces of each famous portrait seem to know when I’m back in the Louvre and have a mysterious way of following me as I pass through the gallery.

Out of habit, Pat and I always find the simplest places to stay. The back streets of St. Michel are peppered with family owned hotels, some run by the same clan for generations. I like the familiarity and repetition of making friends among the hoteliers in the cities I frequent. This practice gives me a feeling that I am actually traveling from home to home away from home and never really being a stranger. Forgive me for not divulging the name of my comfortable little bolthole in St Michel, but in these days of guide book driven mass tourism, word spreads fast, look what happened to Thailand, Bali and Goa, paradise to crap fest, in one edition. It’s strangely comforting to know where every thing is, use the same clothes hangers, open the cabinet drawers and smell familiar smells coming from the kitchen. There are brief moments in ‘travel time’ where it may seem that you’d never left. I like to cozy up with those moments and let my mind drift as comfortably in that space as if I’d been laid out on a soft duvet of floating goose down.

Of all the seasons to travel to Paris, winter is not my favorite choice. The cold doesn’t effect the number of tourists in the streets, Paris is always packed with visitors. The new social order of the Russia’s and Eastern Europe has reinvigorated tourism at a time when North American tourists had begun to falter in the wake of the sub prime debacle. This would be a primarily ‘inside’ trip for Patricia and I who have become accustomed to warmer climates in the last several years. In fact it was damned cold and we had under dressed , this oversight had us hustling up the Blvd. St. Michel towards the shopping district to buy a jumper and a scarf. The best blocks for clothing here are between the Seine walking past the Sorbonne on the way to the Parc de Luxembourg at Blvd St.Germain. Once suitably attired in the latest Parisian styles we began our sojourn around the city. Whatever the weather, we like to walk as much as we can. The 1st through 4th arrondissments are packed with visuals as these are the center of the original city. The Ilse St.Louis and Notre Dame Cathedral in particular are necessary places to become reacquainted with and are both within steps of St.Michel.

My favorite things are the least likely to catch a tourists interest. I like to go into the ancient churches and wrap myself in the vibrations of fervent prayer. This time I stepped in to a choir practice at a church in existence since the middle ages. I felt as if I were swimming in time. I want to peer past the modern office fronts set into the walls and courtyards of prerevolutionairy ‘Hotels de Ville’ of the French aristocracy where if blocks of stone could talk the conversation would be never ending. Cobble stone lanes where iron stanchions still have rings to tie a horse tether to make my imagination swirl as I tilt along with my head in the clouds. I see spirits where many others see only fading architecture. I see stories reaching out over ages of time past when I see the rows of luxurious homes overlooking the palace that once were the bastions of courtiers to the Frankish kings. My mind is enlivened when I think that I am perhaps sharing the streets with Roman souls who walked in my footsteps thousands of years before me. This is why traveling is rarely about a visitation for me, but more of a communion. I have a strange way of ‘projecting’ myself into other worlds and times.

Guide books rave about the French cuisine, but I am street trash by calling, a routard by nature. I went after the freshly ironed waffles slathered with a thick coating of Nutella spread from a kiosk. Instead of complying with the entreaties of the friendly well meaning restaurant touts crying out lavish menus to passers by, I went for the crispy fries fresh from the boiling oil and smothered in thick mayonnaise with a liberally meat stuffed pita dressed in paper from a Tunisian vendor in the lane behind St. Severin’s. For desert I continued my pilgrimage to the one bookstore in the world that should rightly be enshrined as a holy place for writers and artists alike ‘Shakespeare & Company’ on Rue de la Bucherie’. If anything, it is a monument to the labour , tedium and poverty of an authors life. It’s musty smell should be encapsulated and sold as perfume. The lane smells like piss and I can imagine great artists from Balzac to Hemingway relieving themselves in the dark alcoves that punctuate ‘La Rue’ as they have all been patrons here.

In a final homage to those who have gone before me I took a seat at a river side cafe and wrote a few caffeine fueled lines until I felt sated with the spirit of Paris, my love.

When the opportunity to fly to Bali on a cheap flight out of Singapore came up I jumped at the chance. My wife Patricia and I had first visited together twenty two years before with an eighteen month old infant son in tow. We were stoked to go back on our own as fancy free adults and perhaps relive a few of the fantastic experiences we had wrought in the past. A S$-70 dollar return fare from Singers to Denpassar on Jet Star Air was the only catalyst we needed. Although we hadn’t planned to go to Indonesia the temptation was just too great. We were too far down the rabbit hole of close conversations over Masala Dosa about the ancient temples, beautiful beaches, enthralling culture and the magical Monkey Forest Road of Ubud and quickly talked ourselves into buying the tickets on a whim. If nothing else, Pat and I are whimsical travelers. As Oscar Wilde said “The only thing I can’t resist is temptation”.

The Mandarin Oriental hotel in Singapore we stay at as regular guests was happy to accommodate us by rearranging our reservations at no extra cost. They also offered to store our excess baggage in their left luggage closet for the week we would be away. My wife sometimes accuses me of being too chatty with every one we meet along the way, but I have found that by meeting people on their own terms and recognizing every person as a human being  brings great rewards. The main benefit of being easily recognized and generally well thought of is that most people will go out of their way to do special favours for you if they like you, so be nice to the staff fellow travelers, you may need a favour sometime. It’s OK to talk to strangers when you travel, within reason. I find great people everywhere we go. Being a loyal guest at hotel chains will also get you great upgrades and free breakfasts etc. I nurture my professional travel relationships for this reason.

Patricia and I still get excited when we travel. We still fight over the window seat, she always wins. The process of travel has become slightly more arduous because of  security and immigration concerns, but we turn a blind eye to all that and stay keen on the destination and never dwell on the hassles of getting there. When we’d last visited, Bali had been a highly spiritual place with peoples main focus being on their daily rituals. This was one of the main reasons the environment had been so endearing to us, it had been like living in a dreamworld of chanting, incense and flowers. Even further back, when I had first been there in the 70’s as a hippie trader, Bali had been an island of villages barely connected to one another let alone the pathways to the modern world. At the time we had last visited these neo-Hindu-Buddhist people had managed to escape the ravages of the twentieth century by some cultural miracle. To the relatively few spiritually sensitive westerners who had visited up until then, and I’m talking 1975, it was a heaven on Earth.

Until the age of guide books and the mass tourism that was created by their publication, Bali was a retreat for a few off beat surfers from Australia and California. Later came the routards who had chanced upon the stunning textile design, silver work and abundance of decaying wood sculpture by accidental cross cultural exchange between  surfers and the road warriors in spots like Oahu and Peru where meetings of travelers and surfers were common for the time. I started hearing of this fantastically creative place while traveling in India from other traders who were collecting goods for sale in the west as I was. Stories spread and attracted the guide book writers leading to the devastation of once pristine places every where.

Bali in the 70’s consisted of a few surf shacks bunched together along a pristine stretch of beach known as Kuta. The hippies had trekked into the hill country where the Ubud Balinese had established communities of traditional carvers, stone smiths, jewelers and textile weavers, all for use a ritual items in their ceremonies. The coolness factor was admired in the west as fashions were based on the display of oriental finery at the time. Anyone who got their hands on the products of Bali found themselves able to make easy money as these were the first Balinese offerings being made available and the styles were much more spiritually resplendent than the Indian wares had become. Families that had been producing traditional ritual finery from tiny jungle villages were finding that the hippy travelers were seeking them out and beginning to live among them.

Patricia and I were fortunate to see the last of that traditional Balinese culture as it had been practiced for centuries before tourism overwhelmed the island kingdom. Within five years of the Lonely Planet guide being published thousands upon thousands of mainstream backpackers had descended on Bali.  In a very short time foreigners began buying land and building guest bungalows for the invading hordes of magic mushroom and suntan seekers attracted by the prospect of piggybacking a spiritual experience for the duration of their package vacation. Balinese culture kept the facade of ‘cool’ flowing for a short while, but soon the Balinese were pushed out of the traditional village life by another group, the Javanese, who brought mainstream business from the ruling Indonesian culture to displace the old ways  with commerce.

Bali in the year 2012 is not the funky traditional village culture it once was. So what was the draw for us now? A S$70 ticket was one thing, another was the idea that we could possibility relive a past experience if we got off the beaten track and away from the tourist rut. This proved impossible, Bali has become a mere caricature of what it once was, scratch the surface and only tourist infrastructure remains. Kuta has become a bar zone and disco hovel for sex tourists and boozers of all ages from any number of countries. Gone are the quaint ceremonial customs replaced by hotel tourism and heavy traffic. Ubud’s Monkey Forest Road is now an end to end trail of exhaust belching tour buses filled with giddy tourists. There was a sweet fragrance to the island thirty years ago, now the sewage overflow stings the air and permeates every aspect of ones day.

Once pristine beaches are now dark with pollutants from the restaurants and hotels that have been piping them a short way out into the surf only to have the sewage wash ashore with the next high tide. The water is so thick with raw sewage effluent that it is impossible to imagine swimming anymore. In heavenly Ubud the same problem exists where the tourist structures all pipe the untreated effluent into streams running in the ravines behind the hotel strip but the water run is insufficient to carry the volume of muck away and the banks are layered with stinking toilet waste. In the upscale beach resort of Sanur I watched as the hotel staff had to continually rake the tidal sewage off the beach so that the tourists wouldn’t see what had come ashore. The water however was a grey greasy pulp in the same way as other beaches around the island. I found that the design world of the Balinese had been hijacked and has become boring and predictable, no longer driven by spirituality, but by commerce alone. In fact, one Australian ‘entrepreneur’ has legally copyrighted all the traditional designs so that no one can produce authentic pieces anymore. He lives in splendor, close to Ubud, in a spiritual graveyard of his own making, the master of nothing.

Anyone could argue that the tourist trade has increased the standard of living for the Balinese. Who am I to argue against these people joining in the rush towards modernity? Patricia and I continued to look for any signs that Bali was still alive under the thick blanket of mass tourism. The culture remains although barely noticeable. People have in fact joined the modern era, working seven days a week to pay off banks loans they have taken out towards mod-con appurtenances. But there is nothing of the Bali I knew left to make me want to visit again. After searching for something real we were left with the impression that an old friend had died. Rest in Peace Bali, we will never go back, as far as tourist destinations are concerned , there are much better preserved in the world. Bali has become a choice made available by ultra cheap air fare offerings. It is not a magical magnet that one must see.It is one of the most extreme examples of how the destructive power of the guide book culture can literally tear the soul out of a beautiful place and leave it unalterably changed.

International tourists come to Bali in droves, sold on the cheap tickets and the dreams that guide books still falsely perpetrate. These people see a sham of what the business community has designed for their temporary pleasure. I have gone on to seek my pleasures elsewhere.

rolling hills of blue heather

wet with dew

chased by howling winds of legend

snaking dunes buttress the seaside

bristling with stiff grasses

and the most amazing flowers

seeking nothing but a short life

in the cold sun

dream of joining them in the sand

undulating landscapes of lavender

that scent the air

for hundreds of miles before they’re sighted

by some magic raising the souls of weary desperate men

who are caught in the wafting breezes

closer to heaven

wild eyed impact mountains face the ocean

appear startled at the suddenness of their creation

rising up and capped with snow

pierced with fjords that  disappear in the mist

beset with floating emerald islands

that vanish as if by sorcery

only to reappear again

more beautiful than ever

the languid way grass bends with the wind on a open prairie

saying nothing except we hear an elongated sighing

that draws tears from everyone who passes with a heart

and lives in a dream

a continent of steaming jungle

a brazen cradle

is outrageous

that place demands attention

and tries to kill you when you enter

to seek

the mystery of green fire

escape is when you

separate yourself from nature with acres of animated concrete

wrapped around your shoulders like a mendicants cloak

as you return from some sacred journey

stacks of meaningless symbols

of transient wealth

holding out the promise of  simple treasures

diamonds embedded in the sidewalks

walk amid grains of gold who amble freely

within the confines of a congested village

set upon a stolen island

such delicious secrets on display

when worlds collide

and some are cursed

life’s little pleasures

that speak

in a language with few spoken words

the traveler responds in cryptic gestures

hands and eyes in all directions

cloak themselves in thin disguise

play this game of the revenant

adapting to this invitation

stepping in and out of time

you master of the clouds

senses come alive

when you tell your stories

to strangers

stripping naked expectations

breathless and unburdened

you vomit up

exhilaration in short breaths

and key strokes

huffing in anticipation

the entire meaning of life

fails to appear

except in random order

etched in these memories

no decadent meanderings

the seekers world fails  description

glittering shards cascade

like falling rain

it’s an empty feeling

never being satisfied

sure that no one understands your need

to see it all again

to do what you desire

life’s little pleasures

a haunting addiction

i may  have fallen

i’m weary

too much dancing and moonlight

slipped on dark cracks

inky black

twisted broken sidewalks of life

laying prostrate

under a street lamp

upon a pastel mural

by some forgotten artist

as anonymous as myself

the stars above me

a red sky

perchance to rest

i doubt it


without a calling

homeless, wandering

by inclination

i have shoes fit for dancing

call me back

i may not answer

this  drive is lust and desire

to lead a life of insecurity

wrenching me by the hair to carry

in spite of any attempt to struggle

i may have no complaints

ancient history

i  sing in the sunshine

cry in the rain

bemoan every cloudy day

i know i’m alive

this shadow may be frightening to you

but i am at home

with the other vagrants

we are legion

a cooperative of fools

behind the mystery of an oblivious world

i spell freedom on the sidewalk in piss

i hear music playing

in the distance

my feet begin to twist and join

i lift my head like

the breathless sigh of a reckless seeker

has wound itself around my soul

i have no choice other than follow

and rage against the light

of those who i deny exist

what will come of this apostate

no one knows and no one cares

inscribe this on my urn

offer me back to the wild wind

‘he lived from day to day

and danced outside the lines’