Ch 3 “Taking Place; Writing the Physical World”
#7. If you have a travel diary or journal, go back to I now and pull out sections that give highly sensory descriptions of place: the feel of the air, the taste of the food, the sounds, the smells. Type these out in separate sections, then arrange them on a table seeing if you can find a common theme that may bind an essay together. What can you construe as the greater purpose for your travels? How can you incorporate that purpose into your travel writing? What is the one image that will emerge for metaphorical significance?
After looking at the bits of random thoughts I had typed out per the exercise guidance, I put together the following essay/short story. The scraps of ideas took my mind to a place in my past I am quite fond of, and from there I just rode the wave of inspired thought…
I couldn’t get my mind off the weather this morning.
It is a nice soft morning.
I’m looking out the window as my fellow students are deeply engaging each other with their weeks reading. Yet my mind is still focused on the weather. It’s a nice soft morning is a saying I remember from long ago… though I can’t quite put a finger on when I first heard it. A thick, moist layer of grey clouds that seems eerily still, obscuring the sun. As I walked around campus the moisture seemed to cut through my layers and pierced my bones.
Inside, the air is stale– nothing like the fresh, soft air and freedom of my current confines. Gazing at the damp trees through the window, I’m reminded of the years I was stationed in the Netherlands. Those early morning walks from the dorms to the squadron were more special than I realized at the time. The weather here, is much like it was there; damp, drizzling rain, heavy mist in the mornings… maybe that was an unconscious reason I wanted to return here once my military days were over.
After spending the morning at the campus library, I crossed Red Square on my way to seminar. The slippery red bricks that make up the square take me back to the same type of bricks so common on the Dutch base, and the slick cobblestone streets in some of the nearby villages. Midway through seminar my stomach was growling.
With my mind on the past, I’m reminded how we would often have lunch at the NCO club. It was a pub in the most traditional sense. We would have a hardy sandwich with a pint– maybe two– of Heineken, or Grolsch, before returning to the days task. My stomach still growling, I’m thinking of what lunch will be today. If the weather remains as it is now, finding a local pub would be my goal. Funny how weather can take me back to a time long forgotten. The soft morning and damp trees outside are my view through the window to my right. Ahead, and to the left is the student building with its large collection of orange rectangle panels. Oddly enough that is a style quite popular in the Netherlands when I was there in the late 1980s.
My brain is in a state of time/space flux. 24 years have passed since I was stationed there, though it feels like I’m there now. While the students around me discuss something of less significance I am at once in Cold War Europe and at Olympia’s Evergreen State College.
Two-wheeled fun in the Netherlands
The parallels continue… I spent much time at Veronica Radio visiting with my friends in Holland, and now I spend much time at the KAOS radio station here on campus. I rode a motorcycle then (Honda 50), and a Triumph Bonneville now. I zoomed around with my friend in his MINI Cooper then, and now my wife and I zoom around in our own MINI. When I was stationed there I dreamed about going to college, now I am in the middle of my college days…
The other students are now talking about prison and its similarity to childhood. Their reality is a world away from mine. 24 years ago I am having lunch at the NCO/Dutch pub; I am simultaneously there in the past, and here in the present. The smell of the air is spiced with beer, wood and tobacco. My buddy Ron slaps his squadron coin on the bar—a coin check and I left mine in yesterday’s shirt pocket; beer is on me– four guilders, plus tip. We complain about the sergeant, plan the weekend, and continue to forge our friendship. Bellies filled with a hardy meal and the best of beer we head back to the days work. Francis, the lovely women tending bar thanks us, reminds us to button up our coats. Through her thick, round Dutch accent she comments that, “It’s a nice soft morning.”
It’s still there…