The 8th of December had come and gone so it was safe to put up my Christmas tree. Never up before the 8th and always down by the 6th – that has been instilled in me since I was of an age to care. It’s not that I’m superstitious, but with the world currently so off-kilter, I’d prefer to fly below the radar and not draw any needless bad luck to my door. Some years, I don’t bother with a tree. It depends on how long I’ll be in country for. This is the first year in a while that the ROI made it worthwhile which means that I could pull out my box of goodies and start decorating my Christmas travel tree.
Many moves ago, faced with a plethora of tacky souvenirs from places I’d just passed through, I resolved that the only thing I would bring back from my travels would be a Christmas tree ornament or a silver charm for my travel bracelet (before it got full). This decision predates my travel blog so many of the places I’ve not written about. I keep a log to remind me where I was when I bought things that are not quite as obvious as my bear from Kodiak, my Eiffel Tower from Paris, or my sloth from Costa Rica. I have a select few items that were gifts from special people and a series of fabulous hard-carved wooden ornaments from my good mate DD. I get a new one each year.
Himself helped with it all and as we picked through my treasures he held one up.
‘Where’s this from?’ he asked.
I looked at the black and white voodoo head. ‘New Orleans’, I said.
‘When were you there?’
I had to think hard to get my dates straight – that was the road trip I took in 2001 with my good mate RosaB from Alaska when we flew into New Orleans and then drove through Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and back to Louisiana. It was a pre-blog trip, so much of what we saw is lost in the ethers of my mind. I was just driving to drive and see; she was on a pilgrimage to Graceland. I revisited again some 15 years later and had many flashbacks. One lasting memory is the generous tip she gave the woman from the voodoo shop in New Orleans who had given us a tour of the city’s cemeteries. I was shocked.
Honey, she said, the gal did good. We learned a lot.
That throwaway comment has shaped my guide-tipping culture to this day.
I have vague memories of detouring to follow a billboard proclaiming the virtues of Havana, Florida. It was the strangest place I’ve ever been. The few places open looked as if they’d been abandoned mid-meal. I remember a main street lined with barn-like antique shops staffed by one elderly man or woman, the handful of them the sum total of life in the town. As we wandered around, a little boy of about 6 or 7 darted in and out of doorways behind us, his muffled giggles the only sound we heard. We had intended stopping for lunch but we moved on. Northern Florida is still a place that I’d drive around rather than through. I googled it out of curiosity and was amazed to see it billed as one of the state’s friendliest towns. How the years can change a place.
‘Are you sure’, he asked, turning the ornament over. ‘The date says 1997.’
Okay. Okay. I’d left my log book in the city, so I’d been guessing. And I knew that trying to remember where I’d been in 1997 was going to keep me away all night.
As I placed each ornament on my Christmas travel tree, I stopped to think of where I’d been, who I’d been with, and when I’d been there. And with the factual stuff came a flurry of emotions. I thought how I’d be loathe to return to Azerbaijan but would get on a plane tomorrow to go back to Africa. I remembered how enamoured I was with Bulgaria and how disillusioned I was with what was happening in Cuba. I lost 10 minutes thinking of how my trip to Israel and Palestine had opened my eyes and as many more remembering multiple trips to India, a place I’ll someday live for a while.
We thought we’d get it done in half an hour. It took a lot longer. The desire to travel (and the wherewithal to do so) is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given. Since I started blogging, I’ve been to about 40 different countries, some multiple times. My work trips account for just 2. I’ve a long way to go before I get to see them all, and may well die before I do. But I’ll give it my best shot.
Next year, when I’m putting up my Christmas travel tree, I’d like to see something from Albania, Russia, and Tanzania. And if that’s to happen, I need to make sure my feng-shui travel shelf is in order. Did I tell you I wasn’t superstitious?