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poetry

Europe Journal

How To Get Lost In Venice

If you want to get lost in Venice, take a left at your hotel. Cross the bridge, but watch out for the couple with limbs intertwined, their beating hearts kept sheltered in one another’s arms. Don’t catch your sandaled foot on the stone step. It is ancient and strong, jutting out to remind you it belongs here, ever-buoyed by the waters, while you are a passing shadow in this city.

Don’t follow the thoroughfare. Instead, slip into the alley so narrow you can touch both walls with outstretched arms. Curve around the buildings and follow your fancy when the way forks this way or that.

Stop for a moment to catch the dripping gelato from your cone. Stop for several to stare at the masks behind reflective glass storefronts.

Turn left.

Press your body against the cool plaster wall as a crowd of camera- and hat-laden wanderers ambles by, chirping in a language you almost recognize but cannot understand.

 

Push open the shining door of a cafe. Nudge your way to the front of the counter and order a scalding, fresh espresso, a tiny act of rebellion against the damp warmth your forehead. Sample a pizzette too. If you’re lucky, lay claim on an empty stool and rest your feet, the ones you did not prepare for a full day of walking.

But walk is what you will do. Exit the glass box of the bakery and venture forth. Across the Rialto Bridge, through a maze of shuttered pathways, to a little stone peninsula sprouting clusters of teenagers eating sandwiches and drinking red wine. You will stumble on the lip of a flagstone, then right yourself, trailing your fingers along the wall as you walk. Left. Right. Left again.

You will step into a courtyard with a tree. A sign will say “WELCOME to the most beautiful Bookshop in the World.” Inside, patrons will not glance up as you pass through the air, thick with the perfume of yellowing pages. So keep walking, straight thru to the other side, where a staircase of books — their tattered bindings quite worse for the wear — leads to a banister over the next canal. Climb carefully, steadily, to the top and marvel at the worlds you’ve crushed beneath your feet.

Hop down now. The setting sun is golden on the water. The restaurants are open wide, waiters depositing little candles on tiny tables in the tapered streets.

 

Stop at the one where the maître d’hôtel seems untroubled, light on his feet as he watches you watch him while your companion reads the menu. There is good wine. Local too. There is a charcuterie and pizzas and tiramisu. What more could you want to close this day in the impossible, floating Italian city?

When the strands of twinkling lights illuminate the bottom of your wine glass, the waitress will sidle past with an open bottle. With a splash of red in the bowl and a knowing smile, she will say, “You must have drinks with your dessert.”

When all you’ve left are crumbs, do not ask for the way back to your hotel. Reach for the map in your mind (guidebooks are no good here).

A warning: You will be unsuccessful. You will cross one bridge, then another. Accordion music will entice you down a dark street, which will dead-end at the water. Little waves will lap at the ledge. You will stare mesmerized into the canal until bells of laughter pull your gaze upward, down the waterway to boat-bound revelers transfixed by their gondolier’s song.

You will tread back from where you came. Though you seek your room, you will find yet another square, this one with Hebrew banners flying softly in the breeze. It is quieter. A pigeon will watch you with its eye, wondering how you’ve spilled so far from the crowd.

 

Gaze around now. You are lost. You have done it. With a surety you’ve drummed up in your wine-softened mind, you stride this way, then that. You slink past the perfumes and masks and shops with little blue-striped dresses that make you smile with memories of seasides and windswept beaches.

You forget your way.

But then, quite suddenly, you join a troupe of holidaymakers. En masse, you wander toward sleep, so sure of yourselves until you burst onto Piazza San Marco. A band strikes up a tune.

 Off to see the world

There’s such a lot of world to see…

Men and women, boys and girls dangle arms round one another’s shoulders. A pair of newlyweds pauses in a pool of lamplight for a picture. The gondoliers gather by the rocking boats and light matches for another cigarette.

We’re after the same rainbow’s end…

Pausing, you look back at your companion and lift your hand. You melt together. Beneath the Doge’s Palace, you two are mirrored, a mirage fragile as glass. But for a moment, at long last, you’ve found your way. Buona notte.

 

Journal

Travel Bug: A Poem On Lifelong Desire To Explore

I have a bug. It makes me yearn for places unknown. It makes my heart flutter with the mention of foreign lands. It causes me to spend countless hours searching for plane tickets. It causes tears to well up in my eyes when a journey ends. It’s the travel bug and I’ve got it bad.

Sure I’ve succumbed to an actual travel virus as I trot around the globe, but it’s no match for the travel bug’s strength.

It started when I was a kid. Santa Claus was coming to town and I had a globe on my wish list. On my birthday I asked for a subscription to National Geographic.

In the summer holidays, my Mom in an effort to keep three kids occupied, would take us to the library to read. I inhaled the information in the Eyewitness Travel books. Sardinia, Corsica, Rome and Spain. I would go there one day I told myself.

Growing up in Canada, Mom and Dad said, “You are Canadian so you need to learn how to skate and ski.”

Snow wasn’t really my thing.

Mom enrolled me in judo, piano lessons, synchronized swimming, soccer, Indian heritage language classes and ballet. Nothing seemed to resonate with me. “Here you pick something,” she said, pushing an activity brochure into my lap.

Art class. Let’s give that a go.

Mrs. Uddenburg, our instructor, was from Trinidad. As we transformed blank canvases into mini masterpieces, she took our imaginations away to the tropical beaches and frenetic, energized Carnivals of her youth, when dancers would smother their lithe, golden bodies with a palette of vibrant colours to match their equally grandiose feathery, flirty costumes.

One day, I will go to Trinidad.

Nani, my maternal grandma is one of the bubbliest people I know. She has a major obsession with Bollywood old and new. When I was eight, Nani and Mom watched so many classic, black and white Raj Kapoor movies, that I became obsessed too. And it wasn’t only Bollywood that Mom enjoyed. On the weekends she would watch old Hollywood films, some set in faraway lands. In the 1955 film, Summertime, Venice was the star. Gondolas floated past unbelievably beautiful buildings that seemed to magically hover over narrow canals. Romance, not that I knew what that even meant at the time, was in the air.

One day, I will go to Italy.

My parents raised us with a love and understanding for people of all faiths. “When you pass a church, go inside and pay your respects,” advised my grandmother to my father when he was just a boy. It was that same acceptance that my parents passed down to me. “What is your religion?” kids would ask in school. “I believe in different paths to the same destination,” I replied.

I read snippets from the Bible, Guru Granth, Bhagavad Gita and the Quran, hoping to find similarities that bind us. The Holy Land’s Dome of the Rock glimmered a heavenly blue in the hot Middle Eastern sun. Muslims, Jews, and Christians all gathered in prayer, hoping the heavens would hear.

One day, I will go to Jerusalem.

Cartoons weren’t really my thing. Instead my eyes were glued on documentaries about Ukrainian orphans and far away lands. What did I want to be when I grew up? An oceanographer, plunging into cerulean seas like Jacques Cousteau and swim with the fishes.

One day, I will go to the Great Barrier Reef.

Dancing is just in my veins. Mom says she carted us off to traditional dancing celebrations when we were just one-years-old. So it only felt natural that I am drawn to cultures with heavy doses of twirls and swirls. As a television reporter, I wanted to dig in deeper into the Eastern European Roma community that had settled in Toronto as refugees. After many weeks of persuading them I could be trusted, I was invited to an event. The children jumped and kicked, clacking their heels in the air. Their fingers snapping to the energetic rhythm bouncing off the walls of the dingy apartment of their newfound home.

One day, I will go to Romania.

My parents were born in Uganda. Dad told us childhood tales of swimming in murky lakes slithering with giant snakes, a mysterious man who visited the creepy cemetery in the inky African nights and of tangy fruits bursting with sweet flavor. Mom sliced a matunda, Swahili for passion fruit and sprinkled it with crunchy grains of sugar.

One day, I will go to Uganda.

My paternal grandparents, Radha and Madhavji Chandarana shipped off to Uganda from the shores of the Arabian Sea. Ba, my grandma, grew up in a tiny village in a region of Gujarat called Saurashtra. When she was a teenager, her slender arms were pricked and the tiny holes filled with a deep, blue dye, forming permanent tattooed marks. My grandparents left Gujarat in search of better opportunities in an unknown land. The story of human migration. Leaving behind their country and culture, they set sail on a new journey, saying goodbye to their beloved India.

One day, I will go to the motherland.

Today I am lucky enough to actually work for a travel company. When I was preparing for the job interview, I was reminded of a gift my youngest sister once made me when I was a teenager. It was a book and each page had a different country on it. She had lovingly printed pictures of my head and attached them in countries across the globe.

In the interview, I told the would-be employers about her gift and they chuckled. I was told the new position would involve writing about the far corners of the wide world. “When can you start?” they asked.

A childhood dream fulfilled.

Journal

Keep Wandering, Dear-Heart: A Poem For Wandering Women

Keep wandering, dear-heart.
Keep your hopes high and your lists long and your eyes open to it all.
Bloom and blossom and grow.
Dodge through short layovers and awake ready and eager.
Seek the grand possibilities each day unfolds in front of you.
Live out of suitcases, gather up the know-how to find your way there.
Be jet lagged. Be bold. Brave.
Just keep wandering.

Consider yourself to be a just fragment of history and a curious student of life.
Just keep wandering.
Live unconventionally.
Spend less on shoes than you do on baggage.
Grow roots where you settle, if only for a day.
Find little reminders of who you are, no matter where you are.
Seek out echoes of your past lives and eerily familiar places.
Find the sight that makes your heart palpitate.
Make the remote your refuge. Make the hustle and bustle your own buzz.
Get dizzy with excitement.
Don’t lose your spark, your passion, to expectations.

“There are so many places I want to call home.”
Yes, me too. You aren’t alone. You’re here.
Just keep wandering.

 

Journal

New Zealand: Starry Nights and Dreams

I stared at a paper map spread out across my thighs, as he drove on the left side of the road, on the other side of the world. I felt like a little girl again, before GPS navigation, but there had always been a bigger hand back then to point out the street and find the way. In New Zealand there was only Stephen, sighing as he circled another roundabout, but it wasn’t frustrating to me. It was freeing. We could go anywhere.

I ordered a vanilla latte at the first coffee shop we found. “Where are you from?” the barista asked. When I told him the States, he laughed.

“I knew that as soon as you ordered. No one here orders those. They drink flat whites.”

That’s the drink Stephen ordered after we failed our first Great Walk. I woke up the second day, after hiking with a heavy bag and a head cold, and couldn’t bring myself to turn over in my sleeping bag and look at him. We had nearly 13 km to hike ahead, and 8.5 km already behind us, stranding us at a campsite on the Tongariro track. It didn’t matter that the second day was said to be the most beautiful, or that we’d already paid for our next campsites, I knew one thing. I would not make it. I sat in a nearby carpark with our bags, feeling watched by the hikers passing by, as he had to trek all the way back to our rental.

Traveling together became an ebb and flow, and we swayed like docked boats floating in a harbor. I had to hope that the good moments would outweigh the bad, and keep us tethered. As we drove across the country’s winding roads, slowed down only by carsickness and a speeding ticket, the days slipped by. One night we were drinking wine in a hammock in Lake Tekapo, waiting for the sun to set so we could take night photos. “Whatever you do, don’t spill the wine,” Stephen said as we rocked, watching the sky’s changing colors reflect onto the water.

I awoke with a start, and looked down at my phone. 1 a.m. lit up the screen, next to my overturned wine glass on my lap. “Don’t be mad,” I said, as Stephen stirred beside me. But how could he be once he looked up? Once you have seen the Milky Way, undiluted from city lights, stretched out across the dark night sky, nothing else feels significant. We stayed up, in the cold night air, until 3 a.m., with our heads and cameras facing upwards.

Soon a month had passed, and we had one last activity on our itinerary before we were to fly out–the Routeburn Great Walk. We needed to be at the bus by 8 a.m., but when I got ready that morning, I found that my toothpaste had exploded all over my bag, slowing me down. As we rushed in the door after speed walking across Queenstown, the girl at the front desk looked up from her phone. Apparently, I had read the email wrong. The bus was picking us up a few streets over. By the time we arrived at the right place, out of breath, we were the last ones there.

“Where do we leave our bags?” I asked, only to be informed that the luggage storage was at the first location we went to that morning. Without time to walk them back, and unable to bring them on the 4-day hike with us, we had to leave our bags there, filled with expensive electronics, and hope the staff would move them to the luggage storage we had booked. I sat, hunched over, and hugged my legs the whole ride, worrying this Great Walk would be as unsuccessful as our first.

It started to drizzle as the bus dropped us off at the Routeburn shelter. Gathered underneath with the other passengers, we met a man who had gone to a rival Florida college. “I graduated in 1965,” he said with a laugh as he adjusted his pack. “I’ve hiked three weeks in New Zealand every year for the last fourteen years.” Stephen and I talked about him as the rain turned to a downpour while we made our way along the track. If he could do this at 70 years old, so could I. I hoped.

That’s the thought I kept coming back to, as I set up our tent in rain-soaked leggings, colder than I have ever been, or ate oatmeal the next morning while I scratched at my bug bites. It was that second day, as I hiked over 13 km uphill with a heavy bag, that I saw why he did it. The sun had emerged to a blue sky that left us with endless views of the mountains we walked over. I can do this, I thought again, as we kept going without an end in sight, or huddled in our tent on the third day while rationing our food supplies. “Should we eat the raisins tonight, or save them?” became a serious question. I can do this, I thought to myself again, as we hiked the last 12 km on our last day.

It was then, as we peered around every switchback in the trail with the hope it would be our last, that I felt why he did it. When we made it to the pavement of the bus stop, and I tore off my pack to sit down, I felt sore, tired and hungry. But I also felt that place deep inside where memories of starry nights and dreams are stored, where you fill yourself with the knowledge that you’re capable of climbing mountains.

 

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