Monday, May 19, 2014

Writing The Italian Way?

Writing North Idaho is sad to announce that Kathy Cooney Dobbs is retiring her position as a permanent contributor to this blog. Kathy is a woman of not only many writing talents, but also a woman whose interests keep her days jam packed with fun activities. She has a list of "BFFs" that would circle the world. With a keen, critical eye, records Kathy's many adventures via her camera, and her writing, including many nature pictures from around northern Idaho. We wish Kathy the best in her adventures. Please follow Kathy at her blog: Kathy always closes as shall we, "Toodle loo for now."

Lucca, Italy beginning of tour of Tuscany


My husband and I travel a lot both in the United States and abroad. I began traveling as a child on family vacations that took us all over the Western, Midwest and many Eastern states. Bob and I continued the tradition by taking driving vacations with our children each year. At this time I have logged all fifty states and 32 foreign countries. This is not meant to be bragging but a set up for the paragraphs to follow.

People who know I am a writer think I have vaults of travel diaries, journals, stories based on actual experiences or fictionalized accounts of events that took place on any one of these trips. They think I have summarized salient points of traveling and have handouts ready to give people who want to know hiking trails in the highlands of Scotland, what to do in Vienna, how to avoid long lines at the Louvre or how to make lefsa the true Norwegian way.

I have none of these, unfortunately, but for plausible reasons. I never have been a diary person. I do not like to put down my personal thoughts about my life for others read 10 years or a century later. I remember what I want to remember and that is good enough. I travel to see landscapes with views different from Hayden Lake outside my door with the Bitterroot section of the Rocky Mountains in the background.

 I travel to smell different things like lavender growing in the fields of Provence, France. I want to observe people and how they go about their every day business of life and what clothes they wear when they work and play. Are they the same as what I would see in the United States? Standing where Michelangelo stood in Carrara, Italy selecting the marble for his statue of David, looking at the Avon River near Shakespeare’s home or standing where the Bastille ended Marie Antoinette’s life brings a thrill to me. I am actually standing in front of the cathedral Monet painted dozens of times and where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Walking the battlefield of Custer's Last Stand helps me picture what happened that day. I walk in history’s footsteps and thus understand it better!

I do not travel to shop. I do not need to say, “Oh, this old thing? Why I bought this wool, hand made, embroidered Hungarian jacket on one our trips to Budapest. By they way, darhling, that’s pronounced Buda Pesht.” I don’t travel to race through the Hermitage in St. Petersburg in order to find a bar and have several drinks with my newest friends. I want to walk slowly in the Montmartre section of Paris where Van Gogh, Manet and Lautrec walked and talked together. I revel in seeing the room where the Continental Congress formed our United States of America.
San Gimignano, Italy (Tuscany region)
We travel to see people, places and things and learn from them. We go hard all day long, eat dinner and collapse in bed early at night, exhausted but eager for tomorrow’s sights and learning situations.

THE tower in Pisa
HOWEVER, saying all this, yes, I wish I had kept some personal notes about many of the cities and regions I have seen. It would make for great reference for writing today. I could fictionalize a story based on learning about farming the steep hillsides overlooking fjords in Norway, what kept George Washington “down on the farm after he’d seen Paree” so to speak. I wished I had paid more attention when learning about the cultures of Maori and aboriginals of New Zealand and Australia so I could write my own Rabbit Fence.

Travel writing does not have to be a daily diary of what you saw and ate. It needn’t be adventure turned moralistic stories like Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

It could be explorative adventure, writing about nature, outdoor sports (what a soccer stadium in Liverpool feels, smells and sounds like, or a story on how difficult is it to blow a vuvuzela, that annoyingly loud horn heard at African soccer games, or an Australian didgeridoo). It could take form from a picture of my ancestors’ stave house of worship near Lillehammer, Norway, or how the state park in South Dakota has changed over the years from my childhood in the 50’s to the modern buildings but both with the same views of Mt. Rushmore and its four presidents.

On the schedule for later in the year is a trip through the hillside towns and city streets, museums and cathedrals of Tuscany. The last time I gazed at the statue of David in Florence was 45 years ago. I do not think he has changed or bought clothes since then but this time I will try to capture the awe of others viewing this magnificent marble monolith. While sipping a glass of red Chianti vino at a village center café in Siena, I will make use of a mini tape recorder to later be able to bring back the sounds of the Italians in every day life.

Thinking about how I could enrich any of my writing has led me to purchase a medium sized, easy to carry journal for this trip. It will be interesting to find out what a difference memories written down will tender to my future attempts at writing of any kind.