By Nancy M C Young
Here I've placed a few writings that I'm working on... in particular a travel memoir of the places I've been, people I've met, events of a life over a 50+ year period. They are unedited and some of it pure stream of consciousness. I've even written a few chapter headings of places and eventful memories that I will eventually write about... if I ever get around to it. They are in no particular order... just a pastiche of memories that I want to preserve because they have lasted this long in my mind. Some day my mind will be vague I'm sure and these memories lost. I wish they were more well formed here, but eventually I will put them out as a memoir. Maybe someday they will even be published?
I hope you enjoy... if you have any thoughts or comments, just jot me a message! No trolling, please...
MEMORIES FROM A LIFE OF TRAVEL
The grassy knoll behind the farm’s homestead was not the manicured square of green from my southern California childhood, but rather, it was an immense and sprawling expanse of blue-green rye grass of the Queensland outback, interspersed with stubborn patches of bright yellow dandelion and cat’s eye, resistant to mowing, and quick to regrow after the tractor had slashed through it. That grassy knoll reached for ten acres down from the farmhouse, to an orchard of lychee trees protected by a large and imposing bird-net structure that ended any romantic notions of an idyllic country landscape.
It was a business foremost, and my husband was intent on running it as such. I had more romantic notions for it… an artists’ colony or a writers’ retreat perhaps? It has been a dream of mine since I was 12, when I began to put pen to paper each day. I diarized and journaled, and wrote long letters to pen pals, letting my pubescent imagination fly to all corners of the world and universe, untethered to my real world, which was tightly reined in by a highly critical mother and a charismatic, somewhat manic father. They both disappointed me with their savage contradictions.
But back to the grassy knoll and the almost idyllic 10 acres in southern Queensland, a place Down Under that was my home for five of the 13 years I lived and breathed my Australian life.
The beaches of Stravangar on the coast of Denmark are low and wide, and stretch for miles along the North Sea with its white beige sand and cool blue waters. Those of us visiting for the first time might feel as though this was a place that waves forgot, a place so tranquil and soothing that the notion of drama and angst has never entered these shores. But there is an aloofness here, like the cool characteristics of the Scandinavians themselves. We are strangers and sojourners here, soft dots on the rocks that break up the endless monotony of the pale liquid sand. I was brought here by chance and unfortunate circumstances.
I met Fleming at the university of Hawaii the summer before, at the International Business program. He was among 20 other foreign graduate students
BORDEAUX, PARIS, CANNES, FRANCE
What next? I thought as I put the Peugeot in gear and lurched up the steep country road in no particular hurry. The car hugged the curve of the highway over the French Alps like a jaguar slinks along the craggy rocks of a mountaintop, it’s diesel engine purring as it swerved around each corner. A cold July rain slashed down as we crossed the mountain pass. Small farmhouses dotted the verdant landscape in patches of color in a palette of red, green, yellow and white, as one would expect in an alpine country dreamscape. I didn’t know the roads would wind over the Pyrenees, only realizing now that France and Spain were divided by it. I’d rented the car on a whim, choosing to navigate the five-hour journey by car instead of flying or taking the ever present Eurail, which in my younger years had been the transport of choice, the Eurailpass being every 24-year-old’s ticket to a youthful rite of passage.
But now, I was glad for the car. As the rainclouds unloaded its grey drops through the mist, they cast a dramatic backdrop to my new adult adventure, as a mother first and traveler second. I had three passengers on board: my Australian ex-sister-in-law, my only Australian niece and my once-Australian daughter. At nine and ten the girls were like sisters even though two little girls could not be more different in coloring, personality and demeanor. Nadine had the dramatic flair of a ballerina that she was aspiring to become, and her prima donna/clown act alternated between entertaining and downright annoying, as any only-child, prepubescent girl desperately seeking attention can get. My daughter, also an only, held her own keeping up with her cousin’s comedics, but Marina is a dark-haired scientist, a sardonic counterpoint to ditzy blonde princess antics emanating from the back seat beside her. Nadine’s mother, Jen, sitting shotgun beside me, was a study in self-help, a gentle personality who constantly nudged herself toward happiness as a foil to an underlying pessimism and cynical streak inherited from her father. She joyfully encouraged us all to sing along to her ABC television kid’s show ditties, English nursery rhymes and benign travelling songs to help propel us up and over the Pyrenees.
Between the four of us, we managed the five hour journey without many conflicts. We had already traveled from Los Angeles to Paris the week before, traipsing merrily through the cobblestoned streets of the Latin Quarter, through the cavernous galleries of the Louvre, among the manicured gardens of the Luxumbourg, twixt the hall of mirrors at Versailles, and enjoyed several alfresco dinners with our Aussie hosts at the centuries-old villa in wine-blessed Bordeaux. We were happy as songbirds and enjoying our freedom away from our men and other burdens. We were headed to Bilbao in northern Spain to visit the much touted, and brand-spanking new Museo de Guggenheim, and also an Aussie colleague and friend, Mark Bromilow, who had just taken up the reins as artistic director of Cirque du Soleil Europe.
And while my passengers sang merrily as we rolled along, I couldn’t help but recall quietly to myself a moment not more than three months earlier, Mark and I had been sitting somberly around a long board table trying to save a nascent creative arts incubator we had founded in Nambour, in regional Queensland. The long and complicated birthing process had been fraught, but we had given it our best effort and over three years of our lives. When it almost collapsed under the weight of everyone’s conflicting expectations, the founding group of artists which included me, struggled through the bickering, while we bemoaned the lack of ongoing support from the local and state government which had originally seed funded its creation. But political will can change in a heartbeat and the contemporary arts in nonurban, regional locations can become the Cinderella to the traditional pillars of culture like the symphonies and operas of the world, whose ROI is never questioned, unlike a tiny arts incubator in regional Queensland.
Eventually, fed up with the politics, Mark left Australia to take this plum job as the Cirque’s newest European director, and I had moved to Sydney to take up a federal government position at Australia Council for the Arts. But a year later, after a bout of chronic hives from drinking one too many glasses of plum port alone in my sky-high Sydney hotel, I quit the job and eventually returned to Los Angeles after 13 years in Australia, to regroup and figure out my next move. It hadn’t quite come to me yet, but an invitation to stay at a villa in Bordeaux owned by cousins of a friend of Jen’s, and then meet the cast of the feted acrobats under the big top in Spain, was all the incentive I needed to book some flights, pack my bags, meet up with the girls and head east to Paris, via New York, a fortnight later. It was the perfect antidote to a depression that had fallen over me after my 16-year marriage collapsed, and I found myself back in the valley of smog and concrete freeways, relieved of my 25-year career in supporting arts and culture on two continents. But Bordeaux and Bilbao would be the beginning of resolution for me.
As we rounded the final exit off the highway, the signs began to change dramatically. Basque is a language as alien to Spaniards and Frenchmen, as it was to Anglophones like ourselves. The girls stared in awe at the unpronounceable names filled with multiple juxtaposed consonants replete with ‘x’s, ‘k’s, ‘v’s and ‘w’s nowhere found in any romance language. Even roof tiles are black not terracotta in this part of northern Spain. Clearly we were in for an adventure unique to this corner of the world. We had arrived in Spain, but with a twist, and it began with the sunny stone urbanity of Bilbao, and the brand new Guggenheim Museum of Contemporary Art that had beckoned to me from afar. We headed straight for the museum off that highway exit. As we crossed unpronounceable cobblestone streets lined with interesting-looking wine, tapas, cheese and olive shops, cafes and souvenir stores, we aimed the car towards the iconic, rounded, space-age silver rooftops of the Museo de Guggenheim, which popped up everywhere we turned, between tall office buildings and above downtown apartments, like the glittering Land of the Wizard of Oz in Dorothy’s improbably adventure.
It beckoned, looming so large and blindingly metallic that it seemed impossibly close and far at the same time. It was like an alien space ship that crash-landed on the banks of the Bilbao River, attracting curious locals and visitors from far and wide. We parked the Peugeot and got out to walk the half mile or so to the museum. As soon as we had travelled for but a few minutes, all of a sudden, as if materializing out of nowhere, a brass marching band on a bicycle-made-for-four suddenly came upon us. Their blaring music had an oompah quality and the musicians were dressed in red military jackets and pantaloons, with black and red striped stockings below. They performed a comical musical mime act that needed no language to appreciate. A crowd formed spontaneously and everyone was in a capital mood, gleefully throwing euros into their hat before the musicians hopped back on their bicycles and merrily sped away.
With a pep in our step, we resumed our passage to the Museo de Guggenheim, walking briskly past the large concrete and steel spiders that towered over the plaza, to enter the post-modern, Richard Gehry-designed space filled with avant garde art as ephemeral and unintelligible as contemporary art can be. There was a three-story LED-light installation that seemed space-age then, but would be rather banal today, and pastiche art that tickled the girls with their childlike amusement hall qualities, and more post-post-modern works that defied explanation, and unfortunately memory. It was thankfully light and airy in that space and much of it easy to take in from a distance as the pieces were all large and iconic befitting an inaugural year exhibition of global significance. We felt rewarded for our good fortune in finding our way there to personally witness a moment in history.
Soon, we found the Peugeot again and began our journey to find our hotel – graciously hosted by the Cirque du Soleil, as Mark’s guests. We quickly dropped off our bags and piled into the car again to chase down the big tent. It was just outside of Bilbao and we circled a few times around its perimeter as a gentle rain fell before we found the special entry into the backstage area where Mark greeted us like VIPs. We secured our front row seats and settled into the spectacle.
Cirque du Soleil never fails to inspire awe with their daringly beautiful, death-defying acts of creativity and acrobatic virtuosity. When we met these performers later back stage, it was surreal to think they only moments before were strung three stories high on the thinnest of wires, swirling and dancing in the air as if they were fireflies not humans. Their highly stylized made-up faces reminded me of Beijing opera singers while their sexy pixie feathers and glitter costumes evoked “A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream Meets Las Vegas” aesthetic. It was nearly impossible at that point to feel any of the sadness and loss of sense of purpose that had tugged at my heart as I was recalling our travails in Queensland just a few hours ago. Mark had reached a pinnacle of success in being hand-chosen by Robert LePage to head up the Canadian circus act on their European tour, and in the end of our recent reunion we felt that the difficult chapter of our last meeting could finally be closed, and breathed a long sigh of relief knowing that life could go on, even after the music had faded.
LONDON, RUNNYMEAD, ENGLAND
KATHMANDU, KALA PATTAR, CHITWAN, NEPAL
KYOTO, TOKYO, JAPAN
LAKE LOUISE, QUEBEC, VANCOUVER, CANADA
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
HALF-DOME, YOSEMITE, CA
NEW YORK, NY