God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Serendipity Lost?

Before the internet brought finger tip knowledge, I would begin planning trips far in advance, or I would plan no more than a route and from there we'd wing it. I remember using snail mail to request information from Germany and Austria as we planned our first trip "abroad" and the excitement Ken and I shared when packets arrived in our mailbox.

I remember the anticipation we felt while poring over maps of places which seemed so very far away, scrutinizing the colorful brochures and advertisements accompanying the map--learning of a country through its own propaganda as it tried to lure visitors. That trip we found our lodgings as we went--it was all a grand adventure of great fun. We had my mother-in-law with us and I loved it--I loved her.

Europe wasn't crowded that year as travel was not yet an infatuation of the masses and, those that might have gone were advised by our state department to stay home. There were bombings in Berlin--one of the places we were headed--and other acts of cold war terrorism. Americans were scarce that year so we were treated well as we listened to shop keepers rant against President Regan whom they saw as their nemesis. He wasn't popular in Europe.

That trip gave birth in our souls to the magic of travel--the need to experience new cultures and new people. We learned that the world is small and the unknown is to be explored. We saw beauty and depravity--churches and Dachau--quaint Bavarian villages and the great symbol of the Cold War--the Berlin Wall. We passed through Checkpoint Charlie into cold, drab, silent, oppressive East Berlin. The whole world opened up to us in this trip to just two countries.

Since then we have been to five continents and many countries. We're more sophisticated travelers than we were then. Though, I am not sure that the innocence of the awe and wonder we felt then has been duplicated even as we walked the Great Wall of China or had elephants cross our paths in Tanzania. Maybe while on a magical Galapagos island, standing by the blue-footed boobie--uncontaminated by fear of humans--and watching her gently tap her egg to release the baby inside comes close to the original wonder.

As time has passed, planning has become easier. First it was the increased viability of long-distance phone service, then came the advent of the fax machine--what a wonder that was--and now the incredible magic of the internet. A click, a picture, an e-mail, a question and what took weeks is complete in as long as it takes the person at the other end to answer. Convenience has replaced anticipation; google or mapquest encroaches on the mystery of highway lines and insets; planning endangers the serendipity. The world has become smaller--nothing seems too far away.

Planning is still much of the fun of traveling--the anticipation is palpable. But, I sometimes miss the old way. There was what seemed as pre-bonding with countries when large envelopes arrived with foreign stamps and letters from tourist boards and welcoming bodies. So much of the mystery of what the experiences will bring is lessened with the pictures, virtual tours, web cams and google zooms which the internet brings us.

So--is serendipity lost? Can it still be experienced? Of course, it isn't and of course, it can. No matter the planning and pre-arrangements, there are always curves in the highway shielding what is beyond. There are country roads leading to the unexpected. There are cultures asking to be understood. And...mostly there are so many people to meet. Serendipity is an elixir of life. Without the promise that it's there to experience, we can all stay home, hibernating in our own shells, venturing nothing.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jane! Very beautifully written and thoughtful post. I like the old ways too. Everything is so much easier now but there was a charm then. Even email..so easy, but letter writing is, I believe, an art form. The paper in hand was and still is magical.

Jane said...

Thank you, Maryann. I read the letters of times past and marvel at the fluency and depth of thought expressed in them. I think that art has indeed been lost.

Judith in Umbria said...

You are speaking about one of the great disappointments of modern life. The tools have become so efficient that people plan a trip down to where they will eat every single meal. They don't wander off the road the selected in their kitchens back home, they look at things and not into eyes, and they depress me.
While I know it is smarter to have rooms booked if traveling in high season, and certainly someone who teaches or provides services may not be available if not booked, is it necessary to eat only where others recommend, sleep only in places known to your friends and never chance that a little known fountain may be more moving than a famous pile of stone?

Jane said...

Judith, you understand. It's the lemming style of travel and it loses so much of the joy. Must sees and must dos take over and, as you say, the fountain is lost.

Anne said...

Jane, what a wonderful entry. You have beautifully captured the essence of anticipation and waiting for things to come. I think travel is like spirituality in many ways...there are those looking for the quick fix, and those willing to wait for the deeper experience to come unexpectedly. I think serendipity will never be completely lost as long as there are those who relish the journey for its own sake, and not always with an eye to the final destination!

Jane said...

Thanks, Anne. We seem to thing alike about many things!

girasoli said...

Hi Jane, I have mixed feelings on travel today vs travel in 1999 (my first trip to Europe). I was just starting to learn to use the internet back then and there wasn't that much travel info out there. I still used a travel agent to book my hotels. I like having more control over booking hotels, seeing more reviews, etc. but I do miss all the surprises that I encountered during my first trip. I still remember my first view of Piazza del Campo in Siena, the Duomo in Florence, Vernazza, the view when you leave the train station in Venice, the view of the Arena in Verona. Today, I would have seen tons of photos from every angle first and it would definitely not have been as exciting as emotionally moving as my first views of Italy were back in 1999. Today, you can even see street views on google map!

For your letter...I am giving you the letter i (I put it in small case so it would not be confused with L). Have fun!!