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Notes on My Father

James OReilly Travelers' Tales ePub

KATE McCAHILL

Notes on My Father

She takes an anthropological view of a parent.

There aren’t any seats left in the Calcutta domestic terminal, so my father and I sit on our packs. We lean against the grimy wall and pass a bag of nuts back and forth, nuts that have come as far as we have—all the way from Lake Placid, New York. We left for India two days ago, and now, five flights and two airport breakfasts later, we are propped up against these gray airport walls watching the display as it ticks away the names of this nation’s cities. People line up and shuffle out the big main door towards their planes. While they wait to exit through that door, women breastfeed their babies and grandmothers nap. Ladies adjust their veils, lengths of translucent emerald and saffron and turquoise fabric. Fathers buy sandwiches and fat samosas from the snack stand near the bathrooms. My father takes it all in, his latest book unopened in his hands, his khakis creased from all this time wearing them. He is taller than everyone else in this room, but people have grown tired of looking over at us, and so now we’re just being ignored. We’ve accepted that we’ll never get a seat while we wait; speedy grandmothers hover over the emptying ones, poised to rush in and occupy.

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Engagement Ceremony

James OReilly Travelers' Tales ePub

CAROL SEVERINO

Engagement Ceremony

It’s all relative—that is, becoming family in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

My son Mike and my assigned husband Bolívar explained to me what will happen during the pactachina1, the Quichua engagement ceremony. They even told me why we must display to the future bride’s family both humility and wealth—a kind of reverse dowry of subservience and material goods given by the groom’s family in exchange for the bride. But I am not prepared for how long I have to petition for her, kneeling on the hard cement floor, crawling from one set of grandparents, godparents, and uncle-aunt pairs to the next, along an endless receiving line. Why is it taking so long to move down the row, especially since the ceremony was supposed to have begun hours ago? My knees and back are killing me, but all of Jacqui’s relatives to whom I must appeal are sitting comfortably in chairs.

I feel sorry not only for myself, but also for the musicians, a violinist and drummer, who must sing, Greek-chorus style, a monotonous litany of what is happening during this supplication process called the pedida: “Now Angel, the groom’s godfather, is asking the bride’s grandmother for her hand. Now the groom’s father Bolívar is asking the godfather and godmother. Here comes the groom’s mother asking the bride’s uncle and aunt.” That very morning Mike had to take the bus to their village and drag the musicians here himself. Without the visaru and the tocadur and only the discomóvil for music, the ceremony would not be a traditional pactachina. To prove himself worthy masha (son-in-law) who is integrated into the Quichua community in the Ecuadorian Amazon, and not just any Peace Corps Volunteer, Mike wants to do the right thing, exactly as his stand-in godfather and actual village sponsor Angel has taught him.

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15. The Publisher

Peter Wortsman Travelers' Tales ePub

SMILES BREAK LIKE THE WAVES OF A PASSING SAILBOAT over the surface of his canny expression, the white curls of his short beard and close-cropped hair indistinguishable from the curling clouds of soft white smoke rising from the pipe forever clutched between his lips. Puffs of pipe smoke bracket each statement he makes. A landlocked sailor afloat in an ocean of books, he keeps lighting and stoking its bulb, his eyes glowing, ever more demonic. The coffee table between us is covered with an assortment of pipes and all the accoutrements of the pipe smoker, along with a dish of chocolate-covered marzipan squares. The big bay windows behind him face the green expanse of Charlottenburg Park. Every square inch of shelf space is lined with books by authors with familiar names, Benjamin, Hessel, Musil, Roth, calling out like old friends met unexpectedly in transit.

Propped up opposite him in an overstuffed easy chair, one knee slung over the armrest, it’s as if I’ve been sitting here forever reminiscing with Peter, an old friend of the same name, who, but for a decade’s difference in age and happenstance, might have been me.

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Introduction

Sophia Dembling Travelers' Tales ePub

WHEN I TOLD PEOPLE I WAS writing 100 Places in the USA Every Woman Should Go, their first question was usually, “What are your criteria?” Or, less eloquently, “Sez who?”

A fair enough question, to which the answer is: “Sez me.”

I did first poll friends and colleagues and got some excellent ideas from them, but in the end what we have here is an entirely subjective selection of American places I think are important or cool or fun or quintessentially American. Some are of particular relevance to women, some aren’t.

So, who am I to say so? For one thing, I love traveling in the USA, and I’ve done a lot of it. I took my first cross-country road trip with two girlfriends when I was 19 years old. At that point, I had barely left my hometown of New York City—which, like Los Angeles, both defines America and barely resembles it. I was astonished and awed as much by cornfields as mountains. The solid farmers and their stolid wives we saw in diners and truck stops were wondrous as unicorns, and Iowa and Nevada were as magical as Oz. By the time we hit California, with the whole nation stretched out behind us, I was madly in love.

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5. Of Sublime Ecstasy and Guttural Disgust

Peter Wortsman Travelers' Tales ePub

WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE GERMAN LANGUAGE THAT so moves me? That push and pull of contradictory impulses, that never-ending string of nouns and adjectives in search of a predicate verb to bind meaning, that strange amalgam of superlatives and expletives exuding sublime ecstasy and guttural disgust! German curses and cajoles, belches, farts, and philosophizes with boundless delight, then retreats suddenly, tightening its belt, squelching its own wild urges with the syntax of discipline and restraint. German sentences are chiseled, each a miniature Gothic cathedral, replete with grinning gargoyles, stained glass, and flying buttresses; each a catacomb of neatly stacked bones crowding the unconscious.

How much German infuses every fibril of my being!

Two tongues tugged at my childhood heart and mind, two takes on the world, two flavors of consciousness.

English was the public channel of communication at school and on the street, a peppermint tongue that stung and excited. German, all chocolaty, viscous, and sweet, was the private funnel of intimacy in my first generation German-speaking-Jewish immigrant family. And though I’m a native New Yorker, my emotional grounding is still and always will be in German, the dialect of that tiny city-state of five afloat in the teeming megalopolis.

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