"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in travel (3)


Points of Interest



We used to play a game in Berkeley called Points of Interest. You opened old books and magazines and circled with a magic marker little details of whatever caught your eye. Richard and I will approach our past weekend in Honfleur, on the Normandie coast, by playing this game.

We arrive in Le Havre by train from Paris at two on a Friday and find that Avis, the only rental car company in town, is closed from noon to 4 p.m. Seriously? Can you imagine such a lack of entrepreneurial spirit in any major U.S. city?

On the drive to Honfleur, our Moroccan-French cab driver tells us about places to visit in Morocco, and about the anti-terrorist security there, more rigorous than in France. Just what we need to hear to make that trip.

At the top of our building on rue Lucie Delarue Mardus we find our Airbnb apartment:



Green hills rise to the south, the mouth of the Seine to the north.

The Pont de Normandie spanning the Seine with its spider web pattern, mirrored by three delicate spider weavings outside the windows to the south.

What a pleasing sense of color the owner, Beatrice, has!



Celery green, a color I’d never think to use on kitchen walls, echoed in the couch, splashes of red and bright patterns on the throw pillows.

Look at the array of colors in the scissors and knife handles.

A basket of talking sticks, or—what are they?


A meander around town looking for a restaurant open at 5 pm. Snacks, yes, but we’re in France. Most open at 7 p.m. We settle for galettes.

A visit to friends in the country. Donkeys, white horses, fields of long-legged stallions.


A cab driver who slows down, warns of boars crossing the road.  I remember the scene in the film “La Reine Margot” where King Charles IX’s treacherous brother, the Duke of Anjou, lures him on a boar hunt in the forest where he is left to die from a ravaging boar, before his friend, the future Henri IV, comes to his rescue.

A long conversation with Richard about one of the wellsprings of his latest struggle with paralyzing depression: disappointment at not having mastered French in his last course at the Sorbonne, or the one before that at Alliance Française, or the five years of daily attempts at conversation.

How hard on yourself you are! Let’s approach learning French like children, who only want to connect! Let’s approach it like buddhas and laugh at ourselves! Let’s be surrealists and speak French, Spanish and English all at once, as Salvador Dali and our friend Jane Eliot did over dinner! We decide to take an immersion course together.

Reading a memoir that my friend Diane lent me, A Woman in Berlin, about the last months of World War II in Berlin, when German women were raped multiple times a day by Russian soldiers, written anonymously because the shame and repression of returning German soldiers was so profound. An eloquent document about the cost of war.


Richard is reading Swerve; How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt about the effect the poet Lucretius had on the Enlightenment, on Renaissance artists, and on my beloved Montaigne.


Flâneuring around town together and seeing a wedding outside the oldest wooden church in France, l’Église Sainte-Catherine, its bell tower in a separate building so the parishioners wouldn’t perish in case of a fire if it was struck by lightning.



The town reminds me of Bergen from which my maternal ancestors left for America during the mid-nineteenth century.

Small white gulls swooping above the harbor, making me think of my sister, Jane.


Handsome schooners lining the Vieux Bassin—memories of my years living on a schooner, as cook.

A sullen North African-looking man on a motorbike, with boom box blasting hostile rap. I give him a thumb’s up and he flashes a bashful grin.

Picking L’Hippocampe for dinner, and savoring a plate of choucroute with every kind of seafood: salmon, cabillaud, bream, langoustine, mussels, shrimp.

Richard urging me to write about my years on The Flying Cloud, the characters packed in, ten to the schooner, the groupies the single men attracted, the famous rock singers moored nearby in Lido Shipyard and Catalina Island, the stress for an introvert of communal living, dawning feminist awareness.

Struck by the mythical resonance of the seahorse, the hippocampe, one of Poseidon’s emblems, and our talk about a story of the sea. 

The English man and woman at the next table who strike up a conversation with me when Richard leaves the table for a moment after dinner. The Englishman is a weight lifter, who cheers the Brexit decision, says he didn’t like NYC because there were “too many foreigners there.” Code for racism, which Richard catches on his return, and refuses to engage in, walking out of the restaurant to go photograph the port at night.


L’esprit d’escalier: the too-late comeback that occurs to you on the staircase after you leave: You mean a foreigner like you? Everyone in America is a foreigner except Native Americans.

Glimpses of the Seine to our left on the train back to Paris. One white swan. An egret.

The big-bellied train conductor, to whom we offer some Algerian Deglet Nour dates and two kinds of cheese. He turns up his nose. “I only eat fresh Medjool dates,” he says. “That cheese,” he says, pointing to Richard’s, “is industrial cheese. But the Camembert looks good.” Ah, these wonderful discerning French, experts in all matters of taste.



Travel Hell (Crete, Part One)


At Paris security check-in: a stack of trays, a line of travelers waiting for space on the conveyor belt. Someone has left his bag in the tray on top of the column. Several men stand behind the stack, nonchalantly chatting, blocking other travelers in front of them from getting trays.

“Whose bag is this?” I ask.

The man lifts it (insolently), as I pick up a tray, plops it back in before I can take a second one.

The Australian woman between the man and me says, “Travel has gotten unbearable.”

“Hasn’t it though.” 


One of my bags is held up. Whoops, I forgot to throw away my dangerous weapon, that bottle of water. The security agent asks if I’d like to drink it. Such an unexpected courtesy in today’s travel. Yes! Apologize and thank her.

In seats past security, Richard and I lace up our shoes. The Australian woman is nearby with a girl who looks like her daughter.

I go up to her. “I just want to say I think the whole world is divided between people like you who are awake, and people like that narcissistic egotist who put his bag on top of the stack of trays.”

Wasn’t he terrible?” she says. “He shoved in line between me and my daughter.”

“Just charming.”

“Thank you for saying this to me.”


Richard and I find seats in the gate area with two and a half hours to wait for our plane. To the right, several young men on high stools play video games. The varieties of mindless escape are everywhere and multiplying.

In a café area to the left, a man and woman in their late 40s, she with lips so swollen she looks like a blowfish, hair pulled back tight and blonde on her skull.

R.: “Do you think she’s had plastic surgery?”

K: “Ha ha, more like plastic savagery.”

The boys get up from their seats. A camera case remains on one stool. Richard grabs it, chases the departing young men.

“No,” says one. “It was there when we sat down.”

Richard opens it. There’s a memory card inside, no identification. “I’ll look at it when we get home to see if there are pictures that would identify the owner. What a lousy end to a Paris vacation, losing your photographs.” He goes to find a bathroom.


I open a paperback Richard found at a Left Bank bouquiniste, Joseph Campbell’s Myths to Live By. He quotes from R.D. Laing’s The Politics of Experience, about the briefly schizophrenic/shamanic experience of Jesse Watkins, a British wartime naval officer, now a sculptor:

“The voyager, as he tells, had a “particularly acute feeling” that the world he now was experiencing was established on three planes, with himself in the middle sphere, a plane of higher realizations above, and a sort of waiting-room plane beneath. … According to Jesse Watkins, most of us are on the lowest level, waiting (en attendant Godot, one might say), as in a general waiting room; not yet in the middle room of struggle and quest at which he himself had arrived. He had feelings of invisible gods above, about, and all around, who were in charge, and running things; and in the highest place, the highest job, was the highest god of all.

“Those all around him in the madhouse were on their ways—awakening—to assume in their own time that top position, and the one now up there was God. God was a madman. He was the one that was bearing it all: 'this enormous load,' as Watkins phrased it, 'of having to be aware and governing and running things.' 'The journey is there and every single one of us' he reported, 'has got to go through it, and you can’t dodge it, and the purpose of everything and the whole of existence is to equip you to take another step, and another step, and another step, and so on….'"

With ten minutes to boarding, I go to the restroom, get in line. A tall drag-queenish woman with long black hair butts in front of me, J’étais ici. She and a smaller blond woman in glittery tops and glittery purses with chunky chains, shout Arabic at each other in guttural voices.


Onto the plane. Richard has paid for seats at the wing exit so that we have extra leg room. His clammy hands signal his nervousness before flying.

An announcement: there will be a delay due to mechanical problems, which they hope to be able to fix. Terrific, just what Richard needs, proof that he has good cause to worry.



We talk. I read Myths to Live By.

“Astonishment! There is no “other” shore. There is no separating stream; no ferryboat, no ferryman; no Buddhism, no Buddha. The former, unilluminated notion that between bondage and freedom, life in sorrow and the rapture of Nirvana, a distinction is to be recognized and a voyage undertaken from one to the other, was illusory, mistaken. This world that you and I are here experiencing in pain through time, on the plane of consciousness of the ji hokkai, is, on the plane of consciousness of ri hokkai, nirvanic bliss; and all that is required is that we should alter the focus of our seeing and experiencing.

“But is that not exactly what the Buddha taught and promised, some twenty-five centuries ago? Extinguish egoism, with its desires and fears, and Nirvana is immediately ours! We are already there, if we but knew. This whole broad earth is the ferryboat, already floating at dock in infinite space; and everybody is on it, just as he is, already at home. That is the fact that may suddenly hit one, as “sudden illumination.”

45 minutes later we lift off. We pass over an extraordinary range of mountain peaks, high, jagged, capped with snow.

What are they? I want to know the names of these peaks and islands farther on. I listen carefully to the steward's announcements over the loud speaker. He sounds like Peter Sellers playing a role in which he’s messing around with the passengers by speaking French that’s too rapid and muffled to hear, English that’s even worse, with an atrocious accent added to the mix.  I glance over at a Frenchman to our left. He shrugs, hands up.



I’ll ask a flight attendant. I take the flight magazine’s map of Europe to the back of the plane, ask the attendant in French if he would mind marking our path on the map. He’ll ask the pilot, he says.

“Do you know which island we just passed over?”

“Grow a sea.”

“Could you please repeat that?”

“Grow a sea.”

“What is the word in English?”

“I’m not sure. Grow AH sea?”

Back in my seat, I turn the word over in my mind. Surely I know this island. I’ve traveled this part of Europe and the Mediterranean before. Sudden illumination—Croatia! Maybe it’s the island of Zlarin, from which Richard’s paternal ancestors came, six generations ago.

The flight of three and a half hours seems swift. Just before we disembark, the flight attendant brings me the map, with an arrow passing from Paris south to the Adriatic Sea between Italy and Croatia, and down to Crete.


Everyone cheers as we land. The majority of passengers seem amazed that we made it.

At Nikos Kazantzakis Airport in Iraklion, we wait at Carousel Three for our bags. Mine arrives at last. Richard’s doesn’t.



We file a claim at the Transavia Airlines office. The agent, a dark-haired woman in her 30s, seems entirely relaxed. Much too relaxed, as if this happens all the time. Or is this just the Cretan manner, I remember now, no tension, no worry?

Our taxi driver finds us, shows us the sign with Richard’s name. His name is Constantine, he’d waited an hour outside, was worried.

“Does this happen often?” I ask the agent.

“Once in a while,” she says, as if, yes, bags do wander off to Switzerland or Sweden or right into someone’s home in Iraklion.

“Is there much theft of bags here?” She doesn’t seem to understand.

“Is it likely we’ll get the bag back?”

“Oh yes, probably by tomorrow night. We’ll send it to your hotel.”


Constantine has bottles of water waiting in his shiny black Mercedes taxi. He drives fast and expertly along the coast from Iraklion to the Mirabello Hotel. I ask him if he grew up on Crete. Yes, he did, in Aghios Nikolaos.

“And do you like living there?”

“Yes. But the Germans ruined our economy. The Euro austerity is hurting everyone.”

Richard asks him if we might stop at a market before arriving at the hotel. It is late, past 9:30.

Constantine calls the market, asks them to stay open for us, and they do. (Now here is one advantage of living in a small town.) The market is open all along its front, packed with racks of T-shirts, boogie boards, sunglasses, tanning lotions, and directly across from the hotel. This shocking hotel—how greatly it has changed since our honeymoon and marriage here in 1997!


A smiling golden-skinned Cretan woman greets us shyly at the entrance to the market.

Another older woman, radiant, benevolent, welcomes us from behind the cash register. 

We find oranges, bananas, plums, Greek yogurt, walnuts, almonds, rosemary and olive leaf crackers, and six-packs of our two kinds of water, bubbly and plain. Pay and get into the cab with our bags to drive across the street.

The Mirabello Hotel, an earthy, funky, intimate place to stay right on the Cretan Sea. We’d stayed in a bungalow here to rest after a five-week honeymoon all over Europe. We’d had the vision here of how to shape our marriage vows right before the celebration with family and friends at Elounda Beach.


Only now! Now it is a mega-hotel, glossy, glassy, mammoth and utterly changed. In the lobby, deafening drums, the blasting sounds of disco. Huge sweep of marble counters, bare hard floor. The hotel clerk, a grim but efficient young Russian woman. We sign in and are immediately charged for ten days upfront.

We’re taken to the “village” across the street. The stone paths and planting remind us of Enchantment in Arizona; the white-washed bungalows, of Mykonos. The room opens onto a private patio and the sea, a net of jewels spread out in the town across the bay. 

Richard has told them we’d been married here, were returning to renew our vows. On the table is an array of fruit—watermelon! pineapple!—and a bottle of champagne on ice. Rose petals are strewn across the pale blue coverlet. Rose petals float in the bathtub and across the counter and sink. Ah, this blissful world!





Companions in Flight


Paris to Chicago

A mother and her young daughter sit in the seats in front of me. The mother sends clear signals to the girl: Don’t bother me. Leave me alone.



The carpet of green and gold covering la belle France.

The sheen on the sheet of sea below.

The girl migrates to an unoccupied center seat to my right to watch the in-flight movie. She is blonde with deep brown eyes, solemn and anxious, perhaps eight years old. When the film is over, the girl turns to her journal, writes a few words, then draws for a few pages. She keeps glancing up to see if her mother might be looking back at her. Throughout the flight, she moves back and forth between her mother’s side and her solitary seat. The mother seems to be awake, but unwilling to give her daughter any sign of warmth or reassurance.



Street Art by Fred le Chevalier

Each time the girl returns to the seat across the aisle from me, she looks dejected. I lean over and say, “I think you’re going to be a writer when you grow up.”

She looks startled. Am I talking to her? Someone has noticed her? She’s really visible? I see by the swift changes of expression on her face that she is shy, is not sure what to say—have I observed her secret, that she fears that she is unloved and unlovable? After a full minute, she says, “An artist. I want to be an artist.”

She shows me photos of her dog, Athena.

Strange synchronicity. I had just been thinking about Athena, the goddess of temperate measure. In the flurry of getting ready to fly out of town, I was reminded once again that my tendency towards expansiveness needs tempering with Athena measure.



Zeus is loose, but Athena is meanuh.

Keeping a home in order? Easy. But keeping papers organized? That’s my challenge. I decide that on returning to Paris, I’ll spend one day a week putting files, papers, writing in order.

Right after this, I walked to the back of the plane where a flight attendant was reading “Stealing Athena.” Now, within the space of fifteen minutes, here is a third reference to Athena. What do you call that? It seems to me more than coincidence, like some sort of indication that something’s trying to get through to you from the realm of the invisible.

The young girl and I talk about her dog and her two cats and her mouse and her chicken.

Before we disembark, I say to her mother, “Your daughter is enchanting.”

She looks surprised. This little pest? her expression seems to say.



Denver to Phoenix

Beside me, two young sisters discuss the play they’ve just seen, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The 15-year-old: “Shakespeare was a playwright who lived in the 1600s.”

The 8-year-old: “I may not know who Shakespeare is, but I’m not dumb!”

The 15-year-old: “I know, you liked Puck best.”

I confirm that the two are sisters, and their ages. I’ve guessed the older’s, but the younger is actually nine years old. They both seem French somehow, the understated style of their clothes. And yes, their family lived in Bordeaux for four years, and now they live in Phoenix.



Phoenix to Denver

The man coming up the aisle is young and muscular, with an open face, and a T-shirt featuring a skull. He sees me lifting my suitcase overhead, and offers to help—gladly accepted—then indicates the middle seat beside me.

We talk about the Colorado fires. He’s hoping to get home in time to get a few hours sleep before a job that begins at dawn.

I ask him about the skull tattoos up and down his arms.

“Oh,” he says, looking embarrassed. “I got those when I was 14. Ran wild for a while. Not much supervision from my family. But I guess I turned out all right. Wife and kids and a house, and I just turned 30.”

As we land in Denver, he turns on his cell phone. His phone plays a recording of demented children’s laughter, echo of his earlier days as a wild child.



Denver to Chicago

He is big-bellied, stocky, with the ruddy face of someone who works outdoors. He looks like a shorter Ernest Hemingway.

I write two letters, to my mother and brother, before asking him what the current U.S. postage is.

44 cents, he says.

I’m glad that I finished the letters first, because this man needs to talk.

“I been cowboyin’ all my life,” he says, and tells me a story about the widow on whose ranch he works. “She’s rich and mean. She pays everyone who works for her minimum wage.”

She questioned his wages once. He told her, “‘I charge you what I charge everyone. Go ahead and hire someone else.’ That shut her up.”

He tells me today has been the worst day of his life. His flight was cancelled and changed four times. “I got up at 6 to get ready for the flight and found my favorite mule, Miss Cassie, dead. We got animals buried all over the property, but I didn’t have time to dig her a grave. By the time I get back, the coyotes and vultures will have picked her clean.”

His eyes brim. “Guy I know said she was the best mule he ever met. She was.”

He doesn’t try to hide his tears. I say, “I think the spirits of everything we’ve ever loved remain.”

He tells me that when they moved into their house, his daughter saw a cowboy sitting on her bed, chewing a wad of tobacco. “We found out he’d died in the house. She’s seen him a bunch of times. Talks with him. He doesn’t cause no trouble, but he used to live there. My daughter’s the only one who can see him.”

I tell him about the ghost of Ronald Colman in our former Playa del Rey house. We felt him on the stairs. He was a benevolent spirit. He and his wife loved each other, and they entertained a lot in the house.

But once when my niece and her boyfriend, Eric, were housesitting, he felt Ronald sit down on the bed in our bedroom. “He was cold, so cold,” he said, “and he tried to drag me West into the sea.”



Chicago to Paris

She has thick brown hair past her waist, large blue eyes, a beautiful face. She’s a wholesome American girl about 16.

She tells me she’s on her way to Kenya on a mission.

“You’re Christian?”

“Baptist,” she says. She’s with a group of young people from her church in Kentucky. They are returning to Nairobi, where they’ll travel to Kenyan villages, bringing wheelchairs and medical and food supplies, as well as the word of Christ.

“When I go into someone’s hut, the families are so full of joy, grateful for what they have. They show us their chairs. They love what they have, they’re proud of their huts and chairs.

“You come back to the U.S., and you feel like a spoiled brat. The only reason I think I need an iPhone is because I see them advertised, and I see my friends with them. If I never saw ads, I would be perfectly happy with what I have.

“We travel with a backpack and six blouses and one skirt for three weeks. My mom had to help me pack. At home, I have closets full of clothes. In Kenya, we have to dress modestly, and wear long skirts.”

We talk about my high school, the uniforms we wore.

“I wish I went to a school where you wear uniforms. Then I wouldn’t spend so much time every morning trying to decide what to wear.

“Do you believe in Christ?” she asks, eyes huge, pupils dilated.



“I believe Christ lived. And so did the Buddha. And many other prophets and sages and divinities.”

She looks uneasy with this response.

“I think Christ had a transformative effect on Western culture,” I add.

She nods. “Do you believe in Heaven and Hell?”

“I believe—no, I’ve experienced—that life doesn’t end with death, that something in the spirits of people we’ve loved survives.”

“And everyone is saved. People confuse the Baptists with the Southern Baptists. We believe that everyone is saved.”

She tells me that she’s trying to get on Kenya time, and that she’ll sleep with her head on a pillow on her food tray.

Minutes after our take off, she is asleep. I decide that I, too, will try to get in synch with Paris time. And for the first time ever, I fall asleep on a plane.

But my flight companion is as jumpy as water on a hot skillet. She flails in her sleep, with elbows, knees and feet knocking me in the knees and arms, until I finally give up on getting any sleep myself.

I watch the soundless drama overhead. It's an American film about the search for a mysterious island, and features a teenager who clearly knows more about everything on earth than his clueless parents.

I open my French novel, “The Elegance of the Hedgehog.” In the same building in Paris live a lonely concierge named Renée who devours literature and chocolate, and a young girl named Paloma who is trying to save her own life by keeping a journal of words and images. And then a Japanese man named Kakuro moves into their building...