Monday, October 27, 2014

Yankee Vagabond

Having had a chance recently to exercise by vagabond nature, I have been thinking about where it came from.

It may genetic.  It certainly feels as if it is coming from every cell in my body.  If I wasn’t born with a wanderlust, I acquired one so shortly thereafter that I cannot remember a time when I didn’t long to hit the road—to see the world. Not to vacation.  To travel.

A book and a few pieces of music stirred these longings when I was very young.

As a child, most of what I read came from the nearby public library, but the one book we had a home—called the Wonder Book of Knowledge as I recall—had everything to fire a child’s imagination.  A huge volume, with a blue linen cover, at least five inches thick, it contained an encyclopedia, a collection of children’s stories, brain teasers and riddles, glossy pages showing the flags of all nations and birds and animals of the world.  And best of all, an atlas.  My brother and I would lie on the living room floor for hours on end, pouring over the maps.  I especially liked ones that showed small islands off exotic coasts, remote and intriguing.  I would point to a tiny pink speck in the blue ocean off a pale green coast and say, “Imagine going to a place like that.”

My brother and me about the time the bug bit me.


When I was four and five, my father was in China, sent there with a battalion of US Marines who had fought in the Pacific.  They went to accept the Japanese surrender in Tsingtao and were kept on to oversee the repatriation of Japanese prisoners of war.  The letters and cards he sent during his six months there came to us with pictures of people the likes of which I had never seen, but whom I wished I could know.  And I missed my daddy so much that when, during my first week in kindergarten, the teacher asked us “What do you want to do when you grow up?” my answer was, “When I grow up, I am going to go to China.”



The first song I heard that talked of wanderlust was probably the one written by Puccini.  The recording in my house in those days was Caruso’s.  Here is Luciano Pavarotti’s rendition.  The aria is from Madama Butterfly and contains the words “Yankee vagabondo,” the title of this blog.  It begins “Dovunque al mondo”—wherever in the world.  That was where I wanted to go:  wherever in the world, because so many far off places promised to be fascinating, filled with wonders.  Listen carefully and you will hear the magic word:  L’aventura!



In my very early years, our big Philco radio broadcast songs that fanned those flames of intrigue.  Songs whose lyrics attached specific destinations to my longing for the far away.  Here are a couple of big hits from the 40’s with words I learned by heart without effort before I was eight years old, since I heard them so often and they spoke to my soul:





Maps and music formed an important part of who I became and still am—a creature who longs to be on the move.

When I was leaving for my recent trip to Africa, people I know voiced dire warnings—of Ebola, of terrorists, of the everyday slings and arrows of being alone in a foreign land.   They tried to talk me out of going.  But I know who I am.  So I went, and I would not have missed it for anything.


We are all going to die of something.  If I could have my choice, rather than die quietly in a hospital with a tube up my nose, rather than the security of going nowhere, I would choose to die of adventure.


Annamaria - Monday

13 comments:

  1. Lovely post, Annamaria. Few people would want to die thinking: "Well, at least I stayed absolutely safe!"
    Michael.

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    1. Thank you, Michael. You and I would not want to do so, but we are birds of a feather. There seem to be a lot of people who behave as if they would prefer safety over all considerations. I have cousins who grew up with me in New Jersey, who never even come to New York. I have crossed the Atlantic more times than they have crossed the Hudson. I am sure they think me very odd, if not outright foolish for going the places I do.

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  2. You're still cute as a button...with or without your pants properly tucked inside your boots.;)

    My children have often cautioned me about going out to work alone as I do in the woods. They worry If something happened to me the bears would get to me before the medics.

    "Hey, imagine the story you'll be able to tell my grandchildren," I say. "'Your grandpappy was eaten by a b'ar.'"

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    1. Yup, Jeff. At least your kids are expressing concern for you in the process. Apropos of my satiric blog about the ebola scare, I wonder if those who warned me off traveling ever jaywalk while talking on their phones.

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  3. I've done enough traveling to know that I'm perfectly happy at home most of the time. I'm one of those who 'travel' in my mind, exploring vistas and ideas that are unreachable anywhere via physical travel. Physically traveling to other locals disrupts that ability, in much the same way that your passion would be disrupted if you were told that you could travel anywhere in the world that you want... but you have to be back home every evening before dark. :-) Or maybe it's not "in much the same way," maybe it's more of "in the inverse way?"

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    1. EvKa (a nickname, by the way, that calls to my mind the wise ruler of a sane society on a far away planet) I think people either have the wanderlust or they don't--like blue eyes or double-jointed thumbs. I embrace my rambling' nature, though some think it's a reckless form of insanity.

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    2. Or is it an insane form of recklessness?

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  4. Nice blog, Annamaria. I'm rediscovering my wanderlust. In fact, the thought of committing myself to living in one place for the foreseeable future does not exactly fill me with glee.

    And your comment about your friends who rarely cross the Hudson reminds me of a story I heard about some friends of friends who were born on the Isle of Man, which has an area of only approximately 220sq miles. The daughter and her boyfriend decided to move out of one of the main towns, Douglas, further inland -- a distance of less than ten miles. Her parents warned, "None of your friends will ever come and see you if you move so far away ..."

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    1. Zoe, "Far" can mean such different things to different people. Sometimes I think we define it by the space we need to feel free. In my young soul, that distance was 18 miles, the length of the road from my childhood home to New York City. Many of my relatives were completely flummoxed by my desire to escape even that far. I hope those two kids got away, even if it was only ten miles.

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  5. What a wonderful post! And, my sentiments exactly. Except that I am always fearful when I'm planning a trip and setting out. Always sure that something dreadful will happen. But I do it anyway. And once I've gotten to where I'm going, the fear falls away.

    And I love that Jo Stafford song!

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    1. (Patsy Cline also did an awesome version of that song!)

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    2. We are sisters under the skin, Lisa. I don't get anxious during the planning stages because I do it so far in advance. But before I left for Kenya--for about ten days--I had all sorts of psychosomatic symptoms. I powered through the terror that tried to overtake me. All signs of illness disappered two hours after takeoff from JFK.
      The Patsy Cline version is also in my playlist!

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    3. I am generally ok once I hit the airport, have checked my bag and have settled in for a ceremonial pre-trip beer or glass of wine. :)

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