Archive for March, 2010

The Other Side of the World

The sun was at its highest when my father and I reached the isolated beach. A small woman sat alone on a piece of driftwood, perfecting the mid-day Indonesian art of doing absolutely nothing. She looked as though she had been sitting there her entire life, staring out at the ocean and the volcanoes beyond Bunaken Island.

“Selamat sore, Abigail,” my father said, waving. The woman nodded.

Behind her was the most primitive house I had seen ever seen: Its roof made of thatched palm leaves, its sides of sagging palm bark, the old shack looked as though a castaway had desperately thrown it together, plopping it down amid a tangle of rainforest.

“Is Silas in the ocean?” my dad asked.

The woman nodded again, her eyes smiling this time. I guessed she was Silas’ wife.

Hours ago, we had woken early to go snorkeling, rolling out of our hostel beds and stepping into the soft-lit morning. We had sat with the other travelers in the open-air eating area, picking at our rice and fried eggs.

I felt like I should talk to them. I felt like I should have stayed up late with the flirty Swedish girl, getting drunk and swooning over the tall, blond German as he played guitar. But I was uncomfortable with it all. These young travelers—ambling out into the morning, tan and careless in sarongs—felt more foreign to me than my father’s Indonesian wife.

“After snorkeling, we’ll visit Silas on the other side of the island,” my dad said, putting down his fork.

Three hours later, we ended up here in a small fishing boat a few miles away from the hostel, watching Silas continually emerge from the water and go back down again. Finally, he stood up, dripping in a black shirt.

“I got one!” he yelled. A mess of tentacles dangled from the hook in his hand.

Silas had been out spear-fishing for octopus when my father stumbled on this beach a few years back, and every visit since, this was where my father found him—in the water, searching for these coveted creatures that went for a high price.

He had a penchant for talking like few Indonesians I’d met. While his wife sat beside him, he told us how few octopus were hiding in the coral these days. He talked of his Sunday walks through the rain forest to attend church in the nearby village, about his daughter who had left them to live there. Water, he said, came rushing in their house every time it rained.

My father asked if he ever considered moving into the village.

“I’ve spent my entire life here,” he said plainly, shaking his head. “My father built this house.” Chickens circled around his feet.

I thought of the young travelers back at the hostel, the girls laughing in the hammocks, the boys lining up empty beers. I had come to the other side of the island, but it felt like the other side of the world.

This post has been entered into the Grantourismo-HomeAway travel writing competition. You can visit HomeAway Holiday-Rentals here.

Does this piece resonate with you? Have you had experiences like this? I’d love to hear about them!


A Good Day for Little Publications and Hopeful Reporters

I’m nursing a wrist injury, so I must keep this short, unfortunately:

I regularly contribute to a weekly paper here in Annapolis, MD, and I recently wrote a piece for them about PRS guitars (a local, but world famous company that handcrafts guitars), and how federal stimulus money is coming to its rescue.

Word on the street is the little weekly made it to the white house, and everyone there has been circulating the story around, totally digging it.

Lovely news that I just wanted to share. Wish I could write more.

J-School: A Cause for Celebration and Neurotic Questioning

I came home last night to an acceptance letter — to Columbia University’s School of Journalism. And I was floored.

I felt high on the fumes of giddy excitement, but also just…strange.  I didn’t go the straight arrow route of trying to become a journalist. I was always a a poet, a dreamy kid who sort of floated through life. I barely knew what was going on outside of my head.

But at some point along the path of my 20s, I changed — dramatically. I am still a poet and a fiction writer, but I am now fascinated by journalism, in love with reporting, and feel that, if done well and with deep and real care, journalism can affect the course of the human story . It doesn’t let us ignore others’ narratives to simplify our own. It challenges not just the way we think, but the way we live. It makes what’s going on thousands of miles away more urgent than the difficulties of our day.  I dig it. (And in terms of creative writing, it gives you worlds more to write about that the halls of MFA academia ever will.)

So after freelancing for a year, I decided to apply to Columbia, thinking it was a real long shot, thinking the liberal elite, “best-j-school-around” would see that I was smart and had potential, but that I just wasn’t the right “fit,” that I hadn’t done all the right things — run a school newspaper, intern somewhere important, devote the entire trajectory of my life from the age of 6 to journalism. I’m a waitress. I don’t own a car or television. I can’t seem to get the money together to get a decent haircut. I grew up in a family living on the fringe, moving from eviction letter to eviction letter. I live more responsibly than that now, but I am still on that fringe. I’m used to it.

But I am also tired of it. Everyday I wake up dreading having to go the restaurant. I am constantly feeling like I’d give anything for more time to write — and report.

So I applied to Columbia on a lark.

I am thrilled. Very thrilled. I know I want this. But I’m also conflicted. Is it worth it to accrue more debt? Is it silly to pursue journalism right now, given the state of things? Will this screw any future of more travel, or will it open up more opportunities? Should I just keep freelancing and waitressing until something breaks for me? I used to jump into things unthinkingly when I was younger. Let me tell you, I’m a lot more cautious these days. Even afraid.

I’m largely self-taught, so the idea of learning from a veteran New York Times reporter is inspiring. The dream of getting to spend the majority of my time writing and reporting is incredible, unfathomable. But more than anything, Columbia just seems like a door-opener — to a world I’ve always only peered into. From a huge distance. Hell, I don’t even live on the outskirts.

I’m making no decisions until I see that aid letter in April. But I’m still gonna celebrate!

What does everyone think? Please weigh in!

The Stories that Homes Tell, Real or Imagined

When I was 20 and living in New York City, I dated a man whose mother was a very wealthy art dealer. She owned a vacation home in Long Island, a nineteenth century, wrap around porch house that, more than the short-lived relationship, sticks with me — its slate colored floors, its high ceilings, its antique finishing, its spare, elegant, protestant charm.

We visited it most in autumn, and what I remember vividly about each visit are the bike rides, the shafts of lights coming through all those leaves, the big, old houses moving slowly past us like film stills. And the conversations that ensued:

“It’s quiet here.”

“I know. I like it.”

“Maybe we could leave the city.”

“You think?”

“What about this yellow one?”

“Yeah, I like it.” And I’d smile, knowing that, for me, it was a fantasy. He was older, wanted to settle down, buy a house. I was 20, and imagining –perhaps irresponsibly—what that would be like.

One of my favorite things to do when I’m traveling is look at houses, to walk aimlessly through an anonymous neighborhood, surveying not so much the people in their homes, but the spaces themselves. In my head, I empty them out, ready for fantasy’s taking. Then I arrange a life for myself there.

I admit, it’s a strange activity for a traveler — especially for one who believes that she’ll probably never own a home, who shies away from domestic nesting rituals, and who has never lived in one apartment or house longer than two years.

Or maybe not. I wonder if, in all my travels and moving, that’s what I’m secretly hoping to hit upon — the right house, in the right place, at the right time. Or maybe it is just one aspect of a long-term traveler’s deepest impulse, the impulse to understand what it would be to live in a place, to know its underbelly, its routine, its annoyances, its quirks of character. Part of that, for sure, is about the fantasy — the need to imagine yourself out of the tedium of your own life, the thirst I felt at 20 for the space and freedom my broke, cramped lived in New York couldn’t give me.

But aside from the fantasy is the actual story. What I love about neighborhoods is the quiet histories they tell. I spent a good deal of my recent trip to Newport Beach, CA just walking through neighborhoods, guided by my friend who has spent most of her life there.

There’s an odd, disembodied feeling to being in Southern California — the wide, perfectly paved expressways, the empty sidewalks, the weather’s sameness. Like you’re floating, with eerie ease, atop a mirage of a world.

What makes that feeling even more intense is the strange way the new houses and developments there are trying to trump the unique landscape, trying, with their three-lot-five-house-wide-stucco-imitation-ranch-style-BRIGHT-color -choices to say: Land? What land? Don’t look at those silly palm trees and crystal water. Don’t smell the gardenias that waft through the air everywhere you go. Look at me. Me is what Southern California is all about.

As Nouveau Riche as this all is, this typically Californian in-with-the-new, out-with-the-tasteful tells us more about the history of place than it means to. As it always does. There, sitting next to a modest, pale blue one story, that lot-swallowing monstrosity tells us a lot. Tells us about the way the beach town used to be, and where it’s going. Tells us how the people’s lives, values, and desires have changed. And that little beach house, just built in the 70s actually inspires nostalgia, a hankering for a quieter, more nuanced time that maybe never existed. But it at least creates the vision of history, and the sense of loss that goes along with it.

Maybe it’s just this impulse towards story. The strange need to take details and make them into a narrative, imagined or real. A kind of travel of its own.

About Simone Gorrindo

Simone Gorrindo is a freelance journalist, poet, and travel writer who can't stay put.


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