Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rewards of Traveling

It's been a busy day but for a dedicated reader even in busy days time can be found for reading: at meals, on the subway. In the NY Times i read a quote attributed to Aldous Huxley, "To travel is to discover that everyone was wrong about other countries." I would say, rather it is to discover that every other country is like no other country. The painting of a waterfall above is by Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kalela. The article I'm reading saying he is the "natioinal Finnish painter" which would make him the equivalent of Jan Sibelius as the national composer. The Finns are a people unlike the other Scandinavians. They have one of those strange languages that is diffrerent from almost every other in the world. They have a mixed history of being ruled by Sweden and then by Russia and have only had their own country a short time.

Because I like bargains and read ads, I went to Finland a good many summers ago and found myself part of a tour group in which I was the only America. All others were Europeans. This was a strange sensation but a very interesting one. 4 or 5 English teachers were the only ones I could converse with easily, others were German, Italian and French. The guide spoke all those languages (and more!) and gave us a daily lessons in Finnish history with plenty of Sibelius played on the tour bus's speaker system. I learned more in 10 days than I had ever imagined about Finland and I loved it. A beautiful country of forests and lakes. I actually stood astride the Arctic Circle! I saw free ranging reindeer and Sami, the reindeer herders. I saw art shows but did not learn about Gallen Kalela but did learn about the Kalivala, the national epic.

To me traveling is a form of enrichment that is better than collecting gold jewelry or sporty cars or even wonderful art works. Since we're having spring-like weather, I've put my fleece robe in the laundry bag and donned the cotton batik robe I purchased in Thailand. I cannot wear it without remembering the tiny mom & pop shop in a small Thai city where gramma was stirring the big pot of indigo dye, nephew was stamping plain white cotton with a design block dipped in melted wax and other family members sewed simple garments from the batiked fabrics while yet others tended the shop that was the second story of the dying factory. My memory is full of such wonderful experiences. I may be warm in my fleece robe but I have no sentimental attachment to it. It's looking kind of tatty, I think it'll go out; but this batik robe wil never be thrown away. Yes, I know not everyone shares my interest in and love off traveling but the article quoted at the top says that tourism is the world's biggest industry, bigger even than oil! So I have lots fellowship in my wanderlust, the world is still huge, and, indeed, no country is like any other -- for Americans, you only need to cross the northern border and discover Canada is very much a place of its own although it may seem much like us superficially.

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