Travel as Metaphor

The blog of novelist Sue Swift.

Monday, September 18, 2006

September 11, 2006, or as Europeans would put it, 11 Sept…while the rest of the world is commemorating the WTC tragedy by watching TV, I chose to celebrate freedom by traveling to Europe to begin a new life. It’s 3:30 in the afternoon and I am tucked into a love seat in United’s Red Carpet Lounge at SFO sipping a Bloody Mary…it’s not as luxurious as Heathrow’s but it’s certainly more comfy than the public areas of the airport, with free booze and food, cozy chairs and lots of space to stretch out in.

I had an overexcited moment or two on the way to the airport, Oh-my-Godding a lot, but that quickly dissipated as I stood in the line for business class. One other fellow was at the counter, and he seemed to have some sort of problem that was beyond the grasp of three United ticket agents. I tapped my toes for twenty minutes until finally another agent came on duty and checked me in. Security was a breeze—thank you TSA!—and now here I am, contemplating the step I am about to take.

Eight months. Longer, if Europe welcomes me to a new way of being.

It is literally breathtaking.

6:20 and I will board in 20 minutes. I’m down in the waiting room at the gate, having noticed an immediate change in the ambience: a crying child of course.

I used to think I liked other people’s children. Right now I’m not so sure.

The jittery excitement in my belly contrasts with the tedium of waiting, which never changes even if one expects to wait. I often say, inaccurately, that I love to travel. In reality, I love to have traveled and arrived in someplace new and different.

Tomorrow I will arrive someplace not new, not different but greatly loved: England. People don’t use that term much anymore; it’s been replaced with the UK, but there’s something about the traditional placenames that thrills through the blood in a way that “The United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland” cannot. The UK is a political entity; Britain is an island and England, tradition incarnate. The pull of family and home draws me like nowhere else on earth.

More people, including the flight crew, are descending the escalator to the gate area.

My excitement mounts.


14 Sept 2006...As the days flow by, I continue to be overwhelmed by the knowledge that I'm in Europe and I never have to leave.

London was London, wonderful but lacking, for the first time, the feeling I was home. Too many cars and people for my taste. Today in Rome I have the same sense.

But I skipped ahead. The flight over was okay. Business class isn't as nice as first class no matter what anyone tells you. The difference is the chair-bed thingie. In first it's flat and wonderfully cushioned but in business it's more like a very uncomfortable chaise that doesn't tilt all the way. I did not sleep well.

But the first glimpse of England, with its green fields laid out in neat oblongs and squares, brought tears...I needed to leave my old life and create something new, and England was the first step.

One of my uncles picked me up in Heathrow, loaded me and my four enormous bags into his Peugeot station wagon and on the way to the west end, subjected me to a kindly but complete interrogation. Uncle Maurice has missed his calling. He should have been a detective. After I arrived at my auntie Roberta's flat, she followed suit, though taking her time because she knew we'd spend the next week together. Calls from my cousins followed...need I say more? I was embraced and supported, as always by my family.

Issues of life and death pursue me. One of my British uncles had a quad bypass the morning I arrived. When Roberta and I ate supper at an Indian restaurant that evening, we talked everything over...she voiced what I believe, that Keith's death was the worst thing that's ever happened to our family.

I still mourn my brother every day and think of Wendy and the boys with love, concern and pride.

Berta's flat is in St Johns Wood, a tony area in London's west end. The guest room, which also serves as her office and painting studio, opens onto the garden. It is quite lovely. When I figure out how to do it, I will add photos to this blog so all can see the garden.

I had hoped to sleep through the night but was awakened by a cranking great thunderstorm. I wrapped myself in my duvet and watched it. It was gorgeous.

The next day we went to Kilburn and bought a small case for me to take to Italy. Ryanair has imposed tight new restrictions on onboard luggage, and I hate to check bags if I can avoid it. Kilburn is different from upscale St Johns Wood, more cracked sidewalks, shabby looking immigrants and trash on the street.

We got to be early because I stupidly booked the flight for 7 in the morning from Luton to Rome's Ciampino airport. we had to leave home at 315 to get a bus from Victoria Station to Luton. I had sworn after my last early morning trip from London to Italy NEVER AGAIN but in my distracted state I booked a ridiculously early flight.

Luton's much nicer than Stansted, though, and we arrived early enough to grab a bit of breakfast at the aairport Pret à Manger. The place was full of exhausted travelers, plus a baby who screamed for at least a half-hour while we waited on the tarmac before takeoff. When we landed in ROme, we were trated to another bus ride into the city, and were deposited at Romeàs Termini.

Having sat for eight hours, Roberta and I decided to walk to our hotel. Easier said than done. Rome is not set out in a logical fashion. No grid ssytem. Few streets run for more than a few blocks before disappearing into a piazza or a roundabout. The place is full of ruins, most of which are undergoing renovation. Plus, the transit workers were out on strike, so no buses or metro...the streets were jammed with people and cars. We finally got to our hotel at 215, about the time we awakened that morning.

Exhausted, we showered and tumbled into our beds only to be awakened by another thunderstorm. How lucky can one get?


  • At 7:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm so happy you arrived safely. I've wondered about you many times. Don't forget to pop in at the LSB forum, as there are comments there about your new book (Including Vanessa's, who brags about being your critique partner *LOL*)

    Love reading your blog. I've bookmarked it.

  • At 9:04 AM, Blogger Ann Roth said…

    So glad to hear from you, Sue. You sound great.

    Keep us posted.

    Love, Ann


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