What are your travel pictures worth?
My friend Elyse, who blogs hilariously about poop–and once accidentally wrote a blog post for me–has generously agreed to host today’s blog post while I am in India NOT taking photos.
Elyse does drugs for a living. She’s a medical writer writing about drug products by day, and can never quit her current job because it is way too much fun to respond to the question “What do you do?” by saying, “I do drugs.” By night (and weekend and during stolen moments) she is a humor-political-storytelling blogger at FiftyFourAndAHalf.com. She writes a lot about poop.
Elyse’s future plans are to write an historical novel that will involve no research, little writing, will win literary prizes and will, most importantly, put her on the late night talk show circuit.
Elyse lives in Northern Virginia (US) with her husband John, her son Jacob, and their dog Duncan.
Worth a Thousand Words
–Guest post by Elyse at FiftyFourandaHalf
Go into the living room at my house, and you can find yourself in the Alps of Switzerland and France if you look one way, and in the Bathgate Hills of Scotland if you look another. If you peek at the bookcase to the right, you can step into Paris or Brugge, or a flower-filled stairway in Provence. My husband, John, our son Jacob, and our dogs, Charlie and Cooper fill the frames.
From the desk in my office, I can look out and up at le Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in SwitzerlandEurope, captured in a photo from the window of the tiny cuckoo clock I lived in when we moved to Geneva. When I do that, I’m still living in Europe, at least in my heart. In a corner of my office, I can also be back in Venice. When I was misdiagnosed with advanced cancer 10 years ago, I wept in front of that picture thinking I’d never return to Venice.
I have spent my travels with a camera in hand, and the taste of the places in the pictures I’ve taken come home with me. They havehas been since with me from my first trip abroad.Or actually from the second.
“Imagine!” Dad said to Mom as he handed me a check for $150. “One of our kids is going to Europe!”
Nobody in their generation or in their parents’ generation had done what I was about to do. At least not since Tantelise, my name-sake had nursed the wounded in World War I. Dad was delighted to be able to pay for it. Mom just beamed.
“I can’t wait to tell Ruth!” she said.
It was 1973, and I was heading to London with my high school acting group, The Players. Dad’s check seems so small now, but in 1973, it paid for my airfare, hotel and breakfast. The organizers suggested we bring another $50 to pay for meals, theater tickets and the rest.Mom and Dad also bought me a camera – a Kodak Instamatic – so that I could capture the sights. Did I mention that I was 16? Or that I was an artist – a star of stage in the making? What I was not, in my mind, was a tourist. And I was certainly not, I repeat, not going to go to London – the most wonderful theatre city in the world — and be a tourist. Me? Visit the Tower of London? Watch the Changing of the Guard? Tour the Palace? No. I was going to the theatre. Only to the theatre.
I rolled my eyes when either parent mentioned the wonders I would see when I got off the plane. The history beneath my feet. The sights I’d capture with my Iinstamatic. They were so excited, I didn’t want to disappoint them. I rolled my eyes a lot.
The weekend after I got back from London, Mom’s sister, Aunt Ruth came over for Sunday dinner.
“How was Merry Ole England, Lease?” Aunt Ruth asked. “I bet you had a jolly good time.”
I winced and turned my back so that Aunt Ruth didn’t see me roll my eyes and try not to puke.
I guess I should mention that Aunt Ruth was that relative. The one who always managed to embarrass you in front of someone you were trying to impress. The one who always seemed to have something critical to say about everything. The one whose only filter was in her ever-present cigarette.
The one who never shut up.
Aunt Ruth was Mom’s only remaining sister, three other sisters had died in childhood. So Mom was devoted to Ruth. Of course she was. Aunt Ruth quit school in 6th grade and went to work in a rubber factory to enable her baby sister to finish high school, learn secretarial skills, and lead a better life. Ruth was the opposite of the Grinch – Ruth’s heart was actually two sizes too big.
Her mouth, however, was larger. Much larger. And it she never stopped talking, nearly always critically.
“Would you like to see Lease’s pictures of London?” Mom asked her, looking at me with pursed lips.
“I’d love to!” Aunt Ruth replied. “Imagine, someone in our family has been to London!”
“Here,” Mom said, tossing an envelope on the table marked. “Leasie’s England Pictures.”
Aunt Ruth clutched the envelope, reluctant to open it, savoring the moment, and looked at me with envy. Mom gave me another cold stare.
“Oh, I was thinking about you the whole time you were gone. I wish I’d gone with you! Didn’t they need chaperones?? I would have been glad to go along.”
I knew I couldn’t avoid it. I might as well wanted to get it over with.
“Go ahead. Look at the pictures,” I said with a sigh, certain of what was coming.
With a flourish, Aunt Ruth opened the envelope. With the first snap, her jaw hit the table. That was, however amazingly, the only sound that could be heard.
My aunt simply did not appreciate the artistic photos I took.
Ruth looked up at me, trying to form words, as she shuffled through the deck, looking for a picture of something recognizable. Then she found one.
Aunt Ruth didn’t say a word. Her mouth flapped a bit, trying to find words for her disappointment – family lore records this as the one and only time Aunt Ruth was speechless.
It felt like a victory for me then, being a teenage asshole. I left my crass, ignorant aunt speechless. Wasn’t I amazing?
But later, I realized that Aunt Ruth was much smarter than I. She saw right away that I had denied my parents the joy of seeing their daughter experience something wonderful. Something that they hadn’t ever dreamed was possible. The lack of any pictures that could prove I’d actually been to London made them all sad. Me too. Eventually.
For the rest of her life, she Aunt Ruth teased me about those pictures.
“Seen any ducks, lately, Lease?” That was her greeting to me, from then on. Always said with a shake of her head, a hearty laugh, and a twinkle in her eye.
I never admitted it to her, but starting with my next trip, I became a typical tourist. Camera always in hand. And a home filled with the scenes of my adventures.
I still think my London pics are artsy, though. Don’t you?