ELAYNE RIGGS: Wanderlust
One of the side effects of "the internets" making the world a more accessible place for many of us is how it’s fueled my desire for travel. But in truth, that was probably kindled when I was but a wee babe and my parents decided to drive across the country and back — pretty ambitious considering my mom was pregnant at the time. I’m told my 1-year-old self experienced all sorts of national historic sites and sights, none of which I remember of course, but enough of it probably seeped into my subconscious and stuck that the idea of Going Places has appealed to me ever since.
I was pretty fortunate when I was a teenager, in that my family had both means and relatives overseas. We made a pilgrimage in 1973 to Israel and then Romania. I was so proud of going to a country with a foreign language that I was studying at the time! I’ve never liked the stereotype of the Ugly American, and so I remain determined never to travel to a country where I can’t speak the dominant language. Which lets out most of them, I fear, but to me it’s just plain common courtesy. And common sense; I have no right to complain about people living (and especially running businesses) in the US who don’t converse at all in English if I refuse or am unable to converse in the prevailing tongue of my destination of choice. Israel was to be my Big Test to see how well I did in Hebrew. Imagine my frustration when, to a person, everyone I encountered heard my American accent and immediately switched to speaking English.
My mom went me one better — she spoke Yiddish both in Israel and Romania, and everyone with whom we had lengthy conversations could communicate with her in the "Jewish Esperanto," including my dad’s Romanian relatives. I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of Yiddish, which I really thought I’d catch onto when we were kids as it was what Mom and Dad spoke when they didn’t want us kids to know what they were saying; but even being in the German Honor Society in college (Yiddish has more German words in it than just about anything else) didn’t really help. And my Romanian was pretty bad too, sad considering it’s a Romance language and has a lot of the same words and grammatical rules as Spanish and French, with which I had a passing acquaintance in high school and college. I miss those days when I was around 20 or so and majoring in linguistics and could passably get by in about five languages; nowadays I’d need massive Berlitz-type refresher courses to retrieve even a tenth of the knowledge I used to possess.
But I digress. The thing I remember most about Romania — still under the yoke of Ceausescu at the time — was that I almost got arrested at the airport.
I’d discovered puns and wordplay, you see. And I was carrying a piece of paper with me with snippets on it reading something like:
To be is to do – Plato
To do is to be – Socrates
Do be a do be – Romper Room
Do be do be do – Frank Sinatra
Yabba dabba do – Flintstones
And so forth; I was collecting variations on a theme. And the Romanian airport authorities thought I was transporting some sort of spy code, and had me detained, and Dad had to explain to them that his daughter just liked wordgames and it was all in harmless fun and I guess they finally believed us and let us go. But we still knew that our hotel room was bugged and found it weird that nobody in the pristine parks seemed to smile, not even the kids — and I couldn’t wait to get out of that superficially beautiful but spiritually dead country and back to the US of A.
The thing I remember most about Israel, besides the oppressive heat and seeing male and female soldiers all over the place (this was a few months before the Yom Kippur War, but it was still a hyper-militarized "democracy"), was how I felt when we were taking a tour of archaeological digs in Jerusalem. I was enthralled to see places thousands of years old, stuff referred to in the Bible and such. Hey, I come from a new country, in the US something that’s a couple hundred years old is considered an antiquity. But to measure time in millennia — that blew my mind, and made me curious for more.
I became an Anglophile in college (I think it was a rite of passage that came with the Beatlemania), and after graduation my British friend Hilary invited me to tour the Cotswolds and Oxford with her. Had we struck out for the south instead, ’round about Brighton and Eastbourne, I might have met Robin 20 years before the rec.arts.comics Usenet groups brought us together. In my 20’s and 30’s I travelled mostly in North America, from Toronto to Tijuana, Miami to Vancouver. Some trips were with college groups like the chorale I was in, some were to visit family (like my brother in southern California) or places I absolutely adored like San Francisco (still probably my favorite US city), and quite a few of them were associated with hobby conventions. If not for science fiction and comics, I don’t know if I’d have set foot in Chicago, New Orleans, Charlotte, San Diego, Columbus, so many places. Comic-cons in particular helped fill in my visited states map, as well as the friends I’ve met through other hobbies like zine publishing and blogging. It also helped that my first husband was well-travelled from having served in the Navy, and that my maternal grandparents, my Dad, and of course Robin were all immigrants. It’s easy to be fascinated by foreign lands if you’re surrounded by people who were born there.
Nowadays, as budgets tighten and job pressures (not to mention limited physical mobility) allow less freedom, I don’t find myself travelling all that much. Ever since I got my first car three years ago, I’ve taken to day trips and occasional overnights more than long sojourns. Four hours is about my daily driving limit, although last fall we went to New Paltz and back which I think was six hours or so in total. I live in a nice and convenient area of New York, right between the city and "upstate," a very pretty area I’ve loved since I was a kid. But I don’t like to waste gas needlessly, so these days my trips are taken mostly via my television set. Give me a great railway journey (ohhh, to have the money for those northwest passages or to dine on the Orient Express!) or scenic Alaska or even a good dose of Zahi Hawass rambling on about ancient and modern Egypt, and I’m so there.
In spirit, anyway. And isn’t that really the essence of travel, to let the spirit soar? After all, every time we pick up a comic book or novel, we travel to whole other worlds. I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.
Elayne Riggs is ComicMix‘s news editor, and is going nowhere extremely fast.