travels with my aunt


For some reason, Graham Greene has been paying me a lot of visits recently.  Many years ago, I devoured most of his novels, relishing his descriptions of rives in Africa, spies, Haiti in August, that sort of thing.  He wrote quite a bit about Haiti, I think he spent some years there.  In a most intoxicating way, he taught me about Papa Doc and les Tontons Macoutes, perhaps it is Baby Doc’s recent death that has brought him back into my mind.

While I most enjoyed The Quiet American, it is Travels with my Aunt that has stayed with me.  I don’t remember the plot so well, aside from the protagonist’s name, Aunt Augusta and their journey, on the Orient Express.  But Aunt Augusta’s comment to her nephew, Henry.  “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” has served as my mantra since first reading it.

I bandied it about today, after my partner and I lost an important paddle tennis match that we anticipated winning, despite both playing incredibly well.  While I could scream in frustration over not reaching the destination we expected, the journey was epic and leaves me different.  Perhaps next time we’ll reach the top of the hill and the view will be even more delicious.

I began thinking about this post, particularly. Travels with my Aunt, because my aunt, a great traveller, is coming to visit.  This might appear a thoughtless thing to say, but I’ve known her all my life, she has formed me, she is always just there, despite the pond between us. She inspires in me curiosity, courage, glamour, intimacy, childishness, dignity, love, confidence and humor.  Though she is 80 and will arrive at Logan in a wheelchair, when we set off, she will do the pushing and I the riding.

Traveling with her began in Cayman in the early eighties, when there was only a weekly barge that delivered produce, and electricity was so expensive that we would get a weekly block of ice to keep perishables from perishing.  Things were so different then that when the first traffic light appeared, the residents mistook it for a Christmas decoration.  My aunt would lead the snorkeling brigade, always up to date on the best places to see parrotfish, eel, nurse sharks or octopi.  We spent evenings drinking fine champagne out of styrofoam cups with a bathrobe clad expat who was hiding from the Inland Revenue, great masters hanging on his 1970’s condo walls that were damp with humidity.  Over the years, she has introduced me to baby turtle migration, stingrays of course, jerk chicken, a dog named Moshe, harbors for drug boats, parrots in the trees, Chinese checkers and a man named Mr. Robbie.


She has travelled all over the world and had more adventures than I could begin to explain.  Well, I actually tried when I put together a book for her, but it skims the surface.

Our most recent jaunt was to Cornwall, where we saw Du Maurier’s Frenchmen’s Creek and drove down country lanes that were so covered with wildflowers that we could hardly pass.  And this Friday, we are off to the Topsfield Fair, and then who knows where we will end up, somewhere for the weekend.  We will bring my daughter along so that another generation can savor her own journey on Orient Express.

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