Welcome! Jonathan Larson here, now frequent denizen of a backporch in the north Georgia hills where my wife, Mary Kay, and I serve daily at 4 PM sharp a thoroughly colonial tea. We were schooled in this practice during childhood in India and have pursued it religiously in our adult wanderings. In the ensuing years, work and just plain curiosity, have taken us walkabout to improbable corners of the world where we learned other languages, met history-makers, trekked rugged landscapes, witnessed wars, taught eager African students, traced meandering rivers, bargained in medieval bazaars, but most of all, encountered striking, everyday people. It is these experiences that steal into our musings over sweet, milky, afternoon cuppa. So, draw up a chair. Fix the tea the way you like, and let’s see where this leads.
Travel stories are a hoary genre. Think of the ancient Chinese, of seafaring Arabs, Greeks and Polynesians, of venerable Marco Polo, or even literature like the Odyssey or the Canterbury Tales; these only begin to plumb our fascination for what is odd, shocking, exquisite, hilarious, monumental, or exotic. Now the web, too, is aswarm with notes and stunning photographs brought back from far corners of unimagined people and places. ‘Much to love and learn from this swoon of travel writing, fanciful or photo-shopped though it may be.
The reason, though, that global wanderings continue to haunt our backporch chatter is that they yield, beyond novelty or romance, some mysterious quality; that some detail, an unexpected gesture or turn of phrase, an odd coincidence or nuance invites probing or reflection. And that in turn leads to wonder, laughter, self-recognition and even, poetry. Some call this quality,’ numen’, Latin for a nodding of the head. It is a faint sense that some presence announces itself that doesn’t quite meet the eye or ear. Few classic travel writers, or even moderns like Rory Stewart, Beryl Markham, or Paul Theroux, have the time to wait for this or include it in their tales.
Some awareness of the mystery arising from travel does come through in the reflections of religious pilgrims who set out often by foot on a quest to probe their wayside surroundings and encounters for larger meaning. That quality of wakefulness, of humble seeking, is suggestive of how travel can return lasting rewards – even in an age of mass cruising.
Neighbors who join us on the backporch have nudged us to move that teatime repartee into the digital world. That even the embarrassingly rich tea, (one wag has called it ‘cake in a cup’) not to say the vignettes and stories, might there be conjured, stirred, for the pleasure and response of an even larger circle.
So, for those who might be sleuthing for hot tips on places to stay or eat in Pondicherry (India), Maun (Botswana) or Tigre (Argentina), this venue will offer only passing suggestions. (‘Lonely Planet’ has that admirably covered!) What will feature in the following posts is this: quite unremarkable stops in the plainest surroundings can yield life-altering insight and encounters of radiant beauty.