I was born and raised in Brunswick, Maine. Don’t get me wrong; Brunswick, Maine is a fine place to be born and raised, but I always felt there had been a terrible mistake. I grew up hearing the glamorous tales of my grandmother’s childhood in Paris and Geneva, and I felt I had been robbed. There was no Eiffel Tower in Brunswick, and no one ate stinky cheese on baguettes (unless for some reason their cheese had gone bad and they decided to eat it anyway). As soon as I was old enough, I bought myself a poster of France with a little boy on the back of a bike, holding baguettes. For as long as I can remember, I went to sleep looking at that poster, feeling sure I would one day get away.
And one day, I did.
I stayed at a Christian hostel in the Red Light District in Amsterdam. I took a ferry across the Ionian Sea in a storm so violent it made the American news. I broke a toe in Hawaii. I was robbed by headhunters in Borneo. I had my gall bladder removed in England. I spent Christmas in a hutong in Shanghai. I did not get food poisoning in India. I met a man on a bus in Auckland and stayed with his family in the Bay of Islands a week later. I was attacked by stone-throwing monkeys in Bali. I have been sunburnt and mosquito bitten more times than I can count. I took an eight-hour bus ride from Cambodia to Thailand sitting behind a man who stank of Camembert. I left a hotel in Beverly Hills because of the roaches. I was verbally assaulted by a drunken Scotsman who was offended that I was American. I got an ear infection from swimming in Ha Long Bay that I treated with 50-cent codeine on a Vietnamese train. I sang a million drunken songs all over Ireland. I backpacked alone around Australia and New Zealand. I ate lunch at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. I was followed through the streets of Siem Reap by a tiny, cursing Cambodian girl. I met the All Blacks rugby team at a hotel in England. I ate Chinese food that tasted like wet dog in Sydney. I slept in countless airports. I drank homemade gin with strange Ethiopian men. I watched my husband get mugged by an orangutan in Malaysia. I puked so loudly in the bathroom of a Mexico City restaurant that I cleared out the whole place. I got food poisoning from eating mozzarella in Addis Ababa. I watched France win the World Cup from my dorm room in Nice. I stayed out all night with band members in Reyjkavik. I took a motorcycle tour of a Thai island with a man named Mr Bean. I slept in a hostel in Rome with pillows that had been there since Caesar. I almost lost my big toe in Ethiopia when a ceramic toilet fell on it. I saw Yeats’ grave and Nelson Mandela’s prison cell. I climbed Ayers Rock at sunrise. I stayed at a hotel in northern India that was so cold I slept with all my clothes on—even my coat, mittens and hat. I ate the best meal of my life in northern Thailand, which had so much garlic that it made me allergic for years afterward. I went on my friend’s honeymoon with her in Corfu. I did get food poisoning in Cambodia—twice, on two different trips. I went for a nighttime swim on the roof of my hotel in Dubai. I went camping in Botswana and snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef and rode horses down Ethiopian streets and skydived over Queenstown and again over Wanaka. I drank beer that my jerky friends found on the floor of a pub in Dublin and convinced me they had just bought. I had Thai prostitutes proposition my husband as we walked down the street holding hands. I adopted a boy I met in Ethiopia. I met a supermodel on the Heathrow bus as I was bringing my son home. I met some of the best and worst people I have ever known.
And there are still so many places left to go.
Photo credit: Elliott Erwitt, Provence, France (1955), copyright Magnum