Travel Recollections, Random Associations

There are places I remember all my life,
Though some have changed,
Some forever not for better,
Some have gone and some remain… BEATLES

I often reminisce about places that exist only in my memories now, overwhelmed by nostalgia The 101st floor of the World Trade Center at the restaurant, suspended at an unbelievable altitude and, on a clear day or night, looking out of those windows, across the New York Harbor to New Jersey and beyond, a view that would make the most cynical amongst us pause and ponder the surreal. Fast forward two years and there isn’t a trace of the Twin Towers, there’s a gaping hole at this site of former majesty, of power.

Then there were Princess Diana and Christopher Reeve, every time I think of them I think of Lisbon, Portugal, 1995. The first thing I saw on TV, as I settled in my Lisbon hotel room, was Barbara Walters interviewing a svelte and confident Diana, breaking her silence for the first time in an interview, telling all about Prince Charles’ infidelity, his longstanding affair with Camilla. She discussed her bulimia, her insecurities. On the same trip I learnt that Christopher Reeve had been thrown off his horse in a riding accident and had sustained spinal cord injuries. He never recovered fully. So one need only mention Lisbon and my mind takes me to a Diana’s tentative steps toward freedom, toward strength, showing firm resolve for the first time in her life. And Superman lying crumpled, broken.

Cintra, Byron’s Eden, its cobble-stoned streets, the dense foliage crowding the mountain side, our unbelievably tiny car getting stuck in an uphill, hairpin turn while we tried pushing it back onto the road, Fatima’s Basilica, the majestic Pena Palace, all slide into the deeper recesses of the mind as the dominant celebrities of our age and their lives rise to the forefront.

Then Paris, September 1997, flowers piled high at the mouth of the tunnel near Pont Neuf, the site of Diana’s fatal accident, we were there the day after. The confident Diana of my Lisbon memories was no more. We watched her services at Westminster Abbey on the hotel room TV again, the Queen’s cold speech, Diana’s brother’s impassioned speech, the sad Princes. I remember scanning the faces of the members of Britain’s royal family for residual anger or remorse from their strained and embittered relations prior to her death. Once again the human element had overtaken the sights and sounds of Paris. It’s taken three trips to this enchanted city – its Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysées, Notre Dame, boat rides on the Seine, French cuisine and Rive Gauche enchantments – to leave an indelible impression on our minds and it would certainly take many more.

I’ have talked about a landmark that no longer exists, of people whose memories are intertwined with the places I visited who no longer exist and sadly now I have in my travel recollections a city that no longer exists.

The Big Easy they called it. Their slogan – laissez les bon temps rouler – New Orleans: the jewel of the deep American south. An eclectic collection of Spanish, French, Haitian, Cajun, Creole influences, its diversity reflected in the cuisine, the unique architecture, the characteristic wrought iron balustrades that graced each home. Streets filled with sounds of jazz, blues and zydeco music – a New Orleans invention. Napoleon’s fifteen million dollar sale to the Americans in the historic Louisiana Purchase, it went on to become the unique and unforgettable city that it was. It was devastated by two fires during the eighteenth century and rose from the ashes both times. A city that was seventy percent below sea-level where bodies buried underground used to come floating up during heavy rains until they solved the problem by burying their dead over ground in heavily decorated mausoleums.

The Big Easy all the way, easygoing folks, their sense of direction attuned to lakeside, riverside, uptown or downtown instead of north, south, east or west. They never needed an excuse to party, to flood the streets with celebration and color. Every store sold those ubiquitous colored beads bestowed upon women who could lose themselves in the moment, flashing the crowds around them during Mardi Gras. The good times always rolled enveloping everyone in a contagion of bonhomie, laughter and joie de vivre. A city known, ironically, for a rather potent alcoholic beverage called “Hurricane”, leveled by a hurricane.

What’s more bizarre than having travelled to places that ceased to exist within the last few years, people who’ve vanished leaving behind vague recollections and mental associations?

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