Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Deciding Where You've Been

Written by Adam
It sure is interesting to discover what comes up in conversation when you are simply chatting with a waiter.  It was just after he brought us the bread and butter while we were dining in Nice, France.   Upon learning that we were visiting from California, the starstruck waiter regaled in telling us about his desire to some day visit Hollywood.  He then proceeded to recount many old movies starring such classic Hollywood starlets as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor.  Of course, most might consider these actresses to be photogenic symbols of the Hollywood of imagination, fantasy, and a place that to a European represented much more about America than it probably does today.  We were actually in Hollywood just this year, but I did not have the heart to tell the waiter that the only star we saw there was a guy in a Spiderman suit standing on the corner posing for pictures with the tourists.  

As Karen and I sat there awaiting the delivery of the main course, it occurred to me that we weren’t really very different from our French waiter friend. Some might consider the Hollywood of days gone by to be a state of mind, but it is still a unique place like any other.  I thought about our own recent visits to the Reichstag in Berlin, Germany, and Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.  These are historic places where something really big happened that subsequently changed our world forever - and for that reason we were inexplicably drawn to pay them a visit.

Omaha Beach: Five miles long with cliffs facing the English Channel.
Omaha Beach: What happened there has not been forgotten over time.
The seat of German political expression - both in the past and today.

On this particular trip, we also decided to make a special pilgrimage to Villefranche-sur-Mer on the Côte D'Azur.  A rented mansion there was the location of the 1971 recording sessions of “Exile on Main Street”, the famous double album by the Rolling Stones.  It was really not that hard to find the place in such a small town.  To a fan, the address represents a chance to soak up what is left of the early-seventies rock vibe, I suppose.

Through these huge gates passed true rock royalty and everyone else.
The tiniest metal plaque on the left side gives it all away: Nellcote.
Nellcote as seen from across the harbor - inaccessible and thus tempting.
On a prior trip to Paris, we decided to pay a visit to Père Lachaise, the cemetery that became the final resting place of sixties rock icon Jim Morrison of The Doors.   Although today his grave resembles an ash tray in many ways, it is still the final resting place of a very popular entertainer with legions of fans.  Edith Piaf’s nearby grave was treated with quite a bit more respect; that’s probably what happens when you are a true French immortal, I suppose. 

When we were recently on our Vanagon road trip tooling around the USA, I had it in the back of my mind that we might try to track down and pay a visit to the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa if we were to come close enough.  It was the final performance venue of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper before their rented plane went down in a nearby corn field on a freezing February night in 1959, killing them all.  To Roger Peterson, the pilot of the plane who was also killed on that tragic night, it’s certainly a special place for his family as well.  

Maybe that’s what travel is all about - finding and therefore connecting to the vibe of a place.  It just might be the vibe of how people live, the food they eat, or the cities that they found and continue to revere and populate.  It might also be more about discovering tradition, local customs, and witnessing ethnic idiosyncracies.  But, just like the best movies or a particularly memorable song, you are taken away from the world that you seem to know when you freely travel.  That is the true value of visiting a particular place, and the reason we need to experience places that resonate with us for whatever reason.  Where we are born and where we will die is just another particular place - but it’s the long road in between that challenges you to decide where you’ve been when it’s all said and done.       


Jennifer Chase said...

Great post Adam! I could easily enjoy that strip of beach. Glad you guys are having a great time. Thanks for sharing your journey :)

Anonymous said...

Another great post! Steve S

David in SF said...

Interesting thoughts, and gives a different perspective on travelling

Observers of Life said...


I think that you probably could enjoy that stretch of beach, but in some ways the place is a bit haunted by what went on there. Not in a bad or scary way, but the serenity of the locale is somewhat jarring, truth be told. Thanks for reading about it.

Adam J.

Observers of Life said...


Glad to hear that you enjoyed the post...knowing you, Hollywood is just a bit of movie trivia away at all times! Thanks for reading my thoughts.

Adam J.

Observers of Life said...


Glad to know that you are reading the blog...but never exterminate the travel bug, okay?

Adam J.