His memories in a trunk

Reflections on literature, language(s), and music

Archive for the tag “travel”

Nullus locus dulcior

To begin with, for those that care, the title is a paraphrase of Cicero, “Nunc vero nec locus tibi ullus dulcior esse debet patria…” (Epist. Fam. IV.9.3, “Now, indeed, no place should be sweeter to you than your homeland…”). I borrow those fine words to talk about my homeland.

What it looks like in Minn. now.

What it looks like in Minn. now.

I’m a native of Alabama, but I’ve lived in Minnesota for the past two and a half years. On the morning that I write this, at my northern residence, I saw, the temperature was 1°F. Snow has been on the ground since November and all of the water seen out-of-doors, most obviously Minnesota’s myriad lakes, have been solidly slick and frozen, and with Minnesota’s winter comes a cold unknown in Alabama, a coldness that the clichéd “bitter cold” doesn’t even ably describe. Lest, dear readers, you imagine that Minnesota’s charms, even in winter, have been lost on this writer, know well that I’ve found much to like there that will not easily escape my memory, but for now I dwell on things Alabam(i)an. Incidentally, being unable to avoid citing another line in Latin, there are occasions in Minnesota when I have empathy for Ovid, whose words

Barbarus hic ego sum, quia non intelligor ulli (Tristia V.10.37)

Here, I’m a barbarian, because I’m understood by no one.

fit well my placement in a sometimes strange land, and I’m sure the feeling would be found mutual, if those Minnesotans with whom I have regular contact were asked. (I purposely do not quote the following line, lest I give the impression that I consider my current fellow-citizens of Minnesota are stolidi!)

I went back to my patria for a brief sojourn, the direct cause itself not being a welcome one, but one attended by a number of benefits, some foreseen, some unforeseen. It always lends refreshment to return home, and neither did this trip fail to refresh. The time spent with family members, the freedom from regular structured work, the blue — as opposed to gray, as commonly this time of year in Minnesota — sky, against which the bright clouds are sharply set, the more flavorful food; all these things made it a fine and needed trip for me, but not only for me, since my wife and children also reckon it a definite refuge of safety, sweetness, and deep recognition, even though they do not have the years of experience spent there that I have, years polished in a way that only childhood can. This solidarity makes visits there all the better.

Some IPA I like, hitherto not seen in Minn., but readily drinkable in Ala.!

Some IPA I like, hitherto not seen in Minn., but readily drinkable in Ala.!

Lunch with my mother.

Lunch with my mother.


I enjoyed several cigars and my pipe in the relatively warm weather, including one cigar with my grandfather, eighty-seven years old and whom I’ve not seen in too long a time. He is retired now, but worked most of his life as a carpenter. He went to school only through the eighth grade, and had to begin working all the time at a young age to provide for his family. I always enjoy talking with him, not only because of our shared familial history, but to hear of his experiences, and that in his accent and idiolect, which I appreciate both as his grandson and as a linguist. I confess that I was surprised to hear him use the word “brogue”, a word I don’t think I’ve heard anyone in my family use before, and a word rarely heard from the mouth of someone that reached only the eighth grade.

Talking with my grandfather.

Talking with my grandfather.

A giant cow spotted on the way through Wisc.

A giant cow spotted on the way through Wisc.

Because the number in our traveling party was large, we traveled by road rather than air. As you can imagine, the road from central Minnesota to central Alabama is no short road. My children, fortunately, are usually hardy travelers who only rarely complain overmuch. The way down wasn’t eventful, but on the way back, we met some nasty roads in Illinois and Wisconsin, thanks to an assault of snow, which led to de-roaded cars left and right and a truck pulling two trailers on its side and blocking traffic south.

Snowy travel on the return trip.

Snowy travel on the return trip.

I’m now back in Minnesota, but my eyes are patiently turned southward, looking forward to the next stay there, where there will surely again be more meetings of this and that person, of south and midwest, and of experiences all around of different ages and memories.

Driving with a few CDs

I’m just off of a 640-mile driving trip today. I’d been a few states away with family and I drove back home by myself. I listened to a little bit of music on the radio, but mostly CDs; I had no way to play the music on my phone, but fortunately I had a few physical albums with me. Here they are, in the order I listened to them:

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to this one all the way through. Excellent from the unique beginning to the ever-appreciable “Call of Ktulu.”

A lot of fun (“Is it rolling, Bob?”), as one might guess even from the album cover; very much worth listening to beside this one is the Dylan-Cash Sessions, from the same time period, and even though it’s not really a consistent album, the next one, Self Portrait almost always gets me singing.

This is not my most recent Dylan purchase (Time out of Mind and Tempest), but it wasn’t too long ago that I bought it. One of my favorite lines so far is from “Where Are You Tonight (Journey through Dark Heat)”:

I fought with my twin,
That enemy within,
Till both of us fell by the way.

I actually like most of the alternate versions (on disc 2 especially) more than the original releases. (Who can fail to find remarkable a phrase like “the boiled guts of birds”?)

These (and my thoughts) were all good company as I drove, but I did miss Tom Waits’ “Diamonds on my Windshield,” especially as I went through Wisconsin:

Wisconsin hiker with a cue-ball head
Wishing he was home in a Wiscosin bed
Fifteen feet of snow in the East
Colder then a well-digger’s ass
Colder then a well-digger’s ass

We’re not quite to snow-time yet here in the north, but we’re close.

P.S. As I write this, I’ve got the soundtrack to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on Spotify. No sense in being musically stagnant, is there? (I’ve not seen the new film yet, but I’ve read the books and seen the Swedish films.)

A week on Malta

I spent all of the week before last week on Malta. I was there for an academic conference that lasted Monday to Saturday. Malta is an uncommon destination, and like most people who took part in the conference, I’d never been there. It was an international gathering and I got to spend time with colleagues from the US, England, Holland, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Lebanon, and elsewhere. I never really got fully in tune with the time zone (eight hours different from my usual one) and so I was perpetually tired (partly from late nights, too, I’m sure!). There was not a lot of time to sightsee, since I was occupied for most of the day — the lunch break was two hours, not a bad idea! — with conference matters, and the evening was filled with eating and drinking with friends and colleagues.

The food was generally good, and I especially enjoyed rabbit (fenek) twice, one of which times was on a pizza with peas (!), and on the last night some fresh sea bass. I drank local wine, both red and white, which was very inexpensive and not bad (except one white variety) and a Maltese liqueur made from pomegranates. The local lager is the ubiquitous Cisk, which was not bad, but I preferred another local brew, Hopleaf, a pale ale. Finally, the espresso was quite good. (Incidentally, since I was flying through Amsterdam, I had the rare privilege of sampling on the way back some Bols Corenwyn, 6-year.)

English is understood everywhere, but the other official language of the country is Maltese, a very fascinating language with a base of Arabic but with strong mixing or influence from Romance (Italian and Sicilian); I have written a little about Maltese elsewhere. Of course, since I was participating in an international conference, I had the always welcome opportunity to hear (and speak a little) French, German, and Arabic.

While I didn’t have a lot of time (or money) to look around at the more famous places, I did of course have some occasion to wander through the narrow streets of Valletta. Most striking is the color of the buildings and the beautiful balconies, which however, seemed to be rarely occupied. Parts of the city are marked by reminders of past British rule, but perhaps more so by the stony presence of saintly statuary. I also managed on the last evening to go for a swim in the sea.

I hope these few remarks and pictures, based merely on a short time there and mostly in a single place, convey at least a little of the interest and uniqueness in store for visitors to the island (and its neighbor Gozo)!

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