Savoring surprises as we travel by Sunny Lockwood

Today's guest post is from writer and traveller, Sunny Lockwood, who together with her husband Al, has authored CRUISING PANAMA'S CANAL. This intrepid duo has now written, CRUISING THE MEDITERRANEAN. I'll let Sunny take it from here:

Wanderlust flows through our veins like a river that's sometimes slow and dreamy, and sometimes rushing and insistent.

My husband, Al, and I regularly thumb through travel magazines, read newspaper travel articles aloud and search the Internet, whetting our appetite for unseen places near and far.  While we love our home, we're always talking about our next trip. We're either planning it or we're on it, eagerly exploring the wonders of somewhere new.  

But there are always surprises that greet us-- each one different from the others.

In 2015, we built a European trip around a 12-day Mediterranean cruise. We added four days in Amsterdam. That's where we tried Airbnb for the first time, choosing a room in a 17th century house not far from Central Station-- and, in the Red Light District!

"Window shopping" in our neighborhood exposed us to edible underwear for him and her as well as sex toys we'd never seen. Nor could we imagine how they would be used. A full breasted bronze statue named "Belle" stood in the courtyard of the Old Church, as a tribute to all sex workers. Despite our vintage moral convictions, we were more amused than offended.

Displaying IMG_1819.JPGDisplaying IMG_1819.JPGIn Athens, our surprise was the Acropolis lift. I'd been to the Acropolis decades earlier and remembered the stairs as steep and difficult. With Al's arthritic knees and our limited energy, I doubted we could climb them. I was thrilled to learn that there is now a lift.

But when we saw the tiny, open-sided cage, we knew it would take more than courage to ride it. Rickety is an understatement. Yet, we climbed aboard and rode it haltingly up the 260-foot cliff. And when we stepped off, we felt totally energized by the fear-fueled adrenaline coursing through our veins.

On the beautiful island of Santorini, we were stunned to learn about the Greek Genocide. We came upon a monument to the millions of Armenian, Assyrian and Greeks killed between 1914 and 1923 by Ottoman Empire elimination programs aimed at Christian minorities.

In Ephesus, we were surprised at the beautiful cats among the ruins. Like sophisticated models, they stretched out purring on marble posts, unimpressed by us humans. We learned they're encouraged to make their home among the picturesque ruins because they keep less appreciated varmints away.

But the sweetest surprise of all was Turkish Delight. This melt-in-the-mouth confection, created centuries ago as a royal delicacy, was served to us during a dinner cruise on Istanbul's Bosphorus Strait. Little squares of jelly infused with fruit and nuts and covered in powdered sugar-- it’s soft, tender and sweet.

Our trip was so wonderful we've written about it: Cruising the Mediterranean. It's available as an ebook and a paperback from I invite you to check it out here

For Father's Day: "Dad Takes Flight"

Dad Takes Flight
Carla Sarett

My father had not flown for a decade or so – perhaps even longer, certainly long enough so that he had no concept of the nightmarish array of security measures, police and bizarre check-points introduced since 9/11—as indeed who could?

But it was my niece’s bat-mitzvah and so we were off to California from Philadelphia.  My mother had not lived to see it but my eighty-five year old father had. I’d promised to get him there, one way or the other.

I cautioned him about the strange New World of Flight.  “Dad, the airports are different now.  There are lots of new rules --no shampoo, no lotions, no nail clippers.  You need to be careful.”

My former engineer father said, “You’re joking.”

“It’s not a joke, Dad.  The government doesn’t allow liquids on board.”

Dad eyed me as if I were slightly insane. “You worry too much, honey,” he said.

I had reason to be concerned.  My father had lost his left arm in a cancer surgery.  While he never labeled himself handicapped, he was.  The airport requirements of removing jackets and shoes while keeping one’s balance would be daunting—or so I feared. 

At Philadelphia Airport, we faced the long hostile security lines.  “This is what it’s like, now—it’s ridiculous,” I said as I helped him with his driver’s license.

“Country has to do what it has to do,” Dad reminded me.  
“Not such a big price to pay to be safe.  I think the line moves pretty quickly.”

Dad’s luggage triggered the airport security system.  “Dad, what did you put in there?”  I asked.

“Sue me,” he said.

We marched over to a tired security inspector.  Sure enough, he’d packed huge bottles of lotion and shampoo and shaving cream and about anything liquid he could think of.  He might even have packed mouthwash.    

“That’s not allowed sir,” the stout woman informed my one-armed father, dumping all of it in the trash with little fanfare.

“Really, you’re wasting all this stuff?” Dad protested.  “Do you have to throw it out?”

“Yes, sir,” she announced.

“He hasn’t flown in a while,” my husband informed the agent.  The woman shook her head in disbelief.

She continued to rifle through Dad’s luggage. Out came a comically huge pair of scissors. The agent dangled the scissors in front of him.  “These are definitely not allowed, sir.  Scissors are illegal to take on a plane.  Are you aware of that, sir?”

“Dad, what are you doing with scissors?” I almost screamed. 

Dad addressed the agent in a soothing voice. “I am so sorry, miss.  But I do need those scissors.  I hope you understand, but I need them.”

The stout agent softened.  She measured the scissors and allowed them to remain in his luggage.  “You should follow instructions,” she told him, amused.

“Thank you. I will next time,” he lied.

The airplane itself was over-crowded and not so clean.  My 
husband and I settled in – discontented, filled with ire at airport security and ill-disposed towards one and all. All of the passengers looked woebegone and disgusted at the prospect of the six hour flight to California, unrelieved by free airline food.

Alone in this den of misery, Dad enjoyed himself.  About an hour after the plane had alighted, he poked me. “Listen to how quiet this airplane is.  What is this, a Boeing or an Airbus?”

All I heard was ceaselessly chattering passengers. By that time, I was about to clobber whoever was in the seat across from me who would not shut up.  I dug out the airline magazine, and identified the aircraft for him—whether it was Boeing or Airbus, I detested it. 

“Actually, it’s a Boeing 767.”

Dad took this in.  “In early days of aviation, airplane engines were so loud it shattered ear-drums—it made flying unbearable.  Flying was dirty and dangerous and noisy. And now, listen, just listen.”

We listened together—and I saw clouds outside.

“Those engineers, they know what they’re doing.  And we’ll be across a continent in less than six hours.  Centuries, people slogged across the continent—think how hard that was for pregnant women.  Now, we’re just sitting here doing nothing, and we’ll land in San Francisco, safe and sound and snug in a few hours.  You can’t do better than that, can you?”

“I guess not,’ I admitted.

When we arrived in San Francisco, Dad said, “Smooth landing.”

We trekked to the car rental- which first required an airport shuttle trains.  Having left Philadelphia ten hours before, I feared my father would be exhausted—I certainly was. 
Once aboard the airport shuttle, an automated voice announced the terminal name and came to a stop.  My father’s bright eyes went wide.  “It’s like the future,” he said.  “This is so cool!  The train even talks to you!”  He was flying high. 

My father’s joy was infectious – and even my tired husband laughed.  Our fantastic shuttle reached our destination and Dad came gently back to earth.  For his sake, I wished our journey had lasted longer.

At dinner, we sat at a table overlooking the moonlit Pacific, but my father’s thoughts were still in the air.  “Such a fantastic trip,” he said.  “So smooth and quiet, and in less than a day, we’re in California looking at the ocean.  It doesn’t get much better than this, does it?”

“No, it doesn’t,” I said.  “But please, no shampoo on the way back.”

He smiled and filled his glass of wine.  “Honey, you just worry too much.” 

This piece appeared in Airplane Reading.

"The Taming of the Shrues" on CommuterLit

My not very serious take on adventure tourism, "The Taming of the Shrues" is republished in CommuterLit.  The piece first appeared in the now-defunct 559 Monthly, where I published several silly pieces of flash fiction.  (To me, flash fiction is an ideal vehicle for comedy-- comedy always benefits from brevity.) 

If you missed it first time around, you can read it here:

My latest essay appears in Skirt! Magazine

Yes, it's that time again-- time for another comic essay, this time entitled HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND BUY A BATHING SUIT.  (I know, it's not global warming, but it is...stressful.)  It's published in Skirt! Magazine this month, and you can read it here:

The Reliably Unreliable Narrator

When the rest of America is soaking up HBO and Netflix, nine times out of ten, I'm happily ensconced with  a book.  Or not so happily.  These days, I am weary of that time-honored literary trick of the Unreliable Narrator.   

I've had enough to last a lifetime.

The problem -- for me-- is that as soon as I hear the words, "We were a happy family," I just know, as you do, it's a gloomy bunch, where mom hates pop, or someone's cheating with someone else, or (these days) is molesting someone very young.  As soon as I hear, "faithful husband," probably the opposite and who knows what else is wrong.   It's almost uncanny how reliable that is -- and how predictable.  

My label for this: reliable unreliability.  

Don't get me wrong.  In the hands of an ironic master, like Ishiguro in The Remains of the Day, it's wonderful.  There, the narrator's secrets are lying beneath everything that's said.  The narrator is hidden from us, because he's hidden from himself.  

So, I find myself drawn to writers (often on the other side of the pond, like Sadie Jones) who use Third Person Omniscient.  I like being led through rooms and history.  I like the sense of a story deepening, unfolding, without gimmicks.  A story's no less mysterious because it's told by a narrator who knows more than I do.  The author just gets on with the story-- and let the characters surprise me.


For Mother's Day: NO OLD FASHIONED ROMANCE by Carla Sarett

No Old-Fashioned Romance
Carla Sarett
(This story first appeared in The Medulla Review)
For my mother, always
To my mother, the characters in novels were as real as you or I.  She remembered every detail about them, the way they spoke and the way they dressed, as if she had met them yesterday on one of her many long walks.  She spoke of them as if they lived in her own house which, in a way, they did.
But she was unusual in her approach, to say the least.  My mother focused on the minor characters, the ones whom literary critical often ignore, the characters who seem to make comic points or add texture to the story.  For her, War and Peace was "really" about the orphan Sonia-- “Sonia’s is the real tragedy.  Natasha gets what she wants, but Sonia has to work as a maid to that awful religious horror, Princess Mary.”  My mother always grieved for Sonia.
Decades after she’d read a novel, my mother could recall specific scenes and descriptions as I never could.  I suppose that explains why later on, I often told her stories drawn from my own life. 
One of those stories concerned a certain Cathleen Carter and her family. Cathleen was a woman of grave demeanor who worked in my small office building.  Like many consultants, she called herself a group, The Carter Group.  I believe that she consulted on environmental crises, which have might have accounted for her earnestness.  In her tiny way, Cathleen was pretty with intense blue eyes and a pixie-style haircut. 
Cathleen and her husband had two daughters: one from her husband's first marriage named Muriel, and the other from her own first marriage, named Marianna.  I confess that I often got the daughters mixed up because their names sounded similar.  
Both Cathleen and her husband had been married to Jews: in her case, a neurotic scientist, in his case, a sarcastic writer.  These marriages had ended bitterly, but now the divorced parents were forced to share the daughters.
Cathleen's daughter divided her week between her “real” father and Cathleen.  Even so, the girl consumed, or appeared to consume, Cathleen’s every waking hour.  For Cathleen, this daughter—Marianna--was a mystery of tears, whims and tantrums.  
I held tiny Cathleen's shoulders. “Your daughter’s just a teen, teens are moody.  I was a sad sack of a teen myself--it broke my mother's heart.  Besides, Marianna is a daughter anyone would be proud of, what are you worried about?” 
Because to me, you see, the girl was perfect, sparkling and filled with life.  I had seen her once with her mother-- a Viking girl, towering over her tiny mother, dressed in blue jeans and a pink tee with a little red heart.  
Cathleen explained.  She wanted her daughter to be engaged with “meaningful” community activities, Model U.N., working in the community, studying voice, learning about music.  And her daughter did those things. 
But, Marianna had a mind of her own.  She wanted to become a fashion designer, work for a clothing company like Anthropologie and perhaps one day have her own clothing line. Cathleen admitted that the girl had done well at a summer fashion school-- her designs had been singled out. 
Still, Cathleen viewed her daughter’s dreams as pipe-dreams.  She wanted Marianna to have a profession filled, as Cathleen put it, "with dignity."  Cathleen had no sympathy for a life devoted to style—to her, it meant nothing at all.  She herself wore clothes from a decade or so ago, with ungainly shoulder-pads. 
So the daughter went on with the life that Cathleen had organized—the model U.N., community leadership and so on.  And there was school-work--calculus, history, literature-- all subjects which the other daughter, Muriel, excelled at. Marianna fell behind in school.  Even though she worked past midnight, she failed to finish her homework –and teachers complained.  She became sick, angry at her mother.
The Jewish scientist father complained that Cathleen pushed the girl too hard.  “Leave her alone,” he said.  
I told my mother about Cathleen, her two husbands, the two daughters, how the histories and names confused me.  I spoke mostly about Marianna, Cathleen's daughter—my mother and I both loved fashion. 
My mother, though, was eager to hear about the other daughter. “What is with the other girl, Muriel?  What’s happening with Muriel?”
Muriel was fine, I said, an honors students, about four years older than Marianna.  In pictures, she appeared dark and beautiful.  I believed she lived, most of the time, with her sarcastic mother, who took her daughter’s success for granted.   I told my mother, “No one has to worry about Muriel.”
From that point on, my mother worried only about Muriel.  She felt someone had to care what happened to Muriel, even if her father and her step-mother and her sarcastic mother and I did not.  
“There's something wrong there,” my mother said.
A year passed, and things had improved for Cathleen and her daughter.   They had gone to a holistic spa in Arizona, just the two of them, where they attended meditation courses. Later that year, they took a mother-daughter weekend on Cape Cod where Marianna had held her hand and said I love you, Mom.  Cathleen looked overjoyed as she told of this -- as if it were a rare event. 
“Perhaps it was,” said my mother. 
  By this time, I learned, Muriel had entered college, not the Ivy League college she had aimed for but a small school down South.  Muriel's sarcastic mother was unable to conceal her disappointment.  At first, Muriel was crushed, but she recovered and now was happy, popular—and, Cathleen told me, made Dean's List. 
“That’s Cathleen’s version,” my mother said. 
I started to piece together a different narrative about Muriel.
At her Southern college, Muriel had become socially ambitious.   She sensed that her sarcastic brilliant mother looked down on her.  But Muriel felt she could outshine her mother on a social level. She joined a sorority that, in earlier days, did not accept Jewish girls.  She dressed down in the way wealthy college girls do, wearing shorts to fancy restaurants just to show how little it mattered.  She wheedled her father into buying her expensive jewelry for Christmas, jewelry he never bought for either of his wives—and even made him pay for trips to Europe, ski vacations in Switzerland. 
  Around that time, Muriel started dating a boy from a nearby college.  His name was Richard Madden, and he was considered a catch, from a prominent family.  Soon, Richard introduced Muriel to everyone in his social circle.  When she came home, Muriel showed pictures of Richard to everyone so they could see how successful her college years were. 
It was an old-fashioned kind of romance, Muriel said.    
I told my mother that Muriel was now in love.  “It’s like an old-fashioned romance,” I repeated, as if brainwashed.  
My mother was completely unimpressed.  “Mark my words,” she told me. “This is no old fashioned romance.”
  Over the next months, I learned that Muriel's real mother, the writer, was to be married again in March, in Washington, D.C., which was not far from Muriel's college in Virginia.  It was to be a surprisingly grand wedding, for a second wedding, with hundreds of guests.
The timing of the wedding was inconvenient, right before college mid-terms. Muriel didn't expect Richard to accompany her, but of course, she hoped. Richard insisted he needed to be there, just to support Muriel.   
Muriel told her father and Cathleen, “Richard will do anything to please me.  That’s the kind of man he is.” 
Muriel spent days searching for the perfect dress—and when she found an amazing pale blue gown trimmed with a tiny band of white lace, she marveled.  She e-mailed an image of herself in the dress to her step-sister—she even swept up her hair to reveal her diamond earrings.
Marianna created a beautiful crystal bracelet to go with it.  “You’ll be more beautiful than any one there,” she told her step-sister.  
The day before the wedding, Richard did not call and he did not return any of Muriel’s many messages and e-mails.  Muriel even called local hospitals, just in case he had been in an accident.  She waited all night for his call.  
Early the next morning, Muriel called Richard’s parents—it was awkward by that time, but she didn’t know what else to do.  Richard took the call.  He was angry at the intrusion, especially at his parents’ home.  He told her that he had no time to speak, and besides, she didn’t deserve it. She asked about the wedding--she had no other date.  He said he did not owe her an explanation and hung up.  He didn’t pick up when she called again.  He was done with her.
Muriel entered alone in her pale blue dress. At dinner, she sat next to an empty seat.  She made excuses but she knew no one, especially her sarcastic mother, believed her.  Several times, she checked her voicemail and e-mail, hoping for an apology.  But he sent none.  She knew she would never hear from him again, but she did not know why.  She reviewed every word and gesture, she could think of nothing that resembled an argument. 
Muriel assumed she would never see Richard Madden again, but in this, she was wrong.  The next week, he showed up on campus with one of her classmates. Richard gave a friendly hello and no more, as if he hardly knew her.    
After that, Muriel rarely saw her father or Cathleen—and mostly spent vacations with her sorority friends.  She disliked visiting the home that her father had made with Cathleen. Most of all, she couldn’t stand the sight of her step-sister, with her blonde hair and her doting mother.  She never been close to Marianna, but now, she despised her and taunted her.  Cathleen's daughter listened to the insults in silence—but she cried herself to sleep at night. 
My mother was unsurprised about Richard Madden.  “I never liked that boy,” she said. And for a while, we did not speak about Cathleen and her family.
Another two years passed, and Muriel went to Paris—the trip was supposed to last a few months.  That is when Muriel disappeared.  Her father hired a private detective to find Muriel. There were the usual false sightings and many dead ends, and eventually, the families gave up.  They accepted her disappearance. Her father removed her pictures from the wall—and no one spoke of her by name.
Marianna, though, had blossomed.  Despite her mother's opposition, she had entered a national fashion design contest and she had won.  She was perched for success.
But Cathleen told me, Marianna rejected the idea that Muriel was lost forever.  She had faith that Muriel would return eventually.  
I debated about which part of the story to tell my mother-- Marianna's new found confidence or the disturbing disappearance of Muriel.  Like many Jewish families, we had ghosts of our own and names that we never spoke.  But I ended up telling my mother the whole story.
And after I had told her everything, my mother said:
“The real story isn't about Richard Madden and Muriel.  It’s about the girls, Muriel and Marianna.  That's the real love story.  That's the one that no one else can see. 
“Marianna will find her.  Mark my words, Marianna will be the one.  You'll see, years from now, she will not have forgotten her.  She will never forget her step-sister.  Marianna is not that kind of person. She will go through every city in Europe.  She will never stop until she finds her. The girls will be re-united, and when they have children of their own, they will know each other and love each other.  Marianna is the only one who can find her.”
You'll see, mark my words.  

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