What is the one place down on the surface of Planet Earth’s crust should everyone go visit at least once in their life? As gorgeous as they are, it’s not those beautiful lakes that fall one into the other in the picture above.
So many people pass thru Seattle these days and night, coming and going and going and coming, from somewhere to nowhere to everywhere. It seems Seattle is now the one place to go, or it’s what I hear from so many tourists. Which surprises me. Seattle is booming, yes, one survey earlier this year counted 80 construction cranes dominating the Downtown and Belltown areas alone. Despite the magnificent scenery of the Salish Sea and the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, however, Seattle isn’t The One Place On Earth One Must Go. I love Seattle, tho.
During the Great Recession I worked in retail at the Downtown Seattle REI Store, its largest flagship, and met people from around the world. Still do. Love working here at REI. Many fellow human beings from all over Cascadia, too, came and went and come and go as they tell stories about past trips, excited or in some cases afraid of upcoming adventures. Many people come into REI to buy supplies on their way to help out others, whether it’s devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal, supertyphoons in the Philippines, giant mudslides in Latin America, or the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
At work I am usually in sustained motion. When it’s slow, I either stock products or stand briefly and people watch. Engage and talk. Ask questions and listen. Help them find appropriate products, or if we don’t have them, suggest other places. Once there was a man from Yakutsk, the capital of the Sakha Republic in Russia’s Siberia. He was of Turkish-Mongol-Siberian ancestry, was unusually tall, and was in the United States for the first time. Dressed like a cross between a tweedy college professor, a backcountry woodsman, and a steampunk engineer, he was in quiet awe of the amount of merchandise in every store, including North American grocery stores. He was especially in awe of REI’s depth and breadth in outdoor adventure travel.
Claiming to be among the numerous proud descendants of Genghis Khan’s warriors, he said I should visit Siberia. I’d love to go, I replied. Siberia! One of the wildest, most extreme regions on Earth! The vast boreal forests of the Siberian Taiga, deep and mysterious Lake Baikal, hungry brown and black bears raiding villages, gigantic rivers pulsing towards the Arctic Ocean, bitter subfreezing temperatures, exploding scary ass methane craters in Yamal, the wild, remote, volcanic Kamchatka Peninsula, meteorite-hit cities, huge mountains and isolated deserts, southern steppes and northern tundra, Eurasian ethno-cultural blending amid ancient, little-known ruins, and the longest railroads in the world. O, Siberia!
But, no, not even majestic Siberia. There’s another place even more incredible everyone must try to get to. Yes, everyone.
One sunny day I met a young couple at REI from Puerto Williams, the most southernmost city in Chile, Patagonian Chile. It’s further south than even larger Punta Arenas. The man and woman proudly carried their new baby. They lit up with smiles and remarked about the synchronicity of a man wearing a nametag stating “William” asking them where they hailed from.
The very next day I met another young couple also smiling in delight with their first baby. They were also from Patagonia, but from the Argentine side. They hailed from Ushuala, Argentina. Ushuala is slightly northwest of Puerto Williams, but both cities lay a bit to the southeast of Punta Arenas.
All three towns boast being the southernmost cities in Planet Earth, not counting much smaller settlements further south not to mention bases in Antarctica. The Chilean-Argentine border is a fluke of history left over from the Spanish Empire drawing lines on paper, but still, it was so cool to meet these two South American couples. Patagonia is one of the most beautiful and rugged regions of the planet and is indeed on my bucket list. Patagonia isn’t, however, The One Place Everyone Must Go To.
I’ve met people from every continent, including Antarctica. As REI caters to outdoor adventurers and world travelers and is one of the top three tourist attractions in Seattle, I’ve been honored to engage with people from most of the nations in our planet as well as Americans and Canadians from all over. The pay is less than stellar, especially if compared to back when I worked in an anti-Wall Street pro-working class international financial aggregate before the Great Global Recession. My then-wife and I lost everything as two men high up succumbed to greed and embezzled all our investments and savings along with those of many other people. I swam with sharks, and I am not a shark. Heck, they were men worse than sharks. So in many ways serving customers from around the planet at Recreational Equipment, Incorporated, remains the most fun job I’ve ever had. At least since I worked at the Nantahala Outdoor Center almost three decades earlier.
In late September I felt blessed with meeting a young het couple from Switzerland. No babies yet, they laughed. They were wrapping up a two-year journey of traveling between Alaska and Yukon in the furthest north of western North America and Patagonia and the Straights of Magellan at the southernmost tip of South America. They were a delight to serve, and were more than willing to answer my questions.
Another time I served a whole family from South Africa who lived in Ukraine then Ireland and now were going to Brazil. Families from Mexico. Individuals from all across Africa. Couples from Australia and Indonesia. People from India and Sri Lanka, Nepal and Korea, from New Zealand and Peru and Kenya and even Congo.
A German guy on his way to Vietnam stopped in America to buy a new backpack, an American backpack. He sought to purchase it right here in Seattle and especially right here at REI. Only the German brand we carried, Deuter, fit him well. He chuckled when he read the label and saw his German backpack was manufactured in Vietnam.
Then there were two zippy young women from eastern Slovakia who felt Seattle was larger than even their capital city of Bratislava. Really? I said in surprise as I thought all European capitals dwarfed Seattle. Apparently I didn’t account for the staggering growth of Greater Seattle or what some now call Pugetopolis. Once I helped outfit another young couple with a baby with a new child carrier backpack. She was from Kyushu, the southernmost of the four large islands of Japan, and he grew up in Manchuria, in northwestern China. Their baby was American.
There was the lady from Prague in the Czech Republic, and another from Hungary who dreaded going back to her right-wing regime in Budapest. I met happy, smiling people from Poland, more grim ones from Ukraine, and even Nigeria and Ghana and Ecuador and Peru and Singapore. Another man from Poland. And an entire family from Norway. And a young lady from Denmark and random people from India and Finland and Taiwan. One guy insisted he was from Hong Kong and not to confuse it with the rest of China. This was after the Umbrella Revolution, of course.
There were so many people from numerous different ethnic groups coming in and out of Seattle and in and out of REI. I felt great gratitude for all of these fellow human beings. I appreciated my job allowed me the blessings of so many interactions. The majority of those who work at REI with me have also been to many places and engaged in numerous adventures.
Whether customers or colleagues, most stay far away from wars and combat zones, tho. People wish to keep their heads. Even when they go to regions where wars burn horrors into the world, they avoid the heart of battles and cities plagued by terrorism. Sometimes the violence catches up no matter what.
Recently this October of 2015 flurry of new maps poured into REI. Beautiful National Geographic Society maps of Iceland, Ireland, and other countries. Of stunning national parks here in North America. Of glamorous cities abroad. Reminders even with all the suffering and struggles of everyday people, with mass migrations of refugees on the move in many areas, there were still regions of beauty where the locals welcomed visitors.
In a fit of Travelitis, I asked my colleague Myrna what suggestions would she recommend for world travel these days? She is one small but ferociously fit woman with snow-white hair and bold blue eyes. Myrna marched around the Flagship store in her black and white striped outfit with her forest-green REI workvest slung around her shoulders like a gunslinger setting forth to deliver justice. “I am 73 years old,” she said with calm confidence, “Just got back from a few weeks hiking in the Balkans, and I kicked butt.”
She’s traveled around the world, seen many things, done even more, and a couple of years ago thruhiked the Camino de Santiago from southern France across Spain to just north of Portugal. Now she was busy showing me and our co-workers fotografs of an intricate latticework of large, travertine waterfalls and interconnected lakes corkscrewing thru karst rock formations in Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia. Plitvice Lakes with its lakes cascading one into the other is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“Awesome, Myrna! Incredible. Wow, I just want to go somewhere! Anywhere! I must! But, hey,” I asked her, “as you’ve been all around the planet, what suggestions do you have for a middle-age man such as myself who wants to get back out there and do stuff again!”
I fantasized about kayaking whitewater canyons in the Andes, or exploring the Amazon rainforest, or trekking to climb in the Himalayas, or out hiking the deserts and canyons of the Larapinta Trail in the scorching heat of the Central Australian Desert, or, Hell, just maybe, just maybe backpack the scary Kokoda Track across Papua New Guinea’s mountain jungles! Not to mention the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal and the High Sierra High Route – John Muir Trail Triangle in California.
“Yeah, what do you suggest?” I asked.
“Paris!” she blurted out.
“Whuh – whuh – what?”
“Paris!” She blurted out again and looked me straight in the eye all lit up like Christmas.
“Everyone should see Paris!” she said rapidly in her soft, machine-gun way of speaking one learns to do between retail customers. “It’s the most beautiful, amazing, fantastic place ever! Yes, it’s a city. And, yes, there are mountains and rivers and beautiful beaches and waterfalls here and there and everywhere but Paris, but, ahhh, Paris! The culture! The smells! The food! The sounds of French! The architecture! The art! The heart and soul of so many movies, and not just Woody Allen’s, mind you! Yes, Paris, the City of Lights! And when you’re too old to go climb those mountains, you can always go sit down and have breakfast in Paris and then go for a walk along the Seine! Paris!”
“Paris!” she insisted with a wicked delight and then turned away as we both had customers from other countries requesting our assistance with … finding the toilets.
Paris, where writers and artists go. Poets and chefs! Architects and musicians! Painters and sculptors! Novelists and bakers! Paris is where one of my daughter Morgan’s best friends from high school had moved to about a month ago. She recently posted in social media doing so was “one of the best decisions” she’d ever made. She couldn’t “wait to see what other adventures Paris” had for her.
Yes, Paris has its share of harrowing tales, grit, crime, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, ultranationalism, and has served as a bastion for regional and global imperialism and capitalism. Riots and insurrections mar its history. Cigarettes and garbage abide by wine, coffee, cheese, and a flair for style. But what great city does not have scandals and nightmares alongside fame, glory, peace, and romance? Hell, I don’t smoke but I could almost Bogart up a cigarette right now. Almost. But I definitely won’t cut off my ear as van Gogh may have done in the South of France (or it could’ve been Gauguin with a sword) or fall down drunk in a gutter as Poe did in Baltimore and Richmond. Vincent van Gogh did not want Paul Gaugin to return north to Paris, but he did, and Poe likely never made it to Paris tho he did live briefly in London as a child.
A flood of memories poured thru my mind. Old black and white scenes from 1942’s Casablanca, a movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. “We’ll always have Paris,” Rick Blaine, played by Bogart, says to Ilsa Lund, played by Bergman.
Ilsa: But what about us?
Rick: We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have, we, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.
Ilsa: When I said I would never leave you.
Also reminded me even more of one of my favorite episodes from Star Trek: The Next Generation, “We’ll Always Have Paris.” It aired in May 1988 toward the end of the first season of this epic television series, although I didn’t see it until many years later. While it got mixed reviews, I liked it for a number of reasons, perhaps because I was going thru my own heartbreak with nostalgia for the lost romantic loves of my past.
Paris. Aye, Paris. Paris awaits me. It’ll always be there. Not counting the end of the world, of course. I’m going. Sometime. Because I must. I will go. To. Paris. As the ocean washes mountains down into pebbles and sand. We’ll always have Paris, won’t we, even if some of us never quite make it there, shall we? Aye, we shall go. Indubitably so. To Paris!
William Dudley Bass
Tuesday 20 October 2015
Notes on Image Sources:
- <Public Domain>
- File:Plitvice lakes.JPG
- Uploaded by Neoneo13
- Created: 31 May 2003
- See: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plitvice_Lakes_National_Park>.
2. Regarding the second foto:
Author Archives: kulturaistvaranje
3. Regarding the third foto:
4. Regarding the fourth foto:
From free stock images online: <http://news.softpedia.com/news/Free-Public-Transport-for-All-Officials-in-Paris-Rule-432219.shtml>.
5. Regarding the fifth foto:
From free stock images online: Paris’ Gothic wonder, the Cathédral Notre Dame de Paris, bathed in twilight. Image by Brian Jannsen/Photostock Getty. <http://www.lonelyplanet.com/france/travel-tips-and-articles/76886>.
6. The movie script with dialogue between the characters Rick Blaine (played by the actor Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa Lund (“ilsa,” played by the actress Ingrid Bergman) is from <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034583/quotes>.
Copyright © 2015, 2016 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Earth & Solarian Commons. Thank you.