The Cuckoo in the Bush

Recreating Your Travel

“It was our first full day in Rome. Jo and I sat at a tiny, outdoor table, nibbling on slabs of Pizza Margherita. The pizzeria was located in a cobbled-stoned alley near the Via del Corso, a neighborhood of small hotels and great shopping. “What is that strange noise?” Jo asked, washing down a bite of pizza with her cola.
“Oh,” I said wearily, “that’s just the cuckoo in the bush.”
She glanced over her shoulder and shrugged. Burrowed into a bush by the cafe door was a man whose hat, clothes, shoes, hair, hands and face were spray painted a shiny silver. His features were sharp–think Anthony Quinn in Zorba the Greek–and his eyebrows and handlebar mustache gleamed like a newly minted dime in the sunlight. He was swigging from a liter-sized bottle of beer and cooing in perfect imitation of the bird. We’d been in Rome for less than 24 hours and were so grateful to have a roof over our heads, the cuckoo in the bush could have been a nightingale in the moonlight for all we cared.”
This was how I began an account of a trip I took with my good friend, Joanne, a few months after I learned she had a serious illness and wouldn’t be taking any more trips with me. I wanted her to have it for the memory; but mostly, I wanted to make her smile.
My friend, Jo, was a flight attendant. We were flying “space available” to Rome.  Although we were listed, and the plane wasn’t fully booked, someone might come along with more seniority. So, bags packed, we met at the Dulles airport in D.C. I’d taken two flights from Kentucky to meet her, and she’d flown from the Pacific northwest.
Since we weren’t sure of the flight, we’d decided if we couldn’t get the flight to Rome, we’d go somewhere else. Maybe Frankfort. Maybe France. But, we would have a trip. We had euros; we had our passports; we had two weeks. It seemed enough.
Recently, I was talking about writing to a young man in my family. He has spent an incredible year abroad: teaching in Thailand, trekking in Nepal, walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. He’s planning to write about his year, but told me he’d inadvertently lost his Nepal notes while bicycling in Paris. We discussed how he might begin his book.
“Recreate,” I said. “Forget about chronological order for the moment. Write scenes, descriptions, snatches of remembered conversations. Recall the sensation of taste, smell, sound, sight. Write as much as you can and don’t worry about how it will all fit. Weave it together after you find the predominating theme.”
As I wrote, and assembled remembered scenes about my trip with Joanne, the theme and title became obvious: Tuscany Without A Plan. Although I hadn’t taken notes on the trip–I was two busy driving our rental, 6-speed manual transmission Fiat and trying to keep us alive in traffic–I found it wasn’t hard to recreate our trip with the help of several maps, hotel and restaurant receipts, and a travel guide that would remind me of the correct names and spelling of the places we’d visited.
It’s really all you need; the humor, travails, joys and descriptions will not desert you. The people you met will come alive in your pages; the streets will invite you to walk them again; the sunset will thrill you anew.

Note: Long time between posts: A book fair, a workshop I presented on Oral History and the Art of Creative Eavesdropping, and a family medical issue has eaten up time. I promise to do better.

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