California, 2016, and The Art of Pilgrimage

silhouette of golden gate bridge

How can that NOT make your heart thump?

Saturday, a month to the day after arriving in California, we left. It was a dream land where everyone: sips ridiculously expensive (albeit delicious) reds, darts about with their adorable kids and dogs in tow, and looks great in lycra bike shorts. It seemed a fictional place, but we just spent a month there–so it can’t be.

Yet after 30 days, I won’t write a word about California. No, “Three Days in….” or “Best Vineyards…” summaries. Unfortunately, it never caused me to whisper to Pat, “Wow! What’s up with that? It might be a great blog topic,” as I did almost daily in Central Europe.

California, it turns out, feels like home—a place which shouldn’t kick you in the teeth or cause your heart to thump a few hundred beats per minute. Or should it?

While there, I read Phil Cousineau’s book The Art of Pilgrimage. He encourages travel where the voyager is seeking something. Not the fountain of youth or the holy grail, but something specific and individual. This pilgrimage focuses the trip.

I wondered, “What if I had made California a pilgrimage?” Would I have explored the center of the food to table movement and one of its high priestesses—Chez Panisse and Alice Waters? Or perhaps read Slouching towards Bethlehem and researched Haight Ashbury and the summer of love? Or devoured a pile of Jack London novels and then visited his home in Sonoma?

Instead, I did none of those things.

Moving forward, I am committed to researching places more thoroughly, selecting a particular angle I find riveting, and building this into the journey. I enjoy travel so much more with a goal.

During our time in Bratislava, I stumbled upon a captivating story which I have thought about nearly every day of the last four years. Pat is encouraging me to write a book about it, as are friends, and now an agent. When I consider my obsessions, Central Europe—the history, culture, people, and impact on the United States, is at the top. Enter my pilgrimage.

We decided to open up next year’s agenda in order to add two months in Bratislava (October and November). Coupled with May already planned in Hungary, and we will spend three months in the region.

Then we added two months in Courtmacsherry, Ireland—a place we are considering for our future home. The village is perched on a bay which 100 years ago became the graveyard of the Lusitania. Many of the dead are buried in Lislee Church a few miles from town. With Erik Larson’s new book, Dead Wake, in hand, I can’t wait to dig into this event further. In all our trips to Courtmacsherry, I never bothered to piece this story together.

And we added a month in Paris…. In September….. One of my favorite months in my favorite city. (No pilgrimage required.) Yet maybe I’ll research the Senegalese culture as an homage to a certain chicken man.

We will return to California for a part of next August, and this time I will chase enough ideas to consume most of our trip. Not every minute need be devoted to the quest.

2016 will be the year where we travel more thoughtfully and where I start my novel (gulp—I’m way over my head on this one).

As we boarded the plane from San Francisco, Pat was fist pumping a return to Slovakia. (His grandfather was a Prohaska from the Bohemian part of Czechoslovakia—he has his own quest to work though.)

And as we drive to Northern Michigan from North Carolina in 10 days, we will stop for a night in Hamtramck—a city nearly encapsulated within Detroit and part of an area known as “Pole Town.”

Did you know 90% of the inhabitants of Hamtramck were Polish in 1970?….  No?

Neither did I.

I also didn’t know the two best rated restaurants are still owned by the original Polish families. How cool is that? We will eat dinner at one and then have lunch at the other before scurrying up north to Sutton’s Bay.

Residents of Hamtramck debate which restaurant is better. I can’t wait to find out for myself.



Categories: The United States

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18 replies

  1. Before you head to Sutton’s Bay, do read up on Interlochen Center for the Arts and plan a visit there while you’re in the area. It is a magical place, providing a lifetime of inspiration to thousands of young people over the years. My son graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy in 1994, and I took the leap and worked at Interlohen Arts Camp for the six-week summer session this year, accompanying junior high school students in the musical theatre program. You’ll love the writing house, I’m sure.

    Thank you for sharing your adventures.

    • Jan, thanks for the tip! The summer of 1976, my husband was a counselor there… (Ugh, so long ago!). But I have not been there in years. I need to look at their schedule.
      I learned recently that they host a writer’s workshop in the summer.

      • There are some wonderful wineries to visit on the Leelanau peninsula. The storm of August 2 hit the area of Sleeping Bear Dunes especially hard, but there’s still a lot of beauty to be explored up there. Have a wonderful adventure!

  2. I totally have travel envy right now. *gulp* Now back to teaching my 4th and 5th graders about common factors.

  3. Great great great news Julie that we’ll have you back n Bratislava. Looking forward !!!

  4. Hamtramck you say? My dad’s Aunt and family lived there until 1977, when they moved out to the suburbia. I visited there around ’82 or ’83. Can’t wait to see what you think of the town. It must have changed since then!

  5. Sigh, feeling slightly envious reading this, but go you! xx

  6. I essentially “grew up” in Hamtramck in the 70s; both sets of Polish grandparents lived there. We lived just a short distance away; both parents attended Catholic schools in Hamtramck. Many fond memories of church festivals. and shopping on Jos. Campau (now an historic district). Though I still maintain that the best Polish food came from my grandmother’s kitchens, I’m looking forward to your observations!

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