I have had five passports. Whether I’ll need another is unknown, but many of us are hoping – dreaming – of being able to travel freely again.
Oh my. I was 20 years old and just months away from the adventure of my life. I flew (for the first time) from Boston to Zürich and spent my junior year of college in Fribourg, Switzerland. My passport has stamps from Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Belgium, and The Netherlands.
My first passport was soon to expire (it was good for just five years back then), so I renewed it, in anticipation of a trip to Morocco. A few years later, I returned to Switzerland, then again, then again. I brought my passport with me on a long weekend to Montréal, but I don’t think I needed it. There was also a vacation to The Netherlands.
HAHAHA! I was just a few months away from getting married, but I wasn’t as scared as I look in this photo. We were going to St. Lucia for our honeymoon, so I needed to renew my passport. We traveled to London on this passport, too.
Next up was the new passport I needed for our trip together to Switzerland. I’d been to ‘la belle Suisse’ many, many times since that first journey in 1978, but I was looking forward to showing my husband. Born to an Austrian mother, he’d done plenty of traveling before we met – to Salzburg and England and countless times to scuba-dive in the Caribbean. We took a couple of trips to Switzerland, in 2007 and again in 2009, and drove to Montréal in 2010.
This is my current passport photo – who IS that old woman, anyway? I wasn’t allowed to wear the thick black-framed eyeglasses that are as much a part of me as my blue eyes. And I probably should have worn more makeup. It’s my deer-in-the-headlights look. But I’ve got this passport until 2026. I’ve traveled back to Switzerland twice on this passport, both times alone, both times with the intention of getting a book out of the trip. That did happen in early 2017 – my novel Villa del Sol was a result. But the last trip, in March 2020, was ill-fated, and COVID-19 had me returning home just three days later.
So we wait. For mass vaccinations, for immunity, for the chance to travel again, under circumstances more normal. Until then, I dream.
Notice I wrote traveling through, not traveling with. Although I wouldn’t know if I have COVID-19, the Coronavirus. I haven’t been tested, I’m not showing symptoms, but yes, I could be infected. After all, I was in the midst of thousands of others this past week, at Boston’s Logan airport, Reykjavík’s Keflavik airport, Zürich’s airport, the train from Zürich to Fribourg. Then the markets and coffee shops and restaurants and stores in Fribourg. And, sadly, just a few days later, the packed train from Fribourg to Zürich, a flight from Zürich to Dublin, four hours in the jam-packed Dublin airport, six hours on the full airplane to Boston.
My little vacation and book research trip was cut short after president Trump declared Wednesday evening that, effective Friday, all travel from European countries to the US, was banned for 30 days. That’s what he said, what he supposedly read off a Teleprompter. (Yes, I know that Homeland Security later clarified it, but he’d already stated the mistruth.) I watched the speech, at around 2:00 in the morning in my hotel room, with a sense of dread. I was scheduled to be in Fribourg until Monday, 16 March. Under his directive, I would be stuck in Switzerland for another month. Now, you know I love Switzerland! But I couldn’t stay for a month. So, at 2:00 am Thursday morning, I began packing. I thought, just in case. I sent an email to my husband, letting him know I was awake and aware of the situation.
A half hour later, he called me. After a few choice words for Trump, he implored me to come home. “Do whatever it takes,” he said. “Don’t worry about the money. Just come home.”
By 3:30, I was dressed and packed. I sent messages to my friend Barbara, with whom I’d spent a lovely day on Tuesday, and to my friend Fabiola, with whom I was supposed to spend Saturday. I had friends sending messages to me. ‘Did you hear?’ ‘What are you going to do?’ ‘I’m worried about you.’
I checked out of the hotel. Four nights unused, and although the guy at the desk said he’d look into it, I don’t expect a refund. I walked through dark and quiet streets to the train station (that brought back memories of my student days!), purchased a ticket from a smart machine, and rolled my bag up a ramp to track 3. The 6:04 train left on time – of course – and filled up at Bern, its next stop. Every time I heard someone cough near me, I pulled my scarf up over my nose.
I arrived at the airport by 8:00 and traveled up escalators to the departures area. When I inquired about where to find the Icelandair check-in desk, I learned that Icelandair doesn’t have a desk in the airport. (Note to self regarding discount airfares: sometimes you get what you pay for)
I was sent to FinnAir. I tried calling Icelandair and was told I was number 76 in the queue. After twenty minutes, I was number 72. I asked the woman at FinnAir if Swiss was flying to Boston that day. She directed me to another counter, where a very nice man looked up flights available Thursday to Boston. It was 8:30 in the morning. I was operating on zero sleep, one cup of coffee. I had last eaten at 4:00 Wednesday afternoon. He told me my best option was on Aer Lingus, Zürich to Dublin, Dublin to Boston. $1,397.00
I handed over my Visa card. The crowds at the airport, my understanding of exponential growth, and my intense desire to be home propelled me to the Aer Lingus check-in counter and down to the waiting area.
Both flights were full. Two women who had arrived in Prague on Tuesday and were flying back to Seattle, a nine-hour flight. “We had one day, yesterday,” one of them said. Four male college students on spring break, heading home early because their parents were “freaking out,” one said. When I defended the parents’ concern, they grinned and acknowledged it was the right thing to do. Most of the passengers, it seemed, were there because of the speech. Even the officials at passport control understood.
Only one time I was asked if I’d been to China or Iran. No one cared that I’d been in Switzerland, where there are nearly 650 cases and 4 deaths. That was on Wednesday. One day earlier there were only 500 cases.
I am home. My husband was at Logan last night to pick me up. I’d been awake for nearly 48 hours straight. I’m going to self-quarantine while I monitor myself. I hope others do, but many won’t.
As for Fribourg, it’s been in my memory for over 40 years. It’ll stay there, even if some of those memories aren’t quite as sharp as they once were. And the book? It’s still going to be written. A self-imposed quarantine gives me plenty of time to write.
I managed to sneak in a blog post before the end of a January. Sorry for not being more consistent, but January finds me deep into drafting my new novel. And I write it out in longhand (with my favorite pen) in a spiral-bound notebook my dear friend Lynne gave to me. I’ve written twenty-four chapters so far – yay, me!
Meanwhile, the three books I wrote as my “Happy Ever After” trilogy are being featured on various book blogs over the coming weeks. This is a way to let readers who may not know me learn about my books, and there’s a giveaway of the trilogy as well. You can follow THIS LINK to find out about all the tour stops and enter the Rafflecopter giveaway.
Hey, if you know me, you know I’m big on giveaways. Belated congratulations to Geri C. in Indiana, who won my big December giveaway box. I’ll have another one coming up in the spring.
Like all indie authors, I could use more reviews on Amazon. Yep, you’ve read this before. But I’ll keep asking because it truly helps. Just a few words will do, and I’d rather have honest feedback, even if it’s critical. It helps me be a better writer.
Back to the new novel. The year is 1981 and the setting is…..wait for it….yes, it’s set in Switzerland! That means I need to go back and research. No, really, my husband insisted. So off I go in March to visit with my friends and refresh my memory. Expect this new novel in late November – I’m already excited about it! I’ll share more as the year progresses.
We’re living in uncertain times, my friends. Each day provides us with opportunities to be kind. I don’t want to miss those chances, do you?
Leave a comment on today’s post and you’re eligible to win this author’s giveaway. Each day in November that you comment gives you an entry into the Grand Prize giveaway at the end of the month! (Print copies for US residents only, please. If you live outside the US and win, you’ll receive a digital version of the book.)
Traveling on the Page for a New Perspective
Travel and literature go together like Hemingway and Key West. Some of history’s most beloved books are journey tales that send protagonists adventuring from one destination to another, across lands real or imagined. In the travel tale there is always a physical destination, but it is about more than just that – characters embark on internal voyages of growth, be they spiritual, emotional or otherwise. The main character may be seeking treasure or fame but underneath they are seeking love, redemption, revenge or peace. Shakespeare, Tolkien, Hemingway, Steinbeck – the list goes on and on of writers utilizing the journey and rich depictions of a place to drive home their thematic purpose and bring a story to life.
As a journalist – travel writer to be exact – I put great value on these types of stories. And my travel writing influences my fiction writing a great deal, in style and substance. My novel, Stone Angels, is about a young man struggling with an extremely guilty conscience. The setting places him on a road trip, up and down the Atlantic Coast, to and from Spring Break. But the reader is placed inside his head, following his introspective journey from denial to acceptance to possible confession of his many sins and ultimately redemption.
In many ways, Stone Angels is a quintessential journey story, one that embraces the power of travel and the need to get out of one’s comfort zone, shrug off the warm fuzzy sweater that is our daily lives and let the unknown provide a new perspective. Stone Angels does this for the main character and for the reader. My goal was to send readers on their own journey, allowing them to explore their emotional response to this very intimate story and maybe gain a new perspective, like all good travel should do.
Michael Hartigan is the winner of the 2015 Outstanding Writer Award from Merrimack Media. Hartigan’s journalistic work and travel writing has been featured in numerous national and regional publications, including USA Today, The Arizona Republic, and Destinations Travel Magazine. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and daughter. Visit Michael at his website.
Michael is giving away a hard copy of his award-winning book, Stone Angels. Just leave a comment on this blog post to be eligible!
Forty years ago today, I boarded my first airplane and began a year abroad that would forever mark my life. The thirty or so students who went with me might well have the same thought – we all were impacted by a year in Switzerland, with no internet or cell phones.
My first novel, Chocolate for Breakfast, was (very) loosely based on that year. Like Bernadette Maguire, I was 20, naive (yes), and hopeful. Unlike Bernadette, I did not have an affair with a married man, nor did I get pregnant with his child. 😉 I recall explaining that to friends, who took my storytelling literally.
I’ve returned to my beloved Switzerland often – in 1981 to work as an au pair (there’s a book I should write), again a few years later, multiple times in the 1990s, and most recently in January 2017, where I was inspired to write Villa del Sol.
But the year that began on 28 September 1978 was my year. I don’t have any Cardinal beer to drink, no Giandor chocolate bar, and the Café Chemin de Fer is now, I believe, an Indian restaurant. Things change, even in Fribourg, Switzerland.
“Mesdames et messieurs, it is time to go sleep!” 🇨🇭🇨🇭🇨🇭
This morning I’m here, not yet there. By tomorrow morning, I’ll be there, not here. For a time that seems not long enough, yet is the only length of time I dare be away. And I’ll be by myself, not with the man who’s been my travel partner for nearly 23 years.
There were a lot of trips abroad, mostly to Switzerland, so I do know my way around. This time, on my own, I have a purpose – to continue with a new novel I’ve only scratched out so far, but have written in my head. And I’ll be meeting up with two women – one I haven’t seen since that first year spent at the university in Fribourg, the other someone I’ve never met in person but who found me through my books. How great is that?!
And on Friday, I’ll be there, not here. Yeah, I’m okay with that, as I had no intention of watching the inauguration. It’s going to happen with or without me. And I’m not going to say anything else about it. Instead, here’s ‘there.’
My first novel, Chocolate for Breakfast, was published on August 12, 2012 – nearly four years ago! (It was republished with a new cover in April 2013.) In those four years, I’ve written and published six novels, all of which have given me tremendous pride and a sense of accomplishment. I’m doing what I’ve always dreamed of doing, and that is sufficient. Well, pretty much.
New novels can trigger a sales flurry, but sales drop off after a time, even for beloved best-sellers.
So….for the coming week, every one of my six novels will be discounted to 99 cents for the e-book (Kindle version). I have no control over the print price, but if you come to the RI Authors Book Expo on December 3, 2016 http://www.riauthors.org/riexpo/ , I’ll have print copies available for a great price.
You can grab a three-book series, described by one reader as “writing (that) draws wonderful pictures of the characters and allows you to really ‘fall into’ the book ~ which is one of my favorite things about reading.” Or read about a group of classmates readying for their 25-year high school reunion and visiting old grievances. A novel about a young woman pursuing her dream of becoming a best-selling author, only to face a harsh reality check. And finally, a lighter story involving two friends who gamble on a dream of turning a rundown farm into a premier wedding venue. If you’ve already read these books, here’s a chance to give some gifts. In any event, I’m grateful – so very grateful – for all the positive feedback and encouragement I’ve received, from friends and strangers new friends, over the past four years.
In 1980, I was a recent college graduate, intelligent but politically ignorant. I’d first voted in 1976 for Jimmy Carter. My father was infuriated. But I tended to lean left then, even if I wasn’t entirely sure why. I made the bold proclamation that if Ronald Reagan was elected president, I’d leave the country. Oh, how easy! I was 22 and full of ideas.
Reagan was elected, and in April 1981, I flew away. It wasn’t just because of Reagan, of course – I’d desperately wanted to return to my beloved Switzerland, so I bought a one-way ticket and had enough money to last a few months.
A former professor at the university where I’d spent my junior year of college helped me answer a couple of ads. One was local – a couple needed an au pair for at least the summer. The other was at the prestigious Monte Rosa boarding school in Montreux. One paid very little, one paid considerably more. I heard back from the couple first, and, needing to secure employment, accepted their offer. (The Monte Rosa contacted me a few days later, and, trying to be honorable, I turned them down and another American took the job.)
The husband of the family interviewed me at the hotel where I was living. We sat outside, at a tiny table, and drank strong coffee. His Italian-accented French was easy to understand, and we conversed without problem. He said to me, “You Americans, you’re always saying, ‘We’re Number One!'” He demonstrated with his index finger while smirking at me. I answered, “That’s because we are,” and grinned back.
I’m reminded of this exchange, and that long-ago summer, as I hear and read about people – adults my age – saying they’ll leave the country if Donald Trump is elected our next president. I’m sure some feel the same way about Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee on the other side. It’s not that easy to move to another country, and youknowit. Unless you’re loaded with money and extraordinary connections, relocating for at least four years is nearly impossible. My life abroad in 1981 lasted less than six months. The Swiss government made it clear that my ‘visit’ was coming to an end.
I’m in final edits for my new novel, Bittersweet Chocolate, which is the third and final book in the trilogy that features Bernadette Maguire, Karl Berset, and Jean-Michel Eicher, among others. Presently the manuscript is with a couple of readers for feedback, so I have a non-writing day planned for tomorrow – something that will lead to a new book.
In June 1924, my grandfather, Earl R. Handy, and his pal John B. Hudson set off for a two-week canoe and camping trip along three rivers in Rhode Island and Connecticut: the Moosup, the Quinebaug, and the Pawcatuck. This was two years before he married Dorothy Kenyon, my grandmother. Locals hikers are familiar with the name John Hudson – there’s a hiking trail named after him. Hudson and Handy did a lot of hiking and camping in this area, as well as up in New Hampshire. As a child, one of my fondest memories is traipsing through the woods behind their house in Perryville, a marked route we called the ‘bunny trail.’
My grandfather kept a journal throughout the two-week trip, and I have it. Tomorrow I’m going to trace the route – not by canoe, of course, but by car. We’ll head west through Rhode Island, following the Moosup River into Connecticut, then follow the Quinebaug as it heads south all the way to New London. We’ll continue along the shore, passing Groton, Mystic, all the way into Westerly, where we’ll pick up the Pawcatuck and head back north toward Bradford and Worden’s Pond, following the Pawcatuck to Thirty Acre Pond, next to the URI campus, where the journey ended. I have some old photos from 1924, but I imagine whatever pictures I take will look nothing like what these two men saw from the water nearly ninety years ago.
So that’s the plan! Something a little different to work on, and I hope to publish the book in time for the 90th anniversary of the trip.
GIVEAWAY! If you haven’t read my most recent book, Bits of Broken Glass, you can enter to win a print copy here via Goodreads. I’m giving away five copies and a couple hundred people have signed up so far. You can enter up until December 2nd.
This photograph, which I’m guessing was taken around 1940 by my grandfather, shows my grandmother, Dorothy Kenyon Handy, enjoying a day with her children, Joyce, John, and Carter. And some four-legged friends. My mom would have been about twelve in this photo.
My mother died six years ago today, although my sisters and I had lost her long before that, to the ravages of dementia, a disease that is not as cruel to the victim as, say, cancer, but that torments the loved ones who watch it take away memory, recognition, speech. The loving but stricter-than-most mother we knew had become a passive childlike woman who smiled nearly all the time. Her eyes seemed to recognize us, but she was unable to speak any of our names (at one point, she thought my name was ‘Fizzy,’ another time, “Swamp’ while she could still say a few words).
The summer I turned twenty-one was also the summer I returned from a year abroad, and the summer after my father died (three months earlier). A difficult time for everyone, especially for my mom and me, navigating our way through a too-empty house together, me wanting the same freedoms I’d enjoyed in Switzerland, she, probably afraid when any of us was out of her sight for too long. She was a widow, younger than I am now, with three daughters, one still in college, one yet to go. A woman who attended college but whose greatest joy was being a wife and mother. Intelligent, she set the bar high for her children, and didn’t tolerate bad manners, bad language, or kissing a boy in a convertible parked in the driveway late on a sultry summer night. She and I found our way eventually, as mothers and daughters do, and one of my fondest memories is of a trip we took in the early nineties to Switzerland (her second time there). Days were filled with train trips to points around the country. I had a rare opportunity to teach and translate. At night we played cribbage and she won every single hand.
I watched her take control of her new life as a husbandless woman. The invitations to parties and bridge games on Saturday night vanished. She learned what her assets were and how to manage them. She traveled, eventually, seeing places she might only have dreamed about.
Dementia takes its sweet damned time, and my mother lived with the progressive disease for more than four years. It didn’t surprise me at all that she waited until her three daughters and two sons-in-law were gathered around her bed before she took her last breath, as morphine helped her wind down just like a clock.
But today, instead of focusing on that one moment of loss, I’ll finish a crossword puzzle and make a Rhode Island chowder in her memory.