2016 has been a year of travel firsts for me: My first visits to New York City, Padua and Stockholm were all memorable in different ways – good and bad, but mostly good and sometimes extraordinary. Being in NYC during the second biggest blizzard to whitewash the Big Apple since records began was thrilling, and walking down all-but deserted, snow blanketed streets like Madison Avenue and Broadway was to experience a kind of benign apocalypse. These are the sort of memories which etch themselves so deep into the fabric of one’s being, they become a part of who one is.
While Padua and Stockholm offered nothing quite so spectacular, they did, in their own distinct and quirky ways impress and give pause. I returned from one feeling refreshed in spirit and from the other, in body, both to unusual degrees.
In purely colourist terms, the overriding impressions of the three cities were white and platinum, silver and blue and ochre and gold – I’ll leave it to the imagination of the reader to guess to which/what each refers…
In addition to travelling there were all the regular and irregular events and postings which go to make up a pretty typical year in the life of this blogger. Presented below is a snapshot record of those events and postings.
This then is me signing off for 2016, wishing all my followers, viewers and accidental visitors a wonderful Christmas, or Hanukkah (or both), a Happy New Year and loads of good luck for 2017.
Regular readers of these pages will know that travel comprises a significant part of my life, even to the point that I once had homes concurrently in three different countries.
But, when I look back now, of all the hundreds of journeys, vacations and adventures since my first flight – aged three – to Zurich from London on a Swiss Air Caravelle (I remember that we sat facing each other with a little table between us, as on a train) – there are eight trips of which every detail remains etched into my memory.
All of these trips were specifically formative in that they either changed my life in a literal sense, or my perceptions of life in some fundamental way. Followers of this blog might already be aware of some of these episodes.
Firstly there was the trip to Israel in 1967 just weeks after the Six-Day War which blew both my 7-year old mind and my 1960’s, suburban British olfactory senses. I vividly remember being on the Golan Heights, walking along the safe paths marked out by Israeli mine disposal teams, into Quneitra and dozens of Syrian military documents blowing on the dusty hot winds like confetti. And equally, I recall the first time I tasted real humus and roasted eggplant and being almost emotionally overcome with the sheer pleasure of it;
Then there was a gastronomic drive along the length of France in 1970 which turned me into one of the England’s most precocious connoisseurs of food and wine;
A year later, I was treated to my first visit to Spain where I discovered the hitherto (to a typical Jewish lad like me) forbidden twin joys of fried bacon and fresh shellfish in addition to poolside cocktails and luxury hotels. The fact this was all part of a photographic shoot for Max Factor and that I spent the entire time in the company of two of the UK’s top fashion models was the icing on the cake for a sexually curious eleven-year-old;
Fourteen years after it was Andalusia again, but this time a romantic five days in Seville, in the company of a beautiful law student, where I discovered the exotic joys of tapas washed down with ice-cold fino and late-night flamenco.
About a decade later in 1991 saw my first flight across the Pond, where the sublime “New World” strangeness of newly-democratic Chile bludgeoned me back into painting landscapes and left me a life-long lover of cazuela de pollo;
Then, twelve years after that in 2003, there was our visit to southern India where I was held enthral to the equally glorious and wonderful strangeness of ancient Tamil Nadu and Kerala and where I discovered that a mostly vegetarian diet could almost be fun (not to mention hugely fattening);
In 2007, I made my first trip to Australia, which, especially in magnificent Melbourne turned out to be quite simply the most enjoyable and mentally invigorating shattering of dearly-held pre-conceptions I have ever experienced;
And finally, just this January, when the cliché “better (incredibly) late than never” took on a whole new profundity for me after my first visit to New York City left me and all my senses dazed, awestruck and ecstatic in equal measure.
However, when I ask myself what was the trip that played the biggest and most enduring role in shaping the adult I eventually became, it would have to be another of the trips I made to Israel; this time in in 1978, during the summer break of my first year at Saint Martin’s School of Art.
The pictures below are all that remain of my “Wanderers Period” and represent the most eloquent way I can describe the feeling and atmosphere of those six weeks; the highlight of which was when four of us – two guys and two girls – walked the entire circumference of the Sea of Galilee in two days. We slept on the pebble beaches, and lived on falafel and bags of crisps washed down with cheap wine, accompanied by the dulcet tones of Weekend in LA on our cassette player. Without going into details, it became my coming-of-age drama in every sense, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and of course, sensual. It was my “Summer of 42”, except it was 78. It was when I truly fell in love with life and this Earth (and the incomparable virtuosity of George Benson).
Most unfortunately, the large canvases that emerged from these sketches and scrawls I painted over the following year after my art school tutors deemed them “unsubtle, hopelessly romantic and naïve” – they were a bunch of passionless idiots, but that’s another story. Nevertheless, I think these pictures, for all their rawness, convey the power of an 18-year old’s emotions, lusts, yearnings and wondering (and one or two aren’t bad drawings either)…
I thought that a lifetime of watching movies and TV series based in New York would have prepared me for my first visit to Central Park. But all the Kojak, all the Law and Order and all the Sex in the City in the universe could not have anticipated the blizzard of January 2016 and its magical transforming effect.
So, instead of a stroll through one of the world’s most famous urban “green” spaces, we found ourselves trecking through a pristine winter landscape.
Fortunately, unlike the evening before when I had left my camera in the hotel (see previous post “The Big White Apple”), this time I was prepared and here are some of the results…
If Claude Monet had been walking through Manhattan during the second greatest blizzard in history to hit the city – with only an old Nokia phone camera to record what he saw, then perhaps – with just a little help from Photoshop – he might have ended up with a set of pictures like those displayed below.
These photos were taken by my wife Dido, on her aforementioned Nokia, on the evening of Saturday 23rd January during our walk back from Madison Avenue to Broadway.
We were in NYC to celebrate our silver wedding, and although the snow disrupted much of our planned itinerary for the trip, this walk, down the middle of almost-deserted, iconic streets, blanketed in powder snow turned out to be one of the most enchanting experiences of all our years together.
I think that these images get some of the magic across…
Fr. Justin Belitz OFM is the founder of the Franciscan Hermitage and author of "Success: Full Living," "Success: Full Thinking," & "Success: Full Relating." His teachings incorporate spirituality, science, and art for personal growth and development.