House to House... and Home to Home
I've never burned the candle this hard...
This latest tour is the biggest step yet for my company - a referral with zero personal connections. I wanted this to be an epic tour, and a large part of my determination to make it a huge success is because of how humbled I was to have this client referred to me by the tour operators who do a complete tour as I always strive to do and two wonderful friends who I truly admire: David Harper and Christine Dundas-Harper.
I even went over-budget, at my own expense, to lock down some fantastic hotels for this trip, but I really agonized over this one. I am furthermore my own worst critic, always re-examining what I've done and thinking of how to do it better.
Needless to say, I got very little sleep for the past week leading up to this tour. Wednesday night was my final walk-through and minute-by-minute arranging of the itinerary... addresses, drive times, distances, time allotted for each visit (something that only comes from going to these places enough to have a solid sense of what a group will want - not too little, and certainly not too much time, either.
I went to bed at 5:30am on Thursday and was back up at 12:00pm. And that evening, I was again awake, simply full of the adrenaline and energy of knowing that I would be traveling once again. I had to drive to New Orleans, Mom and Dad along for the ride and to return the car, at 8:00am. I went to bed around 5:30am... I couldn't shut the brain down. I watched YouTube documentaries on various figures and subjects of the tour ahead.
Once I got on the plane, I was hoping to get some shut-eye... but no such luck. I was simply still too amped up with the tour now in motion. My brain, whether consciously or not, is always reviewing and double-checking... I don't think anyone has any idea how seriously we take this business, for after all, it is other people's money - a good bit of it - and their vacation time and utmost expectations. When you're in the business of hospitality and born with that "gift," there is nothing acceptable about delivering anything less than superb.
I FINALLY crashed for about an hour on the plane, before it was time to serve breakfast and preparation for landing...
Due to a snag, I needed the assistance of a buddy of mine with a van rental in Germany - a decision I had made to save my clients money (it's a 400 Euro swing to pick up and drop off in a different country - a 900 Euro difference with some rental car companies).
But enough about the tour business and sleep for a moment...
I have often wondered why I ended up so differently than so many of my siblings. We all grew up abroad. Granted, my younger sister and I had the most time overseas, for we never graduated from school in Belgium, moving back in our senior/sophomore years to Louisiana.
But why did I end up on such a markedly different path? Why the wanderlust? Why the incessant need to get back to Europe? Indeed, I buried that for the first 12 years of being back in the States, through all of my twenties.
But when I came back over to work at a hotel in Germany, the bug bit a giant hole in me that will never go away, much as I even try to bury it when I get back to the States each time...
After all, it is always tempting to embrace a home culture and develop some sort of structure and stability - especially as one grows older.
But seeing Paul Crompton at the airport and having a 3 hour drive back to his home in Belgium (where I am now resting before a 5:30am departure for Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris) was the most marvelous antidote for the jitters I inevitably get every single time I first land in Europe. Lack of sleep compounds this intense bout of thinking and even stressing that I do whenever I switch continents...
And every single damned time, I land and am quickly right at home... as though I never left.
Paul Crompton, Julian Mack, and Mark Finucane are three best friends from two excellent years under a teacher who was the jedi master of the elementary school. Whenever my own former students rave about my energy, my love of learning, and my ability to teach and convey information on their level, I immediately reflect upon one Patrick Tobin, a lightning-rod genius from Ireland who loved his subjects and his students. All the girls were in love with him... and all of us boys wanted to be just like him.
And while I had my tribe of American boys in the neighborhood, which started with the inseparable Mike and Marc Gambello, where I got my fix and proper all-American indoctrination with football games in the backyard and slang and such, I had these great friends from the British Isles who I equally enjoyed.
And this was the difference for me with my siblings, I think. It was in our debates about who won WWII (we were all military history buffs, reading books and making models at that age) that the first major crack in my Southern American conservative bubble first appeared. I began to look at my own culture, traditions, and views from a critical, objective perspective.
And every time I come back over and walk the grounds of places that had a profound impact upon my education and exposure, I am reminded why and were I don't fit in with many things back home - though I will say that I do have some brilliant American friends and fellow brains who either had the same experience as I did here or arrived at similar conclusions without the benefit of travel. Those friends have my deepest admiration, for I often wonder how I would have turned out without the benefit of European education and friends...
The ride with Paul was simply brilliant... catching up on life, memories of school, relationships, God, etc.
It wasn't until the last 20 minutes of the drive that the unbelievable fatigue I was feeling from such a drought of proper sleep set in. Paul's wife had prepared a lovely lunch, and I got to talk with Paul's parents, in town to visit their son. His mother had taught at the school nursery, where my mother taught kindergarten...
I was shown my room, and I did what I never do.... I SLEPT.
What woke me at 10:30pm was my bladder. I came downstairs, and they were still up, watching that brilliant, yearly English televisual feast of music: the Last Night of the Proms.
The beauty of my upbringing and current vocation gave me one massive emotional and intellectual hug as I sat in the kitchen, talking to Paul and his wonderful wife.
Paul fixed me a pulled pork sandwich - and he makes the pork himself. We sat there talking about American football, as Paul is a huge fan.
I started musing about this friend of mine from those critical formative years. He was so very English when he moved to Belgium... and yet here he was, serving me pulled pork and talking about past Super Bowls.
"We Americans really had an effect upon him," I mused. It was beautiful.
And then in the background, we heard the final trifecta of British music, culture, and pride: William Blake's "Jerusalem," "God Save the Queen," and "Rule Britannia."
I knew the lyrics and sang them as though they were my own... patriotism, pride, respect all welling up inside of me.
Those Brits had a huge impact upon me as well...
Don't ever, ever ask me to choose between one or the other.
I am a happy, happy kid right now... I just left a home I do love, but I am back in the other:
America and Europe truly are my father and mother - and my parents reflect both in a brilliant way. Dad with his religion, conviction, ideals, and principles - and his unparalleled love of people (and madly frustrating stubbornness and blindness to other truths that exist outside of his bubble) - and Mom with her arts, her education, her love of travel and learning.
Both of them are legendary for their charm and hospitality. I know I need to work on the charm at times - but the hospitality certainly got passed down to their son.
It is such a strange existence to leave a home you love for a home you love, round and round and round again...
What is home anyway? It's where the heart is - and for me especially, where the mind is in a state of bliss.
Both of mine are too big to ever want to stay rooted in one or the other, and I hope I continue to wage war against that so-very-human desire, as we all get older, to dig trenches, built up walls, and stay in a cultural, social bunker.
Change and exposure are too vital for us all.
“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”
G. K. Chesterton