" Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers, that the mind can never break off from the journey."- Pat Conroy
I have had the same recurring dream most weeks of my life for as long as I can remember. Every dream is essentially the same. I fly over a tropical patchwork of idyllic countryside, made up of villages and towns that I have loved or, moreover, places that I dream existed in concert, like a stew of the very best the world could offer.
Most often the dream is fantastic. It portrays brief fragments from my life's travels and wondrous outlines of unknown places that I desperately want to find. It is always tropical and full of food, wine, romance, color and brilliant textures.
Recurring dreams are supposed to deal with a part of life that is unfinished. Sadly for me, Bonime said in 1962, "Recurrent dreams represent a lack of positive change in a person's personality."Yikes!
It is true that I have never felt at home anywhere I have lived. I am always searching for "home." That is maybe why I travel and this dream is a quilt of locations that, sewn together could be home? We all are looking for Shangri- La and maybe the dream is as good or better than finding it.
The makeup of my dreamscape always consists of the same palette and I feel that in real-life these elements make up what are, the most romantic and quaint places. There are always Palm trees, Palmetos, Crape Myrtle and Bouganvilla. There are cobblestones and pastel buildings that are Colonial in Nature. There is a piquant vibrancy that mixes with the decay caused by humid salt air. This creates a languid energy, one where ex-pats, drunks, diplomats and privateers feel at home hunched at the corner bar-stool.
And so, because I am filled with these ideals, these are the places I choose to travel. In my dream I create a book of these places and sometimes an intertwined, textural stew. It is a wonderful gift, but ultimately leaves me drained, yet excited- wanting to light out searching for the next place that leaves me saying, "I had no ideas this existed."
I always return, in my dream, to Charleston. I lived there for a time and it captured my soul. There is a quiet in the Spanish moss hanging from the centuries -old oak trees. Down the peninsula past overflowing restaurants, the flower boxes and bluestone sidewalk outside Magnolias becomes a path to the rich patchwork of neighborhoods leading to Broad street, and further, the inculcated rhythm of life south of Broad. I smell pluff mud as I pass oyster bars and little alleys in the French Quarter. The seductive entry to 82 Queen beckons. Gullah ladies sell sweetgrass baskets under the old Anglican church. I sit on the swings at waterfront park and later, go for a run south on Broad to Murray blvd. and back on East Bay st. passing the pastel mansions looking out over the harbour.
And then, like a page turning in a book, my dream merges with another spot on earth. Longtail boats bob on the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok. It's dark with lights from the Mandarin Oriental and Wat Arun glinting off the river. The sound of two stroke engines from longtail boats putters in spurts. A waif girl, on platform heels sings on the edge of the river behind the Peninsula Hotel. Fresh rolls and a pink Mai Thai sit untouched on a table by an orchid. The two worst words, fecund and moist were born of this place.
There are always plantation shutters and wide porticos that are part of pastel homes and though there is no historical time-frame to my dreams, there are always, it seems, men in linen suits that look like they belong in Colonial Sri Lanka, and women in hats and cocktail dresses snapping garters under a whirring ceiling fan.
I see a tiny white church in Taveuni, Fiji sitting on a grassy hill under breadfruit trees. little girls in white dresses sing hauntingly solemn hymns. After the service their moms and grammas stroll down the hill fanning themselves.
In the south of France, limestone calanques clutch jade inlets. A couple lay on a Bretton stripe towel on a stony beach reading the same paperback. She kisses his shoulder the way she would bite a plum. They share a carafe of wine from Bandol and one must think they thought of Jim Harrison..."Drinking wine is beyond the vagaries of language and numbers and finds its essence, like sex, totally within the realm of the senses." Cypress trees sway over manicured gardens of birds of paradise, gardenia and bougainvillea.
Down the avenue, Crooked old men bowl petanque under sycamore trees. After their game they sit down to bowls of yellow boulibase steaming on tables over-looking the Mediterranean. "Tu es un vieil homme," they shout.
I am sitting on Shell Beach in St. Barth in the early glow of morning as waiters set out chairs. I am on a 40 foot Ketch on a run out of Mustique to the Tobago Cays. I am on a swim dock in the middle of Lake Como helping the woman I love out of the water and later drinking rose and laughing before we fall into the whitest bed.
As the dream gets deeper it becomes hazy and gauzy, equatorial like a Graham Greene novel. There are trains and steamer trunks, tusks and porters in pill-box hats. There are palm-fringed crescent beaches that are just out of grasp around a headland.
It is getting so good. There are fragments of Hvar, Croatia and La Digue, Seychelles and Locarno, Switzerland. The beaches are whiter than the Maldives and the coves are delicate with small boardwalks. Every type of street food is cooking and there are patios with yellow awnings where diners languish over sweating bottles of wine.
I want to keep going. I don't want to wake up but its getting further away and out of my grasp. I was almost to Shangri- La. but the gates close and I wake up.
On my next real- life trip there will be all of these textural and sensory elements. there will be sunsets and sunrises, jazz spilling out of a dimly lit plantation inn. There will be an old man's voice cascading out a window and ladies balancing baskets on their heads.
My dream destination may not exist but there is, if we travel enough, a way to knit all of these sights and flavors together. We can sew seconds into moments that build a quilt of memories that become a life-dream......... and that may be better than finding a real-life Shangri- la.
Places that are an idyllic dream in real-life