To See Our World

A pause for a photo back on Monday evening while decorating the tree… while yours truly was also fighting jet lag:

[Christmas tree under decoration. Hertfordshire, England. Photo by me, 2018.]

It’s a tree more in line for fitting inside a 1600s English cottage than in your average American house. Even so, getting it positioned somewhere in the house was still a challenge. I ended up with it standing just inside the front door.

Which led me to recall: it’s almost time for The Holiday on television again. Sky showed it last night. (I recorded it.) That 2006 film, in which two women – one British, one American – house swap, with the American from L.A. ending up in an Oxfordshire cottage, is rapidly becoming a “Christmas classic.”

To travel like that, a passport is indispensable of course. Mine is up for renewal. It’s nearly a decade old:

[Photo by me, 2018.]

After doing the required paperwork and coughing up the fee, Americans resident here in England and Wales send their expiring/expired passport via a secure courier to the US Embassy in London. (You can go in person, but the embassy staff prefer you not come in person unless there is a problem or emergency because available appointments are naturally limited.) That courier comes to the house or office to collect it all: the embassy uses that courier service because it takes the security of any US passport that seriously. In several weeks, a new one will appear at my front door delivered by that same courier.

While awaiting the new passport, naturally I will be unable to leave the U.K. or even get on an internal U.K. airplane flight.

Going through a renewal again stirs up memories. I obtained my first passport in my early twenties on Long Island when I was planning to fly for the first time here to Europe; I still have that passport stored away somewhere. I suspect no one ever truly forgets their first big international trip on their own – without the parents handling everything:

[Excerpt from Passports, on iPad/iPhone for Kindle. Click to expand.]

I had no choice but to await adulthood to travel because my parents were not travelers: growing up, unless it was by car we went nowhere. Indeed my first plane journey was at age 9 with my grandparents (my mother’s parents): the three of us flew from New York’s LaGuardia to Washington, D.C. to visit for a few days with my (future novelist) uncle, aunt, and my cousins, when they lived for a time in northern Virginia.

My (now late) mother never flew and never owned a passport and had repeatedly declared to me – quite firmly – that she would never travel here (and she never did). While my dad has flown domestically, like my mother he has never been outside of the country and has also made it clear he too will never travel here. Both are a source of sadness to me and probably always will be.

My first trip abroad was a visit to France. I have been lots of places since, but that first journey is one that will always stand out in my mind. I recall on arrival being jarred by just how unlike home and how “different” it had all felt:

[Excerpt from Passports, on iPad/iPhone for Kindle. Click to expand.]

Back then, there was no internet – so no blogs or other social media. (Even email was still new and rare.) As travelers we sent “home bound” family and friends postcards or letters describing where we were and what we were seeing. Long before Skype or FaceTime, hugely expensive international (landline) phone calls were the only way to chat with those at home. Videotaping was possible, but the video cameras were bulky and a battery alone was larger than today’s iPhone; far more common for our generation were the piles of 35mm photographs that we eventually had developed and bored shared when we returned home:

[Excerpt from Passports, on iPad/iPhone for Kindle. Click to expand.]

So I love reading current travel bloggers. Seeing their takes on their experiences (especially if they are in their late teens and young twenties as I was then) is always interesting. I know what *that* feels like.

If you are about to take your first major international journey without Mom and Dad, I suggest you don’t rely only on your iPhone and Instagram for the memories. Taking photos is now so easy. No longer are we restricted to a roll of 24 or 36 at a time.

It is worth also making the extra effort to see to it that a first trip especially is immortalized beyond merely snapping gigabytes of landscapes, dinners, and (nowadays) selfies. Because eventually you will forget various details. There will be a time you may be thinking: “What was his last name? What was the name of that restaurant? It’s not on the pictures…”

[Paris street signs. Photo by me, 1995.]

Keep a written private diary during the trip. Or write as much as possible down after you get home while it’s fresh in your mind – beyond what you write (or feel free to write) in public on social media. Note dates, places, people’s names, and, above all, your impressions. Years from now, you will be happy you did.

[Passports. Back cover. Paperback. Photo by me, 2018.]

Have a good Wednesday wherever you in the world.🌎 🙂


  1. Why Robert! Must confess I am a bit surprised. As I was reading, I thought to myself, “He can’t possibly be writing about the Holiday. Surely he must be referring to some mid-century flick laden with history. Teasing you, of course. As a lover of most rom-coms and—honesty is the best policy here—as an emotional sap, I watch the Holiday every Christmas as well as Love Actually. Jack Black and Kate Winslet, such an unlikely pair, are hilarious together, and Colin Firth’s imperfect yet impassioned speech to Lúcia Moniz still makes my foolish heart beat faster. I should be embarrassed to confess I have them all on DVD. Even worse, all the holiday movies have their own wallet, and as we are traveling for the holidays, my collection is already packed. Yup, I’m a fool for romance and Christmas. I have no other excuse. 🙂

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    • Yes, “The Holiday.” It has turned into one of those films that has to be seen at Christmas. And, yes, it’s cliched (Cameron Diaz doing an LA gal and Kate Winslet an English rose), and downbeat early on, and sappy throughout, and uplifting at the end. I remember reading some critics’ mixed reviews and thinking, “It’s not supposed to be arthouse cinema. You have totally missed the point. You and Mr. Scrooge.”

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      • Yes!!! Perfectly stated! I only watch TV/movies to be entertained and for the most part, to have a laugh. It’s rare that I say to myself, “Must watch this film for the artful acting.” Please! Not that there aren’t films I admire, but I grew up on Monty Python. Where would my sense of humor be without, “What makes you think she’s a witch?” “Well, she turned me into a newt.” “A newt?” “I got better.” “Burn her anyway!” Two of my favorites are Mel Brooks Silent Movie and a more recent film called Steve with Sandra Bullock. Both films are ridiculously stupid, and I ‘m generally laughing hysterically by the end. Poor Bullock won a Razzie for Steve which she accepted with good grace, but to which I must respond and paraphrase you, “You’ve completely missing the point, stuffed shirt.” I added the “stuffed shirt” for artistic measure, lol.

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