Except for the Cats, I’m Really Bad at Travel.

It crossed my mind more than once last week, as I was tooling around the Great Pacific Northwest, that I am not as good at this travel-thing as I used to be.

I still think of myself as the intrepid 19-year old who took on the French railway system one-on-one to reserve a one-way ticket from Paris to Rome and didn’t think twice about the 20-hour trip, or the strange people I’d be bunking with in a tiny, uni-sex (the horror!) couchette on a rickety sleeper train. I stuffed a baguette and some Boursin into a plastic bag and took off.


So here I am now, approx. 40 years later in my own native land, with a rental car and good luggage and Google maps and a platinum AmEx, and I can barely navigate myself for the three-hour drive down I-5 from Seattle to Portland. And once I arrived in the lovely precincts of Portland’s NECN (Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods), after confusing left with east for the 100th time, the best I could do — for two nights in a row (in this land that invented the gourmet locavore) — was walk to the Safeway for a do-it-yourself take-out dinner of Pop Tarts and wine. I can’t help but think that my 19-year old self would look at me as proof that travel is wasted on anyone over 30.


Amazingly, on that epic 175-mile road trip, I had no trouble finding Exit 135, and rolled easily up to the doorstep of King’s Books in Tacoma. King’s Books, in case you do not know, is famous for its bookstore cats, Atticus. . .


. . . (whose bio states that he was once a prize-winning rodeo rider who then became a friar, and joined the bookstore staff in 2009 where he now serves as both a shoulder-warmer and a spunky bookseller). . .

. . . and Herbert (seen below at the cash register):


Believe it or not, but this (below) is Herbert’s Happy Face:


My scritches had the same airplane-ears effect on Portland native Mahitabel:


Mahitabel’s Person in Charge of Happiness, who is also a Dear Reader of this blog, rounded me up one fine morning and carted me to a handful of Portland’s great sights, such as the view from the beautiful  Tilikum pedestrian bridge of majestic Mt. Hood (a mountain named after the USS Federation starship, Excelsior class, Starfleet reg. NCC1703). Thank you, Vicki!


Of course, the reason I was in Portland in the first place was to give the good people of Rose City the Vivian Experience at Broadway Books, a cozy Coney Island of the mind disguised as Portland’s best-hued and most lusciously-shelved independent bookstore:


As you can see, I still do that funny thing with my mouth that bugs me whenever I see myself on video or in photos (in spite of the very kinds words of Dear Reader Kirra), and that’s not counting the crap that comes out of my mouth, meaning that I have amends to make to two lovely ladies who came to the event on May 5: both watercolor artists, they asked me about how I get such good-looking greens in my illustrations (example below):


I must have looked puzzled by the question, because they explained that they were taught to make “color charts” in preparation for their watercolors, obviously by a teacher who really, really wants to make things as complicated as possible, and, they said, getting good greens was hard.

First of all, I was flummoxed by the whole “color chart” thing, having never heard of any such thing: I think that if your teacher makes you do color charts, that’s just your teacher trying to prove the rumor that watercolors are hard and must be taught by a professional. What crap. There. I said it: Color charts are as relevant to painting as diagramming sentences is to writing.

So, when these two sweet ladies who took the time to come out on a beautiful Thursday evening to hear me yak about myself and mentioned that, in their experience, getting good greens was hard, I proved once again to my 19-year-old self that I have indeed become a real asshole when I replied by scrunching up my face and bleating: Really?

I am ashamed that I, however inadvertently (the thesis surprised me, caught me off-guard), implied that anyone who found it hard to get good greens was worth a dismissive and snotty Really??  Instead, these lovely ladies’ question has stuck in my brain as a sorely missed opportunity for me to have asked some follow-up questions, gain some understanding of another’s process in creativity, learn something.

So, dear ladies of May 5, if you are reading this, please accept my apologies for not answering your extremely thought-provoking question and let me make amends by addressing the making of greens (which, I confess, in my ignorance of academically-accepted practices, I have never thought of as “hard”) in a future post.

Meanwhile, on one of my trips to and from the Portland Safeway, I came across this fella. . .


. . . and this completely different black and white furry fella. . .


. . . who, for obvious reasons, reminded me of this fella, in a village 5,000 miles away:


Cats. The world over, they think they own the place. In the case above (Dear Reader Carol S., this is for you!), the cat in question is named Gaston, and he “owns” a little road called Rue aux Juifs in the village of Giverny, France. In the case of the Portland kitty, I don’t know that cat’s name but I do know that he’s as big a smooch as Gaston is, because when a little girl hopped off her bike to chase him down to say hello, Portland Cat did this:


I met another of Portland’s Finest on my way to breakfast — Boo Boo, it seems, “works” at a dress shop on Alberta Street and couldn’t wait to clock in:


What a way to start the day; a selfie with a cat named Boo Boo:


Boo Boo must have been my spirit guide because five minutes later the universe let me check off a Top Ten item on my Before I Die Wish List and I got this breath-taking encounter:


This is the Western Blue Jay known as the Scrub Jay — really?, bird-namers? You couldn’t do any better than “scrub jay”? Considering that blue is the rarest color in nature, and that birds with blue feathers are extraordinarily found only in the New World, and that blue is an awesome color. . . you couldn’t have found a better tag than “scrub jay”?? How about “Sunset Jay” (since it’s found where the sun sets, get it?), or “Frontier Jay” (in honor of its geography)? And that’s what I came up with after a solid 20 seconds of thought. . . cries — even “Boo Boo Jay” would have been an improvement. You namers of western blue birds stink.

Contented with my cat and bird sightings, I left Portland early on a Saturday morning to make a detour to the Oregon Coast, to a place called Seaside, to a place in that place called Beach Books:


I got there around 11:00 am, just in time to catch Book Shop Cat Oz making his commute to work:


Oz hoists himself up onto his window seat and checks his To Do List. EAT is the thing he took care of back in the storeroom, on his way into the office. Next item:


SLEEP is the next item on the agenda:


Chances of him knocking off READ before the end of the day look slim.

Adieu, sweet prince, and onward: My reason for being (that day) lay 8 miles down the road– Cannon Beach Books, whose booksellers can read readers’ minds and put in hand a reading experience that was curated specifically for you. (I saw them do it, over and over.)

Another bout of travel-induced mid-life soul searching began a few hours later, as I finished my delightful visit to the Oregon coast and got into my rental car for the drive back to Seattle. I used to be good (or so I thought) at logistics, but I hadn’t bothered to look very hard at a map when I planed this trip and booked my flight home out of Seattle. When it dawned on me (just the day before) that it would have made much more sense to fly home from Portland, the penalty to change plans at such a late date would have cost me, in dollars that my 19-year-old self would understand, five-and-a-half weeks of backpacking around the South of France.

So I drove north that late afternoon, spending four hours trying not to feel like I’ve become the kind of dopey, half-assed traveler my 19-year-old self would despise, before devoting the final 90 minutes of my Great Pacific Northwest Road Trip to repeatedly making the wrong turns on the various I-5 exits to Burien.

And just think: if I had not made the blunder of flying home to the Isle of Long from Sea-Tac airport, I would not have been able to catch this view of Mts. Rainer and St. Helens . . .


. . . and would probably not have had the opportunity to leave my glasses on the plane (rendering me functionally blind for the next week while I awaited replacement!) or pick up a nasty pulmonary infection (that has leveled me for the past 9 days!).

Now, this is only the last half of the story (of me, half-sighted and hacking). There’s a whole other first half that I haven’t even told you about yet, in which my 19-year-old self might not look at me with all that much disgust, as I only got the car on Day Four (it was the driving that done me in) and thus greatly reduced my opportunities to act like a dip shit. I’m still an awesome pedestrian!!

Next week, my Wonder Ones, we will explore that mythical city, Seattle, in a post that I will Call:

The Side Effects of Travel

Maybe we’ll even paint something green.

This Just In: I’ve been hearing from Dear Readers this morning that the Comments button to this post is not working. Serves me right, for any number of reasons, but mostly I guess it’s to mortify my grubby need for approval (You Comment! You like me!!). While my crack team of IT interns. . .


. . .fixes this latest glitch, you can email me at vivianswift at yahoo dot com and I will re-post your dear words with tear-stained alacrity. Soon as we sort out the series of tubes.


P.P.S. OK, it seems that the Comment thing may or may not be fixed. You are welcome to try to leave your message, or email me, or not. *Sigh*. Whatever.

8 Comments, RSS

  1. Leslie May 20, 2016 @ 8:46 am

    Dearest Vivian, Yes, we must forgive ourselves as we age. It’s a different kind of wonderful…after all we are the lucky ones who get this far along the road.The force IS with you. Peace, Leslie

  2. Casey May 20, 2016 @ 8:51 am

    I know how bad it feels when you fear that a thoughtless remark might have hurt someone, and I hope those kindly ladies are reading this and accept your remorse. I have not taken a painting class so I can’t comment on color charts but it does seem to be a lot of painting to do before you even start to painting.

    Love the Pacific Northwest kitties, they look as laid back and groovy as the humans (who populate the nexus of hipsterdom out there). That Frontier Jay is a real beauty!

    Next time you need a navigator on the American Interstates, let me know. I still know how to read a paper map (!) and I hardly ever confuse left with anything else, except starboard, so as long as we stay on dry land we’re good. Oh, and I’ll need my own cup holder.

    Pairing Pop Tarts to the correct wine is quite a feat of gastronomy, but I think it’s a degustation best served for a ladies’ luncheon. Myself, I pair a nice chianti with the strawberry-flavored toaster pastry to give the girls. ha ha.

  3. Monique May 20, 2016 @ 9:18 am

    Are you kidding me? I don’t even DRIVE out of my country corner now..I have no sense of direction and my sense of adventure left a few years ago..
    so unless soemone takes me.I am here to stay.
    You and Carol are so independant ..and travel savvy.I admire you both.
    Looks like you had a great time..and I am so glad you say..I don’t need color charts.
    Have a good weekend.

  4. jeanie May 20, 2016 @ 12:16 pm

    I remember Carol Gillot writing in her comments on your book in PB that greens are hard and she was impressed you had so many greens. I’m thinking if you’re only working with blue and yellow then you might have a few problems but I’ve seen your watercolor pans and you have quite the selection from which to work up the most scrumptious greens! I don’t get the color chart thing. They’re fine. I even know what they are. But basically, you roll with it. And if it bombs, do the Vivian-Shuffle and fix it (or re-do it. Yes I do…)

    Anyway, sounds like a fun trip. I don’t mind getting lost or waylaid unless I feel unsafe which I’m a tad more likely to feel now that I’m not 19 but it looks like all was well. And with such congenial fur friends to welcome and guide you, what’s not to love!

    Scrub jay? Really? Not appropriate!

  5. Carol S May 20, 2016 @ 3:23 pm

    Thank you for all the extra cat pictures in this post, especially my favorite tuxedos!
    I laughed when I saw the picture of Gaston!
    We have also met Gaston in cat-person, now we know his name!:

  6. LINDA JUNE May 20, 2016 @ 8:41 pm

    Aha, “comments” is working now! Thanks for the above blog post–glad you got all the way down to Cannon Beach. Wonder where you stayed there? I LOVE that little town. Sorry you got turned around/sick/wrong airport/etc. Hope the trip made it worth your while–so glad you could be in Seattle once again. I’m just sure you will be out again when you write your NEXT book!!

  7. Kirra May 21, 2016 @ 3:10 am

    Thanks for such an entertaining blog entry. The book shops you visited look great, what luck that they come with cats too! I wouldn’t worry to much about the travelling, it’s always easier to be too relaxed and stuff something up in your own country I find, even though you can manage other countries perfectly.

    It’s the perils of ‘public speaking’ I think, that you’ll say something stupid or rude. But you learn from the experience, and you’ve written them an apology here. I would definitely come and see you talk if I could.

    The photo of the mountains is spectacular, lucky you in the end! I sometimes think your IT team is more productive then some IT people I’ve come across……..till next week and tales of Seattle.

  8. Deborah Hatt May 23, 2016 @ 2:35 pm

    I love reading of your travels, my dear Vivian. And love the pics of all the kitties along the way … what a wonderful treat to be blessed by so many little angels! As to your “Really?!” comment to the dear ladies … I understand you’re self-loathing concerning sharp replies to sweet people. I declare, the older I get, the more inept I am at making simply conversation, without being flippant, sarcastic, condescending, or short-fused. Ugh! I have always been one who can think up a hundred quirky, oh-so-funny-smart-alec-remarks for every word anyone else says (just ask me – I’m hilarious). But the older I become, the more I sound like a cranky old crone, and I find myself transforming more and more into an obnoxious, pain-in-the-hiney, galoot … it’s embarrassing.

    If you discover a remedy – well, other than telling me to simply keep my big mouth shut, that is – please pass on the info. You know … from one smart-mouth dame to another. 🙂

    Thanks for your candid confessions and your many pics. You always make me smile.

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