I travel in anticipation of being amazed and delighted. When I first glimpsed stunning rose red images from Petra I was smitten, and getting there became “fait accompli”. After much research and planning I ventured to Jordan and was rewarded with many expected marvels. Today, however, I wish to dwell upon the unexpected. No matter how much effort is invested in an itinerary, there are no guarantees of delight. Tangibles might be backed by warranties, but I want to dwell upon intangibles, which carry much, much greater impact. And spoiler alert: the moral is to get out there and be exposed to serendipity. The more you travel the more unexpected incidents you generate. Yes, there is opportunity for bad as well as good, but I see no peril. I’ve experienced my share of snafu’s and spent the night sleeping on many an airport floor (well, trying to anyway). But you know what? The bad times have not only yielded powerful experience to successfully deal with subsequent dilemmas, it has also molded me into a more reasoned, less panicked traveler. Yeah, hiccups happen, and now I appreciate crying the blues does nothing towards resolution. I still do not enjoy sudden bad times, but have learned it is more productive to remain calm and work towards resolution with the understanding it may not be immediate. The flip side is a chance occurrence which proves absolutely astonishing. I dismiss tragedies until circumstances beg recall for addressing a problem. But I absolutely relish the delights serendipity has tossed my way and constantly cherish these memories. To underscore the moral that getting out there to generate serendipity is valid, let me share a few personal treasures (I have more!).
A recent return to Asheville, North Carolina, USA was driven by this serendipity. My (now ex) wife and I visited Asheville years ago, knowing little beyond its hip reputation. We enjoyed simply strolling about new places, and that was exactly what we did. So you might well imagine how tickled I was to bump into a huge obelisk in the town square that was the “Vance Memorial”. My first name is Vance and uncommon, so wow!
Of course the Vance here was a last name, belonging to a confederate war veteran, US Senator and Governor of North Carolina (also, sadly, a slave holder). My frustration the first time was a massive restoration operation which completely cloaked the monument with scaffolding, nixing any photo opp. So the fun, first order of business on my return was righting that wrong. I rarely snap selfies, but the pleasure of serendipity mandated a capture of me beside the unexpected namesake.
These urban rambles with my former mate led to more memorable travel moments. The next setting was perfect, because we were in Rome and set out for a passeggiata – an Italian tradition of going out for an evening stroll. An endearing custom of rich community ties (the point is to interact face-to-face with neighbors), the rite has been hopelessly polluted by tourists in larger cities. We had already savored a marvelous passeggiata up the coast in tiny La Spezia. In Rome it was pretty much a gang of tourists pretending to do something traditional, but it was hard to complain since we were no exception.
Our starting point was the market grounds of Campo del Fiori, a pleasant square populated by many flower merchants (the literal translation = “field of flowers”). I was quite surprised upon approaching the market from a side alley when we saw a Franklin & Marshall store. Franklin & Marshall College is a private institution (founded by Benjamin Franklin in the 1700’s) in my home town of Lancaster, Pennsylvania in the USA and very small. While I am quite familiar with the institution, I’ve never seen or heard it mentioned outside of Lancaster. But here was what appeared to be a clothing store with the college logo I was quite familiar with. In Rome – quite startling!
Solving the mystery would have to wait until my return, but a fun story. Two Italian guys got hold of a Franklin & Marshall sweatshirt from a second hand clothing store in London back in the 90’s and recycled the logo as a main theme for a line of high end sports clothing. The apparel took off (I think they have six stores across Europe now), but neither party was aware of the other’s existence until country musician Tim McGraw wore an F&M ‘wrestling team’ t-shirt for a publicity photo. When folks began contacting the college to confirm whether or not Tim had wrestled for them, dots got connected and eventually the store owners were made aware of their infringement and a license fee arrangement came to fruition.
I am hopeful you appreciate how remarkable it seems to stumble upon the Vance Memorial and the Franklin & Marshall Store, but these opportunities abound. Our planet is a garden of delights and you will not discover the hidden gems unless you venture about.