Travelling at the Turn of a Century

In 1949 Sweetheart’s granddaughter Betty arranged for her to be interviewed on a New York radio station. She was then 84, though she refused to tell the interviewer that and would be annoyed with me for mentioning it here, because she did not believe in “age”. The announcer introduced her as a “painter, sculptor, world traveller.” I am not aware that she ever did any sculpture, “World traveller” was based mainly on her cruise round the world in 1939, though she had also been to Alaska and Mexico in between. Before that, apart from accompanying my mother to Europe in 1926, and her wedding trip to the wilds of Nanaimo in far western Canada in 1892, she had pretty well stayed at home. I say this only to show that she was never a systematic traveller. It was something she picked up when it came her way, for other reasons, like marriage or my mother wanting to study art in Paris.

So did she have a general view of “travel,” and was the announcer right to call her a “world traveller”?

Travelling at the Turn of a Century

It is certainly true that the cruise round the world was the one time in her life when she chose to travel purely for its own sake. It was a free decision, independent of other people. A relative of her husband’s died and left her an unexpected legacy. What should she do with it? Her children were grown, married, settled (except for her son who died in 1945). No one had obvious claims. Why not — see the world?

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She took her watercolors as others take cameras. She painted scenes from the ship, but was more interested in painting people she met in the market place. She gathered dolls, shirts, statuettes, embroideries and such by the trunk-full, but liked best getting things the local people actually used, like a three-deck lunch pail, for rice, vegetables and sauce, enameled blue with flowers, used by Chinese factory workers. She didn’t just want the things: she wanted a connection to the people. She hated it when other passengers haggled and tried to drive bargains. These people seemed so poor, they ought to gete a fair price for their goods.

She was impressed by the simplicity and grace of the way people lived in the South Pacific islands. She liked to tell the story of a passenger asking, “How do you lock your doors at night?” The man did not understand the question. Apparently his language had no word for “lock.” Finally he realized, and gave his questioner a broad smile. “Why lock up? Is plenty for all.”

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As I said in the discussion of “family,” she recognized no distinction between herself and “foreign” people. As she told the radio interviewer, “After you’ve been a foreigner you find there aren’t any. They all seem like my  own family.

The interviewer asked her, “What do you look for when you’re, ah, gallivanting around the globe?” She replied without hesitation, “I look for beauty – things of historical interest – and nice interesting people.” Here were three things she loved more than travel: natural or artistic beauty — history (she had read lots of it) — conversing with other people, especially those a bit different from every day. Yet travel was a way to these things.

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