Yesterday I rode the train to Miami and had lunch at Brickell City Centre with a young woman I’ll call Vivian who took my travel writing class a few years ago. It was her first visit to the Centre, though she knew it well, having interviewed the developer while it was under construction.
Vivian announced that she was moving to the Pacific Northwest to get her MFA. Another bright young person leaving the city. She told me stories about the Key West Literary Seminar back in January, when she had met George Saunders, Billy Collins, Teju Cole, whom she drove around the Keys. She is a very well-read young woman but I was still impressed by her ability to hang with the literati. “The average age at the seminar was about 70,” she explained. “And I was more agile than they were.”
We finished lunch at American Harvest and walked through the Centre. “We’re the little people who were in the architectural renderings,” Vivian announced as we approached an escalator. Then she pointed to a woman walking a terrier. “And there was a dog in the renderings!”
Saturday evening I sat in the lobby of The Betsy angry and defeated. The concierge had told me that the poetry event we had come to hear had taken place Friday night. He had mentioned a crowd on the rooftop that had made me even more distraught. I had searched unsuccessfully on my phone for the email from my friend, one of the poets, telling me that the event was Saturday the 22nd. The message was only a few weeks old, why couldn’t I find it? It felt as if the world were conspiring against me, and I were a confused old man no longer capable of making his way in it.
We retrieved the car from the garage, found a parking spot on Washington, and walked half a block to Espanola Way. We had not been there in a long time and seemed to be walking through the filming of a commercial for the city: tables overtaking the sidewalk; people strolling under carnival lights, waiters singing Italian songs. We made our way one block west, to the non-pedestrian part, and took a seat at A La Folie. I craved a glass of cider. We sat at a small table at the edge of the sidewalk. Hania opened the menu and showed me that the buckwheat crepes were now gluten-free; she ordered one with Brie and pears. We sipped our cider and watched as tourists, residents, party girls passed by. A cat appeared in the doorway, also taking in the scene. We had found the coziest spot in South Beach.
From Gambier I headed to Akron. This was the farthest north I’d been in Ohio and, instead of walking, I drove around the city. The next day, speaking to students at the university, I told them that – just as my friend claims that every time he watches a baseball game he sees something new – each new city I visit provides me with something I’ve never seen before. In Akron it was a baseball stadium on Main Street (home of the Rubber Ducks) and a church named after a living person: Ernest Angley’s Grace Cathedral. The words appeared not on a small sign planted on the lawn – as you’d find at St. Stephen’s or St. Jude’s – but in large white letters on the façade. Of course, if you found your own church you can do what you want with it – including stamping its walls with your name – but it seemed to go against the Christian ideal of humility.
When I finished I got a number of good questions from the students who had gathered at lunchtime to hear me talk about how I became a travel writer and how I go about writing a travel story. In the first part I mentioned my year in France, including the summer of farm work in Alsace. A faculty member asked if I was familiar with Blonde d’Aquitaine cattle, which one finds in southwestern France. I said I wasn’t and she proceeded to show me a photograph of hers. (In addition to teaching, she runs a farm.) They were very handsome cows and proved that, even at talks, you are often surprised by the new.