First edition originally published November 20, 2014
THE Little Red Suitcase!
© Amy Funderburk 2014 All Rights Reserved
It all started with a little red suitcase….
Trip Advisor, that quintessential online resource for all manner of travel related reviews, asked a question on Twitter: #Why we travel?
The answer I tweeted was:
“Adventure to nourish my art and spirit; and ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness….’ (Mark Twain).”
This prompted someone named Mark Twain to follow me on Twitter for about five minutes, but I felt the fullness of my answer overflowing way beyond the 140 character limit, so Trip Advisor’s inquiry inspired me to write a blog post on the topic. For me, it all started with a little red suitcase….
My Grandmother, a gardener in many ways, planted the seed of travel in my soul. When I was 11, she took me on a bus trip to Niagara Falls. New red suitcase set in tow, en route from my native North Carolina to our ultimate destination, we stopped at various cities along the way, including the Natural Bridge in Virginia; Washington DC; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and New York City. I kept a little travel journal, and though I don’t know what happened to it, I’m certain that one of the items I thoroughly described within its pages was a topic near and dear to my family: food.
My mother made these lovely little pancakes when we were children that she called Silver Dollar Pancakes. I always thought this was Mama’s original term, but I recently saw a recipe for them in a cookbook, so she no longer gets the credit. But these thin, small bites of tan breakfast goodness were what I was accustomed to eating whenever you mentioned pancakes.
No sooner were we over the state border into Virginia and the bus driver pulled over for a breakfast stop that I experienced my first lesson in the many benefits of travel. When I placed my order with the waitress for a heaping stack of pancakes, she very gently advised me to start with one pancake, then order more if I wanted them. I was appalled. How could one tiny pancake sustain a growing 11 year old with a wolf-like appetite? After all, is breakfast not the most important meal of the day? Silently indignant, I was certain that my meal would be the equivalent to a meager appetizer, but when the order arrived, it was a revelation.
The edges of that solo leviathan were lopping over the sides of the wide dinner plate, a dish with inadequate diameter to support the girth of its cargo! Surely my eyes widened to equal the size of the pancake reflected within them. I was truly amazed at this, my arrival into pancake heaven. This was my first experience with how educational travel can be regarding cultural diversity in all its myriad forms, though considering the size of the world and all it has to offer, I had barely left my own backyard.
As you may have guessed, I only needed the one pancake.
My other food memory on this trip is of green beans. I had always hated green beans, apparently spitting out the baby food version when I was in a high chair. Traveling north from home, when you eventually get above the invisible Green Bean Line, you find that there is more than one way to cook the legume. Simply prepared with garlic in olive oil, cooked just to crisp-tender, with a smattering of slivered almonds on top — it was like a completely different vegetable than I had been offered at home. No longer my culinary kryptonite, I found that I actually liked green beans — when they were still green!
My culinary discoveries aside, the thrill of seeing a big city like New York, of seeing natural wonders like Niagara Falls — every adventure and discovery on that trip instilled in me a love of travel. I vividly remember going to the top of the Empire State Building and buying a cheap metal bracelet made of fake gold and featuring a glass replica of my birthstone; of going on a tour behind the Falls and marveling at how incredibly loud and completely opaque the tremendous wall of water was; of sitting at the dark wooden desk in our hotel room, recording every detail in my long lost little black journal.
I would later return to New York City many times while studying at Appalachian State University. ASU owns a loft in the Big Apple, and I had the opportunity to go each semester. Visiting art museums such as the Metropolitan, the Whitney, and the Modern Museum of Art was an essential aspect of my art education.
The loft used to be on Vestry Street near Chinatown, so once more, food inevitably played a part on the stage of my travels. At this particular restaurant in Chinatown, I would get a entrée served on these crispy sweet noodles that I’ve never been able to find anywhere else. My first Indian meal was in New York, and now this is my favorite cuisine.
Long before a spicy curry graced my palate, the other biggest inspiration for my love of travel was my aunt Evelyn. She would travel every year with a tour group — the kind that go to a mind-blowing number of countries in only two weeks. She would return each time with a suitcase full of souvenir trinkets for us and a dinner table alive with her stories.
Evelyn was a notoriously terrible photographer — though to be fair, she was using a 110 film camera, the lens of which was capturing nowhere near the same composition as what she was framing through the viewfinder. The photographs were bad, but her stories were vivid, and she painted clear, exciting images in my mind.
(I would also like to take this opportunity to apologize to all my British friends, for the time that Evelyn thought it necessary to teach everyone in each and every English eating establishment about that Southern US staple, sweetened iced tea. She couldn’t believe that tea would ever be automatically served without ice, and took it upon herself to spread the good news of ice to the British Empire.)
I kept and used that original red suitcase set for so long that my family made fun of me. Finally, long after upgrading to a modern purple set with wheels, the day came when I put the larger piece and the carry-on bag on the curb. The main suitcase had been rendered unusable from musty basement storage, and the seam stitching had given way on the smaller bag. I confess I felt sad when the city collection truck drove off with them sticking out the back, as if a bit of my childhood was being toted off helplessly into the sunset. Imagine my elation when I later discovered I’d forgotten to put the smaller suitcase out to pasture! It had been hiding in my bedroom closet, safe and sound! I am planning to use it in some sort of art installation piece in homage to my Grandmother and that first bus trip to Niagara Falls that engendered the love of travel within me.
Now my travels all directly feed my art as well as my soul and stomach. My husband and I first went to Ireland in 2001, and this trip remains the most inspirational thing I’ve done for my art career to date. The effect it had on me was extraordinary — my experiences on this and subsequent journeys inspired me to a seismic evolution in my artwork.
But I still really enjoy the food. Yes, having moved on from oversized pancakes and crisp haricot verts, I now love beans on toast, and after enjoying grilled tomato for breakfast, I can finally understand why they classify it as a fruit.
And, perhaps somehow making up for Evelyn’s cultural faux pas, I love a proper cuppa.
All the best, and Namaste,
Do you love to travel? I welcome your comments, and if you are on Twitter, be sure to tweet your answer @TripAdvisor to their question that inspired this blog post.