It’s been 7 days since I left my home at the top of New Zealand’s South Island where the lime green vines are reaching for the sky and the orchards of blueberries, plums and cherries are bursting with juicy goodness. Since I’ve been gone the New Zealand sun has been chased away by rain showers but still I know that even if it’s wet back home it will be warmer than where I am.
Because I am in Virginia, the 10th state of the United States, where despite the mild winter temperatures, it is still quite a shock to a summer-loving Kiwi like myself. My home for 3 months is Bristol, Virginia. It’s important to say ‘Bristol, Virginia’ because there is also a Bristol, Tennessee; in fact, the state line between Virginia (VA) and Tennessee (TN) runs down the main street. Speed limits on the highways, and other laws, are different in Virginia and Tennessee and I have yet to figure out how the inhabitants of Bristol keep track of where they are state-wise, or even if it’s important that they do.
It must have struck someone 100 years ago as important because at one end of town a mighty sign was erected to straddle the state line and declare Bristol VA/TN as “A Good Place to Live”. It’s even illuminated at night.
So what of the last 7 days? I’ve spent 5 of them in Bristol, Virginia and 2 of them in Houston, Texas.
In Houston, I saw paintings by Picasso, Rothko, Magritte and Warhol, and a breathtaking exhibition of surrealist art and sculpture, all part of the astounding private collection of John and Dominique de Menial and had pizza and red wine with Jim, my Air BnB host after he toured me around the poshest suburbs where every house looked like a mansion on steroids.
I found a cafe with flat whites and long blacks and then followed a group of people to a theatre and bought the last front row ticket for the most fabulous performance of A Christmas Carol. I walked past the Houston Ballet where Li Cunxin (Mao’s Last Dancer) first danced as an exchange student and I wandered the empty streets of downtown looking up at the magnificent sky high buildings and wondering where all the people were. (I found out later that 20 feet below the surface there is a shopping mall with miles of tunnels linking the corporate towers, banks and hotels so office workers and visitors can be protected from the hot, humid and windy Texas climate.)
I took buses and trains and encountered the kindness of strangers when I didn’t have the right change or know what stop to get off at. I learned that Houston sits on Buffalo Bayou and has the highest concentration of healthcare and research institutions in the world and that when a local resident says it’s cold enough to light the fire, it really isn’t.
I will go back to Houston one day and visit the ballet and the Johnson Space Centre and to see the galleries that were closed because it was Monday.
And I read this,
“Travel itself is not an answer. It can’t save you from yourself, or the demons that you have. You will bring them along with you as you roam. You can’t absolve yourself of your responsibilities or the monotony of routines that will reappear the minute you stop moving. And if you travel to escape darkness, it will eventually find you.”
I don’t need saving from myself and I’m not being chased by demons but I do feel an urge to be somewhere I’ve never been before and it just happens to be Bristol, Virginia.
The state of Virginia has a social media handle – #LOVEVA – and I hope to find out many reasons to do just that during the next 3 months.
Categories: An American Adventure