Ten years ago

I will be here
I will be here

We are in last phases for our trip to Istanbul. The boarding passes are printed. The bag are packed and by the door. The chargers are being slipped into luggage. The debate is raging whether fresh grapes will cause any anguish in security. I am seconds, seconds away from putting the auto responder “You’re on your own, suckas!!!” (or the professional version thereof) on my work email.

I worked very hard today, and it’s tough beginning to peel my mind away. I’m awash in all the details of two very consuming projects at work. There’s the million and one things I do to keep my household and my family running, “Ok, Mom, Magic needs to get her pill morning and night. Thane eats Life cereal with milk… with his hands. You might want to wait until after breakfast to dress him. And if there are apricots in the farm share, would you mind dicing and freezing half a cup? I’m just short for a batch of jam.” All these things that I carry and remember and think about… now is the time to lay them down. If I haven’t explained something to my mom, well, she’ll figure it out. If I haven’t addressed an issue at work, well, they’ll either have to cope or wait. If I’ve forgotten something, it will have to remain forgotten for a week.

This is why we go on vacation. Because we must see how much we are laying down, and then when we return we can choose how much to pick up again. Maybe, perhaps, the perspective of that freedom of going away will show that some of those things we work so hard to sustain are not worth the energy they sap from us. On the other hand, some things we deal with as mundane requirements of our day to day life are revealed as the shining jewels of existence they are. (See also: bedtime reading time)

I am so ready for this. Tonight we will crawl on a plane — the same flight, I think, I recently took to Amsterdam. It feels funny to have Schipol become, instead of this exotic destination across the world, a familiar place where I’ve mapped out the Starbucks, thankyouverymuch. (Funny note: also on the flight will be a friend from church headed to his family in Denmark. The world is a small place.) I promised a colleague in Amsterdam I’d wave as I landed. I have a bunch of Euros from my last trip to unload, so I think some good chocolate at that nice stand is in order.

Then I start travelling space I’ve never traversed before. Never in my life have I been to Turkey — not even as a squalling bairn (which is, for the record, how I was dragged through much of Africa and Europe). I will set foot on Asian soil for the first time in my life, this trip. We are hoping to visit Hagia Sophia, the underground cistern, the Bosporus. We may take a day to go and visit Ephesus. My husband and I will read, eat, walk, talk, read books, play games and celebrate (get this!) TEN YEARS of married life. Ten years ago this week, we honeymooned in Greece when we did largely the same sorts of things, plus the beach.

These new things – experiences, memories, contexts – will provide rich fodder for my mind and spirit when I return. I know this. I still draw strength from the joy of our pre-kid trip to Austria & Italy. I’ve packed all these books on Byzantium so I can truly BE there and feel the weight of 1500 years of history. I will breathe Belisarius, Justinian and Theodora. I will hear the echoes in ancient cathedrals. I will, I’m sure, meet new characters from legends I have not yet learned.

Sometimes, lately, I have felt rather boring. The things running through my mind… they are largely not things you would be interested in. Much of the time I’m not even interested in them. Not that this is why I have not been blogging lately. No no, trust me. I am perfectly willing to blog about boring stuff. I haven’t been blogging lately because I am SUPER BUSY. But even if the super busy isn’t much affected by wandering Byzantium, the boring will be. My mind will have all this new stuff to process — things I have learned and done for the joy of them, instead of for the need of them. I am so excited about this.

And then there is my love. My husband. My joy. My partner in chaos, parenting and gaming. We are very good partners and enjoy each other a lot… when we can focus on each other. But through necessity, many of our interactions are tactical. “Who’s picking up the kids today? What are we making for dinner? Did you pick up the cat food? Do the kids sound too quiet to you?” I so intensely look forward to talking with my husband about the larger things in the world – those same things I’m eager to put into my mind. After ten years of marriage, I love my husband deeply. I also like him. I can’t wait to be with my friend and my beloved, and to have a great time.

So it’s time to kiss the kids and wish my parents luck with Camp Gramp. It’s time to shut down the computer for (gasp!!!!) like 9 days. It’s time to fill up a memory card with tourist pictures.

I will pick you up when I return. May blessings abound.

Constantinople, not Istanbul

Today I bought tickets for Istanbul.

In August, my husband and I will have been married ten (10) years. That seems momentous somehow. How can I possibly be old enough to not only be married, but to have been married a DECADE. So although this isn’t the time of life of the greatest free cashflow (hello daycare!) sometime last summer I decided that we would go.

In our decade of marriage, we’ve really had three kinds of travel vacations: family, beach and exotic. Family speaks for itself. That’s our backpacking, trips to Victoria, hanging out in Atlanta, etc. That usually happens once or twice a year, although perhaps not this year. Beach? We’ve made three of those. We went twice to Cozumel, Mexico — once before we had kids and once when I was pregnant with Grey. We really like snorkeling. When I was pregnant with Thane, we went to Belize to snorkel there, which would’ve been more fun if I hadn’t been wrestling with a herniated disk.

Three times, we’ve done “exotic” travel. When Grey was about 6 months old, we went to London because I’d never been and because (I think really) I wanted to prove to myself that my life of adventure wasn’t over because I’d procreated. Grey threw up about 6 times a day every day we were there. We have not traveled internationally with kids since. For our honeymoon, we went to Greece. We spent two? Three days in Athens? Then another blurry 5 or so on the island of Aegina, discovering that we liked snorkeling together and could be entirely content with a schedule that had us both reading two books a day. Then, in 2004, we went on a trip that was the best week of my life. We went to Vienna for a week. Ah! What can be said! There were museums and weapons and friends and Hungarian Goulash and alpine meadows and fortuitous pfeiffer-steak and it was just the best week I’ve ever had. We took a train through the alps to Vienna, because I had longed since my sophomore year of college to gaze up at the glimmering tongues of flame of the Pentecost, writ in gold, on the mozaic-strewn St. Marks, where Giovanni Gabrieli wrote music to fly over the heads of worshippers. And we did. We stood in St. Marks and heard music and saw mosaics and it was amazing.

We have figured out, with this scope for comparison, those three exotic and three beach vacations, that the journeys of the mind (and museum) are more worthwhile. Beach vacations are fun. It’s enjoyable to read and relax and snorkel. But it’s like the difference between candy and a meal… the nourishment of the other travel is so much greater. It may not give quite the quick hit, but it’s worth it.

On reflection, the destination for this adventurous 10th anniversary trip was decided by a pair of books, the Sarantine Mosaic series by Guy Gavriel Kay. I read them in Victoria last summer. In college I’d taken a course in Early Christian and Byzantine Art, and amazingly we’d studied Byzantium as part of it. I’d loved it. I drank it in. I dragged my new husband to every church I could find in Athens, including quite a few that were by no definition Byzantine. These two books really touched on an authentic feeling of what it was to be Byzantium (although it’s a fictional setting, it’s clearly Byzantium. I highly recommend the series. Keep your eyes open for Procopius!) And I wanted to dig deeper, and drink more fully from that history.

So it came together — a journey to a place of great history and depth. Byzantium. Constantinople. I want to stand in Hagia Sophia, great wisdom, and see what she has become and imagine what she once was. My husband has placed a vote for The Sinking Palace. We’ll be staying at a hotel that overlooks the Bosporos. I’ll likely bring along the Iliad, and perhaps we’ll make a day trip to Troy.

Can we catch lightening in a bottle? Can anything ever be as amazing as Vienna was? I don’t know, but it seems like there’s no better place to find out than Constantine’s New Rome.