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Friday, January 24, 2014

Postcards from the Edge

I got a postcard in the mail yesterday. Even more surprising, it was from two millennials.Although we are besties, I didn’t expect any postcards during their six-month trek around the world. After all, there’s Facebook and Instagram and e-mail.

Now, back in the day before the Internet (I date myself), people sent postcards all the time, particularly when traveling abroad. Perhaps they just wanted to share a special place with a friend. Perhaps bragging rights were involved. Whatever the motive, posting a picture card was de rigueur. Travelers looked forward to the process of postcard penning. It always started with the search for the perfect image. Next was the decision of where to put down the prose. When in Rome, should one sit on the Spanish Steps or opt to write next to the Trevi Fountain? In Moscow, should one plunk oneself down in the middle of Red Square or write while dining at a cafe? 

And what about the stamp? Where would one buy it? Who or what was on the stamp? Was it a current head of state? Was it a national monument or symbol? What did that subject say about the country?

The pleasure of the postcard was a gift for both giver and recipient alike. Even if an image of the soaring Swiss Alps or the minarets of Marrakesh inspired the pull of envy, the billet-doux was still likely to be posted on the recipient's refrigerator via a strong magnet.

In this day and age when trips are chronicled minute by minute on Facebook and Twitter, and when selfies and personal photos are uploaded the moment they are taken, it might seem that sending a postcard is an anachronism. Perhaps it is. And perhaps that’s why I was particularly delighted when I opened my mailbox this morning to discover a  postcard. It was a picture of Pagan, Burma, accompanied by a note from my millennial friends Emily and Patton.  I was thrilled, touched, and inspired in a way that a Facebook post could never replicate.

Let’s start an experiment, shall we? On your next trip overseas, send half a dozen postcards to unsuspecting recipients. Send one to me, too (PO Box 9444, Washington, DC 20016). You can bet your recipients will be tickled, and you may be delighted to discover the lost art of postcard writing.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

So You Want to Be a Travel Blogger? 10 More Gnomes...

Following up on the popular So You Want to Be a Travel Blogger, I present an elfin dectet of malapropisms that make me grouchy.

1. The Bordeaux does not compliment the filet mignon, unless it is able to magically speak. Wine complements an entree by supplementing it or making it whole. It does not tell the steak what a fine piece of meat it is (unless it is rude wine).

2. If you want to insure a good trip, buy TravelGuard. However, if you want to ensure a good trip, do your research in advance and stay at nice hotels. Cozying up in a comfy bed can assure most people that a good night of sleep is in store..
3. Despite what Lady Gaga and many other song lyricists write, nothing is between you and I. It’s between you and me. Me is an object pronoun; I is a subject pronoun. Between is a preposition. Prepositions take the object pronoun. Please don’t keep this between you and me.

4. If something is between two people, it's between them. If it's "between" three people, it's really not. It's among three people.

5. Did I illicit a response from you on the last item? I should hope not. Perhaps I elicited a reaction, though. Illicit means outside the law. Elicit is to draw forth.or to evoke.

State images courtesy

6. Texas is not larger then Delaware. It is, however, larger than Delaware. Then is an adverb signifying time (First, I'll visit Texas. Then, I'll go to Delaware). Than is a comparative word.

7. The phrase “with all due respect” is usually spoken, not written. But whenever it is used, there’s most likely a heavy undertone of sarcasm. If you have to lead off a sentence with the phrase, it likely signifies an absolute lack of respect for the principle under discussion.

8. Or perhaps you have no due respect for the principal under discussion, if you are talking about the dude who has establishing the principles for your high school’s code of conduct.

9. A unicorn is not kind of unique or rather unique or even uniquely unique. If something is unique, it is one-of-a-kind. No qualifier is necessary.

10. Do not refer to the doohickey from which you withdraw cash in a foreign country as an ATM machine. ATM = automated teller machine, so if you write ATM machine, you are being redundant, repetitive.

Please tell me about your most irksome gnomes in the comments section.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Who's That Dude?

You can’t go a few blocks in Washington without tripping over a statue. In some cases, those depicted are familiar faces. Hello, Abe. Greetings, Mr. Einstein. But there are other times, when, after tripping over the statue, you look up and wonder, “Who’s that dude?” Parenthetically, for those offended by the male gender connotation of dude, note that the vast majority of DC's statues depict men.

Say you are wandering through Meridian Park, located in northwest DC. Suddenly, you stumble upon a statue of a dude flanked by a twosome representing law and democracy. Quick, who's that dude? It's James Buchanan. President #15 was hardly a gem--he’s rated among the worst by historians. The pre-Civil War leader is noted for doing little to prevent the growing schism between North and South. Nonetheless, the country’s only bachelor president gets a statue in the nation's capital, albeit hidden away in a place most visitors will never get to.

Even though Buchanan is somewhat obscure, at least he has the presidential claim to fame. If you pass by the Samuel Hahnemann Monument at the intersection of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, you have every right to wonder, “who’s that dude?”  Hahnemann was a German physician known for developing homeopathy. In the early 1900s, the American Institute of Homeopathy dedicated the impressive bronze and granite structure to this early Western practitioner of alternative medicine.

Who’s lesser-known than Hahnemann? Does the name John Ericsson ring a bell? If it doesn’t, don’t worry, you don’t have a screw loose. But Ericsson, who is honored with a national memorial near the National Mall (Ohio and Independence), did invent the screw propeller. The Swedish engineer revolutionized naval history, it is said, with this invention. The dude also designed the USS Monitor, which was instrumental in the Union victory during the Civil War.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


One of the biggest travel trends of 2014 is said to be the rise of the PANK. That’s Professional Aunt No Kids, for those not in the know. The idea is that these single ladies, without a ring on it and with money to spare, spend their extra cash taking their nieces and nephews on vacation. Thus is born a new marketing target for theme parks, dude ranches, cruise ships and other destinations appealing to the family travel set.

Despite the fact that I am, demographically, a PANK, I abhor this term. I put it right up there on the irritating index with Girlfriend Getaways (demeaning) and Stay-cation (an oxymoron). Why am I nonplussed about PANK? Let’s ponder the images conjured by the term. First, one thinks of a professional aunt with no kids as either an aberrant Auntie Mame type or a spinster with a Victorian-era.fashion sense. It doesn’t help that the term PANK sounds so similar to SPANX, a new-age girdle for Gen X’ers. And PANK sounds like pink, a prissy, demure and oft-timid color (although the artist known as Pink might disagree). So, my overall picture of a PANK is a slightly out-of-shape woman wearing pink SPANX. Reading glasses are flung around her breasts via a pearl necklace (no, not that kind of pearl necklace). She also sports a progression of persnickety eccentricities that make her wildly unappealing to the opposite sex.

I  can’t help but wonder why so many of the travel industry’s most annoying terms exist for women only. Mancations never caught on the way Girlfriend Getaways did--and when you see the term in print, it is mostly used in a tongue-in-cheek manner. And you aren’t seeing the introduction of the PUNK--the Professional Uncle No Kids. Maybe because PUNKs don’t run around in SPANX? I don’t know. All I'll say is if you refer to me as a PANK, I’ll SPANK you, no questions asked.