Bill, Greer, James, Paula, Amy, Michael. The Karijini Six.
We are blessed with friendships not only around the country, but around the world. One of our friends, Michael Levine, of Fremantle, Australia, has had a really profound impact on how we view travel, by imparting to us his very simple philosophy about moving about the globe:
“You have to love ALL of it.”
More about that in a moment.
Michael’s philosophies are not to be taken lightly. First, he holds a doctorate in philosophy and teaches at the University of Western Australia in Perth. This makes him more philosophical by orders of magnitude than almost all of us.
Second, as a native New Yorker, he has both the accent and the tendency toward intense self-analysis that make him a grand storyteller. And finally, as a lifelong academic, he has traveled the world extensively, and thus has a seemingly endless wellspring of stories that he can call upon to showcase his storytelling talents.
To sit at Michael’s table –as we did one summer, at a tent cabin under the stars in the far outback of Western Australia over single-malt scotch – is to take amazing journeys, full of unexpected twists and turns, suspense, humor, pathos, clarity, epiphany – in short, all of the things that make traveling worthwhile in the first place. You could do a lot worse on a vacation than to just go to Michael’s house for dinner every night for a week, bring wine, and let him talk, while his partner Amy corrects his embellishments and keeps him semi-honest. (Of course, in order to do so you’d have to go to Fremantle, just south of Perth, almost exactly the antipode to our home in New Orleans.)
Whenever we visit our Australian friends, Michael and Amy among them, the subject of travel always comes up. Partly, it’s because we met or got to know some of them by traveling with them in the first place, to Karijini National Park in WA, in the summer of 2013.
As most of you know, when you travel with companions for a week, they either become closer, or more distant, depending on what you learn about each other. We’re lucky that on that trip, everyone became dear to us (or dearer). Paula and I still call the group “The Karijini Six,” pictured above at our wedding: Bill, Greer, Michael and Amy (Bill’s partner Sean had to stay behind to work.) Our visit is what led us to ask Bill and Sean to host our wedding in 2015.
The other reason Australians are great travel conversationalists is because just about everyone in Western Australia with the means to do so is an accomplished and experienced traveler. This makes sense, as they live in the most isolated major city on the planet. Really, in order to be anywhere other than Western Australia, you’re looking at something approaching global travel.
Traveling can be hard, and long-distance travel has particular challenges. There are delays, crowds, seats too small, flights too long, sleep too elusive, jet lag, jumpy legs, children too loud, hygiene issues, noise issues, cranky passengers, cranky flight crews, turbulence, bad food, bad air and bad attitudes.
Last April, at the party that followed our wedding ceremony, we were talking with Michael over champagne and friendship, and telling him about a particularly challenging day of travel – the usual ordeal filled with delays, cancelations, re-routing, long layovers. And that’s when he described his travel philosophy.
“To travel the world, you have to love all of it,” Michael said. “You have to love the flying, the hotel living, the jet lag, the things that don’t go as planned, the unexpected detours. They are as much a part of travel as everything else. And they always happen at some point. So you might as well love all of it. It’s part of the adventure.”
Since that conversation, Michael’s philosophy has been our guiding light during a year filled with travel. Holding this attitude makes for a much more pleasant travel experience. Last summer, when weather between our origin (Boston) and our destination (home) necessitated a wild scramble, a wait in line at the slammed airline service center, a change in airlines, rerouting through Chicago, a five-hour layover – the usual shit show – we rolled with it. We planted ourselves on two barstools in the United Club at O’Hare, got ourselves a free beer – and raised a glass to Michael Levine.
Sure, we were tired when we got home many hours later than we had planned. But weighing the difficulties of our travel day against the alternative – not traveling – it was all so worth it.
The brilliant comedian Louis C.K. has a similar philosophy about travel. In one of his greatest bits, he takes to task people who are constantly complaining about the vicissitudes of flying. As he puts it: “You’re sitting in a chair in a metal tube flying across the sky. You are a Greek myth!” Here’s Louis CK’s clip.
As I write this, Michael and Amy are in Paris. Here’s what he said about his evening: “Just returned from a small place that Bill and Sean recommended (Chez Michel near the Gare du Nord)— and walked back to the place we are staying in the Parisian rain — lovely … oh so lovely.”
Sometimes, it rains. Isn’t it lovely when it does?
Thank you, Michael. We can’t wait to see you and Amy again, somewhere in the world, share a bottle of wine, and listen to your tales of adventure.
How I would love to see Bill again. He, along with you, was one of my most favorite students. He once made me a plaster Mr. Bill with a pencil through his head. It was my most unique Christmas tree ornament. I cried a bit when it fell on my oak floors and broke, Please say hello to him for me when you see him again! Thanks for writing this blog.
We will. We may see him and Sean early summer in Sweden.