By Gary Dickson
There is little doubt that travel whether for business or pleasure stimulates the mind, challenges preconceptions, and promotes a flexible attitude. And I’m no different from anyone else and lucky enough to have had a business before I retired that provided a heady amount of high-end luxury travel as well as an association with people of impeccable taste and sophistication. These experiences are ingrained in my memory as beautiful dreams but there were a few nightmares along the way.
It all began a long time before I was in the business world of fashion, hospitality, perfumes, and jewelry. While that platform allowed me to combine business and pleasure trips to the design centers of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Paris, and Milan, those adventures only continued a predilection that I had developed when I was a graduate student in Switzerland. I used my time off to travel to cities in Europe and beyond like Amsterdam, London, Budapest, Berlin, Athens, even Casablanca, and Marrakesh, and my favorite, Paris many times. But it all began long ago with my mother and father.
My mother was a stickler on many subjects, but particularly about books and thank-you notes. In fact, she was my first editor. Whenever an occasion required that I reciprocate some favor or event, she would not only remind and then remind me again of the necessity of sending a hand-written and timely thank you note but would also review a draft of my authorship to see that it captured the essence and etiquette of the moment. In effect, this meant that the thank you note had to re-tell the story of the event and its importance, but also how I particularly enjoyed the experience, as well as the obligatory praise for the hostess. Let’s just say politely in her memory that my first draft never passed muster.
And then there were the books; first, the ones that she read to me as a child in the afternoons curled up in her reassuring lap, and later, the ones of the summer reading schedule prescribed by my school that she insisted were subject to the equal time provision with the sports that I so dearly preferred.
Then there was my father, the consummate printer, the compositor/typesetter. In printing you learn a lot about precision–words, spelling, type fonts, wrong fonts, kerning, spacing, alignment, plus you’re exposed to every business and profession, and how they want the public to perceive and value them.
My father loved hand-made wool three-piece suits. He loved Cadillacs. He loved music and Broadway; so each year this Georgia couple, my parents, went to New York to see the latest shows and eat at Sardi’s, and they took me along from eight years old on to see Guys and Dolls, The King and I, South Pacific, Fanny, and a host of others.
And when I graduated from university and was accepted to a graduate program by a university in Switzerland, they reluctantly agreed although my father thought it too extravagant and my mother thought it too far.
Then in Switzerland, I met my first wife, an artist. As a matter of fact, her extended family were all artists to one degree or another: Dante professors, art restorers, etc. Their devotion and patronage of the artiigiani in Florence rubbed off on me. We made jaunts all over Tuscany searching for the special and unique.
Then later, when I became active in my father’s business, I helped change its course to reflect those qualities inherent in artistic workmanship. This tack in heading endeared our company to graphic designers across the country, indeed the world.
When I retired, I found that I had all these vignettes of people, places, and stories that were always popping up. Catalytic to these memories is my wife Susie who loves travel and new experiences as much as I do. Through her complicity, my personal souvenirs are re-lived. Sometimes a ragout is better the next day.
And after all, isn’t every story even if it is about an afternoon in a small town, a travel story? Life is a journey, and it is up to us to enjoy every bump along the way. But to do this, you must possess a level of consciousness, pay attention, and enjoy the trip. I remember people used to ask me if I had had a good trip. And my response was always that I don’t do bad trips.
Several years ago, when I was taking advanced French literature courses at the Alliance Française, LA, my French professor asked me if I had ever written anything. I answered, No.
But in reality, I have been writing all my life, if not on paper, then in my head. I took her advice and attended writing classes at UCLA where after five months I had my first novel.
Many people have asked if my stories are autobiographical or even if certain parts are true. I always respond that in every story a little truth resides, but more importantly it is the synthesis of experience and observation that provide the fodder for narrative. Said best by Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson:“I am a part of all that I’ve met.”
Gary Dickson is an inveterate traveler and a Francophile, sans merci. Educated in the United States and Switzerland in history, literature, and the classics, Gary is the author of The Poetry of Good Eats, An Improbable Pairing, and A Spy With Scruples.
Connect with Dickson at GaryDickson.us, Facebook.com/GaryDicksonAuthor/, and Instagram.com/GaryDicksonAuthor.