Nothing teaches me more than travel. I learn a lot about others when I go, but I know so
much more about myself. I am always surprised by my reactions to new and unfamiliar environments and experiences. Traveling gives me a chance to build my ability to embrace diversity, and it allows me to learn how to figure out practical actions for unusual
situations. I would never know so much about myself if I had stayed home. Travel is a therapy that enriches, calms me down, and gives me new skills to use at home.
Fish stories are about the fish-out-of-water experiences I have had as I move around
the world. Some of these stories may seem mild, while others may seem earth-shaking based on your worldview. A great way to get value from these stories is to put yourself in my shoe and speculate on how you would react. I would love to read your reactions
to these stories, and I welcome any similar stories you would like to share with our group.
I have been moving around the world almost every year for the last forty years, so you can imagine what I have seen, experienced, and learned. Some of my experiences were so unexpected and surprising. Can you imagine walking off a train in Florence
and hearing someone call you by name? "Baron Stewart," shouted a voice from the crowded station. I looked around in disbelief and saw one of my Rockland County Day School students on a bicycle tour through Europe. We greeted each other, exchanged pleasantries,
and moved on. Again I had the unexpected pleasure on a bus tour in Avignon, France, of running into a Jamaican sitting in front of me. I immediately said hello to my fellow Jamaicans, who were also enjoying the month-long Art Festival in Avignon. To make our
meeting even more attractive, I quickly discovered that we attended the same high school in Kingston simultaneously. "Ire Mon, do you remember those good old days at Kingston College?" "Yes, Mon! Those were the days," he said as we continued to chat until
the tour started. One of the more usual occurrences happened on a ferry to Athens from the Greek Island of Naxos. I was traveling with my friend, Sundari, who turned to me and said, "That guy over there keeps looking at me."
I looked in his direction,
and I sensed that he was a young American, so Sundarii decided to walk over and talk to him. After an initial greeting, he told her that he was from New York and Sundari responded that she was from New York too. He lived on Long Island; Sundari said, "I am
from Long Island too. " He lived in Stony Brook. "Me too," said Sundari. "Where in Stony Brook?" she asked. "I live on Sheepasture Road," he answered. "That's where I live, too," she screamed. He was her next-door neighbor, who she met for the first time five
thousand miles from home.
These signs appeared in England because many tourists stood on the toilet seats there.
These occurrences continue to amaze me, but I am even more in
awe of my reaction to some of the cultural differences I encounter when I travel. For example, I still get a rise when I see men and women using the same bathrooms simultaneously. I try to be cool, but I feel a slight tightening in my stomach each time I see
a woman come out of the stall next to me. Intellectually, I get it, but my body has not caught up to my mind. The toilet differences seem to rattle me. I was in Odesa, Ukraine, when I asked someone where I could find a public bathroom, and I was directed to
a location about fifty meters ahead of me where I found an older woman sitting alone. I asked her where I could find a toilet. She got up and led me to an underground location. It was strange to be underground, but it was even more unnerving when I saw a line
of open holes in the ground with no privacy, which I was directed to use. I was appalled. There was nowhere for me to sit. I would have to swat over one of these holes in public and do my business. I could not believe that these were public toilets. I turned
around and ran back to civilization.
My reaction was so intense, and it lingered with me for days, giving me a chance to reflect on why this was so appalling. I was used to the disgusting outhouses in Jamaica, but at least they offered some privacy.
The memory of that moment was fresh in my mind as I described my experience to a fellow traveler. He was not impressed. He said these bathroom situations occur daily in eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa. When people from those parts of the world visited western
Europe and the USA, they would stand on the toilet seat instead of sitting on it, which would often cause the toilet seats to break. I read an article that discussed sitting versus squatting, and it said that physics supported squatting over sitting.
Street markets are fun all over the world, but I am particularly excited about the street
markets in France. Every small town or the large city seems to have a market. Big cities like Paris may have many markets, while small towns like Saint Remy may have one large market weekly. M first taste of a French street market was in Paris in 1980 during
my first trip to Europe. I drove to Paris from London with two English sports reporters who were on their way to Bulgaria to cover a football match. When they dropped me off at my hotel on the right bank of the river, I mentioned that I would love to visit
a French street market. They laughed, but at the time, I did not understand why. I went to sleep that night to empty, quiet streets but woke up to the bustle and the noise of my first Parisian street market outside my window. Wow! I was thrilled. I got dressed
and ran into the streets to smell, taste, hear and see all available wonders. I walked up and down my street looking at fish, meat, bread, vegetables, and an assortment of clothes. It was just an enjoyable experience for me. It was not the first time I went
to a market. I went to many markets in Jamaica, but nothing compares to the feeling of joy I have when I visit a French market.
PARKING IN EUROPE
Parking in Europe is painful, and parking where there will be a street market the next day is even more stressful. Finding a place to park in the small towns of France is a mystery for visiting tourists,
and when you make a mistake, it is costly. The street market in Saint Remy is on Wednesdays, and I arrived Tuesday evening and struggled to find someplace to park my car. My host warned me that there was a market in the morning and that I should make sure
that I found an excellent place to park my car that night because if it were on the street in the morning when the market was being set up, the police would tow my car away. At midnight, I took my car to an open parking lot, where I saw other vehicles parked
and left it for the night. I planned to get up around 6 am and move to a more suitable location.
My first mistake was that I woke up a 6:30 am which was a little after the set up of the market started. I got dressed and ran out of the parking lot. There
were trucks, cars, and people all completing the market setup process. Everything was there except for my car. In some ways, I was not surprised since the sleepy parking lot I had chosen the night before was now the center of the market. "Did you see the police
tow a car," I asked and was greeted with laughter and smiles. I could hear them thinking, "Haha, another tourist bit the dust." I did not know what to do. I tried to find out where towed cars were taken, but most people either did not speak English or pretended
not to speak English. I began to wander the streets, hoping to get a hint of where I would find my car.
As I moved around, I kept asking anyone who would listen to where the police took towed vehicles. At last, I found an empathetic ear. They were Chantel
and her twin sister Anna who were setting up their stall in the market. Chantel lamented in English, "Oh my! I am so sorry this has happened to you. Losing my car on the market day has happened to me too, so I know exactly how you must feel. Let me help you
find it." She told me to come with her where she believes the tow truck took the car. We got into her car and drove to a garage just outside of town for five minutes. To my disbelief, my car was still hanging from the back of a tow truck. I would never
have found it on my own.
Chantel asked the tow truck operator in French about the steps we needed to talk to get my car back. He said we should go to the police station for the paperwork that we could use to obtain the release of my vehicle. As
I stood there watching their communication, I thought this was a delightful adventure, but it would be expensive. It was around 7:30 am, and the police station opened at 8:30 am, so we decided to sit and have coffee at a nearby restaurant until the station
opened. She told me where I could park my car safely for the rest of my visit and described what it is like to sell at street markets around southern France. At the end of the hour, she took me to the police station, where I got the paperwork to release my
car. I paid 115 Euros. I got my car back and thanked my angel, Chantel, for taking the time to look out for me.
The food is fantastic in Europe. I have been drinking fresh juice, eating fresh fish with vegetables, and having
the occasional glass of wine. Every evening at dinnertime is a journey of discovery. How will they cook the salmon? Should I have the gambas (colossal shrimp)? How dry is the local wine? If I incorporated European eating habits into my lifestyle, I would do
a better job managing my diabetes.
I can't finish talking about European food unless I tell you about some weird foods I encountered or heard about. I never ate frog legs, but I had snails. Eating giant snails was very similar to eating oysters for
me. I just focused on the garlic sauce. I will eat almost anything if I cover it in garlic sauce and fresh herbs. Everything except bull testicles, breast milk ice cream, rotten fish, and maggot cheese. These are all foods served in Europe. Go figure. I thought
I was crazy to love ox tails, chicken bones, and tripe.