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New Reminders of Old Vacations

<i> Morgan, of La Jolla, is a magazine and newspaper writer</i>

Good reviews of the scenery and the promise of a nonviolent film drew me to my neighborhood theater the other evening to see “High Season,” a summertime romp filmed in Lindos on the Greek Island of Rhodes.

As promised, the white-gold light of Greece overshadowed the plot. As promised, the folk music and faces were enchanting. As for the notion of unveiling a statue to The Unknown Tourist, well. . . .

Actress Jacqueline Bissett and her friends laughed and swam, drank ouzo and danced. They broke urns that were not ancient and lived lives that were not new. They spoke of the glorious past and their often silly present. The film was as frothy as the slight Aegean surf, and I drifted off to another summer and to my own memories of Lindos.

I had come in on a cruise ship that August after calling on Soviet ports in the Black Sea. The night before had been a jolly birthday party and farewell for a friend who was staying over in Rhodes.

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The morning after was like a ragged scrap from a Jack Lemmon film, one of those stumbling, sun-too-bright scenes that are funnier to watch than to live through. Or to pray that you’ll live through.

Riding Up the Cliff

Several of us were not too steady as we tried to climb aboard donkeys for the trek to the cliff-top temples of Lindos.

Yet the donkeys knew the way, and the narrow walls, hung with bright weavings, kept us in line. Fresh air whipped over the rocky heights; the sheer drop to the blue-green sea was sobering.

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Back at the pier, local boys met us with Polaroid prints of our donkey ride, and I saw that my posture was skewed.

In an effort to appear normal I rode ramrod straight in the saddle. But I was not in line with the earth or the walls. That photo is a favorite souvenir.

Films often transport me to other times and places. Familiar music also sends me on memory trips.

In my aerobics class near La Jolla Cove the subject was thighs. Or maybe it was arms.

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Whatever, the tape was playing the theme from “The Thomas Crown Affair.” I remembered the cadence from Saigon, where, in January of 1969, I first saw that Steve McQueen film at the rooftop Officers Club near the Hotel Caravelle.

The war was deadly serious out there, but on the roof, for a couple of hours, men and women were getting to smile.

Art also carries me away from the present.

A bronze statue called “Kashmiri Woman” stands serenely on a rosewood shelf not far from my computer.

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I remember the steamy day I first saw her in New Delhi, at an upstairs gallery off Connaught Circus. My husband was shown garish paintings and weightier sculptures while I sat to recover my cool. But the bronze woman was a commanding presence. We could not leave her behind.

Timeless Beauty

Her grace is matched by the timeless beauty of an ivory Chinese scholar who stands in the same room, as smooth and cool to the touch as the hand of the gentle friend who brought it from Shanghai a lifetime ago. Their strength and tranquillity forswears deadliness. I’m glad they watch over me.

Original art is a splendid souvenir of travel. It is duty-free and rich with recall. A passing glance can brighten a morning and allow you to relive a trip without setting up a slide projector to see the Eiffel Tower upside down or the Colorado River run backward. I’ve rarely seen a slide presentation where all the slides were facing the right direction.

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Sounds, too, are a lingering echo of travel. When I tune in the British Broadcasting Co., which I do all over the world, I smile at the signature tones of Big Ben. I smile because I can see the clock’s lined face, and I remember the scribbled post card from my sister on her first trip to London: “Saw Uncle Ben today. Beautiful.”

So she doesn’t edit her cards; at least she mails them, for which I am grateful.

In New Orleans recently I caught the only surviving street-car line down St. Charles Avenue to Audubon Park. The ring of the bells and the clatter of coins bouncing down the old glass chute reminded me of the splendid trolleys of Melbourne, and a Sunday when I boarded for the green and moneyed suburb of Toorak, arguably Australia’s grandest neighborhood.

The only sound behind the brick walls and iron lace gates of Toorak that day was the occasional whap of tennis balls on clay courts. The gum trees were as shady as the live oaks of St. Charles.

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A new trolley line that runs for a scenic mile along the Mississippi River in downtown New Orleans opened this summer. As the red cars, still decked with balloons, jiggled by Jackson Square, I thought of the long-gone streetcar named Desire.

Thanks to playwrights and composers and Hollywood, how soon we remember.


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