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May 25, 2007

Good Morning, Brooklyn!

Memynoseandgreta_80day
Me, my nose, and Greta

Here is my first thought after stepping off the Queen Mary 2 and reuniting, after two long and lonely months, with my family: It is amazing how much weight the human female can gain in a mere 60 days. Especially so if the female in your arms was 5 months old the last time your saw her, and has since aged to the ripe old mark of seven months. Back in Hong Kong, when I bid Greta and her mummy a tearful goodbye, she weighed 14 pounds; she now tips the scales at 18. In the interim, she has mastered several impressive new skills: She can sit on the floor without toppling randomly over; she can stick her tongue out, and at three a.m. she is able to make a compelling and rhetorically sound argument--without uttering a single intelligible phoneme--that a crib is a cruel and unusual place for a baby and that where she truly belongs is in bed between mummy and daddy.

Two days earlier, in the early evening of May 22nd, somewhere off the coast of Newfoundland, the weather suddenly cleared. The grey ceiling of British dismalness that had been dogging me since Normandy was gone. The next morning, the captain announced we were approaching the Georges Bank, an oval-shaped, undersea plateau that's kind of like the last hurrah of the Grand Banks. Expect more marine life, the captain said, so Erik and I planted ourselves on the promenade on Deck 7, eyes glued to the green ocean water, looking for life. Staring at an endless succession of waves is enough to make you seasick--it's a wonder that bats aren't constantly vomiting. Every now and then, however, the play of green and silver would be interrupted by a clump of seaweed. Something was going on down there. I imagined a sperm whale in a wrestling match with a giant squid, their grappling and body slams dislodging bits of underwater greenery.

Not long after, signs of life appeared. Garbage. A green milk crate floated by, on its way to France. Next, a cardboard boxtop, inches below the surface, an essay in sogginess. Finally, a Gatorade bottle. (Lemonade flavor.)

The ship was due to arrive in Red Hook at seven a.m. on May 24th so Erik and I rose out of bed at  four a.m., hoping to witness every moment of our slow but magnificent arrival. By the time we got on deck, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge had already floated by overhead, a mere 40 feet above the Queen Mary 2's vertiginous main funnel. Ahead of us, New York Harbor, which is very New York indeed: barges and ferries zooming up and down and across, police helicopters hovering over bits of shore, the skyline rising higher with each yard.

A few hundred yards off Governor's Island, just in front of its berth in Red Hook, the Queen Mary 2 displayed one of the more impressive feats of navigation you're likely to see. Firing its side thrusters, the ship turned around and then backed in. It was impossible to experience without imagining the yelling taking place on the bridge. "You're going too fast! Left! Left! You've got 200 hundred feat, easy. Ease her in. Left! Turn the wheel! Turn the wheel! Right! Right!. Okay, you're good."

The funny thing about slow travel is that it happens at such a measured pace that you end up having perhaps too much time to take in all the significance. By England, I had for several days been misty-eyed at the world-wrapping magnitude of my circumnavigation. By the mid-Atlantic, it had begun to recede into memory, and by the time I set foot on the parking lot in Red Hook--a parking lot I had visited 80 days earlier--it all seemed like a dream. Greta was thrust in my arms. She reached out and grabbed my nose, a standard move, something she has been doing since the age of two months. (It's her gentle but direct way of telling me my nose is too big. What she hasn't realized yet is that she may end up with this very nose and the final irony is that I will have to pay for the corrective surgery.)

This, of course, is the part where you're expecting a grand and climactic summing-up of it all, replete with feelings of warmth and fuzziness. Not going to happen. I'm saving it all for the main feature, which will be appearing in the 20th anniversary issue of Conde Nast Traveler. It comes out in September and I haven't the slightest idea what I'm going to write. Suggestions welcome.

Instead, I will take this time to thank everyone who has made this amazing experience possible. First off, thank you, readers. As much as I love the sound of my own voice, I wouldn't have written this blog if it wasn't for the fact that so many of you tuned in so regularly. I appreciate your supportive comments, your restraint in the face of innumerable errors and inconsistencies, and your Jesus-like forgiveness over my prejudice against Eurotrash. (The first step is acknowledging you have a problem. I've made it that far.)

Thank you to my benefactor, Klara Glowczewska, the editor of Conde Nast Traveler. It's a stretch to say I have the greatest job on Earth, but for the past three months, I did have the greatest job around the Earth, and it's all because of you. Thank you to my editor, Ted Moncreiff, who not only thought this whole thing up, but suggested that I actually get paid to do it. (And no, he's not getting any kickbacks. I do owe him a dinner, though.)

Thank you to my online editor, Tom Loftus, the man responsible for all the funny headlines and captions. Tom hails from San Francisco, and only a West Coaster can send the identical email more than forty times--"Mark, you forgot to send GPS coordinates"--without betraying even a hint of anger. Thank you also to Hyla Bauer and the fashion department at Conde Nast Travler. With your help, I was never too hot, never too cold and--far more importantly--I looked good enough in Italy that the locals did not laugh at me.

Nandita Khanna is Ted's assistant and she's busy at the slowest of times. For the past three months, while not only tackling her regular outsized workload, Nandita had to deal with sheaves of unmarked receipts printed in foreign languages, boxes of cashmere or salami held up at customs, and innumerable random, unreasonable emails saying things like, "Nandita, getting massage so time precious. Regarding hotel suggestions in Moscow: the last time at Swisshotel had bad dream. Does Four Seasons have availability? Check into turn-down service--request extra mints on pillow." Nandita, that you do your job so well is a credit to your ability. That you manage to stay smiling is a testament to your personality.

Finally, a word to my wife. I don't know what that word should be, because "thank you" isn't nearly up to the task. For the past 80 days, you have kept house, managed the finances and paid the mortgage. You not only did my laundry, you did my taxes. All the while, you raised a little girl who shows some promise of turning out to be as beautiful and wonderful as her mother. Meanwhile, your husband had the gall to travel in a meandering and non-direct path around this world, and all he could do was talk about the food. So to you, Laura, I say this: I may have drunk wine in Burgundy, eaten pasta in Italy, walked the Great Wall of China, traveled the breadth of Siberia, talked politics with the world's last feudal lord and snorkeled with tropical fish in Hawaii, but there is only one place on this planet that I truly long to be, and that is by your side. The world may be big, but it's meaningless without you.

Mark, you forgot to send GPS coordinates

Comments

I enjoy your post so much. I am so impress with your insight on that piece about the sheep you had for dinner in Mongolia. Admire your poetic and sincere tribute to your wife it is what love is all about.

Welcome home (almost). Call me when you need an East Coast travel partner. Looking forward to the article, but sad this blog is ending. It'll be like a day without wine.

Mark,
I'm thoroughly impressed. Both with you AND your wife. She is a saint without question and, according to what you've stated she's had to accomplish while you were away, she continues to prove herself to be a strong and resourceful person. As they say, 'you have chosen wisely, my son'. (smile)

What impressed me about you and shows me that you 'get it', is the passage ...."there is only one place on this planet that I truly long to be, and that is by your side. The world may be big, but it's meaningless without you." I think you've come to learn, as I certainly have, that no matter what I accomplish, nor where I travel - if it's without my best friend and love of my life and my wife (all the same person by the way), then the experience - no matter how great, is not complete.

Take that lady somewhere special and show her in no uncertain terms how grateful you are that she loves you and just how much of your world revolves around her.

Travel safely, learn, and love.

type to you later....

GREAT Job, Mark! You've come a long way! Thank you to your wife as well for keeping up! You're a great writer and we hope to see more of this kind of blog in the future!

every morning when i get to work i anxiously check your blog for your latest entry. you have had a wonderful adventure and thank you for including all of us. i will miss reading about the wonderful food and places you have experienced along with your witty commentary. great job!

Mark,

I have really enjoyed your travels and the blog. Your writing has been great and your experiences remarkable. I hate to see it end. Enjoy all the time you can with your wife and child.

I have greatly enjoyed you sharing this adventure with us but I know from experience the home with the wife is the best place on earth. I look forward to your next adventure.

Mark, regardless of speed, you've completed a journey very few people ever get to complete. I've enjoyed having the opportunity to gaze from cyberspace. Your writing is sincere, and therefore, enjoyable to read. I believe your last post proves that no matter where you go, "there's no place like home."

Lastly, as St. Augustine said: "The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.

Thanks for a wonderful journey...I knew it was about time for a McLeod cry. Welcome home!

Thank you for sharing the many facets of your journey. I have enjoyed your blog, and your wit, immensely. When you write your upcoming article, please answer the question that has held me in suspense since Istanbul: Is the new rug a fabulous match for your new robe??

Mark, I too am sad to see this wonderful journey come to an end. I have thoroughly enjoyed the laughter, the tears (at leaving your family)and the joy at seeing them again. What a darling little one you have. I look forward to reading more about your travel. I will have to purchase the magazine when it comes out. Thank you for allowing us a glimpse into your world. Hugs and kisses to your little one.

Mark,
what an interesting journey! Thank you for sharing.
You are an amazing writer!
I improved my English skills being with your family in 1975 (i.e. by reading to you and your brothers)and I can continue to improve the skill by reading your stories.
Your daughter is so beautiful!
All the best to you and your family,
Inge

Sad to see this blog come to an end, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your adventures. Enjoy the time with your family and friends.

Dude, awesome. I know you've been reading my comments so you already know how admiring of your writing I am. (I thought I was a writer, but I've never used the word "vertiginous" in a sentence! Unless that one counts.)

But the question that's driving me crazy: Was it 80 days Mark time, or New York time? Because you traveled West-to-East, unlike Phileas Fogg, you "lost" a day. Surely I'm not the only one wondering!

--And please continue to blog about something, anything. Those of us who feel we've made a friend, will miss you otherwise.

Since YOU mentioned it first, the biggest laugh I had from your adventure was, after the effusive compliments in comments you received before you reached Monaco,the loud quiet there was when you got to Eurotrash. Your honesty was appreciated, even if your opinions were questioned. Reviewing the stories in the Slide Show, your story on the Mongol Buddist monks and the gentle dispatching of the sheep was my favorite. Looking forward to future articles.

It's too bad it's coming to an end. Where will you be traveling to next? How about the moon?

Hi Mark,

I've popped into your blog every so often as a welcome, witty and poignant tonic from life as a new academic. It has been amazing to sit along the sidelines and dip in and out of your travels. You have an amazing gift of words, especially those last few to Laura. Enjoy the summer being all together. All our love, Larissa and Simon

and Here's the Love shot...Greta.. reading some more and felling your Happiness.....

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