I coined the phrase several years ago, after a series of unfortunate events lead me to South Korea. I stepped off the plane and into a fetid cloud. The air in Songtan as thick and putrid as the inside of a kimchi pot. A cacophony of thundering jets, screeching automobiles, and miserable humanity assaulted my ears.
I went to bed that first night feeling irritable and negative. All of my senses were engaged in hating my surroundings.
I woke late the next morning, still gritty-eyed and groggy from the disorienting sixteen hour flight, to find the fog and my malaise had not lifted. My first thought was, "I hate Korea."
I'd had my feet on the ground for less than twenty-four hours yet my mental compass was determinedly fixed to "HATE."
I decided to go in search of sustenance. My first step kept me headed in the direction of loathing. Outside my apartment, I stepped on a slimy green patch of concrete that nearly sent me head over Converse. (I would learn that the sewers in the area were too shallow to accommodate the waste and frequently backed up, belching offal that would ferment on the sidewalks).
Keeping my Converses cruising, I navigated around the slick spots, peering through the fog, until I came to a small park. Ahead stood a most unusual tree. With branches laden with short pine needles growing in tufts and blue pine cones, it looked like something Dr. Seuss would draw - if he had been chosen to illustrate Mulan. Exotic. Beautiful.
I was standing alone in the park, staring up at the oddly Asian tree, when a single dragonfly appeared in front of my face, fluttering its diaphanous wings with an almost undetectable whir. It hovered there, staring at me staring at the tree. Then, a swarm of dragonflies descended, flying around me as if characters in an animated film, sent to cheer the hapless Princess.
I listened to the whir of their wings and something miraculous happened. I felt my compass begin to turn away from hate.
I would never truly appreciate Korea, but that single moment - that dragonfly moment - became a symbol for me. It was a perfect travel moment - a brief, fluttering moment of beauty and acceptance.
"Look for the dragonflies" has become my mantra. No matter where Fate tosses me, I know there will be at least one memory I will take with me to love, to cherish. In South Korea, it was the dragonflies fluttering beneath a Seuss tree on a foggy morning.
Sometimes, I am fortunate and Fate tosses me somewhere splendid, somewhere with loads of backdrops for perfect travel moments. A place filled with temptations that have me falling in love again and again.
A place like Edinburgh.
It was my second trip to Scotland but my first to Edinburgh. I landed during a torrential downpour. The airlines "displaced" my luggage (Cheers, British Airways!). The taxi got a flat tire. My expensive hotel room was located between the stairwell and the lift and, inexplicably, smelled like my grandpa's house on Saturdays (Gramps, a retired cop, hosted beer, brats, and sauerkraut feasts for his German and Irish cop buddies every week. Fifteen men in a Depression-era bungalow sauced up on kraut and brews makes for one odoriferous environment. Just sayin'.).
Not an auspicious beginning to my Grand Highland Adventure.
For three days, I was forced to survive on what I had carried with me on the airplane. I felt like Bear Grylls only without the sexy scowl and savvy survival skills. (I tried to fashion an Armani-esque pantsuit out of the pinstriped down comforter but the feathers kept sticking to my fingers. Besides, not even Bear with his mad skills could have salvaged enough thread out of the Hilton's complimentary sewing kit to construct a couture ensemble.)
I abandoned the butchered comforter. Surrounded by a swirl of goose feathers, I ventured beyond the confines of my over-priced hotel to go in search of my dragonfly moment.
|From the Battlements|
by Leah Marie Brown
The buildings of Edinburgh's New Town stand like
soldiers in a straight line.
I descended the battlements and began my walk back toward Deacon Brodie's, a colorful pub I had spied in the heart of Old Town. I was walking down High Street when I encountered a cluster of tourists watching a street performer. Dressed as William Wallace, he was swinging a sword through the air while delivering a rousing speech about the need for his countrymen "to stand in defiance of tyranny."
I am not usually one for blatant, cheesy tourist attractions, but something about this performer's impassioned delivery captured my interest, so I remained with the throng of giggling, tennis shoe-wearing tourists.
I watched as a woman walking a West Highland Terrier struggled to keep hold of her lunging animal. The terrier broke free from its master's hold and charged up to the street thespian, tail stiff, growl rumbling deep in its furry belly. Undaunted. Terrifying in his dogged determination (pardon the pun).
Without missing a breath, the thespian lowered his sword and said, "Be gone with ye, ye wee mangy beast, or I'll gut ye as sure as I did the English."
The dog's embarrassed owner seized the leash and tried to pull her barking canine away but the Westie had dug in and was determined to see his battle through.
The blue-faced thespian made a few more quips. The crowd laughed and tossed coins into his bucket. The thespian dropped to his knee and continued to beseech his countrymen to fight the snarling tyrants. The metallic cling of coins dropping into the bucket confirmed what was already obvious - several of the tourists (especially those in the young, female demographic) were lapping this scene up. Some were pleased by the impromptu entertainment, while others were falling in "love" with the William Wallace-wannabe.
|Braveheart and the Wee Beast |
by Leah Marie Brown
I didn't realize it then, but I was falling in love, too. Not with the man in the kilt, but the dog on the leash.
For me, the brave little Westie became my first Scottish love. Like a kid on a cross-country trip shouting out "slug bug" every time she sees a Volkswagen Beetle, I would search for the squat little dogs and squeal with glee each time I found one.
I saw an elderly couple strolling through a park in the Victorian town of Strathpeffer, leading a pack ambling Westies. (Cue squeal!)
In Plockton, a picturesque fishing village on the shores of Loch Carron, I saw a precious Westie pup wearing a yellow rain slicker sitting in a rowboat. (Cue double squeal!)
The few times I did turn the tele on, I saw the same dog food commercial featuring a freakishly sympathetic Westie following its master on errands, including a visit to a cemetery to leave flowers on his dead wife's grave. (Cue sad awww!)
There are many things to love about Scotland: her verdant paps that appear to be blanketed in a quilt of golden gorse and purple heather, her finger-licking good crispy fish and chips, her potent Drambuie, her fascinating history peppered with fiercely loyal and courageous characters, and her warm, welcoming people.
Any one of Scotland's appealing features can charm a tourist into yielding their heart.
I enjoyed hiking her paps, eating her delicacies, sipping her liqueur, learning her history, but her scruffy little canines stole my heart and gave me some of my most treasured dragonfly moments.
That's the amazing thing about travel, though, isn't it? No matter where you find yourself - a thatched hut in Honduras, a farmer's market in Omaha, a blueberry eating contest in Anchorage - if you take the time to look, you'll find something remarkable.