Wednesday, August 28, 2013

No place like home

As a kid, whenever I watched The Wizard of Oz, I was always frustrated with Dorothy because I couldn't understand her crisis. She wanted to be somewhere over the rainbow, then her wish is granted and she wakes up in this magical, beautiful, exciting, exotic place. And immediately she wants to go back to drab Kansas. Why couldn't she just stay with the Munchkins? That's what I would've done.

In my younger years, I longed to travel to exotic places that would be more interesting than my native North Carolina, which could've been the twin sister to Dorothy's Kansas in my mind (far less evolved than James Taylor's). The older I get, the more I relate to the post-twister Dorothy, although home for me is now Michigan.

Traveling back from Montreal a couple of weeks ago, I wondered why we felt the need to go there at all. Sure, I knew the motivation: give our daughter the opportunity to practice French while having fun in a vibrant city we enjoyed visiting previously. But once there, I kept feeling as if practicing French was the only thing we were doing in Montreal that we couldn't be doing at home.
botanical bike culture

I'm not knocking Montreal by any means. It's a lovely city with a cycling infrastructure among the best in North America, and it has numerous pedestrian-only zones. Montreal's botanical gardens, or Jardin Botanique, are the finest I've ever seen and well worth a visit; we were fortunate to see the spectacular Mosaicultures Internationales exhibit.

But aside from bike and botanical culture, Montreal did not make me want to expatriate. Traverse City has more than enough charms to lure me back: music festivals, a film festival, beautiful lakes and rivers, farms, orchards, forests, dune climbs, craft breweries, wineries, cheese makers, sandy beaches, and the friendliest people this side of Minnesota.

And we have better food. Really. Admittedly, I didn't dine at the most famous Montreal restaurants as that was beyond our budget, but in the moderate and cheap price ranges, Traverse City has Montreal beat. Montreal's $14 burgers are no better than TC's $8 burgers. Montreal's poutine is tasty, but I prefer the dirty fries at the food truck in my neighborhood. Admittedly, Traverse City still lacks great Asian food, but I didn't find much better in Montreal. (I enjoy excellent Asian fare at bargain prices in the Twin Cities.)

We procured a dozen Montreal bagels on our way out of town, and those were interesting enough that I've looked up recipes to try making my own. But other baked goods in Montreal disappointed, especially the morning croissants, which were nowhere near the perfection of 9 Bean Rows'.

Once I read an essay, probably on voluntary simplicity, listing vacation as an unnecessary expense. If the place you live is so unpleasant that it must be vacated regularly, the author reasoned, perhaps you should consider living elsewhere. I recognize that travel offers many benefits beyond respite and recreation, but I appreciate living in a place so pleasant that I rarely wish to leave. Except in February.

I haven't decided to store my ruby slippers and stay home for good, but the older I get, the more I agree with Madeleine L'Engle, who wrote: "Maybe that's the best part of going away for a vacation -- coming home again."

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