Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Messy travel

I'm not, not ready to step away from my writing desk, where piles of books and magazines ground me in the sense of things moving, work being done. And yet here I am at the Disney Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando, Florida, where hotel building are named "Cabanas," "Ranchos," and "Casitas"; terra-cotta and cement galore; a small cup of watery coffee costs $2,25, Internet access is $10 a day; and drinks at the decorative pond in the middle of the resort are being charged to my dad's credit card. Who cares about the seedy showiness of it all when I'm here with my family--my parents and my aunt--whom I haven't seen since September, so many new stories, work dramas, snow plowing accidents, rainfall, thought-provoking literary gatherings ago that it feels like forever.

My parents and my aunt are visiting from St. Petersburg. My aunt--my mother's sister--spent five days with Dave and me in San Francisco while my parents stayed in Chicago and visited cousins in Milwaukee. Today, my aunt and I flew to Orlando, where my dad was just finishing up a three-day conference. This conference was what had set in motion the planning for this crazy adventure we're in the middle of right now. We're going to explore Central and Northern Florida, then drive to New Orleans--we will be there during the weekend of French Quarter Festival--and then continue on to Houston, Texas.

Life is good, and yet I'm here at the Disney Coronado Springs Resort, spending much of the day in my room in one of the "Cabanas." It's not like I've been dying to see Disney World, but yes, it does feel silly to not see it now that I'm here. My priorities lie elsewhere: I have a cousin in town. She came to meet us here at the hotel. My cousin's name is Muffet, and her mother Fanya was a younger sister of my grandmother's father, Grisha. Fanya had left Russia before 1917, and so we've only reconnected with this branch of the family a few years ago. I've never met Muffet before, and neither did my dad. Muffet's mother, Fanya, had read and kindly commented on a few of my stories several years ago, when I was first starting out as a writer. She and I communicated over the phone, and I never got a chance to meet her before she passed away. Muffet brought picture albums to show -- of her mother, and also other family pictures. Several prints were copies of the ones my parents have at home: my grandmother's grandparents, Mordecai and his wife, whose name none of the cousins can remember.

My mom and my aunt did go to the Animal Kingdom today, and spent most of the time in lines. They saw some monkeys and parrots. The highlight of their day was petting some adorable lamb. They petted the lamb, and then were able to wash their hands immediately afterwards in the washbasin providently provided by the park administration. I love traveling with my aunt who's in the US for the first time. Onion rings are a wonder, airports are a challenging puzzle, giant glasses of water half-filled with ice are a health hazard, public libraries are a pinnacle of convenience, mangoes are to be eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while cognac is a rare drink only poorly substituted with whiskey. Why do ATMs speak Spanish and Chinese (in addition to English), but not Russian? Why do you (I) make such a big deal of composting at home, if you leave unfinished salad at a restaurant? Are oysters dead or alive when served fresh in the shell? Aren't they supposed to be breathing and squeaking when you eat them? Do all rental cars have this smell or does it go away eventually? Good questions, all, and the answers I can give are hardly satisfactory.

My aunt doesn't speak a lot of English, but she claims to be able to understand locals wordlessly, by intuition. She finds very clever solutions to the language barrier. For example, she and Dave found a highly technological and yet brilliantly simple way of communicating with one another: two computers and Google Translate tool that now translates as you type, and not only displays the translated word but also voices it aloud. They managed a surprisingly profound conversation this way.


  1. wow your aunt sounds like a small child - very cute. you should try to come up with some answers as absurd as the questions :)

    can i take credit for the google translate idea? :)

  2. Oh boy. When faced with these seemingly simple questions I stumble! especially the one ones about oysters breathing. I have no idea!
    The question of languages was the easiest

  3. Chris McClellandApril 7, 2011 at 8:15 AM

    That is an awesome idea about the Google translator. Kind of reminds me of the fictional "Universal Translator" in Star Trek!

    Olga--You and Dave, and any and all family members, let me know if you'd like a "local" to show you the real central Florida most tourists don't get to see.

    Also, I can give you tips on saving money while you guys are here. Basically, anyplace north of the Disney-Plex of Kissimmee you will get food water gas, etc. at much lower prices... I'll give you a call today, to see if you guys are interested...

  4. Disney! What are you doing in the room? I love that your aunt claims to understand what people are saying using her intuition.

  5. Yeah, totally missed Disney. But it's okay -- since Dave's not traveling with us, and Disney wouldn't be the same without him :)

  6. Your aunt sounds like quite the character! Please give us more details about what she is intuiting from people crossing her path. It might be quite a cultural revelation both ways!

  7. Disney-- that's an Olga blog I can't wait to read. Started Stanley Elkin's "The Magic Kingdom" last year-- had to put it down-- but I will get back to it. Have some Disney story ambitions....

  8. Theresa, here's one example of how my aunt's intuition worked. We're at a bar, and I go up to the bartender to order all of us drinks. The bartender starts chatting to me, asks questions, like "where are you all from?" and "what are you doing in Tampa?" When I come back to the table, my aunt triumphantly tells me: "You told him that you were from California and that we were from Russia and that we're going to New Orleans next!" And you know what? She was absolutely correct :))

    Evelyn -- didn't go inside Disney World. Maybe next trip :) Definitely have story material though!