Time Travel Made Easy

When you think about some of the reasons we read, I believe that being transported to another world must rank pretty highly. For me, anyway. I don’t dislike my life but I do love to escape to  places very different from it. This visit to a different world  coincides with my interest in time travel—something I  can’t easily do with a Delta Airline ticket but I can do with, say, any of Diana Gabaldon’s titles!

On the other hand, there have been a few counties in my life that were awesomely exotic to visit and also, in a small way, offered a taste of the experience of a different time, too. No offense to France or New Zealand—two of my most favorite countries in the world and two through which I’ve traveled extensively, but, at least in the sixties and the eighties, travel to either country could  easily make you feel as if you’d traveled back in time about twenty years. Depending on where you travel in France or NZ, you still can. (I have Kiwi friends who tell me today (with some annoyance) that times have changed and they have all the same GAP stores that I do in Atlanta.)

But my point is that there was a time, when I lived in New Zealand in the mid-eighties where I felt like I’d been dropped into an episode of Masterpiece Theatre. And we’re talking one of their Victorian period piece set dramas, not Inspector Lewis. While it’s true I’d spent the last five years living in a shopping mecca with easy access to Nordstroms, Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and the like, when I moved to Auckland there was only one department store (called Farmers) in the whole of the largest city of the country, and that looked like it’d been plucked from Macon, Georgia. In the mid 1950’s.

For me, it was charming. It was delightful. (Besides, you could always mail off “back home” for stuff you really needed.) And it was an opportunity to live in a time that my parents had lived in, to experience life in a slower pace.

The view from my rental house in Murray's Bay, 1986. The rise on the horizon is Rangitoto, an active volcano that served as a visual focal point no matter where in Auckland you lived.

Once, when I was having lunch with some colleagues in Wellington (I worked at Ted Bates advertising agency in Auckland) one of the men told a story about a rustic inn he’d stayed at on his honeymoon somewhere in Greece. He talked about how the little bar-restaurant he and his bride frequented kept serving them cold dinners. When I asked why the proprietors didn’t just pop the meals in a microwave, he looked at his pals at the lunch table and said: “God, I love Americans.” (Said in a way to mean NOT.) Then he  said: “I make $82,000NZ a year and I don’t have a microwave oven. Does anyone at this table have a microwave?” He then looked at me. “Do you have a microwave?” (Naturally a microwave was one of the first things I’d acquired after moving to NZ but I did think he was making a super BFD of the whole microwave thing and so took the opportunity to switch the subject as soon as was feasible.)

I admit it. I am a slave to my silly American conveniences!

My deduction was that possibly it was easier for Americans to experience time travel than those from some other countries. (Which, now that I think about it, might logically mean that people from other countries who visit the States would be able to experience travel to the future! Which would also be quite nice, I’m sure. ) (Okay, please hold all hate mail, I’m KIDDING.)

Has anyone else had the feeling that they were going back into time (or into the future) when they visited a foreign country? Was that something that added to the experience for you? If so, I’d love to hear any stories you’ve got!

8 thoughts on “Time Travel Made Easy

  1. When we travel, we love to visit open air museums that recreate a time and place. In Holland there is one that has recreated pre-historic, ancient Roman, and medieval Dutch periods, where you can dine on the cuisine of that time and place, practice the handicrafts, see the costumes worn by actual people. There is a great one in Cardiff, a Viking one in Yorkshire, we just went to one in Alsace-Lorraine. The one in Plymouth, Massachusetts takes you back in time to the settlement of the Mayflower passengers.

    But for real-life destinations, most anywhere in Europe. At the village of Rye, we went into the Mermaid Inn for tea. It was remodeled in anticipation for a visit by Queen Elizabeth I, and we stayed in a room with a plaque that said the queen mum had slept in that bed. There was a secret staircase behind a bookshelf! Prague is eye candy! When I was researching The Keeper of the Crystal Spring I was invited into the cottage of a local historian for tea. She lived on picturesque Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, one of the most photographed streets of England, and where Far From the Madding Crowd was filmed. That was like stepping into another time and place.

    Thanks for posting this, Susan. I feel like I have just done a little time traveling this morning!

  2. Definitely reading books takes me to other worlds, but the strangest experience I had was traveling in India. It was timeless – with the most ancient practices and the most modern tech side by side. Changed my view of time and history forever.

  3. Great pic of Rangitoto – called ‘bleeding sky’ for good reason. There’s no question about time travel in New Zealand, as it were – the place was stuck in a time-warp back in the mid-80s because of the way mid-century protectionism had evolved. A lot of it was deliberate; my analysis, which I published in my 2004 general history of the country (and have covered in other books since), was that the generation who’d fought the Second World War wanted to have a safe, dull and boring life afterwards. Their kids didn’t. The problem was perception as much as anything else. Back then, going overseas meant going to London. Nobody really knew what the wider world was like – we assumed we were more restricted than we actually were. There was a widespread notion that everybody else had shops open 24/7, that nobody else had import restrictions and so forth. New Zealand – alone in the western world – was backwards, dull, needed kicking into the twentieth century, the mantra went. Get with the programme, etc. When that changed in the late 1980s-early 1990s, Zealand went to excess the other way. Typical. Something the Dutch half of my family has commented on – in the Netherlands, they actually shut shops on Sundays and don’t have supermarkets the size of B-29 hangars.

    A lot of it was to do with the ‘cultural cringe’ and its flip-side, the ‘best of the best’ mentality – all classic inferiority complex behaviour which emerged from the collapse of colonial dreams in the 1880s and which has significantly shaped New Zealand’s mind-set since. I could go on…

    The real question, I guess, is whether the homogenity of what has emerged is an improvement. We are right up there with anywhere else. Perhaps unfortunately – we have malls that look identical to malls anywhere else in the world, fast food chains that every American knows, and so on. All part of the general transformation of the planet into homogenous blunge, I fear. But I hope not…

    Matthew Wright

    • Thank you for your comment, Matthew! I love New Zealand but haven’t been back in over 25 years. I loved hearing how it has changed since then. I cherish the special “wormhole” in time when I was there, but of course it couldn’t/shouldn’t last, I guess. I know if I were to return (I keep trying to talk my husband into retiring to Waiheke!) I would find it vastly changed but, as evidenced by the ever-presence of Rangitoto, the important parts of your country’s mystery and beauty would still be there. Even malls and fast food restaurants can’t put a dent in its intrinsic magic–I guess, just ask Peter Jackson and the millions of moviegoers who now see NZ as the epitome of all beauty! Thanks again for letting me know that I was there during a special time, even if, like so many areas of one’s past, that place largely doesn’t exist any more.

  4. Not so much a foreign country, but here, when you’re going into the old part of Quebec City, it’s a walled city, and the architecture and layout of that area definitely has a sense of making you feel like you’re being drawn back in time.

  5. Time Travel is not always a to where question sometimes it’s a how or on what question, my magic carpet was a home built (actually after the keel was fiber glassed in place) “she” was built in her slip F-14and sailed north
    and south to channel islands and coastal harbors, good times included yellow boat racing dolphins across a blue green sea. Not so good times where where made of a mixture of dark nights and far to much wind entering unknown harbors with green water breaking over the outer wall, or not so much as a breath of wind as tide and current carried us toward rocky shores. because we the boat and I were sailors not motorer’s, close to four tons of boat and plenty of sail to make her dance across the sea chasing down islands and adventures like pirates of old or maybe time travelers sailing between generations and planets, but without wind we were no more than marooned captives of tide and current. so every day was an adventure that took us back in time before steam or gasoline engines powered ships even before electric lights. one of those many trips we took seemed even further back in time than most, as we made our way down the coast of Mexico we found a small island, actually an extinct volcano with one side caved in so you could, if you were careful, sail into a small harbor inside the volcano, completely surrounded by ancient lava walls except for the small opening where we’d entered, the water was so clear that I could see my anchor forty or fifty feet below. the smooth lava walls climbed to 80 or 90 feet above us leaving only the opening we’d come through and would leave by the next morning unprotected from the elements. except for that opening we, the boat and I, where living in a land before time and dinosaurs, truly a step or maybe sail back in time.

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