From the Founders: Of Travel and Timidity
photographs by Bob Capazzo
My New Year’s resolution is to be braver. I mean, at my age, what have I got to lose by sticking my neck out every once in a while?
I’m not a very adventurous traveler, but I married one. And Jack is just like his mother. Maybe it’s that strong Philadelphia stock, but regularly she would take off on her own on some exotic trip. Early on it was cross-country in a 1936 Ford woody with Jack and his older brother, Ed, both too young to drive. In Arizona they got a flat tire, and while Ed got a ride in town to get it fixed, she and Jack took refuge from a thunderstorm in a hut whose occupant boasted a large arsenal of guns. Later she learned he was an escaped convict.
Once it was to the French Cameroons where, at the introduction of cousin Charles Moffly, our consul there, she would go into a chieftain’s hut and charm the tribal leader so much that he would give her the elaborately carved stool he was sitting on. (Jack quipped that he would stand up to greet her and she’d whip it out from under him.) Anyway, she pulled this off so often that we ended up with several.
When we tried to call Granny in 1962 to announce the arrival of our firstborn—Jonathan—we found her in a hotel in Bogota, Colombia. “It’s so interesting here, Dearie,” she said, after warm congratulations. “I’m looking out the window and watching tanks roll down the streets!”
“Better get home, Mother,” Jack replied. “You’re in the middle of a revolution—again!”
We had a wonderful editor Dina Modianot-Fox who thought nothing of taking off lock, stock and barrel to someplace she had always wanted to visit—like Florence, Italy, or Adelaide, Australia—and hunkering down there for several years, making new friends. Nope. I’m not made of such strong stuff.
Some examples: In Bryce Canyon, I flattened my back on the rock wall behind me for support in case I fainted, and watched in horror as my husband and son stood chatting on the edge of a cliff, their toes dangling over the precipice. Snorkeling in the Galapagos, I screamed bloody murder and almost drowned when a shark swam between my legs. Except it wasn’t a shark. It was a baby seal just wanting to play with me.
In preparation for a trip to Egypt in 1997 just after the Luxor Massacre when Islamic terrorists killed off all those tourists at the Temple of Hatshepsut, I redid my will and the list of treasure I would leave our children and grandchildren. “Don’t think you’ll come back?” queried our lawyer Ed Rodenbach. I was not a happy camper, but I went. And I did come back, having had an amazing time. Never mind the body guards with Uzis who accompanied us everywhere—sitting at nearby tables in restaurants, cruising alongside our ship on the Nile in their motorboats with machine guns, and riding on motorcycles beside our bus when we visited Sadat’s tomb (he himself having been assassinated, of course). Actually, I found their presence rather comforting.
In St. Petersburg, fearful of pickpockets and uneasy with beggars, I wasn’t game to leave our hotel for after-dinner strolls to check out the street art in the park next door. Then one evening Jack prevailed, and within minutes we were surrounded by teenaged boys with their hands out. But I had come equipped—with Tootsie Rolls, one of which I popped into the open palm of the ringleader. He looked down at it and said: “Oh, fook!” I didn’t correct him on the proper English pronunciation of that word.
In South Africa, I found myself in a jeep in the midst of a pride of lions—a scraggly male, two females and a bunch of cubs. The driver and his sidekick (with rifle) were thrilled with this rare opportunity for a close-up look at lion life and had prepared us well. Be very quiet, don’t move, and keep your arms and legs inside the jeep. So the first thing Jack did was drop his camera case over the side. I felt fairly safe sitting between two people in the middle row of the topless vehicle, but after what seemed forever, I’d had enough. “OK,” I whispered, “been there, done that. Let’s go.” Pat Geismar, whose daughter Beth has organized many of our more colorful excursions, dubbed me “Donna, Queen of the Jungle.”
Then on a cruise in the Greek Islands, I got left behind in a restaurant in Mykonos after dinner. I had gone to the loo, and by the time I had figured out how to work the darn thing and had played with a kitten in a back hall, my party, including the Crosses, Yudains and Jack, had taken off. So there I was listening to the ship’s horn blasting farewell as I groped my way downhill in the dark through a labyrinth of winding streets to sea level. I just made it.
Yup, we’re still married. Hard to believe. And I’m working on being a woman of stouter heart. It’s never too late, right?
Happy New Year, and may all your resolutions come true.