Since about 1962, I made it a practice to send my friends postcards from my travels. But by 2008 there were so many people on the list it was becoming burdensome to write the postcards. Also there is just so much you can say on a postcard, and it was boring to have to copy it out dozens of times. So on a trip to India in January 2008, I experimented with sending an e-mail instead. I could write much more, and would only have to write it once; the same keystroke could send it to as many people as I liked. I wrote three letters from India that month, from Bombay, Rajkot and Udaipur. They were quite short compared to later ones, and had no pictures. I wrote them in Internet cafés and sent them out on the spot. I enjoyed writing them and people enjoyed reading them, so I wrote similar letters from New York in October 2008 and April 2009, using the computer in my brother Christopher’s New York apartment. The October letter was the first one to have a picture, taken from the Internet as I did not then travel with a camera. By August 2009 these letters had taken on more or less their present form. I no longer sent them from the road, but wrote them after I got home. They all now had pictures. And I was finding them very useful, not only to entertain my friends but as a way of remembering my journeys. A lot of my early travels have kind of faded in my memory. After I began a series of pocket notebooks in 1983, details became easier to remember and more reliable. Now I take notes for the letter about whatever trip I am on, and consciously look for details that will fit in well. As the trip unfolds, the structure of the letter I will write about it takes shape in my mind. The actual writing, besides being fun to do, helps me integrate my experience. Since my July 2011 trip to flooded areas of Wyoming and Montana, I have carried a camera with me on my trips, and now at least half the pictures in the letters I have taken myself. Reviewing hundreds of pictures after each trip, and selecting which ones to include, also help me integrate the trip and fix it in my memory. All the letters are accessible from this website. Below I give a short squib about each letter; clicking on the heading or on the associated thumbnail image will bring up the letter in pdf format. All the links are gathered here, without commentary.
The first letter is from Bombay. The second was sent from Rajkot, about halfway through my automobile tour of the Kathiawar Peninsula in Gujarat, and relates how I visited seven royal palaces and had tea with the maharajahs. The third, sent from Udaipur in Rajasthan, tells about my trip there from Gujarat on some isolated back roads, and about the sights of Udaipur.
This was the first letter from a county-collecting trip, part of my project to go to every one of the 3133 counties (or equivalent jurisdictions) in the United States. There is a page about the County Project on this website, and also a subchapter on it in my Autobiography. On this trip I finished the counties of Wisconsin and the Northern Peninsula of Michigan, and took a substantial bite out of the remaining counties in Minnesota.
I drove through dramatic Italian mountain country from Florence to the independent Republic of San Marino, which was also my base for visits to Urbino and other hill towns, and to Rimini on the Adriatic Sea. Then I moved on to Ravenna, site of the justly world-famous mosaics, and after that to the Renaissance capital of Ferrara, before ending up back in Florence.
I flew down to Panama to visit an old school friend, who now lives in Boquete in the misty and temperate Province of Chiriquí. But I spent some time in Panama City, too, and transited the Canal. The trip also includes visits in Miami and elsewhere in Florida, on my way to Panama, and an excursion to Grand Bahama Island.
This was a trip to the mountain and piedmont country of western Virginia, to finish the last of the counties there, with lots of tourism including Appomattox Court House, where Lee surrendered to Grant, and two houses by Thomas Jefferson.
I went to Texas for the county-collectors convention in Arlington, and while I was there collected some more of the hundreds of counties in this ill-favored state. It was a pleasure to leave Texas for the lovely scenery and cooler weather of Montana.
I made a visit to the Ethiopian highlands, including Addis Ababa, Gonder where the castles are, and Lalibela with the famous rock-hewn churches, and explored the countryside in a car. On the way back I spent some time in Rome, where Ethiopian Airlines has its European hub, and saw the Pope (from far away, but still).
I took a county-collecting trip to Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, but began having chest pains. As soon as I got home I went into the hospital for a bypass operation, called a cabbage in the trade (CABG, or coronary artery bypass graft). The first part of this letter is about the southern trip; the second part is about the cabbage and my recovery. The third part is about my maiden voyage after recovery, to New York with a stop on the way back in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.
On this trip I finished the remaining counties in both these remarkably beautiful states. Some of the rivers were flooding at the time of my visit, which was dramatic but didn’t slow me down very much.
I went to Washington in the heat of August to attend the flag-scholars convention in suburban Alexandria, Virginia. Afterwards I drove through the remaining counties of neighboring North Carolina, visiting barrier islands, swamps, fields and towns by car and ferry, and eating many dozens of delicious raw clams.
This trip made a long wandering loop (for county-collecting), beginning in Memphis, Tennessee, and continuing through Kentucky, southern Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas. Highlights included the still and enchanted-seeming cotton fields of the Kentucky Bend enclave, and the scarily zombified decayed city center of Cairo, Illinois.
I went to Poland for a heraldic conference in Cieszyn, and stayed for a while both in the lovely city of Krakow and in the capital Warsaw. I also visited Auschwitz and motored around in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and southern Poland.
This letter tells about my return to the pilgrimage center of Varanasi, with its spectacularly colorful and intensely used Ganges riverfront. I stopped for tourism in Beijing on the way out (Great Wall, Forbidden City), and in Shanghai on the way back.
I started this county-gathering trip in Omaha, finished the last of the counties in Iowa, spent some time in Springfield, Illinois with the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, crossed the Mississippi on a ferryboat, and returned to Omaha through the hills of northern Missouri.
I went to Australia to give a lecture, attend a conference, be thrilled and astounded by this remarkable country, and see kangaroos. Then I went to New Zealand, because it was close to Australia, and was thrilled and astounded again.
This letter tells how I went to Scotland for a heraldic conference, met the Lord Lyon King of Arms, almost saw the royal family at church, ate bowl after bowl of smoked fish soup, drove back and forth amid the mist and the heather, and then came home again.