When Relyn graciously asked me to participate in her fireside chats, she said, "I know you have many passions; please just choose one." Since then, I've thought hard about what passions have really informed my life. Collecting is an obvious one; in the last nine years, I have acquired many beautiful, rare, valuable antiques and collectibles. But that's probably to compensate for the years I was constantly in motion; for all the things lost along the way.
My favorite, lifelong can't-live-without passion is collecting friends and adventures. And except for the costs of travel, they're free. I have been fortunate to have many intriguing adventures and fateful encounters. Some adventures were joyful and wonderful; others heartbreaking and angst-ridden.
I could tell you about being with a friend and my then two-year-old daughter, enjoying a picnic in a lemon grove on a mountain in Jordan, when some rather menacing-looking men with daggers at their belts helped themselves to our food. Or having tea in the desert in a Bedouin encampment, where the hosts were determined to kill a goat in my honor. Or informal lunches at the Royal Palace.
I could tell you about visits to the Dead Sea, where Muslim women wearing long dresses were floating on the salty surface. And huge areas of the countryside were marked with danger signs, because maps to landmines planted in previous wars are lost.
I could tell you about Palestinian refugee camps, where children innocently played alongside streams of raw sewage. Or the schools with no heating and hard wooden benches for desks, but eager-to-learn children could speak two or three languages. They knew education was the only way out of their situation.
I could tell you about the famous leaders and politicians that I came to know personally; about the ones who "disappeared" or were assassinated. I could tell you about the compassionate future Nobel Prize winner who took care of me when I was sick. I could tell you about being questioned by the Muhabarrat (secret police) for hours. I could tell you about my once-fianceé, who was murdered.
I could tell you about the times I was harassed at Middle East airports, because I was a single woman traveling on her own. Or the time in Kuwait, when I couldn't read Arabic and wearing a dress and heels, almost entered a small mosque, by mistake. Thankfully, a woman wearing a veil shouted at me and waved her hands, motioning not to enter.
I could tell you about the times I got on a plane headed West and sighed with relief, thanking my lucky stars I could leave a region rife with conflict. I could tell you about flying to London for rest and recuperation, only to be evacuated in a bomb scare at the hotel. Or the crooked magazine editor, who blatantly lied to the publisher, making my article too dangerous to publish and my position untenable.
I could describe the magical moonlight on a balcony overlooking the Nile, wondering if I'd ever find lasting love. And returning to , only to be summoned to the US Embassy, for a slap on the wrist over an article I'd written criticizing the administration's failure to address the root causes of terrorism.
I could tell you about long, sleepless nights at the United Nations, waiting for important decisions. I could tell you about interviews and friendships with people from all walks of life, from kings and presidents to paupers and a reformed jewel thief. Or complimentary stays at luxury hotels and restaurant meals with $300 bottles of wine, while worrying how I'd pay my rent. I could tell you about the kindness of strangers. Or about hours stuck in a darkroom with a creepy Texas publisher, while trying to salvage a front-page photo.
I could regale you with stories about dancing in New York clubs with Tommy Tomasi from Brooklyn, the best dancer I've ever met. Or dancing on the table at the Copacabana. Or being invited by a Yugoslavian hockey player for the New York Rangers to go to a "disco," which turned out to be a polka parlor in Queens filled with grey-haired immigrants. Or the invitation to go dancing with a Long Island middle-management guy to a "hot new club," which was - surprise, SURPRISE - . Or the beautiful peach stone villa in that a man I once loved built for me. To this day, it remains empty, because I couldn't be a bird in a golden cage.
I could tell you about le coup de foudre when meeting a Dutchman on the Ides of March in Bahrain and how it changed everything. I could tell you about the clairvoyant or the Arab numerologist who foretold my future with uncanny accuracy. I could tell you about the tears and fears and joys and thrills I have experienced living abroad, but that the worst heartbreaks were in the United States.
All these things and more I could tell you - but I'll save these stories for upcoming books. Meanwhile, I'm still collecting adventures. Hope you are too!
Thank you, Relyn. Such a pleasure to visit here!
All words and images by Tara Bradford of Paris Parfait.