The first thing you need to know is that Xavi is our dog, and that his name is pronounced Cha-vee. Steinbeck was my first literary hero, many long years ago, so Travels with Xavi seemed the perfect name for a blog devoted to travel, diversions and miscellany of all kinds.
I don’t know how much actual traveling I’ll do with Xavi, but I have been thinking of taking him along on some extended road trips, and in any case I intend to haul him around on some of my shorter jaunts in Montana. If you’re wondering, Xavi is a Lab-Cocker Spaniel mix, as far as Doc Berst down at Billings Vet Service could figure. Daughter Pari found him on Craigslist about nine years ago. He apparently had been abandoned along the river near the water plant. And since the World Cup was underway and Pari was fond of a Spanish soccer player named Xavi, she bestowed that name on our new hound.
I had thought of starting a blog soon after shutting down Last Best News on July 1, but the happy fact is that I was having too much fun to get around to it. Which was too bad because I really wanted to tell people about my trip to the Old Fiddlers Convention in Galax, Virginia, back in August. The Galax convention is the oldest and largest of the many mountain music and bluegrass gatherings in the country, and for this longtime fan of old-time music, it was the trip of a lifetime.
The music on stage, at the Galax Fairgrounds, involved hundreds of contestants competing in a variety of categories, and I heard a lot of incredible music, some of it from elementary-age kids. Down in that part of the country, I gather, kids are shown the fingering on a guitar, mandolin or banjo a couple of years before most of us Yankees are teaching our children how to tie their shoes. But the real joy was just floating from campsite to campsite in the evenings, where some of the best musicians I’ve ever heard were jamming out on bluegrass, mountain music, country, swing, Gypsy jazz and Cajun, among other genres.
That trip also included a week in Philadelphia, visiting daughter Jessie and her family, and a few days in Washington, D.C., which I had previously seen only during a whirlwind reporting trip when I accompanied an Honor Flight of World War II vets. This time, I finally got to see some of the sights, including an extended inspection, at the Library of Congress, of Thomas Jefferson’s library. This was as moving as the music in Galax, in a different way. I must have spent almost an hour and a half looking at his books, all behind thick glass, trying to read as many titles as I could, marveling once again at the breadth of Jefferson’s interests and his learning (and his love of well-made books).
Before that Philly-D.C.-Virginia trip, meanwhile, immediately after pulling the plug on LBN, I also went to Seattle to see my nephew get hitched, then spent a week at Flathead Lake with the whole family. Then, over Labor Day, Lisa and I went to Salt Lake City to visit Pari. I finally got to see the Great Salt Lake. Those are my feet, in that lake, above.
What finally inspired me to start the blog was the trip I am just embarking on at the moment. I am in the airport in Denver, on my way to Frankfurt and then to Sofia, Bulgaria. My old Gazette colleague, Matt Hagengruber, who bailed on journalism and joined the State Department years ago, is currently stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Sofia. About 10 days ago Matt got a hold of me and asked if I could be an emergency substitute for a person who was scheduled to speak on journalism ethics, media literacy and online journalism at a series of events in Bulgaria and Latvia, and who had to drop out.
Of course I said yes, putting in motion preparations that involved phone calls, texts, Facebook messages and many dozens of emails. The main problem was that my most recent passport expired six years ago, meaning I had to proceed as if applying for the first time. But this is the State Department, right, and man did they hustle to get everything done on time. This morning, five hours before my flight was to leave, UPS delivered a packet of documents and a supplementary insurance card. An hour later, FedEx delivered my passport. Whew!
I didn’t dare write about the planned trip until everything finally fell into place. I am incredibly excited about this opportunity, even as I fight off fits of paralysis brought on by impostor syndrome. I’ll be in Sofia and a couple of other Bulgarian cities for about a week, and then in Riga, Latvia, for another five or six days. Please stay tuned.