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Traveling in Style : ON SACRED GROUND

March 05, 1995|Tom Christi e

There is travel to have fun and then there is travel to inspire, to alter, to broaden. (The latter is often the former, but rarely vice versa.) Most of us want something tangible, something viscerally impressive: a cathedral or temple, ruin or museum. Why? For the same reason these things were built, as testaments to humankind's striving for beauty and soul, for something unavailable in the everyday. Others look to the natural world, from great mountains to lakes inhabited by lore and mystery--places that speak directly to the heart. So we become, on occasion, pilgrims seeking out those places where we feel a connection between our footprints and those of centuries past, between the earth and the ethereal, between what we know and what we can only imagine. Sacred places.

Yet the sacred, like beauty or soul, is in the eye of the beholder. It means different things to different people: To an American drawn to Southeast Asia and its philosophies (if not its politics), it's an ancient city of Buddhist temples--and the freedom its people can only dream of. To a Californian, it's his old Kentucky homeland--some back-road burgs with a surprising religious and cultural history. To a Montana fly-fisherman on the Yucatan Peninsula, it's not the Mayan ruins (as one might suppose) but the ubiquitously elusive Caribbean bonefish. To an Englishman in Verona, it's walking with his kids on the shrine-dotted hills of Italy. To an Irish poet, it's the Gaelic language and folklore she nearly lost. Finally, to S. J. Perelman and his traveling companion, Al Hirschfeld, it was certainly not the Great Pyramids of Egypt--a light reminder that wherever goes the sacred, so goes the profane.

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