Looking Back | Millbrook, New York

Posted by on May 27, 2003

It doesn’t seem very long ago that I started writing this column for WEEKEND.  I actually started writing for Taconic when the Meserves were the publishers.  Helen, who was a well-known “jack-of-all-trades”, had written a few travelogues for the WEEKEND.  I asked her if I couldn’t try my hand at it, since I had just taken a writing course to brush up.  One of the big ideas from the course was that one should get published, somehow, any way at all.  Well, of course, I thought of my friend Helen, and she obliged by letting me submit.  She wanted local travel stories, day trips and the like.
At that time I expected WEEKEND to be a springboard to another career, jetting around the world in pursuit of unusual destinations, – and get paid for it. Although that has not exactly happened, I have had lots of fun writing about my various peregrinations and once, I even got an flight upgrade to Business Class.

My very first story was about a day trip to Farmington, Connecticut, to the wonderful Hill-Stead Museum. It appeared in June 11, 1992. Hill-Stead has been a favorite place for me since the 50’s when I moved to a nearby town as a young married. I’ve been there often, and find something new each time. Designed by Stanford White, the house was left as a museum in 1946 by its owner, Theodate Pope Riddle, upon her death.  The house remains as it was, complete with furniture, carpets, and a marvelous collection of Impressionist paintings.  It commands an impressive site, with stately trees and a small sunken garden.

Since that first piece, 88 of my travel stories have appeared in the Taconic Press.  (Honestly, I counted them!) This is a staggering number to me, and I know will make many of you think I have trod every continent and visited every country in the world.  This is not true, far from it, and I’m still waiting to be discovered as a great travel writer like Freya Stark or Bruce Chatwin, or Paul Theroux, and be given an assignment to trek through South America or take a train across Australia. In the meantime I am kept quite busy trying to think up new places to tell you about, and often can hardly wait to tell you about places I’ve just been.

My collaboration with John Nelson for the past 10 or so years has been very pleasant.  I call it a collaboration because John manages to come up with super titles.  I suppose headline writing is an artistic gift, and he’s got it.

Among my most favorite columns have been those with which I “scooped” the opposition.  I went to Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic on a day trip, while in Austria with a friend in 1994.  It was an amazing find for me, so I described this World Monument treasure in an article here in early 1995. Just a few weeks later one of the major travel magazines featured it.

I’ve written more than once about some of my favorite places, which also reveals some of my travel habits. You can tell that I love Connecticut, I am sure.  It IS my home state, and it is nearby and it does have fabulous places to see.  I also love Dutchess County and that shows in my various local forays.  New York City is also a favorite.  In fact, I have a couple of NYC trips to tell you about which are in the hopper as we speak.  (I have often repeated that New York is a hundred different cities, depending on where and why you go, what you do there, and how your mood and the weather happen to be.) Switzerland has had a few dedicated articles, and Italy several, especially Tuscany, where I have been lucky enough to travel three or four times in the last few years.

Travel has changed quite a bit in these years of my scribbling. It is now somewhat hazardous to one’s health and possibly to one’s welfare.  It takes an intrepid, healthy and very fit person to suffer the slings of airport security lines, the tight coach seats, and the lousy food.  Somehow, though I dread it all, the bad memories seem to vanish like the pain of childbirth, in the joy and discovery of the new and unusual landscapes and inhabitants of far away places.

When I was young, I was secretary for a year or so to a rather nasty woman executive, who terrified me every time she screamed my name from her office.  The connection to travel is this:  she often went on trips, mostly to France, and I ended up making reservations for her at the Georges Cinq in Paris, and at various three star restaurants along her route in France.  Although I always worried about making mistakes, it all seemed so glamorous to me at the time that I vowed that some day I would get to go to some of those places.  If my memory serves, (and it’s not such a great servant these days) those vows of travel were among my first stirrings of wanderlust.  I also vowed I’d never again work for a woman, but I broke that vow.

As you can tell, I have not broken the vow of travel, despite all the current deterrents, and I am soon off to England, after which you will no doubt get a report or two.

Please email me if you’d like information on travel, or would like to reminisce about places we both have been.  Once in a great while I get a very nice letter or email from sometime who appreciates the mention of a favorite destination.  It’s great to get those communiqués. Thanks to all for your support over the years. (jb.shequine@verizon.net )

(Betsy Shequine’s dreams of travel have mostly come true, with only a couple of nightmares.)

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