Faraway Places


Many years ago there was a popular song about the siren call of faraway places with exotic names. Listening, Mike and I daydreamed about someday visiting places with magical names like Zanzibar, Kuala Lumpur, X’ian. “And Marrakech,” I added, “and Siam…”

Perhaps dreams do come true, for we spent the next five years in Thailand where the air was scented with frangipani and the canals that crisscrossed the land were bright with water lilies. Since then we have traveled to a few of those faraway places, but the lure of the mysterious remains.

Haven’t you ever heard the name of a place and imagined what it would be like? A name that whispered to you, beckoned to you, sang to you in your daydreams? Such a place for me is Samarakand, which was once the Silk Road’s central point between China and the West. Tamerlane made it the capital of his empire in the 14th century, and  it is now on the World Heitage Lsist of Unesco as Samarakand—Crossroad of Cultures. Though I probably will never set foot on that ancient soil,  the name sings to me of  caravans and the footsteps of merchants traversing the old Silk Road.

Then there is X’ian – “Western Peace”— which also heard the rumble of caravans since it stands at the eastern terminus of the Silk Road. I am fortunate here, for I have walked along its streets lined with fruit trees that were exported long ago from Persia and felt the weight of its 3,100 years of history. The terracotta soldiers still stand at attention in X’ian, having been at last rescued from their entombment in the days of the terrible emperor Qin Shi Huang.

There are so many distant  places I yearn to visit if only in imagination. Marrakech, for instance.  I don’t know much about Marrakech except that its name— meaning “Country of the Sons of Kush”— makes me think of spices and bazaars and magic! There is also Kuala Lampur. The word sounds like a lush tropical night and rolls on the tongue like a drop of honey, but the place sits at the confluence of the Gombak and Kland rivers and has thus earned the name which, translated, means “muddy confluence” or, even worse, “muddy river junction.”  Alas for romance!

Alas, also, for canaries, for the Canary Islands—another of those places with an intriguing name—was so called not for a multitude of pretty yellow birds but for dogs which apparently populated the place. Perhaps, as some point out, these ‘dogs’ were actually Monk Seals, but I still prefer the canaries.

Mountains also have names to conjure with. Mountains like Kilimanjaro, Cotopaxi, Nanda Devi, and Obasuteyama demand attention. The last one is in Japan, and I have watched it often from the train with a mixture of curiosity and dread. Why? because legend has it that long ago old people were carried up the mountain and left there to die. Obasuteyama means, literally, ‘Throw away old mother mountain,” and the grisly story still must resonate today because a modern film, Narayama Bushiko , apparently links this legend with issues in present day Japan.

And then there are the rivers. What wonderful names rivers have—the Euphrates, the Tiber, the Danube, the Volga, the Nile—and Shenandoah. There are many theories as to the origin of the word ‘Shenandoah’, but my favorite is a Native American myth. At the dawn of creation, says this myth, the jewel-crowned morning stars gathered together at the loveliest spot that they could find on earth. Full of admiration, the stars let their brightest jewels fall into the blue waters of the Shenandoah. “Daughter of the Stars,” the myth calls this river—and that is, surely, one of the most enticing names that I have heard!

Perhaps some day…

So many places

With names that speak of magic

Call softly to me.

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About Maureen C. Wartski

I’m Maureen Wartski, writer, artist, wife, mother, grandmother; you can see that I have many of the bases covered. I was born in Ashiya, Japan, a (then) small town which lay cradled between sea and mountains. In the evenings, we would walk along the road that ran past Osaka Bay, and a great moon would rise out of the water to turn the world to silver. I’m told that my first words were, “Big moon!” All my life I have felt the tug to write something, draw something, put together something with fabric, string and color, and the urge to create has grown through the years. I suppose, then, that it’s a natural thing that this blog be full of the things that so many of you enjoy doing…drawing, making something with fabric, and writing. Yuri's Brush with Magic, my newest book for middle schoolers follows the adventures of a brother and sister, the magic of words, and the incredible magic of the natural world. I'd love to hear from you! You can send me a note at: maureen@wartski.org/ My blog is here: https://maureenwartski.wordpress.com/ Or friend me on Facebook!

10 responses »

  1. Like you, Maureen, I am intrigued by and drawn to places with interesting names. Our country is full of wonderfully rich names to beg to have stories written about them One of my favorites in the
    “Malheure” river in Washington and Oregon. I can just picture the poor French trapper who was having a horrible day to begin with only to have it get worse when he comes across a river swollen past flood stage and has to figure out how to cross it. That is indeed a bad hour. Sarah

  2. Names chosen for streets, cities, counties, countries, rivers, water falls, mountain ranges, people… These all fascinate me. I have a few I’d like to mention: Alaghany, Romania, Transylvania (try saying it without the Dracula influence–nearly impossible), Occoneechee, Cascade Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Kalamazoo (one of my favorites),and on and on. What power is in a name!

    This was great fun. Thanks Maureen!

  3. Thanks Maureen for your imagination. I already felt as if I were on a voyage with you. Actually you have taken us on many voyages with your wonderful diaries describing you travel adventures. Thanks for sharing with us.

  4. My advice to young people, take advantage of going to many places while young for as you age , you may not be able to.

  5. Enchantment in a name or imagined image! You know how to capture and develop a captivating story from just a word or the suggestion of a visual image. We are indebted to you for bringing to our attention the intricacies of a web of imagery from just a few suggestive words. And to add to the imagery, we have the flavor of a quilt or painting along with poetry Thanks so much.

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