Below is the text of my initial email outlining my travel plans. For those (very few and stout-hearted) of you who actually read the original email, you needn’t suffer twice. Mostly I’m putting this up here to give a little narrative cohesion to the whole process, a beginning to what will hopefully be a good ending.

Dear Friends —

As some of you already know — and as all of you will know immediately upon reading the next several words (don’t feel badly if you’re not part of the former group: I promise this will be resolved momentarily) — I’m soon to leave Seattle for a trip to overseas. I’m rather excited about this trip: nervous, too, and anxious enough to beat the band, but this is something I’ve wanted to do for some time and I’m pleased it has finally come together.

I’m emailing this information to you for several reasons. The first is because I’m selfish, and what’s important to me (e.g. this trip) should be equally so to you. Another way of saying this would go, I’m the center of my Copernican universe, why not be the center of yours as well?! I’m also writing you so that I can make use of archaic phrases of nearly indecipherable meaning, such as “to beat the band,” which are difficult to construct in everyday speak and require more conversational control than I am usually capable of mustering.

On a more practical level, this email is also to give those of you interested — Mom, Grandma, maybe another one or two of you with very slender social lives — a quick overview of my travel plans for the next while. Within this is also an appeal — meager and hopefully unobtrusive — that some of you will be able to help me along my way.

I imagine many of you are reaching to hide your wallets and secure your deposit boxes, but that’s not the sort of help I’m looking for. Rather, I’m asking for your networks of people and your travel insights. It is my hope to conduct as much of my travels as possible through a connection with someone I know directly, or whom I have been put in touch with via a friend. Basically, I’m plying the six-degrees of separation game, crossing my fingers and hoping I’ll eventually run into Kevin Bacon (Don’t believe me: watch “Footloose” and then tell me I’m crazed). In some seriousness: I can afford to eat in restaurants or stay in hotels (A cheap one. Okay, more like motel. Or hostel. Probably in a rundown part of town. Near a public parking lot. With drug addicts. Who carry knives. But why get all turned around over semantics?!), but I will have an immeasurably more enjoyable and interesting trip if I can garner the occasional insiders-touch: a home-cooked meal, a couch to sleep on, a hot shower, a place to do laundry, a really attractive woman with low self-esteem (I’ve found that anything above “low” is setting the bar a little too high…)

As for travel insights: if you’ve done any traveling recently or know someone who has, especially in or around any areas I’ll be heading to, please let me know any information that you found helpful, pertinent or that you think I must simply be aware of. There’s a ton of info out on the web, and if you know a great site I really need to peruse, please send me the link. A story of warning for those prone to overzealousness: my grandmother has a tendency to telephone and inundate me with minutiae from PBS specials she has watched and which she believes are essential for my continued survival. A while back she called me to warn me not to let the dog swim in Puget Sound any longer as she’d recently watched a program on shark attacks. Though surely sharks exist in the Sound, in my seven plus years out here I have seen nary a Jaws-fin. Further, the show grandma watched was profiling Australia’s Barrier Reef, where the presence of the Great White Shark ups the ante over the Sound. Needless to say, there was nothing to say to this call. The point is: I realize that some of you (my mother) may go gangbangers trying to help, and while I appreciate the sentiment, I beg of you: Please practice restraint.

That said, below is my rough itinerary for the next several months. If you know someone in or near an area I intend to pass through and would be willing to connect me with them, I would greatly appreciate it. What I find works best is if you contact your friend and obtain their assent for me to contact them before you go throwing us on the same email string. I’d like you to read that line again because it’s important to me. Please, get your friend’s permission and willingness to talk with me before you put us in touch. My phone will be shut off within the month, and the easiest means for contacting me will be via email. My address is above. For those of you who struggle with technology, it’s located in the “From” field. Further, if you don’t want or aren’t comfortable networking on my behalf, that’s no big deal: but just think how badly you’ll feel when you hear how I was attacked by those ruffians near the “hotel” I was staying in.

I will be leaving Seattle on the morning of Tuesday, August 19 to spend several days in Michigan with family and friends. I’ll be staying at my parents’ house simply because, as my parents, they have forfeited right-of-refusal.

On August 23 I will head to New York for a couple days of play before leaving the country August 27. I hope to catch a Mets game at the famous Shea, walk Manhattan in my new Jimmy Choo’s along the Sex-in-the-City National Park Boardwalk and see if I can’t determine exactly what the Statue of Liberty is wearing underneath that toga. At present I have no housing in New York, so hopefully one of you will connect me with someone, otherwise I’m pulling a Ratso Rizzo in an abandoned tenement in Queens.

I arrive in Paris on August 28 and will once again spend a few days playing, working on my French (il faut que je revisse, or something like that) and attempting to improve upon Duchamp’s Dadaist undertakings (If he can call a urinal art I figure the whole world’s my oyster. Additionally, why stop at giving the Mona Lisa only a wispy and effete goatee when there’s so much more her pappy pancake face can handle?!) At present I have nothing established in Paris. Again: if you know someone whose couch is free and reasonably comfortable please let me know (I’m flexible on the free but simply will not sacrifice comfort!)

After a spot in Paris I plan to take a train South to Marseille. I may stop along the way in Provence to smearily paint some olive trees or drink some absinthe, though frankly both ideas feel rather tired. If I do stop in Provence I promise to send each of you one stalk of lavender as a halting farewell. Once in Marseille I will attempt to have myself captured on camera in as many dockside poses as possible so that those of you who later view the photos will be reminded of Godard, Billy Friedken, both, or neither (depending on your enjoyment of moderately obscure film references). I will also swim to the Chateau d’If to cross-check what I believe are several flaws in Dumas’s writing. Once again, I know no one in Marseille.

From Marseille I plan to take a ferry across the Mediterranean to Tunis, Tunisia. For those of you unfamiliar with Tunisia’s location, it’s in North Africa, which itself is the northern portion of the big block of land below Europe. If you unsure as to Europe’s location, get a globe, put your finger on America and go right. If you get back to America, you’ve gone too far.

I hope to spend 4-6 weeks in Tunisia, during which time I plan on excavating the Phoenician city of Carthage, amongst other things. Subsequently I will be traveling east towards Egypt, taking a right turn at Cairo and heading south down the Eastern coast of Africa. If you’re unsure what countries are located in East Africa, don’t worry: so am I, and there’s strength to be found in our united ignorance. I’d recommend the globe thing again, but truthfully: who has the time?! If things go well I’ll make it all the way to South Africa, at which point I’ll pause, catch my breath and make some decisions, and you —lucky ones — will get another email, this time begging for your money. I don’t know what to say about things not going well. If I die I don’t suppose you’ll hear me complain. If I get terribly sick you probably will. I won’t inquire as to which you’d prefer.

Additionally: after years of bellyaching about the trivial and narcissistic personalities behind blogs (I assure you I had none of you in mind), I have decided to maintain one myself so that those of you interested in tracking my progress may follow along from the comfort of your own workspaces. At this point the idea is mostly abstract, though I am in the process of hiring a talented young writer to take care of the more prosaic details, such as the writing. Once the blog is set up and given a nice home I will email you its address, after which I promise never again to pester you with my dalliances.

A final word: in the past I have received many sober asides from friends who have received my emails and been baffled by the content, tone, both, or other items beyond my understanding. The gist of the concerns has been, Are you being serious? Are you really sponsoring a charity run? Did you really write that poem? With that in mind, please allow me to preemptively nip some of those questions in the proverbial bud. I really am going to Africa. I really will have a blog and I promise to try and write on it occasionally. I probably won’t swim to the Chateau d’If because grandma says there are sharks, not because I don’t have my doubts about Dumas’s work. Ratso Rizzo is a fictional character not of my making, and I have no more responsibility for his behavior than I do for yours. I can honestly state that I am unsure as to the status of the Sex-in-the-City National Park in Manhattan; needless to say, I fully support its development.

Thanks to each of you for your time, friendship, support, attention, and all sorts of other things that are more important than these silly words. My hope is that this finds each of you well.

– Aaron

30 July, 2008