An Intrepid World Traveler
In Eyeballing Big Croc Vivien Zielin invites us to join her as she chases her dreams around the world. Her book was conceived and written in classes taken over the years at OLLI. She tells her stories with the voice of a plucky woman who sets out to see the world, sometimes solo, often in groups of like-minded adventurers curious about the paths less traveled.
She doesn’t take us to a boulangerie in Paris, we won’t view Michelangelo’s David in Florence, but we are with her in Israel when the Six-Day War erupts. Through Vivien’s eyes, we experience the danger, the drama, and the triumph as the Israelis fight to preserve a dream. In other stories, we share Vivien’s perilous encounters with wild animals and an even more perilous brush with sinister KGB agents. Her quest for personal adventure takes her to exotic places not explored by the conventional traveler.
The stories, 47 in all, reflect her love of family and home as well as her unquenchable curiosity about the rest of the world. She tells them with humor and heart, giving each of her far-flung destinations a separate flavor and nuance.
In “A Kaleidoscope of Colors,” Vivien relates how the importance of family in her childhood influences her later travels. She describes gatherings around kitchen tables that called aunts and uncles and cousins together and kept them close. Her Judaic heritage blends seamlessly into her life in Britain. There’s chicken soup for dinner, and frosted cakes and pastries for that quintessential English repast, “tea.” Twenty-five years later, we meet her at another family gathering, this one in Kiryat Arbe, on the outskirts of Hebron. She is visiting her cousin and his wife who now live there. Together they enjoy the foods of their childhood in this foreign outpost, illustrating the timeless influence of family on her life.
Back home in England, she opens a gift shop in London’s swinging Carnaby Street where she meets celebrities from the entertainment, political and academic worlds. In other venues, her life is touched briefly, but memorably, by a prime minister, visiting world leaders, and even the Queen. Exciting encounters, delightfully told.
Vivien resumes her quest for personal adventure in 2003, when she sells the gift shop and is on the road again. In a moving chapter titled “A Torah Returns Home,” Vivien tells the story of how she and her sister, searching for a relevant way to honor the memory of their father, found a Torah that had survived the horrors of wartime Europe and had made its way to San Francisco. They decided to take it home, knowing their father would approve. Somehow, they convinced the airline authorities to bypass the baggage-checking restrictions and were allowed to hand-carry it safely on its journey home to Belarus.
In an especially poignant chapter, “Are You Ready for the Next Adventure?” Vivien describes her mother’s last walk through the house where she had lived and loved and raised her two daughters. They were on their way to a new life in America. “My mother, with her head held high, took her cane and said, ‘Yes, let’s go.’ She was ready to embark on a new adventure at an age when most people just want to stay put.” They settled in a house in Pacifica, California, where Vivien still lives, perhaps her greatest adventure of all.
Her travels continued from her new home base, her horizons widened, her awareness of the beauty and fragility of life heightened. All adventure stories have happy endings, and this one does, too. In January 2012 Vivien, the intrepid world traveler, made her move to the New World permanent. Along with 1,300 other voices from 111 countries, she recited the Oath of Allegiance that made her a proud citizen of the United States.
This is a book to savor. I read my way around Vivien’s world slowly, learning about places I’ve never been, most likely will never go. Thanks to Vivien’s vivid sharing, I feel I’ve almost been there.