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Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Sorry to be quoting a Russian, but we spent a recent evening at an art show to benefit the Love Bug’s school. And because we had a mini-tour the day before with Nancy and Great Grandma Ada, who has converted her family room into an art studio, we had a long conversation with one of the Lost Boys from South Sudan. James Makuac paints memories from his dreams of Africa. They are bright, vivid colors, and some are not for the faint of heart. http://jameskuolmakuac.tumblr.com

His work is about resilience, about people fleeing their homes in the midst of war, walking through rain with the ubiquitous yellow water barrel on a woman’s head.

And I thought of all the artwork my Sister-in-Law Anita collected over the years. She left my brother Dr Jim surrounded with bright California images and fragile pieces of art glass. He loved her with all his heart, their last years together spent tenderly caring for each other, collecting Amish quilts on sunny rides through the country. And as we tried to organize, to make sense of her collections, it dawned on me that she too was trying to recapture her home. To bring the Northern California aesthetic into her Twin City life.

And I wondered yet again, what will my children do with the things I leave behind? Will they find them beautiful, or will they be a burden?

One night, in the midst of my visit to Dr Jim’s MN home, we watched the Minimalism documentary on Netflix. It opens with the abundance of cheap stuff people fight over the day after Thanksgiving. And the take-away is that we should:

“Use things, and Love people!”

The Bride had wanted me to see the film, because she thought Bob and I are heading in that minimalist direction, divesting of “stuff” and living a simpler life in our two bedroom town home. And it is somehow freeing, to put out on a table or up on a wall only those things I love, that bring me joy.

For instance, I have an Irish ceramic vase that had lived its life on display in my VA guest bedroom, one of four bedrooms. It is now happily holding utensils on my small kitchen counter. I couldn’t part with it because it had been a gift from my Irish cousins, but I also loved its line. To me, it is beautiful.

Fyodor Dostoevsky said, “The world will be saved by beauty.” He also said

By interpreting freedom as the propagation and immediate gratification of needs, people distort their own nature, for they engender in themselves a multitude of pointless and foolish desires, habits, and incongruous stratagems. Their lives are motivated only by mutual envy, sensuality, and ostentation.

Maybe our country needs to adopt a new interpretation of freedom, because the American dream, like all dreams, is changing. We need to stop loving cheap shiny objects that appear at Walmart and on our Twitter feed, and make a point of listening to the people we love. Finding the truth in another’s story. Understanding why we are in Niger. Stop fighting proxy wars, and search for beauty in the world, and not on Google.

Painting by James Makuac

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I was going to write about my trip to Minnesota. I was going to write about feeling like a kid again with my big brother and sister. I was going to write about minimalism…https://www.netflix.com/title/80114460

“People dedicated to rejecting the American ideal that things bring happiness are interviewed in this documentary showing the virtues of less is more.”

But because of the latest Hollywood scandal involving Harvey Weinstein, my Facebook feed yesterday became a communal confession from friends and family. Women I know and love proclaiming that they too, at one or maybe more times in their lives, had been sexually assaulted. I was sitting in the MN airport at my Nashville gate, feeling the love and courage of these women, and so I typed into my smart phone #MeToo

The first time when I was playing alone in the woods across the street from Nell and Jim’s Victory Garden’s home. I had jerry-rigged a seesaw with a tree trunk and a rock when I looked down the hill to a car that was slowing down. The man had his pants down around his ankles, we locked eyes and he sped off. I used to think that maybe I’d imagined it, because I was too young to understand it.

The second time I was about ten years old. My brother’s friend offered to take me horseback riding. My brother is 7 years older, so he was either 16 0r 17. He picked me up at our house, and I was sitting in front of him on the saddle. I’m literally shaking right now typing this. He exposed himself to me. When I got home I told the Flapper what had happened, she called the police and we went to his house to confront him with his parents sitting there, in the living room.

I think they sent him away because I never saw him again. Thinking back, I learned about courage and honesty from my Mother. I knew something was wrong, I was sobbing. She believed me.

The third time I was a teenager sleeping at a friend’s house, when a guy crawled into the bed. I woke up and asked him what the hell he thought he was doing. He left.

The fourth time I was going for a test ride with a car salesman to buy my very first new car in Jersey City. I was 21, a pre-school teacher in the Fremont Street projects.

I could keep going, but you get the drift. I was never raped, but my innocence was taken away. I was never hit on by a boss, most likely because I worked as a teacher and so my supervisors were always women back in the day. And I credit my beautiful big sister Kay, who was an airline “stewardess,”  for teaching me how to handle touchy-feely guys – you tell them you are flattered, but you’ve (insert the best excuse here for why you don’t want anything to do with them). I learned early to use humor and to flatter a man’s ego, in order to keep his hands off of you.

This Weinstein story, coming on the heels of Bill Cosby, may be the tipping point for this all too common phenomenon. I believe our generation taught our sons to do better, to BE better. To respect women, and honor their wishes.

It’s ironic that I remember walking through an airport, this time in Memphis, while watching Anita Hill testify on TV monitors scattered through the gates. I felt so helpless, like a lone woman in a sea of people who couldn’t care less about her experience. Today we women hold up half the sky, and men are listening.

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Ibsen’s dollhouse it’s not.

But like Nora, I’ve left my serene mountain retreat behind for a week of city life. And since this city is the cathedral for American music, we seem to have picked a particularly jam-packed weekend to be here.

Bonnaroo is happening outside of town https://www.bonnaroo.com/lineup/ Our Jersey Shore girl Nicole Atkins is playing this year.

In town we have the CMA Fest http://www.cmaworld.com/cma-music-festival/ with tons of free music everywhere.

And of course since last night was a full moon, we all had to go to the Full Moon Pickin Party for the Friends of Warner Park. We arrived early with the Bride and Groom to meet friends and neighbors for a tailgate cocktail/supper soiree. There were food trucks galore inside the gates and so many musicians I lost count.

As we spread out our blanket and set up the Pack n Play last night for an adorable 7 month old baby boy, I was reminded of going to Tanglewood with our babies in Lenox, MA. I would make some newfangled cold strawberry soup, my friend Lee would bring the main course and another friend might bring dessert. We had elaborate wicker picnic baskets, real plates and sometimes brought candles. Listening to the Boston Symphony Orchestra each summer conducted by Seiji Ozawa under the stars was a high point of our life in the Berkshires.

Last night we had a total of nine kids running through fields, catching fireflies, petting multiple dogs, and climbing sand hills. We even got to see Jupiter through a telescope with her moons. Bluegrass and country music filled the air but it was really the fellowship of fun-loving, happy people that filled my heart.

Nashville is a particularly friendly city; you can start talking with a complete stranger at a sidewalk cafe and feel like you’ve known each other for years after paying your bill. Yes, that happened. He talked about calling the wrong “Holly” on his cellphone, which led to catching up and an invite to see U2 at Bonnaroo. We talked about serendipity, and how we must sometimes just jump into that stream and go with the flow as trite as it may sound.

Jumping may be out of the question now, but we are walking everywhere! And a beach house is still in the works once we’ve settled into city life. I wish we had a “summer home,” a family place for generations at a lake or a beach that our grandparents may have built. My family’s summer home on Lake Wallenpaupack in PA has been long gone since my Father’s death, though I do have a memory of roaming the gardens in my First Holy Communion dress and veil. Bob’s grandparents, Russian immigrants, created a bungalow colony on some land in NJ. It was called “Four Bridges” and sheltered Great Grandma Ada and her sisters’ families for many summers. Unfortunately, that parcel of land just sold last month!

Feeling wistful about a summer home after reading “Maine” by J. Courtney Sullivan. It’s  about an Irish Catholic family’s summer cottage and the secrets of its matriarch who is masterfully drawn. It touches on three generations of women, and the expectations society and religion placed on them. One character, in fact, is obsessed with building dollhouses! Like Ibsen, the juggling act we women must do to navigate a marriage and children hasn’t changed all that much. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/12/books/review/book-review-maine-by-j-courtney-sullivan.html

Today, with professional women the journey can be more complicated than ever – because we still do the “mental” work of a household. The scheduling of doctor appointments, the camp and school related activities, the meals, the grocery list….even the best dads seem to need direction when it comes to domestic chores (sorry Bob). Still, our stellar Groom is right in the thick of it, on daddy duty all weekend while the Bride sees the results of all the music-alcohol-related-accidents…

Speaking of which, I’m very careful walking down the stairs of this townhouse.

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I know it sounds a bit bizarre, but we are home from the South of France by way of meeting an old high school friend in Heathrow Airport courtesy of Facebook. Edie and her husband Steve had been traveling around Great Britain and we’d been following each other’s exploits – she kissed the Blarney stone, I made a quiche. You know how these things go. Facebook envy, it attacks when we least expect it…it’s what started us out on this journey; my vicarious following of a Facebook friend and her buddies hunting for mushrooms in Italy!

After a grueling day of travel in three airports in three countries, covering about 4,500 miles and traveling through many time zones, I had to roll all over the floor with my deliriously happy dog…then I turned on the TV last night to watch Bill Murray receive the Mark Twain Prize for Humor on PBS. I figured it would be better than a jolt of CNN after such a long news-free sabbatical. I missed the run-up, but caught his surprisingly sentimental speech, which actually took place at the kennedy Center last October, before the election. http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/watch-bill-murray-accept-mark-twain-prize-for-american-humor-w446373

Remember those happy Camelot days? Before Mr T (BT), when we thought anything was possible for our country, when we had a statesman, a gentleman for a President, and a First lady who actually lived with him and they seemed to love each other? Government may have been clunky at times, but it worked and was moving toward a brighter future for ALL Americans. After Macron’s victory in France, I was feeling pretty bleak about our state of affairs.

And on our last day in St Remy, I met a delightful, older (probably 80+) British woman who was traveling alone. I helped to translate a store clerk’s French for her – it seemed she had taken a bus to this town and the clerk thought that with the rain and the hills in the next town she should rest at the local cafe. It was too hilly and slippery the clerk said to this elegant, grey haired lady with a cane. Then my fellow traveler turned to me and asked, “Are you an American?”

“Unfortunately,” I replied, “I am.”

She looked me straight in the eye and wagged her finger at me and said in her proper British accent, “No, no, you must be proud to be an American! I am sure you are referring to Trump?” And I shook my head resolutely. In fact, I nearly cried. Some people you meet in passing bring out that Ann Tyler moment for each of us. Then she took my hand and told me that he will not last forever, that my people are smarter and stronger and there will be change. That everything changes.

So I sat with Bob at a cafe for an almond pastry and deux cappuccino and I told him her story. And we talked about how Europe takes the broad, balcony view; because of their history, maybe Brexit will be just a blip on the larger screen.

And as I was falling asleep in our own comfy bed, in that place between reality and dreams, I thought of meeting our friends at Heathrow, like the movie Love Actually. And I thought about Bill Murray’s speech, talking about the trampoline in his heart. That love is like that, it bounces out to touch others. People beyond continents and time.

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Another day, another market. For me this is the best way to travel; visit vintage and farmers’ markets, climb up medieval cobblestone hills with lavender wind in my hair. No laundry, no cleaning, no schedule and three cooks preparing delicious dinners every night. 

Bob just jumped into the pool because the sun has returned. Provence is warming up, the rain has stopped and it looks as if Liberty Egalite and Fraternite will win this election – the French people are voting today for inclusion, for freedom, for Macron! Tonight we will all eat cake because it’s Catherine’s birthday!

Catherine is a recovery room nurse with a golden retriever at home, who looks just like our villa dog Flash. Only Flash is a brilliant black with a white stripe down his chest. 

Tomorrow is cooking class! Ratatouille and bouillabaisse are on the menu along with an evening of wine tasting in Luberon.  I’ve never actually had to cut up a whole fish, head to tail, so wish me luck. 

And desserts? Mais oui for lunch and dinner! I’m afraid I may never eat another American strawberry again, they are so sweet here. I’m also afraid to get back on a scale when we return home. Our fabulous tour hosts are Marco, Claudio and Suzanna of https://www.whatscookin.it/

They pamper us, they drive us, they delight us every day. Barbara is teaching me about truffles because I’ve always wondered what the whole mystique is about; the smell, the tree roots, the dogs. And I’m proud to say we had some freshly grated on eggs this morning because this area is actually truffle heaven. 

I bought a couple of grams in a small shop that looks like an abbey – they are dried December truffles that smell like chocolate. I’m hoping my cousin Kenny the chef will give me a recipe or two. I was thinking of maybe sprinkling them on a white pizza? For now I must hide them from fearless Flash. 

We will light a fire and turn on the TV tonight to see the official results. Macron needs more than 60% to govern well. I am falling more in love with France every day, the language, the people, the cuisine! 

Maybe I can talk Bob into buying some inoculated filbert trees for growing truffles? I hear that TN terrain is ripe for the special symbiotic relationship it takes to create such a gastronomic delight. I wonder if Ms Bean could be trained…

Cheers to learning new things! And to my French friends for fighting fear and voting for Love. We needed them during our Revolution and we still do! 

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I hear small pieces of news from the states, like a dream I cannot remember all the pieces. Did Mika and Joe get engaged? Did Congress actually dismantle the ACA? Did somebody win the voice?

But I woke and forgot these snippets of memory to listen to coffee being ground and birds singing. My back is still tender, so after a rainy, magical walk around Aix yesterday we have decided to hang by the pool today and worship the sun. There is a medieval city across a field of wild thyme, and depending on our mood, we may take a stroll after lunch. 

Some people travel to live, and some live to travel. Like food, one can let it consume your life. And I have never been a good traveler, I’m more of a stay-at-home, non-traveler type. Maybe it was Nell and her agoraphobia, or maybe it was my semi-homeless upbringing, never feeling at home with one mother or the other, always between two families.

But our new “family” for this trip is a happy and healthy bunch staying in a secluded villa. It all started on Facebook with one of the Big Chill’s sister. Barb is a retired physician and organizes groups of friends who love food (check), love to cook (check), and love to hunt fungi (um no). Well at least I’ve never gone foraging for mushrooms, and wouldn’t know a real one from a poisonous one, but this group does. We are eleven Americans, nearly half in health related fields.

This is a different kind of trip. No traipsing through the forest on a fungi treasure hunt, just visiting open-air markets and sightseeing in the South of France. At the end of each day, our chefs have prepared fabulous meals with local ingredients. For instance, this area is known as Luberon and it is famous for wine of course, and melons! Last night we had melon ice cream for dessert and it was the freshest most delicious ice cream I’ve ever tasted in my whole life!

We are too early for the fabulous fields of lavender- that happens the end of June and early July, so as Bob likes to say, “We must return.” Because soon Bob will be getting his wings back, and I know he will want to fly away whenever and wherever the Mistral wind blows him. 

Today we miss the flower and farmers’ markets, the Roman ruins and the wine tasting at Chateauneuf du Pape. Maybe tomorrow we will be ship-shape for our trip to Avignon. I will stretch and I will swim, getting stronger every day. But right now, reading by the pool would be divine. On Sunday the French will decide their future, so who knows? Maybe Bob and I will be stranded here in Paradise. 

I had better brush up on my French, n’est ce pas?  

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We are en route to the South of France by way of London. We will be there for their election. But Bob left it up to me to pick a hotel in UK for three days, so I asked cousin Nancy for help. She seems to find the best boutique hotels in her travels, and she certainly hit the jackpot with this one.

The Egerton House Hotel offers, “The best combination of townhouse grandeur and personalized English hospitality.” It’s within walking distance of Harrod’s and the Victoria and Albert Museum in a quaint residential area. We look out our top floor window over red brick chimneys and  gardens.

The staff remembers our names and they like to keep the room key when we go out. Everyone is exceptionally pleasant and helpful. They don’t just recommend a restaurant, they walk you round the corner and point it out! But today, today feeling a bit jet lagged, we staggered back to our little oasis and wandered into Tea… for the dogs!

The lovely front parlor is adjacent to the bar and Tea was being served. Since today is a Bank Holiday being May Day and all, there were a total of three children and four dogs among the Tea crowd. I met a four month old Springer Spaniel, a teenage English Setter and two Bichons.

Dog Tea is served in a three tiered rack of bowls. At the bottom is a beef and lamb meatloaf, the middle holds some fancy biscuits and on the top, doggy ice cream of course!

I thought about all our beloved dogs. Our German Shepherd Bones, who slept under the Bride’s crib. Our Corgi Blaze, who sang his heart out whenever the Rocker played his violin. And Buddha, who knew the secrets of the universe.

I missed Ms Bean, our sweet special needs dog, and wondered how she would do in such a posh setting. Or would she prefer to chase deer and hunt rabbit like the Yankee mixed breed she is, oblivious to high Tea with pedigree friends.

Tonight we’ll take in a show, The Book of Mormon, which should be fun!

I’m reading Emma Donoghue’s new book, “The Wonder” about a British nurse tending to an Irish Catholic child. And I was thinking of Lennon’s song Imagine – imagine having “no religion.”

An American prophet, an Irish writer and a British Beatle. Maybe the ticket to globalization could be our love of dogs – not nationality or religion. A religion for dog lovers everywhere. No dietary devices or dress codes. Cat aficionados would be welcome as well. All it would take to belong would be a furry friend.

And a spot of tea.  

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