Saturday, December 11, 2010

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Road to Sweden & The Wedding

Hello from snowy and chilly Dublin (but not as snowy and chilly as everywhere else). I'm sitting here in an internet cafe and updating the blog. I know that as soon as I get home tomorrow, it will be the start of an exhausting two weeks. Might as well update y'all now!

Last Wednesday/Thursday:
So, last Wednesday I got up at 4:45am and made it to the 5:21am train to Gatwick. It was snowing and a tad foreboding, as the closer I got to Gatwick, the higher the snow on the train platforms. In Gatwick, the scene was a fair amount of chaos. People had spent the night in the airport so lines were already long. I waited in line for three hours with thousands of other people as we waited the fate of our flights. At 9am we were told that Gatwick would be closed and all flights cancelled until the following morning.

I called Martina and told her the bad news, and called my hostel, booking in for another night. I tried to make my way to London with everyone else, but the trains were not leaving due to a train malfunction. So, stuck in Gatwick. Finally, around 10:30am, trains were up and running again and I was on my way. At least we all got a free train ride as a result.

Back in London, I hightailed it to my hostel, checked in, and called the airline. They had no staff present at the airport, so unless you had a cell phone, phone card, or laptop, you were shit out of luck. So, I called and got a new flight for Friday morning. As much as I love London (and I love it A LOT), at this point, I was thinking: two days in London? That's not what I want! I also thought, If my flight is cancelled, I'll miss the whole wedding and baptism. Then, out of sheer good luck, I looked online to see if there were any buses going to Copenhagen. I used to take these buses back in my study abroad days, and there was one in an hour and a half. I somewhat checked out of the hostel, saying I might be back, and the receptionist was super helpful.

I hightailed it back across London to the place where I just got off the train, Victoria station, and speedwalked with my suitcase in tow, to the Victoria Coach Station. I bought a ticket, bought food for the trip, and found myself on board a 25 hour coach ride from London that would take me through France (Lille), Belgium (Brussels), Germany (Hamburg), and finally into Denmark (Copenhagen).

I was apprehensive that I'd get there in time, but I sat back and in typical Moe fashion, began to catch flies. I woke up somewhere in southern England in a traffic jam, falling asleep again to find us getting loaded on to the train in the Chunnel. It was a weird experience to be loaded in a big steel train and taken across the Channel, all while sitting in my bus seat.

On the other side, snow kept falling and it fell all night and all the next day. At midnight we changed buses in Brussels, and got immediately back on the road. I had no idea where we were, expept when border control came on and checked our passports. I only arrived in Copenhagen an hour late at 2:30pm Thursday afternoon.

I crossed the street to the train station, called Martina, and told her what train I would be on to Simrishamn. The train easily made it to Malmo/Sweden, where I changed to the local train to Simrishamn. However, this is where it got sticky again. Snow kept falling, wind kept blowing, and the train was packed. At least I'm in Sweden, I thought.

About ten minutes into the hour and a half journey, I noticed that an older man across the aisle (his wife was sitting next to me) was looking at me and talking on his cell phone. He said, Chicago? Jouni Pirila? I smiled and said, Yes! He said, We are Jouni's parents! He passed to the phone to me, and it turned out that out of all the seats on the crowded train, they had sat next to me. They called Jouni on the phone and said they were on the train, and he said to them, Do you see a woman with red hair and glasses who looks foreign? Jouni's dad said, There's a woman like that sitting next to your mother!

So, the rest is traveling history. We tried to speak in basic English (due to my total unexistant knowledge of Swedish or Finnish), and he enlisted the generous help of a stranger next to him to help us for the remainder of the journey, which ended up being delayed and taking three hours. Jouni's father proceeded to tell my travel journey to people on the train (having heard about it from Jouni), and I began to be called the 'travel hero' throughout the wedding weekend. Everyone else had bumpy trips/cancelled flights/delayed and rerouted flights, but I suppose my epic bus journey had some extra pizzazz.

So, arriving Simrishamn in one piece and all together, we hugged each other and shouted in happiness when we saw Jouni drive up!

The Wedding/Baptism Weekend
I hate to say it friends and family whose wedding's I've attended, but while yours were all sooooo lovely, I don't think I've been to a wedding weekend as nice as this one. It was just plain personal, simple, lovely, unique, etc. Over the course of Thursday and Friday, people began to trickle in, having survived whatever travel ordeal they experienced.

As one of the out of town guests staying with the bride and groom, I had a front line view of all the work and joy and stress that went into such a great small affair (though 60 people is hardly 'small').

Of course, the earliest highlight was seeing Martina, Jouni, and their three kids, especially my soon to be goddaughter, Baby X. As she was unnamed until the ceremony, we'll just call her that for now... I don't know if you remember from my 2008 photos, but Martina and Jouni live in this cute and idyllic little village in the south of Sweden. They have a small 100 year old house that just exudes character, charm, and love. There are always candles lit, a wood fire burning, and lots of good food and glogg at the ready. I just wished I hadn't missed over a day of this positive energy.

Martina and Jouni's friends and family mostly speak English, Swedish and Finnish. Thankfully and kindly, most of their friends spoke English when I and the other English speakers were a part of the conversation. I felt so grateful for this. I had heard about so many of them, and only met a few in the past. Friday was spent meeting new people, taking stuff to the reception hall (the old school house in Brantevik), and preparing for the next day. How fun to be a part of all the details, to hold Baby X as much as she would let me, to pretend to Vida and Abbe (their four year old twins) that I knew what they were talking about. You can see my facebook photos to see the glorious photos of all this.

So, Saturday came and it was THE DAY. Martina and Jouni like having multiple godparents it seems (I think they like backups...), and I really enjoyed spending time with Anni and Antti, the Finnish couple who were the other godmother and godfather (the other godfather being Martina's brother Nikodemus). Anni and I helped Martina get logistical things ready in the house, and Jouni and Antti were handling logistics outside and around.

The wedding was held in the small church in Simris with a fun and eccentric priest. The ceremony was simple and short with lovely music sung by Nikodemus, his friend, and Martina's father. Real candles burned in the candelabras and I tried not to get all choked up (and failed). Abbe and Vida kept coming up to say hi to mom and dad on the altar, and Baby X was quiet and subdued.

Then, the baptism. I kept hearing the words of my uncle, Whatever you do, just keep saying 'I renounce the devil.' I couldn't understand anything the priest said, but I wasn't asked to repeat anything, so I couldn't mess up. I also didn't drop the baby. The best thing about the baptism was when the priest asked Jouni and Martina for the name, and all of us chuckled as Jouni whispered it in his ear. We all had been waiting to find out her name. Nobody knew until that moment. The priest had to hear it twice before he could remember it due to its length. When I heard it, I thought I heard 'Frida' and 'Herst', but it is: Juni (June) Ivalo Host (which sounds like Herst, kind of). I definitely cried through this whole ceremony. How could I stay sober faced with a beautiful little face like that smiling up at me. What a lucky girl. Her grandparents include a poet, a psychologist, a documentary filmmaker, and a musician.

Then, off to the reception, which went from 4pm until 3am. Martina and Jouni had a Swedish Toastmaster and a Finnish one, so they organized the variety of speeches and skits that people did for the happy couple and baby. It was so much fun. The speeches included funny slide shows, skits, songs, dances, a 'kidnapping' of the bride which is a Finnish tradition that involves Jouni having to embarrass himself slightly to get her back. I say slightly because he seemed to be enjoying it... Then, dancing to the most eclectic music I've ever heard at a wedding. From 'Twist and Shout' to Techno to sappy 80s stuff to Swedish/Finnish pop songs. So fun. When the few of us who closed down the floor left at 3am, there was another small dusting of snow.

Sunday was a lovely day that started with breakfast in the hostel and then transferred over to Martina and Jouni's house for a lovely afternoon and evening of more quiet reverie with family and friends. Finally, it was just Richard (Martina's friend from England), Anni and Antti, myself, and Martina and Jouni. Unwrapping of presents, glogg, dinner, wine. Time for Sauna. The girls followed by the boys. What a perfect way to end the visit, with a quiet relaxation and conversation with such wonderful people.

When I woke up at 6:20am this morning, I couldn't believe it was time to go already. Martina drove me to the train, and with much sadness I waved until I couldn't see her anymore.

How does such a wonderful trip go by so quickly? I suppose that's why they are precious. They start and end too soon, and we wonder how we ever did without this trip/face time with these soul friends for so long.

So, until next time and the next passport stamp...

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A brief synopsis of Sweden, more details from Dublin

Well, I've been in Sweden for four days and am long overdue to post here. I will post a more thorough travelogue when I am in Dublin tomorrow night, but for now, here is the brief synopsis.

Flight cancelled due to snow. Spur of the moment decision to take the bus to Copenhagen in case my flight Friday is cancelled. Board the bus two hours later and go through France and Belgium. At midnight, change buses in Brussels.

Continue on bus through Belgium, Germany, and Demark. A 25 hour bus journey. Take train to Sweden, but am delayed. Meet Jouni's parents on the train. Arrive in Simrishamn with Martina and Jouni.

Wedding preparations, meeting with friends and family. Large gathering of mostly Finnish friends in the evening.

Gorgeous wedding and baptism. Party til 3am

Recovery, lots of good meals and conversations. Sauna... Holding June...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

London: Snow and Student Protests

I woke up to a fresh layer of snow, and much thicker this time. Put all my stuff together and made my way to the Leamington Spa train station and London. Remarkably, given the weather, my train was on time and stayed on time. By 12:30pm, I was at my youth hostel and checking in, storing my stuff, and off for an afternoon of London.

I love this city. Always have. Always will. I'm not sure why I bought a one day travel card because I walked all day. I started at my St. Paul's youth hostel and walked west to my usual first destination: St. Martin-in-the-Field's church. (For the non South African readers, did you know that somebody built a replica of this church in Craddock, South Africa because his wife was homesick....? It's true! I've seen it!) Anyways, I digress. I showed up and was shocked to see that they now have a separate entrance to the crypt. I suppose the cramped, crowded gift shop on top of restaurant on top of brass rubbing was too much. Too bad. I liked that cramped, crowded look. So, I left and went in pursuit of food elsewhere.

Ended up at Covent Garden and the snow began. Musicians were out and about. Holiday decorations are up. Oversized round balls in reds and blues. Large reindeers. Lights everywhere. Pretty in all that snow.

Then, I decided to make my way to Piccadilly Circus for a photo for my mom (who for some reason loves this busy intersection). I then thought, 'It's snowing. I think I'll go to the National Museum.' As I started walking closer, I saw the bright yellow police jackets, lots of police vans, and some serious shouting. Of course, I kept walking closer. A full Trafalger Square greeted me. Police at the ready. Students started throwing those cans with the colored smoke. I thought, 'Now is the time to back away from the protest.'

I left and walked the way I come. Two streets away, another line of students was marching to Trafalgar Square right down the street intersecting with me. At this point, I was laughing and just a little nervous (okay, more than a little). I've only protested once, and I felt like such a daredevil... I just don't big unruly groups of people.

So, I walked down another street, making my way somehow to the end of St. James Park behind the horse guards. A big empty mall, cars being diverted, the police out and ready and closing off any roads that led past Downing Street. When I crossed over to Whitehall, it was still and quiet. A handfull of police in front of 10 Downing Street (for the yanks who don't know, this is where the Prime Minister lives). In a previous protest, students actually made it to the front door. Yikes. So quiet and weird.

I walked towards Parliament and Westminster Abbey. More cops, all in riot gear. Horses in riot gear. We could walk through, but they were ready.

I found my way to the gardens beyond Parliament and it began to snow again. Beautiful large snowflakes. A think sky. Absolutely gorgeous. I spent about a half hour or more just walking all around Parliament and the Abbey taking photos. I love this city.

Eventually, I began to make my way back up Westminster and very cold. I figured, 'The protest must be over. It's dark. It's freezing.' As I got closer to Trafalgar, you could still hear the shouts. Police were encouraging us to walk around. I did, once I took some more photos of course. I felt like a tourist/journalist or something. Call me Lois Lane :)

I got back home, feet tired, and watched the news. It's all about the student protests and the bad weather that's blocking roads and airports. Let's hope I get out to Sweden tomorrow.

I've just been out to a lovely dinner with Lucy, a friend from, gulp, 17 years ago. We met way back in 1993. How does this happen???? We haven't seen each other for a few years, and much to catch up on. I haven't even met her youngest daughter. Wow.

So, back at the hostel, dreading the 4:45am wake up call to head to the airport. brrrrrrrr.

Hugs and love,


Monday, November 29, 2010

Oxford: The Nerd Paradise

What a lovely thing to be a nerd. I have only a slight desire to have the chance to go to Oxford, but I don't really want to work that hard.

The University for many other reasons is my ultimate nerd paradise. J.R.R. Tolkien studied and taught there, writing most of his Lord of the Rings during that time. The Pre-Raphaelite Artists were connected to Oxford in many ways. Scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed there (and many other films).

Put these three things together, and it's Maureen's (and many of her equally or more nerdy friends as well) ultimate nerd paradise.

The plan today was to make it into Oxford whenever I felt like it and meet Jayne at 5pm at the Covered Market when she got off the bus from work. I made it to Oxford just after 10am and made my way to the Tourist Information Office. A walking tour was about to leave, and I debated for about five minutes before deciding to give into my inner tourist. Absolutely the best decision. Ever. Our guide, Jane, was a graduate herself, and like a proper tour guide, she knew all the geeky details that make it interesting. So and so studied here. On such and such a date the first woman was admitted. On such and such a date, etc.

We went into Jesus College, Exeter College, the Bodleian Library, the Divinity School, and in and out of lovely college lanes. Jesus College was the only college founded under Queen Elizabeth I's reign. Click. Click. Tolkien and Philip Pullman studied at Exeter. That got my camera clicking faster. Old Buildings. BENCHES. Ivy in lovely fall colors. Stained Glass Windows. Street lights. Doors. Windows. Etc. Etc. Etc. Today alone I took almost 300 photos. tee hee hee

After the tour, I asked my lovely guide where a Tolkien fan and a Pre-Raph fan would go. She sent me to the Union Library to see the Pre-Raph mural. I sat in there staring at the ceiling, walking around the balcony, writing in my journal. Then, off to find Pembroke College at Oxford where Tolkien taught. Closed. But a picture outside. Then off to Harris Manchester College to see the Burne-Jones/Morris stained glass windows in the chapel. Then off to New College, where I learned by eavesdropping on a tour that scenes from Harry Potter were shot there. Then meandering and meandering. To end the afternoon, book shopping in Blackwell's!

Jayne and I then met and went to the White Horse, the pub where Tolkien, Lewis, and others would meet and discuss their work. A glass of wine, some fries and salad (for me, lol), more good conversation, and the final nerd factor of the day.

Back at Jayne's now and digesting this wonderful, wonderful day. Sad to be leaving Jayne so soon, but it's on to London for a fly-by dinner with Lucy and then Sweden on Wednesday. Only a week has passed. Three wonderful, soul-friends. Two more to go :)

Hugs and love and may you find your nerd paradise...

Birmingham, Leamington Spa, Oxford

I am overly caffeinated and suffering from jetlag. I can't seem to get to sleep at a normal time, even though I only drink one cup of tea in the morning. I have made it through half of Jayne's copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows due to my inability to fall asleep. At least it's worthwhile!

I am currently in Leamington Spa with Jayne and Scott, and I will shortly be heading off to Oxford for a day of gallavanting and Tolkien before joining Jayne for dinner. But to backtrack...

On Friday in Birmingham, having slept through our Thanksgiving stupor, Jackie and I traipsed through B'ham to Cannon Hill Park. Despite the fact that the cold was biting our noses and fingers, we had a nice walk around the park. We watched the ducks slip and slide as they emerged on the now frozen sections of lake. I can imagine it in summer with picnics and music, kids and dogs running around, flowers and trees in bloom. It's not hard to imagine in these beautiful public spaces as the Brits sure know how to do gardens well.

We spent the evening at home making another fantastic meal before enjoying a film (2012) and some more chat. I'm sure all my friends are getting tired of my incessant questions and need to hear about everything in their life. Like my brothers, they seem to tolerate this particular character flaw :)

On Saturday, Jackie kindly took me to the train station where I went south to Leamington Spa to meet Jayne and Scott. A quick and gorgeous train ride as everything is covered in the first snow of the year. It's beautiful but brrrrrrr.

Jayne and Scott flew into the car park, picked me up, and we flew home to a cup of tea and a warm house. Besides seeing my brothers so happily coupled, seeing my good friends so happy is the next best thing. I haven't met Scott, and I'm so thrilled to finally get to know him, to see how happy he makes Jayne and vice versa.

We had a lovely Saturday with cups of tea, trips to the grocery store, and a great little walk around Leamington Spa--which included the pub where J & S met, the pump rooms, the church, the town hall with a town crier in costume (he obliged me with a photo). A cute town with all the things that make it truly English: the promenade, the church, the cute bridges, the pump room, etc. Scott chose some absolutely wonderful wine, and we chatted and ate a delicious meal.

On Sunday, Jayne and I went into Oxford to see the Pre-Raphaelite exhibit at the Ashmolean Museum. Since it's closed on Mondays, it was Sunday or never. Since this is my favorite artistic movement, I was in heaven (as was Jayne). What a great exhibit, though crowded. Artists I've never heard of, artists I love. Rossetti, Burne-Jones. Really lovely. At the end of the exhibit, we both had reached our museum limit, so we didn't meander through the rest of the museum.

We then went for a meander and lunch before heading back to Leamington. Oxford was busy and crowded, people out for a Sunday stroll or holiday presents. It's been 11 years since I've been here with my Nottingham Lenton & Wortley Hall friends, so it's been awhile.

Sunday night was a great quiet evening at home with Jayne & Scott. I really just love being in everyone's homes with them, to experience the normal stuff. It's what a miss most of the time.

So, I'm off to hunt down some Tolkien history in Oxford if I can keep warm enough. It looks brutally cold out there. No blue sky today! I'm sure I can manage with some long underwear :)

Love to you all.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Just a few photos

Liverpool and Birmingham

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm in Birmingham as I write this, recovering from an amazing vegan Thanskgiving feast. More on that in a minute...

Two and a bit fabulous days in Liverpool with Claire. I slept through a good first evening, blissfully unaffected by the caffeine. Alas, that did not happen the second night!

On Tuesday, Claire and I decided that no visit of mine would be complete without a trip to a National Trust property. Dunham Massey! Unfortunately, I've come out of season for touring stately homes and going 'ooh' and 'aah' over all the plush furnishings and traditions. That being said, we enjoyed a brisk but just lovely walk around 'Britain's largest winter garden' which involved a whole lot of comments like 'What is that?' I can imagine that this garden must be lush and nicely informal in the spring.

On our way out, we went right up to the workers sitting in the garden ticket shed and asked them about the interesting plants/berries we saw in the garden. They wrote down names, pulled newspaper clippings off the shelves to show us. It helps to be here on down season. All the lovely retired people volunteering their time have something to do.

A walk around a winter garden requires one thing before exploring the rest of the grounds: tea. We walked upstairs in the old stables to enjoy a snack and a warm cuppa before heading back out in the cold. Nothing says England to me like a cup of tea in a stately home or churh. Nothing.

Off we went through the deer park, looking for the 150 deer that supposedly hide out in the park. We managed to see about 10, so that probably wasn't too shabby. It was as close as Claire and I will get to a safari for awhile, so we did the proper stare down and photo shoot. There were gunshots in the distance, so hunting season is on. After a nice little saunter around the park (we sauntered, indeed), an obligatory walk through the gift shop before heading home.

Both Tuesday night and Wednesday night, Claire hosted dinner parties and made such great food. Tuesday night we ate with her friend Carrie and her partner Claire. Wednesday night we at with her lovely family. So, so, so nice. To hug and meet people I have heard about but never met. To hug people I love and haven't seen for a few years. To sit in a friend's kitchen and cut veggies and talk and prepare for a small and cozy dinner party.

On Wednesday, I woke up a bit late (ahem 11:30am), but luckily Claire was at work. When I got myself put together, we went into Liverpool City Centre. She ushered me to a wonderful veggie cafe, The Egg Cafe. OMG. I had vegan lentil & apricot soup with garlic bread. Claire had tandoori mushrooms and salad. Just my kind of place. Not as bohemian as the veggie restaurant Claire and I visited in Copenhagen (Morgenstedet), but delicious. The soup was so large that I had no room for vegan dessert. Tragic.

On our walk around Liverpool, we came across the student demonstration against the raising tuition fees. Policemen on horses, on foot, in vans. Claire said they were reacting to the recent demonstrations in London. I just thought they looked cute and a bit silly. As a proper tourist, I took a picture.

We walked around the Docks, admiring the new Museum being built, and the Pierman's house. The museum had a nice looking garden growing. It looked like nobody had picked the tomatoes in awhile, but I refrained. The potatoes looked pretty ready, too... Then, off we went back to Huyton for dinner with the family and a nice long talk into the morning hours.

Thus ended my stay in Liverpool. Birmingam, Huzzah!

Jackie picked me up, and off we trekked to her house. She looked quite disappointed to be missing a day off work, so we indulged in some tea, some lunch, some much needed catching up, and Julie & Julia. Jackie and Eric just returned from a trip to Morocco, so I interrogated them over dinner. I'd like to go there soon, I think. Though my head goes: Morocco, Egypt, Morocco, Egypt. Anyway, off track.

Much to my surprise, we were having a vegan thanksgiving meal! Jackie chose some wonderful recipes online, and we set to making the dinner before Eric got home. It really was a wonder of a meal! Avocado with Raspberry Viniagrette, Mushroom & Chestnut Wellington , potatoes, baked brussel sprouts, and steamed veggies, and gravy. Much more decadent than I ever make myself for the holiday! With little turkey table decorations (thanks, mom), we had quite the spread. We sat on the couches in a food coma for a few hours.

Tomorrow, Jackie and I are off around and about B'ham. Causing trouble, no doubt. Jackie and I had a whirlwind eight hour visit when she was in Chicago last July for work, so it's nice to have a full 48 hours! Aye Caramba!

It's funny to think I've known Claire & Jackie sixteen years. How did that happen?

Gobble, Gobble.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Made it once again to Liverpool, Huyton specifically.

British Airways has ruined me for all other transatlantic flights. I am used to finding my seat and greedily pulling out the inflight entertainment guide to see which films I will watch on my individual movie screen. Soon after takeoff, the lovely flight attendant will come around and ask whether we would like red or white wine with our meal. She will give me a red for my seat pocket. In a little packet of goodies on my seat, I find earphones, an eye mask, footies, a blanket. On this US Airways flight, I get what I pay for, which is a simple meal and a cup of tea (Lipton). I suppose I'd rather save a few hundred dollars then have my own movie screen. No free wine. No free headphones. I am a spoiled traveler.

Spent three hours wandering the Dublin airport, which isn't like Heathrow's shopping mall. I watched as people disembarked their budget flights in the rain, hurrying inside. I looked despairingly at the clock, hoping that the cafe serving jacket potatoes would open in time for me to order one with beans. Alas, it was only a Luna bar for me. Stepped off the plain in Liverpool to a sharp cold in the air. Winter, too, is here.

Claire picked me up (and I managed to get in the car on the correct side), and off we went to her lovely flat. I love coming into a friend's house and noticing all the new things. In this case, new momentos from Claire's time in Tanzania this year. I think I drank about six cups of caffeinated tea yesterday to ward off the jetlag. I've been cautious about how much caffeine I drink, but not yesterday. Besides, sitting on a couch curled up with a friend requires a good cup (or six) of caffeinated English tea. delicious. I even managed a small glass of wine with the wonderful mushroom risotto that Claire cooked (and I didn't fall asleep in my food).

Claire, her brother Chris, and I went out to the cinema last night to see the new Gerard Depardieu film My Afternoons with Margueritte. What a lovely film. I think the last film I saw him in was with Queen Latifah, Last Holiday. Margueritte is a gorgeous, touching, at times heartbreaking story about an emotionally abused boy who finally finds love and acceptance. Depardieu's nose is as large as usual.

Nine hours sleep. A blue sky. A cup of tea. The lovely Claire. VACATION!!!!!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

at the airport

My thumbs hurt. I've been using my little blackberry to send all the emails I forgot to send, texting people on the status of my delayed flight, wasting time. In just a few hours, I will be free of my phone, my thumbs resting.

The newspapers are full of the new security measures, but I escaped both alternatives somehow. I am always so surprised to see short lines and easy checkins. I guess I should be glad that I'm not traveling closer to the holiday.

I need every part of this trip--from the plane food and in-flight movie to the days and nights with wonderful, much missed friends. I am so grateful that I can travel like this, to journey to the homes of friends, to celebrate with them, to drink tea/wine/cider. I am so grateful.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


I am antsy. Again. I need to get on a plane soon, if I can find a way to afford it. Missing Jayne's wedding in the UK next weekend. Now trying to formulate a way to make it to Sweden for Martina's baby's baptism (I couldn't be more honored to have been asked to be Godmama) and maybe a wedding.

How is it that there is never enough time or money to get somewhere "old" to visit friends of somewhere "new" to stretch myself again, learn a new language, a new culture, a new pattern. I think how lucky I am, how grateful, to even have amassed 25 countries in my life. Yet, I can't help but have ants in my pants. Again.

I'm daydreaming about Costa Rica or India. Buenos Aires or Cairo. It feels like it's been four years since I've been anywhere NEW (2006 Kenya & Tanzania), but I have been to Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, and Toronto. Those count, but they don't COUNT for some reason. Europe? Friends? Short plane ride north? Yet, there it is. Ants in the pants.

There are so many trips to make that don't involve passport stamps: weekend trips to visit friends and family that I love. Yet how do I get that to happen more regularly than it does? Why does life seem to gobble up the time I need for writing and traveling?

I'm daydreaming about Italy next year, about sitting on the Amalfi Coast, an area of Italy I always wanted to visit on previous trips. Maybe this time I will get there. Lounge and sip, eat and write. Now, to make it happen.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Reading Experiences and Travel Daydreaming

It's April 5, and my travel bug is beginning to itch much like my spring fever. I have no international ticket bought for 2010. YET.

I cannot complain though, since I just returned from an amazing visit out to New Mexico and Arizona to see friends and their families. Some heat, some snow, some hiking, some museums, and lots of conversations and hugs. It's been awhile since I've been in their homes and face to face. Wonderful.

During my trip, I read and reread an essay published as a small book entitled A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid. It's an essay that makes you look back on all your arrogance (even when you were trying not to be arrogant, trying to not be the ugly American, trying to be the tourist who really tries to see things) and think Who did I think I was fooling?

Kincaid writes in the first section:
"The thing you have always suspected about yourself the minute you become a tourist is true: A tourist is an ugly human being. You are not an ugly person all the time; you are not an ugly person ordinarily; you are not an ugly person day to day."

"That the native does not like the tourist is not hard to explain. For every native of every place is a potential tourisst, and every tourist is a native of somewhere. Every native everywhere lives a ife of overwhelming and crushing banaity and boredom and desperation and depression, and every deed, good and bad, is an attempt to forget this. Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour. But some natives--most natives in the world--cannot go anywhere. They are too poor. They are too poor to go anywhere. They are too poor to escape the reality of their lives, and they are too poor to live properly in the place where they live, which is the very place you, the tourist, want to go--so when the natives see you, the tourist, they envy you, they envy your ability to leave your own banality and boredom, they envy your ability to turn their banality and boredom into a source of pleasure for yourself."

It's a beautiful essay, for its craft and tone, for its sincerity and sarcasm. I take no offense at anything she writes because as a middle class white American woman, I really have no room for complaint or false humility. I am fortunate, and I know it.

What disturbed me was half way through the book a previous owner (I bought this book at a thrift shop) began to make comments.

Kincaid writes, "Have you ever wondered why it is that all we seem to have learned from you is how to corrupt our societies and how to be tyrants? You will have to accept that this is mostly your fault. Let me just show you how you looked to us. You came. You took thinks that were not yours, and you did not even, for appearances' sake, ask first."

The previous owner writes in the margins: NOT (and underlines it)

Then Kincaid writes, "Do you know why people like me are shy about being capitalists? Well, it's because we, for as long as we have know you, were capital, like bales of cotton and sacks of suger, and you were the commanding, cruel capitalists..."

And the previous owner writes, BS (and underlines it)

Then Kincaid writes, "Even if I really came from people who were living like monkeys in trees, it was better to be that than what happened to me, what I became after I met you."

And the owner writes, "Barbarians!! Upset at Human Evolution. The world becomes a much smaller place."

It's a strange experience to read a book so poignant that stirs up all the thoughts about previous trips and future ones. Then, to come across marginalia that makes me want to find this person and argue with them. Who does she think she's fooling?

Then, I pull out a new book to read, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Talk about a book that makes you wonder if you've just been wasting your purpose, locking away any gifts you might be lucky to possess, while some people go out into the world and do such amazing things of their own motivation and commitment. Not charmed lives, not easy lives, but gritty and tough and exhausting and meaningful. Makes me want to shake up my life again, but maybe this time do something not just for myself and not such short term.

I wonder what Kincaid would think of Mortenson. I wonder what she would think of me. I've been thinking of writing a book of travel essays or travel poems entitled All the Things I Didn't Do. Sometimes, it's these things that stick with me, almost like a travel grudge. I didn't do it, so it lingers and shakes its finger at me and says, Now, why didn't you do that, Moe? Why didn't you?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

New Essay in Mindful Metropolis

Hi all,

The new issue of Mindful Metropolis is out, and I am thrilled to have an essay on page 40!

Click on "January" and read the issue, making your way to my essay! So thrilled to be a part of this magazine and to have a chance occasionally to write a little somethin' somethin'.

Hugs and love,