Back Home Again

DSC_2117 October was a friendship-saturated month.

DSC_2151When I had an empty day in a city far from home, I contacted Faith,
an online friend. We picked up as if we had known
each other forever, drinking pots of tea and talking nonstop.

DSC_2213A week of solitude meant garden clean-up, reading, walking,
and a trip to the wildlife refuge to feast on the Harvest Moon.

DSC_2268My husband and I had a few days in the middle
where our schedules synced. The joy of reuniting, ah!

DSC_2281I met two year old Max and his mom on a flight to Minneapolis.
When he got antsy, I snapped a photo and let him see.
Take another, he urged. He drew in my journal with many colors;
years from now his drawing will remind me of our brief friendship.

DSC_2287A fire is a great conversation accessory. On my cousin’s
back deck we not only caught up on our 17 years apart,
but I—thanks to her transparency—got a tutorial
on life as a new widow.

DSC_2299We gloried in fall colors.

DSC_2347Our dads were brothers. We talked through our
family history, all those quirks we recognize.

DSC_2371And we laughed.

October 2014Then to Chicago for my annual visit.
I enjoy studying each my sister Dorothy’s dozen grandchildren:
their gifts, what motivates and aggravates them,
their unique personalities.

DSC_2525My sister Margaret soldiers through many infirmities.
Cancer and a stroke have attacked but can’t quench her spirit.
Through the pain I never hear her complain.

DSC_2625Several other friends blessed me with time and attention,
a precious gift. Our friendships span the years.
Stories jogged memories.

DSC_2423Tender mercies, all.

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Playing the Moldovans at Tennis

ChisinauKircheSoborulAdormiriiMaiciDomnului2Orthodox church in Chișinău, Moldova (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

 

So. Tell me what you know about Moldova, eh? Tucked between Romania and Ukraine, the former Soviet country of Moldova is the least-visited country in Europe.

I confess my interest in Moldova had been nonexistent. During a marathon phone call with one of my brothers, he tossed out a random recommendation. “I think you’d like Playing the Moldovans at Tennis,” he said. “It’s about an English guy who bets he can beat the entire Moldovan national football team one by one…playing tennis.”

Sure. Let me write down the title.

[Sidebar: I’ve long wanted to write about reading as an expression of love. If my sibling, or child, or in-law asks me to read a book, I say yes! Unless it is The Silmarillion, in which case I started; alas, I could not finish. I believe it is so valuable to have shared experiences; when you are long-distance, reading and discussing the same book bridges a gap. Reading a book a dear one loves can help you understand each other better. And spending the time to read what he/she recommends is an investment in the relationship.]

Warmth, I was learning, was a luxury commodity in Moldova.

It is quirky. The bet is so eccentric, a limp pretext for a trip to Moldova. But the travel bit is what I appreciated the most. Tony stays with a family, sees life from the inside. It is cold. It is drab. It is dispassionate. It is grim.

People came into this bar to abolish drinks. No passing of the time of day, not even a nod which acknowledged the presence of anyone else; simply a quick fix and then out again. Nurse, give me something to deaden the pain.

When he first visited in 1998 there wasn’t enough money to keep streetlights lit. So people walked the streets in the dark. Tony realizes that stuff he takes for granted in England—being warm and fed—are not givens in Moldova. The transition to independence was not easy. His host family is kind, warm, and helpful.

‘You have to remember,’ she’d said rather poetically, ‘that for more than half a century we have been like caged birds. Now the cage is open we don’t know how to fly.’

I would have enjoyed this book and would recommend it if the tone wasn’t so coarse (f-bombs, body humor, locker-room bawdiness). Tony made a full-length movie of the book, available on YouTube. I’ve only watched 20 minutes, but it might be worth a look.

Let Me Go! (55 Places I’d ♥ To Visit)

The world is a book, and those who do not travel
read only a page.
— St. Augustine

Where I’ve been: 55 Photographs

Perhaps I should start, meaning no disrespect, with places I have no desire to visit.
Because I usually prefer rustic over production, I don’t want to go to:
Disney Land
Disney World
Hawaii, the main island
Florida during spring break
Arizona in the winter
Dollywood
A cruise to anywhere
Las Vegas
Reno

My dream travel schedule, funds and time mine in abundance,
would be to visit a place and stay for a month.
I prefer off-the-path places, and off-season travel.

The order below is random—out-of-my-head random.

The photos not credited are from Wikimedia Commons.

If you always go where you have always gone
and always do what yo have always done,
you will always be what you are now.
— Tristan Gylberd

photo: Christina Jose
1. Albania — because Audrey and Brian live there.
Audrey and I (and Ruth, Barb, Eileen and Nancy) grew up together in Lombard, IL.
If I’m dreaming HUGE, our next girlfriend reunion would be there.

2. Istanbul, Turkey
— because Will and Emma (my nephew and niece) live there.
Ever since I’ve read about the Hagia Sophia I’ve wanted to see it with my own eyes.
And there is Lamb Shawarma. (I wrote that *before* I saw The Avengers!)

3. Cape Town, South Africa — because my Aunt Betty lived and died there.
I want to meet her adopted son, Jean-Blaise, and his wife, Loret.
And dear Virginia, who—via Skype—talked me through my Aunt’s life and death.

4. Monhegan Island, Maine
This is my brother and sister-in-law’s favorite place.
A haven for artists twelve miles off the coast of Maine,
Monhegan is the perfect place to recharge.



photo: Katie Boyd

5. Harare, Zimbabwe
Harare is on more than one list of where NOT to go.
But a friend, with whom I used to swap weekly emails, lives there.

6. Budapest (and the glorious Danube River) —
Did you know this city used to be two cities: Buda and Pest?
I love trying to pronounce Pest the local way: Peshhht.
Norm and Michelle, friends from almost 40 years ago live here.

7. St. Petersburg, Russia —
The Winter Palace is part of The Hermitage, a museum founded in 1764
which holds the largest collection of paintings in the world.
In preparation for the rare chance that I would go to St. P.
I’m *thinking* about reading the great Russian writers.

8. Krakow, Poland —  It was the children’s book,
The Trumpeter of Krakow, that first put this city on my globe.
I would be sure to visit Karen, a fellow bibliophile, who blogs at U Krakovianki.
One of Europe’s oldest cities, Krakow is a gold mine of architectural styles.
The Jewish Quarter is a must see.

9. Why Wales? — Most castles per capita, for one.
Hay-on-Wye, world renown bookstore town. 30+ secondhand books!!
How Green Was My Valley, Welsh revivals, the tradition of Welsh singing, and Welsh Corgis (my first dog).
And all those charming LL words in Welsh: Lloyd, Llewellyn, Llangollen,
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

10. Quebec City, Quebec —  I want to go for the sheer romance of the city.
To hear French spoken. Willa Cather’s historical novel,
Shadows on the Rock, piqued my interest, oui?

 

11. Jerusalem. All of Israel — from the Negev to the Golan Heights;
from Tel Aviv to Jericho.
My grandpa went to Israel.
My dad went to Israel.
I’d like to go…someday.

The perfect journey is circular —
the joy of departure
and the joy of return.
— Dino Basili

12. Dublin (home of the Book of Kells) —
A dear friend took a solo trip to Ireland, the land of her fathers.
A young man I know saved his nickels and spent a month hitchhiking Ireland.
Dublin, Belfast, Shannon, Wexford, Cork, Donegal, and the Blasket Islands:
I want to see them all. (And oh! the reading that would precede that trip!)

13.  China — where the Terracotta Army is being excavated.

14.  The Lake District, England — It is both romantic and literary.

photo from East-Coast-Golf-Vacations.com

15. Prince Edward Island — Who has read Anne of Green Gables
and not wanted to visit PEI?

 16. London (soundtrack: ♫♪♫ England swings like a pendulum do ♪♫♪) —
Confession: I’ve been in London, but not really. Heathrow doesn’t count.
Nor does a drive through. We planned a day in London which we canceled.
One day to see Westminster Abbey and the British Museum and 84 Charing Cross Road and…?
I promised myself that if I came to see London, I would give myself
at least four days. It’s an expensive destination, but so worth it.
I’ve never seen so many ethnic groups as I did in London.

17. New York City — I’ve been threatening to visit NYC for a while.
One week for the museums, one week for shows, one week for
people watching. Some of my favorite Facebook statuses (stati?) are
Rebeccah’s 4:56 a.m. Starbucks/subway updates. She’s got a hilarious book
inside her on commuting protocol.


Photo from angelfire.com

18.  Kwajelein — a 1.2  x 2.5 mile atoll (a coral island that encircles a lagoon)
in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. My brother, sister-in-law, and nephew lived
there for a few years. I keep meeting people who lived once on tiny Kwaj.
Since it is a restricted island, I don’t think I could ever visit, but it’d be fun!


Photo from Readers Digest rd.com

19.  Florida Keys — These words captured my imagination long ago.
It may have been Key West, President Nixon’s favorite escape.
If you don’t know who President Nixon was, please don’t say it aloud.
Can you imagine *driving* from island to island?
Doesn’t this picture say, “Come, check me out?”

20. The Netherlands — my maternal grandmother emigrated from Holland when she was nine. I would visit Barendrecht, her birthplace. My own grandma’s place of birth!
And look at tulips. And eat cheese.
And visit the Rien Poortvliet Museum.

211. Cappadocia — History abounds in central Turkey.
Cliff dwellers, underground cities where early Christians lived.
This video made Cappadocia my cuppa.

Not all those who wander are lost.
— J.R.R. Tolkien

22. Dubrovnik — a coastal fortress in Croatia
My brother-in-law is the son of Croatian emigrants.
When they came back from a visit, my sister-in-law
gave me a book about Dubrovnik.
It’s a city steeped in history.

 

23. The Orkney Islands — Have you heard of the Thules? (pronounced TOOL lees)
They are the northernmost part of the habitable world. The Orkneys qualify.
Leslie Thomas’ book Some Lovely Islands fanned an
already burning fascination with insular culture.
There are thriving communities of folk art and crafts.

 

24. The Blasket Islands — Some Lovely Islands
introduced me to Greater Blasket Island. This forsaken island produced authors and books. I’ve read Peig Sayer’s An Old Woman’s Reflections
and Maurice O’Sullivan’s Twenty Years A-Growing.
The last day people lived on this island was November 17, 1953. The Irish government
evacuated the population because it could not maintain their safety.
Some cottages still have furniture, kettles hanging from chains, crockery…all abandoned.

25. Mont Saint-Michel — Blame Henry Adams. An island fortress,
an abbey, that spire pointing upwards. Oh yes, please!

26. Venice — I have read so much about the pigeons in the piazza at
St. Mark’s, that I can practically hear the cacophony they make.

  27.  Florence — how this missed the top five is a mystery.
Firenze! (Italian name) Tuscany! I can taste you in my mouth.
Michelangelo. Giotto. Donatello. da Vinci. Dante. Galileo.
Ah, Firenze.

28.  Parma — A culinary festival.
Parmesan cheese, Proscuitto di Parma, home of Verdi.
Go ahead and laugh: John Grisham’s Playing for Pizza made me salivate.

 29. Geneva — Switzerland, in general.
Calvin, clocks and Lake Geneva.

30.  Paris — Notre Dame, the Louvre, Eiffel, Tower, Arc de Triomphe,
left bank, right bank, Latin quarter,
cafes, patisseiries, brasseries, chocolat.
Ooh-la-la!

 

31. Steens Mountain — Harney County, Oregon
Only navigable in the warm season, this mountain is
composed of “basalts, stacked one upon another.”
Steens has been on my husbands wish list for years.
We recently flew over this wilderness area and
renewed our intention to go visit.

Whenever I start pulling out this list of places I’d like to go,
Curt’s comeback remains: I’d just like to see Steens Mountain.

32. Victoria — British Columbia
Canada: you have to love a country that is book-ended
by Victoria and Prince Edward Island.
Charming gardens, historical architecture, people from all nations.


There are only two rules.

One is E. M. Forster’s guide to Alexandria: the best way
to know Alexandria is to wander aimlessly.
The second is from the Psalms: grin like a dog
and run about through the city.
—  Jan Morris


photo: The Minam River Lodge

33. The Minam River Lodge — Minam, Oregon
The only way into this wilderness retreat is by chartering a plane,
horseback and hiking a 8.5 mile trail. I hope to get into shape
for the hike with my husband next summer.

34. Corfu — Greek Island in the Ionian Sea
Reading My Family and Other Animals put this island on my map.

35. Sweet Home, Oregon
If it’s wrong to like a place simply because of the name, then indict me.
When we first contemplated a move to Oregon, we looked at the map.
It’s twee, but I’ve wanted a Sweet Home return address ever since.

36. Cape Mendocino Coast — California
Earlier this year we were talking about the prettiest drives we’d taken.
Since we were just getting acquainted and I was more enamored with my
boyfriend when we drove on Highway 1, I’d like another chance to see it.

37. Lolo Pass, Idaho-Montana
Highway 12, between Lewiston, ID and Missoula, MT
has some of the most stunning vistas you can imagine.
We’ve traveled through. We need to travel to.

38. Sunnyside, Washington
My great-grandfather immigrated from Holland to Sunnyside.
The town’s history fascinates me: Dunkards started a Christian colony,
and included a “morality clause” (no drinking, dancing, gambling, or horseracing)
in every land deed sold. I’m sure we still have distant relatives living there.
It’d be fun to go exploring with one of my brothers or sisters.
Oh brother (sister), where art thou?


photo: elklakeresortmontana.com

39.  Elk Lake Resort, Montana
When our friends moved to Elk Lake Resort near Yellowstone Park,
we said we’d come visit. We’ve dropped that ball, but there is still time to follow through!

 40. Civil War Battle Sites – (shown is Burnside Bridge at Antietam)
Perhaps I should limit it to the Top 10 Sites. I’ve been to
Gettysburg, PA and Franklin, TN and I will never forget either.
You would need a year to read and prepare, but this kind of
excursion would ignite me.

41. Baseball Park Tour (Wrigley Field)
In the late 1980s two guys in my small town mapped out a summer
tour in their VW Bug to see a game in all 30 major league baseball stadiums.
I wouldn’t want to try the one season gig, but with my penchant
for collecting, a repressed passion for baseball, and a love of
road trips, I am enticed.

Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday,
placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting,
so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear.
Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of,
giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art.
— Freya Stark

42. Tallinn, Estonia
The Singing Revolution DVD put this country on my map.
Who wouldn’t want to visit a country who gained
independence from the Soviet Union by singing?

43.  St. Louis, Missouri
One doesn’t have to go to Europe to see cathedrals.
Cathedral Basilica, with its organ, would be a must see for me.

44. Cannon Beach, Oregon
I want to take a picture of Haystack Rock. (It seems all my friends have.)
And hear the surf. And sleep in a yurt.

45. Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, Washington (visited April 2013)
April 2013. Tulips galore.
Beauty abounds.
This is doable. I just have to make a plan.

46. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
The best reason to visit is to see our former neighbors—
and my mom’s best friend—who have retired here.
Oh, brother/sister where art thou?

47. Upper Peninsula, Michigan
In my youth I always heard about the U.P. Because it was remote
and beyond, it has remained one of those places I’d like to visit.
Lighthouses, bridges and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.
I’m already humming Gordon Lightfoot.

48. Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Yes, I would. I’d like to see an Amish community.
But when I Googled Lancaster, the first thing I saw
was their convention center. Yep.

49. Bath, Somerset, England
A Jane Austen literary tour. Lyme, Chawton, Steventon, Winchester.
Be still my heart. Calm. We must be calm.
Of course, preparation would include reading the complete Austen canon,
watching every DVD. What fun, what fun!

50. Napa Valley, California
Beautiful scenery, do a little wine tasting.
I could be persuaded.

51. Provence, France
On a whim, I picked up a French Audio course at the library yesterday,
curious how much of my high school French stuck. Not. much.
It would be great to refresh it in Provence, n’est-ce-pas?
We dream about going with college friends.
M.F.K. Fisher’s Two Towns in Provence made me thirsty for France.
Allons-y!

52. Door County, Wisconsin
Another destination that I’ve been told about many times.
They have fish boils are legend.

53. St. Augustine, Florida
I can’t remember the book that long ago made me want to
see St. Augustine. Give me history and I’m happy.

54. Troy, Oregon (visited September 2013)
You’ve never heard of Troy,OR (pop 25-30) Not to be confused with Troy, ID (pop 862).
On our way home from church we pass a road with a sign: Troy 38 miles.
And I’ve always wanted to follow that dirt road. At least once.

 55. Charleston, SC
Southern hospitality, Lowcountry cuisine,
cobblestone streets, Huguenot church. Yes!

Tortilla Soup and Arrachera

 

This recipe was both my first and last taste of Chicago on my visit in October.
Yum!

It’s Emeril’s recipe.

My niece substitutes tortilla chips for the homemade corn tortillas.

Good with several squirts of lime.

We also had arrachera (grilled skirt steak marinated with onion, cilantro and lime).

 

 

 If only you could smell this photo.
In California, we’ve eaten virtually the same thing, but it was called Carne Asada.

Can anyone explain the difference between Asada and Arrechera?

::  an aside ::
It is on my Bucket List to learn to make refried beans as good as
the Mexican restaurants. I’ve tried, I’ve fiddled, I’ve cooked many
a pinto bean. But, man, it’s never the perfect consistency.
Any suggestions on making the perfect refried beans?
:: close aside ::

I did learn a fun tip. You probably already know it.
But I don’t get the Food Channel.
So new discoveries are still mine to make!
To warm a tortilla, just do this:

 

I took more pictures of cute kids who share bloodlines with me.

A boy absorbed in a book—yeah, we’re related.

This smile makes my heart thump. Those eyes!

Curls! Sweetness!

 

Compare young man (half Mexican, half mostly Dutch) on left
with picture of me (mongrel English/Dutch) on the right.
Isn’t that something?

This girl has the name I chose, but never got to use.
She’s a keeper!

Family and food.
The perfect recipe for a memorable trip.

Unsuitable for Ladies

 

My husband: What are you reading?

Me: Unsuitable for Ladies

Him: Why would you want to read something unsuitable for ladies?

Me: It’s not the content, it’s the title. It’s a travel anthology; travel used to be deemed unsuitable for ladies.

Him: Right.

 

Jane Robinson has given us a gift. She has read the works of 190 authors —all women—, extracted the good parts and formed them into a book called Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women Travellers. In it you will find remarkable stories by even more remarkable ladies. Extraordinary!

Robinson divides the book by the region traveled: Europe, Scandinavia, the Balkans, Middle East, Africa, Asia, India, Australasia, North and South America. Most of the writing is from the nineteenth century but the eighteenth and twentieth centuries are well represented. Her selections include better known travel writers —Karen Blixen, Dervla Murphy, Isabella Bird, Mary Morris and Frances Trollope— and many more who might be called obscure.

Funny! Lively descriptions and droll stories abound.

As to the state of the roads, no language can do justice to their execrableness…
   ~ Isabella Romer in The Rhone, the Darro, and the Guadalquivir, 1843

Our next suffering was supper, and here again we excited our hostess’s ire by ordering eggs in the shell, as the only incorruptible kind of food, instead of sharing the greasy liquid and nameless ragouts…
   ~ Mrs. Dalkeith Holmes, A Ride on Horseback to Florence, 1842

It is difficult for some people to connect tragedy and fleas together, but I am not one of those fortunate people. Experientia docet. At first, only two or three began to roam stealthily over my defenceless limbs, these were evidently the vanguard sent on to reconnoiter. Being very sleepy, I gave several vicious rubs and pinches at haphazard and pretended that so few did not signify. There was a pause in their evolutions and I —silly mortal!— drowsily rejoiced in the idea that they did not consider my blood ‘sacred’ enough for their depraved tastes, and had therefore retired in search of ‘pastures new’. This illusion was a short lived one, however. They had merely gone to fetch ‘their sisters, their cousins, whom they reckoned up by dozens and their aunts’ to join the feast and take part in the races. Up and down, round and round, they careered, taking nips now and again in a playful sort of way.
   ~ Ellen Browning, A Girl’s Wanderings in Hungary, 1896  [this story takes three pages and had me gasping for air]

My hotel was called The Lotus Hotel, but with the usual disregard in the placing of vowels, the key ring was stamped ‘Louts Hotel’.
   ~ Julie Emerson, Reflections in the Nile, 1986

Really there is everything in this volume: pleasant breezes, honor among Albanians, “short” skirts that clear the ankles, how to eat locusts, the horror of a sati, moonlight baths, siege survival techniques, leech removal techniques, an avalanche, irksome monotony, nose-pressing salutations, privations, coffee, malaria, rain, kindness, grief.

A thorough source acknowledgment and index make this work a perfect springboard for other travel books. Armchair travelers will want to read this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

SatReviewbutton

 

A Week at the Airport

 

a-week-at-the-airport

The airport and the DMV are the two best places in the world for the sport of people-watching. For diversity, there is no better place in the world than London’s Heathrow airport.

Alain de Botton was hired by British Airways to spend a week at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and write a book about his experience. It is an engaging read, easy enough to complete in one sitting, but worthy of a slower pace. It examines why we fly, the intersection between art and commerce, the choreography of an ediface that took 20 years to build. You might think of it as “light plus” reading. There are photos on every page (that’s the light). With the book classified as Travel/Philosophy, there is more commentary on life than on luggage (that’s the plus!).

The book reminded me of reading The Geography of Nowhere. Of course it did! There’s a full-circle connection: LaurieLH remarked that Geography of Nowhere was similar to a book she was reading by Alain de Botton, <a href="http://www.xanga.com/private/“>The Architecture of Happiness. It was in looking for The Architecture of Happiness at my public library, that I found A Week at the Airport!

DSC_0778

From the management required to keep airline employees congenial
 to the elegance of the steel columns supporting the 18,000 ton roof
 to the devastation of parting lovers
 to the way a domestic squabble so quickly erodes the joy of a vacation
 to the expectations of travelers arriving at the reception zone,
I found it delightful. Not earth-shattering, nor life-changing, but a mixture of trivia and truth.

Some quotes:

Despite its seeming mundanity, the ritual of flying remains indelibly linked, even in secular times, to the momentous themes of existence—and their refractions in the stores of the world’s religions. We have heard about too many ascensions, too many voices from heaven, too many airborne angels and saints to ever be able to regard the business of flight from an entirely pedestrian perspective, as we might, say, the act of traveling by train. 62

Considered collectively, as a cohesive industry, civil aviation had never in its history shown a profit. Just as significantly, neither had book publishing. 79

The notion of the journey as a harbinger of resolution was once an essential element of the religious pilgrimage, defined as an excursion through the outer world undertaken in an effort to promote and reinforce an inner revolution. Christian theorists were not in the least troubled by the dangers, discomforts or expense posed by pilgrimages, for they regarded these and other apparent disadvantages as mechanisms whereby the underlying spiritual intent of the trip could be rendered more vivid. 104

I appreciated de Botton’s thoughts about setting up a desk smack dab in the middle of the terminal:

Objectively good places to work rarely end up being so; in their faultlessness, quiet and well-equipped studies have a habit of rendering the fear of failure overwhelming. Original thoughts are like shy animals. We sometimes have to look the other way—towards a busy street or terminal—before they run out of their burrows. 42

Flora Grubb

Flora Grubb  is an urban nursery,
a pocket of delight in the midst of an industrial neighborhood.
Dan and Val were eager to show us
their favorite Saturday morning hangout.

Cactus Art? 
A small section of the wall of cactus.

 

These canvas planting bags are an essential component of vertical gardening.

When one orders a latte, one gets Latte Art.