29 December 2009

Times Go By

This will be the last neurotic-nostalgic-year-end blog, promise. I'm under the influence of shorter darker days. Colder air. That time of year. I apologize. I don’t do much in the way of resolutions, and try not to become too terribly immersed in soul-searching, but the spirit of Scrooge has come over me like a shroud.

Another year. Another decade. How did this happen? Time evaporates, more rapidly each year. As if everything we do, every activity, every emotion, were sucked into an invisible vortex, jammed together with all the other years, all the other people and all the emotions that go with all that. An emotional black hole.

Wasn’t it just yesterday that we celebrated the arrival of the new millennium while expecting the demon of Y2K to wreak havoc on our now nearly obsolete technology? Wasn’t it just yesterday that I sat in my CT home-office fighting back tears, clutching the phone to discover the whereabouts of my husband and friends in downtown Manhattan. Wasn’t it just the other day that my daughters graduated college [2000 and 2003] and now they have completed graduate school – Dana in practice and Julie on her way. Can it really be five years ago that we lost Rusty and four years since I resettled in Laguna Beach? I know it’s a cliché, but where has the time gone?

Time, unlike nature, moves beyond any vacuum in our lives, unobstructed, constantly plowing forward like a high speed train. And, like those trains, speeds also seem to accelerate each year. Something about age that makes the time pass all the faster, we all speak about it, marvel at it, complain of it. No stopping the clock, not in this linear space-time continuum. The only respite is the length of the day and here is where time tricks us. Just as the year winds down and the days have become almost unbearably short, winter solstice kicks in and the process reverses. So in the midst of darkness the light returns. Just a little bit at a time, nearly imperceptible, but there if you pay attention. The days grow longer, as if adding time to our lives, even as we watch the calendar pages turn and memories take on greater prominence than the moment.

The passing of time yet another reason, as my daughters remind me often, to be conscious of each moment, which so quickly slips away. More of our lives devoted to yesterday than tomorrow. I suppose this is why I find myself of late resenting the proximity to senior status. Before long, I will be old. More and more of my life is past and less in the future. I don’t fear dying, not at all, I only wish to live as well as possible as long as possible. If I don’t appreciate each moment as it comes, it will too soon be gone. As so many are. The first decade of the new millennium merely memory now. Fodder for nostalgia. In the blink of an eye, we will find ourselves celebrating the quarter century – OMG!

Happy new year.

28 December 2009

It's Complicated

As soon as the presents were opened, breakfast complete, Julie and I honored the Xmas holiday by going to a movie; before Noon, the theater was packed. No wonder distributors make such a fuss over films opening Christmas Day. Clearly a tradition enjoyed by not just the Jews, but those who favor an outing or simply a less traditional day.

We saw “It’s Complicated.” Always happy to watch Meryl Streep work her magic. Lighter weight films are preferable on a holiday, no need to be immersed in existential struggles or conflicts.

To my surprise, the story is as existential as they come. What does it mean to be married? To be in a loving partnership that never lives up to its promise. To be left behind. To make choices that impact so severely and forever those we love most. That’s what this so-called comedy was about and it hit me hard. Hard for me to hold back tears at several scenes and, once out of sight of my daughter, the faucet blew. I loved my husband dearly from the first moment I met him, sometimes unexpectedly and often irrationally, but love him I did, and he loved me, although our relationship was often tenuous and painful. Not so much opposites attract, as our values were on the same page, but two people who approach life differently and seek different outcomes. What we had in common was our children, our community, our mutual respect and a lovely group of friends. It should have been enough.

His loss was devastating to me. I have found it exceedingly hard to transfer affection and thus have been denied [or denied myself] romance for most of a decade. [Although present me with an architect with the humor of Steve Martin and I'm there.] I still find myself reaching for the phone to call him after I’ve spoken to one of the girls as he was, despite his frequent absences, a co-parent. No one loved our children more nor shared the same concerns as we. I often complained that I was a single parent, and then the reality set in. He’s not here.

Unlike the characters of the film, there is no possibility of communication. No chance for reconciliation. No apologies. No connection whatsoever. I find myself mourning as fully now as I did five years ago, August, when Rusty died and closed the door behind our lives so tightly and so fiercely, as if a vault. Only the memories remain and these grow dim with age.

Sometimes it is so terribly hard to live in the present when we long so profoundly for those of the past. I indulge myself in these moments of sadness infrequently and without remorse, because to live in the hearts of those left behind is to live forever. A psalm. The words imprinted on my mother’s headstone. Gone 33 years and even now, now and then, I wish I might chat with her as well.

Sometimes I so deeply wish I might go back into my past and start again. Impossible of course. The stuff only of movies and fantasy fiction. And then I think: what exactly would I go back to? And would I want to live through these losses all over again? Better to keep moving forward. Stopping only occasionally to remember, to weep, to mourn, to reflect, and to smile in gratitude for the time we had.

That’s all there is. That's all there ever was.

13 December 2009

Harbor House Cafe

I frequently walk down to Harbor House Café for Sunday breakfast. Armed with my favorite sections of the NY Times I enjoy a lazy morning and an indulgence: pancakes, a short stack of course. Harbor House is a large place, with classic counter and booth seating, with an adjoining glassed in patio with patio style glass-topped tables and plastic chairs. I favor that space as the light there is better suited for reading. Open 24 hours, this café, originally called a coffee shop, is equivalent to an East Coast diner. Reminds me of long ago late night dates with the gigantic menu of cheap eats and the slightly grungy ambiance that fits poor students and large families.

Down a dark hallway to the ladies room there is a large framed photo of Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke that always makes me smile. This is but one of hundreds of film-related photos and posters that line every inch of wall, and I mean every inch. These are not signed photo’s as at Sardi’s. Nor are they reserved to celebrities who might have lived in SoCal. No rhyme or reason. I once asked a waitress the significance of the film memorabilia and she had no idea. I asked at the counter, a shrug. I can only conjecture that the owner has a passion for film. Perhaps a family member has a Hollywood photo business. Or some poster store shut down just as the café was opening: instant décor.

A clue to the mystery is found on the website: Harbor House was founded in 1939, an exceptional year for film. Gone with the Wind. Gunga Din. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Wizard of Oz. Destry Rides Again. And the year before [one has to look] Holiday and Jezebel, two of my favorites. So I understand the passion for film at that time. Makes sense. Why Harbor House Café? The right of ownership.

The photos, while lots of fun and recalling many of my own favorite movies and actors, creates a real disconnect in this place more frequented by bikers and blue color workers than stars. I need metaphors and I can’t find one here. We are 70 miles from Hollywood. The photo montage covers nearly a century of film icons, well before the café was founded. As far as I can tell, even the wait staff has nothing to do with film production. Now and then I look up to see James Dean or Audrey Hepburn smiling at me and while a pleasant distraction, makes no sense. Of course, a patron with the New York Times in her face makes no sense either [LA Times and OC Register sold in machines just outside the door] so I am just as much a contradiction in this place as the photos. Perhaps that’s the connection in the end – we come from everywhere and end up here.

Whatever. Paul Newman always makes me smile.

24 November 2009

Generosity

Ah, the spirit of generosity. Tis the season. I am always grateful for the abundance of our rich culture and also, especially this time of year, anxious – will the funds come to meet our operating budget? Every day, I see the generosity of good people unfold. I know my donor base fairly well now, after two years Friendship Shelter, but people invariably surprise me, stepping up to give more because they know the need is great. Or, apologizing because they cannot give more but wish they could. I know how they feel.
I understand the delicate balance between the need and the response, much like the balance in nature in all things, and certainly in humanity. I truly believe that most people, even in America, strive to do their best and live by some sort of personal code. I believe more people are misguided and misinformed than unkind and I don’t much believe in evil, only the degradation of the human spirit. I avoid the fear mongering and just plain nasty media, which is most of it these days, in favor of NPR and PBS. These are the only sane media choices, balanced and observant, and endlessly interesting, well beyond the “news.” Still, stories are often so bleak. 25% of homeowners in danger of losing their homes. 40 million without health care and not all of them will be covered, despite so-called reform. Boys and girls dying every day in Afghanistan et al. Pro-life fanatics using health care to further their ends. Democrats and Republicans posturing and politicizing the most basic of human needs. Locally, social service providers jockeying for position, defending turf and pointing fingers instead of seeking meaningful solutions. Children dying daily because of abuse or drunk drivers, or languishing from neglect. Middle school kids beating up on peers because they have red hair. Elderly more concerned about death panels than quality of life.
I could go on and on. I won’t.
Instead, I retreat, as I often do, into the world of fiction. No picnic there, of course, but one has the benefit of that willing suspension of disbelief that serves as a buffer: the land of pretense that makes even the most realistic of stories fiction. Richard Powers, a favorite of mine, has just published a stunningly intelligent and engaging story about a woman who is endlessly happy: “Generosity.” His protagonist, a refugee of unspeakable horrors, is so caring and forgiving that she is unfathomable to those around her. They must study her. Investigate her true nature. Reveal her Achilles heel. The psychologist proposes a bi-polar mania. {Powers responds that of course this must be the case as the whole of society is now bi-polar – certainly Wall Street would bear that out.] The writing instructor is intimidated by her ability to transcend the usual maudlin quality of poetry and entrance all readers. The geneticist seeks the answer in her DNA. The media sensationalizes her story, turning her into the modern day equivalent of the bearded woman. The blogosphere seeks her identity and the lonely seek her blessings. Perhaps there is a Christ-like figure in this beautiful embodiment of the generosity of spirit, although this author rarely explores the spiritual – a realist and humanist, he prefers to peel back the layers of nature versus nurture. In “Echo Maker” he examined the power of memory. In “In the time of Our Singing” the essence of race relations. In “Gain” the conflict between big business and personal freedom. I love this writer. He makes me think, he makes me laugh, and sometimes cry, but never manipulates my emotions. No escapist fiction, rather an intelligent exploration of human potential, and failure, ever so much more meaningful than the harsh reality of harsh reality.
So, at this time of Thanksgiving, I am grateful not only for my health, my divine daughters and their good health and good lives, my wonderful friends, important work, fresh air, sunshine and blue waters always on my horizon, a sense of personal safety and the simple pleasures of music and the arts, I am grateful for a way of rising above what ails us every single day and remaining steadfastly devoted to the half-full glass. The generosity of giving, and a giving heart, has the potential to heal all wounds.
Generosity is a true blessing.
Post Script: Words to think about from "Generosity" by Richard Powers:
If a reasonably alert person wants to be exhilarated, she just has to read a little evolution. Think of it: a Jupiter flyby, emerging out of nothing. A few slavish chemicals producing damn near omnipotent brains... That discover is better than any drug, any luxury commodity, or any religion. Science should be enough to make any person endlessly well. Why do we need happiness when we can have knowing?

21 November 2009

Asia Journey The Finale: Vietnam

We depart lovely Laos for Vietnam, flying on Laos time which means an hour late, and arrive in bustling noisy Hanoi. A long ride from the airport traverses streets lined with factories and then with a series of 4-5 story narrow buildings, many separated by empty lots, like NY brownstones but even narrower. The reason: taxes paid based on frontage, so lots of narrow lots in and around the city.
At first I think I won’t like Hanoi. Almost impossible to process the mélange of images, sights, sounds, smells, a real assault on the senses. Wide boulevards intersected by so many narrow roads, packed with walkers, mopeds, and stuff, lots and lots of stuff. Shopping streets are defined, and often named, specifically by their wares – silks, shoes, blouses, ties, lanterns – rows and rows of stalls of similar wares and again, as in other markets in SE Asia, just so much stuff its mindboggling.
As I am running late, I rush to meet Byron and Gerry at the poolside bar at the Metropole, an old world posh hotel like something out of a Somerset Maugham novel. They look so relaxed and welcome me with open arms – what a thrill it is to meet up with dear friends in a foreign place. Gerry takes us to a French-Vietnamese fusion restaurant [Le Vertical] run by a French chef that occupies a whole building. On the entry level is a spice shop, filled with hundreds perhaps thousands of little jars of spices specially mixed, and the air deeply scented. On the second and third level are the dining rooms so that you feel as if you are dining in a private home. The food is rich and beautifully presented, and for a couple of hours I feel as if we are in Paris.
Traffic in Hanoi: I repeat, like NYC or Hong Kong on crack. Makes Rome look like a village. Only a decade ago, everyone was on bikes, now they drive mopeds, some cars, taxis of course and buses. Most motor-bikers where masks, made of colorful fabrics, nearly to the edge of their eyes, making them seem all the more mysterious. Children are frequently wedged between parents, some wearing tiny helmets. Many of the many roads are the equivalent of 4-5 lanes, if there were lanes, and almost no traffic lights. While there are cross walks, pedestrians do not have right of way – this is not California, no one stops. So the good counsel of our tour leader, which I take seriously, is to step off the curb and walk at a steady pace – no sudden stops, no speeding up – so that the traffic can continue around you, which it does. This is not the place for country bumpkins, nor the feint of heart.
I leave the boys to have a day together and enjoy my last day with the tour, although it is a free day and I take off on my own to visit the Temple of Literature, an homage to Confucius, where PhD students where pale blue full length aprons and serve as guides. Down the street I take my life in my hands to cross a crowded boulevard to visit the Museum of Fine Arts, where I am one of only two visitors, as this place is not on the tourist highlights list which favors the prison or Ho Chi Minh’s palace. A quiet place in a large colonial style mansion, most of the collection is interesting but not exciting, until I walk into a room of Buddha porcelain statues painted in the 18th century, so humanistic that I am moved nearly as powerfully as only last year by the Pieta. One particular, whose expression of sadness, likely for the state of the world, even then, is palpable, and I find myself in tears.
I head over to a café for lunch that our tour leader has recommended – one of three run as a non-profit to train street teens in the food trade. Young men and women are dressed in their starched white jackets, proudly preparing food in the open kitchen, while others manage or take orders. The food is excellent and while I there I chat with a woman from Chicago who teaches science at the American school in Jakarta, and previously in other foreign cities, and often takes a long week-end somewhere else, a wonderful way to devote herself to her profession while seeing the world.
People belch loudly and often, likely the sign of a satisfying meal. They crowd the sidewalks at lunch time with their small plastic tables, stored between meals. They can also be seen crouching to pee or eliminate on the sidewalk or in alleys. Vietnam, like the other countries I’ve traveled on this trip, has not had the pleasure of evolving slowly over time, despite their ancient histories. They have been catapulted from primitive to emerging to a modern world. Culture is still tribal but guided by television and Internet and cell phones. Like a toddler who leaps to high school. Will we ever understand a culture in the throes of warp-speed rapid advance.
Our last group activity is the water puppets, a charming operatic performance, and then the farewell dinner at the top of a building overlooking the lake and the lights all around that mark the center of the old city. I have always excused myself after dinner while the younguns of the tour head to the bars, but tonight they insist that I join them and we head to the Funky Buddha, a bar with strobe lighting and DJ and funky cocktails and have a great time together one last time.
Byron and I leave in the morning for Halong Bay where we board our three layer boat to explore the Bay of Tonken for a day and a half. The berths are of higher quality than most of the guest rooms I’ve stayed in, and the meals a feast. In a bedside basket, there are scrolls filled with hand-written bedtime stories. We enjoy the company of a delightful French couple, and also an interesting Australian my age traveling with her two grown children. The boat nearly drifts through this amazing bay of 3,000 islands, glacier formed, once the site of severe military action with the Chinese and now utterly serene. I kayak through caves into lagoons with water the color of jade. A cave is climbed. Some swim off the boat in the late afternoon while I relax on the upper deck with a book. We drop anchor for a totally quiet rest and peer at a sky filled with stars. At last I drink some good wine. The perfect conclusion to this long and amazing journey.
On our last night together back in Hanoi, we walked along the lake, lit so beautifully and surrounded by charming stone sculptures. Groups even at 9:30 PM are doing aerobics or yoga, rollerblading with children, or simply staring at the few stars that penetrate the haze. The markets are active late into the night, hoping for yet another tourist to purchase something, anything, that one purchase that will likely support a family for at least a day.
The next morning I leave at 5 AM to make my flight. Hanoi at day break is a city of shadows, the calm before the everyday storm. The city is still dark, the streets just coming to life. A few motor-bikers have precariously attached to them large plastic bags filled with the wares they will sell that day. At the early morning markets, strings of pin lights point to stalls and they are already crowded. Women are already cooking the traditional morning meal over petro-stoves: noodles in broth topped with a poached egg, although my taxi driver munches on a baguette filled with what looks like ham and cheese. I find myself torn – happy to be heading to the comfort of home, sorry to leave these fascinating lands. The very essence of travel.
For those of you reading, thanks for joining the journey with me.

15 November 2009

Asia Journey Part III: Laos - 2/Ventiane



Ventiane. The capital of Laos. Pronounced wen-chen. 200,000 population. Feels so much larger than the villages we’ve visited on the way, but also small, a small city. Right out of Graham Greene. Provincial, colonial. Lots of temples, of course, the oldest of which, 3rd century, is a compound of beautiful small buildings. Wonderfully serene. Another, c. 15th century, all gold leaf. My travel mates call it the bling temple.
Again, lots of mopeds here, also cars. Traffic is slow but steady. And again, little extraneous noise. A mini-de triomphe, installed by the French during their occupation, has the added flourish of dragons on the upper cornices.
I forgot to mention the morning walk of the monks in Luang Prabang. 5:30 AM they make their pilgrimage to the hillside temple and people line the walk to offer them alms. It has sadly been polluted by swarms of tourists who are only interested in taking photo’s and thus disrespect the monks as they go, who ignore them. I arrive early on a side street and have the good fortune to see them pass, without interaction, and before I see the circus it has become, but I’m told it’s better some mornings than others. Photo above.
This is the most sophisticated Lao city I’ve seen, by a long shot. Shops with wares different from other places, the kind of shops that might be fun to work in. Elegant. The café’s offer more for a more sophisticated palette, and environs more suited to travelers, with large bars and outdoor seating areas. Much more Western in style. I sit one morning in a bakery café with dark wood tables and chairs, beautiful pastries in the glass case, pizza, quiche and artisan breads on the menu. Around me mostly Brits, Germans, some Americans. Feels more European here. Latte’s on the tables. Students immersed in their laptops.
Last night we had an especially enjoyable, festive dinner on the upper terrace of a café that served Lao, Thai and Indian food, plus burgers and pizza for good measure. I’ve noticed that my comrades now and then seem to need a fix of western food, especially pizza, but I find comfort in the indigenous menu’s, prepared to order. Lao food is less spicy than Thai, but servers always offer an option: “you want spicey?” Chili peppers and oil always on the table just in case. Koni [short of Konrad, our Swiss tour leader] offers to share a half bottle of wine with me. I haven’t had wine at all on this trip as this is not the land of wine, mostly beer. In fact the group has been crazy excited about Lao beer which I taste and even I, who has no taste for beer, finds smooth, almost buttery. I see the appeal. However we’re told it doesn’t travel well, so drinking in the country is best, like most micro-brews. We split a carafe of Merlot, nothing of note but fun to have a wine glass in my hand. Everyone was in especially good spirits, enjoying hot water showers and higher level civilization, but also the relaxed pleasure of this city.
I take a long walk around the neighborhood and dawdle in a bookstore – the first real bookstore I’ve enjoyed, others merely stalls of used paperbacks likely left behind by tourists – lots of Grisham and such. This store, Monarch Books, has sections in English, French, German, Thai and of course Lao. I feel very much at home here as I always do in bookstores. However the national library, which I enter with great enthusiasm, turns out to be more manuscripts and political documents than books.
Lao women all wear long skirts [ankle length] and often with a striped border at the hem. Always with crisply pressed blouses with sleeves usually to the elbow. Display of shoulders, chest or knees is forbidden. Even little girls on their bikes are in long skirts and school children always in uniform. Modesty is a virtue for women, men are suitably conservative, while monks once again in golden orange robes off one shoulder. I must remember to research the origin of this uniform. Women to are also expected to wear closed shoes, no sandals, but children wear flip flops. Their hair is usually shot, no longer than shoulder length, or pulled back with lovely barrettes. All conform to codes of conduct, so I’m told.
A river borders the city, once again, and there is little development on the river, but I see several signs signaling preparations for new buildings and centers, coming into the new millennium. I hope they don’t ruin the view.
Food is delivered as prepared [did I mention this before?] Always fresh and hot. So that a party of ten, which we often are, might have some of us half finished before the other half begins eating. One learns to eat slowly to try to maintain the balance. I’ve not liked being served first, but better than last.
I would have liked more time in this city. We will leave Laos for Vietnam too soon. I’m not quite ready for a big bustling city, which I’ve been warned Hanoi is. And I’ve come to appreciate the general tranquility of Lao culture. I find myself wondering what it would be like to live here for a while, teach English. I could see myself here as well as in European cities. And they definitely are in need of English tutoring.
On a prop jet from Ventiane to Hanoi, the sound of the motor brings tears to my eyes. One of the sounds of my childhood, on those rare occasions when we flew to Virginia for summer holiday, rather than drive. So much closer to the ground, above squares of green conjoined to slivers of road, rivers, lakes. We fly so near the clouds one might reach out and touch them. This is flying as it once was, exhilarating like driving a stick shift car, a throwback to another time. As is Laos.

14 November 2009

Asia Journey Part III: Laos - 1

Total population of Laos is roughly 7 million, fairly equally spread across this tiny land-locked country. Compare this to 9 million in Hong Kong. 80 million in Thailand. 100 million in Vietnam. A country still largely agrarian. The most bombed country during the VN war because the Viet Cong hid there. Laos never in its entire history went to war, despite numerous occupations. A peaceful people. Reserved. Kind. I fell in love with Laos, almost from the first moment I looked across the bank of the Mekong River from Thailand to the misty hillsides there. A small boat carries us across from Thailand to Laos, a distance less than the expanse of the Brooklyn Bridge. Visas are issued. Currency exchanged. In Lao Kip I am suddenly a millionaire, in cash!
We remove our shoes when we step onto the barge that will take us down the river, as this boat is the home of a family, who will escort and feed us on our journey. Floating down the river for a day and a half, there is surprisingly little traffic. Fishermen in coves, an occasional motor boat speeding those in a hurry to get to a city. Tiny primitive villages perched on the hills. Natural terraces of limestone, caves carved into tall rock. The captain of our long wooden vessel navigates with great familiarity around every one of the many rock outcroppings, avoiding too shallow waters. He sits tall in his seat, his prowess clear, the family watching proudly when they are not in the back preparing a feast. Sisters, roughly 3 and 4 play with each other all day, inventing games, laughing loudly, silent only when they fall into their nap on their mother or grandmother’s lap. Tiny beautiful children, the elder is playful with our tour leader who permits himself to be chased him around the boat to squeals of delight. These children have no guile. They have no toys I can see except a couple of skimpy dolls. No television or video games, not here on the boat where they spend so much time. They invent play. They enjoy each other and others. They are a reminder of another time when the imagination was sufficient.
Miles and miles of river pass with hardly a town or village seen, no development. Trees, hills, tiny natural beaches. An occasional oxen. The area is remote and largely pristine. Rock formations are lined with the striations of sediment, perhaps volcanic, as if the ancient wrinkles of a civilization. Large billowy clouds soften an increasingly hot sun. A small statue of Buddha is perched just to the right of the navigator, keeping us on course and in the moment. This journey is like an extended meditation. I can’t imagine a river in the US that hasn’t been marked by industry; then again, I never floated down the Mississippi. One of my comrades remarks that in the western world, at least one spa resort would have been built here by now.
This trip is a good respite from the active sightseeing we’ve completed in Thailand, and all the more soothing for the gentle waves lapping in our wake. Lunch, a six course meal each day, is hot and hearty and largely vegetarian. On the second day, we slow down near the shore to purchase a fresh fish hooked on a rope in the water off a family row-boat. While we cannot understand what they say, it is clear they are negotiating, and the women take the lead on this. They prepare the fish in the back of the boat, in tiny quarters, and serve it freshly fried with ginger and garlic to accompany vegetable soups, noodle and vegetable stir fry’s and of course, the obligatory bowl of rice. None of the family eats until we have completed our meal and they hope that we eat most of what we are served [which is nearly impossible] so as to be assured they have done well.
First, we overnight in Pak Beng, a village of no more than 1/3 miles, with a charming guest house on a hill. The town consists of one single street flanked by stalls, restaurants, a few guest houses and an organic market replete with buffalo hooves. At a family owned restaurant, where the owner proudly tells me that his English teacher is from LA [and he is one of the few Lao I will meet who speaks decent English] we drink shots of Lao-Lao, a rice whiskey. The tradition requires an expression of gratitude with each gulp. Our tour guide expressed thanks for fresh water. A fellow traveler for a safe journey. I express thanks for good health.
In the very early morning, a cacophony of music marks the nearly rising sun – roosters, birds, geckoes and barking dogs. There is no electricity in the village, only generators, so the lights come on at dusk and stay on only until 10 pm, and then again early mornings for the little bit of hot water and such. Food is cooked largely over wood fired grills, and large kettles of water are always boiling to steam rice. We visit a small monastery where two monks are in residence plus three novices. They walk down the street from one end to the other twice a day – at 6 AM and again at 6PM - calling residents to prayer. Houses along the street are largely one story shacks, with one large room divided in part by tatami mats. And even in these primitive surroundings, as darkness falls, families gather together and sit on the floor to watch TV [from Thailand.] However, our local guide, Wan, takes great pride in Lao culture as differentiated from Thai – these countries so often intertwined over centuries at last apart. Thailand is a democracy, Laos socialist {PDR]. We stop once to climb into a cave filled with thousands of small Buddhas and once to visit a remote hilltop village where the families living there have not yet been visited by westerners and they watch us carefully, without fear or hesitation but with definite curiosity, especially the beautiful teenage girls who are giggly over Rob our young stud on the trip. One of the village dogs has given birth to puppies that scamper over our feet, among pigs, cats and chickens, and the essential rooster who surely will announce the day. I’m told the children take boats to a school down river, and that the girls marry very young.
We land in Luang Prabang, a charming small city bounded by two rivers, and surrounded by rural areas. The French influence here is still evident, although not as much as in the capital Ventiane, which will be our last stop in this lovely country.In Luang Prabang,as in many places throughout SE Asia, they believe the spirits of the past reside in the earth. Thus, no one individual may own the land outright and one must always acknowledge those who came before when they settle. They build a spirit house, like an ornate mailbox or birdhouse on a post, so that the spirits have a place to live and keep the peace. They are beautiful sculptures [you’ll see a few in the photos] and I find them enchanting. Someone should do a book about this [Byron please take note] as each is different and all beautiful. During festival seasons or on special occasions, they place flowers on the spirit house and on the one morning it rained while here, someone had perched an umbrella on top for protection from the elements. Note – The Photo above is a spirit house store in Thailand.
This city has a warm and bright aura. At the night market, no one hawks their wares or asserts themselves more than slightly at passers by – they perch at the back of their mats, covered with colorful goods, and smile, hoping for your attention. Farmers sell their produce off the back of small trucks, piled high with potatoes, onions, dragonfruit and such. Curfew is midnight here. As there is no word for no, the word “bo” pronounced with emphasis means not, and is recommended for use to say no to drugs, which of course exist everywhere.
We travel to a gorgeous waterfall where natural swimming pools are formed at several levels, pale aqua in color and not too cold. This place is a lesson in peace – people of all colors and faces line up to jump on the rope hanging off a high branch and into the deepest of the pools. They cheer each other on. Lao’s do not wear bathing suits – they swim in t-shirts and shorts – and women must always cover shoulders and knees. Many western visitors are unaware [or disregard] this cultural modesty and wear bikinis, but there seems no offense. Everyone is young, enjoying a Sunday in a magical spot.
City sounds here are largely motors, like the soundtrack to an old film. A few cars, motorized Tuk-tuk’s, motor bikes/mopeds, small trucks turned into taxi’s,
all old-fashioned hand-cranked sort of motors. Rarely do you hear loud music or loud voices. It is the quiet of restraint. Through the night, silence, until the rooster crows. What I imagine small towns across America once sounded like. Perhaps some still do.
In what is my favorite guest house on the trip, a fully equipped western bathroom
with a toilet that produces a sort of sonic boom every time I flush, as if an airplane is taking off! One day, walking the perimeter, I find myself terribly overheated. I can not make it to a restaurant, so stop at a nearby market for nuts and juice and more water, and OMG, a cup of ice-cream in a freezer there. Maybe the best ice-cream I’ve every had!
Flowers are constant. Everywhere, large clusters of flowers. Trumpet vines, frangipani, hibiscus, orchids. Lantana grows wild along the road. Many unusual blooms in odd shapes. Lots of purple, although I haven’t seen any hummingbirds.
We travel in a van across the mountain to Veng Vieng, a village with dirt roads that has become a way station for backpackers. Like an old American western town, lined with storefront grocers and bars. People are poor here, likely uneducated, although there is a-big new school at the end of the town. However, when I purchase some water and whip out my canvas tote to carry back with me, the clerk smiles broadly and says “Very Good – plastic bad.” They are educated enough to be kind to the earth. Perhaps one of the positives of a tourist based economy, learning the new norms of a larger world.
However, nowhere in SE Asia have I seen recycling bins. Thousands, likely millions of plastic water bottles and soda cans fill garbage bags to overflowing and who knows where they go. Hateful to think of garbage dumps or landfills in these otherwise pristine surrounds, yet cities, even this small way-station attract more and more visitors. Seems to me recycling companies could provide a small local incentive to locals to save plastics and tins for pick-up, employ locals to make those pick-ups and establish recycling centers, selling the by-product for the many other uses these days. A new industry that might help the economy and the earth.
Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of this place and even harder to place in perspective of my own western life. How do we reconcile poverty here with the riches of our lives? How will these people come into a more modern world, beyond internet café’s and CNN? Seems to me, South East Asia is encapsulated to a sleepy elder world while its more aggressive neighbors, China and Korea, take the lead.
At dinner at Mama Lao’s cafe we have the most amazing sticky rice pudding with mango – cooked in coconut milk and cream, it is divine. I have the recipe.
On to Ventiane in a separate blog. SE Asia makes me more loquacious than usual!
Note: If you haven't yet enjoyed the photos from the trip, see the link in previous blog entries. Enjoy.

07 November 2009

Asia Journey Part II: Thailand

Bangkok. More throngs. More traffic. Different faces. The Thai are said to be kind, to wish to please. Saving face is of huge importance, I’m told, which, just in the knowing, seems to diminish any possibility of anger or confrontation in favor of conciliation. This is evidenced on arrival at the Royal Hotel, a gloomy shadow of what must have been a glorious past, where I’m expected to share a room although I’ve booked my own. There is a genuinely pained expression on the face of the front desk clerk, even as she remains steadfast that I am committed. Mediation by the tour leader is required, although frankly I was more interested in the process than the outcome, as I knew it would be resolved at some point. The Thai never say no, they only divert. Natural public relations professionals.
We dine at a dive off an alley, a place I would never have ventured had it not been for the calm authority of our Swiss tour leader, and the food, fresh and hearty, is excellent and incredibly cheap. We are a group of just ten and start to get to know each other.
BBC news on the TV at night, the only English speaking show I find, is too sobering, and I resolve not to watch [a resolve I keep most of the time.]
Food stalls crowd sidewalks with everything from voluptuous fresh fruits to deep fried foods on sticks. In between stalls, between scents of ginger and peppers, is the unsettling odor of rotted vegetable skins and trash. People plop tiny plastic tables, the size used for kids, everywhere and anywhere on the sidewalks to eat, creating an obstacle course for walkers.
We stay mostly in the old city, where temples and the national palace share space with parks, 7/11 shops and ATM’s. We walk to a pier where we board a couple of canoe shaped motor boats for a canal tour. On the way, I discover an encampment of homeless families, laying under a bridge on makeshift mattresses. When I inquire, I’m told it is rare, as families take care of their own. The guide tells me that sometimes, family ties are broken, and people come to Bangkok looking for work. Sounds familiar.
On the canal, filled with intersecting pathways, wooden houses sit above rotting caissons, next door to temples and elegant homes. Pots filled to overflowing with beautiful flowers are everywhere, even in front of the dingiest shack – frangipani, hibiscus, bougainvillea, others unknown. Lush, colorful, abundant, they dress up somewhat squalid conditions. Dogs resting on rocks or decks watch us go by. A man slides plastic bags of light white bread [like challah] to tourists in boats to rip into chunks to feed the catfish who are huge and rush to the food like sharks to their pray. These, known as bottom feeders in other places, are protected, forbidden to fish, only to feed.
At the temple of the reclining Buddha, large sumptuous buildings are decorated in mother of pearl and gold leaf. Incense burns everywhere. Shoes are piled high outside the many temples and when sitting inside, before the Buddha, one must sit lotus style or in a child’s pose, toes must never point in the Buddha’s direction, an insult. Good to know.
Monks dressed in orange robes [which will be true in all three countries, the same robes] are always given a wide berth, as to be touched, even the slightest brush by a woman, is a sin, punished by 3 days of isolation and prayer. I always step aside, and often a monk smiles at me in thanks, a sage semi-smile, and while part of me in indignant to be considered in this way, I respect tradition and I respect Buddhists.
There are also nuns, but they serve the monks. Surprise.
Throughout Bangkok, large boulevards are capped by statues and fountains, while side streets are filled with narrow alleys leading to restaurants, shops, massage parlors. I’m told of the seedy side of downtown, which I’ve read about, and avoid.
We take an overnight train to Chiang Mai. I’ve traveled in this way only once, as a small girl with my mother to visit my aunts in Pittsburgh. The story goes that my mother saved every penny to buy us a sleeping berth, but I sat up all night too excited to sleep. On this trip in Thailand, I sleep well, the steady motion of the train a tonic. Sheets are stiff from starch and the pillow small, but I fit comfortably and I negotiate with one of my comrades for the lower berth so I have the window, where I watch the sun rise over farms and fields and then steadily observe the increase in houses, temples, buildings as we enter Chiang Mai, like watching urban development unfold on fast forward. I realized on the train that I had embarked on a very different kind of journey and was totally high – close to the ground, no frills, an opportunity to experience the culture.
Chiang Mai. Byron calls it a cross between Tijuana and Laguna, but I find it more interesting. A smaller city, largely devoted to tourism, a mix of old and new. The old city entry points are marked by large elegantly carved gates, one each at the 4 points on the compass, and bounded by the river. Our guest house is old-world with simple modern amenities – a teak platform bed, lattice dividers between spaces, and on the TV is CSI Miami!
On a morning walk in the old town, I stumble into a seminary where one of the monks speaks to me in halted but literate English. There I find a sign engraved in wood that says “We are never too old to mend.” I know this well. In the evening, we attend a grand hillside temple, 250 steps to the top, and there I am blessed with holy water by a monk with a big smile who wants to know my name. His assistant ties a rope to my wrist for good luck, and I am told to let it fall off on its own. It remains there still. On the large wrap-around terrace, 12 huge brass bells, all slightly different shapes and sizes, are lined up and if you make a wish and bang on the bell, we’re told that the sound will take your wish to heaven. I wish for just one place, somewhere on earth, to be truly at peace.
People do not smile much, nor do they go out of their way to engage foreigners, unless they want to sell you something, and then quite aggressive. But while they are not interested in engagement, neither are they threatening or arrogant in any way.
I stop for a foot massage at one of the many massage place, like nail shops here, plentiful, and the women there are so pleasant, although again, very little English.
The night market is huge and also bounded by roughly 10 square blocks of stalls. So much merchandise, much higher quality than expected. I remain amazed by the sheer volume of stuff always for sale and the throngs of people always browsing, locals as much as tourists.
Animals are revered – images of dogs, elephants, dragons of course. I watch 2 dogs follow a monk, on alert, awaiting his commands, and when he signals to them without looking at them, just a nod of his head and a movement of his hand, they follow. The dog whisperer monk.
At the elephant conservation center, these animals look you in the eye as if they know you. Gentle but commanding, a tribute to their Zen environs. A hospital here treats sick elephants at no charge. A Mahout training course prepares guides/protectors, each assigned to one elephant for their stay. The rides are fun, but the best part is bathing hour, where elephants and their mahouts, and volunteers who have paid for the privilege, splash around playfully. Two elephants paint on canvas, carefully taking the brush in their trunk and dipping into the paint – one paints an image of elephant, one a vase of flowers, and it is inexplicable, even though I’ve seen it on 60 Minutes.
Just before we leave Chiang Mai, I lunch at a little restaurant, The Cottage, at the end of an alley near the guest house, that serves organic farm grown foods. I order a veggie burger, which arrives with a selection of fabulous chutneys, followed by a complimentary plate of mango chunks and fruit tea. Women cook and serve with an obvious desire to please. As I leave, I press my hands to my heart to thank them and they seem gratified that they have served me well. I leave a big tip. Total price: $3.
Chiang Khon. We ride a van 4 hours to this little river village, important only as the embarkation for Laos. Along the way we stop to photograph a gorgeous temple, in the middle of nowhere, carved out of glass and stone by an artist in the 15th century. We also stop at a market with 25 types of cashew nuts.
Here in the northern hills, early in the morning, the sun peeks through a deep mist, reflecting a swatch of light across the water. On the opposite bank: Laos.
Technology is a frequent subject of conversation among my fellow travelers, who are all under 35 except one 42 year-old from Texas who is a gourmet cook who wants to try every food and spice possible, he’s fun to watch when he scours the menu. We are from England, Wales, Ireland, Australia, India, Canada, Switzerland. All English speaking thankfully, all better traveled than I despite their youth, and two have just begun their year around the world. They travel simply but they are of the modern age. They have phones with sim cards for each country. They compare apps, discuss phonebook options from itunes to Google, the cost of text messages, the price of new iphones. Cameras are an endless source of interest. They call family far away without hesitation. We are never alone. They stop at internet cafes often. I am enjoying the disconnect and will only check in every few days to email the girls. Not that my friends aren’t on my mind – I want to share every experience – but my journal is close at hand.
My last morning in Thailand, I have learned to take cold showers without shuddering, and aim the hose at myself so as not to totally blanket the bathroom with water, as there is no shower stall, only the hose on the wall and a drain in the floor. Gekkos climbing the walls of the bathroom don’t bother me, in fact it is a prize to have one in your room as they eat other bugs. The sounds of this very foreign language are becoming more familiar. I keep toilet paper with me at all times and have learned to squat low and not mind leaving used paper in covered bins rather than clog their narrow pipes. In the end, it is of little consequence against the backdrop of this world. One has to respect their ways, and letting go of western creature comforts is wonderfully liberating. Like a weight off your shoulders.
So while we move around a lot, and I rise with the light every morning ready for the day, I feel great, and I send an email to Dana thanking her for urging me to get out of my comfort zone.
All photo's at http://picasaweb.google.com/maple57/Asia2009#
Please note: These are all my pictures, plus Byron's shots of Hanoi, which are easily identified as the better photo's!
Stay tuned for Laos and Vietnam. xx

04 November 2009

Impressions of Hong Kong

Women with parasols in pastel colors. Laundry hanging to dry outside windows throughout the city, strung precariously on extended hangers as high as the eye can see. They hang totally still, like sculptures, as little wind penetrates the narrow gulf between buildings.
Skyscrapers all, hardly any low roofs to break the sight line, clumped together like giant vertical lego's, all shades of gray.
A glimpse of green hillside in the distance. A mountainous screen saver.
Whole portions of the city created out of landfill, and more of the harbor soon to be sacrificed. One might expect at some point that only a small channel will remain for boats, ferries perhaps obsolete to bridges.
Kowloon, where Byron and Gerry live, once dirt and slum, now an elegant choice to city center, with apartment complexes offering resort-like amenities and amazing views of what we think of when we think of Hong Kong. [Photo above taken from their terrace.]
High overhead walkways between newer buildings at business centers, connecting work stations with malls of high-end shops and restaurants. All neatly constructed, as if blueprints sprung to life.
High tea at the Peninsula Hotel downtown, a remnant of colonial rule and old-world European charm There is little left here. Beautiful abundant food, one of the few vestiges of British rule.
Junk boats fill sections of the harbor, awaiting duty – almost all the color of rusted metal, with only the occasional red or blue speed boat mixed in, a splash of color on an otherwise dreary canvas. Water, sky, buildings are all gray, blending into each other. Haze and pollution blanket the scene.
Street markets overflowing with goods of all kinds, piled high into small stalls.
Streets teeming with people at all times, people of every Asian variety from Chinese to Vietnamese. Asians all but the contrasts in facial characteristics clearly delineate the differences, and they all know their own. The lower classes – Philippines, Indonesians – are employed largely as house workers, diminished and tightly controlled, and often subject to stern scolding on the streets over any perceived or invented disrespect.
Sundays at Causeway Bay, a highly commercialized beach area, where house workers on their one day off congregate together with pot luck lunches, always clustered with their own, chattering like birds on migration, a few hours liberated from their near-slavish lives. Byron and Gerry take better care of their “maid” who is as much companion now to Byron as housekeeper, a fantastically good natured soul with little to look forward to.
Poppy, their beautiful golden retriever, frequently frightens people on the street or in the elevator only because she is a dog.
Fishmonger storefronts downtown with giant bottles of shark fins floating in murky water, lined up in windows like a poster display.
Warm smiles of working people but only when you smile first.
A taxi driver laughing loudly at our accented directions.
Trucks, buses, taxi’s all bombarding up against each other on narrow streets, fighting for every inch of road.
Buildings mostly flat facades. Institutional, utilitarian. Little molding, trim or shutters. A sea of windows between which are often seen the stains of heavy rains. Roofs adorned only with cisterns.
Rarely a tree-lined street. Parks few, largely hidden.
Constant 10-hour days of construction, with the requisite drone of saws and drills and engines whirring. The ubiquitous crain. The only sound to penetrate the din of a busy city is the occasional trill of a bird singing alto voce as if determined to compete. “Listen to me” it pleas and that might be said of the 9 million or so making their way through Hong Kong every day.
The Hotel Intercontinental in Kowloon, opposite HK island, a gorgeous glass enclosed bar just above the harbor provides a stunning view of boats and the skyline, which lights up like Disney at 8:00 PM, each building in sequence. Light scatters across buildings and across the water. A most western style place, gorgeous food and service, one might be anywhere, except for the view.
There are 60,000 Americans living in HK, as many and more other expats. They congregate in western style places, bars high above the skyline, living well in this fantastically expensive city. An apartment has just been sold for $50 million. I imagine HK competes with Shanghai and Dubai, perhaps Seoul, for the most modern over-the-top cities of the world. HK is Tokyo on crack. Tokyo is New York on crack. New York seems small, even quiet; then again, it is my home.
People of HK are a people of purpose. Completely focused, immersed in what they do, from shopping to work. By day, they seem serious souls, although after hours, or occasionally caught off guard, Byron tells me they are easily amused and good-hearted.
If in fact Hong Kong is the jewel in the Chinese crown, the model for all other cities to come, they are on warp speed to modernity. Old buildings are demolished for new, no restoration or renovation, only temples are sacred. I have seen only swarms of shoppers, workers, passers-by. I’m told there are shanties of sorts under bridges and in selected corners, but I’ve not seen them. They likely are not meant to be seen.
Even on a Sunday afternoon, forging through the many open markets, they are intent on fulfilling their mission, on the search for just the right item. Frequently dressed in black, they rarely make eye contact, at least not with me. Is it no wonder they will dominate the world?

More photo's at http://picasaweb.google.com/maple57/Asia2009#
Please note: These are all my pictures, plus Byron's shots of Hanoi, which are easily identified as the better photo's!
Stay tuned for Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. xx

04 October 2009

Autumnal Blessings

Fall is in the air, even in Southern California. There is a definite drop, albeit slight, in ambient temperature and sea breezes are just that much more present, evidenced by the song of my wind chimes. Nothing of course like the halcyon days of early Autumn on the east coast, but a slight shift nonetheless. Summer is over.

In Sacramento last week, the first leaves were on the ground. In Davis, definitely the cutest college town I've seen, a slight bit of orange tinted tall trees lining the downtown as the first days of cooler weather had finally arrived. In Sonoma County, so gorgeous at harvest, days remained hot while nights cool enough to shutter windows, a 30 degree or more drop, perfect for the last days of the grapes, which were hanging off the vine nearly begging to be picked. So beautiful there, as close to France as we have in this country, replete with hills of lavender scenting the air.

October is the best month almost everywhere in this country, and in many parts beyond, although I hear it's already snowing in Utah, pleasing perhaps to skiers. We are still in fire season here so less welcome for some. Soon, colder winds will blanket much of the US and rains will come to Southern California, that moment when hillsides of brown turn to green and whales begin their migration. Not so bad.

I love the warm and the first days of summer are always a thrill - in part because of my east coast heritage and in part, still, that feeling of release that summer brings to school kids and parents, our living calendar. But some natural changes are essential to fulfill the rhythms of our lives, no matter how subtle. Days are growing short. I have already laid on an extra blanket. Heavier sweaters will soon come out of their plastic hibernation. Change, once again, is a blessing and one can rely on the cycles of the season to renew the landscape and the soul. Easy for me to say, the sun is almost always shining here, and that makes all things possible.

Summer will return soon enough. Enjoy the pleasures of the season, wherever you are.

16 September 2009

MeetUp

Another brilliant evolution of the internet, what has become the meeting place of the millennium, as much or more than the information highway it was promoted to be. For better and for worse: All the maniacs of the world can find each other on-line, build bombs, organize terror, perpetuate the politics of fear. Old friends and new also find each other, tearful reunions, loving connections, matches.

Enter the MeetUp group called ex-east-coasters, Orange County branch. More than 300 transplants to southern California, who still hanker for the accent and eccentricity of fellow east coast types. MeetUp makes that possible. These ducks out of east coast waters [largely New Yorkers] gather together frequently for everything from a casual dinner to a Labor Day barbecue, Monday night football kick-off or a glass of wine before a volunteer gig. A message to all members in memory of 911 surely cemented the bond.

Sunday evening I joined in my first “meeting” – dinner at a Laguna Beach restaurant offering a $20 three-course meal as part of the annual OC Restaurant Week. Only eight of us, all former New Yorkers, or at least tri-state, and most who knew each other, but of course, as New Yorkers, they welcomed me into the fold with open arms. Seven women, roughly 50+ and one man, an Italian hairdresser with an accent so redolent of the lower east side he might have gone to the Bob DeNiro school of language. Forgedaboudit.

And therein lies the surreality of the evening. We sat on an upper level patio, west coast evening sea breezes blowing softly, candlelight flickering through hurricane lamps, a peek-a-boo view of the Pacific on our radar and tans on our faces… a summer portrait of the good life in the OC, contrasted sharply with accents so thick one might cut with the proverbial knife, 16 hands moving simultaneously to punctuate multiple conversations, lots of hair, eastern European faces, crosses and stars of David hanging from elegant chains, loud voices and lots of laughter, and the requisite angst over the menu and the subsequent special requests, and, in the end, vociferous complaints over dinner served too slowly so food wasn’t hot and a shortage of items on the menu, even so early in the evening, so much so that the organizer called the manager to the table, complained not bitterly but forcefully, and the whole meal was comped! Only in New York. Or rather, New York in the OC.

I sat struck by the contrasts. And when Leo, our resident male, remarked that he’d been in California thirty years [neither sun nor surf had marred one bit of his downtown persona] and had the best of both worlds because he fraternized largely with “like kind” I understood exactly what he was saying. Something so familiar, so comfortable, as if a family reunion at that table, even among strangers. Peas in a pod, if you get my drift.

Bravo to meetup.org for making such things possible. It is a comfort knowing that one can get a New York fix just down the road, now and then, although surely not the real thing. Nothing like the big apple, but, when needed, a delightful bite.

29 August 2009

Woodstock

I saw the new Ang Lee film "Taking Woodstock" last night. Hard to believe it is 40 years, then again, everything these days seems so far in the past and hard to believe.

I wasn't there. I had moved to California [the first time] in June of that year so I watched with fascination as the phenomenon took on a life of its own. For those too young to remember, that was also the summer of the Mets and also the summer of the moon walk, a remarkable year 1969. The film does a good job capturing that moment. Peace love and music for three days. Seems so foreign a possibility now, but no less remarkable then I suppose.

I confess, I wouldn't have gone if I had been still in New York. I was, and likely remain, too uptight for that sort of happening. I never liked crowds. I never liked drugs nor being around druggies. And yet, looking back, like the protagonist of the film, I might have come out of a life-long shell if I had gone. I might have had a truly transformative experience, which otherwise took me years to achieve and is thus hardly transformative - I never morphed, I evolved.

Still, as my older daughter likes to remind me, we need to get out of our comfort zones now and then. Change, I've always believed, has to be facilitated - it doesn't happen to us. We have to make change in order to achieve change. That's what Laguna Beach was about for me, a decision I have never once regretted for a moment, despite still longing for the near and dear.

We need change - each of us needs change now and then, and the world we inhabit, that is seriously in need of change, but I echo our leader. Another reason today to be thinking about Ted Kennedy who devoted his life to change for those he believed most in need of a voice for change. A complex man of many flaws and who, I believed, suffered severely for the stresses placed upon him from the get-go, he found change in himself over time and surely made change his priority - a priority served as much by persistence as passion.

Sometimes persistence is everything. Sometimes simply an attitude adjustment. Usually both. The lessons of Woodstock and Kennedy, among others. I would like to see on my headstone [metaphorically speaking as I intend to be cremated] merely this: She always tried to do better. To do better requires change. We do need to shake off the familiar at times and take on the new. What might we find as we turn that corner?

Yet, on a sultry summer day like today, I would rather sit on the back patio immersed in the gorgeous book I am reading, the third of the divine Italian writer Erri de Luca. Change will have to wait at least another day.

23 August 2009

Sundays

A journalist needs a hook but blogs are different and are meant to be spontaneous. I prefer theme and metaphor but not sure what I will say today, an ordinary Sunday. I saw Time Traveler's Wife last night. I had a hard time with the book, overly complex and circular, but I appreciated the sentiment and the focus on the wife's journey, a life-long love affair without tether. Truly day to day. The movie is more linear in presentation, and the focus seems to me to be more the traveler, his lonely journey, with only the connection to his wife to tether him to himself. Interesting concept. How many men see themselves as part of the whole of their marriage? How many see themselves through their wives' eyes? The film lacked the punch of the book, a common refrain, but pleasant and frankly Eric Bana in the buff is reason enough.

Last week I read the soon to be published "Homer and Langley" by E. L. Doctorow, one of the best, which fictionalized the lives of the Colyer brothers of New York City who lived increasingly reclusive and ultimately paranoid lives, sadly exiling themselves from even the few people who populated their worlds and withdrew into a private lonely world from which they never emerged. So sad, exquisitely told.

Today I drift. A frequent phenomena of Sundays. Yes, I start Sundays with a walk or Pilates class, and a reading of the New York Times, ritual more than schedule. I often clean. I do laundry if it hasn't been done on Saturday, which it was this week. I check email. I join a new MeetUp group [ex-east Coasters, mostly New Yorkers, what a fun idea.] I finish up last week's New Yorker, making me almost caught up [the stories remain folded down for late nights.] I will soon start reading a new novel, always a special moment. Ah, what to choose.

The sun is shining brightly today. I should set my face in that direction for a while, get a bit of color. I look a little pale these days, not sure why. I have spoken with a few East Coast friends, another week-end ritual. They are well, busy, productive, thoughtful. My daughters are busy and well, perhaps Dana and I will find time for a phone chat today. Later this afternoon, I will attend a wine tasting/art show benefit for Breast Cancer Angels, who helped, among many others, my friend/artist Sue Thompson pay her bills and navigate her way through treatment, and thankfully, she is well past it all and painting her best work.

I will return to bury myself in a book or perhaps a DVD, a makeshift dinner and an hour with 60 Minutes. And when I chronicle the meanderings of an ordinary Sunday, I see it is filled with connections - friends and family, passions and pastimes. I am not so much flaneur as tethered to the comforts of a life largely filled, even in these quiet moments, with good things and good people, albeit often from a distance.

And therein lies the theme - we enjoy the pleasures of connection, to each other, to our passions and longings, and to the sheer delight and privelege of a lazy Sunday. Cheers...

16 August 2009

And now a brief pause for politics

I began writing, and remain committed to, a blog that chronicles personal change, but I must deviate this morning to vent my rage, and concern, over the extremists that threaten our world. Read at your own emotional peril.

I awakened Saturday morning early to take a long walk, longer than usual because that is what makes week-end mornings wonderful, and drove to Crystal Cove, a ruggedly beautiful spot between Laguna and Newport, for a roughly 5-mile walk above the beach that always soothes. A little more than an hour later I returned to an iced tea and light breakfast and the pleasure of a new novel, yet to be published, by the divine E. L. Doctorow, and even in those few first pages I can report that it is, in fact, divine, so far. Feeling righteous and rested, I stopped at Trader Joe's for the requisite fruits and vegetables that fill my fridge, and always enjoy the pleasant ambiance there, only to emerge to be verbally assaulted by two young men who asked me this: Do you want to help us stop Obama, the new Hitler?

No, I said, but even in my rage, I refused to engage them, as I know there is no talking to people with fanatical misguided viewpoints, although I suppose I reneged on my obligation as a citizen to try to alter their view. I couldn't do it. Shaken so suddenly and painfully from my morning reverie, I was too angry to speak, and have learned over the years to withhold comment when angry, preferring to wait until a calmer more balanced commentary might unfold. Instead, I drove away and called a sympathetic friend to vent.

Ironic, in the worst way, that they invoke the monster that used the politics of fear to manipulate the masses to his end... seems to me, these otherwise ordinary well-dressed politico's are the Nazi's. I know, when I am rational, that extremists get attention, especially in our 24-7 news world. I know they are misinformed and misguided more than evil, or so I want to believe. I know that perhaps deep down they are terrified of what they do not understand or what they have been led to believe, or merely terrified by the deeply held beliefs indoctrinated in them likely much of their lives by those infused with hate. I know they do not represent the majority, but I also see a country increasingly misled by deliberate misinformation and dictated by fear and thus, I too am frightened by the potential sabotage of our future beyond what we have already lost in the years lost to the conservative core.

I am a moderate. I am not the liberal many believe me to be because I vote Democrat and work for the disenfranchised. I believe in taking responsibility for one's life but also for the lives of those less fortunate. I believe in help rather than scorn and encouragement rather than abandonment. I believe in the common good beyond any individual, but in the preservation of individual rights. I believe that only if we nurture and protect the children, all the children, do we have any chance of a better world, but as children follow what they see, there will always be extremists, of all types, and they will always color the debate and inhibit change. Thus, after the vent, I cry, as I often do, when inhumanity invades my space with its ugly face.

Is it possible to request political asylum in France?

06 August 2009

Oceans

A 16-year old girl, niece of a colleague, arrived for a week’s vacation with an equally adorable South Dakota friend in tow, and when I asked if they had ever been to California they replied no, they’ve never even seen an ocean.

I cannot imagine a landlocked life. Growing up in NYC, the Atlantic Ocean was never far. Although I had to take long hot subway train rides to Coney Island or Jones Beach in Brooklyn, or occasionally the family drove to Orchard Beach in the south Bronx, the Atlantic Ocean always beckoned. Summer was beach season. We never had access to a pool and when, as an older child, I spent summers at a camp upstate, I discovered the pleasures of boating and swimming on a lake, but the ocean remained my touchpoint for summer living. The only other water source in summer was a hydrant unplugged, a city kids version of waves.

We visited my aunt every summer in Virginia or we met half-way in Rehoboth Beach, Maryland. And when I grew up and moved to Connecticut, I picked a town on the Long Island Sound, an extension of the Atlantic as deep and profound as the ocean itself, but with gentler waves, and began regular sojourns to Cape Cod or the Rhode Island and Jersey shores, as the Atlantic held its sway up and down the coast and always welcomed visitors longing for the soothing steady rush of waves rolling to shore.

I cannot imagine life without the ocean, although I rarely go into the water these days. The Pacific is always colder and the riptide [which a friend recently explained is different from the undertow we were warned to watch for by our ever-protective parents] is often at a powerful pitch and I no longer feel quite so brave as when I was a girl, jumping giant waves and waiting with great expectation to crash within and come up gasping for air, a water-logged roller coaster.

But wait. What if one grew up with giant trees and forest terrain bordered by creeks or rivers, or flat lands punctuated by lakes or ponds suitable for swimming? Perhaps the ocean might seem too vast, monotone and oppressive. Waves unsettling. Is the ocean uniformly embraced by virtue of its majesty?

Apparently so. The mid-western girls flung themselves into rolling churning froth and loved every minute of it. As if the ocean is home to us all, home to the amoeba’s that gave birth to us and thus a collective womb.

Swimming in the ocean is only one of its pleasures. I regularly walk along the beach and dig my toes into the moist sand at water’s edge. I sit in a striped beach chair and read, distracted pleasantly by children and dogs and families enjoying Oceanside life. On a sunset walk early in my life in Laguna Beach, I stood at the edge of one of the many streets that end at the beach, watching surfers catch the swell, when all of a sudden they all stopped and sat on the boards facing the sun as if sculptures of themselves, and I thought it might be some sort of homage to the end of day, when a school of Dolphins passed by and I realized the surfers were giving them right of way. One of the many wonderful moments only found at the ocean.

When friends remind me that I could live ever so much more cheaply inland, I am reminded that the ocean is my ballast and today, I am also reminded of how blessed I have been to be so close all the days of my life, a blessing never to be taken for granted, and always top of mind in this place where the Pacific is southwestern wallpaper, always there for the taking for anyone and everyone, including teenagers from South Dakota on a holiday they will likely never forget.

A note from Wikipedia. The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. Its name is derived from the Latin name Mare Pacificum, "peaceful sea", bestowed upon it by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. It extends from the Arctic in the north to Antarctica in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east. At 169.2 million square kilometres (65.3 million square miles) in area, this largest division of the World Ocean – and, in turn, the hydrosphere – covers about 46% of the Earth's water surface and about 32% of its total surface area, making it larger than all of the Earth's land area combined.[1] The equator subdivides it into the North Pacific Ocean and South Pacific Ocean, with two exceptions: the Galápagos and Gilbert Islands are deemed wholly within the South Pacific.[2] The Mariana Trench in the western North Pacific is the deepest point in the Pacific and in the world, reaching a depth of 10,911 metres (35,798 ft).[3]

01 August 2009

The best moments

Think about the moments you were most happy. An event, a period of time, a phase of your life. These moments mark our passages. Markers on the continuum of our own lives. They define us.

I think back to my fifth birthday, which I do not remember at all, but I have an old film of it, and I see happiness on my face. I have been perched on a chair at the head of a kitchen table, surrounded by my extended family, my chubby tan little body capped by sun bleached hair, even a few curls there, rarely seen again, where I preside over the lighting of birthday candles and the opening of presents. There is glee in my eyes, the one and only feature of my face that remains largely the same. My mother is especially beautiful that day, tanned and freckled skin exposed by a sundress, and healthy - perhaps the last time in my life as she was diagnosed soon after with the disease that would define and ultimately rob her life.

I leap forward not to my wedding day, which was marked more by nerves and uncertainty than joy, but to a belated scuba diving honeymoon where we finally relaxed into matrimony and where my first daughter was conceived, and subsequently the utter joy of that pregnancy, filled with the delight of possibilities, an effort, the first really of my life, to be truly healthy, and the rewards of thicker hair and brighter skin and a joyful outlook, only now and then marred by the anxiety that would come to plague the early years of motherhood. Fast forward to the birth of the second daughter, and the happiness, not only to have another healthy child, but to begin to be a better mother, always easier the second time.

The first publication of written words. The completion of a degree and then another, although these were more relief and satisfaction perhaps than happiness. Moments on the beach, at family gatherings, with friends. Rare but heavenly moments where my husband and I were in sync and taking such pleasure in love.

Maple Avenue. At last, having released the ballast of the big house in the back country, Rusty’s dream house, we move to the 150 year-old Greek revival on the busy in-town street, with wonderfully tall ceilings and chestnut floorboards and five carved mantles over working fireplaces, and the sheer treasure of owning and inhabiting a house filled with history. I drove down to Maple Avenue the morning before we closed, 5:00 AM, a rare quiet time in town, and stared at the house from across the street, knowing in the deepest part of me that the house and I were meant to be. My house, my home, the address of which remains with me as my internet moniker, where holiday parties became tradition and church bells chimed the passing of each day and the first novels were written in the front parlor, while children grew and flew and, sadly, romance was lost, but a self discovered.

Meandering through bookstores, especially the great ones, these are always happy moments. Working at bookstores. Discovering new places. Time with children, with the dearest of friends. A great play or film. A great book. Long afternoons on the beach. These moments of happiness, constant but fleeting, punctuate a life.

The first moments in Laguna Beach, the neon sign marking a new life. The move. The first year of discovery, the year of making friends. The early blogs so filled with delight at everything from views to foliage to the familiar detritus of a walk to town.

I look back at my life and see what made me happy and seek more of that going forward. The best part of life, the looking forward, is now largely past – love, marriage, children, career, personal development – but the pleasure of all that stays with me. None of it has to do with work or money or status. Only moments of joy and contentment. That’s all there is and that perhaps is the essence of happiness, if one is so lucky as I to have had so many moments.

26 July 2009

Love and the Lonely Traveler

I fell in love with a place. And like all love affairs, reality sets in over time and one is faced with the choice: to stay in love, to leave, or to determine if in fact being in love, even if not true love, is good enough. I like to believe that good enough is good enough in many things – parenting for example – but when it comes to affairs of the heart, good enough may be settling for less when something else awaits. Ah, but the risks of the search grow weary over time.

There are those who suggest that being in love is infatuation. It is the thrall. The romance. Even the honeymoon. It is not the essence of love. Loving is infinite. Loving is tumultuous. Loving is commitment beyond the magic. Intimacy beyond the surge.

Love is what keeps us in place, more than what draws us. Love is often saying you are sorry and meaning it. Love is day to day, moment to moment. It is beyond any one need, beyond ourselves. It is not the all encompassing passion but the all encompassing emotion.

I speak of love of all forms. The enormous and profound love for children. The love of parents, beyond their flaws and beyond mortality. The love of spouse or partner, which sputters and spits on a continuum that too often ends too soon. The love of a pet which is easier than perhaps any other love and is thus powerful beyond explanation. The love, sometimes begrudgingly I observe, between siblings, with which I have not been blessed. The love for friends which, for me, has been as powerful or more so than others because my dear friends are my family. I have created my own set of siblings, brothers and sisters, with whom I suffer and spar and delight in their company as much, perhaps more so, than if they were born to me.

The love between people that extends over time becomes the page upon which our history is imprinted. We are witness to our loved one’s lives and in so being we perpetuate and accentuate their sense of self. Those of us with small or no families to serve as witness rely on friends and it is this distance, from those who know us best, that threaten our identity. Who are we, in effect, without those we love? Who are we without love. If you stumble into the forest without your nearest and dearest, are you really there?

I fell in love with a place. Makes no sense, but in the absence of lovers and the distance from grown children, a place opened its arms to me. A place filled with warmth, hillsides and vistas, and the ever-present power of the sun and sea. A place can welcome you home at night, but only in spirit. A place does not warm your bed. Neither does it challenge you to be your best or applaud your achievements. Rather than reflect your identity, and in so doing enhance the best in you, a place absorbs you into itself. A place has always been and will always be and you simply stumble into it and stay, or go. Depends, like all things, on the nature of love.

01 July 2009

Morning Reading

Early morning. I sit at Dana Point harbor, following a long walk along the pier, among tourists or friends meeting post-yoga or breakfast meetings, and enjoy an iced-tea while I read. I prefer fiction to start the day. Others prefer the newspaper. I have never been one to devour the news first thing in the morning. Too dour. Too much fodder for introspection. Although, in the interest of full-disclosure, my mornings begin with NPR, which is a kinder gentler voice of news and often delivered as story.

I prefer stories. Enlightenment well beyond newsprint. I do keep an eye on breaking news via the internet, although prefer the fuller version via NPR or PBS. And I remain devoted to the hard copy of the Sunday New York Times, perhaps more tradition, or habit, providing context to my week – the opening moments of the day of rest which will close with 60 Minutes, another great storyteller. Every page is another story.

I read today a novel by an unknown but accomplished writer who tends too much to looking inward rather than description. What writing teachers decry as “show don’t tell.” What booksellers fondly refer to as “navel-gazing.” This particular writer, Charlotte Bacon, tells a great deal, but what she has to say is worth reading. Still, I find myself often longing for story. This look-at-me and listen-to-me style is a by-product of the Gen Next generation more than boomers, who observe the world only through their own lens. The writing is strong, many opportunities for notes in the margins or underlining, which I still do as a way of remembering what is otherwise lost moments after the reading. I have never been good at holding on to the words, only the essence. Fiction is the purview of essence.

Voyeurism seems to me pervasive these days, but not the sort of witness that gives rise to great literature. Rather the Facebook world where we share our lives moment by moment, thought by thought, as a way of defining ourselves. Look-at-me is slipping into fiction as well, a natural evolution of the late 20th century obsession with memoir and the new millennium madness for reality television. Everything laid bare. No nuance. No metaphor. Essence eclipsed by mirrors reflecting stark action and reaction. Feature writing dismissed to blurbs. Stories to Twitter. Personal essay to blogs.

And here I am, captive to blogging now as a means of self-expression. I write only for myself, expecting a mere handful of friends to join the journey, and these are already familiar with my own navel-gazing. Have all the best stories been told? Biblical, mythical, classical literature having examined every theme, so that all that remains is derivative? Jane Austen would have been a great blogger, but what might we have lost if she’d had the choice? Then again, it’s ever so much easier to be published these days, at least for a nano-second.

07 June 2009

Shoeprints

I am traveling west to east across the country to the place I still think of as home, and the time spent in airports facilitates the transition. Even before I am beyond the borders of Orange County, differences are apparent. I am reminded of the magnificent mix of peoples in America, not only in the obvious facial structure and skin color but the nuances that define our many geographical cultures. Different accents, different body types, different ways of dressing [picture the college girl with pink cheeks matched by pink sweatshirt, pink purse and pink rubber sandals, surely not a California girl.] But of all the clues to our inner landscape, shoes, albeit captive to trends and fashions, gives much of our identity away.

When I was a girl in the fifties, traveling to Manhattan on the subway with my mother and aunt and cousins, on our way to the cultural activity of the week-end, whatever was free and most interesting to my culture-obsessed mother, we played a game they devised to keep the children occupied during the long ride. We had to guess the occupation or pastime of the people around us based solely on their shoes. This was simpler then as there were only so many shoes and these restricted primarily to season or stature.

White of course was never worn after Labor Day, unless you were a nurse, so that was a dead giveaway. Laced rubber-soled shoes were a work shoe, reserved largely for those who spent time on their feet, meaning service or medical professionals, or retailers. Wingtips, a dressier leather shoe men wore to impress, likely meant a lawyer or businessman. Soft-soled shoes for men were rarely in evidence then and perhaps the dominion of physicians. Women had even fewer choices, largely some variation of a pump or, in summer, sandals, and these generally heeled for a dressier occasion. Sneakers were worn only by children or a serious athlete. Boots were the providence of construction workers, women having given up the Victorian lace-up before I was born. High heels were rarely seen on the subway, other than in the evening hours on the way home from a night on the town. Of course, we never knew if we had guessed correctly and thus enjoyed the private satisfaction of the clever who are never tested.

Today in the airport there are sneakers of all types and worn by all ages and rarely referred to as sneakers. The laced up formal shoe remains reserved for business types. Flip flops are iconic among southern Californians and I smile in recognition. It is summer, thus many versions of sandals, although few “hippie” types anymore like Birkenstocks, I imagine those are more in evidence in northern California still. Sandals now are rubberized or plasticized or Pradaized. People tend to travel in comfort these days, so serious shoes like Jimmy Choo’s are nowhere to be found, not on a summer Saturday in the OC, nor even in Dallas where I switch planes and see yet another round of shoes, more sneakers, more plain sandals, a few fashion icons here and there. Target and Wal-Mart shoppers are distinct from Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s, the quality of the shoe, and, frankly, the quality of the clothes, a give-away, and yes, while not a fashionista myself, I know the good goods when I see them. However, the playing field has been leveled since I was a girl, in all ways, and the man in shorts and flip flops sitting next to me on the plane pulls out his Wall Street Journal and might be worth millions.

All I know for sure is that we are a melange of travelers, a complicated mosaic of life stories, which are less obvious than they might once have been. I, by the way, am wearing a low-heeled slide, my toes peeking out from the half-moon slit, and only because it was easier to pack my favorites flats then wear them, even though I wear an ancient pair of yoga pants and a linen shirt that anyone in the know will recognize immediately as J. Jill. This makes me a prototypical middle class middle aged female of indeterminate geography because I shop at a national chain. Thus, I am in some way indecipherable beyond my clothes, as most of us are in the end. Who might someone imagine me to be? Will they hypothesize that I am a bi-coastal woman who grew up poor and isn’t anymore, but lives a simple life and looks forward to a bit of time back in New York City where I will ride the subway and invariably find my eyes glancing downwards, wondering about the path each pair of shoes has taken, and what prints have been left behind.

Photo compliments of the Andy Warhol collection.

25 May 2009

Bird Songs

Birds chirp almost incessantly outside my new home. Day and night. I have never been a fan, thus cannot identify them by their song, but I suspect the late night warbler, who begins almost on cue when I retire to bed, is perhaps a nightingale, and as such, to be treasured. The internet advises me there are many different types of warblers around here. Also mockingbirds, who I am told have a plethora of sounds. Mockingbirds are territorial and this, the spring, is their mating season, their nightly music their mating call. Their music is not only loud but powerful. Persuasive I imagine to those in wait. I lay in bed and try to decipher the code. What are the repetitions? Is there a coda? What makes them stop, and start again? I try to experience the music in what is otherwise merely sound that pierces the silence of night.

I never knew that birds were nocturnal. Not until I moved to California. A similar night bird serenaded me the first weeks, perhaps months I resided at my first Laguna Beach home, as if a reminder that I was no longer in Connecticut. I did not need a reminder then, nor do I need it now, and I imagine their east coast cousins also sing in mating season and beyond, however I hadn’t paid much attention. I was always more attuned to city street sounds. My new home is surrounded by interesting foliage and it is a quieter environ, equally as pleasant to birds who long to be heard. Is it warmer temperatures that encourage their musicality? Perhaps they are in effect celebrating the pleasures of life here.

If I am to sleep, I must make friends with bird songs. I try to think of it as music because music is a lovely lullaby. Mind over matter. I imagine the bird as philharmonic musician, replete with starched white collar and cummerbund. The image makes me laugh, not conducive to sleep. Now I try to imagine the bird as a street musician, which in fact it is, a tiny hat perched precariously on a neighboring branch to capture loose change. This is equally ludicrous, and makes me concentrate on the music, rather than relegate the bird to background. I harken back to the sound of the elevated subway that paced infrequently but regularly through the night only a few blocks away from my childhood home in the Bronx, New York. I rarely awakened to the sound. I took comfort in its constancy. This is the approach that might work – relegate the sound to white noise. Like sea breezes or the chatter of neighbors on a nearby porch. However these birds wants to be heard. I must find a way to honor that. Like any other voice. Perhaps the only way to make friends with the sound is to listen harder. Listen more actively. Active listening, the lesson taught at PTA’s so that we might truly hear our children, hear what they mean as much as what they say. The lesson of good communication. Listen well. A Buddhist parable.

Who would have thought that annoying loud little birds would convey such a profound message. I am listening little birds. I am listening very hard to what needs to be heard.

Photo of Mockingbird in Long Beach by Monte Taylor.

29 April 2009

Tomorrow is Another Day

A stout woman with dark skin and hair, clothed in a housekeeping uniform, wipes down aglass paneled door, first outside, then inside, on the first of two floors of La Case del Camino, a historic hotel of plastered walls and classically Spanish tile sloping roofs that is just outside my office window. In the distance, a thick haze hugs the shore, inching to the lower rooftops and almost completely obliterating the ocean. On the expansive flat rootop, surrounded by a protective glass railing, tables and chairs sit idle, some folded against each other, while several broad white umbrellas, that will later shade guests from the sun that inevitably breaks through the haze, are so tightly closed and wrapped as to seem like a torpedo ready for launch into the sky. By sunset this rooftop will be bustling with locals and tourists who enjoy this perfect view of sunset, and enjoy being seen, but for now, the morning view is obscured and the stillness a respite from the nightlife of southern California.

I have never been much of a morning person and would have been more in tune with my body clock if I could have risen a bit later than most and worked from eleven to seven. However, life’s timepiece requires an early rise for school, work, children, and we tend to rush through our mornings as the conduit to the day’s obligations and activities. Few take the time or have the time to treasure the delights of morning, something I do more often on California time, as if an accommodation to my New York inner clock. I never need an alarm, I waken to the sunlight, ready for the day. Mornings, marked by the light, are measured by sound and scent more than action. The scent of freshly washed cobblestones on the Bronx street where I grew up, and the concomitant scent of eggs and bacon sizzling together in an iron fry pan on the stove. These delicious aromas co-mingled with the toxic odor of diesel fumes from delivery trucks and the ubiquitous thump of the loading ramp when opened from the back of the truck to start the slide of boxes of produce and bakery goods and hardware supplies to local merchants. It is a distinct and powerful sound – the opening bell of daily commerce, the energy of early morning, the powerful ring of daily momentum.

All these years later, so far from those early morning street sounds, I awaken now and then in the midst of the night to hear waves tossing their ocean froth to shore. This steady, rhythmic boom, muffled during the day by street noise, is a sweet reminder of my own journey. The power of personal momentum.

Objects or concepts moving forward are said to have momentum. Surely one’s life experience can be characterized as having momentum. Or, alternatively, stagnation. A third option: contentment. What a new friend calls harmony. Surely the goal, especially at this stage of life.

I move this week-end from the lovely ocean-view cottage I have happily called home for three years to a little house on an in-town street aptly named La Serena. One town south, just beyond the border of Laguna Beach, although I will retain my Laguna persona. After all, that’s why I’m here. No hillside or water views in my next environs. No sound of the surf. Rather the contented chatter of humming birds nesting on the hibiscus trellis atop a quiet patio garden. These will likely be my first morning sounds. Followed by the voices of NPR who accompany my every morning. They move with me wherever I go. Voices of reason. The echo of the city girl who never strays too far from her humble beginnings. A whole life reverberating through the air from a radio station.

It is these alternating sounds of morning that ground me to myself. Thus, one finds contentment within momentum. In defiance of metaphysical gravity. Or, as Scarlett reminded us, tomorrow is another day. Always another day. Therein lies the joy of morning.