2015: Mother’s Day, the woman who took me out my first door

Many moons ago, my mother told my father that if he was going to Europe to work for three months, well, then, despite being over forty and a new mother to two small girls, she was going as well. And so, the die for my life was cast. At 18 months old, I boarded a plane bound for Florence, Italy with my mother, her heart for adventure beating so strongly.  Know she’s never ever going to be the one left behind.

An endlessly curious observer of the world, her bravery has opened so many doors for my sister and for me. She left home for college when her father wanted her to just get married to nice boy, she got a job when she was not supposed to, she dated a wild artist (everyone knows this, it’s part of her tale), and when it looked she was never going to get married, she found her soul mate in a man who lived his own adventures, with a brain that would never tire her and who made her laugh.

Love is funny, so many kinds. My parents had an unlikely love story. They loved others who brought them both to their knees and then they found in each other the kind of love that is the foundation of everything, solid, unquestioned and constant. It’s taken me years of my own loves to understand what I lived with as a child. It’s taken me even more years to understand how there’s a part of me that was forged with an iron clad certainty, so completely loved and honored, that I never accounted for it. My parents loved us so clearly, without conditions, I never even noticed what an amazing start I had been given to this crazy life of mine.

There’s lots to say about what makes a mother great. They bring us into this world (with some help, not down on dads – my father was an incredible man) and they pick us up when we fall, they celebrate our wins, hold us tight, fill us with wisdom and then let us fly free from the nest. From what I can tell, there’s no right way to do it, lots of ways to do it wrong, but most of the time, the amazing mamas of this life, well, you ladies, you get it done and we take that magic and we make our own.

I don’t have children. I chose that path for a million reasons and none. Living a life of no regrets isn’t easy and the lack of a child might have been the one that I would have struggled with the most. The good bad news is that if I had spent my last decades consumed with what wasn’t happening, rather than being present for what was, well, there’d be lots of tears today. I hope I have triumphed over my own struggles to reclaim my past, my present and yes, my future. I live today in the present, celebrating the many small people that are part of my life and getting from them the promise of tomorrow. It’s not your garden variety motherhood but it’s pretty awesome and hopeful and so I’ll take it. My own sister’s journey to being a mother is pretty remarkable and her cub, well, he’s pretty much the best thing that ever happened to us. I can share a bit of that blanket of goodness and well, it’s enough for now. Never say never though. I am at least wise enough to understand my path is always surprising me.

On this Mother’s day in the USA, I honor the woman who is a sailing, kayaking, martini (gin never vodka) drinking, wisdom giving woman, who took me out my first door and so many more, who has given me the keys to unlock the world.

Love to my mama, on this hallmark card of a holiday, because even when I am rotten (and I still can be, so rotten), every day is actually mother’s day over here.

My mama

2015: New Year’s, Boston to the Berkshires

1 Jan – 1:23 AM – Hanover Street, North End, Boston: On every block, another post midnight cliche… the fighting couple, the restaurant filled with revelers dancing to Usher’s last year’s hit, the brand new couple-maybe-to-be negotiating with their friends to be able to take the only available taxi by themselves, Boston boys with Bruins hats, Happy Drunks, Sad Drunks, Waitresses and Valet Guys saying good night, Firemen coming back from a false call and an ancient old Italian man telling everyone of us Buon Anno. A slice of New Year’s Eve’s aftermath. The good, the bad… you get it.

The new year is but three days old. Have seen and spent time with a few of my favorite people. Have watched good movies, eaten delicious food.

Nothing has really changed. My warriors are still fighting their life battles – real life is like an icy cold shower these days. But… somehow, for once, my soul’s a little brighter and lighter this year. Maybe I am just older, wiser, more ready for whatever comes next – I wrote last year of hoping to find grace (here: 2013 year in review). I thought at the turn of 2013 into 2014 I had found it. As always, I knew nothing about grace. I love the way life teaches all of us that the moments we feel, hey, I really get this gig, another 364 days later, I am humbled. I only got it a bit – I was certainly grateful, and grace to navigate life is absolutely needed but nope, that was just the first glimpse. Grace yes, but let’s go bigger in 2015.

“Hope Smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier’…”Alfred Tennyson

Good old Tennyson – he’s on the money this year.

To heck with Peace (not really!), I want happiness this year. I want joy. I actually may want it all. I want my family and friends to win – the lottery, their health, their marriages saved, their promotions delivered, their houses to sell, more? Everyday miracles and hard won success – have at it. Fill in your blank and I will want that for you too. Peace is great but getting that glorious goodness, well, it’s better, it’s more and call me crazy, that’s what I am asking for this go round the sun. If I don’t ask, if I don’t expect it, crave it, push for it, it doesn’t happen so bring it.

Wherever this year heads, whatever my adventures may be, I can say for certain for once, it started right.  To Life, this isn’t a challenge but whatever’s in store, make it great, make it fantastic, memorable and superb. Lighten the load for some of my people.

Happy New Year my five regular readers (thank you all for staying the course). Happy New Year to my beloveds & family. Happy New Year to friends and travelers not yet met.

Most of all – Happy New Adventures people. I hope 2015 brings goodness in abundance, all over the place.

USA 2014: Washington DC and the art of art

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all – a quiet one this year but after a busy fall, it’s welcome. There’s been much disturbance in my force – either by my own hand, by actual travel or just changes. Hasn’t been my month to shine. I know… 50% of the people that read this space, you’re all unsettled and moving constantly around the globe, either really good at that or maybe new & learning your way, but in any event, possibly better at all than this gal and you’re just trying to find a place to sleep tonight, not really focused on shining, more surviving or just eating yak cheese & not thinking about the plan at all. Before, I move on – just so we’re clear… as referenced again and again = the other 50% are my family and the five / six friends I am willing to share that this space exists at all but here goes.

Been working on writing this all out for a number of weeks…. because sometimes on the least planned, least expected journey, something that speaks to the greater path we’re all on happens and the heavens (or whatever you want to believe in) open up for a glimpse into something greater than this life. It’s going to be long, I am going to digress and it’s going to be clumsy.

What a dramatic opener, right? Maybe that’s why it’s taken me so long to consider how to get this all out of my head and out here.

A long long time ago, I was child and my parents liked museums – liked is trite = my parents loved museums. My father was an Art Historian (I am capitalizing that because he was an ART HISTORIAN and frightening in his vast and endless knowledge of art), the greatest art historian I’ll ever know and my mother is/was an artist and well, no slouch herself. They met later in life so they had had time to really make art their own and for their children, well, art was never something one could opt out of – it was everywhere. Books filled the house, conversations were centered on big topics and every vacation or trip anywhere, well, museums were part of it – and not the fun ones like Air & Space or maybe Natural History… no, I am speaking of the world’s warehouses of culture.

At the ripe old age of nine, I had spent as many hours in one day in the Louvre in Paris and then the next week at the Victoria and Albert in London. I knew the many benches of all intimately and grumpily.

The good news is memory is alive and the prism of time changes our view back… through osmosis, most of it was indeed getting in there, without realizing it at all. My father was a great story teller and he knew how to sell art to the hardest audience – the under ten ones included. He brilliantly told all the scandals, the tragedies, the fame and then the falls – the falls were the best part. In other words, he told you the real deal. He didn’t clean it up – my sister and I got it all – no edits for the young and maybe that’s where my love of story telling was born. Art was just a way to access it… we’ll get back to that in a bit.

You’re asking why this post is labeled Washington DC? It’s coming.

My cow life is one of demands – not on purpose – but when I am here, I am responsible, I run a real grown up life, filled with work and people. Needing things. Time. Me. Sometimes, I just want out. I’ve said that before that’s why I travel – sure, that’s part of it. We all want escape. Adventure. Even addicted to that some days. A study in contrasts, sometimes my cow life comforts me in it’s sameness, it’s guaranteed experiences.

Lately, that’s not been so and as I just used up my big adventure card in Nepal, a weekend jaunt was all I had in my pocket. Of course I like to muddy the waters and combined it with other reasons, always a bit of work, to see old friends but when the universe has another plan, there’s no stopping it. And there was another plan.

Back to the art. All this osmosis and experiences… the tragedy was it never felt like it was mine. I could pretend now to all my smarty pants intellectual friends that I loved it. I won’t here. I didn’t. It was torture as a child – I’ll confess. Only once, was I successful and had a spectacular tantrum, all to see the white tigers at the Washington Zoo.  It was cold and grey and the tigers were asleep. There’s a message there.

As the years went by, even so, I kept going to museums. I can’t stop now. I followed my parents, my sister, I followed friends and other family who clearly loved it more than me and after a fashion, I stopped really looking at the art (my father just passed out in heaven – stay with me, father!). Somewhere between recognizing the genius – I am not bananas – (he just revived a bit up there) and still being that bored kid on the bench. That’s how my museum going had progressed. I don’t think I could have ever admitted that before because, well, it’s blasphemous to my people.

Fifteen years ago, the greatest art historian I’ll ever know died. He took with him all those stories and all that knowledge. I don’t mean to discount my mother who has proven a true match to her late husband in different ways, but he was, well, epic and his mind was, well, better than most. Art, while still not my own deal, as fundamentally his, at least I could visit all the paintings we visited when I was a child like dear old friends. Don’t believe in ghosts (well, I do and I don’t but I want nothing proven yes or no), but I do believe in energy of souls who have moved on and I swear there’s a bit of Dad in the many museums of the world.

Back to DC, I told you I’d digress. My weekend plans had unraveled. I unraveled a bit at my plans unraveling. I needed a solo weekend and the fates knew it. Quiet my mind somehow. Work out this restlessness. A dear and lovely friend rearranged her schedule to have dinner with me on Friday when I arrived. When she asked what I was going to do the next day, I said go to the National Gallery of Art, one of the culture warehouses of old, as I had not been there in a long time.

What I didn’t say or or know, I was disappointed. Life was thwarting me. I thought wanted to spend some time alone but what I really wanted was some portal to a simpler time and my noisy mind thought that could be solved at the church of my family, an art museum. I wanted a time machine. I missed my father. I missed being a child and being taught how to see art, I wanted no demands, just to be lead here and there and told things.

After a not great sleep at a nice hotel, the next day dawned. Freezing, sunny in a sort of haha looks twenty degrees warmer than it is,  I was grumpy as I walked through the Saturday morning streets of DC. Maybe a small part of me was nine year old art grumpy, mostly 43 year old woman grumpy.

Museum goers know the rustling hush of the entrance of all houses of art, the footsteps of many, with their maps and their plans of what to see. I walked in that morning and realized, %^&. I was there but what to see? Where were the favorites? My heart sunk to my feet and the missing, the loneliness of not having Dad there to direct me, to march me on, to inform me of what I should see, took me down.

I heard the crack of my heart. Bitter beyond reason, that all those visits, those lessons, those lectures not remembered, seemed gone forever. And I cried. You can all re-read my other posts. I am not afraid of tears. I had a coffee (my Cuban love of coffee) and well, no one is here to tell you what to see and you’re going to just have to look like you maybe have never ever looked before and maybe it will work out.  The art is going to just have to stand up on it own. Now, in that blurry time, I am not sure I got all of that but certainly some of it and something magical, maybe even mystical happened.

Yes to that, no to those and for the next two hours, I just looked and looked and looked. Recognized the art of old and in a clearer head, the stories and connections came back because Dad was a great storyteller and I have a very small piece of his great mind (small). I made new favorites, said goodbye to some old duds, all with a guiding hand – maybe my father’s energy, definitely his facts, maybe something greater but in my near middle age, art was finally mine – 100% mine.  The stories, thank goodness, were even better with my new eyes – brighter, more colorful, they lived.

Humanity never lets me down. Never will. And apparently neither will art, a glimpse into the divine in all of us and beyond this life. My father told me stories about pictures. People tell me the stories about the pictures of their lives. The reason why any of it stayed with me at all are the connections – art, people, places, music, things – all of those strands of this world woven together. My everyday friends will tell you, you tell me your backstory, I can forgive and feel compassion for a multitude of sins, I’ll join you in celebrating every single one of your successes, I’ll cry your tears and hold your hand, I’ll laugh with, maybe at you – I’m imperfect. I work in the field I do, I travel, I meet people because I will never be done collecting the stories, our connections, the human experience that links us all. I just have been missing how it all fit with art and how I fit with that.

That cold day in DC, I felt closer to getting it and as the weeks have gone by, it’s sorting out in my mind.

…And then I went into the Museum of the American Indian and heard a group of veterans sing hymns.  Moving other worldly hymns to the beat of the drum, synced with my heart and so ended a morning that didn’t start out that well.

The plan. Sometimes, you just have to let it unfold. My own thanksgiving. Thanks Dad, thanks artists of old and new, thanks to the storytellers, thanks to the divine in unraveling to knit it all back together again. My restless unquiet mind hushed and my heart stepped in to really listen, my eyes opened to really see.

Just a simple trip to DC, sure, that’s all it was…

Nepal 2014: Down to single digits

“It’s hard to go. It’s scary and lonely…and half the time you’ll be wondering why the hell you’re in Cincinnati or Austin or North Dakota or Mongolia or wherever your melodious little finger-plucking heinie takes you. There will be boondoggles and discombobulated days, freaked-out nights and metaphorical flat tires. But it will be soul-smashingly beautiful… It will open up your life.”

― Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

Bridges 2013: Old and New

On a lazy Sunday morning recently, I saw a story on Bartonsville, a small Vermont town that lost a covered bridge in Hurricane Irene a few summers ago . The locals refused to accept this loss and one very determined woman, as she watched the bridge wash out in the flood waters, made sure it was rebuilt.

Ever since, I have been thinking about bridges a lot – a lot, a lot – maybe too much – who knows why – hibernation has grown claustrophobic. Ice pellets are still falling from our skies. Just every so often,  a a blue skied day with a hint of spring in the air keeps me going a few more weeks. I love these hills of mine but I sure do start missing the leaves right about now and my mind looks for an escape, and if not in body, my mind sets off traveling over bridges, old and new.

And it spins on… burnt bridges, crossing bridges, all the bridges I have ever been on, wanted to see, will see someday – all of this shuffles through my mind like a deck of cards.

Burnt bridges always first. I have burnt my fair share of bridges but what if it isn’t a burnt bridge? What if the bridge was environmentally unsound and never should have been built? I know, that’s just annoying. Not a bridge that has burned – one that isn’t essential to be put back? I am talking about the non-essential temporary bridges? Shaky relationships, built on bad pilings. I know that’s a bit much but it helps me when I like this – I’d rather picture the bridge being carefully dismantled and the river/stream/ocean returning to its normal natural state than a blackened pile of embers? It seems kinder, healthier somehow.

Despite my proverbial bridge burning, my travels are littered with great bridge memories.

Watching for the Sagamore Bridge to Cape Cod, after hours of being squashed in the car with my family, a summer’s prize to be the one to shout “I see the bridge, I see the bridge” first.

Living in London (man, was a long time ago) and walking across Battersea Bridge on Bonfire night with a box of wine & a mind for mischief.

Crossing the most unsubstantial, shaky, bamboo bridge somewhere in the wilds of Thailand and having one of those moments when I wondered what the %$#* is in the river below me and wishing I passed on that last serving of mangoes and sticky rice, almost being knocked over by a thousand year old woman with three tons of things balanced on her tiny body.

Guarding my valuables on Charles Bridge, warned that I would be outsmarted by the wily pickpocketers of the fairytale city of Prague (my pocket and I made it, despite the hype)

Pausing on bridge in the Serengeti to watch what I thought would be a bunch of hippos but instead was one glorious bird for what seemed like a life time – the silence of Africa getting into my soul.

Driving over the newly unveiled Zakin Bridge in Boston on the way to a job and in the middle of a time in my life that was perhaps the making of me but for a while was the breaking of me.

The loved up and beautiful bridges of Paris for too many reasons to list because my love for Paris is at the center of my sentimental heart and where my traveling all started.

And rebuilding bridges…. back to our intrepid Vermonters.

Last weekend, I drove through my wintery hills to see an old friend that life’s silliness almost washed away from my life. The kind of friend you make when you are young and foolish, who many years later proves that time traveling is possible, who will make you remember the best and the worst of your life, and make you belly laugh and cry at the same time. Someone I missed terribly when our bridge was out – sometimes, rebuilding is the only way.

Maybe I love bridges because I am a bit like those Bartonsville folks. I washed that bridge out myself but damn if I didn’t spend the last few years wishing I could rebuild it and what I lucky woman I am that it could be. Bridges, so many bridges, to be burnt (maybe not too many more, I am not getting any younger), crossed, seen and rebuilt.

Two week countdown

Seven years ago tonight, I was sitting around a fire in the middle of the Sahara listening to music, under a bowl full of stars, so far away from everything.

Getting on that plane seems so close now and have to start really mentally preparing myself for the other side. Today, I realized I don’t even have the correct adaptor plug and that I didn’t know adaptors come in alphabet letters? Amateur.

For all my years of traveling, sometimes I just feel rusty about it all. The wrong bag, the wrong shoes, the wrong pants, the wrong book to read – but then, I am at the airport, the plane roars down the runway, I remember how you stand in line sometimes and sometimes how you just have to push like hell or be knocked over, remember that coffee that tastes like mud still has caffeine in it and please, for all that is holy, let me have remembered most of all not to drink the water (even though I always do & clearly have lived to tell about it – thank you modern medicine). It all comes back.

I am ready. Let’s do this.

Countdown to India: thirteen days

beginning at the beginning

When I was eight, my family spent a month and a 1/2 in France and England. It was the first international flight I could remember, drank my first orangina, learned my first French word – which was STOP (aggressive foreign speaking children + pool ) and slept in an overnight train berth.

My mother kept telling me to keep a journal so I could remember what we were doing, what we saw. I should have reminded her that I was just eight, about to be nine and had just learned sentence structure, forget spelling.

I found that journal a few years ago in my family home and it had one perfect entry. “In France…. went out for dinner. Goat ran by dinner place. Mom said to rite this down. ”

I do remember that day. We arrived to a gray summer dawn in Paris, proceeded to friend’s house where were staying for a few days. I took a nap and woke up thinking it was the next day and became incensed when told it was still Tuesday/whatever day of the week it was – declared I wanted to go home. (Hello, Jetlag – 10 years later we would meet again and again). My father’s friend took us out to a cafe in Montmarte for dinner – all kinds of staying up too late, exotic grilled cheese sandwiches with ham and tables on the sidewalk.

In the middle of dinner, a white goat ran up the street, chased by it’s owner. A goat, in the middle of the street, on a random summer evening in the city of light. Conversation paused and then we all returned to eating.

The next day, we went to the Louvre for eight hours…. but that’s a story for another day.

The trip was glorious… we were like gypsies – only staying where my parents had friends or family, drinking it all up, until it was time to return to real life. Even so, when I sat in the plane on the tarmac on the eve of my ninth birthday, I was thinking I can’t wait to go home.

I didn’t realize it then but that was the beginning of a life long love story of being somewhere else exotic and other , being enchanted and changed by being there and then coming home only to remember it over and over again.

That next March, all dismal and muddy, I would be able to close my eyes, and I’d be in Paris again, a white goat would run by, the summer sun would still be up at 10pm and I’d be tired and wide awake all over again, my skin shivery, my eyes wide. Moments like that can comfort me until I am able to see the brave snow drops that bloom first and spring really arrives – all electric green in her glory.

Many travel bloggers are really out there – years have been logged with no permanent address, true global citizens, could tell me hours and hours of stories. Oh how I deeply respect their journey and envy all of them. Maybe someday that could be me but right now, my life balance comes with a glorious gallivant to a far flung place (towards the top of my list…. the safe ‘stans of Central Asia) with a triumphant return to my green hills of New England, going to my local coffee spot and running into my neighbors.

Please read and share your own stories here and thank you joining me on my life’s adventure.

PS 1st international flight was taken when I was a toddler – father taught a semester in Italy – was 18 months – lots of me, Sante Croce and pigeons, beautifully made purple leather shoes.