October Sunday Morning

I woke up wanting to hear A Place Without a Postcard, my favorite band’s kind of forgotten album (at least among my own collection). It’s Sunday. The final day of an event-filled short weekend. Laundry is being washed, dishes are soaking in the sink. The bamboo shade has been drawn in the office where I now sit, lest the sun’s searing, penetrating beams suck away any energy I have to make this a productive day.

October breezes are welcome. Weekend afternoon naps appreciated.

My kid is growing up way too fast. I’m trying to grasp and hold on to the smidgen of childhood he has left. I think he is, too. He always says he doesn’t want to grow up, doesn’t want to get older. Well he doesn’t have to look too far to see what it’s like to be a kid-at-heart.  Being a systematized adult is overrated. I want to wear goofy hats and laugh at fart jokes sometimes too.

I was a kid just yesterday, wasn’t I? Good lord I graduated from college 20 years ago. Is that right? Yes, yes it is. But I’m not one to start moaning and groaning about the pains of aging. Physically I don’t feel a day over 25 unless I try to read something. Mentally I feel about 60. In Yoda years that’s nothing. Our brains have an immense amount of time to evolve and grow and settle.

But sometimes I want to curl up in bed while someone makes breakfast for me. Someone drives me here and there. Someone to tell me to rake the leaves, do my homework. Long days spent staring at posters on the wall listening to tapes from the boom box. Perhaps that’s the place without a postcard?

 

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Surfing with Purpose

Friday night I went to the beach alone to watch the sunset and decompress from the week’s craziness. My birthday was the day before and truly great but the full moon preceding it roused some sadness within my psyche as well as maniacal energy in the kids at school. So let’s just say I needed some beach time, if only for an hour.

I set up my blue beach chair towards the setting sun and a band of young surfers and skim boarders. They always fascinate me as I’ve never been able to surf (only tried it twice though thus far). I will not try skim boarding. I don’t want to recreate the incident in which I thought it OK for me to attempt to ride one of those ridiculous hover boards. I’m lucky I didn’t break anything or send myself to the ER.

Surfers have this underlying known mantra of being one with the ocean, feeling the waves, living for that next curl. I had many fantasies growing up in Tennessee that I could possibly be one of them some day. I often thought about a bungalow near the beach where me and my surfer buddies would live. This image has crossed my mind so many times I’m not sure if it’s a recurring dream or something that happened in a past life or parallel universe. Nevertheless I’ve imagined this house on its stilts and the colorful cushy floor pillows inside and these cool, easy-going people and that lifestyle ever since I can remember.

This life never came into fruition in that way, but I’ve gathered bits of it here and there and incorporated it. I live close to the beach and keep beach and river items in my trunk at all times. There’s always a sprinkling of sand on my floorboards. I can paddle board pretty well. And in these moments of beach-going if there are surfers about I tend to gaze out and watch them.

I noticed a few yards away from the band of them a young girl of about seventeen skim boarding by herself. She had a perfect athletic body, tanned skin, long blonde hair. And she could skim the hell out of that board. She had such purpose in her movements along with gracefulness and strength. She did this over and over, never falling off, never an instance of hesitation. And she wasn’t doing it to impress anyone. She was in her own world, accomplishing a feat not easily obtained. I reveled in this girl, this kick ass girl who was ripping it up out there and in that moment seemed to have such confidence and talent. I thought about myself at that age and in no way could compare as I hadn’t near that kind of self assurance, strength, free spirit.

But perhaps this girl doesn’t always convey or encompass these qualities. Perhaps she struggles with something deep down and this is her solace. This is the thing that keeps her grounded. Perhaps she doesn’t always have it together as she does right here on this beach with all these boys in the distance and pelicans flying low in the golden horizon. But thank God or the Universe or Neptune or hell all three she found something she’s good at. And can hopefully take that with her when she’s not in the warm gulf whitecaps.

All of us humans have struggles. Some days are more arduous than others. If we find that something which keeps us from going mad, something that gives us a freedom and sense of peace not unlike a breeze in our hair, water lapping at our feet, or personal triumph, then we should try and incorporate it as much as possible. And do it with purpose just like that young girl in the surf on a random Friday night.

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Farewell September

We came back to thank god
all is ok
but the stench of humid decay
and fallen trees
rises like a bubbling swamp
and nighttime loneliness
pricks mockingly at the heart

Flood waters and sink holes
rip and drown requisite dreams meant for peaceful sleep

Blinding sunlight falling with the spit of rain
I want to sleep next to the open window again

A disconnect with those who stayed
and those who love but far away
a rash urge to flee again
or chop off all the hair
and wish it to grow back times ten

You are not sad
and I hope you never have to contend

I’ll take it all and bear through it as I wish September to end.

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Mass Exodus

I hear the sounds of my youth outside the window, the various chirping and buzzing. And although so familiar also so distant to me now. The heat and sand and multitude of adventures of my home now for 16 years calls to me.

It was a mass exodus out of my beloved state of Florida. Those of us fleeing north in a perpetual gridlock. At one point I blew bubbles out the window to lighten the mood. 

This monster of a storm barreling towards us is imminent. And now it is hurry up and wait. Those who’ve stayed to fight it out have boarded up their homes and filled their tubs. I want to be there to hold their hand through the eye of it. But I can only send well wishes and pray to the Universe to have mercy, weaken this thing. Mother Nature in all her glory and zen can turn to desicrate within minutes. 

Before moving to Florida over 16 years ago I lived in Tennessee, in and around Nashville where I was born and raised. It will always be a part of me. Hell, I’ve got the ever-present accent to prove it. There are family and friends there I hold dear to my heart even when we go months or years without being in each other’s presence. 

My memories scatter over various times in my life. There was college and TV production shows we birthed and sent out into the airwaves over late nights and early mornings. There was childhood where the cedar trees in my backyard over looked the creek where we spent days exploring and trying to catch crawdaddies. There were the high school days of triumph and aggravation. Bonding with those of the same heart. And through it all my brother somewhere close by. 

So now I stay with him and his family in their home in Tennessee while we all wait for this storm to spin and crash its course. The course that is battering where my life is now. In all its quirkiness and troubles Florida is endearing to me and I wear it with me always. Even in the suffocating heat of August and the rainy hurricane season of September I still regard it with adoration. Various memories here, too. The birth and growing up of my son. The friends made from various other parts of the country who all came down for one reason or another. The beach, the springs, the trails, the cute little towns, all the parks, even the bland strip malls and constant flat earth. I love it all as I did when I’d come to visit in my youth. And of course the freeing opportunity to wear flip flops all year round. 

Oh Florida, and all of you there. Please be safe. Keep your walls in tact. Crouch and fight and breathe. And rise again with the sunshine waiting for another day. Those of us who fled will be back to hold and rise with you. 

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Breakfast in Milan

Green tea and almond cake
two cappuccinos and a cream-filled croissant
ordered in broken Italian
among the bright white cosmetic lights
of the Milan airport

Breakfast before our flight back home

Your happy-go-lucky smile
trumping my usual pre-flight nerves
I ordered you another brioche
and they understood.

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A Space for Travel

Cleaning my kitchen back in Florida I am reminded why I love traveling so. Even in the nicest of destinations you are stripped away from your comfort zone. And your routine, whether mundane or solid, is put on hold.

I just got back from 16 days in Italy, accompanied by my 13-year-old son, who had never been out of the eastern U.S. This was my third time to Italy, staying with the same beautiful and gracious people I met there so many years ago. Three different trips, all unique. Each during a different phase in my life.

It’s quiet here now at my desk. The usual Florida summer humidity holding steadily outside. The weeds in the cracks of the lanai having grown a foot in my absence. There is laundry to be done, floors to mop, bills to pay. There is work to go back to, alarms to set, exhaustion looming in the distance. Although I helped out in my Italian host’s kitchen (they cooked, I cleaned) it did not feel like a chore. Their lack of air conditioning use drove me insane a few times but my open window was a gateway to sounds I do not usually hear. The cooing of pigeons, lively conversations in Italian, the undeviating church bell song– became welcome melodies to my late nights and early mornings.

The back of the row of flats and the open window which carried sounds joyously.

And those early mornings. Determined not to come back with extra wobble, I jogged with every sunrise. In the peace of dawn a little world was at play– feral kitties hiding in the long grasses on the edge of fields of lavender and tomatoes. Hefty black and white magpies sitting stately on top of hay bales. Jackrabbits as big as raccoons scurrying across the skinny roads and farm landscape.

Good morning sunrise. 

The meals we shared will forever be etched in my memory, both the company and the food itself. Believe me, I have a photo of every dish I ate! There was the torta fritta, an appetizer of lightly fried pockets of dough wrapped with the freshest prosciutto, so good all our Italian friends tried to either duplicate it or find it at various restaurants and markets. There was the pasta of course, not really my favorite because it blows up my belly, but the way they cooked it with various fresh sauces, like real carbonara with egg, and spinach and pumpkin ravioli, melted in my mouth. I had to refrain from gulping my wine and coffee as the Italians are sippers. Plus you can’t really gulp espresso, not if you want any dignity.

My son finally experienced what the fuss was all about regarding real Italian pizza. He even requested it as our last meal there. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him finish a plate of food like that. And the few desserts we did have were totally worth the carbs—lemon, rich chocolate and tangy yogurt gelato, a pastry called a Susanna with ricotta cheese and dark chocolate surrounded by a biscotti type crust, a pistachio cream-filled flaky croissant.

Oh, Susanna!

Spaghetti Carbonara accompanied by Lambrusco

Fresh local yogurt from the happiest cows on the planet.

Two of my very favorite meals happened at restaurants we hiked to, enjoying the views and meaningful conversations and laughs along the way. And ah yes, the views! Everywhere my eye rested during those sixteen days there was something amazing to see. Medieval castles dotting the hillsides, Romanesque paintings on cathedral ceilings, vineyards and fields of wild flowers for miles, and white, rugged mountaintops against a clear-blue sky.

The baptisery in Parma

Lavendar and vineyards 

Castello di Torrechiara

Cremona Cathedral 

Pozza di Fossa and the Dolomiti

Possibly our favorite part of the trip occurred in a little town called Sesta, which really deserves its own story here. It’s the tiniest coolest town I’ve ever been. Nestled in a hillside surrounded by the mountains there are only 12 full time residents. Winding cobblestone streets take you past their mortared walls, which are elegantly and eerily marked with various paintings, some chipping away from weather and time. An old fountain rests at the edge of the houses, flowing forth cold, fresh drinkable mountain water. At night the paintings are softly illuminated and the neighborhood children play hide and seek among the shadows. I sat on a wooden chair and watched them as my Italian host’s father tried to communicate with me in broken English. We only stayed there for a night but that town will always be with us. Neither of us wanted to leave it behind.

Nighttime in Sesta.


Traveling, being away from home and away from all the things you think you have control over, is a lesson in self-reflection. There are things you come to both revere and loath about yourself and/or surroundings, as well as learn about yourself and other people, cultures, places. I appreciate American coffee and air conditioning and strangers who smile and wave. I revel in my goofiness, independence, and sense of adventure. I do not appreciate the loneliness I sometimes feel when the house is quiet and empty. Or the loud suburban noises reminding me of consumption and perfectionism and competition.

I do love my own neighborhood and my comfortable living space and my sometimes mundane yet solid routine. But I am mourning the flat and mountain houses back in Italy where my son and I could casually hang in that small space together without distractions or the pressing of time. Lazy moments reading. Dinner being cooked for us. Spontaneous games of Frisbee. Conversations with old friends making new memories. The promise of another day of adventure and enrichment and relaxation and effortless bonding. We must go back. Soon. And until then make time for such moments within the realm of our working days and fleeting weekends.

I am ever grateful for the space in time and circumstance in which we have to travel. Whether across the globe or down the road, everyone should have that space, too.

Take the trip, breathe it in. 

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Dumb-ass Things I’ve Done as an American in a Foreign Country

So I’ve spent the last 8 days in Italy with my son and some dear Italian friends of mine. 

The last time I was here was in ’95 and before that, ’89. I did some dumb-ass things back then. Like burping aloud whenever the urge arose, even at the dinner table as the respected elder sat at the head, grimacing in disgust.  I was young, had never been to a foreign country, and being from Antioch Tennessee not the most worldly person on the planet. 

Coming back 22 years later I have life experience and maturity on my side, despite the fact my country’s president is an embarrassing bafoon. But the Italians laugh about it and say, “Well now it’s your turn to have your Berlusconi!” 

That aside and maturity and being somewhat of a world traveler and all that, there are still things I just don’t get. Being in a foreign country you find out real fast you’re not as smart as you think you are. 

Keys
I have always had a battle with keys (and Saran Wrap and ironing) but with my condo’s simple door lock and keyless entry into my Prius I haven’t had to battle it out with these little demons of metal in years. 

When my Italian house hosts casually showed me the three keys I would need to enter their home I listened carefully and confidently, all the while knowing a screw-up was on the horizon. 

The next day after my morning jog not only did I fail in opening the first gate but was unsuccessful in reaching any of the housemates. So like some weirdo creeper I jumped the gate (which really is only waist-high) and successfully opened the next entrance. But trying to use the ages-old style key into their door was like watching, well, an idiot American girl trying to open a European lock. There was clicking and clacking and cussing for what seemed like hours. Finally the man of the house opened the door from the other side as I nodded apologetically, mumbling, “Me and keys do not get along.”

A similar incident happened the next day with the garage door. I had to go back downstairs and open it because I’d left my phone in their car. They handed me the garage door key and I happily took it as if there would be no problem opening the kind of garage door I’d never used my entire life. I’m sure the neighbors were shaking their heads as I clicked and clacked and shook and banged and cussed. 

On the fifth day of my visit I finally opened each and every lock with one try, patting myself on the back as if I’d won a major award. 

Espresso machines and other European-style kitchen gadgets
The only time I ever owned an espresso machine was in the ’90s and the one time I used it I turned the kitchen into a caffeine and milk froth murder scene. So imagine my hesitant attempt at making an espresso on my own as a guest while the rest of the house slept. Except for my son who was nervously sitting at the kitchen table. “Oh god Mom you’re gonna blow up the house.” Thanks for the confidence, kid. 

Well I did NOT blow up the house. But as usual there was clicking and clacking and cussing. This also happened with the gas stove (which I’ve never owned or used) and the microwave (which in my defense is a special one made by Barilla and only available in Italy). 

I am now able to use the stove and make an espresso, although I still seem to spill water out of the base of the thing every time. And I gotta be real. I miss my big ass cup of American joe. 

Bathrooms
I’ve popped a squat in some odd places in my days, especially on camping trips and traveling and outdoor concerts. I’ve done the peeing in a hole in the floor thing in Japan, watching the flushed toilet water go the opposite direction in Australia, and held my nose in various Port-o-johns around the southern U.S. But nothing quite prepared me for the embarrassment of honestly NOT KNOWING WHERE THE HELL THE TOILET FLUSHER WAS. 

In my host’s flat it is fairly simple. There’s a big “button” on top of the toilet tank that is pushed on the right to flush and a ‘stop’ to push on the left when I suppose there’s been enough water and force to expel whatever it is that was just, well, expelled. I felt pretty smart for figuring that out on my own the very first time. 

But then fast-forward a couple days in un bano in a very nice restaurant. We’re talking white table cloths and errything. After doing my biz, and thank god it was only number 1, I searched the top for the flusher. Nothing. The sides? Nothing. The floor. The ceiling. Niente. But wait a minute… What’s this cord dangling down from that box on the wall near the ceiling? 

The intelligent part of my brain told me that was not the flusher. The dumb and impatient and desperate part said, “pull it”.

A piercing alarm began ringing throughout the bathroom and into the entire restaurant. I hurriedly washed my hands and shamefully scooted past the kitchen where one of the chefs looked at me knowingly. And I’d never seen him before in my life. Needless to say I did not go back to that bathroom, even after countless glasses of water. 

One day we took a day trip to the seaside. Seems as though they also adopted the hole in the ground toilet philosophy. No worries. Been doing my squats. But then this happened…


What the frick? I’m waving my hand. Why isn’t the water coming out??

Oh yeah, there’s this…


A pedal. 

Dumb-ass.

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