When I was 11 years old walking home from the corner store with a group of friends one afternoon, older boys, probably 16-ish, walked by and started chatting with us. We didn’t know them, some we had seen around school or at church. A few of us lost interest and started to walk away. When we did, one of the boys called my name and when I turned around he threw a dime at me and told me to call him when I turned 17.
Honestly, I remember being a bit flattered at the time to be singled out by an older boy who actually knew my name. I do remember giving him one of my “what the hell are you talking about” looks, turning on my heels, stepping over the coin on the sidewalk, and walking away. At 11 years old I knew nothing about the sexual implications of what he said. I thought he was talking about going on a date and remember wondering if one had to be 17 to go on a date.
When I finally heard the definition of statutory rape that dime toss came into focus. If you don’t know, statutory rate in NYS is defined as: sexual intercourse with a person who is below the statutory age of consent. In NYS the statutory age of consent is 17. There I was, 11 years old, being sexually harassed by a teenage boy and I had no idea.
In today’s world 11 year olds are bombarded with information on sex and sexual innuendo. Most TV programs have sexual connotations, if not fade to black sex scenes, and then there’s the Victoria Secret program where attractive women parade around in revealing underwear. Ads of all kinds (from make-up to cars) suggest if one purchases their product they will be more attractive and appealing to the opposite sex. Curiosity at any age can lead children to find out all they every wanted to know (and more) about sex on the internet.
Every family decides when and how to teach their children about sex. I lean toward responding honestly when specific questions are asked. The answer can be scaled down depending on the age of the child. It’s difficult, because the questions come out of the blue and catch us by surprise. I often suspect when I was answering those questions posed by my son that he already knew the answer but was checking to see if I knew the correct answer.
Unlike 11 year old me, I believe forewarned is forearmed when it comes to girls. Being able to recognize sexual harassment for what it is, allows them to stand up for themselves and call out the boy responsible. Learning early that there’s a difference between genuine interest and sexual predatory interest allows them to be prepared if and when more aggressive sexual harassment happens later in their lives.
Do you ever just go outside and take a walk around the block? My job keeps me at a desk most of the day. If I didn’t make a conscious effort to get up and move during the day, my exercise would be walking into my garage, driving to the office, walking the one block from the parking lot to the office, then reversing the process at the end of the workday.
As far back as I can remember, walking has been my therapy. In some ways, walking is a lifelong friend that I rely on. When I’m stressed, I walk. When I’m sad, I walk. When I’m bored, I walk. If it’s a beautiful weather day, I walk. The morning my dad died, I left my parent’s home and walked for a long, long time. It was a beautiful, sunny, May morning and walking helped me cope a little better with the loss, but just a little.
At one point in my life I was a runner, not competitively, just for health reasons. I ran a few miles every other day before work. I loved being outside and many of my friends ran, which often made it a social event. But, I tired of running, literally and figuratively. It was a chore to drag myself out of bed and force myself out into the early morning. There was an element of guilt involved if I turned over and went back to sleep. I joined a quasi-medical running program with some friends. We ran during our lunch hour and our vitals and progress were monitored over a few months. I thought it would help me become more committed to running, but I ended up hating taking a shower mid-day and going back to work, my hair frizzy and my make-up wiped away. Eventually I just gave up.
But, walking has always been there. No special shoes, no special outfits, all that’s necessary is the time. Why this blog about walking? Because as I walked on my lunch break today it suddenly occurred to me that the scenery I passed, the warmth from the sun and cool breeze that I felt, is what life is all about. The simple pleasures that cost nothing yet lift our spirits, get our blood circulating, get us up and out and moving, and if we walk long enough, reminds us we don’t usually need more than what we have.
Yesterday I was thinking about my Thanksgiving Days throughout the years. Specifically, the years after my son’s dad and I separated. My son was 12 when his dad left the household. The separation was not sudden and was no surprise to any of us. Although I had no regrets about the change in our family dynamics, I did feel strongly that, when possible, we should continue to do things as a family.
How that played out over the following years was probably a bit unorthodox, yet it seemed to work for us. His dad was invited to every Thanksgiving dinner and every Christmas morning brunch. I believed it was important for my son to have his family together on Thanksgiving and it was important to his dad to watch him open his gifts on Christmas morning, which meant the gifts stayed under the tree unwrapped until his dad arrived. It was easier to do that because my son was older.
During one of his teen years my son and I got up early on Thanksgiving morning, took a bus to New York City, watched the Macy’s Parade, got back on the bus and got home in time to have Thanksgiving dinner with his dad that evening. There was a lot of food preparation in my house the day before but it was worth it to me because watching the Macy’s Parade on TV Thanksgiving morning was a childhood tradition and I always wanted to see it “in person.” I think my son was less impressed, would much rather have stayed in bed that morning.
My son was an “only,” so there were those Thanksgivings when it was just the three of us around the dining room table. My siblings’ families were growing and developing their own holiday traditions. In his teen years, my son left the table to go to his room and play video games as soon as he was allowed, which left his dad and I to chat over coffee and dessert. It was all very civilized and even congenial as the years went by.
Then there were those awkward holidays when my ex was dating one woman or another. Since I had no emotional investment, they were always invited and often came to Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas brunch. It was interesting to meet the women he was dating, to watch their interactions. Since my son didn’t spend any time at my ex’s house, I suspect it was interesting for him too. As an aside, personally, I thought all of the women seemed very nice.
It’s difficult to be a single parent, to make all of the decisions that impact your child’s life. How to spend the holidays is a case in point. Looking back, I guess our arrangement was the best possible for us since we never had to take turns, or share our son on holidays and, equally as important, he never had to make choices.
My son’s dad has been gone for three years now, and like all of the people that used to sit at my Thanksgiving table who are gone now, his absence is missed. The good news is that this year, in addition to my son, there will be new people at my Thanksgiving table. People to celebrate with and to get to know.
I worry about the state of my country. Everyday there’s a news story about a decision that’s made, or a comment made by elected officials, that seem to highlight that we’re heading down the wrong road. There’s a part of me that would like to ignore the news entirely.
Today, however, was different. A story in today’s news gave me hope, highlighted the goodness in humanity, although the story is bittersweet. It was about Marquise Goodwin and his wife. Marquise plays professional football for the San Francisco 49ers. Early Sunday morning he and his wife lost a child. After a difficult pregnancy the child did not survive. What struck me were the words he used to announce his loss to his fans. How beautifully he spoke about his wife.
“I just wanna thank those who’ve genuinely prayed for @morganakamomo & myself through out this pregnancy. Unfortunately we lost our baby boy due to some complications, and had to prematurely deliver him early this morning around 4am. Although we are hurt, I am grateful for the experience and grateful that God blessed me with a wife as courageous and resilient as Morgan. The pain (physically, mentally, & emotionally) that she has endured is unbelievable. Please Pray for the Goodwin family.”
Certainly heartbreaking, but it’s a message of love and endurance. Of being there for each other through thick and thin, and although I suspect Marquise and his wife live a lifestyle most of us do not, it points out the fact that we’re all human, we all suffer, and with love and support, we all make it through the tough times.
|On this Veteran's Day I'm thinking about the courage it takes to stand in harms way. Whether one volunteers or is drafted into service, regardless of how someone ends up on the battlefield, it takes an immesurable amount of bravery to stay there. |
I grew up in a veteran's house. My dad was 29 and the father of a one year old, with a baby on the way, when he volunteered for the army. After 6 weeks of training he ended up landing on D-Day and spending the next 11 months walking and fighting his way through Europe, ending in Germany. He was literally my hero when I was a child, and even more so when I became an adult and understood what he had endured.
As an adult, I am still amazed at what a caring man he was after living through war. I understand combat changes people and sometimes wonder what dad would have been like had he not volunteered. Either way, I am sure his core values would be the same, but one has to view the world differently after combat.
When I think about what it must feel like to be in battle, I'm not sure I would be brave. Sometimes walking down a dark deserted street alone scares me, so how would it feel to be in a battle, to watch people that I know die before my eyes? It's actually unimaginable to me, which is why I have such respect for veterans. Regardless of the politics of how they eneded up on that battlefield, the fact that veterans are brave enough to step up and protect the rest of us leaves me thankful and in awe.
I am one of those unfortunates that have what is called “White Coat Syndrome.” That means my blood pressure soars when I visit a doctor. Any other time my blood travels through my veins without much attention from me. It all began years ago when my Dad was critically ill and I kept a doctor’s appointment. The nurse who took my blood pressure frowned after the reading and asked, “Do we have your emergency contact on record?” What??? The doctor assured me the rise in pressure was situational because of my concern for my Dad, but ever since that incident, my blood pressure begins to rise in the medical office parking lot and doesn’t go down until the visit is over and I’m back in my car. If there’s an emergency and my blood pressure is taken without any time to think about it, the reading is always normal.
It’s easy to understand that I’m causing the rise in pressure, but not so easy to stop. The doctor that I see once a year smiles and says don’t worry about it, but I do. He seems to think I can wish it away, but I can’t. As I get older it’s important to me not to be caught up in the effects of the syndrome which blurs my thinking process. I want a clear head when it comes to making health choices.
This is where biofeedback steps in. Please understand that I am not an expert on biofeedback, that I am very much a pupil. Don’t take my personal experiences as advice to follow. If biofeedback sounds like something you’d like to pursue, find an expert like I did.
Through the use of tapes created by my instructor and Reiki-ish sessions, I am learning to focus more on my body, rather than letting my thoughts run away with me. Over the years I’ve used relaxation tapes, but these tapes are a bit different. The difference is subtle. Messages of “trust what you know,” and suggested images of muscles moving from “Ice to water to steam” help me focus. Dropping my shoulders and imagining the space above my shoulders, concentrating on relaxing that space, also helps me focus.
I’ve not arrived in that spot where I can confidently walk into a medical office without worrying about my blood pressure reading, but I am getting there. By the way, biofeedback is helpful with other issues too, including learning to stop smoking, drinking, losing weight. It may seem a bit new age-ish, but a lot of new age techniques are actually ancient and have proven effective for centuries.
Winter is creeping closer every day. Even with the heat on at home, there’s a chill in the walls and every night before I go to bed I pull the bedroom window down a little lower than the night before. I wore my winter coat for the first time yesterday, an omen of things to come. The thermometer outside my kitchen window read 21 degrees on this early November morning.
Walking yesterday I noticed most trees are naked now, their clothes in piles on the sidewalk. Small yellow leaves still cling to some branches and sparkle in the sunlight when the wind passes by. I can relate to their obstinate resistance, although I also know ours is a losing battle. Winter comes whether we want it or not.
There are less people walking now, and some that I pass are members of the resistance, it’s obvious by their insistence on wearing shorts, their hands shoved into their cotton hoodies. The braver among them still wearing flip-flops. The weather forecast indicates it’s not going to get out of the 30s tomorrow and a work colleague mentioned we may get a “wintry mix” this weekend, sounds ominous to me. The good news is it will be the weekend so I have the option of staying home. It’s those “wintry mix” weekdays that challenge me and my little car, especially now that the clocks were turned back last weekend and its dark driving home.
One would think that living in the Northeast for a lifetime, I would be used to this time of year, would have grown to accept the change from fall to winter. When I was a kid it was easier to accept because winter meant Christmas and gifts and sleigh riding and ice skating. Now it means deciding if the storm outside is severe enough to stay home from work and, if not, it means driving in the snow.
Makes me wonder why I was in such a hurry to grow up all those years ago.
This morning I saw a photo online of the actors who played Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies. It was taken on their first day of filming and they looked so very young. The photo reminded me of how much I enjoyed reading the Harry Potter books.
I didn’t read them when they first came out, the fourth book was in print before I gave in to the nagging of a coworker who kept insisting they HAD to be read. So glad I finally caved in. The books were as spellbinding as the potions Rowling created. Each was read in less than a week and although I couldn’t wait to get to the end of each book, the end always came too soon. The most difficult part of reading the final two books in the series was the wait between printings.
I am still in awe of Rowling’s imagination. In awe of Rowling’s ability to construct a culture out of thin air, to dream up plausible spells, magical creatures, credible villains, vulnerable and brave child heroes, and a theme of good versus evil that slowly unravels across the pages of the series. Rowling writes convincingly as the stories follow the young heroes from children to teenagers, where black magic and situations become more intense as they mature.
Of course, I watched all the Harry Potter movies (more than once), and they did not disappoint, bringing to life Rowling’s story in the best possible way. The actors the casting director selected lived up to their descriptions in the books and carried the series well on their young shoulders.
As I write this, rereading the Harry Potter books from first to last sounds like a good idea even though I know the story well. The richness of Rowling’s writing is what calls me back.
Life is filled with highs and lows. Those moments when we’re anticipating the next wonderful thing to come around the corner. A new relationship, new job, or a concert with that entertainer we’ve always enjoyed, maybe toying with the idea of buying that new car. I’m not even going to speculate on the lows, we all know what they are.
Lately I’ve been trying to live a conscious life in The Space Between the highs and lows. Paying attention to the small, everyday occurrences that keep my life moving forward. Things like preparing and enjoying a meal and cleaning up the kitchen afterward, making the bed in the morning, choosing clothes and makeup that reflect more of who I am rather than who I want people to think I am. Putting the TV program on hold for five or ten minutes when the littlebrowndog jumps on my lap and wants my attention, cleaning when I see something needs to be cleaned, rather adhering to a schedule.
In the past I’ve pretty much moved through The Space Between on autopilot. Did what needed to be done, and, like a robot, never feeling the warm dish water, the softness of the blankets, the warmth of the littlebrowndog’s fur, the delicious smell of onions cooking, the outdoorsy smell of laundry right out of the dryer or off the clothesline, the sweet herbal smell of chamomile tea, paying attention to the feelings that bubble up while listening to music on the radio rather than simply allowing the music to become the background soundtrack of my life.
I’m finding that paying more attention to The Space Between enriches my life, assures me all is well and worthwhile. If you don’t spend much time in The Space Between, try it, you may enjoy it.
|Like most medieval cities in the Tuscany/Umbria areas of central Italy, Assisi is built on a mountainside. As our car approached the foot of the mountain, following a road that wound its way upward, I was struck by the impression that Assisi seemed to cling to the side of the mountain, rather than sit on solid ground. The illusion was reinforced by the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi, a mamouth, two-story structure that seemed to soar away from the mountain and out and over the Tiber Valley below. The Basilica was built in honor of St. Francis, a Catholic saint who founded the Franciscan religious order in the town of Assisi in 1208, an order whose members still live on that site. Sections of the Basilica were destroyed in an earthquake in the 1990s, some artifacts lost forever, but it is rebuilt now.|
We found out that morning that Pope Francis was visiting Assisi that day and the thought of seeing him added to the anticipation. After parking we walked down a long, narrow stone street, private apartments on either side, each identified by beautiful tall and wide wood doors that looked centuries old. There were no sidewalks, and steps rather than porches led to the doorways that were only a foot or two off the road.
The street emptied into a bright courtyard with a large water fountain in the center. Curious about when the Pope would arrive, I approached a town police officer to ask if he knew the arrival time. Unfortunately, he did not speak much English, but we did manage to communicate enough for him to tell me the Pope's estimated time of arrival. We continued to wander down narrow stone streets that led to the center of town. At one point, we noticed three black high-end cars in a row barreling down the street at us, we barely had time to step into the safety of a stone archway before they sped by. Later we heard it wasn't just the Pope who was in town, but leaders of most of the world's major religions were in Assisi to attend an ecumenical conference. Each with their own ontourage of security guards.
As we wandered through the town, more high-end cars sped by us, always a middle car protected by the other two, always at speeds inappropriate for the location. We tried to get near the Basilica, even thought we had found a route tucked under stone steps, but the police, this time what appeared to be the Polizia di Stato, or state police, dressed in a much more military style than the Municipal Police Officer I had spoken to earlier, stopped us and asked for our "ticket." It seemed tickets were required even to stand on the street where the Pope would pass.
Since we didn't have tickets, I wandered farther up the hilly streets and came upon a small square bordered by a spectacular panoramic view of the Tiber Valley and the Basilica Di Santa Chiara, or Bisilica of St. Claire, another catholic saint born in Assisi who began the order of Poor Claires. It was lovely to sit against the stone wall in the afternoon sun and look out over the Tiber Valley that went on and on, ending at the horizon. Clusters of small rooftops outlined towns sprinkled across the valley, the rest was muiltiple shades of green under a bright blue sky.
For the first time I tried a gilato, ordering it from a friendly older man standing behind a small counter in a sweet smelling bakery. He did not speak English very well but in cases like that pointing at what I wanted worked just fine. After deciding I like ice cream better than gilato, I tossed what was left of the treat into a trash bin and began wandering back down the hill to meet my travel companions.
As I strolled leisurely down the hill, I was rushed to the side of the stone roadway by a local police officer who saved me from being run over by yet another small grouping of speeding cars. This time the cars stopped 20 feet in front of me, backed into a space in front of an ancient columned building on my right, and parked. Curious, I leaned against a nearby car to see who or what would step out of the well protected middle vehicle. As I stood there doors opened on the two end cars and four men, two in each car, stepped out. They were characters out of a James Bond movie. Young, athletic, good looking, dressed in expensive suits, the expected white twisting cord running from their ears to some undisclosed location in their suits where their radio transmitters hid. They walked slowly up and down the street, checking everyone out, talking into their hands.
As I leaned against the car, not 20 feet from the center car that held the person they were so carefully protecting, I realized the body guards were systematically moving everyone, having them step back, step away, then I realized they were not moving me. I guess 70 year old women are not seen as a threat in Italy, it was like I wasn't even there.
I waited. Finally, a muscular, bald-headed man, maybe 45-50ish, in an expensive suit stepped out of the center car, looked around carefully, spoke into his hand and the four younger men who had wandered up the street returned to the area. If the four younger men were supporting characters in Bond movies, this new man reminded me of a Bond movie villain. Still I stood there, feeling like I stuck out like a sore thumb, still unnoticed. A few minutes later another man stepped out of the center car, obviously the man they were protecting. He looked like no one I had seen before, 50-60ish, slim, another expensive suit, a cellphone held against his ear. Unimpressed and somewhat disappointed, I continued back to meet my travel companions.
After a leisurely lunch at a small cafe, we wandered back to our cars and returned to the villa. Assisi is a beautiful town and I spent a lovely day there, but in my mind, whenever I hear Assisi mentioned, it will always remind me of "The Day I Did Not See The Pope."
|As soon as we stepped out of the car in Anghiari, the breathtaking panoramic views of the Tiber Valley far below the parking lot gave us a glimpse of what lay ahead. Crossing the town road we walked through a stone archway built centuries ago into the side of a fortress wall. We found ourselves at the top of a few dozen wide stone steps that led down to an area of small shops. On either side of the steps were quintessential Tuscany doorways dressed with pots of colorful flowers. I remember passing a large cat resting under a bed sheet drying in the breeze.|
Other than us, there were not many tourists walking about, just an occasional local resident going about his or her daily business. We stopped at a few of the shops along the way, and followed the old stone walkway down to a small, open courtyard. There we had a lunch of pizza and wine on the outside terrace of a small restaurant. The pizza was delicious, different from the hometown pizzas I am used to that are buried under melted cheese. While the Anghiari pizza did have small circles of melted cheese, the flavors of fresh basil, garlic, peppers and onions were prominent too.
After lunch we left the courtyard and followed two from our party who had spent time in Anghiari previously. We walked up a steep walkway until we reached the old fortress overlook that wound around the top of the town.
When I realized we were looking down at the Tiber Valley far below, images of Roman Legionaires marching in mile long formations immediately came to mind. I remember seeing a cemetary in the distance, outlined by those iconic Tuscan cedar trees. Like an arrow, a road ran straight across the valley, through small communities and onward until I couldn't distinquish it anymore.
As we slowly walked around the overlook, we came upon an area where actual homes were cut into the ancient stone at the top of the fortress, just across from where we stood on the overlook. Some had small balconies, most had small potted gardens outside the front doors. I so wanted to walk up and knock on those doors and ask if I could see inside. I imagined the inside would be cold and dark, but also imagined they cost a small fortune and recognized they were most likely quite comfortable.
Eventually, we wandered into a green garden in the back of a pub where we found a table overlooking the Tiber Valley with a view that went on forever. We ordered snacks and for some unknown reason a Baileys Irish Cream whiskey over ice came to mind, so I sat sipping my Irish whiskey while enjoying good company and the remarkable Italian countryside.
When dark clouds began to roll in and rain seemed imminent, we reluctantly collected our belongings and left that little piece of paradise heading back to our cars, now walking UP all those charming stone steps that greeted us when we arrived, another cardio challenge.
We went back to the villa where we spent a quiet night of conversation and maybe some wine. Then off to bed with visions of the next day's trip to Cortona where the author of the book, "Under the Tuscan Sun," found her dream home.
To be continued ...
|When it was suggested that we go to the Polenta Festival in the nearby town of Monterchi on our first night in Tuscany, I wasn't sure what Polenta was, but even though I was tired, I didn't want to miss anything, so off I went with our small group prepared to be surprised. Surprised I was. First by the uphill hike to Monterchi Center where the festival was being held, and then by the food and good humor of the people there.|
We pulled our cars into a parking lot at the foot of Monterchi Center, climbed out and looked up ... and up ... and up. Looming overhead was what appeared to be an ancient stone foretress, lit up with a welcoming glow of lights, music drifted down toward us. Crossing the street we had a choice of walking up a winding roadway or climbing up centuries old crumbling stone steps. Since climbing the very steep steps would be quicker than following the winding road, we opted for the steps. They definitely provided a good cardio workout before we stepped onto a stone roadway hugged on either side by connecting stone homes that had remarkable panoramic views of Tuscany at night. One thing that struck me about the homes is that some had sliding glass doors cut into the old stone walls, the juxtaposition of such contemporary architectural detail forged out of ancient architecture made me stop and take notice.
We followed the road upward (there's a lot of upward in Tuscany) until we reached a landing in the road where tables displayed local crafts for sale. Making a left hand turn, we continued up 40 or 50 more feet and finally arrived at Monterchi Center and the location of the festival. The small center seemed more like a courtyard, surrounded by ancient buildings and what looked to me like a stone fortress, updated and used as a community center. Small shops lined the courtyard on one side, and on the other long white open-sided tents were set in rows, inside of each tent were long family style tables, and sitting at each table were friendly groupings of people enjoying polenta dishes in white throw-away bowls. Bottles of wine were set at strategic positions along the tabletops.
We stood in line and selected one of three polenta dishes offered and carried our warm bowls off to find a place to sit. I had chosen a mushroom dish that proved to be outstanding. Others chose the dish made with wild boar. I've never eaten wild boar and didn't feel any real need to start then. The mushroom concoction was layered over large chunks of polenta, a form of bread that reminded me of cornbread and I ate every morsal, washing it all down with a few bottomless glasses of Prosecco. Prosecco is a white, sweet, bubbly wine that it turns out goes with just about every food choice I made while in Italy.
The other people at our table were congenial and we all tried to communicate as best we could. Each speaking more or less English and Italian. A small band and a woman singer were set up on a corner of the courtyard and entertained the crowd.
Eventually it was time to leave and walk back down the ancient stone steps to our cars. Without a doubt the walking down was much more comfortable than the walking up.
Back at the villa we said our good nights and each wandered off to their room, sleepy after a long day of travel and a quiet evening of good food and drink. I was careful to pull my bed away from the villa wall and tuck my slippers under the covers at the foot of the bed having been told that scorpions like the warm stone of old villas and seeing small scorpions is not uncommon. I am happy to report that of all the wonders I saw in Italy, a scorpion was not one of them.
In the morning we were off to the gorgeous Medieval city of Anghiari.
To be continued ...
|The train ride from Venice to Florence offered an opportunity to relax. Nowhere to go but short swaying trips to the food counter a few cars away for something to munch on between naps, then later a glass of wine. Other than the town names printed in large letters above the ticket stands, the station stops along the way did not look much different than the stations back in the states, including lots of graffiti at the more urban stations. The graffiti was interesting; opinions on love and politics, and occasionally a poem, all presented in six foot high scrolls of vivid colors.|
That day we were only passing through Florence on our way to the villa, and there wasn't much of the city to see from the train station. We waited outside for our van to arrive and take us to a small stop about an hour's drive away where our rental cars waited. I was struck by the presence of armed military personnel standing on guard outside the Florence train station, not far from where we were standing. Young men in camouflage uniforms and army boots, assault rifles slung over their shoulders, purposefully eyeing travelers as they passed by. I had seen that type of military presence while traveling in Israel, but seeing it in Florence surprised me.
The transition from the van to the rental cars happened relatively quickly, then we were on our way to cover the final 50 miles of the trip from Venice to Tuscany. We headed toward our villa on the outskirts of Monterchi, which is located near the border between Tuscany and Umbria. The scenery began to look more and more like the Tuscany I imagned. Miles of hilly fields outlined by tall cypress trees, an occasional small village, populated by centuries old houses, fruit stands and a pub or two. A travel companion who had been in the area many times before told the story of her and a few female friends stopping at a pub and being ushered out ... men only.
As we drove through Monterchi, fields of sunflowers that had bloomed a month before and were now being harvested for their seeds passed by the car windows. Occasonally, a tall yellow face would beam at us in the now browning sunflower fields, the last of the late bloomers. We passed tobacco fields, and olive trees before taking a left turn over a small country bridge, then the cars climbed a hill on an extremely narrow road that slowly passed old stone homes and a small stone church that serviced the 80 or so people who lived nearby. What I thought must certainly be a one lane road turned into two lanes when a friendly driver came down the hill right at us. Turns out it was the owner of the villa, who we chatted with for a few minutes before he was on his way.
A few more feet up the hill and we pulled into a small grassy parking area on the left. In front of us was an old stone wall entwined with bright green ivy and to our right, an old, but not quite as old as the stone wall, wood building that looked like a garage. Turning around we saw our villa across the narrow road. The late afternoon sun still warmed the air and washed over the villa, brightening the red flowers in terra cotta pots and outlining the stunning stone building. It was as we imagned, a quintessential Tuscany villa made of large brown and biege stones and mortar, a heavy wood front door off the stone landing. The villa was built on the hillside and once inside the beamed ceiling rooms, the views from the windows offered miles and miles of postcard perfect images of the Tuscan countryside. (See photo below)
Settling into my upstairs room, I pushed open the windows that overlooked wide stone steps that led up to a flat landing where an inground pool was surrounded on three sides by shrubs and plantings and a panoramic view of Tuscany on the fourth side. The beamed ceiling parlor and dining room were large and welcoming and the kitchen was modern and well equipped, a window above the sink looked out onto the road and our parked cars.
After unpacking and settling in, we realized we were all hungry and because we were told Monterchi's Polenta Festival was that evening we hopped in the cars and drove the few miles to Monterchi's town center, an ancient town first mentioned in the history books in 1095, and built on a hillside approximately 1200 feet above sea level. What a beautiful night it was.
To be continued ...
|By the time we left the apartment for our last dinner in Venice, I had showered and changed, no longer the drowned woman that appeared at the apartment door a few hours before. The rain had stopped. It was getting dark out. The streets were still busy with tourists and the warm yellow light spilling out of still-opened shops marked the coblestone streets ahead of us. Again, we had vague directions on the location of the restaurant that had been suggested to us, but we could already tell by the volume of tourists that we passed that it would not be as private as the charming restaurant from the night before.|
We enjoyed the leisurely stroll down streets lit by lamplight, and occasionally lingered at the storefront of a shop that catered to those much wealthier than me. We retraced our steps a few times, but eventually found the old wood front door that led into a narrow, wood paneled bar area that led to a handsome maitre d' dressed in a sharp black suit and tie, the opposite of the apron clad gentlemen from the night before.
Even though it had begun to drizzle again, we opted to sit at a beautifully appointed table under the side canopy that abutted the square. My memory of that dinner is more of the fun and conversation than of the food. As we lingered over wine I looked across the square and discovered someone was projecting a movie onto the side of a four story building, the images towering over the square. I could vaguely hear the dialogue but it didn't matter. The image of the square, the movie, the people walking by, the hint of fog under the lamplights will remain forever in my memory. I do remember the bill being a bit shocking, but in the end, it was my last night in Venice, and worth every euro.
Wandering in the general direction of the apartment, we lingered a bit on the streets of Venice, but I was weary from my wet afternoon adventures, and knowing we had to be on the dock at 7 a.m. the following morning forced me to give in, return to my room, pack my luggage and climb into bed. My travel companions advised me to turn on the air conditioner in the room as it would drown out the street noise. I followed their advice and slept well, although when I saw the photos taken of me the next morning as we waited for the water taxi, I can't say I looked very well rested. If you're wondering who carried my 40 lb piece of luggage down from the third floor that morning, it was a very gracious and strong gentleman, a fellow traveler.
At precisely 7 a.m. we climbed into our water taxi and made one last trip down the Canal. Almost as though it was a consolation gift for the regret I was feeling having to leave beautiful Venice so soon, a golden morning sun appeared from behind the buildings and its reflection on the water followed us until we reached the dock where we disembarked and headed to the train station.
As we waited for our train, the imagines of Venice were gone from sight, hidden on the other side of the station. I consoled myself with the thought that the train would take us to Florence, where we would connect with our ride that would take us to our rental cars that would take us to our villa in Tuscany.
To be continued ...
|We were exhausted when we finally climbed the stairs up to our rooms that first night in Venice. It was difficult to give in to sleep in such a wonderful city with all the sights and sounds it had to offer, but we had been traveling since the evening before, a long flight from New York's JFK to Milan, then a train from Milan to Venice, a quick stop in our rooms, and back out again to explore the streets of Venice and find that enchanting little restaurant. |
My travel companions planned to get up early and explore more of the city, but I felt a need to sleep in, and ultimately was glad I did. It was warm that September night so I opened the bedroom window and lay there listening to the voices of the people passing by on the street below. Eventually, I drifted off to sleep only to wake in the dark to what sounded like gunshots. I lay there holding my breath while trying to make sense of what I was hearing. The loud voices persisted as did an occasional "gunshot." While I never did have the courage to get out of bed and look out the window, eventually I realized someone close by had a TV on and the volume was turned up. It was two or three in morning, and I was wide awake. As the morning dawned outside the window, the loud TV still blared away, and the morning sounds of delivery trucks and doors being opened and closed joined the campaign to keep me awake. That's when I finally fell asleep.
It was mid-morning and the sky was grey when I woke. A half hour later my travel companions returned from their morning walk. By the time I left the apartment it had begun to rain. I stopped at the shop on the corner and stood at a small counter where I ate a freshly baked croussant and drank freshly squeezed orange juice and watched people traffic as it passed by the big picture window. When breakfast was finished, it was time for the adventure to begin.
I popped open my umbrella and headed down the narrow street toward St. Mark's Square, occasionally bobbing up and down as I walked to avoid poking passers-by or being poked by someone else's open umbrella. Small leather shops, tiny restaurants, and a few footbridges later the narrow street opened into enormous St. Mark's Square. Rather than "opened" into the square, maybe a better word would be "spilled" into St. Mark's Square. By the time I arrived at the square it was pouring rain.
It was warm that day, which meant even as my summer dress began to soak up the rain, and my open sandals sank into the ankle deep water that had accumulated in spots around the square, I wasn't chilly at all. I believe it was around that time that I decided to abandon my umbrella, give into the rain, and enjoy Venice. As I stood in the square, the magnificant St. Mark's Basilica in front of me, I had an epiphany and decided to include my open, yet useless umbrella, in every picture I took that afternoon.
As a result, I created a complete and unique album of that afternoon in Venice. My open umbrella in front of St. Mark's Bascillica, next to the ages old lion statue protecting the basilica, on a bench in front of the square's beautiful clock tower. I left the square via a side street, and found myself standing on a footbridge. In the distance two more footbridges spanned the same canal and I recognized an imagne of the city I had seen before, but couldn't place where. I placed my umbrella on the footbridge and stepped back to take a photo as a filled gondola rolled closer. The wind picked up and moved the umbrella but luckily two young men were standing nearby and grabbed it before it went airborne and conked the gondolier on the head.
Moving on ... I turned the corner and there in front of me was the magnificant Grand Canal. The water was choppy in the Canal, making the hundred gondolas and water taxis parked at the blocks-long landing bob up and down precariously. Across the lagoon I could see the beauty of Venetian architecture on display. It was pouring rain, my hair and dress were soaked through, but it truly was a stunning moment.
Gradually, my umbrella and I made our way down the Grand Canal landing, crossing untold bridges, passing hotels and buildings from the 14th and 15th centuries, stopping near statues, at the water's edge, sometimes just stopping to drink it all in, always taking photos. I had only a vague idea of where I was in relation to where I was staying, but it didn't matter.
Eventually, and quite reluctantly, I wandered down a side street that I thought would bring me back to my apartment and, with a few minor detours, much to my surprise, it did. I climbed the stairs, and entered the apartment to find my travel companions, my completely dry travel companions, waiting for me.
To be continued ...
|Close your eyes and imagine Venice, Italy. What did you see? |
When I closed my eyes and imagined Venice before I visited there, I saw water, lots of water, and an ancient white city at the horizon. I saw gondolas, lots of gondolas, steered by men in stripped shirts as they slowly made their way down narrow canals surrounded by stone buildings with window boxes filled with geraniums (red, of course!). I saw those gondoliers duck as their small boats floated under carved stone foot bridges.
I wasn't sure I would like Venice, there were conflicting stories about the quality of the water in the canals, but felt everyone should visit Venice at least once if the opportunity presented itself. The reality of Venice was different than I had imagined it. Venice is much more beautiful than I expected.
When I heard we were taking a water taxi to our rooms in Venice, my mind immediately went back to the image of crossing a wide sea with the ancient city on the horizon. I was disappointed when our train pulled into the station in Venice and found no horizon, no sea to cross. We pulled our luggage through a small building and out the otherside into a small park-like area. The first glimpse of the Canal came just beyond the park where boats were moored.
As we approached the docks and more of the Canal appeared, I began to understand the uniqueness of Venice, the beauty there. In order to climb onto our taxi without ending up in the Canal, I was forced to pull my eyes away, but as soon as the water taxi began to back up I leaned against the back railing and drank in the scenery. There were moments when I couldn't really concentrate on what I was seeing because the amazing notion that I was actually in Venice, kept filling up my head.
As the taxi followed the twists and turns of the wide Canal, so many images that I had never seen before, but were so familiar to me, passed by. Bridges and terraced homes, old, old hotels with outside dining areas, ourageously expensive boats tied to wabblying docks, all below a blue gray sky. It was five o'clock traffic on the Canal: water taxis, bobbing gondolas filled with tourists, private boats, and utility boats, all barely missing crashing into each other, the drivers waving and greeting each other in words I did not understand, yet to my eyes, all so exotic and wonderful.
A very friendly young man met us as we left the taxi and escorted us to our rooms a block or two way from the canal. The space was nicely appointed and generous enough to accommodate the four of us, but, much to my dismay, located on the third floor. The young man carried my 40 lb. piece of luggage up the stairs as I wondered how I would ever bring it down again. What followed was an unplanned and unexpected magical evening.
As you probably know, much of Venice is packed with tourists. In an effort to get away from the crowd we took advice from our strong young man and left to find the out-of-the-way restaurant he described to us. We wandered the back streets of Venice, the less traveled, quiet cobbled stoned streets that wind through neighborhoods with no water in sight, and are lit by doorway lanterns. A few times we were willing to give up the quest for the illusive restaurant, but instead followed the lead of a fellow traveler who assured us she was closing in by using her phone's GPS system. Then, finally ...
We walked down a cobble stoned alley, quiet in the night, turned a corner and entered a beautiful, large, square courtyard surrounded by old stone apartment buildings. There, in the farthest right hand corner of the dimly lit square we saw a canvass-covered dining area attached to a small restaurant. Inside old men in white aprons tied around their waists smiled warmly and welcomed us in. We settled into a long candle lit table under the canopy in the disserted courtyard under the stars, and ordered wine and more wine, and unknown dishes off the small menu. Much later, our bodies warm and comfortable, we wandered through the quiet back streets of Venice until the streets became busier and we knew we were close to our rooms.
To be continued ...
Why the littlebrowndog?
My adult son was to be a co-owner of any dog we selected that afternoon at the Humane Society, and while I was attracted to three other dogs, he kept walking back to the large cage where the littlebrowndog was throwing a hissy-fit. Granted the 50 pound, pitbull mix was handsome, but he was a pitbull and the only thing I knew about the breed came from the bad press that seemed to follow them around.
I persisted and made three separate trips outside with the other dogs I was interested in, but each was rather lackluster and one was a bit scary. Finally my son convinced me to try the loud littlebrowndog on for size and I reluctantly agreed. The young woman from the Humane Society staff who accompanied us assured me that any dog they displayed for adoption has passed rigorous testing, including testing for aggression. As soon as we entered the fenced in area and sat down, the littlebrowndog picked up a stuffed toy and literally threw it into my son's lap.. At that moment, I knew any protest I might make against adopting this energized bundle of muscle and fur would fall on deaf ears.
After completing the paperwork, writing the check, and buying a new collar and leash. the three of us stood in the Humane Society parking lot wondering what to do next. The littlebrowndog silently refused to get in the back seat of the car by sitting down on the pavement. It took a few minutes of coaxing to get him to climb in and I took that reluctance as a sign of an intelligent dog. By the time we arrived home twenty minutes later, the littlebrowndog had a new name, Riley, along with a new home.
Flash forward four years. My son has moved into an apartment,and has begun a job that requires him to work long hours. The thelittlebrown dog and I are roommates and have become fast friends.
It's all about a shabby old couch. You know that feeling when you walk into a room and realize for the first time that the furniture looks worn-out, that the material on the chaise you have spent years relaxing in is looking thin and shiny, that the couch the littlebrowndog has made his own looks a little too doggy. Once that thought creeps in, it becomes impossible to ignore, impossible to pretend. Once the decision is made to buy new furniture, then, as any animal lover knows, the problem becomes how to replace the shabby couch while acknowledging that particular piece of furniture really belongs to the dog.
I decided to use the three weeks before I began painting and updating the room as a transition period for the littlebrowndog. My first step was to buy a new, orthopedic, dog bed and to clear out a particular spot in the room for the new bed. When I brought the new dog bed home, it was love at first sight. When I laid it on the floor, Riley immediately climbed on top and began sniffing. Throughout that evening he alternated between the old couch and new bed but when push came to shove at the end of the night he curled under the slipcover and fell asleep on the couch, leaving his new bed empty in the dark.
That's when it occurred to me that the slipcover was the littlebrowndog's "Linus blanket," so I went back to the store and bought him his very first blanket. Who knew there are such things as blankets made exclusively for dogs? As soon as I unwrapped the blanket, Riley took it from me and dragged it with him wherever he went that night. I was in the kitchen and called him. He came running down the hall dragging his new blanket behind him, it was absolutely adorable to watch. But, again, when he fell asleep that night the blanket was abandoned for the couch and slipcover.
And so we wait ...
A few days have gone by now. Riley still drags the blanket with him most of the time and when I find it in a heap on the floor I pick it up and thrown it on his new dog bed. During the evening he goes to the bed and lays on the blanket, then wanders back to the couch. I have noticed that he has taken to tossing the new blanket over his head, attempting to cover himself with it. Two more weeks and his shabby old couch will be gone. I am optimistic that the littlebrowndog will be ready for the transition by then.
It's less than two weeks until Christmas Day here near Albany, NY, and although I'm certainly not complaining, there's not a flake of snow on the ground. The grass in my front lawn and backyard is still green, and the ground hasn't frozen yet. Last year at this time we had already been pounded with one major snowstorm after another and we were already measuring our snowstorms in feet rather than inches.
A part of me loves this unusually mild weather. Arriving at work in the morning without my heart beating out of my chest because of the stress from driving in a Nor'easter snowstorm, is a relief. Not worrying about getting stuck in my own driveway at the end of the workday because the city snow plows dumped a foot of snow at the entrance is a relief. Falling asleep at night without trying to decide if I should make the attempt to get to work the next morning, if it's worth risking life and limb, is a relief. It's even appealing to hop in the car and go Christmas shopping without listening to the day's weather report first, do I need boots, gloves and scarves? What time will the snow start? Better be home by then.
BUT, on the flip side, there is something special about Christmas shopping with snow on the ground, something magical about watching fresh white snow flakes sparkle as they drift down under the streetlights, and anyone who has ever seen a fresh layer of soft white snow shimmering on the ground would be hard pressed to choose snow-less Decembers instead.
Perhaps the issue here is choice. If I could choose to be a kid again, home from school, my snowsuit warming on the hot radiator, mom searching the house for my one lost mitten, then pulling on my navy blue rubber boots over warm wool socks, stuffing the pants leg of my snow suit into the top of my boot, struggling to force the ankle strap to close, then a snow-less December would be unthinkable, unacceptable, inconceivable!
So, I sit here conflicted. The adult me would be happy to get through the entire winter without a drop of snow, but the kid in me, oh, the kid in me, wants to find my round metal snow saucer, drag it across the street and fly down the mounds of snow in reckless abandon laughing alongside my childhood friends while our cheeks grow red and our socks collect tiny ice balls of snow.
Growing up in the northeast I’ve seen all types of winters. From mild winters where southern breezes blew unfrozen dirt on the side of the road into small spinning cyclones to winters of relentless snow storms and brutally cold temperatures that assaulted my exposed skin and left red blotches that took hours to fade away.
Whether or not any particular winter was problematic for me over the years depended on where I was in my life. When I was a child the more snow the better. As a young woman riding buses to work the height of the snowbanks and snowy sidewalks were my main concerns. There were winters spent in a warm house playing with a growing child all day when I hardly paid attention to the weather outside the window. As a single working mom supporting a household, a frozen car that wouldn’t start and miles of slippery, slushy roads between me and my place of employment caused weeks of winter stress. Throw in a few unexpected school closings and the stress level soared to new heights.
Of all the winter memories I have accumulated over the years, there is one that replays during winters like this one, winters when the snow piles high. It’s of a sunny, yet bitterly cold winter morning some time back in the 1950s when my family lived in what was then a new large apartment complex built on a flat hilltop near my hometown.
I have a very vivid memory of watching my dad walking through snow up to his knees in front of our building that winter morning. The wind lifted the ends of the scarf wrapped around his face and he walked with his head down as he trudged through the deep snow toward the plowed road that circled the development. He followed that road down to Campbells Avenue where he met a ride to work. He usually drove our car and I don't remember if it wouldn't start or if it was simply buried in snow. I don't even remember if I was old enough to go to school or if it was a snow day but I clearly remember standing in front of the warm radiator below the frosted window in my second floor bedroom and watching dad until he disappeared from view.
Why do I remember that morning so clearly? Maybe it was the first time I truly understood his responsibility as a parent and it became a lesson I never forgot.
|This morning I’m thinking about the destruction in Israel and the Gaza Strip as a result of the ongoing bombings between their borders Certainly I’m thinking about the situation from a humane point of view, all of the people injured and killed, homes and communities lost, lives disrupted, but also from a personal perspective. |
Half a dozen years ago I visited Israel for three weeks on business and discovered a beautiful country. It’s difficult for me to think of today’s bombings and the damage being done as I remember my time there. Yet, the possibility of real danger existed and we were reminded of that possibility by the armed military personnel we passed walking the streets of Jerusalem and the glimpse at the charred skeleton of a bus parked behind a garage.
It was daylight when our plane flew over the Mediterranean Sea approaching Ben Gurion Airport, the waters of the clear Mediterranean sparkling close below us. As soon as we disembarked from the plane I realized that my preconceived notions of what Israel would look like were light years away from reality. There was not one man dressed in flowing robes in sight. Not even one camel. Instead, a young Arab man dressed in jeans and sneakers and wearing a baseball cap welcomed us to our air conditioned tour bus as we walked out of the modern airport. Driving away on a newly built highway, passing stylish business and apartment buildings, I was struck by how clean and new everything was.
Watching the reports of the fighting there today I remember how small Israel is. In approximately five hours we traveled the length of the country, from Eilat, a luxurious resort town at the southern tip of Israel on the Red Sea wedged between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to the Golan Heights at Israel’s northern border with Syria and Lebanon. In that short period of time we traveled from the barren beauty of the Negev desert (where we did indeed see men in flowing robes racing across the sand on camels) to the lush green hillsides of the Sea of Galilee.
Before visiting Tel Aviv, I imagined a mysterious and exotic city based on stories and books from my childhood. Tall potted palm trees and streets filled with camels (there are those camels again) where merchants behind booths sold their wares were a part of that fantasy. In reality, Tel Aviv is a bustling modern city with blocks and blocks of businesses and luxurious hotels on the Mediterranean Sea. There are outdoor booths where merchants sell their wares today, but those booths line modern city streets and the merchants are dressed in summer dresses or bermuda shorts.
Old Jerusalem, on the other hand, is exotic. It’s exotic and mystical and mysterious. It’s the birthplace of the world’s major religions, how could it not be. The golden Dome of the Rock that shines over Old Jerusalem represents so many different things to millions and millions of people. Today The Dome is a Muslim shrine, its turret occupied by armed Muslim guards overlooking the Western Wall where Jews come to pray every day. Muslims believe the stone inside The Dome is the place from which Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven. The Jews believe the stone under The Dome is the same stone where Abraham prepared to kill Isaac, some believe it stands over the sites of both Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples.
For the Christians of the world, Jerusalem represents the city where Jesus taught, was crucified, died and was buried. Just outside Jerusalem’s ancient walls and across a valley is the Garden of Gethsemane and The Mount of Olives. We looked at the Palestinian city of Bethlehem in the distance while standing on the grounds of a Jewish kibbutz on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
While in Jerusalem I spent much of my very limited spare time sitting in a chair and looking out my hotel room window at the walls of Old Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock and the Mount of Olives in the distance behind them. One can feel the blessedness of the city and its surroundings.
To the north of Jerusalem is the Jordan River, Sea of Galilee, Nazareth, Tiberius, Haifa, Akko, all ancient touchstones for many of the world’s religions and all archeologically significant. Watching the week's news I feel a sense of sadness for the human loss, but I'm also fearful that these ancient places could be destroyed. Losing just one would be a tragedy.
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