Friday, December 21, 2012

Surrender to Snow

I am like an animal.  Alert and awake, I watch the aspens quake and the pines sway outside my lonely window.  A storm is on her way--it won't be more than half an hour now before whatever heavy bellied guests planning to pass through the sky will arrive to these woods.

.... Ah, the train, audible in its long slow whistle and the rumble of steel tracks underneath.  Wheels spin and screech.  He's running from her, quick on the rail that lay out before him, a rail that can last forever should he let it, her slow and serious clouds just a few miles behind.

The spiders have all made their way indoors, not rhythmically and regimented like ants, but like old friends sauntering into the bar.  I spot them sporadically on the walls, yet consistently throughout the hours of my day. On the blue tile of the shower they scurry in the mist.  Each tile is sleek with water, hot water instantly turned tepid against the cold ceramic.  Or they claim presence on the white textured ceiling, easily mistaken for a hole or missing paint, the spiders rest.  Their dark bodies and delicate legs are easy to spot for those who are looking.

Taking no consideration for noise, the wind continues and I can feel the distance she has travelled tonight.  Loud now, restless and perhaps a big angry (is it resentful?) she keeps me up.  I don't mind, don't mind sharing this moment, 4 am and grateful to have been chosen as a witness.  Sleep will come.  When precipitation meets cold cold air the snow will pepper down in large flakes and calmness will settle in.  Snow will bring stillness to my stirring and silence to this town.  Letting go, she will slow, and sucummb to the pause; the wind will surrender.  Her noise and relentless strength, power and thrashing speeds will eventually give way to the stillness, the silence, the surrender to snow.  

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Soul Food and Sweet Tea

When laughter latches on, for just a moment, to women, it posses more power than any gaffaw or rowdy giggle from men.  A secret world exists, one of a secret glee that lasts forever, at which in the same moment everything and nothing is funny.

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I experienced this moment with my friend Brianna and a woman we met named Tia, the co-owner of Mel’s, a walk up soul food diner in Charlottesville (C’ville) Virginia.  We were speaking of bagels and Tia recalled a cinnamon raisin bagel she ate a while back,
“Last Monday. Was it Monday?” We watched her play with the passing days in her mind. “Yeah, I ate a delicious cinnamon raisin bagel on Monday.”
“Oh, so yesterday,” I said.  We all erupted with laughter and a moment existed where three women, one standing in her apron and two seated at a plastic table with red checked cloth wiped tears from their eyes. 

While looking over the menu, and with the help of Tia, we decided on the basics of drumstick and breasts, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, and sweet tea. When we told Tia it was our first Soul Food experience, us being from the West and having no more than K.F.C, she replied,
            “What kinda food y’all got then?”

What it lacked in ayurvedic principals, veganism and food pyramid following, it made up in taste and satisfaction. Crunchy breaded chicken, peppered slaw and revamped Kraft macaroni made our best and cheapest meal that week.  Sweet potato pie (not as sweet as the sweet tea) came after; it was smooth and creamy and a tier above anything pumpkin. The crust wasn’t homemade, a fact Brianna and I would normally poo-poo, but after the friendliness of Tia and the satisfaction of our full bellies we merely pointed out the fact, not loving it any less. 

We crossed the bridge over the tracks that run through Charolottesville, Virginia, giggling and giddy. Was it the laughter still lingering from our little stolen moment with Tia? Was it the slap happy exhaustion we felt from a day well spent? Perhaps it was our letting go of diet and rules, vegetarian guilt and calorie counting and allowing ourselves to be well fed, nourished, satisfied to the soul.  Perhaps it was such a good meal at a pleasing price. 

Or perhaps it was a sugar high from Tia’s Sweet Tea. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Freedom Series - Personal Freedom

I backstroke in the shallow swimming pool after dark, soak in the stars and feel my smooth hair sway around my head with each rhythmic turn of my arms. 

Unbusy Thai employees shoot pool at the bungalow bar beside, Freedom Bar, it's called.  Shirtless, they silently smoke hand rolled cigarettes and lean across the table to pocket their shots. The absence of sweaty Westerners and the silence of low season give way to the island itself, the palm trees, the occasional screeches of their nocturnal inhabitants, the calming crash of waves. 

Heat lightning sparks in the distance and all the constellations are upside down and me, floating under the stars.  Feeling Free.

What is Freedom?  What places, people, events (or absence of) cause us to feel free? 

When asking people a common response is travel, following dreams, having no obligation, some even say freedom from their own mind.  Many define freedom as escaping from themselves. 
I've found I feel the most free when:
-walking without destination
-moving through a new place, whether it be a bus, motorbike, airplane
-riding a bike downhill, not holding the handle bars
-dancing to live music
-not feeling controlled by time nor money, people nor things

What is your personal definition of freedom? 

This is how defines it: noun
the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint:
2. exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc.
3. the power to determine action without restraint.
4. political or national independence.
5. personal liberty, as opposed to bondage or slavery

Please share your thoughts, ideas, stories and beliefs regarding freedom. 

As we are all fortunate enough to even come into this world with the opportunity to even address the ideas of Personal Freedom, let's use this as a celebration and an expression of gratitude.  Let's begin a discussion about Freedom, its definitions, its defiance. 

 What is Freedom?  What places, people, events (or absence of) cause us to feel free? 

Who do you see as being free?

What constrains your freedom?

When in your life did you feel the most free?

Thanks for your insight and your sharing!!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

As I blow more snot and wipe the hot wet surface of my cheeks I hear Maybelle in the kitchen. She comes from Singapore, she is small, well tanned and somewhere in her mid sixties.  She’s lived here four weeks and speaks terrible Spanish. 
“Otcho saymanas,” she says in a high pitched Asian accent. 
And now the only thing that bursts from my mouth out this wooden window is laughter.  I can’t help it. 
“Si, ocho semanas,” repeats Encarni, the wild haired Spanish woman with a curvy spine and an opinion on everything.  God love her, for speaking so patiently with May, correcting her bad grammar and her horrendous pronunciation. 
And God love May, for up and moving to Spain from her only ever home of Singapore, with the sole intention of leaning Spanish. 
“If you want to learn it, you really just have to be surrounded by it,” she told me one day, as if my question itself of Why she had traversed Asia and Europe to learn a Latin language was more outlandish than the reason she’d done so.

Carmen de Las Fuentes 
c/ Isabel de la Real, 11

We are a crazy mix inhabiting this convent-turned-residential house, restored from the 18th century original building.  There’s American me, Sarah the kiwi, a British girl whose accent impedes any chance of her seeming humble, the Canadian Swede called Ky whom I’ve seen thrice and heard speak once and a half; there’s Adrianna and Andrea the young Spanish girls who do everything together and therefore are impossible to distinguish and there's Antony, the English as England white haired English teacher who for some reason insists on speaking to me in Spanish as he pulls pickles and onions from a jar in the kitchen, his store bought sandwich steaming in the microwave. 

And then there is Mercedes. Somehow my favorite, yet least liked.  She is the house mom, per se, she washes the sheets when residents leave and prepares contracts with newcomers. She’s no more than 5 feet tall, has heavy dark hair to her bum and scolds anyone and everyone for leaving things out of place. Her face is old and her brown eyes are big. Obviously was beautiful once, but now a sour mood and an aura of exhaustion kill any beauty she may have had. Mercedes opens a liter of cheap beer at lunch and finishes it by dinner. I often mimic her deep low voice and matter-of-fact way of speaking to make Sarah laugh. But the truth is that Mercedes infuriates me.  I look at her and all I see is a flame burnt out, a blackened flower, an inside turned to stone. What has happened to her? What things has she seen? She came from Ecuador nearly 20 years ago and shows no fondness for her old homeland nor for the new. No food, films, music, or conversation seem to ignite a flicker of emotion.  The only time I saw her half smile was when Sarah and I told her we were lesbians and therefore should get the couple discount given to new renters. 

Roof Top Procession
Mercedes is the first person I think of when I climb off the terrace and onto the shaky shingled roof.  My mind’s eye sees her standing at the window, glaring at me with her cat eyes and asking, in monotone, what the hell I think I am doing on the roof at sunset. Luckily she wasn’t home on Sunday.  On Sundays she visits her sister and on Sunday I spent all afternoon on the roof. 
      I climbed from terrace to roof to watch an unexpected religious procession.  I heard its music first, then smelled the incense that always accompanies.  Heavy drums.  Musty air.  I dash to the roof to see from where it comes, to find out where it's headed. Young uniformed men move up the street, carrying a bleeding Jesus on a cross. A marching band proceeds it and neighbors gather behind.  
The church next door is called Aurora and from my rooftop view I can see as the wooden doors under the stone arch open and the marching band slowly enters the church’s courtyard while well dressed Spanish families gather, mobiles clicking pictures of the Jesus figure and the young men hoisting his throne, young children tug on their parents’ pants and others ring small bells in their small hands.
The distant snow capped Sierra, glossed in pink sunlight, watches us all. The Alhambra is tinted golden,  and small green and red flags wave on its fortress's top.  Evening swallows swoop black against the sky, which changes now from blue to gold to orange. 

Children in the crowd look up to find a girl, roof perched in house clothes, watching them from up high. The band’s drummers’ sticks drones out behind the sound of the bells, which pierce and clang in the tall white tower. In the tall white tower they turn, around and around.  Until they stop.
Again the world is quiet. The birdless sky falls into one shade of blue.  Boys remove their sailor style caps, cameras return to their cases, the Jesus throne has been moved inside the building. Uniformed bearers are now de-robed and congregate with their proud parents and restless younger siblings.  Sunday sets and the weekend closes.  And I’ve won one more day on the rooftop, safe from Mercedes scolding, and once again reconnected with a moment.    

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The New Neighborhood

In my new neighborhood it isn’t uncommon to hear acoustic flamenco guitar slipping through open windows.  It isn’t uncommon to feel your heartbeat steadily increase as you slowly climb the stone street hills, incense and loose leaf tea smells curl under your nose and the bright trinkets of the Arabian markets—tea cups and hookahs, stained glass lamps and rugs, color your vision.  It isn’t uncommon, either, to come across an open plaza with young people slack lining, drum beating, hair braiding, beer drinking, football kicking, the glorious 12th century Alhambra in plain sight across the way, the astounding Sierra Nevada peak just behind.
view from the old place
Laura, Soraya y yo
            I’ve spent the long winter and first part of my Granadino year in the cheaper, shorter-commute-to-work, heated apartment of a working class neighborhood called La Chana.  I enjoyed a bedroom window view of the mountains, the romantic sleepy train passing just under it. I enjoyed the cultural experience of Spanish roommates, the incredible meals made by Soraya, the Spanish lingo lessons from Laura, also a feeling that I really grasped the Spanish language having two españolas en casa.  I’m happy to say now, as the spring sun comes out to play, I am eating breakfast on the weekends up on my new home’s terrace, overlooking the city, situated just across from the Alhambra.  The new neighborhood is called the Albayzin, the labyrinth neighborhood the Muslims occupied when Granada was a somewhat peaceful mixture of Jews, Christians and Muslims.  The vibe is hippy, the tourists are many and the old convent—turned temporary residential housing—has an interesting international array of comers and goers.  My favorites so far being:
Encarnación (which literally means the flesh of God) the curvy spined, loud gestured 30-something Spanish woman who always asks what you’re eating and never hesitates to tell you what’s on her mind. 
Mercedes—the hot/cold Ecuadorian housekeeper, seemingly half my size, with dark hair that reaches her rear.  She speaks in only single syllable words and moves as gracefully as water. 
            This new location is so amazing that it often doesn’t feel real.  I smile at the tourist who passes my door as I come home, starry eyed jealousy occupies his face as I turn the key.  Yes, I live here. 
            The country that seems magical to millions, the city that’s enchanted all who’ve come, the neighborhood full of silence, music, mystery all at once. 

If you don’t love where you live, I recommend you change it.    

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

la petite fille voyage a Paris

In the little café, bright colored fold out chairs, circular tables and mosaic décor on the inside walls, I shared a too-salty quiche with Sarah.  I watched a young chef in a restaurant across the way—in and out of the push swing door, top button of his white uniform undone, bring out the wind, then plates, then casual conversation to the tables outside.  How handsome he was, and for me so seemingly French with his square jaw line, soft brown thick curls and prominent nose.  I heard French all around me and it merely mixed in with the soft stringed music in the air. 
            We’ve watched too many films.  When reality is real, the French chef, the yellow quiche, the dainty French music, present themselves I am reminded of a film—this can’t be real, I think, it’s much too choreographed.  But it wasn’t.  Touristic, it was, But authentic, it was somehow that too.
            No wonder writers, dancers, musicians, painters, poets and chefs have all come to Paris.  Beauty and aesthetic waft along the grey river, over lamp covered bridges and through wrought iron terraces.  The City of Lights is everything they say it is, becoming even more magical at night and surely causing us to fall in Love.
            It has no particular smell, Paris.  Only moments of unconscious inhalation that bring sudden scents:  croissants!  doughnuts!  lemon sugar crepes! Much as the people in the city aren’t one specific kind but short or dark, redhead or thin, hairy or pale.  
            We only rushed once in Paris.  With evening boat ride tickets and 9 and an Eifel Tower climb at 7:30, we knew it’d be a close call, and after Sarah met 4 handsome Chileans at the top, I knew it’d be closer. 
            The quick rhythm clunk of my fancy boots hitting the golden illuminated stairs fell in unison with Sarah’s behind and we swung around each flight, gaining ever so closer to the wide base of the 7,300 ton most visited monument.
We called as we flew down, faster and faster, loving the rush of the hurry, the feeling of importance—we’ve got a boat to catch!
And we did catch the boat.  We sat by a Scottish five year old and her red headed mother.  We went under gilded bridges and sighted teenagers drinking on the cement shores. 

            It’s no wonder they call it The City of Love, for there’s never a lack of seemingly happy couples—kissing on bridges, holding hands on the promenade, gazing at one another over a small table in a café.  In other moments we’ve asked how to attribute the magic, how to explain its existence —Was it my youth? The people? The place?  This time yes.  Paris, the city itself, is magical.  It’s not buzzing like New York City, or loud and alive like late night Madrid in July, nor is it friendly and cozy like the pubs and people that make Dublin.  It’s elegant.  Refined.  Existing both in the big and in the details.  A grandiose woman, over 600 years old, tall and stunning, and forever knowing so.  She doesn’t offer you her wild nights, to touch her breasts, but merely just to see, to absorb all she is with our eyes, which of course, is enough. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Day Well Spent

     There is one more day in January and today feels ever so much like a Sunday than the sunny Monday that it is.  Yesterday has been one of my best Granada days. I spent it skiing with friends Maria, Carlos, and Jose.  Maria is the sister of Antonio, whom I nannied for over the summer, so I feel already close to her and her family.
     The snow was perfect, light white fluffy powder which sent me softly down the slopes.  The sun came out and warmed our backs while the wind chapped our faces.  I skied well and remembered the days growing up at Mount Rose--my young fun parents, the days in college ditching out on class, drinking bottled beer in the lodge with boys I could eventually fall for.  There isn't really a much better way to spend the day, is there?  Outdoors and active, with people you love, you enjoy, you laugh with. Days like yesterday make it worth it.  Work hard to play hard.  Ignoring the ego's lazy pleas:  it's cold! it's expensive! this jacket's not warm enough! You can't put a price on a day well spent, the rush of speeding down the mountain, singing and shouting, revving your own engine, all by yourself.  The moments descending exist for you, your world, your own rhythm, moments you need not share with anyone, for you will ride back to the top accompanied, laughing, talking-- agreeing that the weather has been agreeable.
     Ten thousand feet above the world, where trees don't grow. A distant view of Morocco, the strait that leads there, another land to explore.

     But for now it's a cold beer in the sun, a foil wrapped sandwich, chapstick and sunscreen, and the clear reflecting hunger for more. More up, more down, more days well spent.