life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond


Leave a comment

It’s about the adventure

In my life after being a park ranger, I have become a kind of Renaissance woman, cobbling together a humble living as an editor, yoga instructor, and songwriter (the latter has been mostly pro bono since moving to Belgium). Editing tends to be slower in the summer, as the bulk of my work comes from students during the fall and spring semesters of the academic year.

 

To keep myself busy, I pore over animal adoption sites in search of a dog I might be able to convince my husband to let me bring home. I study texts about philosophy and the path to enlightenment, I practice handstands at the wall, and I go for walks. I also do a lot of writing.

 

Since we are on a limited budget with my work being part-time and even less than that during the summer months, I have also begun researching different foods that I would like to be able to eat but cannot really order at restaurants, essentially because we don’t ever go to restaurants in order to save money. My most recent epiphany was that I should try to make dim sum. This revelation came when our favorite couscous stand was absent from the Sunday market in Boitsfort, so we opted for Thai and Balinese. Both were super overpriced, which completely bummed me out. The Thai food was disappointing all around, especially toward the end when I found a hair in mine (this is never fun). My husband suggested that I pretend I didn’t see it, but I was not very successful in this endeavor. The dumplings from the Balinese stand cost 8 euros for four tiny morsels. The shrimp dumplings were amazing, but the friend sesame ones filled with red bean paste were pretty sad.

 

All told, we spent 7 euros for the sad Thai noodles, 8 euro for the dumplings, and 5 euros for two glasses of white wine. The wine won on all fronts.

 

Maybe, I could just figure out how to make the foods I love to eat? I suggested to my husband.

 

Go for it, he acquiesced.

 

Ok, so 20 euros on the Sunday market lunch was nothing when compared with the small fortune I spent at three different Asian markets and two western grocery stores this morning and afternoon. My morning trip was shared with all of the adorable, old ladies of Watermael-Boitsfort, who left their carts sitting in the middle of the aisles so it took me a while to wind my way from one end of the store to the other.

 

My day of adventuring began with a visit to an Optician for an eye exam. Learning about inner workings of the health care system in Belgium is also a challenge, particularly when French is not my native tongue. I had a lovely time visiting with the Optician and asking all kinds of questions about the machines and method he used, all the while trying to decipher the code and meaning of his explanations, which were, of course, all in French. It turned out that I had gone about the eye care process in reverse, as most people began with a visit to an Ophthalmologist to test for tension in the eyes, glaucoma, and an overall medical exam, which an Optician could not provide. (At least, the eye exam was free!)

 

Learning the ins and outs of a foreign culture is an exhausting adventure, which requires figuring out public transit systems, following maps to find venues that Google claims exist but in actuality have long since closed, and beyond. My stamina is not what it was ten more more years ago when I last lived in a foreign land; however, I somehow made it through an eye exam and a visit to five different grocery stores (the sixth had come up as an Asian market but did not look like through the windows, so I didn’t go in because at that point I was beyond exhausted). The final stop of my day was also the highlight. I found the Alimentation Asiatique and quickly befriended the owner.

 

His name was Wang, and he was delighted when I asked if he could help me find some items.

 

Do you like Chinese food? He asked me.

 

I do! And I love trying new things.

 

Then you must try the radish. I just opened some. You can try first before you decide to buy it.

 

He went into the back and brought out a pair of chopsticks and bowl of radish coated in something red, which looked spicy and dangerous for my sensibilities.

 

Can you use chopsticks?

 

I can, but I am not sure I hold them correctly.

 

I modeled my chopstick holding stance.

 

Good enough, he said. He was now speaking in English, explaining that he spent three years studying in New York. Apparently, most of the English speakers who came into the shop had British accents and had a hard time understanding his English.

 

I have a hard time understanding a British accent.

 

Me, too, but it’s so wonderful.

 

It is! I love British English accents, I agreed.

 

I gingerly picked up a piece of the radish, brought it to my mouth, and smiled.

 

It’s so good! Definitely spicy.

 

And it’s very cheap. Everything here is much less expensive than other places because we sell to restaurants.

 

He continued: Where are you from?

 

The United States.

 

Where?

 

Arizona, but I have lived all over. I started listed states on my fingers.

 

You are very nice. You smile all the time. I can tell it is because you travel a lot.

 

Well, not everyone who travels is nice.

 

True, but we can ignore the people who aren’t nice.

 

Yes, we can.

 

I went through my ingredients list, asking about different items. When I asked him if he had red bean paste, he lit up, handed me a can, and told me how his mom would put red bean paste into things she cooked as a treat for him when was a child.

 

We then spoke about our moms and how their cooking is wonderful and full of love.

 

My mom lives far away, so now I have to try cooking things myself, I said.

 

Wang was all about helping simplify my cooking experience. He suggested that I buy frozen dumpling wrappers and already made ravioli.

 

I explained that I really wanted to try making the recipes myself but that I would buy some ready made to put in the oven if I failed so I could pretend that I had made perfect ones.

 

When I asked about bamboo steamers, he said not to waste my money and drew me a picture for how I could put water in a pot and place another bowl inside, covering the pot so the boiling water would create vapors to steam the dumplings.

 

IMG_1313

Later in the evening, when I had spent hours attempting to make the ravioli with the flour I used because I couldn’t find wheat starch, I told my husband that I probably should have listened to Wang.

 

He laughed.

 

We had a good time trying everything. While the proverbial fruits of my labor were a far cry from the photos in the recipes online I had been following, I felt pretty good about my first effort.

 

It’s all about the adventure, my husband said. You should be getting out there, exploring and meeting people.

 

It’s true, I said. Thank you for braving my most recent adventure!

 

Advertisements


2 Comments

It’s all for the best

It can be challenging to translate jokes and slang from one language to another. Sarcasm can be especially tricky. For example, in a recent post about first impressions of Rome, I made a comparison that was what I would call “tongue in cheek” (i.e., a bit facetious and not entirely serious) comparing driving in Rome with driving in Boston as a result of so many Italian immigrants settling in Boston so many years ago.

 

When my husband and I met an Italian friend and her partner for dinner on our last night in Rome, she asked me about it, and I tried to explain that it was really a joke and not meant as a criticism of this city that now holds a very special place in my heart. We also had a long conversation about a phrase that my husband and I use quite often to help ease the stress from challenges we have been experiencing this year.

 

My husband has told me many stories about his grandpa Earl, who used to say, “It’s all for the best” when something perhaps less than enticing came to pass in one’s life.

 

We talked about this phrase and how it would be used for both present and future in the English language but mostly in response to something happening that runs counter to our hoped for outcomes for the plans we make in life.

 

For example, I have said to my husband many times, What if my house doesn’t sell this summer? To which he has responded, It’s all for the best.

 

It is really all for the best? Perhaps, not, but the phrase denotes a kind of glass half full mentality. Would it be more pleasant for my house to sell? Of course. Is it the end of the world if it doesn’t? I suppose not, and my husband assures me that at some point it will come to pass, it is only a matter of time.

 

I know from experience that most of my life plans have to come to pass in very different (often wildly different) variations than I could have anticipated. I think I would generally agree that the way my life has unfolded in reality fits with Grandpa Earl’s philosophy, even if it takes close to a decade at times to see the benefit.

 

For some experiences in my life, I think the glass is not necessarily half empty or half full. It just has water in it. There is not necessarily any meaning to derive, unless perhaps the meaning for my house in Alaska is that it is better to rent than to own, which at this point I would tend to agree with.

 

Our friends tried to find an accurate translation for this phrase, but we never did find one that offered the same overall meaning. I think this is reasonable, especially considering how very different Italian and English are and that the cultures and experiences of each individual are different. I asked my husband about his Grandpa Earl’s life and how this phrase might have come to be, but he wasn’t sure. Regardless, it is a meaningful way to keep someone alive in spirit. I wish I could have met Grandpa Earl. I would certainly ask him about this phrase.

 

Speaking of phrases and their meanings, at the airport in Rome yesterday I noticed a man wearing a t-shirt that I found fairly alarming and more than a little offensive. We were waiting in line to prepare for boarding when I saw a relatively short man with a serious beard sporting an olive green t-shirt with the words KILL ALL PIGEONS in capital letter and the image of a pigeon nestled between them.

 

The capital letters alone were fairly shocking, and the message was one that cut straight to my creature-loving heart (not to mention that I was travel weary and exhausted from the extreme heat and humidity). Only a few days before, I had shared my admiration for the city pigeon (aka, the Rock Pigeon, formerly known as Rock Dove for birders). I had been talking with a colleague my husband had met at the conference he was attending at John Cabot University. The conference was titled Beyond Humanism, and presenters shared ideas about transhumanism, posthumanism, and the state of the Human Enhancement Debate (my husband’s topic of choice) in the ever-changing relationship between humans and technology.

 

It was the first night of the conference, and I had joined my husband and his colleagues for a pizza dinner. He had already presented on the panel with two other men, who were also from Belgium. We all chatted together for the entire evening, which was lovely. When I noticed a lizard on the wall, I exclaimed in delight, disrupting the conversation and shifting the subject matter to the rights of other beings.

 

My husband’s colleague, who was seated to my left, admitted that he had seen the lizard earlier on the floor between our seats but had decided not to say anything because he couldn’t remember the English word for lizard. I suggested that the next time he could just point because I would always be to witness a creature of any kind. We then began talking about animals and the different creatures we had seen in the river Tiber, the state of pollution in the river, which apparently is the repository for household waste even today in Rome. He told me how in one city (I can’t remember if it was Brussels or in France) there were so many pigeons that the police decided to shoot many of them. A man thought it was wasteful to just kill them without eating them so he ate one, and he got very sick. My husband’s colleague said something about all of the horrible things that must be inside of city pigeons, and I began my own so soliloquy on my love and admiration for these creatures.

 

They’re able to survive such incredible odds, I had shared with my husband’s colleague. Just that afternoon, I had witnessed a pigeon with one knobby foot, hobbling around and another with thread or something wrapped around one foot (this can lead cause them to lose their toes if the thread gets wound so tight it cuts off circulation). I would’ve loved to of free the pigeon’s foot, but I would have had to get closer to it, and this was likely not going to happen.

 

Pigeons are so amazing, I continued and then spoke of how people in the United States refer to them as “rats with wings,” much to my dismay. I think it’s because people don’t want to see the beings on the edge that are struggling to survive. For me, this is no different than turning a blind eye to homeless people.

Ah, my husband’s colleague had responded. So you must be the post humanist who believes in the rights of animals, people, and machines.

Well, I pondered, I’m not sure about the rights of machines, but I think I can find sentience in almost anything. Trees, plants, animals. Why not machines?

 

Back to the airport, now that you know where I stand with regard to pigeons, you can imagine my horror at seeing such a blatantly violent t-shirt.

 

Watch him sit right next to me on the plane, I whispered to my husband.

 

Well, he didn’t sit directly next to me on the plane, but he was sitting in the aisle seat in the row opposite us, which was close enough in my estimation. When we landed and I was standing right next to him, waiting to disembark from the plane, I grappled with whether or not to say anything to him. It was one of those moments where I knew if I didn’t say anything I would always wonder what would inspire a person to wear such an awful article of clothing.

 

So I asked, first in English and then in French (when he didn’t respond), You don’t like pigeons?

 

To which he responded (in French), Not particularly, no.

 

Why? Did you have a bad experience with pigeons?

 

No, I just don’t like them. I don’t like gulls either.

 

Do you have a t-shirt against gulls as well? I asked.

 

No, but if they made one I would certainly buy it.

 

Ah, well, I am going to create a t-shirt that saves, Save the pigeons and gulls, I said.

 

He laughed at this, andI went to share my theory of how amazing pigeons are for being able to survive in such horrible living conditions.

 

He replied that he thought pigeons were dirty and plague-riddled and therefore not worthy of living.

 

Well, it is not their choice to live this way, I replied, and that they are able to survive is incredible. I find them to be extraordinary! This comment elicited a laugh and a smile from the woman who had been sitting next to me and was now standing in the aisle beside us.

 

He seemed to consider this but was unrelenting in his distaste for pigeons and gulls.

 

To each person, their preference, I said, but I love pigeons and all birds. We ended the discussion on a positive note, each wishing the other a pleasant evening and continuation of travel.

 

I had wanted to say that there were many people who lived in similarly awful conditions as pigeons and who it was easy to judge, though I am certain it was not their choice or specific desire to wind up living on the street, but I can’t always figure out how to form these phrases in French at the opportune moment so I didn’t say anything. On the bus ride from the plane to the terminal, I figured out how I could say this, but at this point I wanted to focus my attention on getting home as quickly as possible.

 

 

As the bus sped its way to the terminal, I thought about pigeons and other birds that people despise like gulls and starlings. I tried to imagine despising them as well, but I could not find any room in my heart for hatred. Now, if I could only find this way to love all people unconditionally, I would be farther along on my path to enlightenment. I am not there yet, though.

 

I think what I found so shocking about the shirt was the wearers ease with taking the life of another being. I suppose that being a kind of human version of the Lorax, I would find this disturbing, whereas the wearer thought of it as a kind of joke. I did not find it funny at all, however. I found it to be gravely serious and also indicative of a propensity for humankind to place itself at the top of the proverbial food chain and with the right to determine the fate of other lesser species and systems, which are really only on this planet for us to consume and use as we will. In my opinion, his shirt could have had the same words but replaced pigeon with homeless people, Jews, Muslims, etc. and communicated a similar sentiment, but I am not sure he would have been able to see the connection.

 

I think what it comes down to is choice and perspective. When I was growing up, the father of one of my childhood friends in our town was a member of a committee whose sole purpose was to find ways to get rid of the Canada Geese that were “polluting” the beach at a local lake, thereby “ruining” it for the people who wishes to enjoy it. I don’t think there was much admittance for the fact that humans had created the perfect habitat for them, so there was no longer any need for them to migrate. I also don’t think the members of the committee considered that the lake had been home to Canada Geese and many of species of birds and animals long before the arrival of humans or that these creatures had as much of a right to spend time on its shores as we did.

 

No. Sadly, the geese were just a problem to be solved. As a child, I didn’t really question the perspective of the committee or even the matter of its existence. Since paying closer attention to the lives of other species, however, my own perspective has shifted to embrace the rights of all beings to a sustainable, thriving existence. Knowing that this shift is possible, I know that there is hope for humankind. I just wish this shift could happen for more people, particularly those in places of power, who could just as easily wield their influence toward a healthier, happier planet as they do toward the opposite extreme.

In Rome, I witnessed both ends of the spectrum with regard to the human dynamic and treatment of other animals. The saddest moment for me was bearing witness to a dog that was lying in full sun on one of the walkways bordering the River Tiber. The dog was chained to the wall on a short lead, and while there were bowls with both food and water, I could see the large swath or red, raw skin around the dogs neck.

 

Can I take him? I had texted my husband.

 

My husband had responded, There seems to be more animal suffering the closer to the equator you get as well. Nepal and Mexico come to mind.

 

I had walked across the bridge, stopping periodically to watch the poor creature. At one point, I was not even certain it was alive until I saw one of its ears flick at what must have been an insect.

 

When I reached the other side, I looked across and saw a tent city under the bridge with dogs in similar states of neglect (at least the others were in the shade). Overcome by emotion and a feeling of helplessness to put an end to the suffering of another being, I began sobbing, tears streaming down my face. I am sure my exhausting from the heat of Rome in July didn’t help. I gave in completely to the intense sadness welling up from within, and I wept all the way to the university to meet my husband for lunch.

 

My husband consoled me by talking about the Buddhist approach to the suffering of the world and how it can be an opportunity to work on ourselves. He told me that while he knew it was a more difficult path to walk, my sensitive heart was something that he deeply loved about me.

 

I got you a present, I had told him after I had finally stopped weeping.

 

Does it have four legs, he had asked, laughing.

 

Yes, but it fits in my bag, though there are definitely four-leggeds here that I could have fit into my bag.

 

I periodically inform/remind my husband that I wanted a wolf dog ( I had not so secretly been hoping that perhaps I might just come across one in need of a home as I wandered the streets of Rome during our visit to the ancient city).

 

Life is long, my husband always responded, and I would harumph at him.

 

A few days after the incident with the dog by the river, we were walking to meet friends for dinner at a restaurant in a neighborhood near our hotel. Walking by the river, we had passed a woman who was placing tins of food down for several stray cats.

 

Grazie, I had said to her as we passed by, and she had said something in Italian. As she left the cats to their meal, I heard her say to them, A domani (Until tomorrow). My heart filled with such joy to witness this interaction between human and cat. In the wake of a world filled with suffering, this small moment might appear inconsequential; however, to me it is gestures like this that provide hope for the world.

 

I think there must be an appreciation and even affection among Romans for those creatures beyond human beings for their own history claims its origins from the brothers Romulus and Remus, who suckled at the teat of a wolf at the tenuous beginnings of their own lives.

In Rome, I had witnessed many pigeons posing for the camera by sitting atop the many beautiful fountains located around every corner of the city. People were more than happy to take their photos, reminding me that not all people wish to see them dead.

 

When I do see mistreatment of animals, I try my best not to place judgment but simply to bear witness to what I see and to send love to those creatures so evidently in need, but it is not easy. I know that each being is on its own path and there is often not very much I can do to create ease for its journey, so I try to send love from my own heart to those beings and to help them as I am able. I could easily have chosen the path of a street animal in another life. Perhaps, it is part of the reason why I feel such endearment toward other creatures inhabiting this life path.

 

I know that I cannot save every creature or fix the suffering of the world. However, I can and will continue to pick up trash, carry still living abused creatures to a safer, quieter place, and remove those who have suffered a less pleasant fate from the street to a more peaceful resting place.

 

I’m not sure that putting an end to all of the pigeons would encompass Grandpa Earl’s phrase.

 

I say, Vive les pigeons!

 

Long live the resilient pigeon!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Leave a comment

Words for Rome

We are arrived at our hotel last night after waiting for a long while for the shuttle.

 

It will be here in 25-30 minutes, the woman at the shuttle desk told us. This estimation was closer to 50-60. When we did meet the shuttle driver, he checked everyone in, and we followed him in procession to the shuttle bus.

 

The drive was hilarious. I have begun to craft a theory that Boston is the way it is—crazy driving, loud, pushy people always in a hurry—because of all the Italian who immigrated there so long ago. And who wouldn’t be in a hurry to get to Rome, a city where one feels instantly a part of a beating heart. With each beat of this vibrant city, I feel a pulsation of life energy move through my entire being. There is divinity here, of this I am sure.

 

The shade is blocking my view, I said to my husband. A few minutes later when the driver raised the shade up, I realized that I might have been better off with it down. I cringed as tiny cars made insane moves between lanes, narrowly escaping utter destruction by milliseconds.

 

 

Holy hell, I inhaled after one particularly close call.

 

Focus on the pretty flowers growing along the side of the highway, my husband suggested.

 

Flowers bloomed in whites, pinks, and reds from wild green plants all along the highway and in the median. It was strange to see highway signs with Firenze and Napoli written on them; however, the song on the radio—Everybody wants to rule the world by Tears for Fears—was very appropriate, and we sang along as we approach the heart of an empire that once did just this.

FullSizeRender (5)

Once in the city, I was surprised to see that the design and motion were reminiscent of cities I have driven through in Mexico and Costa Rica. The lines and direction markers, if they existed at all, were definitively faded from the pavement. My husband noted that everyone on a motorcycle was wearing a helmet, however.

 

I wonder if there is a law about wearing helmets? He mused as he pointed to a motorcycle waiting at the light at the cross street we passed. There were three people on the bike, one of who was a toddler with a pacifier, who was tucked between dad and the handlebars, his hands holding on confidently and focus straight ahead. This kid was right there in the present, being a Roman with all of this little might.

 

As with all European cities, and pretty much most cities I have visited around the world, motorcycles wound in and out of traffic. There were no actual lanes that I could derive, and cars and buses followed similar protocol to the motorcycles (hence, my earlier comparison to Boston, where similar chaos ensues at all times on all roads in and around the city).

 

Elizabeth Gilbert’s word for Rome may be sex. So far, ours has been humanity—loud, teeming, writhing humanity (the plane ride was just an introduction). The color? Red. When we were at the airport in Brussels, checking in for our flight, I saw a woman with a red sleeveless shirt with a serious ruffle coming down the center. She had on satin sandals with heels that tapered to a point and a red blazer.

 

She has got to be going to Rome, I thought to myself, and I was not at all surprised when she wound up sitting next to me on the plane.

 

Another word for Rome: fancy. When we walked out to the arrivals area of the airport, we were met with a crowd of people, waiting to meet whoever they were waiting to meet. The women were dressed to the nines, bedecked in slinky dresses, heels, and jewels.

 

We were thankful to be the first shuttle stop and checked into our hotel. There was an additional tax per day, along with an additional fee to add me to the room. Ah, the hidden cost of travel. Still, it was a relatively small price to pay given that we only had to fly a short two hours from Brussels to get here and not a transcontinental flight, followed by transatlantic flight, from Arizona. I will pay to avoid jet lag any day!

 

We dropped our bags in the room and exhaled with relief before heading out into the night in search of dinner.

 

Here is another word for Rome. Pizza. It was pizza we went in search of for dinner.

 

Let’s look for a place with people. If it is packed with locals, we will know it is a good sign that it is a good place to eat.

 

The first place we found that was packed with locals was unfortunately also hosting a crowd of about 50 more people waiting outside. No one seemed to be in a hurry to eat. People stood chatting and laughing, holding cups of beer and wine.

 

Not being Roman and also fast-approaching a meltdown from lack of food, I turned and marched in the direction of another pizzeria we had passed that also had people standing outside. We arrived and figured out that we needed to talk to a large, older man. He stood behind a cash register and held reign over the clipboard with the waiting list and generally seemed to be in charge of everything that went on at the restaurant. Every time a waiter left the kitchen with an armload of plates with beautiful food, they stopped by the old man so he could note all of the various dishes. It didn’t seem to be a particularly efficient method, but I imagine it was effective.

 

The pizza making, on the other hand, the staff had perfected down to a fine art. It was simple and beautiful to witness. Every few minutes, a shorter, rotund guy with black, horn-rimmed glasses would lay out several thin rounds of dough. He would then spread cheese, vegetables, and whatever other ingredients the clientele had requested. The pizzas were then put into a fiery oven interior, cooked, and returned to the counter. The waiters then took upwards of five pizzas each to the eager customers.

 

We watched this scene as we waited to be seated. At one point, a grandmother holding her chubby grandson stood beside us. Every time one of the younger waiters walked by, he could pinch the boy and say something in Italian, which would set the grandmother to laughing. It was like watching an authentic play unfold before us, incredibly endearing and altogether and beautifully Italian.

 

We waited a total of about 20 minutes and were then led to a table. Like the blogs about cheap but delicious places to eat in Rome, this restaurant was nothing fancy. There were sports jerseys on the walls and photographs of futbol players, but it was otherwise pretty simple. The food? Amazing!

Granted, we were pretty ravenous, but the bubbly white wine served cool with the pizza funghi porcini that literally melted onto my tongue when I took my first bite were beyond delicious.

 

This is SO good! I told my husband.

 

I’m SO happy!

 

I’m so glad, he said.

 

Really, it doesn’t take that much to make me happy. Good food goes a long way toward keeping me content.

 

Once we had begun to eat, I took a lot at my phone to check the time.

 

It’s 10 o’clock! I exclaimed. As a rule, I am generally in bed at least by 8:30pm so I can read, meditate, and unwind before going to sleep.

 

At 10:30pm, a young couple walked by our table. The woman was holding a baby that had to have been born days before it was so tiny and brand new.

 

The kid was totally crashed out, and this restaurant was not a quiet place.

 

I guess if you want your baby to be able to sleep through anything, it makes sense to bring it to a restaurant late at night.

 

Yeah, they say that anything you want your dog to be able to do as an adult you need to introduce to it as a puppy. I imagine babies aren’t that much different.

 

So, now that I have shared this sage advice with you, if you have an infant or are planning on starting a family, keep it in mind that you might want to live in Rome (or somewhere with noisy restaurants) for at least the first year of baby’s life. Trust me, I am a terrible sleeper. I wake up to any sound and can never fall asleep when there is someone like the person above us our first night in Rome, who was either training for a marathon or had just adopted a baby elephant, which was being trained for a marathon.

 

Our bellies full, we walked back to the hotel and settled in. It took my husband going down to the front desk to complain, texting me to see if the marathon training was still happening to prove to the staff that the noise did indeed exist, before the staff person called the person above us to request a reprieve from their late night training regimen.

 

It was a fitful night, and we were woken up by a woman talking quite loudly on a phone next door at 7:07am. I could even hear the person on the other end of the call.

 

I think that cultures get louder the closer you get to the equator, my husband said later that morning.

 

I wonder why that is. Maybe, it has to do with the heat. Everyone gets all fired up.

 

Could be.

 

Having grown up as part of an extended jewish family, I understand noise very well. In my family, if someone wants to say something, they just start talking over the person who currently holds the conversation spotlight. They gradually increase the decibel of their speech until they finally overpower the person speaking and get the stage all to themselves…for a little while, at least.

 

Maybe that is why they forced the Jews to leave the Mediterranean and move to Eastern Europe? They were just too loud.

 

Ha! My husband laughed.

 

Suffice it to say that Rome, while not a quiet place, is certainly not lacking in spirit and zest for life. I am doing my best to enjoy this ancient, festive city for the few days that I am here.


Leave a comment

All roads lead to now

You should write a blog post called All Roads lead to Rome, my husband suggested. We had been cleaning and packing all morning in preparation to head to Rome, where my husband would be presenting at a conference.

 

Should I call it that? I mused. Or should I try a play on the phrase?

 

Well, I guess we aren’t there yet.

 

True.

 

What about one of these? All roads lead to here. All roads lead somewhere. All roads lead to [fill in the blank].

 

How about, All roads lead to now?

 

Perfect!

 

So many of the places I have lived have something unique about them, a quality that seems to draw people to them. Alaska, and especially the small town of Gustavus where I spent two summers, two falls, one spring, and a particularly dark winter, seems to draw people looking for an escape [from the lower 48, from a previous identity, partner, job, reality] and a chance to start over. Lowell, Massachusetts draws people from around the world—some of whom have experienced the trauma of genocide and been granted asylum by the United States government—and others who are misfits and artists, wishing to join other such misfits in the creation of a community of love and support for each other’s quirky ways and individual artistic expression.

 

Brussels, Belgium? Well, I would say Brussels draws people who wish to live within a culture where dialogue and debate are not only encouraged but also embraced. It is an international city with a culture that feels wide open, a place where anything is possible.

 

I am not an anthropologist, of course, and these insights were derived from looking at the world through my own unique lens during my many years of living in different corners of the globe.

 

It is easy to spend time in the past and even easier to anticipate the future, especially when the present poses challenges that make it difficult to practice being present. For much for 2017, I have meditated and imagined myself in a future time when the challenges creating such high levels of stress will be resolved.

 

When I go for walks around our quaint neighborhood in Boitsfort, I try to be present and take note of little sights and sounds that resonate with my heart. When I am at home, I watch my cats and meditate on their easeful zen way of being, imagining that someday I may attain such calm. In the sometimes chaotic swirl of the universe around me, I can sit quietly, an eye in stormy, dynamic world.

With Rome hovering ever closer on the approaching horizon, I am looking forward to being very present for the next several days in Italy.

 

A yogi I admire described a gift that was given to him by a dear friend. It was a wristwatch without numbers. The only design on the watch face was the word “Now.”

 

What time is it? He would ask me and the other students over the course of the workshop he was leading. Now, we would all respond, laughing.

 

Now, I sit at the airport, a place where people live in a strange space that exists somewhere between. An airport is an especially challenging place to practice being present, so this is just what I will do while I linger in limbo before our flight to Rome.

 

Of course, in concert with the universal swirl of motion, I had only just settled in to being present and mindful by writing about being present and mindful when my husband informed me that it was time to board.

 

All ready? It seems so early.

 

We headed to our gate and were herded into two separate areas: priority cows and other cows. As I type, we are all waiting in what seems like the longest boarding experience of my life. The woman behind me has nearly run me over several times already and had her hand with ticket and passport resting on the counter as I handed my own ticket to the flight attendant. So, I not only have a chance to practice being present. I can also practice acceptance and patience with other people and keep breathing when other cows invade my personal space.

 

Where do all roads lead?

 

All roads lead to now.


Leave a comment

Mr. Pauper and his singing ostrich

I remember when I was a child, and I could just open the fridge or a drawer and find any number of items to eat. If what I wanted to eat wasn’t there, I could simply add it to the grocery list, and at some later time it would magically appear.

 

Ah, for the good, old days!

 

Wait. Something must be amiss if I am pining for my childhood. Childhood was no cup of tea. I always longed to be an adult, to be taken seriously, and to make my own choices for my own life. From my child version of my self, it seemed that adults could do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. They could eat ice cream for dinner!

 

Well, it turns out that being an adult can be overrated in many ways. For one, I am lactose intolerant, and if I eat junk food instead of a well-rounded meal I just get a bellyache. Two, the jokes I used to make in high school and college about how I wouldn’t ever wind up making much money because I wanted to make the world a better place have caught up with me and kicked my ass.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I have lived with many privileges. I have never been hungry a day in my life unless I forgot to bring snacks with me. I have not endured poverty, and I have gone through a series of academic pursuits, earning a PhD in Sustainability Education in May 2013. By many standards of living in places around the world, including the United States, I am a wealthy individual.

 

In the area of love from friends and family, I am wealthy indeed. However, I after visiting a tax company for what my husband had thought would be a simple process this afternoon, I texted my husband that he was going to have to change his name.

 

Apparently, I have not only set out to make hardly any money in my life, but I have also made a habit of making awful puns on the side (thus far, those have been purely pro bono).

 

When my husband took a leave of absence from his job to become a doctoral student in Belgium, giving me the title of breadwinner for our family for the next four years, I had to refrain from telling my favorite joke, I married Rich!

 

You chose the worst country for taxes, I texted my husband as I walked past a row of expensive cars parked in the tax consultant parking lot. You need to change your name to something more a propo.

 

Mr. Pauper, he wrote back.

 

Yes, and I will shape shift to an ostrich.

 

Mr. Pauper and his singing ostrich.

 

When I first walked into the tax place, the woman at the front desk looked me up and down and asked, Yes? (in French) in a nonplussed tone, which required no translation. I was clearly not dressed in an appropriate manner for asking for assistance with taxes, and in her book I did not belong there.

 

My hair was frizzed out from the humidity (I had barely managed to contain it by tying it back into a ponytail). I had put on earrings, which is commensurate to getting dressed up in my book, and every article of clothing except my pants had not been worn since being washed. What I was missing in my capacity as a “woman” was high heels, panty hose, a dress or skirt, pearls, and a hairstyle that required some kind of blow dryer or straightener and a lot of product. Were I a man, I might have possibly slipped by had I slung a sweater across my shoulders and tied the sleeves in front. Perhaps, in my next life…

 

Clearly, heels are out of the question. I can barely handle a new pair of shoes. I had purchased a pair of red Birkenstock sandals at the airport in Frankfurt on our way home from Germany the week before, but I hadn’t been able to walk after wearing them for a few hours. Today is the first day that I have been able to walk in a way that does involve hobbling and extreme pain.

 

Now, back to Belgium. I thought the visa process for being granted the ability to stay in Belgium for more than 90 days was confusing. It turns out the tax process wins by a long shot (Stretch? A mile? A kilometer?). Metric references just don’t seem to have the same impact.

 

From what the tax fellow told me, it sounds like we now have to submit and claim income for both the United States and Belgium (regardless of where in the world that income derives), and then the two countries duke it out for which one actually gets to keep the money we pay. It doesn’t matter that my income comes solely from clients in the United States, whose payments go directly into my bank account in the United States. The whole thing was incredibly confusing, and then the tax guy had to give me a new envelope for mailing my Belgium tax documents because I had taken notes all over the one that was sent to me.

 

Even with the stress from the meeting—the accountant did apologize for scaring me—I cannot help but feel special having two countries vying for my income, however meager. It’s like having two suitors duel for my favor!

 

I’m going to go home and drink for both of us, I texted my husband.

 

Ok. Shall I pick something up for dinner? Shall we celebrate our poverty with takeout?

 

Thankfully, we are not poverty-stricken. The fact that I could leave the tax place and buy groceries is an incredible boon. I still can’t help but sigh, however. I really do want to make the world a better place, and I know I can do this at a very little expense, but I would also like to be able to afford to be able to attend trainings for yoga and meditation to promote my own health and wellbeing. I would like to be able to buy things that are handmade from venues where I know that the profits go back to the artisan.

 

They say that money can’t buy happiness, but a bit more money than I make would go a long way toward easing my constant preoccupation and stress over spending it. I am suspicious of them anyway. They clearly make a fine living because that line just seems like something that only a person with money would ever claim.

 

2017 has been quite the banner year for me, so much so that it has shocked into silver more than a few of my thick, brown curls. The tax fiasco didn’t even really register on my stress barometer because it has already been broken by previous events from the current year. At this point, I just chalk up anything stressful that happens to 2017.

 

I keep hoping that the future foretold to me in a fortune I received this past fall—Much needed relaxation is in your future—will come true sooner rather than later, but I suppose I should not hold my breath. Yes, it could be worse, but that doesn’t mean that I cannot hope for it to be better.

 

There is certainly never a dull moment in your life, my dad told me on a recent visit.

 

I wouldn’t mind a few more, I responded.

 

Right now, life feels like a confusing blur, and I am caught between countries. I know that they say to be careful what you wish for, but the intention I send out to the universe is hope for greater ease, be it with my own response to challenging times, as well as my desire for fewer surprises and more tranquil or “dull” moments in my life.

 

IMG_9704

 

As Bobby McFerrin has said countless times (in my house, at least, since I have been playing his song on repeat), Don’t worry. Be happy!

 

He also says that he is going to give his listeners his number to call him when they re worried—Here, let me give you my phone number. When you’re worried, call me. I’ll make you happy—but I don’t blame him for not actually providing one.

 

Ain’t got no cash, ain’t got no style, ain’t got no gal to make you smile, but don’t worry; be happy.

 

I might be lacking in the cash department and seriously lacking in style by European standards, but I married Rich, so I have much to be happy for!

 

IMG_8900

 


Leave a comment

The belly of the beast

I received some interesting and hilarious responses to my first post about our adventures in Darmstadt. One friend wrote of Darmstadt that it was “the intestine city,” a description which has now begun to weave itself into our conversation as we have moved through our second day here.

 

We had a relatively restful night’s sleep, though I could hear someone walking around in the room above us and experienced a few waves of panic, hoping this would not turn into a repeat of the nightmare neighbor we recently escaped from at our first apartment in Brussels. Thankfully, a simple turning on of the air fan and earplugs solved the noise from above. My husband was elated at the opportunity to sleep through the night without interruption from the two feline characters who share our home. He practically did a dance he was so giddy (ok, he definitely did a little dance, and it was adorable). I really love this man.

 

The day before I had called down to reception to ask about the internet, so this morning it was my husband’s turn to call to see if breakfast was included in the price for the hotel (feel free to judge, but we are on a student and part-time editor budget). Breakfast buffet was indeed gratis, so we headed down to the dining room.

 

We were greeted by the sounds of men in the lobby speaking American English.

 

Where are we? I asked my husband.

 

The little placard in our hotel room had informed us that there were more than 50 options at the buffet, and I would say the majority included some kind of meat and/or dairy product. While I have been impressed to see many vegan and vegetarian signs posted on the windows of restaurants around the town, the breakfast buffet at H+ Hotel was decidedly leaning toward the carnivorous with omnivores a close second.

 

There were little signs telling us the names of all of the meat products in German and English.

 

Huh, bacon is bacon in German and English, I noted, not that either of us are going to eat any. I did wind up with a couple of rogue pieces of bacon in my eggs, however.

 

The soundtrack for the buffet was decidedly weird. When we first walked in, we were serenaded by a male voice, telling us, you’re in the army now. Oh, oh oh, you’re in the army now.

 

Ok, I thought. Why not?

 

I wonder what the + is for? I asked my husband when we were seated at a table on the patio. A truck had pulled up, and the workers we had seen putting up a relatively small hotel sign the day before were unloading a much larger one to put up today.

 

 

Seems a little strange to be staying at a hotel that isn’t actually labeled as such, but the patio is sure nice, I continued.

 

We sat beneath a beer tent with Pilsner written in various locations. The breeze was lovely. I found myself feeling anxious and hurried and took a moment to exhale fully.

 

I’m quite happy to sit, my husband said in response to my fidgeting. There’s no hurry.

 

Ok. So what’s with the weird music? I asked. You’re in the army now? Really? I never even heard that song in the United States.

 

The things you hear in the intestine, my husband replied.

 

After breakfast, we headed on foot into town to wander around before the start of the conference we were here for my husband to attend.

 

Here are some of our observations from our wandering:

 

People in Darmstadt are kind and helpful. Apart from being skeptical of our choice to take an extended holiday in “the intestine city,” expats and locals have been quick to offer assistance to the foreigners who clearly do not speak the language and have no idea what they are doing when they try to place an order at a restaurant or bar.

 

I took a photo of a house on one street, and a man walking toward us who lived in the house wanted to tell us all about its history in a mix of German, English, and enthusiastic hand gesturing.

 

 

People have adorable dogs in Darmstadt. This man’s dog had hardly any teeth but smiled as only a dog can nonetheless and was very gracious in allowing us to place our hands by its muzzle so it could smell us. My husband and I even got to give its head a good pat before it went running toward its house.

 

The man stayed and told us how the front façade of the houses on the street were from 1600-1700 while the houses built behind them were of newer construction. Previously, there had been farms and chickens. The man was not enthusiastic about the graffiti that had been sprayed onto the front façade of many of the houses, so I waited until he had moved on to take photos. I am fascinated by the culture of graffiti, street art, stencils, and stickers that I find in places I travel, and I take a ridiculous number of photos everywhere I go (my husband can attest to this because we will be walking and I will stop to take a picture without saying anything so he either walks several paces ahead before realizing I am not there or walks directly into me when I stop abruptly to take a photo).

 

 

Shoes seem to be reasonably priced, but my feet are too small to fit into even the smallest sizes. Score one point for my bank account.

 

Food also seems to be very reasonably priced. Our entrees at the Mexican restaurant Hacienda were each under 10 euros. The water we ordered was the priciest part of the meal. I really need to figure out how to ask for tap water in German.

 

When I asked for an insalata at a Kebap place, I received a salad large enough for several meals. My husband ordered a pizza funghi (mushroom pizza), which became lunch for him and leftovers for dinner for me. The total cost was also under 10 euros. Apart from swimming in the yogurt style dressing they seem to serve at restaurants (from my experience at two), the salad held up pretty well for lunch and then an early dinner.

 

There are a lot of advertisements for cigarettes, as well as little cigarette vending machines placed all over town, but we have seen very few people actually smoking. I am refraining from sharing any photos of these advertisements so as to not promote the agenda of any cigarette companies.

 

Blue and white striped shirts, bicycles, and hippie pants are in. At one point while we were walking, we passed a group of people and three out of the five were all wearing blue and white striped shirts. The two women who bicycled past us at this same scene were wearing identical blue and white striped shirts.

 

You fit right in, my husband told me.

 

Yeah, but my shirt is purple and blue stripes. I think there may be some kind of striped shirt conspiracy going on here.

 

There were a couple rogue pink and white stripe shirts and red and white, but otherwise blue and white were the colors of the day.

 

I am not habituated to walking around a city where the number of people riding bicycles seems to outnumber those on foot and easily rival the number of cars driving around. I have been the cause of several near collisions. Every time my husband has to repeat my name before I realize I need to step out of the way. Walking around on my home after dropping my husband off at the conference center, I have gone through several more slow motion close calls. It’s particularly interesting when the person on the bicycle isn’t looking where they are going because I do a kind of tenuous step the left and then the right, trying to guess which way they will move past me. I’ll get there.

 

We walked to a park with our carry out lunch and sat in the shade of a large oak tree to eat. With our shoes off, a cool breeze whispering by, we were completely blissed out. Well, mostly.

 

 

I can’t ever feel fully relaxed with my house in Alaska stress, I sighed. It’s always there.

 

It will sell, my husband assured me. There is no question about that, so maybe you could put yourself into that future where it’s all done and spend some time there. You could think about time as not being so linear. It’s what I did when I was in Alaska. It was so hellish that I would visit places in my memory. It’s more than a visit, though. It’s really experiencing it. It’s a more intentional embodiment of the experience. You really try to viscerally feel and relive it. It’s like the memory of being at my grandpa’s pool as a kid and lying in the sun. I could feel the heat of the sun when I embodied that memory. So, there’s no reason why you can’t go into the future, especially something like this when you absolutely know that it’s going to happen. You can think of it as reliving it before it happens. In a sense, it’s a kind of time travel.

 

As he spoke, I typed away on my iPhone, and my husband joked, did Richard really say it if Marieke didn’t write it down?

 

Earlier in the day, I had spent the better part of our walk to the town center typing his words while he spoke.

 

I had laughed and said, Dear diary, my husband says the most amazing things. (Insert the line: He’s ever so dreamy, and I could be a 1950s gal. well, it might take a bit more than a one-liner to get my frizzed out hair and big personality into that box.)

 

Well, I responded, I think it’s important to share, and it seems to speak to people. We’re not the only ones who struggle with this stuff.

 

True.

 

After our picnic, we headed toward the conference center where my husband would be spending the bulk of his remaining time in Darmstadt. It was an incredible building that was constructed around ancient looking stonewalls.

 

I used the restroom (because I never know if or when there might be another opportunity, and I have a thimble bladder), and then we parted ways for the next several hours.

 

 

I wandered around the city center for a little while and then headed back to the hotel for a cold shower, a few sips of whisky, and some quality time editing a dissertation.

 

I thought about my husband’s earlier musings about the city of Darmstadt.

 

I like that it’s that not pretentious, he had said. It knows it isn’t Berlin, and it’s ok with that.

 

I thought about this later on my walk back to the hotel. Darmstadt reminds me of Lowell and Boston. Boston is easy to love. It’s all right there on the surface. Lowell takes some dedication and persistence. It isn’t typically love at first sight, and it isn’t always a smooth relationship. However, if you take the time to get to know Lowell – I mean, really get to know it – you will find the full spectrum of emotions that accompany love.

 

Given time, I think I could come to love Darmstadt as well.


Leave a comment

It is Darmstadt

I joined my husband this week for an academic foray into Germany, where he will be presenting at a conference for the Society of Philosophy and Technology on Friday. I am hoping that I will be able to sneak in to film his presentation, but in the interim I get to wander around the city of Darmstadt.

 

Darmstadt is a new place for me, and it took a while for the name to imprint itself into my memory. I have been studying with an Anusara teacher who lives and teachers in Amesfoort in the Netherlands, and my brain decided to combine these two foreign places.

 

Where are we going again? Darmsfoort? I asked my husband every couple of days.

 

No. Darmstadt, he would patiently reply.

 

Ohhhhhhh, yeahhhhhh.

 

It took me a while to figure out where the foort was coming from. Even when I figure it, it still took me a few minutes to make the switch in my mind before speaking the words out loud.

 

Sometimes, I wonder how they gave me a PhD, but that is a story for another time.

 

We left our two cats this morning to a quiet house, their food and water bowls filled to the brim in anticipation of our absence. We decided to splurge and pay a few extra euros each to take the train instead of the tram, then metro, and then bus to get to the airport. When possible, it is starting to feel reasonable to pay a little more for ease.

 

We made it to the 94 tram with a few seconds to spare after running up the hill when the transit app said we had only two minutes.

 

What’s a trip without having to run? I said.

 

True.

 

We took the tram a few stops to the train and headed for the airport. The entire trip to the airport in Brussels and then on the bus from Frankfurt to Darmstadt (got it this time!) took far longer than the mere 40-minute flight. It’s still remarkable to me that you can fly to another country in so little time.

 

We walked from the bus to the hotel. On the way, we saw many people riding bicycles, including one young woman on a monocycle.

 

That does not look easeful, I said to my husband.

 

When we arrived, my husband asked the gentleman at the front desk if he spoke English.

 

No!

 

Awkward silence.

 

Ha ha, just kidding.

 

Exhale.

 

You have a reservation?

 

Yes. Lewis.

 

Ah, Mr. Lewis. You are here for five nights.

 

Yes.

 

But what are you going to do in Darmstadt for five nights?

 

I am here for a conference, so the question is what is my wife going to do for five nights?

 

Great.

 

It wasn’t until the end of our conversation that he said, Wilkommen. Welcome.

 

This does not bode well for Darmstadt, I said after we had stepped into the elevator and headed up to the third floor.

 

No, it doesn’t.

 

It took a few attempts to figure out how to get the door open, and once inside I went straight for the air conditioner.

 

I can’t figure it out, I said. The heat and fatigue from travel (any amount of travel seems to exhaust me these days) was making me cranky.

 

It was my husband who figured out that you have to put the card key into a little slot by the door in order to turn on the lights or air.

 

That is brilliant, I said later after I had rested and had a snack (I have the metabolism of a squirrel, so I need to eat snacks on a regular basis to keep from being called Cranky Britches by my husband).

 

You can save so much energy by not running the air when you aren’t in your room.

 

Yeah, and this way no one can forget to turn the lights off either.

 

Score points for Darmstadt and Germany!

 

We went for a walk around the town.

 

We pondered over German words, stickers, and graffiti.

 

What does bembel with care mean? My husband asked.

 

I don’t know. I was just wondering the same thing.

 

We found the answer at the grocery store.

 

 

It was fun being in a new place. We took photos to share with family and friends. My favorite was the sign that read, Schmuck for sale inside, which I promptly shared with my Jewish mother. I marveled at how many places had vegetarian and vegan options.

 

 

We stopped for a drink at a place a friend from the town where I grew up had recommended. Over drinks, my husband looked up places where we might go for dinner.

 

There’s an American-esque burger joint with good reviews, my husband said.

 

But you are a vegetarian?

 

He showed me the review, and I laughed out loud.

 

Best in town….but, well….it is Darmstadt.

 

We finally settled on a little Mexican place right near the hotel. We hadn’t eaten Mexican food since leaving Arizona last summer, and the thought of cilantro-laden salsa and tortilla chips was beyond enticing.

 

FullSizeRender (3).jpg

 

Our bellies sated, we headed back to the hotel for some whisky, stapel-chips, and dinkel doppel keks. All in all, it was a nice start to our little adventure across the border.

IMG_8952.JPG