Last week I had the supreme pleasure of playing with babies, and I can tell you right off that there’s nothing better.
Nothing. But you knew that.
It all started with a parental trip to the hinterlands of a 40 foot snowfall — the perfect adventure in the perfect location, otherwise known as “too far away for the sitter to throw a tantrum and beg them to come home.”
Consequently, it didn’t matter if the kiddies loved me or loathed me — they were 100% stuck with me for a week. I, of course, was in heaven.
I now realize that I never really envisioned heaven properly. I knew it involved glitter, Bluey, dancing raucously atop the four foot high marble island, tiny tea sets with tiny spoons, and running with scissors. Still, while my own imagination may have begun drooping at least hourly, these babes never once drooped, not even during my mental collapse and their subsequent invasion of the blue and white “good” china. “Ooooh, let’s play flying saucer!!!”
Bath time rodeos? Check! Midnight sonatas? Check! The quick consummation of 5 bags (at 48 pieces per bag) of chicken nuggets for dinner three nights in a row? Check! Painting grandma’s hair with glitter bombs? Check!
But oh the joy of it all — I just can’t tell you — though I’ll gladly share a bit below:
Images taken at Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Fernbank, and Virginia Highlands, left to right: Smiling Giant, Wishful Thinking, Giant Wooden Forest Tulips, A Garden of Mesh Birds, the Water Maiden, Happy Frogs, Planting for Spring, Pure Joy
I’m heading back to Barcelona in June with a group of fabulous women. It’s one of those cities that I just can’t spend enough time in for oh so many reasons. A few, and only a few, are listed below.
1. The first thing you’ll notice about Barcelona is that she’s raucously colorful, and I do mean COLORFUL. From the exteriors to the ceilings to the street art, Barcelona is vibrant, shimmery, and alive.
2. She’s her own self, legally separated from Spain proper, and proud of her independence.
3. Barcelona reeks of art, from the galleries, to the buildings, to the streets, to the people.
4. Don’t get me wrong — everyone still wears black of course, but they’re too nice to snub you if you show up in chartreuse.
5. She’s easy peasy breezy — fully walkable with a mild Meditteranean climate.
6. And of course, it’s smack dab on the ocean. You can walk a few blocks and stick your toes right in that gorgeous sea.
7. Did I save the best for last? Food Heaven. Lots of bits and bites everywhere you go, and the restaurants are top notch and inventive. You should know that restaurants open at 10:00. P.M., of course.
See below for descriptions of the images above:
1, The Rooftop of Casa Battlo, otherwise known as The Dragon. And yes, they do have events up there!
2. The face of Casa Battlo. After a tour, have your photo taken from one of the balconies.
Balk all you want about the agonies of airline travel, the bitch of baggage, the crunch of crowds, or the plethora of peddlers trying to pawn off umbrellas in the rain, but travel rocks.
Sure the first day is an overload of exhaustion, logistics, and deer-in-the-headlights incomprehension of the local ways of doing things. Or in many cases, simply not doing things. Because, you know, there’s so much to celebrate, to savor, to explore, to talk about — who cares about schedules? If you’re thinking Romans, you’re oh so very helplessly wrong. But once you throw your own expectations and habits out the window, it gets pretty damn interesting.
If Travel Season isn’t quite upon us, it’s knocking on the door. Have you made plans? Picked a country? A city? Five cities? Five countries? You’re my Girl!
Things I Learned in Rome, or Travel Tips for the Squeamish, by Pam
1. Relax. The hardest thing I’ve had to do on this trip is gut it up to open the prosecco bottle by myself. It didn’t kill me.
2. Rent an apartment instead of a hotel room. More for your money, room to spread out, the option to eat in (or have a pre- or post-dinner Prosecco at the ready, and best of all, it’s yours.
3. Reserve a room with a tub. You’ll be glad.
4. Prearrange a car from the airport to your hotel/apartment. You don’t want to be hauling-too-much-luggage while trying to find the right train unless you’re 22 and tireless. You’ll still be tired. Reserve the car.
5. Bring at least one pair of shoes that you can walk in for 10 hours a day, and the bandaids to go with them. Good bandaids. Strong bandaids. Bandaids with as much cushion as you can scare up. Keep the bandaids right next to the American Express (as in, don’t leave home . . .). NOTE: And yes, you CAN stack 10 bandaids between a blister and a shoe. Ask me how I know.
6. Find the closest grocery store the first day. You’re sure to need something, and you probably won’t know the Italian/French/Croation word for shower cap. Knowing the closest pharmacy will also be useful.
7. Don’t bother learning to pronounce Arrivederci. The go-to phrase when leaving a shop is Grazie-Ciao-ByeBye-Buona Sera-NightNight. Apparently in Italian-speak, this is one word.
8. Don’t worry about what’s going on at home. Stuff will happen. It will get taken care of. And you’ll come home with a clearer perspective — and the travel bug.
9. Mornings and evenings are the best time to wander. Fewer tourists, less noise, and the locals you run into will be doing interesting things, like scrubbing down the step into a cafe, polishing a crate of tomatoes, or setting out tools in their workshop.
10. There is much less crime in Europe, and people out walking at all hours. Take a deep breath and look around; you are so much safer here than in the US. It feels good, free.
11. WARNING: There have been a few moments on this most recent trip to Italy that have made me wonder if my traveling days are coming to an end. I can pretty much sum up those moments in one word: Cobblestones.
I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, Italians don’t really use grout, do they? Add a few centuries of freeze/thaw cycles and it’s increasingly rare to find two contiguous stones at the same height. So I should have anticipated that navigating the streets/sidewalks/lanes is less an act of walking and more a sort of calculated selection and tentative toeing from one 3″ x 3″ island to the next. But hey, if the Italians can do it in heels, and they do, then I can find a way.
12. Which brings me back to my son’s mantra: It’s All About the Shoes.
So I’m wandering down an empty lane thinking about how I’ve gotten myself into a place where time has me by the short hairs when I glance up and suddenly burst out laughing, quite alone and suddenly quite relaxed to spot my feelings so blatantly displayed for all to see. How likely is it that someone would have taped up this clock and dropped it onto my path on the very day I’m feeling overloaded? Strapped for time, that’s me, and a big thank you to the universe for letting me laugh it out in a big way.
I’m not sure about the nature of time. I know we all want more of it, but we’re quick to specify that we want *this* kind of time and not *that* kind of time. More time with those we love, and less time paying bills. More time to learn and create, and less time studying for finals. More time to savor a good meal and less time standing in supermarket lines. Of course there are a few enlightened souls among us who can make the most of the lines and the numbers and the tests and find joy there, but mostly we tend to bargain with time — this for that — rather than changing the way we experience it.
Like most, I experience change and attribute many of those changes to the passage of time. But how often have we said “it’s as if time stood still?” So change isn’t dependent on time, and time doesn’t always equal change. If I allot eight hours and fifteen minutes to a flight, I can walk the streets of Paris instead of Charlotte’s, but can I not *feel* Paris in an instant on any day of any year? And I can guarantee you that I’m able to dedicate eight hours to writing a proposal and get absolutely nothing of value accomplished. So honestly, the concept of time is pretty wishy washy, and how can I hold myself so accountable to wishy washy?
Let’s say I have ten great years left, and fifteen good ones, and five glad-to-be-here years. As a girl, my dad was really big on the Ten Year Plan, and he was always asking us about ours. At 25, I figured I was young enough to feel my way through it. At 60, planning my next Ten Fabulous Years has become high priority. Fortunately I’ve learned along the way that life can be pretty much exactly what you make it, and I love that daily creation.
Except for the unexpected. Never discount the unexpected. After 50, always eat dessert first. Don’t put aside your hopes and dreams.
So I’m going to look at this giant banded clock another way. Instead of Time wrapping her arms tight around me and demanding a response, I think I’ll tie these big blue bands around *her* for a week and breathe, dream, plan, and grab my joy. Sometimes You Gotta.
I try my best to remember how long it’s been since I traveled alone. Where I went, when I last felt this blossoming possibility of quietly intense discovery, the possibility of returning to the pulse so firmly silenced by the minutiae of days upon days of falling further behind with every tick of the clock. Melodrama, and yet the truth of it eats away at me.
I’m certain there are bad meals to be had in Paris, and certain that the odds are good on a street just off the plaza in front of Notre Dame, but the dressing on my salad of bright greens and deep purples is as light and crisp as air, and the generous slice of quiche is so breathy and moist that, having baked a gazillion quiches in my life, I can’t imagine what alchemy has gone into this one, how the maker has combined eggs and cream and cheese and ham and crust to bring forth a meal totally unlike what I know as quiche. And it strikes me how life is like this: how often we look in the same direction we’ve always looked, grabbing the same materials to create a life day after day. I am a mix of A, B, C, and D, and that mix creates X. Why do I so rarely see that ABCD can create P just as easily? How are we clear-eyed and blind simultaneously?
I’ve come to Paris to meet my daughter, who’ll be reviewing hotels. But I’ve arrived a few days early to get my bearings on my own terms first. It was a stroke of genius, but the timing is awful. I’m hopelessly behind on several deadlines, struggling with remnants of the flu, and I’ll return amidst frenzied preparations for our biggest event of the year.
And yet, of course, the timing is perfect, coming as it does at the moment before implosion. I’m at a tipping point, and I desperately need the space and time to reinvent. How much easier it is to take the hard looks and consider alternatives surrounded by strangers instead of those we don’t want to disappoint. How much easier it is to imagine change when everything I see is already a drastic departure from my everyday.
The girl at my left has managed all of her salad, a slab of French bread, and at least 4/5 of her enormous quiche. She sips randomly on a lemonade, an ice water, and a glass of white (not bothering to choose only one), scrolling her phone and smoking in the breezy sunlight. A couple several tables over pays and stands up to leave, the woman becoming louder and louder as she speaks with agitation to the owner. I can’t/don’t-want-to hear her, don’t want to know if she is French or American or Other, don’t want to wonder what stuck in her craw on this gorgeous day of freedom and light. She leaves and we all shake it off and try to move back to ourselves.
So what will it be Pam? In the last 37 hours of flight and flu recovery, I’ve slept 16 hours, read a 451 page book, eaten two meals, and downed 8 cups of tea. I’m primed. Let’s get to it.
On the beach and far from phones and computers, my thoughts turn like homing pigeons to laundry lists of tasks both real and imagined, and I wonder peevishly how long it will be so. How long before the wind shakes me silly and the sun evaporates every drop of logic until my cranium is hollow, bone dry and thirsty for folly and impulse?
The ocean is tricolor today: aqua near the sand, then teal, with a thin navy stripe that hugs the horizon. How do I move from the frothy edges to the navy depths? Why am I stuck in minutiae?
I’m willing to wait, but I’m anxious. Maybe eager is the better word, but anxiety lurks. I love the deep. I live for the deep as much as life allows, and in this instant when life is handing me an unexpected gift of time and sand and sea, I struggle to be here now.
If I tilt my head just so, I feel the heat of the sun on my left cheek and a sea-cooled breeze against my right, and it charms me to learn that two divergent climates can co-exist on my one small head. I think two lives are spent here as well.
In truth, the voice that pulls at me is not minutiae, and therein lies the rub.
I could stretch myself flat in the sun by the sea quite joyously for every day of the years I have left, until my brain is so bereft of new stimuli that I begin to grow worlds in its place, and I sometimes wonder if that is precisely the life I was made for. Egos crushed like periwinkle shells into smears of yellow or purple against the sand, hair blown wild into a wooly nest for puffins, with skin the color of night, the texture of winds, quite pockmarked with stars and story.
Instead, the sun teases the too-well-known out of us for only moments at a time, until some trivial matter demands our attention and we leap, almost grateful for permission to return to the safety of the familiar, that easy cloak (tired, worn) that fits so effortlessly even though we meant to trade up so many resolutions ago.
The truth is that I’m experiencing a major life-shift, and I don’t yet understand how to walk it. Given the hours to stare into nothingness, understanding will come, but the days that have filled and will fill out this year have not been slated for me; my diligent attention is called for elsewhere and I am honored to give it. One day there will be time and presence to spare, and I will surely miss today. And so for now, I’ll try to make peace with not letting go.
It’s cold and gray on the long march to Spring, and I’m in love with these words by Italian poet Eugenio Montale: “Bring Me the Sunflower Crazed with Light.” What I wouldn’t give to wander a new path and come face to face with a field of bright suns shimmering in the subtlest breeze and arching heavenward with never a doubt or “what if.”
One of the best gifts of too-many-gray-days is the chance to mosaic again, no matter how briefly. In the past couple of months I’ve managed to knock out two bursts of color in a new series, Postcards Home. Both created primarily with Mexican smalti (plus a little Italian, dalle de verre, glass rods, and some art glass), they represent the personal travel talismans we’ll be creating in my mosaic workshop this May through Adventures in Italy. I think we all need to be reminded, and fairly often, of our sum total — our quiet insides as well as our shiny feathers, our bucket lists as well as our To Do lists. I call these mosaics “minis” even though they’re pretty good-sized postcards at 6″ x 8″, yet still pocketable enough to follow me around and keep me warm when skies shed snow and ice and hearts sigh a bit more often.
The first in the postcard series was a very simple lane lined with cypress. Some years ago Sweet Pea and I bought a watercolor path through the trees titled “The Road Home” — still a favorite. And yet sometimes I wonder about that word Home, which certainly holds at least a double meaning. Where we’ve been, or where we’re going? What we know or what we seek? Easy chair or the (rocky) road less traveled? Head or heart? Beyond the arms of those I love, where is Home for me? For you?
Flowers and trees, who doesn’t love them? The strongest talismans can be the most basic. They make me laugh. They make me long. They help me remember. They urge me along the path, crazed with light, and momentarily fearless and sure.
I’ve always been pretty much of a rock — at least on the outside. This is perhaps more calculated than natural, since holding steady comes more easily when you don’t give in to drama. I’ve rarely been a shrieker, if you don’t count the child who likes to jump out of closets, or a flinger, if you overlook that carton of Chinese food that sailed across the kitchen. And after all, that was only once. I used to be a door slammer, but someone-I-can’t-quite-remember guilted that out of me. So yeah, pretty much of a rock.
Lately I feel less rockish and more like, oh . . . seaweed maybe. Stringy, riding whatever wave heads this way, unable to keep all of my tendrils pointed in the same direction, but still afloat, still green, still vital. It’s a nice image I think, and serves me well in uncharted waters, but lately I feel the need for a little more control. For feet, if you will. Feet to plant, to walk, to run. Feet that allow me to choose a path.
This isn’t altogether surprising, of course.
It’s a funny thing about finding your feet, your heart, your center. I sometimes feel like I am least myself when I’m in my “element” (read home/job/loves/routines/chosenactivities). I tend to fall into patterns of behavior that work in Situation A or Dilemma B. Don’t we all? I find that I most closely resemble myself, my center, when I am far from home in novel situations with strangers and unfamiliar sights and sounds. I am most myself when I have to look, to see, to hear, to discern, to think in new ways about new concepts, to grow.
Essentially, I have a yearning to get lost. Scrape some moss off. Let some sun in. Let that wild hair reign a bit.
When do we lose interest in “let’s pretend?” When do we stop allowing ourselves to kerplunk right down in foreign scenarios, dreams, flights of fancy? I know the why (too many disappointments to risk one more), but when is the when? And (egads) why do we allow it?
I’m “away” for the weekend — my favorite place to be. It almost doesn’t even matter where “away” is — but as places go, this one tops many lists. I’m sipping tea on a deck with a rail made of handcut and hand-reassembled mountain laurel branches — a wood and air mosaic if you will. A bird visits for handouts. A mist rolls across the faces of my hosts: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, is that an eighth? mountain ranges. Peace.
I like to pretend. What if I lived here? What would I hang on this wall, what mountain tomatoes would be the best to slice for lunch, which fruits in the feeder would bring the most colorful birds? And best of all, with ample time to look, what would I see in the faces of the mountain? What whispers would I hear in the night?
My life opens up when I pretend. I live in beautiful spaces, raw places, dine on the exotic or on the field greens I watched a woman in black gather from an empty lot in Greece. I imagine a new wardrobe: floaty and aqua near the sea, downy knits for the hills, pintucks in muted neutrals for France, accessorized by a long and skinny linen bread bag for markets.
But I can pretend just as well in my own backyard. I love to walk at night past the houses that look so alive, so exciting, with lights ablaze, the colors of various rooms leaping out (hello!), while I admire the addition of this or that piece of art. What if I lived here? Or there? Or, ooh! there!? Drop me down in a new surrounding and I fantasize: how would I be different?
Would the deep rose walls warm me? Would a daily infusion of Greek herbs clear my head? Would these blue mountains ground me, or would my spirit heal from the constant tumbling and resurgence of the sea? Am I fully a product of my current environment? 80 percent? 50 percent? How much of myself do I take with me from place to place, and how much of those places do I bring home?
Is there a dividing line between the life I lead and the life I dream, or do they commingle to make me whole?