From the Ashes

Hello again, dear readers of A Very Small Nest. I have not entered a blog post in five months! But I am rising from the ashes, so to speak. In the months after the presidential election, we entered a self-imposed cocoon. Now, I am ready to write again. It is time to continue in a different way. Different because, if things go according to our plan, we will not be nomads much longer. The search for a “real” home has commenced!

Over two years ago we sold our house, culled our belongings and put what we wanted to keep in storage, then set out to be wanderers for a spell. Exactly two years ago plus one day, we departed from our old driveway for the last time (Facebook reminded me of this yesterday, so it must be so.)

We have developed a special relationship with our storage unit. Its address is in the memory of my phone’s GPS, and the key to the unit is always in our glove compartment. We visit it when we need clothes for the change of seasons, when we are given, or acquire, something that we can’t use right away, and just to switch things up. Even Casa Blanca is now parked at the storage facility, until our next trip or until we have a driveway again, whichever comes first.

Our interactions with the storage unit, though, are limited to the very front part, though the unit is thirty feet deep. Rear of the first several feet, everything is blocked in and out of reach. We haven’t interacted with any of that for two years! Who knows what lurks there? We only recall snatches of what we kept. When we look at potential houses, sometimes we say to each other, “Honey, did we keep that sideboard from the dining room?” Or, “Did we get rid of that blonde desk?” or “How about that blue lamp?”

Yes, the storage unit will be full of surprises when we finally empty it. I expect to be surprised not only by what we have, but by what we thought we had but have no longer. And then there is the question of how two long years of benign neglect have impacted our things. Will everything be as we remember it? Probably not.

Guilty confession: my brother’s ashes are in there somewhere.

They sat on a shelf in our house for 9 years after his death, waiting for his survivors to be inspired with a proper final resting place. When we moved out of the house, there was little to do other than store the ashes with everything else. (I’m reverent enough that I didn’t consider selling them in our big yard sale or donating them to the charity thrift store.)

Lest you think us heartless, we did have a gathering in his memory shortly after his death, during which participants each scattered a handful of his ashes into San Francisco Bay at his favorite fishing pier. But that left us with a huge box of um….. remaining remains…. that neither my sister or myself had a clue where to keep, or scatter, or put.

The existence of Richie’s ashes probably would not have crossed my mind again until we uncovered them – if it were not for two recent events: Charlie’s mother’s decision to send her husband’s ashes into space, and a recent stay at an Airbnb in Cambridge, Massachusetts for Theo’s graduation.

More about space travel for the deceased later. First, the Airbnb: An apartment on an unassuming and quiet street in Cambridge. The owners lived in the attached unit, and our rental unit was a clean if somewhat quirkily outfitted apartment. I was amused to see some Christmas decorations still on display in May, and a couple of framed but starkly unfinished amateur paintings hung on the wall. Who frames an unfinished painting?

Then, when I spent some time in the front sitting room, my eye was drawn to a bookcase shelf  that seemed to display…..was that an urn of ashes? Yes, it was. Similar to my brother’s final container in size and shape, but draped with a colorful scarf and a pendant sporting the initial “C”.  Beside it was a tiny photo in a frame that stated, simply, “Dad.”

This was all quite sweet, but it jarred me to think it was on display in a home that was now inhabited by a stream of strangers. Why hadn’t the owners removed it to a more personal and suitable location? And wasn’t it more than a little bit morbid to display such an item in guest lodgings?

Perhaps it is not my place to judge, I who have stored my brother in an impersonal and somewhat harsh environment. But I have to admit (and I am not a particularly squeamish person): the ashes on a shelf at the Airbnb kind of creeped me out. It just wasn’t right. Either put “Dad” somewhere where his loved ones will smile at his memory or somewhere he wanted to be. I’ve been trying for years to figure out where that would be for my brother.

Which brings me to Charlie’s Dad. The only instructions he left were, “Don’t put me in the ocean,” which was interesting because he spent his career on the water. And, when their only instructions are what NOT to do, those left behind have to figure out what TO do.

But this we knew: he was a lifelong fan of the space program. And of flight in general. To quote his family, the only two vessels he never actually flew were a hot air balloon and a spaceship. And so his dear wife decided to honor those two unmet dreams for him, even if posthumously. There’s a company that arranges to send a capsule of a loved one’s remains out into orbit on a satellite. It’s complicated and costly, involving an arrangement between the private company and NASA. The families of the “passengers” (may they rest in peace) are welcome at the launching.  I may very well be blogging about this event in the future. Stay tuned.

Only a small bit of one’s ashes are able to be accommodated, so the rest are disposed of at Cape Kennedy,  as a part of the package, with some additional fanfare. Understand, this is a group funeral of sorts, which has some macabre connotations in my twisted mind.

All of this makes me think. It is only fair that we leave clear instructions for our loved ones about how we would like our earthly remains to be dispensed. Lest we end up on a shelf in an Airbnb or, worse, a storage unit in Blackwood, NJ.

I’m not sure I deeply care what happens to my body after the breath of life has left it. But it you do, please don’t leave it in the hands of somebody like me. Make your wishes known while you have the chance!

Also: There may be a balloon ride in my future if my mother-in-law decides to go on a last outing with her husband before he is shipped to the launch pad. This terrifies me. So, If anything happens, make note: I have no interest in space flight. And, I agree with my father-in-law: the ocean sounds cold and harsh to me as a final resting place.

Beyond that, I still need to think on it. Let me first find a place to live out my days on this side of mortality.©

image

 

 

 

Advertisements

E Pluribus Unum


image

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Emma Lazarus

I didn’t grow up a very patriotic child. I was confused by the contradictions in my life.  At Catholic school, we obediently pledged allegiance and sang in our sing-song voices of the “Land of the Pilgrim’s Pride”.  Then, at home, I watched my much older siblings being swept up in the hippie movement with its slant against blind patriotism. They sang, “This land is your land.” My reaction was to take a more passive role, choosing neutrality over activism. In truth, I was caught between two worlds. I wanted to be the “good” child: school was where I thrived, after all. But I looked up to my brother and sister, and longed to join their causes.

If there was anything I believed about my country as I was growing up, however, it was the above quote and its passionate sentiment. One of the most important and special aspects of my country was its welcoming arms to immigrants. This I saw with my own eyes. This I could understand, because it resonated in my own family and the families of my friends. My mother’s family was from the Ukraine. My paternal grandmother still spoke the German of her parents, and my surname, given by my paternal grandfather, hailing from Ireland, was Kane.  My little working class neighborhood in Jersey City was home to my friends Susan Calabrese (Italian) and Paul Zukowsky (Polish). I had classmates who were African American and Puerto Rican. Lady Liberty stood proudly not far from where we lived and learned. So when they taught us that America was a melting pot, I understood this in my bones and in my blood. It made me happy, and yes, proud to be an American. E Pluribus Unum, it said on my coins: “Out of Many, One.”

Eventually, we realized that we should NOT promote the concept of the melting pot. The word “melting” implied a degree of assimilation that caused people to discard their ethnic traditions in favor of a blander American culture. Sadly, my husband Charlie’s grandfather gave up his Italian newspaper after little Charlie innocently asked him, “Can’t you read English, Grandpa?”  The reason was simple: first generation Americans fervently wanted to blend in, and rejected their old ways in their eagerness to become American. Only later, with hindsight, did we realize that this was not necessary. Or no longer necessary, because our society had reached a point at which cultural differences were not a threat, but a rich part of a beautiful tapestry being woven by the people.

So: out of many, not one, bland culture, but, indeed, one country. A country with a wealth of diversity and traditions, a multi-colored collage of individuals sharing the rights and freedoms our constitution bestows. Intoxicating stuff, really.

Not being a Pollyanna, I realize that problems have long persisted and prejudice and xenophobia remain insidious toxins. In spite of that, we have as a country been evolving in the right direction overall. Consider the fact that we just had a black president for eight years!

Until now. While I deeply believed that our open door to the “huddled masses” was a powerful part of our country’s identity that would never be rejected, it now appears that I was wrong.

Just days after the first Syrian refugees arrived here in Rutland, Vermont (a little family of four who came here for a better life for their small children), the entire refugee program is threatened to be discontinued due to Trump’s aggressive anti-immigration policies: treating all people of Muslim descent like criminals, and building walls between borders. This is not the America that made me proud. Are we becoming a place that people will flee from, rather than flee to?

Unfortunately, “reasoning” with the POTUS will get us nowhere. He is not a reasonable man. That is why last Saturday I joined the millions of protestors around the world to raise my voice against Trump. It was this formerly neutral child’s first protest march, and it was a powerful inspiration to stand next to my daughter and son among so many beautiful voices and spirits.

Tomorrow, I will join a group of protestors in Rutland, Vermont, to stand up and fight for the Syrian refugee program.

We cannot watch in helpless outrage as the very fabric of our country is unraveled.©

image

Boston Commons January 21, 2017

A Dark Day

“The victor will never be asked if he told the truth.” Hitler

image

A new day always dawns, even when your heart is heavy. And so the relentless march of time has carried us to this day, a day when a great deal will be lost. We are losing a president who, with his family, occupied the office with quiet dignity. He will be replaced by a man who belittles others, disregards longstanding ethical standards, ignores the law, and promotes values that are contrary to the very fabric of our constitution. A man whose primary motivation appears to be self-aggrandizement at any cost.

This is what we’ve come to; this is where we are.

What troubles me most is that so many people do not recognize the danger here. It goes even further. DT’s supporters have chosen to turn a blind eye to his OUTRAGEOUS behaviors: His lies, followed by denial of the lies even when faced with concrete proof. His flagrant treatment of women as sex objects. His derogatory comments toward minorities and the disabled. His refusal to follow the most basic guidelines of courtesy and civility. His tantrums when he doesn’t get his way.

In a society that has over recent years had its consciousness raised about bullying, we have elected ourselves a bully.

What does it look like to have a bully run a country? You don’t have to look far into the past to see a similar progression of events in neighboring Europe. Like DT, Adolf Hitler was voted into power at a time when the citizens of his country were disillusioned by the status quo. They were living with economic hardship and their hopes were diminished. They were ready to embrace someone who made grand promises, and to ignore the hollowness behind those promises. They were ready (and willing) to find someone to blame for their predicament, and to direct their anger there. And that anger grew into hatred, and that hatred became a murderous rage. Such a rage that 6 million were demeaned, abused beyond belief, and ultimately killed.
Don’t be mistaken! This was possible because the masses believed in a man who, like DT, convinced them that he would use the power with which they endowed him to improve their lives. A man, who like DT, had no regard for the truth, and equal disregard for humanitarian values. And whose popularity thrived despite those facts.

This frightens me, and what frightens me even more is the fact that so many people are not frightened of the damage this man can do.

I know that fear was, in fact, a significant element in this election. Fear of the changes that have taken place in our lifetime, that culminated in having a black president, gay marriage, and an overall diminishment of white privilege. Funny, the very changes that brought me the most joy in recent years are the things that our electorate masses fear. We truly live in a country divided.

After the election, it was very tempting to run away for good. We have a community of friends on Isla Mujeres. We are fortunate enough to have the means to make that happen. But in a big way, this would feel like jumping ship. I don’t want to be like a rat. Our children have to live with this, and it would feel like turning my back on them.

One of the most jarring realizations the election brought me was that the misogyny in our country is even more entrenched than the racism. If ten years ago you had asked me to predict what we would have first, a black president or a woman president, I would have guessed wrong. As a white woman, I resided in that cloud of privilege as well, though I hate to admit it.

I have had to rethink some assumptions. Watching how Hillary was demonized was sobering, and seeing DT’s behavior toward women normalized is sickening. I refuse to normalize what is happening before my eyes. Tomorrow I will attend the Women’s March in Boston with my gay son and my lesbian daughter. This is a small thing I can do. Writing this is another.

And – who knows? – maybe we will live on Isla for just part of the year, to bolster morale for the fight.©

Finding My Voice

 

image

January 2017

For the last year and seven months, I have been documenting our journey and my reflections along the way. Now our traveling has come to a lull. We think in terms of months, rather than days or weeks. It has become difficult to keep blogging, because there is less new material, as I have mentioned before.

Now, it is time for my writing to take a different turn.

In November, while we were enjoying our stay on the Jersey shore in the town of Ventnor, DT was elected by a minority of voters to be the first Un-President of the United States. I deeply fear that this may be catastrophic for our country and its citizens. This turn of events has divided our people, and instilled fear in many. We have yet to see what will happen when this racist, misogynistic, and dangerous man takes office, but many of us understand that the potential damage is great. Others maintain that we are being “sore losers,” and that this is just another election. I actually wish this were true!

Over the past month and a half I have been quietly witnessing the emotional accusations being flung back and forth over this issue. I have never been a very “political” person. I have always harbored the strong belief that any attempt to change the minds of those whose views oppose one’s own is futile. I have never intended this platform to be a political one, but I have recently been struggling with this. Why?

Because there are too many similarities between DT and other grandiose, despotic, fascist, and ultimately destructive leaders of the past. I do not see this political climate as just another election which a republican won. Donald Trump is dangerous, because of his personality. He does not represent the best interests of our citizens, but of a very narrow subgroup. He is impulsive, vindictive, lacking empathy, entitled, and has no regard for the law or the truth.

My conclusion is that I cannot quietly watch this happen without speaking out. I am going to start with this forum. I know that I have readers who will disagree, perhaps be offended by my views. But this is a place where I can practice having a voice, which is what I need to do to feel better personally, and also what I feel I need to do for my country.

I see many of the values that DT promotes as evil. (The way he treats women, people different from himself, the weak or disenfranchised.) I recognize that he has power.

Simply put: Evil + Power = Dangerous.

There are better places to turn for astute political discourse. I will be writing as one citizen, from my heart, with my particular humanistic/psychological slant. If this offends you, I apologize. Of course you can choose to close the page and turn your back on my viewpoint. But I urge you to stay, and to consider my perspective. We all need to do this, on both sides. We need to understand.

I cannot help but think that some of the voters who cast their vote for DT must also see that his personality, which he brings with him to this esteemed position, is a serious handicap. Some must have voted out of their sense of disenfranchisement, and/or their disenchantment with the status quo, and chosen to overlook the more sinister aspects to his persona. I know that I need to understand their disillusionment, for our divisiveness is a second layer of danger. If we are fighting amongst ourselves, we are easier to conquer.

On Friday evening, I sat around a dinner table with five dear friends, and the discussion was, to me, concerning. This was the first time that the six of us were all together since the election. I knew we would talk about what one member referred to as “he who shall remain unnamed,” borrowing from literature. But I was unprepared for the level of lassitude that my friends displayed. None of them agreed with my belief that we must take an active stand against what is happening. I understand this. I am 60 years old. and when I woke up on the morning of November 9th, I felt as if I had aged 20 years overnight. That feeling hasn’t gone away.

But we have a lot to lose. Everything, really. Our rights, our freedoms, newly won or longstanding.

And so I am exercising my longstanding right to freedom of speech. Do you remember the McCarthy era?

I was reminded of McCarthy on Sunday evening when Meryl Streep made her passionate and eloquent statement as she accepted her Golden Globe award. Do you realize that this was an act of bravery? Senator McCarthy was in office from 1947 to 1957. And he was a senator where Trump is President. Don’t fool yourself into thinking this couldn’t happen again. Meryl Streep is brave.

I want to end with the quote that Streep ended with, a quote that resonated with me deeply. She quoted Carrie Fisher, who once said to her, “Take your broken heart, make it into art.”

My heart is broken, not only by the outcome of the election, but by they way our country is now divided, and even by the passivity I am witnessing among some of my peers. It was Carrie’s words that inspired me to get up this morning and write. They will become my mantra for 2017.©

 

The Light Within Us

Today marks two weeks since we arrived in Vermont. It has snowed about seven times…..not heavy snowfalls, but enough so you know that it has snowed again, and everything is kept clean and pretty. I wanted snow, a fact which people keep reminding me, as in “You wanted this,” implying, “Don”t you dare complain!”

I am not complaining. If I had to get up and go to work in the morning, I would admittedly whine about it. I don’t like driving in it! But in spite of more terrifying experiences driving in icy weather than I care to remember, I have never stopped loving the snow.

So here we are, ‘reverse snowbirds’, spending the winter in Vermont! Charlie is being a fantastic sport about it. He doesn’t like the cold, he says, but he seems to be getting into it. He couldn’t wait to get the fireplace in this house up and running, since Virginia, our friend and gracious housesitting host, had never used it.

We have taken a lot of walks, and it never ceases to amaze me how much better it feels to live in the cold when you make sure to get outside. When you are dressed for it, it is usually not uncomfortable, with the exception of when there is a frigid wind. When  I get out in the cold, I end up walking further and longer than I originally planned, because it feels so damn good. Because I feel good……alive, strong, invincible. Invigorated.

And is there anything better than returning to your cozy house after such a walk,  bringing the positive energy back with you, feeling jazzed up by the fact that you didn’t let a little weather defeat you?

While if you stay inside all the time, the cold seems more formidable, more threatening. The thought of going out in it becomes ever more daunting. You must rise above it.

People love to complain about the weather. The heat….the cold….the rain….the snow. Perhaps this is because the weather is one thing in life over which we have absolutely no control. We like to have control, so it bothers us that we have to acquiesce to the weather. And thus we complain. We COMPLAIN.

What if we admitted that we were powerless over the weather, and focused on acceptance and making the best of it?

We have friends, Graeme and Karen, who live in Saskatchewan, Canada, where they  have a very cold, very long winter. Take a look at Graeme’s wood pile! These are people who have come to terms with their place on the planet, with it’s beauty as well as its demands.

image

Woodpile, courtesy of Graeme Wesson

In all fairness and for the sake of full disclosure, I must admit that we actually met Graeme and Karen on Isla Mujeres. Like us, they have taken to spending long stretches of their winter in the tropics. But by no means is it for the entire winter. They had their first huge snowstorm early in October this year, but they won’t go to Mexico until mid-February. And then, when they return in April, they will still face snow, and several weeks of winter weather.

They are amazing.

From the years that I have lived in Vermont, I have a bit of that pioneering spirit in me. I guess it is something that either you have, or you don’t. The cold makes me feel very alive. It awakens something in me that just is not stirred in the warm weather, and brings a clarity of vision, a razor sharp awareness, to my being. It makes me grateful.

Tonight the temperature is predicted to be -5 Fahrenheit, much colder with the wind chill. It can be a little scary when it gets that cold out. You don’t want your furnace to break or your car battery to freeze. I remember, back when I lived in Vermont full time, going out once at night during a sub-zero deep freeze. I was walking on the street feeling the snow squeak under my feet, and I thought the very strange and chilling thought that in such weather, if you wanted to murder someone, you could simply lock them outside.

image

But mostly, when I take a walk in the evening, I see the glow of warmth from inside the houses pouring out through windows onto the quiet snow. I see flickering Christmas tree lights through translucent curtains. I see smoke curling out of chimneys against the winter clouds. I see black silhouettes of trees against the purple twilit sky. And all of this makes my heart overflow with the ache and pride of being human.

I recall that when I was a child in northern New Jersey, winter was a joyful feast for the senses. Sledding, ice skating, hot cocoa. All the holiday lights. Perhaps those childhood roots are what still make winter a joyful time for me. And I think this common history is the reason that Charlie can rally by the fire and share in my joy.

All four seasons are lovely, and each has its beauty. But winter holds the most magic. It is not magical that we find the light in the darkness, each and every year? Is it not magical that many of us still keep a tradition of cutting down a live evergreen, dragging it into our home, and whimsically decorating it? And is it not magical that still we sing, make love, bake cookies, and care for one another through the deep cold winter? We don’t just survive. We make the best of it.©

image.jpeg

 

All Is Not Lost

image

A month by the sea. November. We are staying in a little cottage in Ventnor, New Jersey just a block and a half from the ocean. I looked forward to this, because I like the seaside in the fall. Few people, deserted beaches, fresh cool air to breathe. The first week was exactly as we expected. Relaxing, envigorating, peaceful.

But in the weeks that we have been anticipating this, I did not factor in Election Day. Because, as it turned out, the 2016 election really changed our mood.

Many people have been weighing in on the subject, and while I have followed these sentiments, I have been loathe to add my two cents, for a number of reasons. In all fairness, I have been speechless. The proverbial cat has my tongue.

But here I am. I want to talk here about how I feel, because I have a great deal of appreciation for my readers, and because this seems like the right place to find my missing voice.

To start, I would like to address some of the reasons that I have been loathe to chime in on the ranting that I have witnessed on Social Media.

First of all, what do I know? I am not a political commentator. My opinions and fears are subjective. I don’t want to add to the hysteria by making dire predictions.

Secondly, I have family members on both sides of the divide. I have felt hurt and betrayed on a deep level by some comments that I have read by family members. I have no interest in perpetuating that cycle. I’m working hard enough on not impulsively pushing the “unfriend” button.

Thirdly, I fear the divisiveness as much as I fear the new administration. There is a movement involving wearing safety pins to establish a network of “safe people” out in the world. It seems innocuous enough. But doesn’t it contribute to the sense of “us and them,” and therefore to a feeling of not being safe? Where does this end?

We have to be careful not to be co-creators in a collapse of civility.

How do we move forward, now that the election is over? How do we live in a country so deeply emotionally and politically divided?

I think it is important to take a breath. Take ten breaths. I know there is a great deal at stake for those of us who treasure our freedoms, our diversity, the tenets on which this country was built. But, as important as it is to be proactive and ready to take a stand where required, it is also important to remain level headed. Hysteria will get us nowhere.

It is important to have integrity, and that starts with living with integrity. Be the change.

Yes, I feel afraid. But fear itself is indeed a thing to fear. And so I remind myself, with each breath, that in this moment I am safe. My family is safe. It is so important not to catastrophise. Anxiety feeds anxiety. So breathe.

I am not saying to bury your head in the sand. But, please do this: Take care of yourself. Stay informed. Practice loving-kindness.

As ever, it is important to be the best people we can be. That means maintaining the values we hold highest.

What are those for me? Love. Fairness. Dignity. Honesty. Respect. For all people, regardless of color, gender, religion, sexual preference, citizenship, and yes, political party. As was said during the campaign, go high, not low.

I address this to everyone who cares to hear. Perhaps you are happy with the outcome of the election. Remember, half of us are grieving, and half of us are rejoicing. No matter. No matter which hat you wear, the basic human decencies haven’t changed. Don’t go low.

What has helped me most has been to make even more of an effort to be kind to strangers. It is amazing to me how good it can feel to offer someone a kind word, a smile, or a hand when you don’t “have to”. It fills me with hope. Does this sound petty? It is not. It is healing.

If you are grieving: I want to share something important to remember. (As a grief counselor, I know a little about this.)

We all have heard about the phases of grief. Denial, bargaining, anger, depression, acceptance. Many people have felt these emotions at random moments as a result of this election. Not because a candidate lost, but because we feel a loss of what we counted on in this country: a sense of being held by the tenets that guarantee our rights and freedoms. A fear that those can be lost if the people in power disregard them.

One caveat: I have often seen grieving people misdirect the anger they feel as a result of their loss. We look for something to attach to the anger, and often that is an unassuming family member or friend who says the wrong thing, or doesn’t call. And so the anger that accompanies grief can damage relationships, adding to the loss and isolation the bereaved is already experiencing.

The challenge is to be angry, and yet not to misdirect it. Channel it effectively rather than allowing it to fester or infect your personal life. Or our society.

There has indeed been a rise in hateful, prejudicial acts. It is as if the dark side of human nature has been set free. We read about it daily on social media and hear about it in the news.

Bad news travels fast and sells well. It is important to remember that. Because if we react to these reports with decisiveness and hatred, the chasm grows deeper and the stakes grow higher.

I am not saying to turn a blind eye toward these incidents. We should take a stand and express our dissension at every turn. However, it is important to remember that these are still the actions of a minority.

All is not lost. At this moment I believe this to be true. If we take the high road, it will remain so. We can each only do our part.©

image

 

Winding Down

image

Seventeen months ago I began this blog, full of expectation as we began a long-awaited adventure. We were in the process of packing our belongings for storage and becoming nomads for a time. As I wrote, I wondered how the journey would change me. Who would I be without the anchoring identity provided by a place in the world, the roles I played in life, and the structure that had evolved around it all?

Our original plan was to travel the perimeter of the United States in our little RV, Casa Blanca. The first leg would be the Eastern seaboard. Because we had a commitment in Florida (my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday party), we would cover the southern part first, and later in the summer do the Northeastern coast.

Best made plans. The very first day out, we experienced the inevitability of change, when a dramatic storm flooded our world right before our eyes. Amazed, we waited in the driveway from which we would soon depart for the last time. As the rain finally let up, we navigated though the deep creek that had recently been our street. Shortly thereafter, our vehicle began to misfire. Some wires had gotten wet. The next day (somewhere in Delaware) we learned that since the needed parts weren’t readily available, Casa Blanca would be unable to get us to the party in time. We made the drive to Florida in a rental car, feeling more than a little deflated from the anticlimactic start to our journey. Still, the family gathering was wonderful, and we were off to a good start. We retrieved Casa Blanca, and eventually completed the Northeast through a long and glorious summer. By November, we were ready to retire Casa for the winter and head for Isla Mujeres, Mexico. We would continue our drive around the states in the spring, or so we thought.

While in Mexico, though, we changed some of our plans. Maybe it was the water, the heat, or a combination of the two. Somewhat impulsively we decided that summer would not find us on the road, but in the skies. We booked flights to Bali and Europe, which, if you have been following this blog, is old news.

Admittedly, I have some mild regrets about not completing our journey around the US. I still don’t regret our changes in plans. What a gift it was to be able to be flexible and see and do so much! Not following our original plans was an important step. It freed us in a way that we couldn’t anticipate.

Why am I rehashing this now? Since winding down from our whirlwind summer adventures, we are slowing down. Coincidentally, I am blogging less and less. While we will not be settled into a new home before Christmas 2016 as we once thought, we are thinking more about the future. Increasingly, we find ourselves looking forward to the day when we will have a place of our own. Aside from our camper, we have slept in multiple hotels, rented spaces, and as guests in the homes of countless friends and family members. Even as I celebrate the achievement of having become unencumbered, a sense of being displaced has been its companion.

We are slowing down. We spent almost two months in New Jersey after returning from Europe. Now we are back on Isla Mujeres for a three-week visit before spending the winter in Vermont. Winter is a good time for ideas to incubate, and we hope to make some wise decisions about our future during that time. Certainly the cold winter will be conducive to decisions about nesting, just as the Mexican “winter” gave us permission to make loco decisions about new adventures.

My last two blog entries have felt different to me, as I have shifted internally from wanting to focus on my geographical meandering to reflecting more on my inner journey. When I completed my last entry, Full Circle, I felt that if this blog were a book, I had just written the last chapter. In spite of this feeling, I didn’t decide anything. I’m learning to let things percolate.

So here I am. I have missed writing more frequently, missed the responses I get, and the feelings of connection they bring. You can’t begin to imagine how meaningful your comments are. Please keep them coming! I’m not sure where my reflections will bring me now that we are slowing down. Maybe my blog will become boring –  I’m hoping not. I’m expecting that being still may be even more insightful than moving. Sitting to write helps me focus on what the lessons are.

Speaking of lessons, I want to end with a story, a true story about something that happened here on Isla Mujeres late yesterday morning. We were driving down the road along the ocean in our golf cart, on the way to hunt for sea glass. Just another day in paradise. Charlie looked out over the water and saw a vulnerable little boat tossing about the waves. As it came closer to shore, we could see that it was inhabited by about fifteen people. A crowd was gathering, because, as we had surmised, it was a boatload of Cuban refugees and it was about to land on the shore right in front of us.

Cuba is ninety miles from Isla, and it is a well-known fact that refugee boats arrive here with some regularity. If the refugees are lucky, they disappear into the fabric of the island. But we had never seen this with our own eyes. As the crowd gathered, I felt sick to my stomach. A police officer had arrived and was radioing for backup. Onlookers had their phones out and were taking videos and photos, as these desperate and defenseless people were carried on the waves directly toward the sands before us.

I could only imagine how fervently these people must have wanted to escape their country to endure crossing the sea in a small boat with a plastic tarp for a sail. They wanted freedom, but as the police gathered it looked as it they were going to be captured. I didn’t want to watch, but it was happening so fast that I didn’t really have  a choice. The boat scraped the sand and the Cubans were scrambling in all directions. Some got away, others were caught. At least one officer had a weapon drawn. It was surreal.

I don’t know what happened to those who were apprehended. Perhaps they were treated with dignity, perhaps not. I only know that this saddened me deeply. Here I am, reflecting on creating the next chapter of my life, on building a new home. I have never known the hardship behind the drama that played out before me. I was going to look for sea glass!

image

Instead, the sea brought me an indelible image of human suffering, the fear of cruelty side by side with the hope of liberation. The refugees can no longer be seen. Some went with the police, and I hope others found shelter. The little boat still sits on the shore.

image

Life is never as simple as a stroll through paradise. We must remember this, and most importantly, we must remember to maintain our humanity and compassion above all. I appreciate any reminders that my concerns are miniscule in this cosmos. ©

Full Circle

image

George Shaw: No One is a Nobody

When we were in London last month, I spent a few precious hours in the National Museum of Art, while Charlie was roaming the Churchill War Museum. While I always relish a chance to view the work of masters, I was most taken by a special exhibit by a contemporary English painter named George Shaw. The exhibit was called My Back to Nature. While we usually think of “back to nature” as a refocusing on the natural world, Shaw was also referring to the way that, in our current society, we turn our backs on nature, and the paintings were powerful depictions of scenes from the woods showing vestiges of careless human presence. An old discarded mattress, a blue vinyl tarp, beer cans. A tree carved with the name, Max.

The paintings were striking on their own, and I wondered about the man who had created them. In a tiny room adjacent to the exhibit, they were running a video about the exhibit and the artist, which only served to intrigue me further. George Shaw was not only a talented visual artist, but an eloquent man. What he said about his work, and how he said it, elevated my appreciation of what I had seen.

Yesterday I did a web-search on Shaw, to learn more about this man and the art to which I was so drawn. One article was based on an interview and was written completely in his words. One statement Shaw made had a powerful impact on me:
I get perturbed by people who have meaningful epiphanies in expensive places – who go to India, Goa, New Zealand, watch a glorious sunset to find themselves. If you can’t find yourself in your own backyard, you’re not going to find yourself in the Serengeti, are you?

If you’ve been reading this blog, you can understand that this comment would hit home for me. We left our own backyard over a year ago, to loosen ourselves from the constrictive force that a house full of possessions can become. I reflected then that while “things” can provide us with a sense of identity, they can also become a kind of prison. It was not that I expected to find an epiphany in places like Bali, but rather that I wanted to face the challenge of knowing who I was without an address, possessions, and a calendar to both define and limit me.

After almost 15 months, Charlie and I have begun the tough discussion about where and how to live in one place again. If our plans fall into place, by the time it has been two years since we left our old address we will have a new one. We both feel ready for that new phase of our lives. Although we will always consider travel one of the most enriching aspects of our lives, we want a place to call home.

While there is a lot of wisdom in artist Shaw’s words about finding oneself in one’s own backyard, I am glad we loosened ourselves from those bonds for a long while. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and made some wonderful new friends. Some things I learned were surprising. For one, I never stopped keeping a calendar, in spite of my expectations. We had planes to catch, friends and family to see, birthdays to remember (or forget). I guess as long as we have days, weeks, months, and years, and things we want to do with others, a calendar is a necessary evil. One of those things that, if you didn’t have, you’d re-invent.

I also (guilty confession) still have possessions. I’ve snuck new purchases (and rocks) into our storage unit, objects that will help me to remember this time of exploration. Like carving one’s name in a tree says, “I was here!” – bringing home a souvenir…a seashell…a feather…a stone…reminds me that I was really there. Still, it was a useful exercise to purge, and one that will inform my future approach to nesting. I will keep things, but I will keep less. I want to have more freedom, but from a secure base.

Two weeks ago, while visiting my daughter Eva in Vermont, I had the pleasure of seeing three old friends, each separately, in the course of 12 hours. This happened unexpectedly – I had not set out to make this day “old friends day”. I saw Virginia in the morning, at her home, where we will house-sit this winter if she doesn’t find a buyer. I then saw my friend Larina, to whom I had reached out with a question. We had a brief visit and chatted while she fed her horse before she ran off to work. Later, Eva and I went for dinner and Suzy was at the restaurant. Each reunion was heart-warming and sustaining.

Even though I had not seen any of them for a few years, these women are important to me. When I was living in Vermont and raising my family, they each were a part of my support system. I was creating that secure base for my own family, but needed my connections with an extended tribe to feel nourished and able to do the hard work of living well. Our small worlds ripple out to touch other small worlds, and so we are a part of a larger circle. Somehow I understand that better than I ever have.

The past few weeks have been difficult for me. When I wrote my previous entry, A La Famiglia, I explained my struggle with having loved ones in many places and needing to choose a home base. Many people reached out to me with comfort and understanding, and their own wisdom. I loved that. But I have continued to feel my way through this inner conflict, and it has been hard.

This morning, after reading about George Shaw and sleeping on it, I awoke thinking about atonement. At first there may not appear to be a connection, but there is. We talk about “finding ourselves,” but without others, who are we? For our relationships to be authentic and deep, we have to face the fact that sometimes we hurt each other. My attachments are my life’s blood. That secure base only remains secure if we houseclean, that is, we mend our relationships.

If I go to Bali to find myself, is it not like what happens when a tree falls down in the woods and nobody is there to hear it? It is only when I come home and greet my loved ones that what has been awakened in my heart through travel reaches full expression.

When we were much younger, and with little children, my above-mentioned friend Larina had to undergo open heart surgery. While taking my morning walk today, I found myself thinking about that long-ago time. She must have been so frightened, facing such a serious surgery while her children were so young and she had so much life yet to live. While I was supportive on the surface, I don’t think I realized how alone she must have felt. I could have been a better friend, and the next time I see her I will tell her. I know she will shrug it off, as we all can do when someone apologizes, but I think she deserves acknowledgement of how hard that must have been and how alone she must have felt. I want to carve my name in the tree of her life: to tell her: I was there…even though I could have been a better friend, I recognize that now and I want to acknowledge it.

The concepts taught in recovery of taking inventory and making amends are life lessons from which we could all benefit. But how difficult a task that is. How many layers there are to go through to truly “take inventory”.  I’m not even convinced it is possible!

Yet my memory about what happened with Larina gives me hope. Our hearts are awakened, not only by geographical travel, but simply by traveling through life. When Larina faced her surgery, maybe I was a little too numbed-out by my own challenges to be fully awake to hers. My journey through life has awakened in me more compassion, and the desire to share what I have gleaned.

Our lives are small things, tiny grains of sand in the cosmos. But inside of each of us, our lives ARE the cosmos. Like those ripples that become a full circle, our lives matter, but only when we touch other lives and let the circle grow.

I realize now that whether I am visiting Mayan ruins, a Balinese temple, or my own backyard doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am inside the circle, not outside of it. I was there, I am here. I am home.©

A La Famiglia

When I left off, we were winding up our time on the mainland of Italy and heading for Sicily. Much has transpired since then. I could tell you colorful tales of our travels first through Sicily, then through a bit of Switzerland and France, and finally England. I could regale you with stories of what it was like to sail home across the North Atlantic Ocean on the only remaining ocean liner in the world, the Queen Mary 2. I could and I should share these adventures with my readers. The problem is, that very sense of obligation has created in me a frozen place. A place of not wanting to write, of avoiding what I am finally literally forcing myself to do: to sit down at the computer. And just do it.

I wanted to share the beauty of these places, my observations. The problem is me. Perhaps I have taken my own ability to live in the moment a bit too far! What energizes me when traveling is the immediacy of being there, in the midst of a new and exciting place. The thrill of getting there, the anticipation of planning, but finally, just feeling myself there, right in the nucleus of a different world. Happy.

Unfortunately, writing about it requires a distancing, a perspective that is impossible to achieve while being present where you are. Writing about traveling while you are doing it is akin to holding a video camera in front of your face for an entire show, then watching the film instead of seeing it fresh with your own eyes.

I have been selfish. I have chosen to be there instead of writing about it.

I thought I would pick up the thread when I got home, and fill you in with the details. Not ad nauseum, just the highlights. Some pictures. A few choice anecdotes. Poke fun at myself, because when you observe yourself in new surroundings, it can be really funny.

I haven’t wanted to.

I stand before you, humbly, in apology. We have been home more than a week. The thought of going back and regurgitating Sicily fills me with dread.

Maybe, over the past few months of being globetrotters, we have just worn ourselves down. That’s a real possibility.

I can tell you that my perspective has changed. When we set out on this experiment of being unattached to a specific place, nomads, as it were, I thought of it in terms of detaching.

What I have learned is that the more detached I become, the more attached I am.

But the attachment isn’t to a place, it is to my people.

If anything, not having a home base has made me cherish my loved ones more dearly, and to feel the connections as more grounding, more valuable.
People. And our love for them. Is there anything else more important?

The best part about Sicily was meeting Charlie’s cousins, and feeling that there was a relationship even though we were meeting for the first time. Laughing together, in spite of a significant language barrier, was wonderful. Being welcomed into their homes, fed, and treated like family. Wanting to go back. Wanting to learn Italian so I can get to know the women better. (The cousins are all males, but their wives were lovely.)

image

Family

One of the benefits of retirement (or being on a sabbatical, which is how I describe my professional status) is that we have more time for what’s important. I have realized is that what is paramount for me is my feeling of connectedness, being a part of groups of human beings. My family is the obvious one, but also my circles of friends. The reason we keep returning to Isla Mujeres is that we have found a community there, of people we find to be kindred spirits.

But this: I feel pulled in different directions by my sense of connection with loved ones in different places. I have children in New Jersey, Vermont, and Boston. I feel a strong bond with Charlie’s daughters in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, also my children, though not by blood. Part of me wants to live in all these places. I have primary groups of friends in Vermont, New Jersey, and my new ones on Isla. How do I honor all of these connections and still center myself in one place?

Because one thing we have realized from our travels is that we do want to be centered, grounded in a place. Soon. We want to have a home base where, as well, we can welcome our loved ones with the same hospitality that has been extended toward us. The work that I want to continue – being a therapist as well as the creative endeavors that bring me sustenance – writing and painting – requires that I refill my emotional vessel. This calls for me to stand still and allow that refilling to happen.

My Dutch friend Agnes shared with me a comment that her doctor had made. He said that what matters when you grow older is not where you live, but who you live near. People do best when they have a community of family or friends, a support network. And, in spite of email and Facebook and texting and FaceTime, there’s nothing like a visit with a real live person to brighten your day. Especially if you love that person.

Tapping the keys of a computer will never replace holding a hand.

Does anyone else besides me feel this unrest caused by having loved ones scattered in different parts of the globe? What advice can you offer?

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

 

 

image

Generally, I find it more interesting  to ‘wax philosophical’ than to broadcast a fussy exposé of our day by day experiences. However, since my last blog entry, we have been bombarded with sensations as we have traveled through Italy, Sicily, Switzerland and France. We have been undergoing sensory overload, and are more than a little travel weary – I don’t expect any sympathy….hold the violins! We have had very little down time, which meant scant time to write. As we have viewed one marvel after another, I have become overwhelmed, knowing that I was overdue to write.  The myriad impressions and peak moments were snowballing rapidly down the steep hills we had been climbing, possibly to be lost forever.

Some stories must be told. Today, I offer Part 1, in which I bring you up to date on Seiano through Salerno: a week in Southern Italy. In my last entry we had arrived in Seiano, where the endless stone steps down to the coast were keeping us fit in spite of our Italian calorie intake. We spent four nights in a little Airbnb, which was like a tiny country cottage in what appeared to be a gated townhouse complex. (Finding the actual “gate” had been a challenge…thank goodness our host was responsive when we texted her for assistance.)

Charlie and I are independent and adventurous travelers. Much of the meaning is in finding our way and trying to feel what it is like to really ‘live’ in the places we visit, rather than feeling like removed observers. So we choose an apartment over a hotel, always preferring to explore on our own over being part of a tour. Neither of us do ‘lemming’ very well.

One challenge is having limited access to the internet. At home, we’ve grown accustomed to consulting our devices for directions, to find a place to eat, or to get unlost. When traveling like this, such conveniences would be a godsend. But one must limit one’s data usage when abroad, unless one does not mind the ensuing charges. In Mexico, we never turn on our data. (I don’t think we did in Bali, either.) But in those  places,  we were not driving. Here in Europe, we have had to use cellular data on an emergency basis. For we are driving, and keep getting lost. Anyone who has ever rented a car knows that the maps the rental companies provide are crappy….can someone explain this to me? It makes no sense!

While traveling in Italy and Sicily we got lost a lot! Not lost as in we had no idea where we were…..no, we always (sort of) knew where we were. Lost in the sense that we had no idea how to find where we were going. I’m not complaining, for this experience of being lost would NOT convince me to become one of the masses who wait in line to get on tour buses and get off to wait in line again, observe the view or the world of which one is not a part, take some photos, and get back on line to board the bus again.

The experience of being unmoored is part of the adventure! When your goal is to experience a place, to feel it with all of your senses, how can you really get ‘lost’? You’re just temporarily adrift.

While staying in Seiano, we took side trips to Sorrento and Capri. Sorrento was crawling  with tourists, and after spending a few hours there, roaming the streets and finally having dinner, we were actually glad to return to our little town. It is just as beautiful and dramatic in geography as Sorrento, but far less commercial. Seiano is beyond lovely, and I was happy climbing down the ancient steps besides the lemon groves,  sitting at the edge of the sea, and drinking a caffe granita, with Vesuvius far in the distance, but impossible to ignore. Sorrento was overflowing with souvenir shops and restaurants, which in their plenitude sacrificed  their charm. Actually, our car ride was the highlight, if you can call a near-death experience that. It was beyond hair-raising, with its hairpin curves, distracting views of the water from above, and the tailgating, honking, and generally rude Italian drivers, including motorbike drivers that pass you if they have an inch, having no discernible awareness of their own mortality.

We got a little misguided on our way out of the city, finding ourselves on a little road so narrow that even our little Fiat Panda could barely fit. Not only was this road impossibly narrow, but it was winding, with high stone walls on either side. Fortunately, at least, it was one-way. At one point, our left mirror grazed the left wall, and as we corrected the error, our right mirror scraped its wall even more seriously. (We were glad that when we ultimately returned the rental car in Sicily, it was so coated in sea salt from our ferry ride over that the scratches were unnoticeable.)

Our one day in Capri was simply a feast of the senses. It began with a ferry-ride out of Sorrento. (I had to consent to take that dreaded drive again.) We took a walk in Capri that allowed us to circumvent a good part of the island and take in the dramatic rocky coast,  up and down countless, you guessed it, steps. There are no cars. We rode the funicular, a steep cable car – eeeek! – from the port to the main part of town, where we began our trek. We stumbled upon a 12th Century church, Chiesa di Sant ‘Anna, with frescoes on its walls which were recently discovered, having been painted in the 15th century, but later plastered over. I was particularly enamored with a fresco depicting the virgin mother and child, in which she was breastfeeding the baby. I had never before seen such a depiction. Not to be blasphemous, but  I thought it should be the poster for La Leche League.  Although the main streets were almost as crowded as in Sorrento, the long walk we took was much less peopled, quieter, allowing us to absorb the beauty without distraction. In the afternoon we joined a boat tour which circumvented the island and allowed us to view the ruins on the cliffs, and ultimately visit the famed grotta azzura, blue grotto.

image

Fresco

 

It was in Sorrento and Capri that we first followed a tip that we found in our travel guidebook. It advised that hotels generally provide the best maps of a city, over the freebies that you can find on the street, or even purchased ones. When we arrived in Sorrento, Charlie entered a nice hotel, walked up to the reception, and asked for a map.  Worried that they would ask if he was a guest there and throw him out on his ear, I lingered near the foliage in the entryway so as to make a quick getaway and pretend not to know him. But the concierge was more than accommodating, even giving him some directions and advice about walking through town! In Capri, which is a place that reeks of money, Charlie repeated this heist, at a very well-appointed hotel, where, I am certain, one nights’ stay would equal at least three nights at our little Airbnb. This time, I waited outside. But again, he was given a beautiful map and good local advice…very gracious treatment. We started calling ourselves ‘the hotel crashers,’ as we repeated this throughout Italy.

 

Departing Seiano after three days, we headed for Pompeii, which was less than an hour’s drive toward Naples. We had booked a room in Scafati, a booming small city that borders the city of Pompei so closely that they run into each other. (Fun fact: the ancient ruins are spelled Pompeii, while the new city that replaced it is spelled Pompei.) We would be in Scafati for three nights, using it as our home base to visit the ruins and also make a day trip to Naples, where I wanted, simply, to have pizza. Naples is the birthplace of pizza, and continues to be known for that delicious concoction. Furthermore, Elizabeth Gilbert had convinced me in Eat, Pray, Love that, in Naples, there was a particular pizzeria that served the best pizza in Naples, and therefore, in the world.

But first, the ruins. We were a bit skeptical going in that this would be a kind of Disney experience, crawling with tourists and rather surreal. On our first day, we visited the ruins in Herculaneum, and were awestruck, not only by the buried splendor of an ancient city and the preserved aura of the destruction that occurred, but also by the image of this ancient city that has been partially excavated from beneath the present city (Ercolano) following  an accidental discovery. At the edge of the ruins,  you can see both the new and the the old in one continuous landscape. I never knew that there had been more than one city ruined by Vesuvius in 79 AD. In fact there are five major distinct ruins, and many others. We only visited two.

image

Heculaneum and Ercolano

Our guidebook had touted Herculaneum as more impressive than Pompeii, being less touristed, and preserved in a different way.  The lava flow hit Herculaneum differently, and the ruins were encased in a mud like substance that completely kept them in an oxygen free environment which allowed greater preservation. Still,  we were unprepared for how impressive Pompeii turned out to be.

We wandered there for hours the next day, snapping photos and imagining the buildings in their earlier  glory. Our only disappointment was that the great amphitheater was closed, due to the fact that Elton John had performed there the night before. If we had known, we would have tried to get tickets, even if it broke the bank. Can you imagine seeing a performance like that in such a setting? If we only had gone to Pompeii first instead of to Herculaneum, we would have seen the posters and at least had a chance of getting a seat. Ah, the one that got away.

A funny thing happened in Scafati. We went for dinner at the same place two nights in a row! This is unusual, especially in Italy. There are so many good choices. But if one can fall in love with a restaurant and want to marry it, it happened to me in Scafati.We found the place on TripAdvisor…..a tiny mom and pop place on a quiet back street, with a wood burning oven and authentic local food. Reviewers couldn’t rave about it enough. It was called Taverna Mascalzone.  I had to go.

At first we had trouble finding it. We parked a distance away (having spent a futile hour seeking a self-service laundry that didn’t really exist. More about that later.) Charlie said we should walk from there, since parking had been so difficult, and so we took an evening stroll and were able to find the neighborhood with no trouble. There was a little square surrounding a church. We sat there for a spell and breathed in the charm. The moon was rising above the antiquated church, and it felt as if time had stood still for an eternity. Via Trieste, the street where the restaurant should be, ended on this square, so we tore ourselves away from our bench and headed towards it. But it wasn’t there! We went a few blocks past the Google Maps location, and……..nothing. We wandered back and forth along the little street to no avail. Still nothing, in fact the little street was so quiet we were essentially alone. I felt bereft. Finally, we gave up and headed back to the car. I was very frustrated. I had read the reviews! They were recent! Where had my restaurant gone???

Back in the car, Charlie proposed to search one more time as we drove toward our lodgings, since he doesn’t like to see me sad . No easy task due to the maze of one-way streets that comprised Scafati. We circled Via Trieste and drove toward the square from the opposite end. A restaurant appeared, though not in the right spot, according to the map.  Is that it? Yes, there’s the sign! Taverna Mascalzone.

We parked and hurried to the door of the restaurant. It was locked! It was 9 pm, early by Italian dining standards….it wasn’t that they were closed…… but they hadn’t actually opened …..yet. Charlie really hates to see me unhappy, and he wasn’t about to give up after all our efforts. And so he knocked, persistently! The door was opened by a woman who waved us in, and once she realized that we simply wanted to eat, led us up a tiny flight of stairs. She had been stoking the wood fire, but  escorted us up to a darling little dining room and gave us menus. We were the only guests.

This little restaurant took charming to a new level, and though the food was very good, what really sealed my love affair was the house wine. Five Euros for a bottle (a bit more than five dollars), the house red was sparkling, but not sweet. If you have not had such a wine you must. It is very special, and very very hard to find.

We had a long drawn out meal, typical of Italy. We met the  husband/chef as well. Their English was as poor as our Italian (i.e. nonexistent) , and I deeply regretted our inability to get to know them better. Leaving, we did manage to ascertain that they would be open the following evening, our last one in Scafati.  We would go back.

And so we did. It was Thursday night, and the empty streets from the evening before were teeming with people, a church event having just ended. Would we get a table in “our” little place? When we arrived, a long line of customers streamed out the door!  We were crestfallen. But……they were all getting take-out pizzas! Again, we were led to the little dining room, and again, we were the only diners-in. We ordered the wine, a pizza, and a salad. Perfection. Salad wasn’t even on the menu…he threw it together for us. It included tuna, fresh corn, and tomatoes grown on Vesuvius, in addition to the usual ingredients of an insalada mista. I truly have never had a salad so fresh and delicious…….the combination of ingredients was divine. I was in heaven, even before the pizza!  I wanted to remain in Scafati forever.

As for the self service laundry: When you are traveling as long as we have been, your clothes get dirty! More than once!  Laundry must be done; a challenge, depending on where you are. In Bali, we had a service launder two weeks’ worth of clothes for a total of $4US, but no such bargains exist in Italy. We needed to find a place to do our own.Such a place is not easy to find in small Italian cIties or towns. Maybe in Rome, but we were no longer in Rome. We had been searching for a lavendaria, and had “found” one on the Internet on the night we located Taverna Mascalzone. But finding it in the real world was another issue.

The following morning, we set out with our bag of laundry, continuing our quest. We finally found the lavendaria, but it was a dry cleaner, not a laundromat. The owner thought there was such a place in Pompei, called American Laundry (go figure). But nobody could tell us where it was, not even the Internet. (Our data usage was beginning to get out of hand.) We had spent about three cumulative hours trying to find a laundromat! Not what one wants to be doing in a romantic foreign destination.

The solution! When we had visited Pompeii, we had been directed to park in an adjacent campground, also serving as a parking lot for the attraction. After we had parked, we had used the rest room, which in fact was the campground rest room. I had noticed a washer and dryer in that building, between the showers and the toilets. So, having despaired of ever finding a proper laundromat, we decided to return to the campground/parking lot, to pay to park, and then use the washing machine instead of going to Pompeii, for which the parking was intended.

We finally washed our clothes! We were now not only hotel crashers, but campground crashers!  Charlie was of the opinion that, since we paid to park there, we had every right to use the machine….. but I still felt a bit subversive. My Catholic school upbringing has served me well. But, desperate times, desperate measures.

Our final day “on the boot,” followed. We were to take a ferry out of Salerno at 11 pm, to arrive next morning in Palermo, Sicily, the homeland of Charlie’s paternal grandfather Carlo, after whom he was named. Since we had a whole day to squander before boarding the ferry, we had devised a plan. First, my long awaited pizza in Naples, and then, a drive on the Amalfi Coast en route to Salerno.

Both stops were wrought with vehicular peril. Our guidebook had warned against driving in Naples, and parking was to be even more difficult. We considered parking elsewhere and taking the train in, but Charlie considers himself a New York driver, so he scorned the warnings.  The Fiat Panda would carry us to Naples. (That disastrous train crash in Italy had been less than a week ago, so I quickly agreed.)

Our trusty guidebook provided the address of a parking lot convenient to Pizzeria da Michele. The parking lot was connected to a Ramada Inn, where we took our hotel- crashing skills to a new level. Charlie went up to the reception to inquire about a map, while I found a comfy seating area and discovered that the  WiFi didn’t require a password. So armed with our new excellent map of Naples, we sat comfortably and charted our course. We also checked out email and used the clean and spacious bathrooms. This ritual would be repeated before we left town .

First, lunch. Unfortunately, it was pouring, so we wouldn’t do much sightseeing in Naples. Just a fifteen minute walk to Pizzeria da Michele. Before you remark that we had just had pizza for dinner the evening before, please remember that all food rules are suspended in Italy. We were going to this particular place for the experience as much as the pizza, and it did not disappoint on either front. The place was a beautiful,  tiled restaurant with a big wood burning oven. A host of strapping Italian men were all over the place, getting the pizza ready and taking orders, like bees in a hive.

The menu was very limited….two kinds of pizza: pizza margarita and the same, with extra cheese. A few different drink options. That was it. Though we arrived just as it was opening at 11 am, people kept coming and before too long they had to open their second room. It was festive, and everybody seemed happy. I marveled that this happens there every day.  The walls boasted photos of famous people who had dined there. There were two photos of Julia Roberts, one a shot from Eat Pray Love, and another of her with the staff. I didn’t see any of Elizabeth Gilbert. I think the idea that a famous and attractive American actress had been there meant a lot more to these guys than the fact that an American writer had mentioned theit restaurant in her memoir (and consequently put their restaurant on the map.) I even understand it, in spite of the fact that I would be Elizabeth Gilbert and not Julia Roberts. At least in this lifetime.


We left Naples, after freshening up at the Ramada Inn, of course. We took the highway until we reached the Amalfi Coast, and then we took the seaside road for the rest of the day, stopping when we pleased. The drive along the Amalfi Coast is not for the faint of heart. It was our second wave of anxiety for the day, the first having been driving in Naples. To our surprise, we had become much more comfortable since our first outing to Sorrento, Charlie with driving and me with being a passenger, and I could relax and enjoy the view, in spite of the dire warnings in our guide book.

My favorite spot was the little village of Vietri sul Mare, where we first exited the highway. We spent a good hour there, roaming the winding streets and enjoying the ceramics for which the little town is known. The town of Amalfi itself, though lovely, was so crowded with shops and tourists that it felt overwhelming. What I have learned is that these little medieval towns cannot withstand their own popularity, at least in the busy season. When crawling with visitors, the charm of these delightful places is lost.

But onward to Sicily.©