Thursday, February 23, 2012

Admissions of a Wandering Heart

Looking for answers in Delphi.
I will confess to never having been homesick. I have been desperately ill and wanted to be home, but it isn't the same thing. Never once when traveling have I missed anyone at home, not even children (there goes the Mother of the Year Award). Such is the lure of a far off sunrise. Sometimes when traveling I hear other people speak of how eager they are to give a loved one a gift they have purchased for them.

"Can't we just ship it to them and stay here?" I think to myself. Isn't it the thought that counts? (There goes the Friend/Wife/Daughter of the Year Award.)

The proximity of other interesting places fills me with a particular form of want. When first I went to Italy I thought how easy it would be to get to Greece. Later when I traveled in Greece I thought how easy it would be to go to Turkey. England makes me think how close I  am to Scandinavia. Central America lures me south to the Amazon and Andes...and so on...

Sometimes snippets of poetry, the odd movie line, or fragmented ideas from favorite books swim to the surface in my mind. Things like "set sail for ports unknown" or " I'm going out exploring one day, you watch." I come alive in strange places. I'm inspired. I'm hopeful. I'm ambitious. I imagine that I will come home and do all the things I've been putting off. I'll make art. I'll write more. I'll do tai chi in a park at sunrise.

Then I return to my house.

I put tiny  soaps from the hotel in the bathroom closet. I do laundry. I hoist my suitcase to the top shelf of the office closet and as I do dreams slip out of it and disappear into the ordinariness of the everyday. I suddenly think how hard it is going to be to find a tai chi class in the south. And how fierce the mosquitoes are at dawn.

There must be a way of capturing that feeling of possibility I have when traipsing around strange cities and making it last past the moment I put my key in my own door and wonder if the house always smells like this...

The reason for the change in familiar surroundings, I am at a loss to explain. Perhaps my muse is an elusive creature frightened off by the enthusiastic greeting of my dogs when I enter. Maybe everyday life just crowds out creativity. Could it be that my creative seed just longs to be scattered to the four winds instead of making dinner?

I'll bet there is a soul killing agent in laundry detergent ."Guaranteed to get out the stain of the quest for adventure no matter how deeply it is set in."

Okay, that's a bit dramatic.

But see what happens when I spend too much time at home?

(There goes the Housewife of the Year Award.)

Florence, Italy

On to Florence! Beautiful Florence with its art; many fortuitous encounters awaited my owner, though she did not know this at the time.  David, Venus, the architecture, sleeping in a monastary overlooking the city, roosters crowing and dogs barking as the sun came up over one of the world's most beautiful cities. The first long bus ride with the other passengers revealed a few interesting characters. A couple of them had already made themselves known during breakfast with one of them telling My Owner "We share the same energy!" This didn't exactly thrill MO as this woman's "energy" seemed to be of the clinically insane sort.

They arrived in Florence after dark and the lumbering coach climbed a narrow road on a steep hill. The lights of the city became more sprawling with each moment.  There was a dinner at some point and I heard talk of attractive Italian men. Eventually the massive vehicle crept into a narrow space at the edge of the road, we were unloaded (and none too soon, hours and hours with smelly luggage belonging to boys is hard to stomach) and the view was stunning. I was rather viciously dragged through a strange maze of hallways with odd sets of steps in the middle, serving no apparent purpose. The room was sparse and small. This hotel it seemed was a converted monastery.

The key gets left at the desk because who wants to carry that around?

Morning brought with it a beautiful sunrise and best to describe?

A wonderful surprise. The shutters opened to reveal...

Florence, in all her glory and an olive grove beneath their window.

Leaning out the window.  A dog was barking and a rooster crowing.
After breakfast a short walk was taken about the grounds to see the tree Dante sat under to write and the little garden. The outside of the building was revealed in bright spring Italian sunlight.

Off for the day in Florence....

 They started the morning with a breakfast that included blood orange juice, which My Owner was pretty sure was the best thing she had ever tasted. She and her friend couldn't get enough, and croissants with Nutella, food can really make those two happy. But food shall be covered in its own post coming up shortly.

They had a guided tour in the morning of some of the more important points of interest including The Duomo,then after a perfect lunch at an outdoor cafe, the afternoon was free for museums and shopping. Mo was amazed at just how much got done on this day. Easily one of her best days ever.

Now MO had been waiting a long time to come to Italy. Her whole life really, and she knew that probably at some point she was likely to have a little emotional flare up. (Generally not her style but sometimes it can't be helped.) She thought it would most likely be in Rome, perhaps at the Coliseum or maybe the Vatican. But for some reason wile standing in this lovely square she burst into tears. Inexplicably. Suddenly. And for apparently no reason at all. Unless of course, sheer joy counts.

The Ponte Vecchio is a medieval bridge over the Arno River...

This bridge is a famous place for lovers. They write their names or initials on locks and attach the locks to fences and other structures on the bridge. They then throw the key into the river symbolizing their eternal love. I can't help but wonder how many of them wish to go diving for them later on.

Loggia della Signoria o dei Lanzi:Many famous statues like , The Rape of the Sabine Women, are here.

The Uffizi: My Owner will relay a story about that, here.

Galleria dell'Accademia: This is where Michelangelo's David resides alongside countless other masterpieces. 

Later in the evening walking back to the bus after dinner, a fellow traveler asked her what her favorite thing was she saw that day.

"David. I'm ruined for all other men."

Oh brother.

Literally in this city famous for housing so much of the world's great art, the art is everywhere.

This is on the street.

  Remember the woman who told MO they shared the "same energy?" Well she had told them she was a psychiatrist and had asking them all sorts of odd questions, which they might have answered if any of them could have stopped laughing long enough. In the end it turned out...she only needed one.


While in line for the Uffizi a gypsy hag approached the group of travelers and began saying something they couldn't understand but panhandling and accosting tourists is a universal language so they all just said NO! repeatedly. MO's friend somehow managed to offend the hag during this process and the woman got very angry made some weird hand gestures spit in her hand and threw a curse at her! 

     ...and museum ticket sellers with attitude.  

 After waiting to get into the Uffizi they finally made it to the ticket window and MO and the leader of their small group were rejected and told they would have to go back out to get into another line. Mo was thinking perhaps that curse outside had bounced off her friend. The woman was very rude and seemed angry with them. She called her supervisor (an attractive Italian man) over to explain to them (since they were obviously stupid Americans) WHY they couldn't enter just then, even though their friends did. He looked at MO and The Fearless Leader, the lady was chattering in Italian and they could only imagine what she might be saying about them. Suddenly he cut her off, and began to yell at her and say (some things are universally understood) "YOU WILL let them enter, you will stop being rude, and you will do it while I'm standing here." The look on her face said it all.  MO and Fearless Leader were overjoyed. They had come to Italy and a man had fought for them! This idea made them very happy because of course, they are women, and such things amuse and delight them.  


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Day in Venice

Originally published in 2009

I suppose at some point I should mention that my genius owner bought a new camera for this trip. She failed to take the time to figure out how to work the date setting and thus her photos from this trip look not only as if she was traveling in Italy but back and forth in time!

She had one real goal on her mind this day and that was to make a sign that said "Brittany's mom at the real Old Venice" since her daughter worked at a restaurant by that name. (my owner thinks she is clever and is rather easily amused). They had a tour and the sun was shining. They crossed the little bridges over the canals and snapped photo after photo, toured the Murano glass factory, and took a gondola ride where they spent as much time looking at Paolo the gondolier as they did the other "scenery".

Free time in the afternoon was spent strolling around the back streets and having a lovely lunch.

 Now my owner can be a bit...distracted and is incapable of almost any sort of multitasking. Add to that a couple of glasses of wine at lunch and it's not too hard to imagine how she lost her ticket for admission to The Doge's Palace.  She didn't realize this until they were going through the entrance and mentioned it to the group leader at the EXACT moment she was going through the turnstile causing it to lock up and negate HER admission ticket (perfect timing, as ever). Off the two of them went to buy TWO more admission tickets.

 It was worth it, however. One beautifully stunning room after another. While they were inside the palace the weather turned cold and clouds moved in.

My owner thought it would be great fun to have her picture made with some Venetian policemen. She spotted them some distance off and made up her mind to use her (much worse than she realized) limited Italian to ask them to pose for a picture. They looked less than enthused but obliged. Now the other members of her group decided that was a pretty good photo op and asked if they too could get a photo...a little less enthusiastic the second time around and by photo number 3 the commander of that little trio looked as if he wanted to arrest them except that that would only require spending MORE time with them, so he said something to his subordinates and they waved their arms and scurried away quickly cursing cameras and middle-aged American female tourists, I'm sure (okay I'm not sure because I was in the closet back at the hotel, but it's probably a pretty safe bet).

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Arriving in Venice

Originally published in 2009

They'd survived and made it to Venice although they had missed the first day...Verona. It is a little- known fact that Juliette's suitcase (she was actually an old bag) wrote a fascinating memoir. It was kind of brief.  They arrived and were busy getting situated and being looked over by the other members of the tour group who had already spent a day together. They went off in search of their rooms via the smallest elevator you can imagine. More laughing, my word these people laugh a lot. I was beginning to think there was something wrong with them. Here's MO's friend with one of their travel companions.

It was a bit hard to get one's bearings in a strange place after dark. The room was small and had that uncomfortable musty smell. There was a refrigerator that they couldn't get open. Next, they tried to use the phone but when the friend picked it up there was no cord! Showers next. That resulted in water all over the floor and complaints about no water pressure, the hairdryer looked a little dicey.

My owner (who can be annoyingly optimistic) kept saying "This is fine, really. This is just like the hotels you see in old movies about traveling in Italy, it's just what I expected."

They now, for the first time began to wonder about their decision to spend so much money on this trip. Her friend said, "We could have stayed home in our comfortable beds and bought beautiful travel books about Italy!  We could have rented a hotel room at home and gone to an Italian restaurant and drank and laughed." They were exhausted not having been asleep in over a day, so this idea made them laugh. (I know, you are starting to feel sorry for me aren't you?) They couldn't breathe, one of them snorted. More hysterics ensued. Everything that had gone wrong was reviewed and the cumulative disasters were the source of no end of amusement. Finally, the friend said, "Hey, I wonder if those drapes open." My owner opened the drapes and there was a sliding glass door that opened onto a balcony! A view! They stepped out into the cold night air.

Magically in that one moment, everything about the trip changed. They stood there and breathed in the salty Adriatic air. Suddenly it was all perfection; far from home, stars, so much to look forward to.  They were hardly able to fall asleep. Middle-aged women, giddy with happiness, are generally quite entertaining.

Eventually, they did fall asleep, though they hated to, talking and giggling every so often. The next day, Venice...

Monday, February 20, 2012

White Knuckles on the Highway from Milan to Venice

Having flown over the Alps from Paris to Milan we landed in beautiful Italy to lost luggage for some of our travel party (someday I shall write an expose' on just what goes on once we leave the watchful eyes of our owners) and a driver who first took us to the wrong van for the drive to Venice. The travel snafus they'd all been coping with by drinking and laughing had, sadly, caused them to miss the entire first day of their trip which meant Verona. Trying to comfort herself with a French stamp in her passport was the best my owner could do.

Our very loud and expressive driver tossed me in the back with (most) all of the other luggage. I was quite concerned about my friends although The Brute arrived on time, completely empty (a sad bit if irony for my owner's friends who needed the items in their luggage). Things momentarily settled down, a sigh of relief for finally having arrived in their destination country was given and then- THE HIGHWAY!!! All us poor suitcases were thrown out of our original positions and frankly, I think I was molested by Samsonite's handle.  There was screaming and gasping which I'm kind of used to but I'm generally hearing it from a hotel closet. Another sharp turn and I was shuffled into a position to see what the problem was. We were traveling down an Italian highway at about 90 mph (not sure about the metric conversion), weaving in and out of traffic, missing huge trucks by inches while our driver yelled in Italian and waved his arms. Most unnerving.

My owner and her friend repeatedly gave each other little looks that I think meant "If we don't survive, I'm still glad I came." There was a good deal of hand holding going on when my owner thought of the headline (as she often does in such situations).  5 American travelers killed in high speed accident on the A4 while en route to Venice.  Unfortunately she said this out loud and was then encouraged by her companions to perhaps try out her Italian instead.

 "Come si dice in italiano del tunnel?" (How do you say "tunnel" in Italian?) Now the driver just looked all confused and spoke quickly, which meant she couldn't understand him until he said "tunnel" Lovely. My genius owner had asked how to translate a word that is the same in both languages.  I was wondering if she'd wasted all those hours of practice.

Eventually they became accustomed to the ranting of the driver, he had a lot to say about the "Japanese stupido" and warned them repeatedly about pickpockets. They eventually settled into watching the Italian countryside whiz by and dozing off and on. Just as the sun had set they arrived at the hotel in Venice to meet up with the other
members of the group.  The only two words they wanted to and wine.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cancelled, Delayed, Rerouted on the Way to Italy

Months of waiting and excitement came to a head that Sunday morning as she arrived at the airport to meet her friends and travel companions.  She had me, neatly packed and ready to go and she brought The Brute, empty. He was getting checked as a receptacle for getting dirty clothes home so she could carry new purchases on board in yours truly. Soon everyone arrived and headed to the ticket counter where her lively little group was informed that their flight had been canceled and they would be leaving a couple of hours later for Paris and then on to Milan. Paris!

Well, she and her friend hadn't been there sounded exciting. Sitting around the airport for a while was made a little more tolerable by some eating, drinking, and lots of laughing. After lunch while walking back to the gate her friend ran into a young man she knew and hadn't seen in a long time, he innocently inquired as to how she was..."Great! I just had "sex on the beach!" This had been, of course the name of the drink she'd just finished. Poor man. A look of shock flitted across his face and she and her friends laughed until they cried.  Alcohol, middle aged female travelers, and a great love of fun always make an interesting combination.

It was a good thing they were all in congenial moods, (which seemed even better after those drinks). because much later in the afternoon after another cancellation (I think, after a while I got kind of confused) and a delay they flew to Atlanta arriving with scant time to make their connection. Where was I on that flight? I had been taken away from my owner and stored below. That horrid pink tag meant that even though I am the perfect size for a carry on the woman at the gate whisked me away and handed me off to some man who loaded me with some other bags my size.

Atlanta- grabbed frantically, wheels spinning, she was running (she's pretty fast; she ran out of her shoes twice), I was nearly injured when I got caught in the door of the train, more running...finally, our gate with 2 minutes to spare! Early? Since when do flights leave early? Those French! The next flight didn't leave for another two and a half hours. Fortunately I made the flight with her this time and I do have to give those Air France folks credit, champagne can ease a world of frayed nerves. Ah, those French.
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Monday, February 13, 2012

December Jaunt to Chickamauga, Georgia

from December 2010

Time warp gas station in TN
My owner tossed me in the backseat of the car and headed off to Chattanooga for her husband's book signing and to meet friends with whom she would ride home to spend the week in Savannah. A visit to the small town of Chickamauga (the actual destination) always requires a visit to the local hat shop, Peaches Fine Millinery and shopping in several antique stores and gift shops.
They can spend hours here...

This year there was a new bakery called Chocolate Therapy where MO was tempted (and gave in straight away) by her all     time favorite dessert...coconut cake. A Southern staple, yet one that she has never allowed herself to make at home, remembering what a mistake it was to go to the New Orleans School of Cooking and learn to make pralines. "It is closely akin to knowing how to make crack at home" she said.

After spending a long time in the hat store chatting with Carol, the owner, they made their purchases. Carol even gave them a 10% discount "because y'all are so fun!"

Sure Carol...that's what they need...encouragement.

Later when they spotted Santa on the street corner they had Mr. MO pull over, pop the trunk, they put on their hats and (poor Kris Kringle) proceeded to entice him into a photo session which involved lots of "let me see it" and "take another".

After two fun days and nights it was time to say goodbye to Mr. Owner who was headed home to spend the week alone (which between you and me, he probably enjoyed) while MO and her friend traveled home to Savannah chatting nonstop and making plans for the week. The main plan plan.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Your Valentine's Day Survival Guide

Personally, I've always thought a flying fat baby with a weapon is a little scary. 

Once I was driving with my son and saw a big Valentine's Day wreath on a door.

"I don't really like hearts as a motif."

"That's because you don't have one, Mom."

Well, I wouldn't go that far...

I'll admit that this is my least favorite holiday, right behind Mother's Day. I'm not a big fan of any day when we are supposed to drum up some specific emotion on demand. It can also be kind of hard on our single friends.

If you happen to be single, aren't you just a little happy? You don't have to worry about finding the appropriate gift, or whether she likes Indian food, or what he wants to do. (I mean, we all know what he wants to do.)  A relationship isn't going to solve all your problems and complete you. I don't care what Jerry Magure said. I've been married a long time and one thing I've learned is that even in a relationship, sometimes you have to hold your own hand.

So how about showing yourself a little love today?

Play your favorite music as loud as you can without bothering the neighbors. When you are in a relationship, you are going to hear "I can't believe you like that!" and "Can you turn that down?"

Dance. Either at home by yourself or out with your friends.  Music and physical activity release endorphins that make you feel happier.

Spend time with friends. You don't have to impress them. Champagne taste just as good with the girls and guys can hang out watching sports which NONE of their friends in relationships are going to be doing on V-Day! They are probably going to be at some over priced, over crowded restaurant, wishing they were out with you. You won't have to explain who Jeremy Lin is over dinner to someone who is mad that you are talking about sports instead of her. Soak it up. You can brag about it to your married friends tomorrow...

Get a massage. Craving a little skin on skin? Relax and performance anxiety, guys. No wondering if you look fat, girls. Plus, it gets to be all about YOU. (C'mon, who doesn't like that?)

Try something new. This is a great day to take a cooking class, try yoga, or climb the rock wall at your local gym.

Volunteer somewhere. Get over yourselves, girls. You are not homeless, cold, or hungry. You are just single. No whining.

Call a friend you know is in a bad relationship and cheer them up. (You can secretly be glad that's not you.)


  • Watch Pride and Prejudice, Sleepless in Seattle, or Notting Hill.
  • Sit down in front of the television with anything that comes in a carton.
  • Call, text, or otherwise contact anyone from a past relationship. (If you are out drinking with friends, give them your cell phone.)
  • Sit down in front of the television with a bag or a six pack of anything.
  • Facebook stalk your ex to see the latest pictures of her and find out if she's out tonight.
  • Drunk text your ex after you finish that six pack you aren't supposed to be drinking.
Now run along and do exactly what The Housewife has told you. You'll probably have a better Valentine's Day than your non-single friends. 

Oh, and guys, if I find out any of you in a relationship gave your significant other that stupid 4 foot teddy bear I keep seeing advertised...I will personally hunt you down and do an intervention.

 It's Valentine's Day, but for crying out loud, have a little self respect...

Friday, February 10, 2012

Aristotle on Facebook

My husband always wants to know what is discussed at my weekly coffee with friends. I think that that ONE episode of Sex In the City he saw ten years ago warped his thinking. He imagines that the conversation is tantalizingly shallow.  More often than not the topic is current events. Sometimes it's motherhood. Three of us are just wrapping up the hands-on part of that job while our cohort is managing all the adjustments of having twins at this age. Sometimes it's politics and the depressing array of candidates from the state house to the White House. Often it's religion since one of us is working on a Master's degree in that area. Education is a popular one. But of late, philosophy is taking its turn.

You can imagine how annoying we are to men trying to get any work done (Doesn't anyone have an office anymore?) as we swing back and forth between breast feeding and Nicomachean Ethics.

Sometimes I need a double espresso.

This week while reading up on my Aristotle in order to be prepped for next week's discussion, I wondered what the great philosopher would think of some of our social use of modern technology. Defining relationships was difficult long before Facebook created "friends" out of thin air. Aristotle went to great lengths to categorize different levels of friendship, and comment on the  morality of each. Our Greek friend broke it down 3 ways:

  • First we have the friendship born of utility. In business we call it networking. On Facebook it's more like "Please be my 4,572nd  "friend" so everyone will see how popular I am.

  • Following at a close second we have a friendship based on pleasure. This may be your "He always has the cleverest statuses" or "maybe that girl in my history class will post her pictures from Spring Break" friendship.  Some of these friendships can survive if both people are sufficiently amused, attracted, or charmed in some way.

  • Third, according to our toga clad Facebook guru, is real friendship defined by loving, rather than being loved. It's a level of friendship that desires the good of the other person. These are your "Please tell me what the doctor said",  "I'll clear my calendar when you are in town" or "How did your date go?" friends.

This level of friendship can encompass the other two. But according to Aristotle only good people are able to attain this nirvana of connection. The "I am but a worm" Protestant in me is having trouble with saying anyone is good. Especially myself. I do however have several friends whose happiness I sincerely desire, so I'm comfortable with saying that, at least by Aristotle's standards, I'm good. You probably are too.

The "virtuous friendship" is difficult to obtain because the type of person who is capable of it is hard to come by and there is a great deal of time and effort involved in tending to these relationships. Is it possible in this age of instant communication to make a long lasting bond with someone? Can a real friendship be grown among the weeds of status updates and "likes." Well, yes it can as it turns out. What every one worried about with the advent of social networking was that we'd all just be sitting at home in our underwear maintaining illusionary alliances in the dark--that just sounds like porn.

 ''My best friend is the man who in wishing me well wishes it for my sake.'' ~ Aristotle

In reality what has happened though, is that people have ended up using the social network phenom to facilitate real life interactions. I have some friendships that only have been possible to maintain and nurture because of Facebook. I have others that would have withered over time if my only choice had been the phone call. I have at least one that is based nearly entirely on words and ideas shared via Zuckerberg's creation. Aristotle was right about the layers of friendship. All friends are not equal and don't deserve an equal investment. Few people are "virtuous" (Aristotle's term) enough to move from the outer limits of friendship to what I like to call "the inner sanctum." It's that tiny center in the middle of the friend dartboard that Aristotle would recognize immediately as a home for virtuous friendships. They are the people who are interested in your well being. Maybe that means you are good,  maybe now you are even a bit better. And that is a status update to "like."

Next up: Aristotle on blogging...