Posts Tagged ‘travel’


My get-up-and-go got-up-and-went.

Bags packed, shoes on, heart empty on where I’ve been and filled up on where we were going and there’s a pause on the play. California will remain my temporary home for another two months.

Today, I had to challenge myself. I’ve been here. I’ve done it. Seen it. Isn’t that what we think? As I paced the floor, wearing in my misery so deep that I seem to walk in a slope now, I thought perhaps I needed to get out. Taking my camera, I climbed the same hill I’ve climbed a hundred times in the last 5 months, only this time I decided to do it with my eyes open.

How is it we can walk past something, something as familiar as our front door, but never really take it in? One of my friends lives in a neighboring canyon filled with steps hidden in bougainvillea draped tunnels that she daily climbs for exercise. I’ve lamented the emptiness of my canyon, seen it as a paltry hill compared with her lush mountaintop oasis. Imagine my surprise today, while climbing my beaten beast of dirt with my camera, to find not one, but 5 hidden stair channels weaving through the hillside like veins in a petal.

I’ve been here, but I haven’t really been here. I haven’t seen everything I can, even within feet of my door. So, I am looking at this time now as a gift. To memorize, blueprint, capture this one tiny hill in the world.

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When I was 15 I lived in Australia for a year as an exchange student. Already pounding against the boundaries of what I knew, I picked the furthest place I could, where I could still be understood. Plopped down in the outback, or very near to it, I went horse riding on a cattle ranch with my host family one weekend. I had grown up on horses. My first memories are the smell of dust and feel of wet, hot hair pressing against my legs. For leisure I would ride through old cow graveyards, using bones as a maze to lead the horse through. For competition I jumped and showed and took home many ribbons and trophies. But the outback is a far cry from Florida and the horses were mighty big. Used to being ridden by large men, stooping under heavy weight, I was not so much a feather on the horse chosen for me and he quickly pushed against his own boundaries of all he knew, or had been forced to learn. Taking the bit in his mouth, he tore off like lightening through the field and into the abyss. All alone, and yes terrified, I held on for dear life. I cannot begin to explain how fast this horse ran. I was practically thrown into the air, with only the wind and my death grip on the saddle holding me down. I knew enough to lean into him. To not fight it. To just go. After what seemed like forever I heard shouting behind me and suddenly men appeared on horses running for their own lives to catch mine. Just like you see in the movies, after several tries, they managed to grab my horse’s reins and slowly bring him to a halt. I collapsed off the horse, to the ground, as faces filled with fear and relief gathered around me.

My time in California is coming to an end. It’s been a wonderful 4 months; it was nice to rest, to be in the familiar, but now I have to return to my nomadic life, having married into movement, and keep going. I think of that horse, how scared I was, how dangerous it was, but how I leaned into it,  let it take me, and wow, it was one hell of a ride.

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One–the place of silence

I can’t seem to catch my breath; I collapse at night. While never exactly remembering sleeping before, the experience has always been tangible, as if I could reach backwards into the night just past and almost touch the place I had been. Now I fall into darkness and morning rushes towards me with no understanding of the in-between, of where I’ve just come from, so my days feel like an old torn screen on an cabin’s backdoor, eyes open at points with black holes I disappear into when they close.

Coffee. Breakfast. Pack lunch. School clothes. Bookbag. Car. Metro. Walk. Look for apartments. Study. Back to school. Walk. Bus. Walk. Cook dinner. Plan breakfast. Plan lunch. Laundry. Out.

But it’s more than that.

One of the things I have written about is how lonely the life of a traveling ex-pat can be. One of things I did not realize is how comforting loneliness can be. Having moved our daughter to an English International school, I am forced to converse, spinning in every direction with hello’s and hi’s and how are you this morning. I am opened up and dissected and expected to do the same in return. At first it felt wonderful to share in the language I rest in, but that rest quickly turned to exhaustion, and I now wonder if my true language, the one I feel most at home with, is silence, the place I grew up in.

There is a wonderful book, a collection of stories, called Only Child. Writers on the Singular Joys and Solitary Sorrows of Growing up Solo.  Alissa Quart, in her story ‘The Hotline’ writes,

“As an only child, I learned early…that basic transformation was impossible–I would always be the single child, watching the shadows the bookshelves made on the ceiling from reflected streetlights, a gloomy lattice of Culture–and that special solitude could not be changed.”

This life fits me. Moving and surrendering into a three, where one is easily found. Outside the door though is becoming another story.

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Summer is here. Storms hang in corners; windows are now perpetually open, as mosquitoes rest on my pillow waiting for me to sleep so that they can have their feast. I thought we’d left bed nets behind in Uganda, but this past week we found ourselves hanging them above and around our bed in Rome, so that once again night holds us in webs.

Construction is also in flower, and every corner and every window barrages the world around it with hammering and drilling, which pound and pierce into my every pore. My husband used to tease me that I didn’t know the world existed beyond the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was as if I had a string that could only go so far, a tension cord, which would swing me back if it became too taught, too far away. But then we moved to Uganda, and as I’ve written it wasn’t easy, but slowly, without me even noticing it, I surrendered to silence filled with birds, and insects, and freedom. I remember going back to NY last summer and for the first time in my life found myself cowering and reeling back from the intense noise being hurled at me. That same feeling has sadly been felt by our daughter here. For seven months now she’s walked with her hands over her ears and asks me why it has to be this way. Yesterday she actually said, “Mommy, Rome is too loud. I think we need to leave soon and find a quieter home.” And then today, while walking her to school we took a different route, longer, but through a nicer street. For one moment the traffic calmed and my 4 year-old daughter stopped me and said, “Mommy, listen. It’s quiet. That’s so nice.” And then, of course, the light turned green and we braced ourselves again.

I write all this as I start to pack to leave the city for the summer. Yes, there will be concrete and steel and noise along the way, but mostly it will be vines and mountains and sea. I look forward to watching my daughter drop her hands back down to her sides, while my husband spreads his soul and being as far as the horizon can take him.

I won’t be writing as much. A good deal of the journey is as far away from technology as we can get. But I will try and post some stories and pictures along the way. I wish everyone a very happy summer.

Here are some shots of the Ugandan sky, which opened me up and spread me out so that apartments in cities can no longer contain, or sustain me.


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Through your eyes

We’ve had a good deal of visitors here in Rome. At first, I enjoyed being a tour guide, but after my eighth trip to the Colosseum I started to feel like I’d rather pull my hair out than climb those steps again. But then something interesting happened. I learned that if you see something through someone else’s eyes, you will see it for the first time, every time.

When I took my husband’s parents to the Pantheon recently (my favorite ruin), they both showed me something I had never really noticed. His father, while everyone was drooling over the columns, stood marveling at the woodworking high up in the rafters. A builder himself, we cranked our necks backwards as he taught me about rivets and beams and the intricacy of craftsmanship and now I never pass it without looking up at them.

His mother showed me how the tiles must have been from one piece, split into two as a mirror effect, because each piece of marble is like a human fingerprint, completely distinct.

I started to see this in other areas of my life as well. Last week, when we went to the country, I couldn’t take my eyes off the beautiful flowers. Then my husband said, “Baby, look at this. There are five different kinds of cereals in one square foot!” I would have stepped on each one of them without ever seeing that.

This is the same man who watched the royal wedding highlights on the news with me and could only comment on the well-trained horses. I honestly don’t think he ever once looked at the bride and groom. He was completely enthralled with how well those horses did in that kind of crowd, which he assures me is no small feat.

I recently spoke to one of my oldest friends who lives on a mountaintop in Vermont. She went on and on about the soil she was currently planting in. Where some may see dirt, she sees a whole world, a masterpiece of life and art and now when I look at my window box plants, I try and see them how she would.

I’ve missed so much detail along this journey. I think of Uganda all the time and wonder how much I really let in. Was I so busy “surviving” my new life that I only saw the big strokes? I hope not. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this blog, to remember all that I can and to now try and see more. So I will use my eyes, and all the eyes around me.

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