Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Time Zones Notwithstanding...

Happy New Year.

This is sort of premature, but not really.

I have friends and loved ones all over the planet, in at least 7 different time zones (ballpark number but probably fairly accurate).  Some of them are already in the New Year (hence the not-really prematurity), others are moving fast toward it even though it's only 9 in the morning where I am writing this.  I love you all.

I know that I have been rather absentee this holiday season.  To recap?  I was not able to help decorate my family's Christmas Tree, even though I launched a Norwegian Christmas attack on an unsuspecting Scrooge.  I neglected to send cards, I neglected to send my address to the people who wanted to send cards.  I spent most of Christmas Eve on a plane, crossing continents, oceans, and those oh-so-pesky time zones.  I was so sleepy when I got home that I fore-went the wrapping of gifts for my family and instead collapsed into my bed.  I then spent Christmas and the following several days in a state of 'she's passed-out cold' jet lag.

Absentee might be a bit of an understatement.

Here's the thing, though, I know how lucky I am and I know that a lot of my luck comes not from me, but from the people who populate my crazy crazy world.  I do love you all, each and every one of you.  I love you for what you bring to my life;  I love you for you; I love you, selfishly, for me.  Last year I made a few resolutions… I'm not sure that I can top those this year.  But I can try to keep up with them.  I can continue looking forward.

If you know me well, you know I am not one for this holiday.  It is a self-imposed grinchy-ness that I practice.  It has been ages since I've gotten anything but a puppy-kiss at midnight- and that's assuming I'm awake at that point.  BUT.  This time of year does always seem like an appropriate time to pinch myself and remind myself that I am awake and alive and living a good life.  I am living a good life, sharing it with good people, and discovering more wonder in the world all the time.  For that I am grateful-

And to that I look forward (Daddy, if you give me any shit about the hanging hyphen up there… oh man… game on).

I look forward to the wonder and goodness and the discoveries yet to come.

And until Next Time-Zones Notwithstanding, I do so love you all.  And I do wish you the Happiest of New Year's Eve and Happiest, most Wonder-full 2015.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Grand Gestures

Sometime close to this time last year, Mom and I stood in the kitchen and talked about some holiday party we were putting on.  I had, because it is in my nature to be outlandishly inclusive, invited people who really had no reason or means to come nor a mode of transportation.  Still she looked at me in the way that all mothers look pointedly at their daughters and said 'What are you going to do if he shows up?'

'He won't,' I responded, 'it's too far.'

'He might.  You don't know.'

'I do know.. and I'm too old to be waiting for the grand gesture.'  And that was pretty much where the conversation ended.  I'm too old to be waiting for the grand gesture; the sweeping moment; the heart-in-your-throat instant of emotional enormity.

That has not changed in my mind- not really.  What has changed, for me, is the notion of grand and the notion of gesture.  This most recent round of travels hit that change home hard.  The grand gesture…. the grand gesture- by dictionary definition it is necessarily a rather big thing.  It's the unexpectedly huge thing that changes the rules of the game.

But the gesture, and it's grandeur, as I have finally allowed to filter through my knuckle-headed skull, need not be big.  It's not the size that matters, it's the sweep of it- to you.  Because the small things have a power unto themselves: the remembered phrase; the inside joke; the smile that, even though you've been with a person for 30-plus years, is still only yours.  Small, but grand enough to melt my heart.

These past few weeks I have people-watched and -witnessed a lot.  In a lot of different countries (see my previous post).  I watched a young Latvian couple at a spa go out of their way to NOT talk to each other (forking smartphones) over dinner while not two tables away my partner in crime listened to me (consider that!) prattle on about everything and nothing important.  I watched mothers hold the hands of their children as they toddled up to meet Santa Claus on his most holy Christmas chair.  I watched as a busking saxophone player cracked the biggest smile I've seen, and nod to me with his heart in his eyes, when I applauded him in the middle of a crowded square.  I was the only one clapping.  It was not a grand gesture- but it was a grand gesture to him.

I listened to a young Sami man sing to his reindeer, utterly unaware of his effect on the rest of us.  I followed an older Norwegian woman to a concert which meant more to her than I could know (both the concert and her ability to explain it to me, translate it for me).  I watched a man buy a candle shaped like a Christmas tree.

I watched a couple, sitting across the aisle from me on some flight (again, see the previous post), treat each other as they were absolutely the sun and the moon.  Somewhere in their mid-to-late sixties, I watched this couple gaze at each other.  I watched them talk to each other, watched them engage each other, watched them appear to genuinely adore each other.  I watched him whisper in her ear and her smile and answer in kind.  And even as I dozed off to a light sleep, I watched them hold each other's hands.

Later, deplaning in who-knows-where, I noticed that he took her backpack out of the overhead bin and helped her put the straps over her shoulders.  And instead of seeming seedy and patronizing, it seemed careful and loving.

That one gesture, that one moment, that one instant… I thought, that's it.  It took me all this time, all this distance, all this experience, but there it is...

That's the Grand Gesture.

So maybe I am too old to be waiting for the dictionary's version of the grand gesture, in fact I'm sure that I am.  But maybe I'm not too old to hope for and to be waiting for that.

And until next time, I do hope you aren't either.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

On Codes

Over the past 21 days I will have been in eight different airports, spanning from North America to Northern Europe to the Baltics.  I will have taken 14 flights in total; I will have been in six different countries.  The life I chose to lead is vast.  And not without complication- but what reward is riskless?- that would be boring.

A couple of flights ago, I wrote this in the pages of my ever-present travel journal (and forgive the whispy language- it was very early and tend to wax kind of idiotically profound when I am exceptionally sleepy):

'On another plane.  So very very many planes- up and down and up again.  

I can't begin to recall how many sunrises, sunsets, sun-somethings I have seen from a plane.  How many tiny windows I have gazed out of, watching the sky slide by.  

This morning to my right is pitch black-blue.  To my left the sun is turning the lowest part of the horizon into a peachy-mango which lightens into a pale-lemon then to a too-pale blue.  It is like watching Easter happen in the December sky.  

I would not give up a heartbeat of any of this.  I would not give up one shade of color, one instance of aura.  Not for the fear of the inevitable, not for settlement. 

I would not give up the loveliness to cure the loneliness- what is alone for so many is alive for us few, alive certainly for me. [Insert random factoids about landing times in Riga here]

There is a beauty that comes from living this way- an exceptional beauty gained from constantly exposing myself to the rest of the world.  It is the wonder of it all.  I know that I have considered this before- but one of the reasons that I travel how I do, that I live how I do, is because of how much of myself I give to it.  I like to think that I open my whole heart to a place, a time, and a people.  And whatever comes of that is whatever comes of it- but at least I've opened myself.  At least I've tried to give myself up to somewhere new, different, away.  

I want to give as much as I take from these places.'

And then during my first flight this morning, I did this:


It looks like alphabet soup- or a toddler playing with those jumbo, colorful magnetic letters.  It feels a little different.  These call letters have become the code of how I live- the complicated, sometimes risky code of how I live. These are codes that correspond to the colors of the sunrises, sunsets, sun-somethings that I have seen.  Color code, country code, area code, zip code.  Airport code.




One Christmas Eve flight down, Two to go.

So much love, Dearests.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

First Impressions: Baltic Nations

What hit me yesterday, gazing out the window of our rented car, was the starkness outside of Riga.  We left that slightly off-kilter metropolis (more on that in a moment) to go south to Vilnius.

Once you leave the major city roads, which takes longer than you would expect- trying to navigate against other drivers is like trying to win an argument with a fundamentalist (have you tried?  I have- not the driving, it's a stick we have, but the arguing.  It doesn't work and takes way more effort than any reasonable person should expend)- you come face-to-face with countryside.  In December at least it is dark countryside that spreads out away from the road like a sadness.

First impressions?  Stark.  It is dark and cold here.  But it is not the starkness of the far north cold or far north dark.  It is the starkness of recovery, a sensation I know well.  Anyone with a long illness knows that sort of bleakness.  It is the tunnel that almost always seems lightless.  The illness here?  Sovietness. It lingers today, appearing even in the young whose eyes shift too nervously and too suspiciously.  It pervades in the older generations, short tempered and sparing with their kindness.  (So far the nicest man we've met was the vendor who sold painting next to one of ten-thousand Christmas markets in Riga. And he's (sort of) paid to be that way.)  It bullies it's way into the structures of buildings.

The lights in the Tunnel of Baltic Starkness are the very odd, very sweet old towns and cities.  There was something rightly magical about wandering through Old Town Riga, hearing the faint echo of a cellist who is nestled in some doorway, hoping for a tip; something achingly happy about watching children in their hats and mittens running through those market squares, excited and expectant.  The yellow-gold lights scattered around the city- reflected off of dark, cold, wet cobblestone- makes the world look warm (the mulled wine helps, too).

These tiny moments of wonder are balm.  They soothe the savage process of nations and people reclaiming their identities.

And until next time Dearests, I sincerely hope I have not offended any Soviet sympathizers.  If I have, well, put on your big-kid pants and deal with it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Trouble With Norway…

Today is my last full day in Norway- whatever posts follow will either be from airports or one of several Eastern and Central European countries (remember this is me… I don't half-ass much in this world).  I write this knowing full well that I have written a lot of end-blogs; many countries have kept me captive in my travels.  And yet this is not as difficult a final post to write as the final one from Iceland.  But that is not because I have had any less profound and humbling experience here as I did there.

Not at all.  If anything, this Norwegian adventure has been more profound, more humbling, and more startling than many of the others.

In my life I have been called worse than a 'nomad.'  Much worse, in fact- and it's not like my accusers are wrong, when they wonder if I even have the gene in me to be settled in one time, in one place.  I have been on the move, on the hunt for expansively confounding deep breaths and open spaces, for longer than I care to remind you.  Indeed I have worked incredibly hard to avoid the responsibility of 'place': except for the four-legged blonde boy (no one fear, Henry is happily at home with Mom and The Bob, stealing socks and terrorizing the Christmas Tree), I am largely lacking any component of adulthood as it is categorized by home-ownership, mortgage, and, well…. tethers.  I generally run hard and fast from those things.

But Norway is messing with my head.

I have experienced, here, something I did not think would ever be within my range of experiences- a place I could stay.  A place that fulfills me- the birds, the boats, the wild places that go on into the horizon.  Yeah, that horizon- the one that keeps stretching out and out and away suddenly seems closer.    And despite myself and my patterns of bolting, of staring into the future and considering exit strategies for all possibilities I see before me, despite that I am not scared or nervous.  I am not worried.

I am saddened, bittersweet, because what I found I have to leave behind.

I may never come back to Norway.  I may never see the blue-violet-orange sky again or watch the not-sunset.  I may never slip on this particular ice again or walk through this range of precipitation.  I may never breathe this air, or gaze at these ferries and make up stories for their travelers.  I may never wander in the woods and try to decide which green hue is my favorite.

But I know, now, that it is here.  That even mine- the most wayfaring of souls- has a mate.  The place is perfect.

But the knowledge is enough.

And until next time… if you don't hear much from me… Does anyone know how to say 'Bail' or 'Extradition' in Latvian?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


This past weekend, in the far north, I found myself watching a sunset- even though the sun had not risen.  This is one in a series of natural events that don't seem natural but supernatural- otherworldly- impossible to really describe.  In this instance, the colors were alive.  Literally sentient.  

And so for your hopefully exceptional viewing pleasure… I give you colors from the far north. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

It Is a Long Way Back to Bethlehem

The past few days of my trip to Norway have been, believe it or not, even further north than I initially planned, in the Far North- in a place called Tromso.

When I arrived up here, I decided to treat myself to something I saw in a magazine in Oslo (way down there)- a free Christmas Concert, featuring the Arctic Philharmonic.  Yeah…., about that…  Sometimes when you go to places like Norway, you get news of the entire country- 'What's on In Norway!'.  It's like getting to New York City and finding a magazine called 'What's on In The United States!'- that just doesn'thappne.

Attempting to find the Tromso Culturehouse for the concert was laughable- I had been up since 4 o'clock in the morning, off and on various flights, and was not exactly coherently reading my tourist-bureau map.  So when an elderly woman- who I later deemed Grandma Norway- approached me and asked if I needed help, I readily accepted.  Not only did she offer to take me to the Culturehouse- where she was also going- she sat with me at the concert and translated all of the Norwegian language I faced.

Her most profound translation came from a line in an old Northern Norway Christmas song:

It is a long way back to Bethlehem. 

It is a long way back to Bethlehem, indeed. She translated without pretense or expectation that I be moved nearly to tears hearing that.  How fitting for me- that as far as we have come, there is always a longing to return.  That for the motion and expansion and constant connectivity, we want a stillness, an ancient, spiritual stillness.  That for all of the experience there is still desire for grace.

And grace is what I got tonight.

Tonight, for the second time in my life, I witnessed the Northern Lights.  For the second time I watched an entity descend from the heavens- this time pink-tinted white against clear black.  It was like watching a grand, universal piano played from beneath.  Or like lying beneath a glass table and watching the most beautiful glass of milk spilled onto it.  They are symphonic and breath-taking and have an awareness unto themselves, these lights.

But here's the thing- in my time, I have not seen white.

I have not seen the aurora appear white.  White ribbons, white lights like electricity, white.  White.

Oh and did I mention that all of this happened on a Reindeer-drawn sled?


That happened.

And until next time, may your nights be merry and white….

Thursday, December 11, 2014


I am on my second long-distance train of this trip to Norway.  The kid next to me sleeps; the one on the other side of the aisle eats a banana and watches ‘Catching Fire.’ 

I, in the meantime, will take entirely too long to write this blog because I can’t help pausing every few words to survey the world on the outside.  It just began to snow, big flakes that look ferocious but only because the train moves so fast.  The route from Oslo to Stavanger passes through a landscape that is a study in greens and whites with the occasional burst of color from a red or beige house, or a lightning fast snatch of blue blue sky.  The greens are moss, fir, pine, evergreen, an odd brownish-mint.  The white is the reflection of snow, frost, smoke from the fires burning in those red or beige houses, a salty deposit on the big rocks that form the walls of the valley through which I travel.

It is breathtaking.- it is making gluttons of my eyes  If I could feast on the scenery, I would.  I would gorge myself on this place; forever fill myself on it.  I can’t actually bring myself to picture what it will be like in the spring and summer, I don’t want to.  Instead I want to absorb this winter into my bones.  I want to burn it into the backs of my eyelids and pull it around my heart- like a cold cloak that protects this beating beast.

Why did I decide to go to Norway in the middle of winter? 

I did not know it when I booked my flights; I could not fathom it when I paged through the guidebooks, dog-earing this page and that one.  But this is why- this primitive combination of sinister and pristine.  The cold is callous but it is innocent, as well.  And old as time. 

Norway in the winter is a slap in the face of complacency and complaints. 

Norway in the winter will put anyone in his or her place- real fast; it’s size will remind you of how small you are; it’s cold is a testament to how fleeting.  The few moments of sunshine dare you to look away. 

And I cannot.

Until next time, I am far too captivated to keep writing.  

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Once again, traveling has left me unable to decide upon an appropriate title.

Every country I have been to has something uniquely unto itself.  Something that sticks in my mind and my heart and that I carry with me always.  I cannot count the number of times I have described Australia as Gold, Belgium as Perfectly Pastoral, Iceland as the Most Profound Combination of Man and Nature.  I cannot count the number of times I have called up memories of those inexplicable intangibles and sat with them- clear as the day I met them.

Norway… Norway, at least in winter, Sparkles.  I know- I sound like an over-Frozened five-year-old getting ready to belt out 'Let It Go.'  But bear with me.  Because I am not.  I am categorically not.   

On the advice of a charming Norwegian lady I met on the bus yesterday, I made a quick trip out of the city (the conversation, by the way, started with me asking 'If I were leaving tomorrow, what is the ONE thing you think I should do in Oslo.'  Her response?  'Oh, you must get out!'… I love it…, a gal after my own heart.).  I took the Number 1 Tube out to Frognerseteren, sitting on the left side as she suggested, and watch the crowd of Oslo disappear into the hills of the suburbs.  I watched the city retreat in to the far-far background of the country.  

And something like a mile can make all the difference in the world:

Above the fog-laden streets of Oslo is a bright, sun-washed series of hills.  

And I mean bright.  

The first thing that struck me as I stepped out of the tube an into the fresh air was the shine- the glimmering, glittering, near-blinding shine of it all.  

When the sun comes out to play in the Norwegian Winter Wood,  it's as though the world is made of diamonds.  Everything sparkles.  The trees, the roads, the little-berried plants that have somehow survived all of the harsh cold with their plum and raspberry colors intact.  After a while you forget that it is ice you are walking on… until, of course, you (me) slips and goes ass-over-tea kettle down a steep incline.  

Good thing this portion of my trip is solo- otherwise there would have been robust laughter aimed in my direction.  

Of course I wasn't watching when I planted that ill-placed footstep.  Nope, I was witnessing.  I was thinking.  I thought of all the different descriptions of nature that I have heard throughout my life, trying to pick out the one that most appropriately fit the vista that I saw.  And here is where we veer from the 'sparkly'.  

I heard somewhere, probably read it, clouds described as the sea: 'a sea of clouds'.  And here's the thing- I saw that today… well, sort of.  What I saw were clouds lingering in the valley above Oslo, but below Frognerseteren.  What I saw was the sea- if the sea were made of clouds.  If the sea were a diaphanous thing, made of ether and belief, instead of salt water; bracketed by forest and distant, wistful land, it would look like something like this (again, forgive a photo that does not do justice even a little):

I am not entirely sure how much time I spent staring at that- watching the clouds move like waves toward me, sipping a coffee.  I sat within and outside of time, warming in the bright bright sun and forgetting for a moment that the world was below me.  

But, as I sit in the hostel bar and type this while haphazardly watching a bison dissected on Norwegian tele…  yes, there it is-  

The world again.  

And until next time, Dearests, 

Hat De Bra. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Fjotoblog: Norway So Far...

Something about the Northern Europeans…  They seem
to get it right more often than they do wrong...

My adopted home in Stavanger.
What you cannot see in this photo
are the two Pavlovian Swans who
are nuts for an American bearing bread.

See above about Northern Europeans- when I was in
Iceland I posted a photo from Akureyri, where all of
the red stop lights are shaped as hearts… In Stavanger
they wear their hearts on their trees… or in them, rather. 

Lysefjord.  Yeah, I did that. 

Old Town Stavanger- a good walkabout to bring me
back to earth after the insane beauty of the fjords. 

Out near Sirdal.  I have, in all of my travels, never seen
anything as beautiful as this.  It's almost not worth posting
a photo because there's just no way to capture
what I saw.  Literally. 

You know I can't resist a close-up. 

Same Sirdal, a little later in the day.. what I noticed is that
white was never white here.  Instead it was arctic, icy,
pale blue.  And I'll be damned if it did not
wrench my heart in the most wonderful possible way. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Nor…What The F@%K?

I have a lot of What The F@%K moments- A Lot.

They usually come when I am being jostled, elbowed, poked, provoked by a stranger standing behind me in the TSA line.  Or when I am taking in my hundredth breath of stale air that smells of exhaust, good and bad anxiousness, and cigarette smoke.  Or when I am lingering, alone at the baggage carousel wondering… but where's my bag?  (All of those, by the way, happened to me at some point over the last 20-24 hours.  I'm not complaining... I mean, I guess I am technically complaining, but I'm getting to a much less bratty point in time.  Oh and my bag did make it.)

Which is to say that many of my WTF moments (careful now- that W can stand for many words) come at the airport.  Especially in the big International halls of JFK, Logan, CDG… What the F@%K am I doing here??

I have had that moment stranded in the middle of Beijing Airport, having missed a connecting overseas flight.  I have had that moment waking up after passing out on a flight from Heathrow to Munich, unsure of where I was, what I was doing there and how exactly I was buckled into my seat (the rather…ummm... handsy-looking German man beside me may have had something to do with that but I can never be sure) after having not slept for the previous 48 hours.  I have had that moment staring at the flight delay getting longer and longer and my next connection getting shorter and shorter.  I have had that moment getting straight Pissy with Customs Agents who were getting straight Pissy with me.

What the F@%K, Why the F@%K?  In all of these instances I find myself wondering just how much of a glutton for punishment traveling has turned me into.   I find myself thinking… What the F@%K is my end game this time?

And every time, every single time, it hits me all at once- all at once it makes sense.  Right now I am sitting at the kitchen (there's a distinct possibility that it counts as a dining room table) table of a man who I have not yet met but who was kind enough to let me in, in a manner of speaking.  In between the tap-tap-tapping of these computer keys, I can hear the beating heart of the harbor.  I sit here and I listen to waves that wakes of ferries make when as they pass by below me.  I can- well I could before- hear birds yakking.  And that's not even what made it make sense (although… it certainly has helped), not even the first AHA! Moment.. no, that moment looked a little like this:

After only watching clouds beneath the wing of my final flight to Stavanger, the final descent into the city's small airport yielded a break in them.  The surreal blue of the high sky was laced with the gold of the too-early setting sun.  And suddenly I could see this enrapturing country that I will call home until the end of the month.  I could see the sea, the land rising from it, and the larger land rising from that.

I could see it all and it was breathtaking.

It is breathtaking.

That is What the F@%K I am doing here- it is what the F@%K I an doing every time I follow my wandering, lusty heart to another place- to meet another people, to see another side of it all.  I am stockpiling those AHA! Moments, adding them to my spirit.

I collect them so that I may be better.

And until next time…. so much Love from such a Lovely place.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tonight, North Carolina… Tomorrow Nor..wait what??

My last blog post detailed a rather timely musical discovery: 'Ends of the Earth' from Lord Huron.  And I believe that his Lordship may have been in my head when he wrote it...
Look carefully: Livonia?
This image comes from the Rand
McNally Imperial Atlas.  I found it in
my closet earlier this evening-
it has been ages since I've seen it.  I
stashed it away long ago in the annals
of my teenage years, not knowing
how significant the very idea of an
Atlas would later become. 

But here's the thing- there are no ends to this earth (unless you count the ends of maps, edges arbitrarily made to fit the cut of sheaths of paper.  Maps have merits, Atlases act like a bound North Star).  There are only horizons.  Horizons that push out constantly.  Tantalizingly.  Horizons on which the sun can set or into which the sea can endlessly flow.  Horizons marked by mountains, horizons made reachable in fracturingly fleeting moments.  

Tomorrow I set off to chase another horizon, to follow my heart (maybe a map?) toward another adventure.  From NC to NY to France to Norway… From Norway to Latvia, Lithuania and maybe Poland.  I have a fresh, new Passport, a packed bag and a puppy currently laying on top of my arm as I try to write this.  

Tomorrow I become a pilgrim for the umpteenth time.  By plane, train, and hopefully boat, I will roam flatlands, fjord-lands, the Far North, forests of people and forests primeval.  I will be far away from what I know- but at home with (or without?) that knowledge.  

Until next time… 

Which will be in Norwegian Time…