Friday, July 24, 2015

Happy Birthday, Mommy.

Today, my mother celebrates her 29th (cough) birthday.  Which is weird (cough cough) when you consider that I am already 30 (cough cough cough).  Mathematically, it doesn't quite work.

But who ever said birthdays and mathematical sense go together? Surely not I.

Alas, I digress.

As the universe would have it, I am once again far away for a beloved parent's big day.  And while I somehow managed to spirit away a gift to her through the mail, it's not quite the same as being able to kick back and spend the day with Mom.  Or being able to call from inside the county, at an obnoxiously early hour, and sing "Happy Birthday" and the top of my lungs.  Not that I wouldn't do that from Norway, it's just… not the same.

The thing is… birthdays aren't about gifts, they are about presence. Birthdays are about being there for a person who, in this case, has always been there back.  They are about looking at a person you love and thinking 'DAMN, I'm happy you're here. (And you got here, 29 years ago {again}, on this day!).'

And the loveliest fact on earth is that I've got so many reasons to be happy for my Mom- happy that she's here, happy that she's there.  If you've ever had the luck to meet Maureen, you know that she's something else.  I frequently describe her as my touchstone, my protector, my best friend.  And this is going to be a short version of her list because it could go on for pages and I can only gush for so long before you'll stop reading.  So here we go…

She has the biggest heart of any person I've met in my life- and she loves with every last bit of it.  Her intuition is huge and stunning which lends a compassion to her that is rarely found in others.  She is funny as all hell and laughs with every iota of her being.

When you are visiting her, she's the 'In-Town Mama.' When she is visiting you, she's the 'Outta-Town Mama.'  It doesn't actually matter what relation you are to her, she'll mother you.  She is exceptionally patient when it comes to the people, or creatures, that she love most.  She's technologically backward, old-school, hates her smart phone, and yesterday described herself as 'squealing like a toddler every time I see you pop onto Gchat (gmail's version of messenger).'  She then proceeded to give me an example of her squealing like a toddler and I very nearly peed myself laughing.  She's the best.

She is one of the strongest people I know.  Period.

And someday, I'd like to be a little bit like her.

But until that day… HAPPY BIRTHDAY MAMA! (Apparently in Norway it's 'Gratulerer med Dagen'… boring), AND WELCOME TO THE FIRST OF MANY BIRTHDAY BLOGS, BABY!!  My advice for the day?  Have a re-live of September 2008, find a river, a paddleboat, and a Pina Colada.  And scene.  Wish I was there. <3

Friday, July 17, 2015

So Far, So Florence

It seems like everyone in Florence has some sort of story to tell. The homeless, the hapless, the helpless.    And they are all begging for their photos to be taken- a visual aide to their tales. 

The people here are tourists and locals, sightseers and philanderers and men and women looking for some sort of break. 

The meat, meanwhile, is looking for a cut. 

These men were sort of deliciously lazing across from a wine bar- the tenders at which were serving them merrily and without a second thought to charge.  They all have stories to tell.  And they tell them to each other.

Old meets new.  I am partial to both, believe it or not.  As much as my heart sings for the ancient world and works- there's something to be said for juxtaposition. 

Ponte Santa Trinita at sunset. 

This dude at morningtime… sheesh.

My first glimpse of the Duomo resulted in a rather emphatic, overly loud "Holy Shit."  It is the third largest church space following Saint Peter's in Rome and Saint Paul's in London. And it's phenomenally stunning- all green, white, and pink granite.  All Holier Than Thou. 

And then you see the sky and remember that it's not really the building that counts at all...

Ah Firenze.  Every time  I see that word, I think about Harry Potter- wasn't the centaur called Firenze? Wasn't he?


Gridwork, part sunshine, part two. 

And until next time… Suggestions for gelato flavors?

Friday, July 10, 2015

On Minarets, Microphones, and Magic

It's been nearly a week since my return from Istanbul and I still can't quite shake the feeling that I've done her some sort of injustice by not actually writing about the city.  I can't quite get her out of my head or off my mind.  Go with me on this one, let it flow, because it might be a bit of a ramble.

Despite my decidedly out of control globetrotting, I have never visited a predominately Muslim country.  Most of my travels have taken me to largely Christian, undecided, or otherwise inclined places. There's no rhyme, reason or prejudice here.  In the hierarchies of my travels, where I can go is where I do go- and that is much more a result of funding versus religious affiliation.  I believe I've fairly clearly established my own thoughts on religious systems and spirituality.  The one I don't buy into at all, the other I have the utmost respect for.  No surprise there.

But what may surprise is that the thing about Istanbul that struck me the most- aside from the colors, flavors, scents and scenes, visions of living history- was the religiosity there.  It is woven artfully into the day with extreme precision and delicacy.  It is careful and sometimes subtle and frequently not-so-subtle.

Hagia Sophia near the center, Blue Mosque off to the
far right.  Ten hundred thousand life-stories between.
The religion in Istanbul struck me as both blunt and gentle- there was a constancy to it that was amazingly profound but also a nonchalance about it.  Every man had prayer beads that he was constantly fingering.  Women had traditional scarves.  Scanning the horizon is a riot of lopsided buildings, skyscrapers and unsightly cranes- all punctuated by the jabbing grace of minarets.  Minarets everywhere- minarets beside minarets beside minarets.  All outfitted with microphones.

This place, this history, so steeped in religion and so aware of that, does not let you forget it.  If Istanbul can remember- so can you.

(This is where I'm going to do something very difficult- and skip the part about the Hagia Sophia. If you know me and know what some things mean to me, you'll know that the nearly three hours I spent in awe and reverence in that space were about as close to Holy as I can get.  In those three hours I remembered why History was my first love, and how History is so Holy… Hmm.. I guess I'm doing a poor job at skipping the part about Hagia Sophia.  I digress.)

And now for elementary background (and I apologize for my woeful oversimplification here)… Muslims observe Salat (Namaz in Turkey), one of the five pillars of their faith, with prayers that take the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of (wo)man, roll them together, and demand respect, attention.  It's a time-out from life, a reminder of the bigger picture.  Salat happens five times a day.  And witnessing  that will change a person- at least for a little while.  Because Muslims pray… beautifully.  The daily calls to prayer (Adhan) which erupt from those microphone-bearing minarets around the city at prescribed times are booming, echoing, tinny, abrasive and utterly captivating.

Yes. That is me: shoulders covered, head covered,
kneeling at the Blue Mosque.  Even heathens have
Everyday there- several times a day- I'd pause for a heartbeat, wondering about the strangeness of being included in someone's religion, someone's faith, simply by having chosen to visit their city.  It was an oddly provocative gift.  And how very potent that realization is to someone like me.

Everyday there- all those several times a day- I stood quietly realizing that my adventure now had a new soundtrack.  Instead of jack-hammers and honking horns, I had the call of some appointed Muezzin guiding me through the crowded streets of this ancient place.  And in this ancient place, in those few moments, I felt an ancient magic.  It's the magic made from layers upon layers of civilization, each weighing down on the last, each bolstering the one that followed, building up to something… I don't know what yet.

It's the magic made from Spices, Sultans and Salats.

It's the magic of Istanbul.

There. That feels better- And until next time.

Sunday, July 5, 2015


I'm staring out the window of another plane.  I can't see the landscape through the clouds but I know it's there, passing beneath me.  Or rather, existing beneath me while I pass over it.

I watch the clouds, imagine the land, and wonder where is home?  What is home?

I've never been terribly discriminatory about my use of that word.  'Home.'  I guess because I don't really consider home a place, or maybe that I don't consider it a singular place.  I'm too traveled, too 'miled' for that- far too old for the luxury of staidness.  The plane I'm on at the moment reminds me of this- it's flying me from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris to Stavanger, Norway.  For the moment, it's flying me home.

Or is it?

Because home is Charlotte, North Carolina.  Home is Windsor, Vermont.  Home is the driver's side of a Jeep that will soon be sold to the highest bidder.  Yesterday home was an eighth floor apartment in Istanbul with a rooftop terrace and an evil washing machine.

There it is- home isn't a place.  It's a space.  It's a space that you carve out for whatever small or grand period of time for yourself.  Home is the space that you make yours.  If it's only for a day, cool- that bench is homier than any other around, or that bus seat or that plane seat on a long haul trip.  If it's for a week, even better.  Because at that point, at some point, you're walking along the streets of someplace theoretically foreign and you stop when you realize that you've bought coffee from the same hidden, hardworking vendor for the past four mornings in a row.  You're not home- but you have your own 'coffee shop on the corner.' And there it is again- you are home.

If it's even longer, then you're just lucky. New Jersey, North Carolina, Paris, Maryland, New Hampshire, Vermont, China - all of these place have been my home.  And there are so many more.  There will be so many more.

It's not a place. My parents will move to Florida soon. And where they go, where they wind up, will not be the house I grew up in, but it will be home because of them. Vermont and New Hampshire will always be home because of the people I know there and the love I have known there.  Norway might not work out, I really don't know. But in a little while, I will be landing and making my way to an apartment with a warm, happy dog wanting to say hello…

And 'welcome home.'

And until next time… I'm home.

*I journaled this on a plane- typed it later on.

Friday, July 3, 2015


I literally made myself giggle with that title.  I know that I'm not really funny… but I like to tell myself that I am.

And without further adieu, the Photo Blog from Istanbul…

So far...