Sidi Bou Said

I walked quite a bit before I found a cab, from my bed and breakfast in the medina to the kasbah and then down the main street. I found a cab parked and talking to another cabbie. I raised my hand discretely. He pulled over to me. I leaned down to the open passengers seat window and said Sidi Bou Said, in more of a statement than a question.

Tfadaly,” he said.  (Welcome/come in)

I got into the back seat of the hot car and took off my hat, my futile hat because it just flops over my face and I can’t see.

3aslama,” I said, the Tunisian “hello.”

3aslama,” I got back.

I peered over the passenger seat to look at the 3adad, (the meter) and in doing so the driver got the hint and turned it on.

We wove through traffic and I longed to drive. With every gear shift and (not so slight) jerk of the car, I thought of the art of driving, but for now I was enjoying being a passenger.  Vespas passed us by, a red one with a couple riding, he wore jeans and a blue t-shirt and she a screaming blue jumpsuit and matching blue hijab with of course, Jackie Kennedy sunglasses.

We passed Carthage on the way and I could see Roman ruins from the cab. When we reached to Sidi bou Said the taxi driver dropped me off and I asked him where Cook’s restaurant was, where I would be meeting friends, he pointed up the mountain. I said, do you know that specific one, Cook’s?

“Yes yes,” he repeated, “Cook’s” and pointed again upwards.

So I got out of the car, put my hat back on and started up the hill. I stopped in a shop to ask about Cook’s.

“Lebanese?” the man said.

It’s quite irksome that every time I open my mouth to ask a question, rather than address what I’m talking about, the men—because it’s only men that do this—inquire about my nationality.  But this time I was going to be stubborn, “it’s a restaurant, it’s called Cook’s.”

“Egyptian!” He seemed proud of himself.

For the love of God. I should have known I would be met with stubbornness.

A guy sitting behind the guy I was talking to (I guess we weren’t really talking, I mean, we were talking but not having a conversation, I was asking for directions and he was playing a guessing game as to where my accent came from.) told me, “it’s down the hill.”

The first guy turns to his friend and says “Hey! Quiet! I’m trying to talk to her.”

The guy in the back pays little regard to the first and says, “Across from the supermarket GM, you’ll see it.”

“Thank you!” (Yeslamu) I call out and as I turn to walk away I say “souriya” (a female from Syria) to the first man.

“Ahhhhh,” he yells after me, “Tislam 3eyewnauk!!” A Syrian nicety and response to my thank you that normally sounds charming but bothered me from this man.

I go back down where I came, turns out Mr. Taxi driver did not know what he was talking about and find Cook’s.

Building in Sidi Bou Said

Streets of Sidi Bou Said

Mosque in Sidi Bou Said

Several of the ladies were there already and we had coffees and juices. Eventually Wafa showed up and we all hung out some more.

Coffee with the bride & ladies

Afterwards we split off into 2 groups, 6 of us walking up to Sidi Bou Said. Ines, our resident Tunisian expert and true renaissance woman (the lady with the Tennessee Williams quote, she said I could use her name), walked us around and told us about it. Tunisian Sufism was born here and she showed us the mosque that Sidi bou Said built.

Around Sidi Bou Said

The Mediterranean through the buildings.

Beautiful coastline

Gorgeous door in Sidi Bou Said

Me with the door

Trying not to get burned by the door

Just gorgeous!!!!

Bougainvillea in Sidi Bou Said

This is a country where knowledge is power. We were starving and really wanted to eat, Ines had gone home so us three ladies walked around looking for food. We found cafes with loads of men smoking hookah and no women. After roaming for an hour we decided to call it quits and it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to go to bed hungry.

We hailed a cab and told him two stops. He didn’t understand why and maybe I didn’t do a good job explaining that we would be splitting up. Finally he got it.  He would drop me off at the Kasbah and continue on to the hotel where the other two were staying.

I got home and shed my bags and sweaty, sweaty clothes and had a glorious shower. I sat down to write when I heard the key unlock the deadbolt of the door downstairs and heard, in a lovely French accent, “Sally?”

Sondos was home!  She came upstairs and introduced me to her daughter who was with her.  She asked if I was hungry or wanted a beer.  Yes!  How serendipitous, so she got us each a beer and made some rice and a salad, put together some cheese and charcuterie and we ate and chatted for some time.  Sondos, the innkeeper, is a dancer and an actress and the more I talk to her, the more I realize how well-known she is.  She leaves tomorrow for Avignon, Hamburg, and Zurich to tour with a show she is doing.  And all over the house there are movie posters of films she has starred in.  But she is so humble and it is a lovely experience talk to her every time!

A church in Tunis

Cool clock tower in Tunis

 

Evening in Tunis

As it turns out, my friend’s brother and I were on the same flight.  Thanks to technology, we learned this and Wafa (my friend, the bride) said she would pick me up at the airport since she would already be there for her brother.

I landed in Tunis and was hit by heat and humidity as soon as I stepped off the airplane.  However, I was quickly cooled by the airport’s marble and tiled walls and floors.

Cool tile and marble baggage claim area

I tried to exchange money but of course the two change bureaus were closed but the lovely security guards told me I could exchange my money after customs.

Airports make me emotional, the tug on the heartstrings of watching people say goodbye or be reunited is deep for me.  I have spent my life bidding farewell to family with the hope of seeing them again the following year, or the year after, or my current state of unknowing.

As I walked out of customs and searched the crowds awaiting for their own arriving loved ones, I heard, in a California accent none the less, “Sally!” I turned my head to the voice and found Wafa waving and running towards me.  I dropped my suitcase and hugged her and immediately burst into tears.  It’s not that I haven’t seen her in too long, I guess it’s been about a year or two since she moved to Tunisia but now she’s a bride and a lawyer and I had been traveling for over 20 hours.  And I don’t need to justify my emotions, I feel and I’m happy for feeling.  When I pulled it together, I said hello to her mother, her littlest brother, and her cousin.  Now we went to exchange money as we waited for her other brother–the one that was on my flight.

We walked out to the sweltering heat and loaded our bags in her car, then we wove our way around the labyrinth of the airport parking lot.  I was told that the barricades and barriers in the lanes were not there even a year ago but security has increased with the rise of terrorism.

We drove to her flat, piled in the elevator which took us two trips between the 5 people and 4 suitcases.  As soon as we were inside we all got comfortable, shoes off, covers off, air conditioning on, everybody wash your face and drink some water.  Like I said, I haven’t seen Wafa in a year or two so we, needless to say, had a lot to talk about.  We talked and talked and then decided to make coffee and have a sweet, over which we talked some more.

Wafa’s street

Not the best photo but can you please, please admire the light hitting the building on the left? The Mediterranean sun IS different.

Grape vines in the courtyard

Eventually we decided we should take me to my bed and breakfast.  So we drove to the kasbah (city center and place of government), Wafa parked and the two of us dragged my suitcase and my handbag; sometimes we would park the handbag on the side of the walkway and carry, from either side, my behemoth of a suitcase down some stairs or across some particularly unpatched cobblestone.

Tunisian machmoum, cluster of flowers

This now lives on my nightstand and I can think of no better scent to wake up to

We wove through the allies of the old medina stopping where we deemed fit.  We popped into Dar el Jeld, a restaurant and hotel that Wafa really wanted to show me.  It was beautiful, in the style of old Arabic houses, mosaic tiles and an open air courtyard, a gentleman was playing a qanun (lap guitar) in the courtyard and the scene was just perfect.  Wafa stopped me on our way out to spray jasmine perfume on my wrist and we both reveled in the amazing floral scents of the mediterranean.  On our way out, the bell boy who had been watching our bags, handed us each a machmoum, a cluster of flowers  (ward el full, or in English, jasmine of the east) tightly wrapped with red string.  If you like the smell of jasmine, wait until you smell this.

We continued walking and talking, observing on our way the stray cats in the alleys and the children playing.  As we were walking, Wafa suddenly stopped and said “wait, this is where I take book binding classes!” So naturally, we stopped in to say hello to her instructor.  He was so thrilled to see her and she gave him a wedding invitation.  His workshop was amazing, hand bound books everywhere, paper everywhere, a press.  Wow!

Onwards.  Finally we got to the junction that we thought was my street and so we turned under the archway, as the B&B owner had instructed me and there it was, #24.  We rang the bell, heard footsteps and the door opened by a beautiful petite woman, Sondos.  She had a full head of grey and white curls and the body of a dancer, she was wearing a small, flowered summer dress and welcomed us in.  We chatted, she showed me my room, the house, and offered us lemonade.  We drank in one of the open-aired sitting rooms and after all of the logistics had been covered, she invited me to her friend’s house for an aperitif, only if I didn’t already have plans.

I did not and on we went.  The house we had been invited to was also an old house in the medina, not a two minute walk from Sondos’s and had been recently renovated by Salim, an architect and the owner.  We knocked on the door and as soon as he opened the door, a cat greeted our legs.  “Come in, come in!” We were ushered in and then out to the courtyard at the center of the house where a lemon tree took up half of the space.  A jasmine vine was crawling up the stark white of one of the walls.  There was a table in the middle of the courtyard where I joined the already happening discussion: Salim’s wife (I feel terrible for not recalling her name), two Italian researchers: Esther and Emmanuela, and a Colombian researcher, Andreas, on sabbatical at Rutgers but in Tunisia for a month to study Arabic.

I had a celtia, a Tunisian beer and nibbled on super salty black olives with leaves of rosemary stuck to them while we talked and Salim prepared pasta.  We discussed all of our backgrounds and research and the current state of affairs in Tunisia, the United States, Europe, and Colombia.  The languages being spoken were Spanish, French, Arabic–both Levantine and Tunisian, and English.  Salim and his wife’s two little girls paraded in and out of the living room to the courtyard, one dressed in a long blue princess dress and the other in just her underwear.  When the little princess went to sleep, the one parading around half naked brought us all flowers to smell and helped Andreas with his Arabic.

Eventually we were all exhausted and parted ways, Sondos and I walking back to La Chambre Bleue, the B&B. What a day, like I said, travel with an open heart.  Or come to think of it, we ought to live life with an open heart, not only when we are traveling outside of our element.  We should always welcome what life throws our way with open arms and heart.

Taos Pueblo – Chimayo – Santa Fe

I woke up well before my alarm, turned it off, lit a candle, rolled out the yoga mat, brushed my teeth, rolled up my yoga mat.  Dawn and fresh air were beckoning, I knew I would not be able to concentrate on yoga.  I got dressed and tip-toed out of the bed and breakfast, careful not to wake anybody as it was not yet 6:20.

As soon as I opened the hotel door, the crisp, cold air slapped me in the face, along with the smell of skunk.  I got in the car and drove out the pot-holy driveway where I found the skunk scurrying across the street!  Such a beautiful creature.

I drove towards the Taos Pueblo and found a cafe (The Coffee Spot) open so I popped in.  I think I have found the best dirty chai, yet!  I have a thing for dirty chais and I go around all over everywhere and order them, I have my favorite in Monterey (Bright Coffee at Lilify) but I have found one better!  Must come back!

The barista clarified that it was a shot of amaretto SYRUP, not the spirit…bummer

I got back on the road and drove to Taos Pueblo.  I was trying to get to the church but every road was blocked with a “Closed” sign, so I kept driving around trying to find a back way in.  Eventually, I saw a kid walking and slowed the car down to ask for help.  As soon as I lowered the window, he pulled his hood off his head.  I was very impressed  by his manners.  I told him my issue and he politely gave me directions.  As he walked away, he put his hood back on.  I really liked that gesture of his.

I parked in the church’s driveway and walked in.  It was just as Alice said it would be!  I was probably the only person who didn’t have a blanket wrapped around me. It was dimly lit and the pews were packed, there were even people standing in the back.  The mass was lovely and the homily the priest gave was beautiful, about love.  He spoke about how we ought to show love everyday in our lives, and not just to our romantic partners, but to everyone, we ought to live in love, with love, by love, etc.  I really appreciated the message.

After mass, I lit four candles at the alter and said some prayers.  On my way out, I noticed that the church was giving away books, “Resisting Happiness,” and it put a smile on my face because mama is currently reading that book.

I was disappointed to find, back at the bed and breakfast, that Alice had decided against making green chili, she said they had a big group of “youngsters” and so she had made French Toast.  Boo.

“Did you find that bar last night?” Jeremy, the innkeeper asked me.

“Yes, it’s called Don Carlos, but I decided against going, when I got there it was a bunch of dudes and being female and traveling alone, I try to be cautious.” I responded.

“I totally understand,” he said.

I went in the kitchen to tell Alice that mass this morning was everything I’d hoped for and more.

“Good! I knew you’d love it, sweety, it’s so peaceful, isn’t it?”  She said as she gave me a good morning hug.  “Aww you didn’t go to Don Carlos?  That used to be my hangout but I’m not allowed there any more.”

“What? What happened?” I asked.

“Like you say, all those dudes! And pool sticks, you know.” She laughed.

I guess I had made the right decision to avoid the bar with all the dudes last night.

I thanked her and Jeremy with big hugs and told them I’d be back again one day, I might even bring someone with me next time! They said, “you’d better!”

The back of The Blue Water Retreat at San Geronimo says “’til we meet again,” I love that, not only as a sweet detail but as a life’s philosophy

I got on the backroad and drove to Chimayo, per Alice’s suggestion. It was lovely, but the main attraction was a church, it is after all a sacred holy site.  I walked around, admiring peoples’ prayer wishes but didn’t go into mass, I had had enough priests and preacher-ing for the day.  The open road called.

Let’s go!

View from a lookout on the side of the road, a little south of Taos

Some run down houses in Truches

Candles and rosaries left with prayers and hope at Chimayo

Crosses tied to the fence at Chimayo

Chilis in Chimayo

Back on the road, next stop, Santa Fe!  I returned my rental car and took an uber to my hotel.  The room wasn’t ready yet so I left my luggage at the front desk and walked to the plaza where I found Draft Station, where I sit now writing this, enjoying an Oatmeal Stout from Blue Corn Brewery here in Santa Fe.

I eventually checked into my hotel room, had a bath, refreshed my soul, and then went out for a walk around the plaza and downtown Santa Fe.  There are so many fun and funky shops here that you could spend an entire week just exploring them.  I found a great wine shop that sold one of my favorite sparkling wine’s (Gruet) that’s made right here in New Mexico! The sweet girl, Mary-Francis who sold me my bottle even told me that Gruet has been voted some of the best American sparkling wine! (For a couple fun articles on Gruet, read this and this.)

I was stopped dead in my tracks by a pair of suede fuchsia pumps, ugh how I love high heeled shoes.  I went in the shop.  “Those shoes are beautiful!” I told the shopkeeper.

“You’re beautiful.” he responded.

Good salesperson, I see.  We started chatting and it turns out he’s Syrian!  I took a closer look at his other shoes and it was reconfirmed to me that I have expensive taste.  The cheapest pair of pumps was $700.  Well, not today, I guess.

I went to the hotel’s happy hour.  I parked my laptop at a table facing west, in hopes of watching the sunset, and asked a woman if she’d keep an eye on it while I ordered a drink.  She was very sweet and said yes.  When I came back, I thanked her and struck up conversation with her and her husband, they invited me to join their table and I did.  I ended up chatting with them for 2 hours!  They were charming.

Lights in the plaza

Afterwards, I decided I needed dessert and headed to La Boca which had been recommended to me, several times now.  I was really craving sweets so ordered two desserts.  The one I wanted (chocolate pots de creme) and the one the busser, hostess, and waiter unanimously suggested (gateau Basque).  The Gateau Basque is HANDS DOWN one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life.  It is now my life goal to recreate it.

Dessert at La Boca

Buenas noches.

Taos

I woke up this morning in my lovely hotel room.  I did yoga and made my way to the breakfast room where Alice was cooking for the guests.  I wrote in my journal as I ate the yogurt, eggs, toast, etc.  Towards the end of breakfast, Alice walked around, table-by-table, asking the guests if they would be OK with chili for breakfast in the morning.  When she got to my table, she said, “I don’t need to ask you, I know you’ll eat the chili.”

What? How did she know I’ll eat anything you put in front of me?  I guess I’m that obvious.

After I wrapped up my meal, I tip-toed to the kitchen to thank her for breakfast.  She asked me what my plan was for the day and I told her, she said “are you leaving right now?”

“No, I’m going to go up to my room to pack up.”

“What room are you in?” she asked.

I told her and she said “OK! Wait up there, I’m going to run home and get you something, I just live across the street.”

I went upstairs and brushed my teeth and packed my bag for the day, moments later there was a knock on my door and Alice had brought me maps of Taos, and post-it marked travel guides of the town and surrounding areas.  She got down on her knees and laid the map on the bed and highlighted for me (with the highlighter she had brought) the best route for my day.  I couldn’t thank her enough.  She shrugged it off like it was nothing and told me to enjoy Taos.

I drove into town, a whopping 3 miles from where I’m staying.  I stopped at the World Cup Cafe and ordered a picante mocha, the cute girls behind the counter made it just perfectly and we had a lovely chat while I waited.  Next I drove, 3 blocks, to the St. Francis of Assisi Church.

St. Francis of Assisi Church, Taos, NM

I went in and it smelled just as a church should–of sandalwood, frankincense, and prayers.  I got down on a kneeler and prayed and meditated for a bit.  I went across the street to the gift shop and bought a candle to light.  The attendant asked me who I was praying for, “I pray for everybody,” I responded.

She smiled real big and said, “then I think that size candle will do.”

“How are you today?” I asked her?

“Heartbroken.” She said, melancholy, “My brother died.  He died on Valentine’s Day.” She choked up.

“I’m so sorry for your loss.  I will pray for you then, too.”

“Thank you, mija. Have a blessed day.”

I went back over to the church and lit my candle.  I watched the flame as I always do, fascinated by the way it catches fire.  I stood a bit then went outside to admire the architecture and the structure of the church.

Look at that! There’s hay in the adobe. Amazing.

I wanted to take a backroad to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, but I took a wrong turn and ended up on a dirt road…AWESOME!!  I eventually looped back around and caught the right road but had welcomed the detour.

Dirt road, look at the clouds!!

I stopped at a fruit stand.  The fruit stand was closed so I went into the little shop next door (Blue Feather) that sold body lotions and soaps, I bought some lotion on account of my skin being super dry from the altitude and went along my way.

The road approaching the bridge is flanked with artists selling their creations, cool…but the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is gorgeous, sorry can’t stop! Well, the bridge itself is not gorgeous, the gorge and the landscape are what is gorgeous.  My photos do not do it justice but maybe you can get an idea.

Rio Grande Gorge

Alice had recommended a brewery to me “somewhere over here” she had pointed on the map and I had driven by it on my way out to the bridge so on my way back towards town, I stopped at the Taos Mesa Brewery a super funky brewery in a quonset hut!  I chatted with Cam, the sweet lady behind the bar, “What brings you to Taos?”

“Well, I was in Albuquerque for a conference but I couldn’t stand it so I rented a car and drove here.”

“Oh, honey, I don’t blame you, Albuquerque is the armpit of New Mexico!”

Validation!! Not that I need validation but this was a real live New Mexican confirming my gut feelings about the icky, run-down city.

I ordered the Fall Down Brown (delicious!) and went outside where the sun was shining bright enough for me to strip down to my tank top and soak up some rays.  I wrote in my journal and enjoyed my beer until I decided I needed food.  I went inside and ordered the nachos.

Beer, sun, and snow-topped mountains…life is good

Cam said, “honey, I’m putting in a half order for you, the nachos are huge.”

“Thank you!” I said enthusiastically, I really appreciate the honesty and addressing the fact that this one individual (yours truly) does not need to eat a full order of nachos (or waste half or more of it).

The half order of nachos was still enough to feed a family of four…and DELICIOUS!

As I paid my bill, some people in line behind me told me I had to go to Taos Cow because they had home made ice cream…um…OKAY!!!! I have been known to drive distances for home made ice cream.  So it became obvious what my next pit stop would be…

Incredible mint chip ice cream!! The chocolate was very high quality and the ice cream itself had a consistency more akin to cookie dough, not perfectly smooth but melted in your mouth just right, if I had to guess I would say they use honey in making it…

Taos Cow is located in Arroyo Seco, a small town that the highway drives right through.  I parked in what felt like the middle of town and walked around the different galleries, prolonging my indulgence of the ice cream.

Storefront in Arroyo Seco

 

Beautiful

I rested in the afternoon and did some reading and as 5:20ish hit, I was called to go find the sunset! Unfortunately, the western sky was overcast so I just drove into town where I knew there was live music.  I headed to the Adobe Bar and had a margarita and wrote in my journal.  I was quickly over the scene and came back to my hotel room, where I sit now, in front of a beautifully burning and crackling fire, sitting in my bed, reading for the night.

Good night.

Recreate

I was pondering the etymology of the word “recreate” as I stirred awake this morning in bed.  To recreate is to make something new.  But I was thinking about it in the terms of a “recreation area” which we consider as a place for leisure and activity.  Which made me think how important leisure time is and how important it is for one to take the time for leisure…AND how leisure time is necessary for creation.

Create…is to make something.  I have always valued creating things.  In every sense of the word.  I feel alive when I create, I am forced to think, to learn.  Whether that be the creation of an idea, a card for a friend, a cake, whatever but I think creating is so important, however; you cannot create something if you do not take the time to think about it.  You can only think by simply being.  Unfortunately, we are so “connected” and stimulated at all times—bombarded with the ideas of others—that we don’t have the chance to be creative.  Creativity is “the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.”  Being creative can be applied to all aspects of life: from the lunch you make for your loved ones and yourself to the way you present your class material to your students to the decoration of your home, apartment, or car.  Creativity is simply doing something thoughtfully, as in, thinking about how the act you are about to do will make someone else happy.  When I was in high school I used to bake cakes for everybody in my class’ birthday.  It wasn’t really sophisticated cake-baking; my mom and I would buy box cake mix at the Albertson’s down the street when it was on sale and store it; I had a list of the birthdays of the people in my homeroom class and I would bake the cake and frost it, stick a candle on and we would constantly have celebrations.  I remember making the batter the night before and thinking how happy the recipient would be the following day.  Knowing the feeling of someone celebrating me, I could imagine the glee of the other person as someone (the whole class) celebrated her.

I guess the point of this post is to express the importance of disconnected time and the value of creation, creating something.  I don’t care what it is, create a bouquet of flowers for your lover, for your mother.  Create something beautiful for yourself, for your son.  Whatever it is you wish to create, you need to take time to allow for creativity to come.  Go outside, appreciate the way nature arranges the flowers, allow yourself to love the way the colors of the sky turn at sunset—maybe that will inspire your next painting, or the pillows on your bed.

The last point I wish to make is that it doesn’t have to be forever.  The beauty of art is that, while it can be eternal, it is also beautiful for the moment.  A baker may spend hours creating, frosting, and decorating a cake that will be consumed in moments.  However, the time and effort spent into making that cake is not for naught.  As they say, the journey is part of the destination.  The process is just as important as the outcome.  Make every process worthwhile and beautiful.

The beauty of making someone’s day

We don’t know the power we possess to brighten someone else’s day.  Not only that, but how easy it is and how important it is.

Today, I found a single bougainvillea tucked in the window of my driver’s side door while my car was parked outside of my gym.  Clearly the person who left this there knows what car I drive and intended (I think, I hope) to make me smile.  Well did it ever!  What an amazing way to start a Monday, a week, any day for that matter.  What’s even more beautiful about doing something kind or thoughtful for someone is that we don’t know what that action means to them or what happened to them that day.

Let me explain.

I love flowers, specifically I love flowers that grow on vines: jasmine, passion flower, bougainvillea, etc. I have a running list of the flowers I will have in my future home and bougainvillea is a resident member of that list (assuming I live somewhere where bougainvillea can thrive, I don’t worry about that, I will).  In Arabic, bougainvillea’s name is majnounay, meaning crazy lady (it is the feminine form of crazy).  I read once in a book that it has that name because the vine blossoms and grows wild like a woman in love.  If you have never seen a bougainvillea in full bloom, it is intoxicating, her beauty knocks the breath out of me every time.

Thank you.

Bougainvillea outside a church on a Greek island – taken while I was visiting with mama & papa B, September 2014

 

Love

There is no love; there are only proofs of love.”

– Pierre Reverdy

I am by no means an expert on love, however; as a living, breathing, interacting human being, I am bound to experience love in my life.  Love can come in many shapes and forms: the love of a parent to a child (definitely unconditional and unique), the love of friends, cousins, siblings, or lovers — that is, romantic love.

As I contemplate this quote by the French poet Pierre Reverdy, I think of my own experiences of love.  What I find ceaselessly amazing is that you can’t force or anticipate love but when it happens, when you feel it, it cannot be denied.  I think what Mr. Reverdy means here is that there is no definition, no formula for love but rather every experience of love, unique as it is, is the very definition and proof of love.

This makes me think of geometry.  10th grade.  Mr. Light’s class.  I hated geometry.  Especially proofs.  I could not wrap my head around how one rule was indicative or led to the next rule which in turn encouraged the problem solver to go to the next rule and the following and then after several steps, a statement was proven.  I struggled to understand this.  It was abstract and not for me.  Now, love on the other hand, I can accept, but I have been bound to doubt it.  The cynic in me seeks an ulterior motive for the person giving me love (be it a friend, lover, etc.).  This doesn’t happen often and usually requires some sort of insinuating circumstance that serves as the seed of my doubt, i.e. someone unassuming loving me. When we are able to love openly and freely, it is amazing.  I have had the most beautiful experiences — proofs, if you will — of love.

The summer I graduated college, I had no idea what I was doing with my life.  I was living with my brother and his several roommates and a pit bull, Daisy.  I didn’t have graduate school lined up and in fact, wanted nothing to do with school.  I was over studying and wanted an adventure.  I had applied to teach English in Spain but hadn’t heard anything back.  I had very little in the terms of a pay check, working only at a chocolate shop, my brother had me living with him rent free but I needed to do me.  Anyways, I was stressed.  My body does not deal with stress well and my eczema (a skin condition) was terribly broken out.  One of my dearest friends Lynzy knew this condition was exacerbated by stress and told me to relax.  She was packing up her apartment and moving, having just graduated, too and would pick me up in the mornings from my apartment and bring me to hers.  She would dress me in soft, yoga clothes and lay me in the middle of the living room.  She played on her phone with a blue tooth speaker, Andrea Bocelli music (one of my favorite artists).  She made green tea for me and kept water constantly filled by my side.  She would make an oatmeal paste and with a big makeup brush, brush it on my face and keep warm wash cloth compresses on my neck, cucumbers over my eyes.  She would then go to a room in her apartment and pack a box, checking in on me every 15 minutes to wash my face with a warm wash cloth and refill my tea and water.  She would rub my back and tell me that I needed to breath and relax.  Her selfless care for me was so touching and has been an example in my life of how I wish to serve others.

I guess at the end of the day, how is it that we want to show (prove) our love, which I believe is a very part our my being and existence?  Maybe it means mailing packages of things that remind me of my friends to them, near and far.  For me, it’s feeding people.  It’s sharing a story, a laugh, a hug.  In other words, it’s giving a part of yourself to those you love.  Maybe it’s fixing a friend’s car, if your expertise is automobile mechanics.  Walking a friend’s dog when they are unable to.  The ways we can show our love are endless and I wish for everyone to take the time and effort to do so.  It’s not just at Christmas that we ought to give.  Christmas isn’t the only time of the year that we show those we love that we care for them by getting them gifts.  If you have love in your heart, it is present year round and I encourage you to show that love, daily.

The little actions that show us that someone is thinking of us is what makes life worth living.  Coming home to a flower, even if it’s picked from the side of the road, can turn someone’s day around.  Leaving someone a simple note, “thinking of you,” can bring immeasurable joy to those we love.  We have the luxury of technology these days, a text message can serve as a vehicle to impart a smile and some cheer in those we love.

Today, and everyday, I challenge you to do something that makes one person in the world happy, be it your lover, your mother, your neighbor, or the guy across the hall that eavesdrops on your conversations.  Life is too short and loving is so easy, let’s make the world a happier, more loving place.

Writing Workshop at Esalen

I spent this past weekend at a writing workshop at Esalen Institute in Big Sur.

Esalen is a retreat center on the beautiful coast of California, pools have been built around natural hot springs overlooking the coast.  You can sit in the warm, sulfury water, listen to the waves crash and look out to the horizon.

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View from my room

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Looking south down the coast. The area in the lower left hand corner of the photo is the hot spring pools.

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And the same view on a clear day 🙂
Well, clearer…

 

The grounds at Esalen are lovely, there’s a big garden where most of the produce is grown.  You walk through and smell rosemary, admire tomatoes, and listen to the buzz of bees and marvel at fluttering of butterflies.

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Marigolds in the garden

Mealtimes are wonderful at Esalen, it feels like summer camp!  The internet (wifi) is disconnected for mealtimes and real, live human interaction is encouraged.  The food is clean – think salad from the garden, pesto polenta, roasted carrots, hot cocoa, fresh baked rye bread (a slab of which is available all day long sitting on a cutting board, in front of a butter and jam bar).  People sit at long tables and talk, the murmur of conversation testament to the fact that humans are still able connect to one another without technology.

The writing workshop was hosted by The Sun magazine which is a literary magazine, self-described as “Personal.  Political.  Provocative.”  I love the writing they feature in the magazine as it’s real, no sugar coating of life, raw human experience on the page.

My experience was just that, pride and preconceived notions stripped away and just talking to people beyond the surface level and, of course, writing.  We attended various sessions and were given writing prompts and a limited time to write.  After, people would share their writing with the group which unfailingly prompted conversations.  One woman wrote about the death of two of her children in a car accident, after the session several parents went and spoke to her, overcome with compassion and sympathy.  Others wrote about professional experiences, personal failures, politics, poetry, you name it.  One gentleman stood up and read about his recent heartbreak, after I approached him and thanked him for sharing.  I told him I could relate to what he had described and we struck up a conversation.  It was a beautiful, unassuming connection and we shared our stories – there’s something healing about knowing you’re not alone in your experiences, in the world.

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The moon’s reflection over the ocean

 

Beautiful Souls on the DC Metro

I plopped down on the metro letting out a sigh and pulled out my book, “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.”  It had been a long day of work tromping around DC.  The gentleman next to me says, “I bet that’s more fun than what I’m reading.”

“What are you reading?” I inquire.

“I’m reviewing patents for the Patent Office.”

“Oh, yea? Well, this is super fun!” And I flip to the book cover and read him the title.

“Penumbra.” He says, “That’s the partial shadow of the earth on the moon during an eclipse. Umbra is the shadow of the earth that causes a lunar eclipse…well only when it’s fully covered. So penumbra must come from that.”

“Oh, really?” (I didn’t know this and quickly jog my brain for how this could be relevant to the plot – I give up, I’m clearly in to learn a lesson). He uncaps his (fountain!) pen and diagrams a lunar eclipse for me “here’s the sun, here’s the moon, here’s the earth” and tells me that many people groups a long time ago used to think “bad things” were going to happen during a lunar eclipse, when the sun hid the moon’s lights. I listen, wide-eyed and curious.  He goes on to say that in common vernacular, to eclipse someone, as in professionally or in a competition means to…

“Surpass.” I offer.

He smiles, “Yes, surpass.”

I explain the premise of the book and he tells me that it reminds him of a movie he just saw about the enigma code and both of us cannot remember the main character’s name. “I’d look it up on my phone but I have no signal. Everything is research these days.” He sighs.

We can’t take the nagging of our brains and both pull out our phones to reveal “Alan Turing” as the code-breaker. At this point we arrive at our destination and he packs away his things, adjusts his hat, and slings on his backpack; he’s a sharp but practically dressed man.

He leans in to me and points at the screen of my phone, “Close all those extra windows, they slow your smart device down.”

I chuckle at the thought of getting smart phone advice from a man old enough to be my grandfather.  As we part ways, he shifts his gaze up from the ground and says, “I’m Adam.”

I stop right outside the train car with pedestrian traffic racing around me, “Adam, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Sally,” I say and shake his hand.

He dawns an ear to ear grin and we part ways, I have a skip in my step for having shared a beautiful moment with a beautiful soul.

No good deed ever goes unrewarded

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The Dead Sea, Jordan side

I woke up as the car rolled to a stop at the parking lot of Mount Nebo…in my half awake state, I thought I had heard somebody say that the site closed at 5pm.  It was 4:55.  Three police officers sat on plastic chairs near the entryway, “Is it open?” I called out to them. “Yes,” the middle one answered lazily, swinging his crossed leg back and forth.  “Do they close at 5?”  I asked, the tinges of irritation creeping into my head.  “Yes,” he responded in the same monotonic tone.  I chuckled away my irritation…he had answered my first question honestly.

At the front gate, we were told that the entry fee was 1 Jordanian Dinar.  We pulled out our wallets and paid.  “Doesn’t it close at 5?” I asked.  “Yella, 5:30.” (Alright fine, 5:30), the guard responded as if he had just acceded to a pleading toddler.  Still in my sleepy haze, I handed over a 1 JD piece and the guard looked surprised, “Miss, this is no longer used.” “Oh, I’m sorry,” I said and handed him another. “Where did you find this?”  I explained that I had found them in a box of currency at my parents’ house.  “These are no longer in circulation! Can I look at it?” He stared, inspecting every letter, every crease, starry-eyed at the out-dated currency with that juvenile glow of excitement.  After I paid – with effective currency – I told the guard he could keep the out-of-service piece.  He tucked it delicately into his uniform pocket.  I checked my wallet and found 1/2 and 1 JD notes that were no longer in circulation and took them out and handed them to him. “Here,” I said with a smile, “have these, too.”  “Allah yerda3 3allayki” (may God be kind to you) and he went on…wishing God would have favor on me, thanking me for my kindness.  He waved us through, despite our attempts for the last person in our party to pay, he insisted that it was unnecessary.  I felt like his blessings and well-wishes, although welcomed on my part, were a bit much for me giving him the equivalent of $2.50 in worthless currency.  But like they say, one woman’s trash is another man’s treasure.

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Cross sculpture at Mount Nebo (Moses’ serpent cross)

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Beautiful olive tree

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Mount Nebo, Jordan

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Looking out onto the Promised Land (Jericho is in the far distance and the Dead Sea to the far left)

On our way out, the same guard stopped us and handed each of us a Mount Nebo keychain as a token of his appreciation for our kindness.  I walked to the car with a skip in my step thinking that despite what we may hear, kindness and appreciation are not lost in our world.  As my dad says, “life is a mirror, if reflects back out at you who/what you are.”  So if you want to see more kindness in the world, put some kindness out there.