a wandering woman writes

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Right to Sing the Blues

While I try to work the rust off of my blogging machinery (i.e. my writing), I will post the stumbled-upon treats I've
been stashing away during the last couple of years.

Today, I bring you a stash dated a year ago this week, a gorgeous photo essay of elderly blues musicians on the New York Times Lens blog.

The photos, the work of North Carolina photographer Jimmy Williams, led me to Music Maker Relief Foundation, an organization that works to preserve and promote the musical traditions of the American South by providing for the day to needs of older traditional artists, while also working to promote their music and build their careers.

Spend some time. I highly recommend playing the  Music Maker site's rockin' jukebox whilst you wander through the photos.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Red Roses

One of my favorite humans brought me roses yesterday.

He handed them to me as he arrived for a belated 50th birthday celebration. It was a lovely celebration: an evening walk to a delectable dinner at a Chicago tapas bar,  a gift (a gift!), a six pack of Three Floyd's oh so tasty Zombie Dust pale ale to accompany TV hockey as the evening drew to a close.  A memorable evening.

But oh,  those roses.

I confess to being giddy.

I have spent the entire day on my first floor, a sort of 90s condo great room, eager to keep the roses in view. I don't often spend my weekend days in this room. Today, I am captivated.

As I told that generous favorite human last night,  I am sure it has been more than 20 years since anyone gave me long stem roses.

I find myself more than a little intrigued by the joy they've brought me all day.

I do have, I have discovered, a terrific decorative palette for red roses. Everything in this room, much of it red, seems to leap out at the eye in their presence.  He's given me a colorful work of art in which to spend my Sunday.

Here's to unexpected surprises --and delights you would never have predicted would delight you so.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Flowers before bread...or the effects of singing on los corazones

I spent yesterday with an organization I want you to meet.

Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly works to bring friendship and celebration to Chicago's isolated older folks.

I've been volunteering with Little Brothers since my return to Chicago from Salamanca in late 2008. I've always been an avid volunteer. Previously I'd always seemed to choose organizations focused on youth and opportunity, on giving someone with a dream a way to work to make it come true. As I wandered through the pages of Volunteer Match on my return from Spain, the idea of simply offering friendship appealed to me. I won't discard the possibility that I saw myself in Little Brothers' old friends. As a single, childless woman with a 2-person immediate family, I expect my last years will look a lot like those of the elderly Little Brothers serves, should I reach their age before hitting my last years. Whatever my motivation, when I chose to respond to Little Brother's call for volunteers, I chose well.

For the first few years, we spent our holidays together. Little Brothers throws festive parties on holidays,  complete with flowers, live music and three course meals. I've played chauffeur to elders  for a North side party or two. More often I've delivered meals and mini-celebrations to elders not well or mobile enough to attend a party. I've risen early on Christmas Days, Easter mornings and the occasional Thanksgiving to drive down to the group's Ashland Avenue headquarters, where I've been greeted with hugs, hot coffee and some of the warmest holiday wishes I remember receiving. With my own spirits sufficiently lifted, I've been sent on my way laden with ¨holidays to go¨ for two or three  homebound elders: a hot meal, a flower or plant,  a balloon, a bottle of sparkling cider. In the five years I've been back in Chicago, I've shared memorable part of my solo holidays in kitchens and living rooms across the North side with other, older, solo Chicagoans.  The group throws a birthday party each month for the elders celebrating birthdays, as well. Homebound old friends receive a ready-made home-delivered celebration: cake, a party hat, more of that tasty cider, a present and a smiling, singing volunteer.

Little Brothers has given me warm, beautiful beings with whom to spend my holidays -- most human, some the canine companions of those humans, all happy to welcome me to their homes. More than that, Little Brothers has given me as much of a celebration as they've packed up for me to deliver along my route. They've made my holidays vivid and celebratory. Best of all,  my holiday visits have introduced me to the wisdom, humor and poignant life stories of some lovely elderly Chicagoans.

But the rose in the photo, you ask? The flowers and bread of the title? The singing corazones?

Well, "flowers before bread" is the organization's motto.  You can read more about that, about the founding of the group in Paris after World World II and about the chapters in the US and around the world (including a relatively young chapter in Madrid founded by a Spaniard who worked for Chicago's chapter for  a year).  Roses are a common party favor at the group's events, as a reminder of the group's belief that life's little celebrations -- flowers, music, laughter, time spent with friends -- feed the soul, and are as important as the bread that feeds the body.

I took the rose in the photo--and a lot more -- home from yesterday's spring Little Brothers bash.

I've recently become what Little Brothers calls a "visiting volunteer",  you see. I've been matched to a pair of old friends and entrusted with keeping in touch, enjoying their friendship and escorting the pair to Little Brothers events.

And therein lies the genius of the thing. The old friends to whom I've been entrusted are lively and  charming; both came to Chicago from their native Cuba just as Castro came to power. I've been welcomed into the warm, life loving, boisterous, singing and dancing wonder that is Little Brothers of Chicago's Spanish speaking contingent.

And so my party yesterday - my first with the Spanish-speaking group - was as lively, as joy-filled and as celebratory as the most memorable of those Spanish weddings I used to go on about.

Setting aside the immeasurable pleasure of once again being called mi niña (oh, will I ever tire? ), of the abrazos and besos, each announced as it is given (un beso, mi niña), I'll share with you tales of the afternoon.

The music was live and lively (a Chilean-born guitarist and his daughter), and the singing... ah, the singing filled the room all afternoon,  from the first word of the first verse of the first tune, Agustin Lara's  haunting Solamente Una Vez. Volunteers, staff, sextagenarians, septagenarians, octogenarians, all sang with reckless abandon. The dance floor was packed -- let me remind you this was a party for those above 70 - forcing the volunteer waitstaff to weave around the edges of the room to deliver the day's tasty meal to their guests.

I don't get a chance to dance much these days -- and let me be the first to point out that my enjoyment of dancing far surpasses my ability-- but yesterday's crowd would have no part of my sitting out Manola Escobar's "Viva España" and the tunes that followed. Those unable to get up and cut a rug cheered the rest of us from the sidelines. Circles of dancers formed, and one by one each member of a circle took his or her turn with a solo in the middle of the cheering, dancing circle.

May I remind you once again that this was a party for the over 70 crowd?

I find myself dancing around the house today, lit up by the spark of folks into and beyond their 7th decade.

I didn't know all of the tunes our talented musicians offered us yesterday, though my cohorts seemed to. I envisioned those around me, volunteers and elders alike, growing up in musical households like the one I was lucky to be born into, albeit households with a different set of tunes. (No, "Danny Boy" didn't make yesterday's playlist.)  I learned that the song Americans of my generation will recognize as the Frito Bandito theme is a lovely old Mexican Ranchera tune with lyrics I find it easy to stand behind today.

Ay, ay, ay, ay,
Canta y no llores,
Porque cantando se alegran,
Cielito lindo, los corazone

"Ay, ay, ay, ay", that familiar tune tells us. "Sing and don´t cry."

"Because singing, my little darling, makes hearts happy."

And with a rousing rendition of that tune, I leave you, queridos lectores.... to dance the laundry basket upstairs.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Solamente Una Vez

I fell in love with this song a few years ago, when two Chileans generously provided the CD soundtrack to a delightful party held in my honor while I was visiting friends in Baltimore, friends I hadn't seen since I'd left for Spain.   A few days later, still humming the Lara tunes they'd introduced me to, I picked up a two-disc set of original recordings of Lara performing Lara songs. If you surf around to meet Agustín Lara, and I hope this song prompts you  to do so, you'll discover you've likely hear Jose Carreras or Placido Domingo or Luís Miguel or another well known crooner sing a Lara classic.

The Chileans delighted in watching me fall for Lara that evening in Baltimore. They told me he was a poet, an assertion his lyrics have since borne out for me, and that he was not at all a handsome man, despite his talents for words and  music. Apparently El Flaco de Oro, as Lara was known ("The Golden Skinny Guy", believe it or not) had his heart broken by a beautiful woman who left him for someone else. I'll stop by here another day and translate a bit of the lyrics of this tune for you.

For now, know he is telling you he has loved, once, during his life. Once, his soul gave itself to another, with sweet and total renunciation.

I give you the song that started the singing at yesterday´s celebration, Solamente Una Vez.

Monday, April 15, 2013


Definition of SANCTUARY

: a consecrated place
(1) : a place of refuge and protection

When I lived in Salamanca, my sanctuary was the lovely huerto de Calixto y Melibea, nestled in the old walls of the city behind the Old Cathedral.

Here in Chicago, I seek my refuge and protection in the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary on Lake Michigan. On the far side of that tree you see above, facing Chicago's skyline, to be exact.

Montrose Point, a mile dead east of my home, is a magical place. The bird sanctuary was born when the Army left in the late 60s and wise feathered wanderers moved into the hedges and brush that are all that remain of what was once a missile base.

Fellow Chicagoan The Orniphile does a fine job of describing our shared sanctuary, if you're hankering for a virtual tour. I spent a few hours leaning against the tree above yesterday, settled in a chair-like collection of stumps left where rangers have trimmed her over the years. It's a a chair-like collection that seems custom fit to my fifty year old body. I tend to linger with that tree.

Later I wandered the Point's meadows, newly mowed down to spring stubble, and walked through her woods. The sanctuary is home to a lovely restored dune area, as well, though I didn't visit it yesterday, to avoid the flocks of birders and cameras enjoying a Sunday afternoon outing.

I stayed in the sanctuary's magical interior, instead, and feasted on the soundtrack. Two months ago, Montrose Point was eerily quiet. Yesterday, it was a symphony of birdsong, with well-hidden soloists singing out in every direction, no matter where I walked.

Chicago's ubiquitous cotton-tailed rabbits were out during my visit, as was a pair of yellowbellied sapsuckers -- in the tree right behind mine, in fact --and an adventurous white eyed vireo, green as the new grass around him.

Chicago can be a city of surprises and well-kept secrets. Montrose Point is one of those secrets, and it's a gem.

Once more, from the top

Eight years ago I wrote a blog post, titled "Getting Started". Then I hit the "publish" button and started a blog.

Eight years later - uncannily, eight years to the day, yesterday-- I found myself wandering a vaguely familiar text box, hoping to start a blog.


I've bounced in and out of this text box since leaving mi querida Salamanca to return to Chicago in 2008. In some ways, blogging has been a hard habit to kick. I've been here while not here, jotting blog ideas in the corners of to-do lists, sending myself links and articles that tickled my blogging instincts, treasures that in my Salamanca days would have been transformed into posts. I've filled my Gmail account with post drafts. A time or two I've actually posted.

The eight year gap between the two starting visits was unplanned but lends today a symmetry I can't resist.

So, welcome. Shall we try this once more, from the top?

Eight years ago, I closed my first post with this wish:
By blogging I plan to catch my travels and adventures in words for myself and for faraway friends, but hey, maybe I’ll pay it forward. Maybe I’ll make just one person question if it’s worth taking a crazy dream off the back burner, just to see what happens.

My crazy dream long ago turned into a life I love and dive into in a way I didn't dive as a wanderer. My journeys have turned inward, and my adventures to exploring what most of us call ordinary.

Today, I close with another wish, from this 2011 post:

The wanderer has settled in, and drilled down. Wanderer has turned root-thrower, student potter, neighbor, mentor, dogsitter, gardener, pianist, citizen, burgeoning ukulele player. Boss. 

I have traded the stuff I once thought blogs were made of - travel blogs, at least - for the stuff I believe life is made of. I warn you in advance. I am far better at traveling. If I always seemed incredulous when commenters called me courageous for moving to Spain, I was. Leaping to Spain was easy. Tossing away everything for a new page has always been safe for me. 
Now staying, being right here with my people as life unfolds in all of its bittersweet beauty, that's another story. 
And if you'll come by now and then, I hope to tell it. 

Here's to new beginnings.

Thanks to Laura Young for the gorgeous bleeding hearts photo.