a wandering woman writes

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Billy Collins' Long Bebop Solo

I will leave you one more treat, before I drift away to pack my bags. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to hear Billy Collins read at a private school here in Chicago. He had spent the day working with the schools' young writers and he finished the evening with this poem. With this poem Billy Collins introduced me to Johnny Hartman, a new friend I am just beginning to get to know. If you don't know Billy Collins, listen through. He is seldom headed where you expect.

Sundays with El Pais, continued

When I lived in Spain, my Sunday joy was a cover-to-cover, leisurely walk through El Pais, one of Spain's national newspapers. I waxed poetic about it here one luxurious Sunday in Salamanca.

I still try to spend part of every Sunday with El Pais, although these days we meet online. I like to read the international news section, which covers the world with a depth and a breadth even my preferred American paper, the NewYork Times, doesn't match. But I spend most of my El Pais time these days in the culture section. There I read the kind of lengthy,  lyrical and literate pieces --about books and writers and poets and photographers and musicians and artists and languages - that made my Spanish Sundays such a treat.  More than once an essay discovered during a Sunday El Pais outing has sent me running to Amazon in search of an English language author, or poet or book. I've learned of the death of an American jazz great only through the pages of El Pais more than once as well, alongside rich retrospective articles and essays about the artist's work.

Most recently, the pages of El Pais have helped me plan an upcoming trip to the home base of my "other newspaper", the Times. The New York Public Library, my Spanish paper let me know, is hosting "Back Tomorrow", an exhibit of Lorca's New York photos, notes, letters and drawings --even the passport that brought him to New York. Also on exhibit is the original manuscript of Poet in New York that had been missing for many years, a manuscript Lorca left on  his friend and publisher's desk in Madrid in 1936, with a note that he would be "back tomorrow". He never returned, and the book was published posthumously after his death at the hands of a group of fascists in Granada.

I am most excited about a letter he wrote to his sisters on an autumn birch leaf he had picked up in Vermont. I remember writing letters to a cousin on autumn leaves, though I doubt they matched Lorca's.

I visit the exhibit tomorrow afternoon, for a long overdue artist's date with me, myself and, of course, yo.  Talk amongst yourselves (all three of you, yes, all three of you, Di, Laura, Alex) and I will report on the Lorca exhibit on my return.

The El Pais article  that brought me word of the exhibit is here.

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.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sin Querer. Or, how many times can a woman rewrite the same post?

I think it may have been my most potterly moment. My high point, to date, as a practitioner of the ceramic arts.

I published a half baked blog post. Not even half baked. I published a post that had merely been put on the shelf to dry.

Ironically, one night a few weeks back, while saving a rambling, incoherent set of disconnected notes for a post about...why yes, in fact - mistakes, I missed Save and sailed right over to Publish.

By mistake. As the Spanish would say, in a phrase that better captures the upside of mis-takes, the sweet serendipity: sin querer. Without wanting to.

The lovely, insomniac Laura left me a wee hours comment on that fateful night, suggesting I finish the post, or at least a few of its sentences, and consider, perhaps...punctuation?

The thing is, I have been feeding on that ironic error, that accidental publish and prompt retrieval, for weeks. I seem to have picked up a new mantra. "By mistake."

Sin querer.

The ill fated post in question was a riff on a column I'd read in this month's Pottery Making Illustrated. "If there's one thing all of us potters have in common", writes the editor in his opening column, " it's our ability to make mistakes and and keep going. Why do we do it? Because not working with clay is worse."

A few paragraphs later he closes his column looking forward to the new potter's year ahead, a year in which he is confident he'll practice making mistakes. That, he says as he signs off, is " a life worth living."

If you've caught any of my fly-by visits to this blog in the last couple of years, you've gathered that I've become a student of ceramics. A kindergartner, mind you, but a student all the same.

I've become a student of mistakes, as well.

Maybe I should rephrase that. I see myself learning the middle-aged art of letting things go as they go. As they go, and not as I set my mind for them to go. As they go and not as I heroically will them to go. Not even as I plan them to go.

Just as they go.

Clay has had something to do with that. I've had two wonderfully contrasting pottery teachers in the last year or so. The first looked at my pots and my skills and my frustrations, and cleverly led me to process. To practice and love the process of making pots. For months, I threw with no intention of saving my work. When I wanted to learn bowl shapes, I threw bowl after bowl, saving nothing, not even my favorites. I'd throw, dissect, observe-- how walls rose and fell, how curves curved -- and then, I'd re-wedge. Throw, dissect, wedge. Every pot was recycled. I comforted myself with the terrifying command I'd heard Mary Oliver give in a poetry workshop. "You have to throw away your best poem. Trust you will make another." So I threw, and I dissected.

In a case of uncanny perfect timing, my next pottery teacher took exactly the opposite approach. "Now", he told me with a smile in our first class, "work to throw nothing away. When a pot heads off in a direction you didn't intend....thank it for the gift!" When I'd find myself facing sure disaster, whether a misshapen wall, a paper thin bottom or a clumsily nicked rim, he'd approach my wheel with a wide grin, his eyes brimming with mischief. "Yeah!", he'd exclaim. "So now what?!"

With the first teacher, I learned from my mistakes and my successes, and I tossed all of them back into the clay bag. I learned I was practicing a process, not playing russian roulette in hopes the clay gods would choose to smile on me with a decent pot every now and then. The second teacher, with whom I am back in class this session, is teaching me to catch waves - the waves waiting for me if I just toss away my rules and expectations. He's teaching me to sit open to the unexpected, to expand my concept of what might happen and to let myself get giggly-excited about what could happen, if I let the pot go its way.

Granted, if I were a studio potter living on my art, commissioned to make 10 identical porcelain vases, I would persevere to make 10 identical vases, perfectly and classically shaped.

But I am a woman who works in clay for the mindlessness of it, for the focus and the feel of the mud on my hands. I throw for the play and the chance to feed my inner chemist in the glaze room. I throw to lose myself in the process.

I throw for all it teaches me.

Sin querer.

So here's where I just discovered what this now weeks-old post has been saying to me. Here's where I suddenly see the thread from this post -and this new mantra of mine -to the wandering woman who once used this blog to record her unplanned adventures in Spain.

I throw to lose myself.

I have long been a student - and an artesan - of travel. As a traveler, I have always loved to find myself lost. I am an open, curious, patient and spontaneous traveler. I travel light - and I have probably, to this point, been my most loose, my most uninhibited, my most free self, traveling. I am selective about choosing fellow travelers - and I have done most of my wandering solo, to avoid rules and structure and the distraction a companion provides. I'd travel alone to increase the chances I'd get lost, and to ensure I'd be free to soak in the joy of being somewhere new and unexpected, sin querer.

As a kid, I would take my bike to new neighborhoods in an oft-failed effort to get lost, to find myself outside of my rules and maps, outside of the expected and the known. This blog is filled with stories of the serendipity of a bus-mate or a train companion in Spain, of the wonders found by knocking on a door, or wandering off the map, or asking a stranger a question.

After all, if you are happily lost, who knows what may happen?

Somehow, sin querer, I am learning to live, to wander the hours of my geographically-fixed days in this city I have known for decades, the way I once wandered streets in strange new lands. Suddenly, I realize, everything surprises me. Yeah! Now what?

Sin querer, every day and every pot has become strange, and new -- if I just let it be. If I just let it go its way.

Who knows what could happen?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fifteen Rounds, Old School

"Don't be afraid if your dreams change. It can be great. Life's not a three-round amateur fight. It's 15 rounds, old school."
Found this morning, in the Chicago Tribune's interview with the week's "Remarkable Person", Bill Hillman, former boxing champ and founder of the Windy City Story Slam here in Chicago.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

*Expat=Instant Awesome or How Cool Was I, Huh?

It's not that I don't like to blog.

It's not that I couldn't make space in my "new" American life for this text box, if I set my mind to it.

It's that I didn't know what I had to say to you anymore.

What does a no longer wandering woman living in the country of her birth and working, heaven help us, a 40-hour a week job running a small business, have to say?

I used to have a lot to say. To be more precise, I used to have a lot I thought you'd like to hear. Just check that Essential Wandering Woman category in the right column out. (Seriously, please do check it out. It's quite good.)

So you want to be cool, Punky? Endlessly interesting? Instantly awesome?

Move abroad.

Move abroad! Meet strangers! Bridge cultures! Eat fabulous food! Live in a new language! Be surprised, daily, by the beauty of that language and its sense of humor, by its wisdom and its contradictions. By the way it's brush seems to paint the textured mural of life more richly, more poignantly, more wholly, than your own. Dive headfirst into your new love; follow your bliss right into the bosom of amazing people not born where you were, not born speaking the language you were, yet in many ways, just like you. Dive into their exquisite culture and wake one day, to find yourself at home, away from home. Newly at home in a gorgeously well worn culture. A culture old, old, yet every day new to you.

Once, I wandered. I went to Spain. And I wrote.

I wrote! And every day, a few of you and a lot of folks who haven't stopped round here in years, lapped it up. I learned from reading myself, from watching what my fingers strung across this little text box. I made wonderful, real friends, many of them still among my most cherished people. (I do still have plenty to say to them, but online?)

While those friendships sparked and grew, I got, as I say, cool. Everybody loves an expat, especially an expat with a good tale, and I had a whopper. Old boyfriends suddenly appeared out of the pages of this blog, newly smitten, having read me start to finish. Relatives, childhood friends, Spaniards, fellow expats, former expats, future expats, folks dreaming of becoming expats, adventurers and wanderers. All declared me interesting. Inspiring. Courageous. Heck, a coach published my tale in a book about living the life of your dreams.

I, my friends, was cool. I was different.

Don't get me wrong. I am not at all sure that some of those folks weren't attracted to what I was really writing about, and chipping away at, day by day, though I didn't know it: me. As place has become less and less of my life and my journey has turned inward, as my lust for breadth has been replaced by a pull to depth, I have seen how little place had to do with what I was writing about - at its core. Spain taught me things that were far larger than the stories, photos and wanders through which I learned them. But until a few days ago I still saw place - Spain, expatness, travel - at the heart of what made me "blogworthy".

You see, I followed my heart - and my intuition- to Salamanca. And from there I followed that same intrepid pair on countless wanders, and back to this text box, again and again. I couldn't see enough new places, or write enough blog posts.

Then, one day this cool expat took a long walk across my adopted country. As it had almost 5 years earlier when it sent me to Spain, my heart sang. With intuition wailing on back-up. This time they sent me home - sweet home Chicago home. And once again, I am convinced that they were dead on. This was next, and I was ready, for all that I miss Spain, the people I love there and the language that brought me to them.

But back to this blog...

A little more than 3 years after my last post from Spain, this wandering woman doesn't write. And I certainly don't write from Spain. Where I don't write from, in fact, is a 1990s-built brick condo in a northside neighborhood in Chicago.

See any romance in that? Me either, as I figured out when I headed back here to catch you up.

As I had when I first listened to my heart, I got exactly what I asked for on this return trip to the motherland. I decided I wanted to learn to stay, to commit, to throw down roots and to be around - for whatever befell the people I love, most of them here in the States. Since I made that decision, I've been handed more situations that set me a-quake with raw fear than in any part of my leap to Spain. Those relationships and roots and illnesses and deaths and yes, courage - not all that much of it mine, but some, some... filled my days and left me with little room for a blog.

Meanwhile, new visitors - and long term readers - have written to express surprise and often disappointment, at my return to the States. Boggles the mind, they say but, I guess it's your life.

I won't deny I would have liked a path that ended in Spain, that settled in with loved ones there, and learned all that I am learning- en castellano. I thrill reading the stories of other expats and visitors and catching up on the lives of mis españoles queridos. I thought I would be in Spain for the rest of my life.

But for some odd reason, my road leads to a 1990s built condo in Chicago -- and to a joyous if challenging (and tardy) discovery of roots. I love to read of friends' wanders....and yet my own wanderlust has ceased. And a whole new chapter - a second half where the Erins who sat out the first half are determined to play - is rolling out around me.

I don't pretend to understand my life. I'm just determined to live it. I'm determined to listen. And what I've figured out in the last 3 years is that as much as the cliché annoys me, I have my own drummer. For all I know you do, too. I can't speak for your rhythm section but mine....my drummer lives to surprise.

My drummer, you see, is a damn good improviser. My drummer is unconventional. My next dance is right back here in this messy, divided, tear your hair and heart out US of A. My drummer marched me through a corporate career only to rhumba me to Salamanca...fandango me down the Camino and swing me back to Chi town, to a nice 12 bar blues.

And oh, the singing along the way.

En fin. I don't know why you read me before, and I don't know what you want to hear, or read, now. What I do know is what I have to say. I have me, here. I have for you, my friends, an unconventional tale of unexpected rhythms. A wanderer seemingly cured of wanderlust. A powerful lust for depth where once the heroine craved breadth. A wanderer suddenly enchanted by sameness. The same city I loved before I fell for Salamanca. The same oft-tortured country into which I was born. The sameness of a Monday to Friday job, albeit an enjoyable, and autonomous new one. The same gorgeous, textured, multilayered relationships that called my heart back to the States.

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 spend these days wandering through a new Renaissance city ...of the everyday and the ordinary. Not all of it familiar. Not all of it pleasant.

But all of it ordinary. Oddly recognizable.

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. Wandering and shedding and 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.

Postscript: I'm working on a new title, by the way, with all suggestions welcomed. "A wandering woman stays put" is currently in the lead: a tantalizing tale of tardily thrown roots.

*Title compliments of the indomitable Laura Young, who wisely used it to get me typing....

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Listening to whispers

Our deepest wishes are whispers of our authentic selves.
We must learn to respect them.
We must learn to listen.

-Sarah Ban Breathnach

Two thoughts grabbed hold of me as I prepared to post this quote today.

Thought one:

I made the mistake of journeying through the net to identify the author.

Sarah has a website called Simple Abundance, which at a shamefully quick glance seems to exist to passionately encourage women to express their authentic selves in the decoration of their homes. Decorating would not be one of my deepest wishes, as anyone who has visited the Chicago apartment I've called home for 6 months would tell you. Living surrounding by things I've chosen carefully, over time, and decided I want with me - things that say something to me, every time I see them - well, that is important to me. (You sense the internal conflict, don't you? Important enough to actually spend time in a city shopping center?)

But oh, after 2 weeks of steady work travel, deeper wishes called this sunny Spring weekend - deep, deep wishes - for a bike ride that led, yesterday, to an idyllic afternoon alone wandering Chicago's Graceland cemetery and today, deeper still, for an early morning bike ride to Lake Michigan where I discovered a magical oasis sure to become my Huerto de Calixto y Melibea in Chicago -the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary. Wise wishes, mine.

You'll hear and see more about Graceland and Montrose Point, later (thanks to that deep wish to take pen to paper) but oh, I can feel I listened well to Sara's advice this weekend, by avoiding the stuff of her site.

Thought two?

I envy Sara her the whispers of her wishes.

My wishes stamp feet and holler, pull my hair hard, flick an icy cold finger on the nape of my neck. My wishes demand immediate action: "Learn Spanish! Go to Spain! Throw some clay, what don't you? Where in heaven are your people, woman? Isn't that a piano in that corner, under all the dust...why yes, it is! What if we learn to...("just follow us here", the wishes tell me, sure they'll lose my attention any wandering moment)....stay? What if we learn to stay? Hmmmm?"

I'm due in a pottery studio, soon - thanks to one of those insistent if inexplicable wishes - but I wanted to first offer you Sarah's thought. And remind both of us about the hoarsest of the stage whispers I proudly call mine: "Cool thought, E. What if you wrote that down?"

I expect this blog will sputter and spit some as I restart her, I suspect that before we know it she'll be another blog entirely.

For now, I am just going to start walking - and see. Let's see, shall we?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A little nostalgia: Hervás, Extremadura, in Spring

Deep into a Chicago winter, yes, yes, I do miss the light - that soft, warm, crystal clear Spanish light. A taste for both of us:

Greetings from a midwinter thaw in Chicago -- and a timely message from Starbucks

My thanks to Angel, who nudged me back here with a few very kind words.

My thanks to the cup my chai latte arrived in today, too. I've been learning to commit - to an exclusive project (ok, say job if you must...), a continent, a city, a routine, a new set of daily practices, a few fiercely loved friends, the learning of a new creative outlet (clay) - and on and on. Today, I took my first sip of a cheerily hand-delivered chai latte to find wise words on the side of my cup:

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating – in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation.

To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Anne Morris
Starbucks customer from NYC
Anne describes herself as an “organization builder, restless American citizen, optimist.”

Thanks Anne. Hit the spot. The chai, and your thought.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Here's the thing

So here's the thing.

I am alive. I am well. I am also laptop-less, DSL-less and buried beneath boxes and paper and crinkled up packing tape.

And I am in Chicago.

I have a lot to write, and a long list of entries I've been eager to get writing, but it would seem I am meant only to check in today. A clumsy but lovable cat knocked a diet coke into my laptop a few days ago - the key word in that phrase being into, unfortunately -and it's inserting a long line of f's between every letter I type (hmm, I wonder what the poor gummed-up thing is trying to say? fffffffff...) and surfing round the web all on its own, hands tied behind my back. I've just greeted all the possessions that survived the 6 year wait in a warehouse in California, and while the powers that be have yet to hook up my internet access, I'm not the least concerned about the wait.

Some patient, calm, easily giggling and ridiculously slow- (and late-) eating bilingual woman has returned to Chicago in my name. If we can get her to blog regularly, whatever we decide to call this blog in its new incarnation, I think we're all in for a treat. Me and her included.

But first I have a lot of unpacking to do. So I'll leave you after a quick hello today, thanking you for checking on me, time and time again, thanking you for your e-mails, promising I will answer your comments and mails and questions as soon as I am technologically able.

A year ago today, I was walking the Camino. A few months ago, I made the difficult decision - and I have references for just how difficult I made it, if you're interested :) - to take on the challenge the Camino seemed determined to toss me for my next 45 years. Jung says the parts of ourselves we've left sitting on the bench for the first half of life come leaping out to play in the second. For me, that long walk across Spain was all the quiet time my benched selves needed to get their plans made. I moved back to Chicago in July, for a myriad of reasons I've no doubt you'll read here over the next few months, but most of all, for the chance to trade e-mails for live conversations. As much as I treasure the lifelong friends I've made in Spain, and oh, I do, the people who are most important to me still live in the States. And suddenly, at 45, after a fiercely independent life and a solo walk across Spain, I find myself bored with what I know so well - wandering, absolute independence, everything new every day, just as new and strange as I can get it - and eager to learn what I don't know -what it's like to stick around a little, invest in the people who have watched me wander all these years, hang with some kids who barely know me. I moved here for my people and the chance that they'll let me be an expat in my own life.

I'll be back Monday or Tuesday. Til then, thanks for the checking up and the patience. I hope you'll come back. I do have a story to tell!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Just walk east

Ermita de Santa Ágata, Arrés

As you've read by now, I just spent 17 days volunteering as a hospitalera in the pilgrim's albergue in Arrés, a town of 15 inhabitants lying along the Aragonese stretch of the Camino de Santiago.

With Ferran, my charming Tarragonese partner, I welcomed pilgrims stopping for a warm word and a cold glass of homemade lemonade (or gazpacho, on the right days) on their way to the next albergue, and then did my best to create a temporary but memorable home for those pilgrims who chose to spend the night with us.

Our days began at 7, with breakfast service, then moved on to the daily sweeping-scrubbing-mopping workout, invariably accompanied by some fabulous soundtrack or another screaming out of Ferran's boombox. After a shopping trip to Jaca, we shifted to warm of-course-we-have-a-place-for-you-to-sleep welcomes, multilingual conversations, a tour of the town's lovely 16th century church and the nightly gigglefest of shared kitchen duty and community dinner. Barring rain, every day ended with a walk to the mirador high above the casa rural to watch Arres' stunning sunset.

I am proud to announce I now speak Pilgrim's Italian and make one hell of a tasty garbanzo bean, spinach and chorizo potaje for 30.

My biggest challenge, however, was neither language nor gastronomy. Seventeen days surrounded by humans was a significant shock to this wanderer's solitary soul. In Arrés I existed to welcome people, to offer an understanding ear, a hot meal and good company. I shared a small bedroom, for God's sake.

And so just about every one of those seventeen days, I stole a few moments to meander down the narrow lane leading east to the town's ermita, alone, gathering fresh flowers for the table while I soaked in the view, and exhaled.

I'll write more about my experience, but first let me make a shameless plug for Arrés. The town is growing, and now boasts a lovely casa rural, where Mari Luz will cook you up some of tastiest homemade meals you'll enjoy in Spain.

And when it all gets too much, I'm telling you. Just walk east.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

No te salves

One day, very early in my 17 day stay in Arrés, a Spanish pilgrim slammed her notebook down on the table in front of me, flipped forward a few pages, and, looking me straight in the eyes, gave me a direct order.

"Read this."

Next morning before heading back to the Camino, she tore it from her book and gave it to me. It faced me every morning from the shelf above my bed in the hospitaleros' room.

She gave me Benedetti, in Spanish. No te salves.

Here you have it, then. Below. Treat number 2, as I've just googled it. A quick look hasn't yielded a translation I love, but this is my favorite, transcribed below.

No te salves. I'll be back Thursday, once I've landed safely in Salamanca and (finally) met Alex, with whom I hope to rendezvous in Madrid.

No te salves/Don't Save Yourself

by Mario Benedetti

Don't stay motionless by the roadside
don't freeze joy or love halfheartedly
don't save yourself
or ever
don't save yourself
don't become
don't keep only a still corner in this world
don't let your eyelids droop heavy
like judgements
don't stay without lips
don't sleep without dreams,
imagine you're bloodless or judge yourself in haste

but if
after all
you can't help it
and you freeze joy
and you love halfheartedly
and you save yourself,
become serene,
keep a still corner in the world
let your eyelids drop heavy as judgements
and stay without lips
and sleep without dreams,
imagine yourself bloodless,
judge yourself in haste and
stay motionless by the side of the road

and you save yourself
don't stay with me.

Are you wandering woman?

I'm back!

Well almost. I left the magic bubble of Arrés Sunday afternoon, made a stop in stunning Santa Cruz de las Serós and then hiked up to the monasteries of San Juan de la Peña Monday morning. Today I've landed in Jaca, and this cyber.

Ah, wanderers, there is much to write, but for now, let me thank the self-proclaimed "bearer of messages" who walked into the kitchen of Arrés (where I was dutifully preparing cuajada for the night's dessert...) and asked, loud and matter of fact, "are you wandering woman?"

I am, in fact.

The message bearer bore just the book I needed, as well, carried overseas from the Florida Keys, and then, on foot, overland from Lourdes, just for me: Annie Dillard's "Holy The Firm".

And she left me with this, which I type now, as your first treat from 17 incredible, still days on the magic road. It's José Gasset y Ortega, from Revolt of the Masses:

And this is the simple truth—that to live is to feel oneself lost—he who
accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground.
Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look around for something to which
to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a
questioning of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of
his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All
the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce. He who does not really feel himself lost
is lost without remission; that is to say, he never finds himself, never comes
up against his own reality.