Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Pulling Myself Together! A Post-Travel Invitation

When I learned that the theme for this month's By Invitaton Only posts was "Unity," I'll admit to being rather intimidated. Such big ideas come under this umbrella, and I wondered how I could contribute in a meanginful way, without slipping into the overly general, the tempting sentimental, the nearly glib. . .

For me, the surest route to any kind of truth seems to be through the particular, the quotidian, the material, and at this moment, as I adjust to being back home after almost six weeks of travel, I've decided to approach the notion of "Unity" from my own sense of fragmentedness as I try to integrate
my December and January experiences in France, Switzerland, and Italy with the life I'm nestling back into now in Vancouver.
Nana/Frances/Materfamilias in Paris: you will know me by my curls, the Eiffel tower by its lines of metal, and the Patisserie to the right, in red, by my say-so. I was told of the Patisserie by the artist, my 5-year-old granddaughter, who helped Integrate this Traveller's experiences by drawing them for her, right here in Vancouver, at home.

To integrate, of course, is to unite, and Integrity, in one of its most important meanings, is a wholeness. An integer, if you'll remember your grade-school math, is a whole number, rather than a fraction. But how to unite my fractions, my constituent parts, without effacing or blurring them, how to be whole and maintain integrity. That's a constant question for me, to be honest, but even more so at the borders that travel illuminates -- not just those geographic borders represented by the tediously long queue at Charles de Gaulle Airport's Border Police, but also those liminal spaces or times that travel offers by removing us from certain obligations while offering us new challenges and re-energising our senses.

On the plane, flying home from Paris, I watched Return to Montauk (highly recommend, by the way). The soundtrack was in English, for the most part, but the only subtitles available were French, and I need subtitles to supplement my compromised hearing. I was amused and pleased to see that this system worked, that reading the French allowed me to fill in the English words I missed hearing. Similarly, when I watched M. et. Mme. Adelman (also recommend, with minor reservations) a bit later, I followed the English subtitles to help me fill in the French dialogue -- rather than simply reading those subtitles and watching the film through the lens of its English translation.

In front of the Carousel in Paris -- note that I didn't regret bringing those green Fluevog boots, which I had some misgivings about. . . 

I'd watched L'Echange des Princesses (wonderful film, will be appearing soon in an English-subtitled version, The Royal Exchange -- watch for it) with a Parisian friend a few days earlier, and without any subtitling at all, I might have caught 30 to 50% of the dialogue; somehow, between that, the acting, and all the other filmic clues allowed me grasp the overall plot and most of the intrigues. Duolingo amusingly tells me that my French fluency has dropped to 58% over the time away from my regular schedule -- my absence has been punished, so that I'm at a fraction of my former ability (although, in reality, my time in France reinvigorated my conversational skills, at the very least). My Italian fluency, Duolingo tells me assuredly, is only 4% lower, at 54%. The Italians with whom I made efforts to converse for practical purposes of shopping, eating, getting directions, etc., would beg to differ.

In other words, in case the point isn't quite obvious, my not-quite-whole hearing combined with my definitely not-the-whole-package language skills to yield an integrated comprehension and enjoyment -- with the whole being even, perhaps, greater than the sum of the parts.

Regardless of the fractions others might affix to my French and Italian language skills, however, my efforts in both are part of what makes me whole. And while part of those efforts is my travel, another important part is my practice here at home.  And integrating those two parts is just one of the tasks I'm undertaking this week in an effort to Unite my Traveling Self with my Everyday-at-Home Self -- to "pull myself together."

Of course, my first steps at uniting these two was dictated by the sheerly physical. After a ten-hour flight, plus the several hours pre-boarding and the horrid hour post-flight, waiting at the luggage carousel, I arrived home with a body clock confused by the nine-hour time difference.  So sleep and food and tea and more sleep were the simple orders of my first two days. On the third day, I tentatively tried a small workout, my first since this cold hit way back on Boxing Day.  (Seemed a good idea, and I felt okay at the time, but I'm coughing again and glands/ear/throat sore, so I'm seeing a G.P. later today). I'm finally sleeping almost a reasonable amount at a reasonable time, now, so my body is almost re-united, almost integrated, with the local clock.
At Villa d'Este

With my physical self adjusting to the local, the emotional processing begins to kick in -- missing so much the Little Girl we'd had a chance to get close to in Italy, wondering how much of that closeness we'll be able to call up next time we see her. The satisfaction of having got to know our son-in-law better, the disappointment that we hadn't had more time with our daughter-- mixed with our pleasure that she'd been able to complete her yoga teacher training course. And now, here in Vancouver,  the joys of embracing the local grandchildren again, the gratitude at the daughters and sons-in-law who picked me up at the airport, stocked my fridge, invited me for dinner, generally looked after my slightly sick, jet-lagged, weary self until Pater got back home. In the next week or two, a ferry trip to visit our Son's family, another grandchild I haven't seen for several months. How to pull all these strands together, to integrate my family emotionally if not physically, across the distances involved?

Sunday morning, I wrote my Morning Pages for the first time since before our trip. Since I began this morning exercise after reading Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way earlier this year, I've found it such a useful guide to a personal unity/integrity that foregrounds making room for my creativity -- primarily, in my case, as a way to keep a personal writing project on track against the many internal voices that often find reason to give up.  The Morning Pages undeniably work for me, and yet I regularly resist taking that half hour, and travelling offered a perfect excuse to abandon them. But what else I'd abandoned alongside became quite obvious Sunday morning, revealed by the nib of my fountain pen, scratching thoughts across the page.

I saw how clearly I'd allowed some discouragement late last fall, over the worth of what I've been writing, to piggy-back on the disrupted schedule and ample distraction of our winter trip. It didn't hurt that our primary reason for travel was to help with our granddaughter in our daughter's absence.  Sacrificing creativity for family -- the perfect excuse! Never mind that I could easily have found half an hour daily if I'd prioritised that part of myself. Instead, I've come home to admit that I have written nothing on that project for almost three months. Sure, I did some writing in my travel journal and I wrote the occasional blog post, but even that writing was fairly desultory. Further, it was only ever fit into the cracks of the schedule, worked around other people's priorities. (And to be fair, those very people would happily have made room for my priorities, had I only asserted them.)

Besides the Morning Pages she prescribes, Julia Cameron also insists on building regular Artist's Dates into our schedules if we want to nurture our creative selves. My travel experiences provided much of what I look for on an artist's date -- those solo walks along the beach with my camera; riding the train through the Swiss Alps with Pater; wandering the streets of Paris window-shopping; sitting alone in a brasserie, discreetly observing the other diners; marvelling my way through the rooms of an art exhibition. Now to pull those experiences together, to bring them forward where I can reflect on them, draw from them for writing inspiration, or just relive them again, enjoying the memories and trusting that they will show up in my creative pursuits someday.

So over the next few weeks, as I begin writing more consistently, I'm also going to be scrolling through my travel journal and sorting my digital photos, making notes or simply sitting with my recollections. I'm going to pick up my Italian practice again, my French as well; I might try some sketching from the photographs of this last trip. Perhaps I'll plant some cyclamens in a pot on my terrace garden, transplanting that "souvenir" image from the streets of Italy. . . .I'll finish the pair of socks I was knitting on the trains and planes of this journey, another "pulling together," if you don't mind. . .

We have a number of trips planned for this year, and at least one of them will be as long as this last. So it seems important to continue integrating the Travelling Me with the Stay-at-Home Me. This Integrated Self might not be what first comes to mind when you think of "Unity" -- and I'm not sure I've worked the trope, made the point, convincingly (oh, that foggy cold-brain, you know? on top of jet lag?!!). But I've enjoyed the opportunity to write about "Pulling Myself Together," and now I'm keen to hop over to A Daily Plate of Crazy and see what approach the other invitees have taken to the theme.

You should pop over there as well -- there's sure to be some interesting posts. Before you go, though, I'd love your feedback. Do you ever feel fragmented when you come back from travelling? Or are there other endeavours or experiences that leave you feeling a bit like Jane Fonda's character in ON Golden Pond, one foot on the dock, one on the gunwale of a boat that's drifting. . . ? Taking a course, for example, or heading a project at work, or engaging in a physical challenge -- anything that shifts your usual schedule or environment or priorities? And in such cases, do you mostly allow time to effect the integration for you? Or do you have a few techniques. . . .

Monday, January 15, 2018

Monday Morning, Back at Home, Remembering Paris. . .

Good morning! Just quickly, let me share a few more photos of Joana Vasconcelos' outsized, wrought-iron teapot, part of the Women House exhibition I saw in Paris last Thursday, at the Monnaie de Paris. I'm busy catching up at home, checking out my terrace garden (posted this on IG, if you're curious), cuddling some beloved wee ones, having dinner with family, sorting bills, filing paperwork, doing laundry -- you know, all the fun stuff!

I'm also working on Wednesday's post, which will be another in the By Invitation Only series hosted by Daily Plate of Crazy. We won't be taking a Fantasy Train Picnic together for this one, but we will be thinking about Travel -- and the Rest of our lives. . . .

For now, though, I'm meeting my husband for lunch shortly after his plane lands -- he left Rome a few days before I did, and he's been in Portland since then working. I'll share these photos with him and catch him up on the rest of my Italian and French travels and find out what he's been up to, and we'll begin making plans for the next few months, setting some general goals for 2018.

So I'll leave you with these photos of Vasconcelos' magnificent teapot -- I love the subtle subversity of such a useful, quotidian, domestic item wrought so large, turned into art, placed -- literally -- "outside" its normal context (and, of course, rendered quite useless, thus, for the purpose of that little, ordinary object it refers to). . .


Remember, if you're in Paris, you still have a few days to catch this exposition before it closes, and after that, if you're planning to be anywhere near Washington's National Museum of Women in the Arts, the collection is there from March 9th to May 28th.
Bye for now, but let's chat, 'kay? Comments always welcome. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Last Day in Paris . . . for now . . .

 I haven't wanted to spend much time blogging, but I'm trying to keep up my travel journal, and I thought perhaps I could get away with a two-birds-one-stone approach here today, my last day in Paris this trip.

Given the likelihood of you not being able to read my handwriting, here's a transcription of the page above: Woken by a sore throat sometime around 1:30 last night, and the aspirins took a while to kick in. This cold is not going easily, and the last two days diverted -- into carrying luggage & walking the city & visiting with a friend -- strength that probably should have gone straight into maintaining recovery. Ah well, I fly home tomorrow morning, and then there will be time for sleep, for cup after cup of hot lemon and ginger, for a cleansing diet -- plus a healing bundle of cuddles from some little people.
     Woke again at 6 a.m. (after finally getting back to sleep about 3, via my aphabet-letter-wordlist memory trick -- the word of the night was T-R-U-C-K and I only made it to "R") Since I was awake, I checked in for my flight, got my boarding pass. Perhaps knowing all was in order let me go back to sleep until 8. So I got close to a decent number of hours, at least, and might try for a nap
 this afternoon.
     For now, though . . . . 
     We didn't make it to a single art exhibition this visit -- uh-oh, untrue, Paul went to one in Rome with Jesse & Frankie one day while I stayed home sick -- One last chance to remedy this, but I need to keep it manageable.
     Two options:
     A Pop Art show at Musée Maillol, very near here and I really liked the Maillol as was, would like to see it in its new iteration.
     But there's also an interesting expo at the Monnaie de Paris: Women House -- a selection of work by female artists of 20th and 21st century exploring the relation of gender and space, a topic I've long been interested in. And since this museum is new to me, I think I'll start here -- off to try for online tix now and to map out my walking route. . . . 

Just a few photos from what turned out to be a wonderfully stimulating exhibition, just the right size, in a gorgeous space, and only a 20-minute walk from here.  The wrought-iron teapot by Joana Vasconcelos below,
 one of Louise Bourgeois' formidable Spiders,
 and Niki de Saint Phalle's Nana Maison II, were perhaps the highlights for me, but I'll continue to post photos on Instagram of other works (and other views of these).
And if you should be coming to Paris before January 28th, put this one on your list. Otherwise, you might be able to catch the exhibition when it moves to Washington's National Museum of Women in the Arts for a March 9th to May 28th gig.

And now, if you'll excuse me, time to settle in with this pot of tea in the hotel sitting area. Other than packing my case tonight, and perhaps going across the street for an omelette, I'm going to take it easy. I've booked the hotel's car service for the first time -- we usually take public transit to Charles de Gaulle, and it's easy enough, even on my own, and the price is unbeatable at 10 Euros. But I've decided the comfort is worth the splurge this once. . . and at the other end of the flight, I have a lovely son-in-law picking me up at the airport. . . So all is good, and next time we speak I'll be ensconced in all the comforts of home.

Oh, in her comment on my last post, Susan asked what I was reading on the flight home.  Well, I like to have choices. . . On my train trip, I began reading Madeleine L'Engle's A Circle of Quiet a lovely philosophical memoir about writing and rural life and marriage and family.  But it's to savour, not to rush through, so I'll balance it with  Jacqueline Park's The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi, which I downloaded onto my iPadMini from the Vancouver Public Library, such a boon. Check out the page count on this one (bottom left ) -- although keep in mind that the number of pages will change depending on the size the font's adjusted to. Still, it's a big book!

And while those two should definitely last me through the flight, especially if I get distracted by a movie or two, I've also got a paper book, just in case something goes wrong with the electronics. . . I bought the paperback at the train station in Chambéry; it's by Aurélie Valognes, Mémé dans les Orties. The title apparently refers to the French expression that says you shouldn't push granny (mémé) into the (stinging) nettles (les orties), shouldn't go too far, in other words. I'm only a couple of chapters in, but I'm already amused by the grumpy old fellow, 83, who doesn't get along with the similarly elderly residents in his building, mostly women.

So, no worries, this reader is well supplied for a ten-hour flight. But now she has to pack. . . Chat soon, okay? And you know I welcome your comments, always.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Colours of Italy

My daughter got home late Friday night, and it's been pretty cute to see Little Girl's response, so happy to have her Mama back home. And requiring that all care and carrying, feeding and fetching, come from her Mama, Papa's services grudgingly accepted in a pinch, and Nana standing waaaay back.  Still, I've been able to enjoy watching the three of them together, and we had a couple of good outings, dinner at a local sushi place (not what most visitors to Italy are going to be eating, but these guys are so glad to see some decent ethnic food coming on the scene. . . ). I baked up a batch of cinnamon buns, my daughter made some fabulous tomato soup, and, finally a few hours ago, I packed up my suitcase, double-checked my tickets, and started readying myself for tomorrow's departure.
I'm not expecting tears, but I may be ambushed at the station when my daughter and granddaughter drop me at Roma Termini. I'll remind myself that I've had three weeks with my Three, and that I'll be seeing the family again in June. And then I'll be off on my own for a few days before flying home.
On tomorrow's train ride, I'll reflect on the past few weeks here. It hasn't been a holiday, not a vacation at all, but travel for a purpose. Enjoyable, rich, frustrating, confusing, inspiring, and a plethora of other adjectives I'll be chasing down in my journal. 
I've already begun organizing the many photos I've taken. Today's selection is all about colour, for me at least, about colour found in the daily rounds in some unexpected and decidedly unglamorous places. Top photo: a rusting water-fountain (nasone) against a sun-streaked, stuccoed wall; next: that truck's minty green against the lift's rusty orange, the gritty muscularity of the vehicle; below: two photos of a graffitied wall on a fenced-off portion of the beach, the faded graphics of the tin can that's been caught up in the wire fencing, none of it romantic, even against that sky, and yet. . .
And then this photo above, the way the yellow skips, like a stone across the water, from the garbage-can lid on the left to that car to that roof. . . .

And below, one town over, out for a walk on my own, these shutters, in a building that's the same age as I am, if I remember my Roman numerals correctly (click to zoom. . . )
So as you might guess, although I'll be leaving Italy tomorrow,  I'll be bringing us all back there in upcoming posts once I'm back home. Hope you won't mind. . .

And I'm curious, as I sign off: do you often find that it takes some time for a trip's reverberations to settle? does your narration of it change with time? do you understand parts of the trip better, weeks or months or even years later, than you were able to at the time? Or is that just me? 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Coughing. . . In Italy

Still coughing here, and although I've managed a better sleep the last two nights, I reluctantly conceded, this morning -- after getting up, showered, dressed, and ready to head into Rome for a few hours -- that I'm just not well enough for adventures out of the neighbourhood. Out of the house will be sufficient challenge, and we'll go for a stroll soon, perhaps a cappucino and pastry -- definitely building the schedule around an afternoon nap.

And tomorrow Pater flies home, so I'll be doing the preschool pick-up solo for the last two days, and then getting ready to take the train back to Paris, a few days to myself before flying home from Charles de Gaulle.
If you're reading between the lines here, sussing out some trepidation about travelling solo while not quite at full strength, you're not wrong, but the inner Sturdy Gal (term borrowed from Lisa, although I'm not using it in reference to style) voices are currently overruling my inner Incessant Worrier (she's been whispering such histrionics as "bronchitis," "pneumonia," "complete collapse on a train where you don't speak the language," ignoring evidence to the contrary) and I'm sure that all will be well by the time I'm truly on my own (still have a few days with family after Pater leaves).
But I do need to conserve energy, save it for helping out with Little Girl and otherwise just resting and getting better. Hence the weak efforts here on the blog, and although I've read all your lovely comments, I may not manage to respond.

As for the series of photos here, they're of an abandoned old hotel on the road up the base of Mt. Vesuvius. Obviously once quite gorgeous, it's now dilapidated and somewhat hazardous to the curious visitors who apparently troop through regularly, occasionally partying or sleeping here. We couldn't resist picking our way carefully out onto terrace, avoiding the puddles and the broken glass to eat our picnic lunch and admire the generous view.

I took the photos last week, on our two-day road trip to Salerno, with stops each way -- one to hike up Mt. Vesuvius, another to check out the archaeological excavation of Ercolano, one of the towns Vesuvius covered with lava. It was a good trip, and I'm glad I went along, but I know the jaunt hampered my recovery, so I'm being much more careful now, guarding my strength. But oh, if not? I could be in Rome, right this moment, instead of sitting on the couch, where Pater has just brought me my breakfast.  . . .

Hope all is well with you, that the New Year has begun happily. 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Four Hours in Rome

Our reason for this trip to Italy is helping with our Italian Granddaughter while our daughter trains as a yoga teacher. A very good reason to be here, but I hadn't really examined how it might conflict with some expectations I'd nursed. For our first week here,  it was no hardship at all to be this close to Rome without getting to the city because, after all . . .  Little Girl!
Daughter and son-in-law gave directions for commuting into Rome: a twelve-minute drive to the nearest station, park, and we could be riding a tram in Trastevere in thirty minutes. That first week, though, momentum was slow in the mornings, and once we got going, we were content with a workout or run; later we'd mosey along the waterfront, stop for coffee, indulge in a lazy lunch, plan and shop for the evening meal. Above all, we were focused on pedalling the 3 kilometres to daycare pick-up so we'd be waiting when She came hurtling out the doors. (Hurtling, and then wheedling -- for five minutes in the playground, or for a stop at Old MacDonald's on the way home, or for a visit to the playground at The Dog Park)
Time for some window-shopping as well, and if I'd had a bigger bag, my own porter,  and way more cupboard space at home, I'd have been seriously tempted by these fellows. . . 
 Somehow, I'd nurtured an illusion of picking up a few Christmas gifts in Rome (I'd brought a few picture books for Little Girl, but wanted a Christmas-morning something for her Papa, and her Granddad). Turns out that, do-able as I'd imagined the commute to be,  I faltered when I pictured a missed train, or the car being towed because we'd parked in the wrong place, or anything that might make us late, have her waiting, anxious. Instead,  I made peace with staying local, and we explored the small town my daughter's family inhabit, where I found a few little regali to wrap.  Son-in-law drove us into Rome on Saturday evening to see the Vatican lit up and admires its giant Christmas tree, to stroll that immense plaza at St. Peter's with gelati, a magical outing that meant we'd at least made it into Rome one day this trip.
 And then Christmas meals to prepare, greengrocers and fishmongers and butchers to visit, and I wasn't thinking much about Rome, instead focussing on being present here.
 Boxing Day -- the Feast of St. Stephen here -- I woke with a cold,  so the guys headed off with the Granddaughter to check out some villas outside The Eternal City. We'd decided to shift our road trip south a bit later in the week, preferring to stay closer to comfort given the storm that's rolled in. But that meant, I could see, that we were running out of longer days for Pater and I to head into Rome on our own before regular daycare schedule resumes.
 And I might have been caught sulking for a minute or two. Sure, I've been to Rome a few times now, and we've had some good outings this visit (Villa d'Este, especially, that trip to the Vatican, the villas, if only I'd been well enough to go along), but in between coughing ferociously and sneezing into my kleenex, I realized I'd really been counting on at least three things:

One: I wanted to get to Sora Margharita and introduce Paul to the deep-fried artichokes -- carciofi alla giudia-- I'd enjoyed there last time. (Top photo: Done!)

Presepe (Nativity Scene) at a side altar (not far from Raphael's tomb)
 Despite the increasingly horrid weather (you might have seen the ten-second video I posted on Instagram as we were huddled under umbrellas on the leeward side of a Roman street, rain, then hail, lashing down), I insisted we head to the Pantheon. Such an aesthetically gratifying and historically and spiritually rich building, I feel something close to grace, to beneficence, there, and to be that close and not partake seemed a foolishness to avoid. And, as you can see by the photos (few and of limited quality -- so dark in there, and I'm not keen anymore to be all camera-happy in that space), that Two on my list also got checked off, Done.

 The exterior of the building's front matched the sky's severity, yesterday -- in fact, the rain, pelting down a bit later, rather resembled those columns!
 Inside, it's all about the light and the rich colours of the marble and the complex geometries and the way they intersect and parallel and complement each other.
Number Three on my list was the Rome branch of Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. And between the Pantheon and that shop, only a six-minute walk away, the skies opened, and I was so wet that I could have used my new supply of the beautifully fragrant Pomegranate Soap (Sapone al Melograno) right there. Instead, we tucked it into a bag and sloshed along the sidewalk, across the inundated intersections, to wait for the tram back to the train station. In fact, we would have been home almost in time to pick Little Girl up had it been a daycare day, and the entire outing took not much more than four hours, including the commute. I'm hoping we'll manage at least one more similar scoot into the city, perhaps with better weather and without a cough, sniffles, and the fatigue of a cold. Spending time with Granddaughter (and her papa) is the cake, of course, but a bit of icing is always welcome -- and I still haven't managed to peer in the windows of Al Sogno, the much-lauded toy store at Piazza Navona. . . .

At the moment, though, I've spent another quiet day at home nursing this cold, and I'm currently waiting for Pater to bring a box of Kleenex home along with the groceries -- any bets on whether he remembers or not?

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas from Italy

 Merry Christmas to all of you

 and all the joys of this wondrous season. . .
Thank you so much for reading and commenting throughout the year and for keeping me company on my travels. . . 
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