Sunday Morning ~ Thin Ice

Sunday Morning ~ Thin Ice

Gomo likagamuka, zako umadyeratu. ~ If the riverbank caves in, you eat your food as fast as you can.

~ Chewa proverb

February 16, 2020

Hi Everyone,

The days are getting longer but the temperature is colder and the heath at the end of my road is finally frozen over. It was below zero yesterday but bright and sunny. I love these winter days with cold squeaky snow underfoot and bright sun on my face. I walked with a friend and her dog through the woods until the heath opened in front of us. She’d not been there before and I told her how lovely it was to walk out there in the winter when the ice was solid enough. I usually wait until I can see footprints in the snow, not usually brave enough to be the first one out there. But I felt a little more confident with someone else along so we tentatively took a few steps on the snow covered ice. We bounced a little, then jumped. It seemed solid underfoot so we continued, tentatively at first, then confidently taking in the surroundings. It was gorgeous, the only time of year we can get that particular perspective, walking out on the open heath. We checked out animal prints and tried to decipher which critters had been there before us. With sun on our faces and a happy dog chasing sticks it was a perfect Saturday afternoon winter walk. We reminded each other of how lucky we are to live here, how healthy it was to get out and appreciate how beautiful our winter world is. We talked politics and lamented the current state of affairs. We talked about climate change and worried about what will happen if we don’t change our course soon. It’s February and we are just now walking on the ice. I’m usually out there by Christmas. We discussed the actions we could take, were taking, how to keep ourselves from losing hope. We both enjoy white privilege and recognize that, but we’re both women and have endured our share of discrimination and misogyny. We’re no longer of childbearing age so don’t need to worry about finding a maternity service within driving distance, but both care for and worry about other women. We’re both politically active and independent; can take care of ourselves, cut and stack wood, grow food, care for our children. We’re both healthy and active. We have a lot going for us. We live in a beautiful place, have figured out how to stay warm (enough), have the foresight to plan for the years when we’ll have to moderate our activity and lifestyle. We talked about how we can use our good fortune in life to help others. She knows the outdoors, knows the woods and feels at home there. So do I. The forest calms me and somehow insights about the larger picture can come into view.

We stopped to look at a patch of ice not covered by snow and wondered if it were a spring. My friend took a heavy stick and banged on it until the ice cracked. She showed me how you can measure the thickness this way, looking at how deep the cracks went. Fascinating! I’d never known that. I always figured if there were footprints bigger than mine out there, it was safe enough for me! But this opened up a new path to independence and safety. We tried to recall the ice safety chart: how thick ice has to be to hold a person (3 inches), a car (7 inches), a truck (10 inches). The heath is untouched by heavy machines so we couldn’t judge safety by what was sitting on it. The heath is open and wild and beautiful. Nothing but coyote prints…how much does a coyote weigh, I wondered? The cracks in the ice produced by the stick looked to be at least three inches so, reassured, we moved on in the sunlight enjoying the fresh cold air. I was happy. I felt safe. Less than ten steps later I crashed through the ice up to my hip, stopping there only because of the size of the hole my leg made. My butt hit the edge of the ice and my knee hit a submerged log that stopped me from going deeper. There was no warning, no cracking sound, no slow sinking into a boggy spot. This was a sudden plunge and could have been comical if it weren’t so cold. The ice around me was strong enough to haul myself out, thank God, and I stood soaking near the rim, made sure I could walk, retraced my steps, and turned toward home. Well, so much for our walk. That was over. Maybe the submerged log had weakened the ice there, warmed the water or something. We mused about the physics as I slowly walked my bruised butt and knee the two miles home.

Walking back with water sloshing in my boot we thought of analogies for what just happened. We related it to raising teenagers or life in general. Just when you feel you’ve got things under control: caught up on your bills, fixed the car, registered people to vote–– the ice can give out underneath you. I thought of how grateful I was to be walking with someone out there, grateful for my old boots that despite being filled with water, keep my feet warm, grateful that soup was waiting on the stove, that warm dry clothes were just upstairs, that my new water heater can fill my tub for a long hot soak.One step can change everything, but then you have no choice but to deal with it, eat fast, learn from it, teach others, hope they listen, and move on.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Democratic Aspirations

Sunday Morning ~ Democratic Aspirations

Mfumu ya ndeu simanga mudzi. ~ A quarrelsome chief does not build a village. 

~ Chewa proverb

February 9, 2020

Hi Everyone,

I was organizing some storage spaces, wondering why I kept so much random stuff, and came across a folder full of letters I wrote each Sunday to my parents when I was Peace Corps volunteer in the late ’70’s. My mother had saved every one, written on a light blue airmail foldout which was letter and envelope combined. I made a cup of tea and sat to read them, ignoring the mess I’d made pulling things apart. I thought maybe I’d find some great writing, type them up, and have another book, but after reading the first three, I was bored out of my mind. When I wrote these I was newly married, off on a two and a half year adventure, ballistically idealistic, and …boring. I lost count of all the exclamation points I used on sentences that did not deserve an exclamation point. It was all rosy and everything was great! The letters didn’t really say anything. They seemed a fake expression of contentment and bliss. I was very disappointed in my twenty two year old self. I thought I wrote better than that. I wondered why my writing was so bland as my memories of that experience are quite exotic.  

I got married just after graduating college and went off on a two month honeymoon cycling in Europe. When we returned, my new husband, Joe, and I walked into the Peace Corps office in Boston and flipped through a black binder labeled “Africa” with page after page of available positions for volunteers. There was a binder for each continent. At that time if you were a nurse you could go anywhere but we wanted Africa and found positions in Malawi that matched our skills. We’d never heard of Malawi, but it was in Africa and had jobs we wanted. We took our lengthy applications then went to the library and pulled out an Encyclopedia Brittanica with a gold N-M on it’s spine. We looked up Malawi and found two paragraphs. Under Government:  it stated that Malawi had gained independence from Britain in 1964 and was a one party democracy. Hastings Kamuzu Banda was president for life. Under Economy: it said the cash crops were tea and tobacco. It had a few other facts about geographical location and average rainfall and something about David Livingstone. There wasn’t much. But it all sounded fine to us and we started the long application process and were selected for a “pre-invitational screening”. We flew to Chicago just before Christmas to find out what that was all about. Peace Corps had been asked to leave Malawi in the 1960’s after one of the volunteers, Paul Thoreau, wrote some unflattering things about Kamuzu Banda in an article called Tarzan was an Expatriate. After ten years or so, in 1978, the Malawian government decided to let Peace Corps send volunteers again with strict conditions. We could only work in health and agriculture, not in education. We had to comply with the repressive regulations regarding dress and public speaking. They didn’t want any young Americans filling the heads of Malawian youngsters with notions of free speech. It was illegal for women to wear pants, and skirts had to be below the knee. Men were not allowed to have facial hair, or wear collarless shirts. Birth control was illegal and was never to be promoted. No one was allowed to voice any criticism of the president. I asked naively, “Is president-for-life the same as dictator?” and was told that word was never to be used. If we couldn’t comply with all this, we couldn’t go. Somehow it was presented to us as respecting their culture, which, I guess it was. A repressive dictatorship culture.

A month later, in January 1979, we were on our way for our three months of in-country training. It was there that we were told to write home every Sunday to reassure our parents we were ok. This would prevent Peace Corps from having to field calls from worried family members when they didn’t hear from their kids. (That’s where all the writing on Sunday started for me.) We were also warned not to write anything critical of the government or indeed the country. Our letters were subject to being opened and read. And, good girl that I was, I complied. I wrote each week about how great everything was. It’s really creepy now when I read them. There was a severe drought when we were there. People starved. I never wrote about it. The president gave speech after speech about how no one was starving. We privately mocked this, but no one spoke out. No one. 

We quickly learned who we could talk to. We talked to each other of course, and with other volunteers and expats, but we were very careful about what we said to Malawians. It was awkward when they would ask about the US. They were trying to figure out what was true. One man asked me if it were true that the US had gone to the moon. I said, “Yes! Yes, that is true!” Then he asked, “What was it like there?” as if I, myself, had gone. It took a while to explain that it was a special event and we all weren’t going back and forth, but it was stunning how confused they were about what was reality. We laughed about it. The news there was all blatantly censored. Big black lines went through headlines in news magazines and everyone just accepted it. Time magazine came to us via the diplomatic pouch uncensored however, and we had to make sure they never left our house. During the Iranian hostage crisis some of our Malawian friends were at our house visiting and they picked up one of the magazines and started thumbing through it. They looked at the photos and started showing each other excitedly. “Oh! Oh! Look! Look at this!” It was a photo of a protester carrying a sign that said KILL CARTER. They turned to us and asked, “You can do this? You can carry a sign like this in the US?” Then to each other, “Oh no. You wouldn’t get as far as the market here.” Another said laughing, “You wouldn’t get out your door! Your wife would stop you!” Everyone laughed. There was never any sentiment expressed that life would be any different there than it was then.

Women weren’t allowed in the bars. I accepted this and so did every other woman I knew there. I drank my beer and gin and tonics at home which was more comfortable anyway. But the male volunteers went to bars regularly. Joe didn’t go often, but occasionally he did. There were men known as “Special Branch” who would buy drinks for guys in the bars and see if they would drunkenly criticize the president. Joe told me once that a guy sat down with them with a round of beers and the Malawian he was with traced an S and a B on his arm with a finger. It was a warning to be careful and not drink too much. Everyone accepted this. The stories of the political prisons were famous and they were whispered regularly from ear to ear. I knew of no one who risked a visit to one of those. 

We lived like that for two and a half years listening to speech after speech of the president telling everyone how great everything was. And I wrote that in my letters home. The Malawians lived with that for three decades before there was an actual presidential election. Last May there was another Malawian presidential election. The results were contested siting ballot counting irregularities in favor of the ruling party. When I was there in June I saw protest after protest calling for an investigation and recount. The protests forced a review by the electoral commission then the supreme court. The deliberations lasted for months. This past week the results were announced and the judges read the findings aloud for eight hours. I heard shops were closed as everyone was glued to their radios, listening. The judiciary nullified the election and called on the legislature to restructure the electoral process to be more representative. 

Wow. What a difference forty years makes. I’m hoping someday we can be like Malawi.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Imbolc and Saint Brigid

Sunday Morning ~ Imbolc and Saint Brigid

Kacirombo kofula m’njira katama mano. ~ The insect that digs a hole on the path must trust it’s teeth.

~Chewa proverb

February 2, 2020

Hi Everyone,

Yesterday was the feast of Saint Brigid, the Irish patron saint of dairy, lambing, midwifery, the return of spring, and the printing press. She had quite an eclectic list, I must say.  I haven’t thought much about this woman until yesterday when she popped up all over the place. I decided to read up on her, wondering if she’d provide a lesson I needed to learn. There are so many saints! It’s hard to keep them all straight. I have my favorites, of course. Saint Anthony has come through for me many times, though I try not to take advantage of his generosity and remember where I put things, but a couple of necklaces whose clasps have failed have been recovered in the most unbelievable of circumstances after he and I had a chat. And Saint Christopher with all the solo travel I do, he and I talk a lot, too. But I did not know there was a patron saint of midwifery. I wonder why this has never come to my attention before.

I recently spent a month roaming through churches and cathedrals in Sicily, Spain, and Portugal and have seen depictions of many saints. I’ve even seen some (creepy) remains lying in glass tombs. There are arrow-pierced, beheaded, mutilated saints painted all over the place. Those poor people. I’d stare at their artist-depicted, mangled bodies, stunningly detailed and anguished, and think, “How devoted to a belief they must have been. What would have driven a human to be that staunchly devoted? Must it truly be divine?” That was along side the thought, “How did they ever get that painting up there?” 

In Italy when I entered a sacred space filled with mind boggling, breathtaking art: mosaics, paintings, marble inlay, whatever, I got filled with a sense of overwhelming awe at the artistic magnificence. The detail! The monumental accomplishment! It speaks to me of devotion. The wealth that went into the churches, basilicas, and cathedrals, the architectural masterpieces surviving through all these centuries despite bombings, earthquakes, and neglect, all seemed miraculous to me. I’m a benefactor of that wealth, I get to experience what it produced, enjoy it, marvel in it, post pictures of it on Facebook even. The monstrous wealth of a few went into supporting the arts in a sense. They still stand. It is incredible. But when I got to Spain my first thought at the sight of the silver studded altars was, Oh my God: the pillage, the conquests, the massacre. It was obscene. Yes, the workmanship and artistic genius was there, but my God. Where did all that silver come from? We know where it came from. The saints were there though, oiled and tucked in between swirling golden orbs that, to me, mocked the goodness they represented. There was too much idolatry of conquerers, clad in silver armor with drawn swords. In God’s name, sort of, but God was just a ruse. It screamed greed. It was obscene to me and I couldn’t get by that. And I thought, it’s happening now.

I had a lot of time to think on this trip. I wondered about devotion and how often it takes being killed or maimed to stand up for truth and justice. Were these people just born with that kind of inner strength? And why is this even necessary? Why doesn’t everyone just believe in what’s right, because I know what’s right, right?  In my college philosophy class we had discussions about this. Why do we think we are right?  We discussed justice and whether those most powerful prevailing was justice. The professor said it was. I said it was not. I had no argument aside from regurgitated dogma to support my beliefs. I was coming from a small mill town where most of us were Catholic and had similar rituals and belief systems. No one at home challenged those. My philosophy professor was a bisexual Jewish lawyer from New York, getting his PhD in Philosophy at a Jesuit University. It was like shooting fish in a barrel for him. I left that class crying a lot. I wanted to believe that there would always be a just and therefore, happy, ending. That meant the way I wanted it to end. Just wait three days and he’ll rise from the dead and everything will be fine.  Okay, sometimes it’s a little longer than three days. Hang in there. 

After so much pondering about the grisly end to so many of the saints I was happy to read about Saint Brigid who died of natural causes after leading a life of chaste devotion. Phew! What a relief. It’s debated whether she actually existed; her character possibly fused with the pagan goddess Brigid who divined over Imbolc, the celebration of the return of light and seedlings and spring cleaning. Saint Brigid was a champion for the poor, a female Robin Hood of her day who took riches from her chieftain father (who abducted her from her slave-mother) and gave them to the poor. How she got away with that unscathed had to have been divine intervention, that’s all I can say. Whether it’s true or not, I love the story, I love the history of pagan rituals being integrated into christianity, I love imagining the people celebrating the return of light and looking forward to something green to eat again. I love imagining a strong woman fighting for the poor and what she believes to be right, taking a jewel-laden sword and handing it to a beggar to buy food. Nice gesture, though he was probably immediately killed for it. I wonder if she thought that one through. 

I used to think the saints lived in barbaric times: chariot races, bullfights, public beheadings…what un-evolved humans! If only they’d had the resources for education we have now. Think of the insights, the technical advances, the studies identifying causes of disease and scientific remedies. Cures! Vaccines! Then I think of the ways barbarism still exists in modern dress. I shake my head and tsk tsk, basically glad I don’t live in Saudi Arabia or wherever else public flogging is legal and think I’m doing my part by refusing to buy a ticket to a bullfight. I wonder how all of this can shift and how where we live won’t protect us anymore.

I heard snippets of news while I was traveling but I was mostly blacked out by choice, hoping justice, as I believed in it, would prevail. I got home in time to make frantic calls to my congresspeople, dismayed that justice is not quite taking on the form I envisioned. Was my philosophy professor right? If the most powerful prevails is that justice? I think of strong and powerful as two different things. The most powerful may prevail in the short term, but the strongest endure until the power shifts. Looking at it that way keeps me from losing hope.

And so here we are, struggling for justice in a very unjust system with a chaotic jumble of frustration and noise swirling around. How to keep clear? I’m intrigued by the saints, if not for guidance, then for insight into what it means to really believe in something and fight for it. To stay strong. I have no desire to hand my severed breasts on a platter to God, so Saint Catherine is out of my league, but Brigid is a bit of a role model I’d say. She believed in her mission to serve the poor and marched (or maybe glided in a saintly way) toward it. I love the images I found of her looking serene and confident. That must be what it is like when you have no doubt about being on the right path. I love what Joan of Arc said when asked what she would do if no one followed her: “I shan’t look backward to see.”

Onward with our teeth digging, digging, digging. The light is returning. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Puerto Rican Lessons

Sunday Morning ~ Puerto Rican Lessons

Mtengo wopanda tsinde mudam’penya? ~ Did you ever see a tree without roots?

~Chewa proverb 

January 26, 2020

Hi Everyone,

I’m home and have been doing lots of thinking about Puerto Rico. It is part of the United States and has been since well before I was born, yet, I learned nothing about this island in my public education in my little town of Maynard, Massachusetts. Puerto Ricans lived in Maynard when I was growing up. They lived on Railroad Street, a tiny street making a triangular shortcut from Florida Court to Main Street. This was my walk to church and the library, a quick pace up Railroad Street. When we played Monopoly I always thought of Baltic and Mediterranean as Railroad Street, the poorest street in town. I remember being warned to avoid it, but it cut off going under the railroad bridge and around the corner to end up in the same place, so I always walked up Railroad Street and back down, seeing nothing nefarious during those passages. I don’t remember seeing loads of people hanging around there, maybe a few. Were there any kids? I don’t remember. Some old cars, run down row houses probably covered in asbestos shingles, dark windows, no grass, the gas station for a view out the front door, and litter. But litter was hardly confined to this street; litter was everywhere. Turning onto Florida Court, across from my elementary and junior high school, was a little stream that, I guess, flowed into the Assabet River. It was filled with trash. Other parts of the river I remember seeing shopping carts and old tires. It was before plastic bottles so none of those, but filled with trash of the day. I think that’s why I always think I grew up in a slum mill town. It was probably a low point in the area’s history, but that is my childhood memory. Railroad Street was part of it.

I’ve spent the last week in Puerto Rico and am saddened by my ignorance. I knew nothing of this island, not the geography, not the history, not the culture. I’ve always been drawn more to Europe and Africa. Many of the people I sat with, wrapping ham and cheese sandwiches, reminded me to tell everyone at home that it was mostly Puerto Ricans there, helping their own. It’s true. Most of the volunteers were local professionals, out of work due to the earthquakes, spending their days making food to feed their community. They talked about the corruption in their government and how frustrated they were. There were colorful and vocal protests going on downtown Ponce after the discovery of pilfered goods after the hurricane two years ago. Hundreds of people were on the street. They were able to remove a corrupt governor within a couple of weeks by their protests. They are proud and motivated people frustrated by corruption. I thought about this and I thought a lot about Railroad Street.

Like many of my generation, we went out to play all day with neighborhood kids, our parents never looking for us or even asking where we’d been. We were supposed to be home for supper. And after supper we had to come home when the street lights came on, whenever that was. My friend Beth’s house had a bell out the back door that her mother would ring when it was time to eat. I thought that was cool. In the winter, after a snow storm, we’d dig tunnels through huge snowbanks that I’m sure would have crushed us had they collapsed. No adult seemed concerned. We’d sled down Wilson’s Hill, a steep street actually named Howard Road, but the big house near there was owned by the Wilsons so we called it Wilson’s Hill. It became Howard Road when they paved it and built the new houses, six of them, with big yards and attractive siding. Summer Street, one of the busiest streets in town, was the main road that Wilson’s Hill turned off of, up to a cul de sac which would eventually become a much bigger development. But back in the early 60’s it was all ours. When it was snow covered, we’d drag our sleds up Howard Road, and go flying down on our stomachs, wedging the runners of the flexible flyer just before we got to Summer street, sending us flying into a snowbank inches before the main road. The snowbanks were massive and none of the cars traveling on Summer Street could have possibly seen dozens of kids inches from their deaths. Adults occasionally watched from the windows of those new houses apparently not worried about any danger. (It was a blast) Yet, I thought, we were warned to avoid Railroad Street. 

I thought and thought about Railroad Street. Where did those people work? Where did they go to school? I don’t remember ever seeing them around town. Don’t remember any Puerto Rican kids in my class. They must have had kids? I don’t even remember seeing any of them in church and they lived right down the road from St. Bridget’s. Were they there I just didn’t see them? This is very disturbing to me. I wonder if this is why I never thought about Puerto Rico until the hurricanes, never had a desire to travel there. I chalked it up to the fact that I’m not a beach person and tropical vacations weren’t a draw, but now I’m wondering if it was a bias I grew up internalizing. I never had a desire to learn Spanish. Until recently, I didn’t even know where in the Caribbean Puerto Rico was! Didn’t know the name meant “Rich Port”. Didn’t know it’s economic importance or it’s long colonial history. Shameful. But most shameful, is that the people who lived on Railroad Street were in no way integrated into our town, and it was a small town. And I am only just realizing this now. 

So when I wonder and wonder how can it be that we don’t treat people equally, don’t value their contributions, don’t even see them as people, I got a little more insight into that this week. It wasn’t blatant. There were no signs that said, AVOID THE DANGERS OF RAILROAD STREET BECAUSE PEOPLE THERE AREN’T LIKE US. It was much more subtle, but I see better now how that works. Blatant racism is easier to identify and condemn. 

I spent this morning reading through Maynard’s history: the Native American people inhabiting the land before Puritans arrived, the Revolutionary War, the separation from Stow and Sudbury, the woolen mill, the railroad, the start of Digital. There was lots written about immigrant populations: Italians, Polish, and Irish, but I couldn’t find a word about the Puerto Ricans. I found somewhere that Puerto Ricans were brought over to work in mills in Massachusetts but the woolen mill in Maynard closed in 1950. Were these families living there then? It was only ten years before, but where were they working after the mill closed, if that’s indeed where they worked? Did they just stop having kids or sending them to school? Did they not go to church? We had two big Catholic Churches in such a small town, maybe they went to the Polish church (I can’t even believe we had a separate church for the Polish!) but that was further away. Spanish wasn’t even offered as a second language in school until my second year of high school. It was either French or Latin until then. It’s like they were invisible, shadowy existences. I wonder what their names were, where they shopped, if there were other Puerto Rican communities in neighboring towns they could visit? Were they residents? Could they vote? 

There were plenty of biases in town. We were pretty mean to kids with disabilities I’m sorry to say. Even if it wasn’t outright abuse, they were at minimum excluded. Athletes, however, were revered. We had one black family that I knew of but I don’t remember any disparaging words or actions against them. I doubt, however, they had positions of prominence in town. We had a few Jewish families including my beloved neighbor who was kind and generous to the neighborhood kids having none of his own. I didn’t know anything about his judaism until I was much older; it was never discussed. The talk was more of the men’s clothing store they owned, I think called New Idea or something like that. One brother was a chemistry teacher at the high school, and one the superintendent of schools, so they seemed very important and I don’t remember any hint of antisemitism, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist.   

I missed (literally and emotionally) this year’s weekend with my childhood friends. We’d planned this trip to Puerto Rico last year when we were discussing how terrible our president was treating them. We decided to go spend some tourist dollars there. Their economy is something like 82% based on tourism. Then the earthquake happened right before we were to go and anxiety levels rearranged plans. We would have talked about all this. We would have shared our experiences of Railroad Street. We’d have examined insights and would have talked about who we were then and who we are now. 

When I found my Air b&b in a run down neighborhood I was wishing I’d splurged on a more expensive place. But after being there for a week, it didn’t seem so run down. I didn’t like the windowless room, but each day the neighborhood seemed nicer to me. I finally found my way there and back without the GPS and as it became more familiar, the houses looked well kept and more inviting. Kids who stared at me smiled when I smiled and waved. Early one morning a van was blaring something on a loudspeaker driving through the tiny streets and I freaked out. I didn’t know if they were telling everyone to evacuate or what. It sounded like a warning. I peeked out the front door trying to take cues from the neighbors. It sounded scary. There’d been a couple of small quakes during the night but all seemed quiet then. The van stopped in front of my place and the neighbors across the street came out. The driver started handing out loaves of bread. I laughed. They were delivering food. Taking care of each other.

I have so much to learn.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Ponce, Puerto Rico

January 19, 2020

Hi Everyone,

I decided to use my non-refundable ticket and come to Puerto Rico without my friends. I love and value this weekend with my forever girlfriends and have been looking forward to it so am bummed out about being here without them. I understood their concerns about travel here after the earthquake reports, but after reading about the damage and aftermath I wasn’t worried about safety. The flights were flying and people were still coming on vacation. But it seemed a lonely prospect to come on my own. I’m not even a beach person. We had decided on this location as a way to support the tourist economy after the hurricane. And I do believe in that rationale. I strongly feel the best way to support local economies is to go on vacation there. So, sticking by that, and having a ticket in my hand, I looked for a volunteer opportunity, one I could slide into easily and do for only five days. World Central Kitchen popped up.

World Central Kitchen is an NGO that feeds people. I can get behind that. They are functioning in many locations now: our southern border, Colombia, and other areas hit by natural disasters. It’s easy to sign up; they have a great website, and you can work as much or as little as you’d like.

So I booked a cheap airb&b in Ponce and boarded my flight. It was packed with people coming on vacation, bachelorette parties, and honeymooners, as well as people coming home to visit. No one seemed too worried. When I picked up my rental car the woman asked where I was staying. I told her Ponce and she said, “You know they had an earthquake there, right?” I said, “Yes, but the place I’m staying told me they had no damage.” I asked her if she’d felt it and she said, “Not really.” So off I went into San Juan rush hour traffic trying to find my way out of town.

GPS was working and the roads seemed fine. Some pot holes, but not bad. The biggest problem with the roads is the white lines are so faded you can’t see them. Lane changing was a bit iffy. It was dark by the time I got to Ponce and the neighborhood I was directed to was, how should I put it? Low rent, perhaps? I tried to be conscious of being judgmental but wasn’t sure I wanted to get out of the car. Actually, that’s not true. I did not want to get out of the car. I could NOT find the house. The numbers made no sense, the GPS said I’d arrived but when I got up the guts to ask some of the people hanging around outside they didn’t know where the house was either. Well, they didn’t say that. They sent for some teenager who could speak a little English since my Spanish is nonexistent, and he didn’t know. After an hour and a half of me driving in circles I turned into a Walmart (gag me) parking lot which was lit up like Las Vegas, googled hotels nearby, saw one called “Solace By The Sea” and, close to tears, thought that was a good name and went there.

Down dark roads I went not looking like anything was nearby and I came to a dead end with a faded sign with the letters SOL dimly lit. I was about to turn around when I looked more closely and saw “ACE by the SEA” unlit. This was the hotel! There were traffic cones blocking the entrance so I thought it wasn’t open but a security guard came out of a dingy shelter and moved one of the cones so I could pass. She asked if I was a guest. I told her I hoped to be and she waved me through. There were three cars in a parking lot for two hundred or so. This, as seedy as it was, was a million times better than the neighborhood I’d just been in. I went to the glass entrance, which was locked. When I pulled on the door, the reception person came around to open it. I asked, “Are you closed?” He said, “No, but we only have FEMA people staying here. The staff haven’t been coming to work since most of them had damage to their homes. The restaurant isn’t open.” This was a blow since I wanted a drink badly. And I was starving. But was more desperate for a room. I asked if I could stay there as I couldn’t find the place I’d reserved and he said yes. Thank God. He said the water was potable, and since I had no intention of driving again that night to find a place to eat, decided I’d just fast until the next day. The place was run down and deserted but pretty much like places we’d stayed in Malawi so I was fine. He said the internet was working but I couldn’t log on. And there was no water at the drinking fountain. So I was walking back to the front desk to ask about this and I saw a man walking toward me with an armload of water bottles. We greeted each other and I asked if he was with FEMA. He said no, he was a crisis counselor working for another organization. He’d been there for a day already and handed me one of the water bottles. Seriously, some kind of angel. The kindest, most comforting voice. We chatted, he asked why I was there, etc. etc. etc. He said he’d not eaten and asked if I wanted to go get supper with him. Yes!!! So we got organized, found a restaurant online that was nearby and off we went. He drove his car but we navigated with my phone since his GPS wasn’t working. AT&T is apparently the way to go here.

I swear this guy was Clarence the Angel. He is fluent in Spanish since studying philosophy in Spain for three years, intrepid, warm and friendly; the perfect companion for the evening. The place we found was a tiny local restaurant, one I wouldn’t have ventured into alone at night. It was great. Food was fabulous and he insisted on paying since I was volunteering and he was getting paid. And they had beer. Couldn’t have been better.

He works for an organization that sends counselors to crisis situations. Businesses contract with them to come and counsel their employees. He’d spent that day at AT&T so I guess they have their act together. Made me happy I use them. He said he’d been a bit scared with the aftershocks (a 4.3 that morning) so completely understands how traumatized people are. They all feel something bigger is coming. He left for home yesterday morning, but what a sweet little gift it was to meet him.

That night a tremor at 3 am woke me up. It didn’t last long but I could see how unsettling this is for people. Another came at 5 am. None of these have caused more damage and I’m not freaked by them but I also didn’t have my house collapse. It makes me think of the Greek (or was it Roman?) myth of the benevolent maternal underworld reminding us of her power and strength. We can’t control this so we need to learn to live in harmony with it. Embrace it.

After a breakfast of scrambled eggs, white toast, and strong coffee, (they did manage to get an employee to come in and make breakfast) I said goodbye to my new friend and went off to find my apartment in the daylight. I found it and rather wished I hadn’t. But it’s all paid for and I’ll only be here to sleep so I’ll see how it goes. Last night wasn’t too bad. The fact that it has no windows is a bit hard for me. The air con works, but it is like a prison cell. I found the World Kitchen headquarters and immediately went to work helping make a thousand ham and cheese sandwiches. I thought that was impressive but they said the day before they made six thousand. In the afternoon we chopped tomatoes and mushrooms, washed tons of locally grown lettuce, and assembled cob salads. It’s fun! I met great people from all over. A group who work at an insurance company in San Juan contacted a medical team and gave them my contact info so I might get to do some work with them. We’ll see. Anything not to stay in this apartment. I miss my friends though. A group of young women from Boston, just graduated from college, here on vacation, spent the afternoon yesterday helping make the salads. It’s been wonderful to see and satisfying to report.

Ok, off I go to see what’s cooking today.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Utrecht

January 12, 2020

Hi Everyone,

One of my favorite quotes of Erma Bombeck is, “When you start to look like your passport photo, it’s time to go home.”

My month of rambling is coming to an end and there’s been no epiphany, though my faith in humanity has gotten a booster shot. Travel is just so good for that. People mostly are so kind and helpful and that just does not get talked about enough. I want to write a day by day description of this trip with all my observations; I love reading stuff like that in travel magazines. I won’t do it on my phone though, so plan a winter’s day when I get back to Maine.

My flight from Porto to Brussels was late so I missed my train to Anthwerp. I sent a message to my host saying I wouldn’t arrive until nearly midnight and was worried about it being so late and getting into the building. It was just a room in someone’s apartment I was renting for the night. When I arrived at the nearly deserted train station ( gorgeous building) and crossed the street to the apartment building, there was my host, standing outside in the cold, waiting to make sure I could get in. Most people are truly, truly good.

I’ve got more of those stories I want to tell, but there are some other things I’ve been wondering about: 1. Who buys luggage at an airport? I found myself wandering through luggage displays, always looking for the perfect travel bag, and never, ever see anyone buying one at an airport. Why would you? They are not less expensive. Would you carry all your stuff in a garbage bag then pack it at your gate? Really. What is the marketing strategy here? 2. Who wears all the perfume they sell at duty free? Does anyone even wear perfume anymore? Shelves and shelves of this stuff that makes me sneeze as I’m forced to walk through the displays on my way to my gate. Again, I keep thinking someone must buy this stuff, but never see anyone actually doing so. Booze yes, perfume? Never seen it.

Today will be spent with friends and tomorrow my flight back to New York. My high school reunion in Puerto Rico has been relocated since the earthquake and I’ve got some sorting out to do there. That poor island. I feel like going anyway and seeing if I can help. TBC

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Lisbon, Portugal

January 5, 2020

Hi Everyone,

In all the years I was single I traveled alone a lot and was used to it. For the past four years, however, I was with someone on all my adventures and got used to having a companion. There are many things that are much easier when you’ve got a traveling buddy. Going to the rest room, for instance. It’s a pain to have to drag all your stuff into the stall. And it’s definitely fun, when you’re both enjoying the experience, to have someone to share observations and musings. Since leaving Jordan in Sicily I’m on my own and it’s taking a bit to get my sea legs again. First of all, I’d gotten very used to following him around. I was lazy and didn’t even pay attention to directions, just let him lead me. And his data worked and mine doesn’t, despite the guy in Netherlands promising me it would work all over Europe. So I was a teeny bit anxious about landing in Madrid at 9 pm on New Years Eve and having to find the room I rented in the middle of the city. I got the metro figured out but my stop was closed because of celebrations and I had to go to the next stop. I emerged from the subway with absolutely no idea where to go. I had two hours to make sure the new year started out good and I didn’t end up sleeping (or not sleeping) on a park bench. I tried in vain to pull up the map I’d downloaded. I couldn’t read any of the road signs on the ten roads radiating out from the square I was in. But there were loads of police around so I unabashedly started asking where the address was I was looking for. I had it written on a piece of paper and just showed them. The first policeman actually got out his phone and found it on google maps. Then pointed me in the right direction and said, “Go straight.” So I walked up the road he told me to and came to another square with ten more roads heading in different directions and had no idea where “straight” was. I showed the paper to another policeman who pointed me up another road. I had to do this one more time and actually found the apartment! Then I stood outside and had no idea how to get in. Jordan always called the host but my cellular data would not work (and believe me, lots of people tried to fix it). So I was standing outside with my suitcase about to panic when three young women walked toward me. I lost all shame and said, “excuse me, do any of you have a cell phone that works?” A ridiculous question since I was probably the only one in the city with one that didn’t. I explained my situation and one of them used her phone to call the hostess and ask, in Spanish, how I was supposed to get in. I got buzzed in, thanked the woman profusely, and got welcomed into a cozy quiet space where I collapsed into dead sleep before midnight.

I’ve made a few improvements in my navigation tactics to compensate for the absence of GPS. I feel like Magellan. Madrid was very confusing to me. Seville was as well. But now I am in Lisbon and find this city very easy to explore. I haven’t gotten lost at all. I think I’m getting my mojo back! The layout is just as convoluted as the others but the city rises up from the river ( I always thought Lisbon was on the ocean not a river…learning so much) and my apartment is on a tiny alley near the river, so all I have to do is walk downhill and I come to the river and follow it. And it feels super safe here. I usually don’t stay out at night when I’m alone but here it’s not a problem at all. I just got back from the most beautiful evening mass at the cathedral and the walk through the winding tiled streets wasn’t the least bit daunting. People are all out walking, restaurateurs are standing in doorways, kids are playing in the squares; I see why so many people have raved about this city. Glad I finally made it here.

Tuesday I’ll take a bus north to Porto for a few days full of hope for 2020.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Palermo, Sicily

December 29, 2019

Hi Everyone,

It’s nearing the end of my time in Sicily, having a great time exploring with my son who has planned this all beautifully. It’s really sweet to be cared for by someone you’ve raised! I’m grateful the timing is such that I can still keep up. I love traveling with my kids. First of all, I taught them to travel so we have similar patterns. Second, they know how to find places! If I were alone I’d be spending half my time finding my destination. With my sons, I just follow them like a little rat in a maze and we magically arrive. Their ability to navigate constantly amazes me. Definitely got that gene from their father not me.

Sicily is more beautiful than I imagined. I pictured something more desert-like and it may be during the hot months but now it is green and lush. The citrus trees are dripping with fruit and I’m wondering when they will pick it all. No one seems to be tending these orchards. When we walked through one of the gardens near Agrigento my heart went out to Eve. I personally think she should have been cut a little slack for only picking one apple. I had all I could do to resist filling my bag with clementines, lemons, oranges, and grapefruit. I did resist, even though it wasn’t posted anywhere not to pick the fruit, a signal I thought to interpret as permission. Instead we went to a market on our way home and filled our bags with fennel, peppers, wild mushrooms, cheeses, and pasta and ate well. For all it’s invasions, corruption, and unstable governments, this country somehow continues to exude beauty and enchantment. I’m grateful to be hanging out here with my kid.

Today we head back toward Mt Etna, though I don’t think we’ll get to do any climbing, we might get to drive part way up if there’s not too much snow. I was stunned to see how snow covered it is when we passed from a distance. Then to Catania where we’ll head in different directions on New Years Eve. Full heart.

Happy New Year!

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Syracuse, Sicily

Hi Everyone,

I had a whole blog written but after an hour of trying to copy and paste it here with my phone, and failing, I will write a short recap.

I left New York a week ago, and though the trip started with my flight delayed over fifteen hours, I’m having a great time! It was not an omen I am happy to report. Friends insisted on collecting me at the airport in Amsterdam even though I arrived at four in the morning. That was a bit above and beyond I thought, but there they were waving and smiling at arrivals and I was a happy traveler. I’d missed the family dinner they’d planned the evening before but I still managed to see everyone, it only meant a night in Eindhoven in addition to Delden. I saw more of the country than planned but it was great to see these kids I’d delivered over twenty years ago, grown up and successful and welcoming. I felt like a princess.

On Wednesday I took a train to Ghent in Belgium to visit friends from Congo ( who feature in my book) and got the princess treatment there as well. Wined and dined and driven around in style to Christmas concert, Christmas market, charity race, night on a houseboat…way more than I expected! Then, since they couldn’t drive me to the airport, insisted on buying my train ticket and dropped me practically on the platform. I am so lucky to have such friends in my life. We talked about how working together there created a very unique bond between us. One of the many blessings from that experience.

From there I flew to Catania, Sicily where my son was waiting for me. I thought I’d take a train but then looked at a map. Sicily is a lot further from Belgium than I thought! He’d Rented a car and we drive an hour to Syracuse where he booked an apartment in this ancient city. We are planning to explore Greek ruins and volcanoes and eat good food. I’ll learn more history which always helps me put things in perspective.

I had some great conversations over good meals about Europeans‘ views of the drama unfolding in our country. It’s heartening to hear the support and satisfying for me to have an audience to spout my views. The news coverage here isn’t as in depth as it is at home and I love seeing how eager they are for details. They definitely feel tied to our well being and pray, as I do, the arc is curving more toward justice.

Happy Solstice! Merry Christmas!

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ New York

Sunday Morning ~ New York

Tsiku limodzi silioza mbewa. ~ One day does not make the dead mouse rot away.

~ Chewa proverb

December 15, 2019

Hi Everyone,

I knew when I bought this super cheap flight to Europe it might get delayed–––this airline is famous for it, but I was willing to chance it, knowing I had flexible plans and extra time, not to mention a free place to stay in New York with my dear friend and my kids in town. This is such a luxury. I am so lucky. And, despite my grumblings about all the instant information bombardment, how nice is it to get an email telling you your flight is delayed by a day? In the olden days I’d not have learned that until I shlepped all the way to the airport and my ride had just pulled away. So this entry that I thought I’d be writing on my phone is much more easily written on my laptop while sipping tea in a comfortable apartment in midtown Manhattan. I feel like a princess.  

With an extra day to spend here, yesterday Ruth and I walked past the Bergdorf window displays on our way to the Morgan Library to meet Jake and see the Singer Sargent, Portraits in Charcoal exhibit. Utterly magnificent. If you are anywhere in this neighborhood before January 9th, go.

When I planned this trip, rather last minute, current events were still dropping bombshells hourly. I’m disappointed the timing of the impeachment is such that I will miss the protests (well assuming my flight isn’t three more days delayed) but maybe I’ll find one in Amsterdam. The world is watching, so maybe. Or I can make my own (need to look into that). I keep thinking of the words of my new crush Adam Schiff, “We are better than this.” I will just do what I can where I am, recognize what privilege I enjoy, and carry myself with dignity as much as I can. We need to show the world that this vile administration does not represent the majority of us. 

Next week, Travel Goddesses willing, from Sicily. I realize what therapy travel is for me, how comforting it is to meet interesting people from all over, open the small space that can occupy a life, and get perspective on how big and beautiful our planet is. I am grateful for friends I’ve made around the world who are so welcoming. As always, it gives me hope for the future.

Love to all,

Linda