Category Archives: Airports

Santa’s Helper

Standard
IMG_6877

Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis

It’s late and I really want to post a Christmas blog for you (kind of like Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas Day TV broadcast), so be forewarned: this entry is going to be less elaborate and twisty than usual because I’ve given myself a deadline of blog post by sunrise on Christmas Eve.

 

Have you ever had one of those December evenings when you find yourself chasing a stranger girl wearing a Santa hat through the aisles of Meijer insisting that she let you help her?

 

No?

 

Midwinter has been weird this year for me, so it wasn’t that surprising. The night before I was sitting at a Quaker meeting house, learning about meditation from a Buddhist wearing a gorgeous blue meditation blanket while I tried not to fall asleep and tip over onto my former shrink who had invited me to attend. A few days before that I was hugging a guy who was homeless in downtown Indy (I’m not really a stranger hugger, fyi, so this is abnormal behavior for me). Before that, and this is probably what should have alerted me to the fact that it was not a normal December, at the airport, I said goodbye to Z—who would be leaving for Zimbabwe for a month the next day—and I DID NOT CRY as I headed off to Indiana solo. I miss him like crazy, but for the first time in 16 years, I said goodbye to him at an airport without feeling the need for a sob. You know, like a grown-up.

 

Also, I usually start rocking out to the Christmas tunes the minute the Thanksgiving dishes have been cleared, but since I got to Indiana, the only CD I’ve listened to in my car is Jethro Tull’s 1977 album Songs from the Wood. It’s been on a continuous loop. I haven’t listened to it this much since my senior year of college when I had a crush on a Tull fan at the exact same moment that I found six Tull albums at Goodwill and believed at the time that this meant he and I were destined to be together. This time of year, I am usually found in my car, zipping past the Christmas lights of Indiana and belting out songs from Dean Martin’s Christmas album, but instead, I have been singing “Jack in the Green” over and over at the top of my lungs and feeling urges to go to a Renaissance Festival and give Z a pair of leather breeches and deer-hide boots for Christmas.

Screen Shot 2017-12-24 at 3.49.15 AM

(This photo rudely stolen from Wikipedia.)

I missed Z more than usual at Meijer today when the young girl in the Santa hat appeared beside me with a wide, vacant stare, and said, “I can’t find my mom.” Z is stupendous in a crisis. I believe this is because in my youth while I was reading confessional poetry written by women who would later commit suicide, Z was learning to lifeguard and how to perform CPR and generally be an upstanding citizen instead of someone who feels her feelings every second of the day. He’s not exactly MacGyver, but I have no doubt that in a crisis he could figure out how to land a plane, defuse a bomb, or set a compound fracture. He’s that guy.

 

Who I am, though, is the person who looked at this poor kid—Santa hat bobbing as she twirled her head from side to side looking for her mom—and sighed deeply before saying, “Let’s see if we can find her.” I don’t know what the proper response should have been exactly, but the fact that that sigh was so deep is pretty damning.

20171126_163426

Who doesn’t love a Me Christmas?

After the sigh, I briefly felt pretty pleased with myself that this kid had recognized in me a helper, someone who looked trustworthy and good at locating missing parents. But it pretty quickly became apparent that I was just the first warm body she bumped into.

 

Everything about Santa Girl was vacant, God Bless her. She couldn’t answer my questions about where she’d seen her mom last, how much time had passed, or what her mom had been shopping for at the time they were separated. Had Z been with me, he would have had the store on lock down, hunkered down next to the girl so he was looking directly into her lusterless eyes, and come up with a plan to reunite her with her parent. Instead, she was stuck with me. My plan, when I realized she wasn’t going to be helpful in tracking down her mom, was to find a store clerk who could take care of this problem for both of us. We walked through a few aisles, her hat bobbing from side to side, and then I spied an older guy wearing the requisite Meijer gear.

 

He looked benign, but I didn’t feel right about dumping a little girl off with a strange man in case it scared her or he was a serial killer, so my plan of a quick escape was nixed.

 

He was a guy who had clearly been through this drill with someone else’s kid before, because he knew what to do. He asked Santa Girl her mom’s name, and thankfully, she knew that. Then he paged the woman. The minute he said Santa Girl’s mother’s name over the loudspeaker, the child looked horror stricken for a second and then she took off running away from us, away from what was likely to be a crabby reunion with her mother, and away from the spot where he’d directed her mother to meet us.

 

I’m not much of a runner unless a bear is chasing me. Fortunately, Santa Girl wasn’t a runner either in her fleece boots, so I was able to keep her in my line of sight as she darted in and out of aisles, looking frantically for her mother. Part of me wanted to shrug and say, “Oh well. She’ll sort herself out,” but the louder part knew that it was important she not dart out the door and into traffic and that she not be terrified, running haphazardly through the frozen foods section. The store clerk who had made the announcement was right behind me, and then somehow in front of me, and though Santa Girl would not listen to my pleas to return to me, when the clerk spoke to her with a kind but authoritative voice, she stopped dead in her tracks. When he called her to him, she came. When he put his arm around her shoulders lightly to direct her back towards the rendez-vous point, she transformed from one of the wild horses of Chincoteague into a tamed creature on a lead. It was amazing.

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 12.33.50 AM

I don’t have any horse photos at the ready, so here, look at our wedding cake topper from 8 years ago.

In the time it would have taken me to weigh the pros and cons of putting my hands on a stranger child, this guy instinctively did exactly what she needed to calm down. The way Z would have.

 

It would be so nice to have useful skills like these.

 

We rounded the corner and her mother spied us. There were other kids in and around the car. It was probably two, but it has multiplied in my memory to at least five. I feared Santa Girl would get hollered at, or maybe even smacked, but instead her mother said dryly, “Well, well, well. Who do we have here? It’s Katelyn.”

 

Not Santa Girl. Katelyn. Katelyn who possibly needs one of those child leashes when going out in public.

 

Godspeed, Katelyn.

IMG_6945

Blue Christmas.

What I haven’t told you about this interlude is that I had on sort of loose fitting jeans. And apparently I had on malfunctioning underwear, because somewhere between Katelyn darting off at the sound of the loudspeaker and us doing the perp walk with her back to her mother, my underpants had somehow rolled themselves down to my knees, forcing me into a sort of waddle.

 

After my brief charge was returned to her mother, I considered the possibility that I should trudge the half a mile to the women’s toilets to readjust whatever had sprung itself loose in my Levis, but it seemed so much easier to waddle to the checkout, waddle to my car, and drive myself home to take care of all the unfortunate bunching.

 

Had Katelyn’s mother been friendlier, I might have offered advice about how mis-sized underpants could be used to keep her young fugitive in check.

 

This is not the blog post I planned as a holiday token of my affection for you. I had big plans for a richly woven tapestry of Christmas angst, long-time friendships, my 8th anniversary spent alone, Z in the “new” Zimbabwe, and homelessness. In the end, I realized that present would have been more about pleasing myself and less about entertaining you.  And frankly, it would have been kind of depressing.

 

So instead, you get underpants.

 

IMG_0201

Mom’s tree, which is 10,000 more spectacular up close but my camera won’t cooperate.

 

Whatever you are celebrating this solstice season, I hope you are celebrating well with people you love, festive headgear, the music of your choice, and foundation garments that don’t roll down.

 

 

 

Flashback Friday: An Omnibus

Standard
Lighthouse, San Juan Island

Lighthouse, San Juan Island

[Herein are three baby posts from the first spring break I spent with Z in Seattle in 2007 right after we’d first gotten together. There are other posts from this visit that I’ll flashback to at another time.]

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Flying Alone

The main reason I shouldn’t fly alone is this: I hate people. When I fly with another person, I’m usually too engaged in conversation to notice that despite a sea of empty chairs at the Indianapolis airport, two different sets of people have decided to bookend me. But today, I am alone, so I loathe them instantly for crowding me, and even though I know it is the airport that smells of dirty feet and not my new neighbors, I blame them just the same. The lady next to me just flopped down a red and white L.L. Bean tote that has “winkdogs” embroidered on the side. There’s no telling what a winkdog is, but I’m pretty sure I don’t like them either. I imagine they are small and yappy.

Anyhow, this is one of my character flaws. When it is 6:30 in the morning and I’ve been up since 3:00 a.m. and I had to drive thru the spring rains Central Indiana to get to the airport, I just don’t want to be bothered. I should be excited because I’m on my way to Rick, but it is just too early in the morning for so much humanity. Add to this that it isn’t even the REAL 6:30 but the imposter 6:30 the governor imposed on us when he made us adopt Daylight Savings Time. My jeans are soaked to the knee from the walk from the car to the shuttle stop and back to the car to retrieve my iPod, which, it turns out, was actually in my pocket, and then back to the shuttle.

On the plus side:  so far my flight is on time and Z is on the other end of it waiting on me. (Well, technically Z is asleep, but if he were awake, he would be waiting on me.) I must learn to embrace my co-travelers and their winkdogs.

 

Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle

Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle

Friday, March 16, 2007

Eternal-ish City
When I was in Rome two years ago, I met a friend of the cousin I’d gone to see who was resident director for some American college students who were staying in the university’s hotel/dorm. She was in her early twenties, small and perky, and she was climbing onto the back of a motorcycle with a handsome Italian man. They even said ciao as they sped away into the night. God help me, I was jealous. I was jealous because I was no longer twentysomething. I was jealous because when I was twentysomething not only was I not living in Rome, but I was in Indiana not riding motorcycles with handsome foreign men. I was jealous because I imagined their ride would end somewhere romantic, outside the Pantheon, on the banks of the Tibor, near the Trevi fountain, and then at some point they would get back on that bike and go somewhere private to have loud, hot, sweaty, Italian sex. While Puccini played in the background.

I really kind of hated that girl and I only knew her about three minutes.

Today, I was in Seattle, which is not as sexy as Rome. I was walking in army green Crocs (not sexy leather boots) instead of riding on the back of a sexy motorcycle. My hair was it’s typical Seattle, Meredith Grey unsexy. Instead of looking at ancient, sexy lifelike sculptures carved into Italian marble, I was looking at abstract cubes and giant typerwriter erasers in the Olympic Sculpture Park. But I was with Z, who smelled so good and held my hand so well and who occasionally molested me in little, welcome ways behind particularly big sculptures. I thought about that girl and realized young, young her could not have been half as content, half as giddy, half as sexed up as I was, standing next to my 50% Italian as we tried to figure out what in the world a series of rusted shapes could possibly mean, as we laughed at the sometimes pretentious explanations of the hulking heaps of metal, as we noticed a young mother who was breastfeeding her baby on one of the works of million dollar art. The sky was clear, the Olympic Mountains were in the distance, the waters of Elliott Bay were calm.

Yeah, I feel a little guilty about that hate now.

SanJuanIsland

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Island Girl

Here’s a tip: when you find a deal for a cheap room in an historic inn on the San Juan Islands, make sure the room has a bathroom included and that you aren’t expected to share with other guests.

The ferry ride on Monday from Anacortes to San Juan Island was beautiful but cold. We wended our way between islands and Z and I made periodic dashes outside to stand on the bow for a cold but unobstructed view. We guessed about what islands we were passing, and as is typical of me, I feared we were passing better islands than the one we had made arrangements to be on. In a little less than an hour we had docked in Friday Harbor—the “city” by island standards—and made our way up to Friday’s Historic Inn, where we were cordially greeted and given a key to our room. That’s when we discovered that despite beautiful antique furnishings and a harbor view, we would have to go downstairs for the shower and toilet. I’m not a princess, but I am an introvert with certain hygiene requirements, and I was not prepared to spend my two-night un-honeymoon in the hallway of Friday’s Inn making small talk with hair-shedding, toilet-seat-leaving-up tourists while I waited my turn. No, it wouldn’t do.
The desk clerk didn’t seem surprised at all when I came lumbering back down the stairs with my credit card in hand and was directed to a slightly pricier suite with private bath and Jacuzzi.

I don’t know if I’m cut out for island life. The San Juan Islands are beautiful and the views are breathtaking. This is landscape I was meant for instead of the tropical tableau that comes to mind when one hears “island.” The people are friendly and the pace is very laid back. But there is this tiny panic in my core—what if I need to go to Wal-mart at two in the morning for nail polish remover? There is no Wal-mart unless you go back to the mainland, and there is no ferry at 2:00 a.m. WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU HAVE A LATE NIGHT NAIL POLISH REMOVER EMERGENCY??? I’m reminded of my last visit to the much less inhabited and much more rustic Inisbofin off the western coast of Ireland, when the electricity was shut off for the entire day while they did upgrades on power supply from the mainland and I had this sudden, crazed desire to plug something in.

But mostly I am able to keep the dogs of anxiety from barking. Z is good for that. We have tame adventures, driving around the island, having an impromptu picnic on the doc in front of the Hiro Hotel where Teddy Roosevelt stayed a couple of times. We walk on the beach and pick up driftwood for a shelf Z hopes to build (but fears will stay driftwood on his kitchen floor) [Note: it DID stay on his kitchen floor for over a year and then was unceremoniously thrown out. Also, we discovered belatedly it might have been a crime to collect the driftwood in the first place.] We look for whales and see them with every crest of wave, only to discover a log or a shadow instead. We look at a seal/sea lion and try to remember how you can tell one from the other before it swims away. We drive past Pelendaba Lavender Farm after buying lavender from their shop in town, where Z impresses me terribly with his international-ness when he asks the clerk what the South African connection is because he recognizes the name as Zulu. (I can’t remember what it means now, but think it is “please do not gag while eating our lavender-flavored chocolates.”) We visit baby alpaca’s and I consider buying $75 alpaca slippers and say a silent prayer of thanks when they do not fit. It’s a good life, this island one.

There is a lot to be said for a few days of relaxation on vacation instead of the style of tourism I usually sign up for, which involves packing as much activity into as little time as possible so I can say I’ve done it all. They say Friday Harbor is hopping during high season, and if that is so, I’m glad we came in March when the roads weren’t crowded, their were no waits in restaurants, and we had our pick of rooms that were en suite. We both agree that it is a place we would return to, though I know as the ferry takes us back to Anacortes I’m going to wonder if next time we shouldn’t visit one of the other islands to see what it has to offer.

Flashback Friday: Ring Out the Old

Standard

Nashvilleclock

(In this flashback, I’m making my first trip back to see Z since we’ve become a couple. It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m desperate to get to him before the clock strikes twelve.)

 

I’ve already failed the first test of a long distance relationship. I had a little, almost tearful, freak-out. United had a bit of a problem, so I was late landing in Chicago and missed my connecting flight to Seattle. As did, apparently, everyone else in a 500 mile radius. I had been assured that United really takes good care of their people and that they’d have it all sorted for me and have me on the next flight by the time we landed at O’Hare.

Hardy har har.

Once in O’Hare, I stood in line for a half hour and then gave up because it was clear that if I continued to wait, all flights to Seattle would have departed. Then I waited on the customer service line for 40 minutes, and the situation got more and more desperate. Finally, the customer service representative told me that she could get me out in TWO DAYS. She said this cheerfully, as if this is all just part of their friendly service. As if I would like the whole Tom Hanks “The Terminal” experience for myself. Because it was weather related (rumor has it that it wasn’t technically weather but that United had run out of de-icer), there would be no compensation, no nice hotel. Just me, wandering around O’Hare for two days, buying travel pillows at Brookstone and covering myself with McDonald’s sacks.

So I did what any normal girl does. I called my boyfriend and almost, but not quite, cried. You would have thought I’d just missed the last helicopter out of Saigon in 1975. It was as if this meant I would NEVER see him again. The end.

He is a world traveler and thus was not as disturbed and had a variety of suggestions, all of which meant me standing in long lines, talking on a crappy cell connection to strangers, and, as he put it, “being firm.” What I could see that he could not was that this was hopeless. There were 60 people ahead of me for a flight out the next day.

“You must be firm,” he said. “That’s the only way to get anything done.”

This is one of our bigger differences, Z and me. In the world of Fight and Flight, he is the Fighter and I am the Flighter. (Only today my wings were clipped by de-icer.) What I wanted to do was quick book another ticket on Alaska Air for a thousand bucks and run away to him. Do I have a thousand bucks? Uh, no. But I do have plastic and this seemed like an emergency. I told him I had to go because I feared the crying and I’d like to save tears for something really important.

I wandered around, stood in line, felt hopeless, called my cousin in South Bend to see if perhaps I could spend two days with her. (She wasn’t home.) And then Z called. He’d found a flight out of Midway if I wanted to book it. “It’s pricey,” he said. How much? Half the cost of what I secretly paid to get to him on New Year’s Eve so we could start the year right. I told him I was being punished for greed and he laughed when he found out how much I paid because of my own impatience, and that made it all okay. Z’s laugh should be made a ringtone.

I had time to kill in the Loop so I made my way downtown on the El with all the TSA workers whose shift had ended, so I felt very safe and very much like I was just one of them. Someone asked for directions, and I was pleased that I could (sort of) answer them. Chicago always comes back to me like, well, what? Riding a bicycle?

It’s still Christmassy and Chicago is a great city for Christmas. I went to the former Marshall Field and was disturbed by how Macy’s has made it, somehow, more tacky, less grand, and just like every other store at the holiday. The Christmas windows were still good with animatronic Mary Poppinses, but the inside decorations could have been JC Penny. Carson, Pirie, Scott, the other former staple of downtown Chicago shopping,it turns out is going out of business. In the past, their window displays have rivaled (and frequently surpassed) Marshall Field’s, but this year the displays were just of things you could get inside for 40% off. I decided to run over to the Midwestern-Sized Woman Store on Wabash to buy something to sleep in in case my suitcase doesn’t catch up with me tonight. (It supposedly caught the next flight to Seattle—the one I wasn’t allowed to catch!) Only there is just a shell of a building where it used to be, and next to it at the Champlaign Building where I spent many hours lurking in the lounges of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, is also a shell. The sign proclaimed that a new skyscraper will be built there that will change the skyline.

I can hardly wait. Don’t people know the world as I knew and loved it is meant to be laminated?

So I bought some haircare products (Meredith Grey hair has begun in anticipation of Seattle, it would seem), gave money to some homeless people because they were full of New Year spirit, and I marveled at how I must have lost a lot of weight in the last two months with all of my difficult gym work because my pants were really bagging in the seat. Some more people asked for directions. I cruised around my favorite streets. Then I hopped the Orange Line to Midway, checked in, bought an oversized Chicago T-shirt just in case my suitcase never shows up, and then went thru security. The TSA officers suggested I should have a happy new year, but also, perhaps I should zip my fly. My pants felt huge because they were unzipped and my giant turquoise underwear was greeting tourist and native a like.

Now I am at the gate, waiting for the plane to get here to whisk me off (please God) and as I look around at my fellow travelers I wonder how many of them saw my underwear earlier.

To recap, 2006 has ended with flight woes, flat hair, and underpants flashing. Here’s hoping for a brighter, “fuller bodied,” well-zipped new year.

Getting in on the Ground Floor

Standard

 

"Love & Loss," Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle

“Love & Loss,” Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle

On the flight to Indiana, the woman sitting next to me asked me to watch a video about a company she works for because she felt like it could change my life. She was young, friendly, dressed to the nines, and I liked her watch, so I agreed. The product itself was intriguing—it was some sort of natural compound that has been scientifically proven (and even talked about on a network investigative news show) to improve health and longevity—but the point of the video was not to sell me the product so much as to sell me the company. Just as my brain was thinking, This is a pyramid scheme, the video said yes, this could be called a pyramid scheme, but then insisted that all business is a pyramid scheme with a CEO at the top raking in the big money and the peons at the ground floor doing the grunt work, and it was said so enthusiastically that I was momentarily forced to believe it was true and that I should get in on the ground floor. Everything is a pyramid scheme. Pyramids are awesome! Fortunately, my better sense prevailed (around the time Donny Osmond appeared on screen, though he was looking remarkably well-preserved) and I was able to muster up the courage to tell her I wasn’t interested. Pyramid schemes only work if you get in on the ground floor, and it was pretty clear to me that this pyramid was already 3/4 built.

She turned her attention to the guy sitting next to her. I spent the remainder of the flight bouncing between pity for a woman gullible enough to believe she’s going to become independently wealthy shilling snake oil, and pity for myself because I never can wholeheartedly buy in to a cause or a product or a belief system. I might attend services, but I never drink the Kool-Aid, and while some might say this is smart, what it really means is that I’m riddled with doubt on a lot of levels.

 

On the return flight to Seattle, I was relieved not to be sitting next to someone trying to sell me something. My seatmate looked like a high school senior and was expressing annoyance that the fleece she’d ordered hadn’t arrived in time for her trip. She told me she would be spending the next two weekends with friends, hiking around the Pacific Northwest, and during the week she’d be at a conference. She looked like maybe she was a dolphin trainer or something, so I was surprised when she told me she had an MBA from Carnegie-Mellon, lived in D.C., and did something that sounded vaguely important and international. I’d love to tell you what her job was, but I didn’t understand what she was talking about. She was speaking clearly and wasn’t using polysyllabic jargon, but the words that she strung together made no sense to me, and what’s more, I couldn’t get my brain to shut off while she was talking. Instead, inside my head was a roar, This is just a girl and she knows more about the world than you do. This girl is going places. This girl has a plan for her life.

 

She told me about this artist community in Mexico where she’d done an internship and where a lot of Americans emigrate, and my brain roared, This girl knows about a place you should know about but don’t. I asked where she’d done her undergraduate work, and it was a college that I’d considered for about 15 minutes when I was 15 before I knew about things like “out of state tuition”. I asked how she liked it, why she chose it, and she explained that she’d picked it solely because of its excellent intern program in D.C. because she knew she was interested in international business and the nation’s capitol would be a good place to do that. My brain roared, When you were thinking about that college, it was only because you liked the way the campus looked in the brochure photos. What’s wrong with you?

 

 

She wasn’t intimidating. She didn’t seem particularly wise. She asked me if I thought it was crazy that she’d come to Seattle without a raincoat or an umbrella. (Answer: duh, yes.) She was just a person, young enough to be my daughter probably, but full of information about the world that I don’t have. I was relieved when she plugged in her earphones  and started watching the in-flight movie, which was Spiderman, if for no other reason than so my brain would quit roaring at me.

 

It was a weird way to bookend my trip home. I went in feeling smarter than the posh, pyramid sales person, and I left feeling old and dumb (and pessimistic about a stranger’s choice of outerwear for nine days in the Pacific Northwest). As I walk around Seattle, where the average age is something like 30, I’m feeling past my prime and not nearly clever enough. I’m going to have to spend this first week back in the city Googling things like “Gen X” and “generational beliefs” and “multiple intelligences” and figuring out all the ways I’ve still got it going on.

 

Hopefully, after the research is in, I won’t come to the conclusion that I made an error in not signing up for a new career with Donnie Osmond and the anti-aging pyramid sales woman.

Flashback Friday: The Sea is Wide and I Cannot Swim Over

Standard
[In this final installment from Ireland, I pack my bags for home and try to make sense of the personal and the political.]

Monday, March 27, 2006

There’s something about leaving Ireland that makes it imperative that you listen to all of your favorite Van Morrison songs immediately. Lucky for me, I had several on my iPod and so could begin the lament on the long train journey from Waterford to Limerick before I ever got on the plane. I started with ‘Carrickfergus’ where the line about Kilkenny had new meaning to me, and ended with “Won’t You Stay.”

The last day in Ireland was a drizzly one, so it took awhile to get moving. I have about a sixty minute tolerance for museums of any sort, so even though I’d been warned to have three hours for the Waterford Treasures museum, I had to walk around the town centre, poking my head into stores, getting dew kissed from the drizzle, and generally feeling a part of life there before trekking to the museum. The Irish coat I bought when I was there in November must make me look more like a native, because again I was asked for directions. This time, sadly, I had no answers.The museum is nicely done and has a remarkable amount of interactive “treasures” as well as the more traditional kind. The first thing I did was go into a little theatre where an aluminum version of a Viking ship made up the seating area. I was the only person in there and almost got hysterical when the movie started and the ship started rocking back and forth beneath me. The movie itself was silly–about a bunch of Vikings making the journey from York back to Waterford, calling out to a horned old disembodied head who must have been Odin. But the creaking of the aluminum bleacher-seat ship was worth 12 minutes of movie boredom. I was only sorry that I was alone on it and so my laughter must have seemed a bit deranged.

Probably the most impressive piece in the whole museum is the city charter, which is, essentially, a bunch of documents about mayors and city ordinances written and illustrated on vellum and then sewn together into one big historical quilt. I liked seeing man’s history presented in such a girly fashion. Which brings me to my main beef with museums and history in general. I can rarely find myself there. Sure, there might be some bowls women served food in, a beaded necklace of some ancient peoples, but mostly what you see are the stories of men. Likely, they affected the women in fringe ways, but I would prefer learning about women’s lives & that forgotten history. What shaped domestic life instead of how a political action shaped a nation’s history, or, to borrow words from the Feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, I am most interested in how the political shaped the personal. While I don’t care which king presented the Mayor of Waterford with the Cap of Maintenance (which, by the way, looks over much like the Hogwart’s Sorting Hat), I am curious about the woman who helped piece it together or the Lady Mayor who had a laugh with her husband after the presentation about how stupid he looked in it. (“Ohhhh. Don’t you look divine in your cap o’ maintenance, Darling.”) But those aren’t the stories we get in museums or history books because they aren’t considered important. They aren’t national or global. They aren’t worthy of being recorded. In museums, it seems, the female story is predominately relegated to who wore what and which of our dishes were used to feed the men who were fighting the wars and signing the charters. This is an old, unoriginal argument I’m presenting, and it is changing in terms of recorded _modern_ history, but it does have an impact on my level of interest in dusty relics that I pay seven euro to see.

I cruised through the rest of the museum, paying homage to anything that seemed homage worthy, but generally reassuring myself that I am not a bad person or a bad student of life if I don’t love museums, where life and stories are kept in airtight cases.

Back at the Artist’s house that evening, he showed me his artwork from the period right after his wife had died. These were all chalk pastels with mythological figures and death symbols throughout. He explained each one, which I appreciated, because it helped me understand his thought process. Talking about these pieces must have been exhausting for him, both because physically it is hard for him to get breath behind his words and also because of the subject matter. I was overwhelmed by the pain that was in them and found myself having to turn away periodically. After he had shown them to me, I asked about the sketches he did while his wife was dying and he nodded toward the cabinet where they are kept and said that his children can’t even look at them because they are too painful. At that point, the phone rang–two of his friends were taking Belle and me out for a drink–and I felt relieved to have the spell broken and to have been spared witnessing that pain. Even so, as Belle and I were driven away while he stood at the door, holding onto his wheeled-walker, waving goodbye to us, I wanted very much to hop out of the car and insist we spend the evening at home with him instead of drinking with his friends. I wanted to soften the sadness of what I’d just seen. Of course he has lived with these paintings and his grief for several years, so it is likely that I was the only one who needed the softening.

The man who picked us up was the Artist’s neighbor, a retired banker who now travels and studies languages. He drove us to the house of the other man, a sort of care-taker for a Big House that was formerly owned by the Waterford Crystal people. Gates had to be opened before we could drive in. We had drinks there and then later at a 17th century pub which sits under an ancient-looking “flyover” (overpass). We talked about politics (Irish, U.S., Zimbabwean, E.U.) and drank, then went back to the Big House for tea before heading home to our unpacked suitcases. When we got back, the Artist was already in bed, so Belle and I stayed up until 1:30 talking about life, even though we knew we had to get up at 4:30 the next morning to catch the cab that would take us to our train. Though we’ve worked together in one form or another for over ten years, we didn’t know all the bits of the other’s life, and it felt good to share

Morning came early, but we made our connections and had only an hour to kill at Shannon Airport. There were a few U.S. service men (I saw no women) walking around in their desert cammies. I felt self-conscious about my black shamrock, anti-U.S.-troops-at-Shannon-Airport button and was glad it was out of view. As much as I don’t believe in this war and don’t believe we should be involving Ireland in our nation-building, I feel none of those things about the soldiers themselves. They are my neighbors, my students, my cousins, and, if I’d been more productive on prom night, they could be my sons.

As we were in the departure hall, we could see a large line of soldiers on the other side of the glass just arriving from their trans-Atlantic flight, ready to be shipped to Iraq. As they walked by us, a few waved tentatively through the glass, and Belle and I and some others felt compelled to wave back. My God did they look young. I know this is what people always say about soldiers, but seriously, these boys looked about 14. And maybe I was reading in, but they looked a little scared too. More people waved. A few clapped. I got teary, thinking of the hardwork they were about to undertake. How some of them wouldn’t be coming home the same as they left. How some of them wouldn’t be coming home at all. I had to turn away, as I had the night before looking at the Artist’s study of grief, because the idea of it all was overwhelming. But then the cheers and chants of “U.S.A.” started and the spell was broken. Suddenly it became not a poignant, human moment, but a sporting event. Our team is best. Our team will win. Our team will trounce your team. Gooooooo team. No doubt there is need to build up the gladiators  before they go into the arena, but it rang false.

My thoughts turned to a local business owner whose marine son recently walked through that same arrivals hall on his way to be a tank gunner. She said this is what he wanted to do with his life, that this is his destiny. She told me the story of how he and a woman he’d met online tried to connect at Shannon so they could meet face-to-face before he went to Iraq. She talked about how upset the woman was when they missed each other, how touched she was that someone cared so much for her son that she would drive all the way from Dublin, just for a glimpse of him. She explained how she sent an angel statue to the woman as thanks. So anyhow, I ignored the cheers and false bravado and thought instead of these two women and this young soldier, and how though I haven’t met him, I hope he comes back in one piece, because this personal story is the one I care about. Not the oil. Not the WMDs. Not even how political boundaries are drawn or how the history books later present the events.

Maybe its juvenile of me to have this attitude, but I don’t think so. Several years ago a friend told me that he believed poetry would save the world. I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around the concept at the time, though appreciated the validation he gave to my chosen line of work. Now, I think I understand better. It’s the little moments of personal pain or joy that are recorded into the story, the song lyric, the dance, that will do the work all of our peace talks and war making cannot. It is art that will breathe life into dusty relics in those air-tight museum cases, even if it is by way of an aluminum Viking ship and bad video. It is Van Morrison telling us how he longs for the ability to swim or fly or pay a boatman to carry him back to his own ones across a wide sea.

Happy New Year from Somewhere Over the Dakotas

Standard
Skampy wants to know what your New Year resolutions are.

Skampy wants to know what your New Year resolutions are.

Either 2013 is ending well or 2014 is starting well, but the Delta gods blessed me with an upgrade to First Class on my flight from Indiana back to Seattle. I reckon this might be the only post I will ever get written on a flight. When you have bonus elbow room, you don’t sleep. You type. You knit. You do your taxes or practice a little Tai Chi. You order drinks and enjoy the novelty of a beverage in real glass. You yawn and stretch because you totally can; you aren’t going to slap anyone in the face.

Also, if you are me, you have Fergie on a continuous loop in your head sing-spelling G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S.

I have to say, life up here beyond the blue mesh curtain looks a lot less like a Mad Men cocktail party than I’d like. I always expect pearls and heels up here, but on the very few times I’ve been upgraded, the people look surprisingly like me. That is, like we all just stopped off at Big K after going to the VFW pancake breakfast and are kind of surprised to find ourselves on a plane.

The woman in front of me draped her hot pink puffy coat over her seat, which infringed on my First Class real estate and I find I’m feeling very territorial about it. I firmly flicked it back up over her seat and she gave me a dirty look, but I know my rights, and I also know without a doubt that she is up here on an upgrade too and doesn’t really belong here either. Let’s face it: if any of us were anybody, we’d already be at our New Year’s Eve party destination.

My destination: Rick in our messy First Hill apartment. It’s the only party I’m interested in this year.

This upgrade has taken the sting out of leaving home for Seattle.  It’s always melancholy, the leaving. Mom and I were both a little bereft at having to say farewell after being together for two months (I was in Indiana for a wedding, she came back to Seattle with me, and then I returned to Indiana with her for the holiday). It’s better to focus on the positive though: her house is going to be a lot neater without me in it, shedding hair like a cat and starting projects in the middle of the living room like jigsaw puzzles featuring the lunchboxes of my youth, or re-beading a wonky bracelet, a job  that went horribly awry and because of which, Mom will be finding blue beads all over the floor for the next 14 years.

Further balm will be seeing Z after three and a half weeks. He landed in Seattle two days ago, with, I am happy to report, his freshly cobbled shoes. Z-ma is tipping over less too, which makes us all happy. Here’s to her continued improvement in the new year.  Skampy sends his love to you all. He thinks this blog is about him.

I’ve spent a portion of this flight trying to figure out what my New Year’s resolutions should be. I’m expert at making them but rarely manage to achieve them, so I’ve decided to use a two-word motto as a sort of encouraging theme for the year. (I thought I invented this, but have discovered belatedly that it is all the rage to have a single word to claim what it is you want to focus your energies on for the year.) Here’s mine:

SHOW UP.

Obviously, I’m hoping to show up in Seattle in an hour and a half and the fine captain from Delta has suggested that we are on course for that target, so that isn’t really what I’m talking about. Instead, I mean that instead of distracting myself with endless google searches re: questions to which I am only mildly interested in finding answers, for example, I will show up at the page to write every day. I’ll show up regularly to this blog. I’ll show up to my house so it looks less like a way station where I dump things between travels and trips to Target, and more like a home where there are actual places to sit and not just piles of things. I’ll show up to meals without the distraction of a TV or cellphone. I’ll (try) to show up regularly to the gym. And finally, when I am in Seattle, or Indiana, or some other location, I will BE in that place—as fully present as I am capable of—instead of always longing for some other coordinates.

Here’s to 2014. May she be kind to us all.  Are you ready?

A Case of Wooden Shoe Envy

Standard

3cdbd7e927878b161714d85cbb982246

Nothing has ever made me want to buy a pair of wooden shoes as much as Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. We hadn’t been there for five minutes of our five-hour layover between Harare and Seattle before I was wanting to fill my carry-on with clogs and tulip bulbs and blue Delft trivets.

I’ve never fallen in love with any airport and I’ve never fallen in love with a city or country based on an airport. Certainly, there are airports I prefer and there are airports I avoid (I’m looking at you, Dallas-Fort Worth) and airports I suffer through (specifically you two, O’Hare and JFK) if the destination is a good one. But if I have to get trapped at an airport because of a passport mix-up or bad weather, I think this is the one I choose.

Full disclosure, by the time we walked into the airport, I had taken itching medicine and relaxi medicine and a pain killers that no doctor would have prescribed for mosquito bites but which I felt entitled to use and grateful, yes, grateful, for the case of shingles I’d had earlier in the summer that made said pain killers available to me. Also, I’d been sitting for nearly ten hours with bags of ice on my swollen, bite-ridden feet, daring to scratch only when Z had drifted off, so chances are that any airport anywhere would have looked to me like that first happy scene inside Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory where all the furniture and flowers and whatnot are made of sugary goodness that you can bite right into.

Even so, Schiphol should be on the list of Top Ten Airports of All Time. Certainly I’m not the first person to figure it out, I just wish I would have known about it sooner. Before, what I knew about Amsterdam was basically Ann Frank, drugs, prostitution, and tulips. Now, I’d book EVERY flight through Amsterdam, including my layovers between Seattle and Indiana if I could.

The airport is bright and clean and easy to navigate. Second, it is one of the few airports that seems to have been designed with actual travelers in mind: in terms of giving them what they need, giving them what they want, and giving them reasons later to book a trip that ends and stays in the Netherlands.  I spent a portion of the last leg of the flight home doing calculations about how soon we could go back to Amsterdam. I have a variety of travel lists, including Places I Want to See Before I Die, Places I Never Want to See, Places I Have Nightmares about Being Forced to See, and Places I’d Loved to Go to if Someone Else Paid. Holland was always on that last list. Sure. Why not, but not with my own money.

But now? Amsterdam alone has definitely shifted to List A.

One of the reasons Z and I work together well as a traveling team is that we are similar in our methods. We both like to arrive at an airport early and to have a decent layover if we’re catching a connecting flight. Despite knowing we have five hours stretching in front of us, we also cannot relax until we know exactly where our departure gate is.

We headed to the gate after a requisite restroom break. (Even the restrooms were delightful with very civilized seat sanitizer available in every stall, so you can avoid the annoyance of trying to figure out exactly how to get those paper seat covers to work. Seriously, are you supposed to punch out that perforated hole or what? Those just never work for me with any satisfaction, plus I then feel guilty about the extra natural resource I just wasted.) Once we’d located the gate, we headed back to the shopping/restaurant area to walk our bodies back into some semblance of normal. My feet hurt, I wanted to take a cheese grater to my mosquito bites, but it was impossible to be as crabby I felt I was entitled to be in this amazing airport.

Yes, there was a McDonald’s, but also many delicious restaurants. We chose one and had an excellent breakfast that I can no longer remember, and when I tipped the server it short-circuited his little credit card machine because, as he said, “You are too generous with the tip.”

The airport boasts short stay hotels, where you can rent a room for no more than four hours for a quick sleep and a shower. My desire to stay at Hotel Yotel was intense, but we couldn’t justify it when there was so much there to investigate. For instance, a cafeteria with Disney World sized blue Delft tea cups that you sit in while you eat your morning Danish. Or, if those are too kitschy, you can sit at a sleek white bar with actual Delft-ware encased in glass in front of you. You can stop at a place called The Living Room, that was nothing but wingback chairs, faux fire place, and the sense that you should be sitting there reading a leather-bound book and smoking a pipe. If that gets too boring, you can go to the casino. (Z and I do not recommend this. No, we do not recommend this at all. It took longer to get our American dollars turned into Euro than it did for us to lose our Euro at the airport casino. And the slots there are the exact same ones as in America, and therefore, definitely not worth it. If we’d been losing at a slot with a Wooden Shoe Bonus, we might have felt it was worth it.)

We weren’t there to shop, but the shops we walked past made me want things I never knew I cared about. For instance, I somehow survived the whole of the 1980s without owning or even wanting to own a Swatch. I didn’t understand them then,  not as single watches and definitely not in the bunches you were supposed to wear them in down your arms. They were a little too bright, plastic, and trendy for my tastes, so I just curled my hi-gloss lip and stuck with my silver Timex back then. But now? In Amsterdam? I have never wanted a Swatch so badly in all my life. They looked so refreshing and fun. So completely delightful.

Z was able to pull me away, thankfully, because the truth is, I had not done the Euro to Dollar conversion that would have proven to me once again that I am just not a Swatch girl.

The airport has a library with books you can check out for the length of your stay in Holland. Also, a museum. (Like most museums, I spent more time in the tiny museum shop instead of the tiny museum.) The children’s play area made me wish I were still a kid, so elaborate and adorable was it. There was no end of places to get massages, aqua-sages, and mani-pedis. And also, the whole airport seemed to understand how tired we were, so there was an endless supply of interesting shaped furniture on which to curl up. Our favorite place was upstairs in a quiet area where there was a sea of lounge chairs so you could put your feet up and sleep if you wanted.  (I did! And Z, bless him, bought me a cup of ice that cost $4.50 so I could re-pack my plastic anti-itch bags before I napped.)

And also, the whole airport seemed quieter than any American airport I’ve ever been in. I’m not sure how they accomplished this. There were announcements on the loud speaker, but somehow they seemed more like gentle suggestions whispered into your ear instead of the abrasive, scratchy hollering that I’m more used to that is so loud I usually can’t hear myself think long enough to write a cohesive sentence and where I cannot have a successful phone conversation. Even when one family was late for a plane, the voice that publicly shamed them for holding up their flight mates was stern but not shrill.

In general, I hate the travel limbo that is the international layover airport. With wi-fi, it’s a little less like being in a coma than it used to be, but still, you aren’t in  your fun vacation life, you aren’t in your normal life. You are exactly nowhere. No one there knows you but your travel partner if you are lucky enough to have one, and there’s a coldness to being unknown that I’ve never gotten comfortable with. Yet here, I wasn’t completely ready to leave. If our flight had been cancelled and we’d had to spend some time at Hotel Yotel, I would have been fine with that. (Though, I confess, I would have definitely purchased that rainbow colored Swatch if I’d had to stay another day.)

As it was, our flight was on time. I said goodbye to the most excellent airport in the world, settled in for another nine and half hours of bad movies and ankle and foot itching, and waited for the Eagle to land. When it did, Airport Schiphol evaporated like it was just a dream.