Thursday, June 30, 2011

I Almost Buy A Spatula

Hour 78

I am running to catch my flight to Stockholm.

Hour 89.5

Getting off the plane, I develop a game plan. Once I've substituted familiar words for difficult foreign names, it sounds something like this in my head: "Catch the Arlanda Express into the city. Buy a 3-day travelcard from the Presbyterian, then catch the T-bana to Maria Turandot. Walk three blocks on Robitussin, turning left at Skull Garden. If I hit Kierkegaard's Grandaughter, I've gone too far." Since I struggle to pronounce basically anything, asking for directions can be a challenge. Listening to people talk here feels like getting double-bounced on a trampoline, the accent falling on unexpected syllables.

I arrive at my destination-- a subterranean hotel without internet access run by a wonderful man whom I suspect is gay. Other lodging options I consider and rule out are a repurposed prison (too far from the metro for an easy stroll with a mammoth bag and it's smaller cousin, even if they roll) and a ship moored in the harbor (the bunks are rumored to smell strongly of varnish).

Hour 92

My initial foray out of the cave dwelling I now call home is to procure the basics: reading material and food (in that order). I find success with the first objective at a hip little bookstore, Papercut, that reminds me of one of my favorite stores on Clement Street in San Francisco, Park Life. The attractive asian guy behind the counter is playing Mindkilla (the Lee "Scratch" Perry remix) by Gang Gang Dance on a program called Spotify. I tuck two new books into my bag. Life is good. I end up dining on salmon over candlelight with sunlight streaming in the window at Creperie Frya Knop. Life is even better.

Hour 99.5

I wake up at 12:30 am thinking it's 8 am. Still off kilter.

Hour 110.5

I miss the morning ferry out to the skärgård because I am lost near Hornstull. Consequently, I have some time to kill.

Looking around at my options from the ferry landing, I am attracted to the greenery over a nearby bridge and start walking that way. As I pass by the National Museum, I notice a huge banner hanging over the entrance that's advertising an exhibit called "Lust and Vice". At first, I can't figure out what I am looking at... then I realize it's a 17th Century nun with her skirts hiked up over her bare ass (which has been pixelated in an effort to keep the image appropriate for all ages). Since she's got a fair amount of junk in her trunk, the censored portion of the painting takes up about a quarter of the banner. I go inside hoping to find it reproduced on a brochure or postcard I can send to Evan, but no dice.

Seagulls cry out in protest overhead as I make my way along the seawall. Fishing boats shaped like pill bugs creak quayside in time to the sound of my backpack shifting side to side on my shoulders as I walk. Shrieks from an impressive-looking amusement park on the next island over carry across the water.

The sun is merciless despite the breeze off the ocean and I regret the fact that all my shoes are at least a size and a half too big (for various reasons too trite to mention). Blisters start popping up with abandon. Because of the heat, the European penchant for near public nudity is in full effect-- thongs and bikinis are de rigueur for the geriatric set and the massively overweight (which does wonders for my self esteem).

Exploring a second island of public gardens in the middle of the city, I find Rosendals Tradgards, an organic farm selling fresh greens and sparkling limeade with springs of mint. I picnic under a grove of fruit trees and shoo away the geese that creep ever closer to my feast.

Back on the subway in search of something to bring on the ferry for dinner. A couple of five year olds in lime-green safety vests count to three beside me before shouting out in tandem, "Poop!" and "Penis!" in a game of their own making.

Exiting the underground, I nearly fall on my face in excitement when I catch sight of a MUJI store tucked into a larger home goods emporium in one of the metro tunnels. I greedily pick up some exquisitely lightweight pens and a spectacular black plastic spatula and get in line to check out. As I wait my turn it occurs to me that I don't really NEED the spatula (even though it is GORGEOUS) so I forgo the indulgence and save myself the indignity of returning home with a piece of Japanese kitchenware from Scandinavia as one of my few souvenirs.

I get a to-go order of steamed dumplings and some soup on St. Eriksgatan, both from places recommended in Design*Sponge's Stockholm guide. To my embarrassment, I find myself telling an elaborate lie involving unrelated half truths when the super friendly staff at one cafe ask me how I found out about them... Inga, art school in Brooklyn, husband in Montana, friend of a friend. They are thrilled when they confer and agree they recognize a regular customer from my description. I stuff dinner into my bag and skulk guiltily away as they call after me to send their regards to Inga. I am the lowest of the low.

I turn my ankle more times than I can count walking in cowboy boots on the cobbled streets of Gamla Stan, where the shade of narrow lanes offers some respite from the sun. Wares hanging for sale in a doorway in the tourist section remind me that hippie clothes smell like hippy clothes the world over. I follow a woman in a floral dress walking four West Highland White Terriers down a deserted alley and stumble upon the Old Town Lodge and am reminded of how much I love finding an unexpected treasure when traveling.

Hour 116

The lean of a sailboat crossing the ferry's wake makes me catch my breath. Silhouetted by the setting sun, people line every available sea margin-- the railings of bridges and balconies, glacier-polished granite banks that gleam like whale backs. We pass a cove where twenty small white sails practice maneuvers in a tight bunch below a crane painted like a giraffe. Further on, at the entrance to a wharf flanked by new high-rise apartments there's a statue of a nude male getting attacked by nunchucks or reaching for the stars-- I can't tell which. Life boats that look modeled on submarines cling to the sides of towering cruise ships like so many yellow barnacles. Passing through the islands off Stockholm, these behemoths with their smokestack dorsal fins look like orcas moving through a school of herring.

In my hurry to grab something to eat for the ride, I forgot the need to hydrate as well. I down an entire basket of strawberries in an effort to quench my thirst. When that fails, I head downstairs and buy a bottle of water. My first gulp gets spat overboard. I take a second look at the label and from what I can make out, it's a sparkling rhubarb-flavored drink. Well, dang.

A couple flirt a few feet away from me in broken English. The man tells a dirty joke --something about fishing and a pole going up and down-- and the woman looks away in embarrassment. In an effort to make amends, he adds, "Joke I make for you. I could make signature like autograph." She appears mollified. I wonder idly where Tiger Wood's ex-wife, Elin, bought her house out here. I didn't realize until now that she's pretty average when you look at Swedish norms-- biracial marriage, kids, gorgeous blond, fit, second home out in the country (the in-flight magazine said around 60% of Swedes own a rural getaway!).

Hour 119

Gällnö (an island whose name reminds me of chicken broth for reasons I can't explain) turns out to be the idyllic sum of familiar parts:
  • Burnt By The Sun's dacha (sans the impending soviet doom)
  • Room With A View's dappled meadows (sans the epic scale of romance in Italy)
  • Tahoe's aspen, granite and crowds of vacationing families (sans the mountains)
  • West Marin's rope swings and pastoral splendor (sans the dairy farms)
  • British Columbia's chain of islands (sans the kookiness born of isolation).
It's silent except for insects buzzing in the slanting light. The air is heavy with the scent of roses, pine woods and sea spray as I walk down a dirt path flanked by waving fields of green grass to the island's hostel.

Hour 123.5

A little before midnight, I wake up and systematically kill two mosquitoes. I hear a boat's motor chugging away in the distance and think, "If Evan were here right now I would whisper, 'Smugglers!' in his sleeping ear." Other strange impulses I've had recently? Greeting people in Hindi and Swahili. Successfully resisted so far.

Hour 133

I wake up with a sore throat. Doh.

Hour 135

Lunch at the island's only cafe --housed in a beautiful old farmhouse-- astounds my tastebuds. Fresh. Local. Organic.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fear 恐怖 Miedo Peur ความหวาดกลัว Cтрах

I don't REALLY fear this...

or this...

It's more the thought of this...

"It's so nice to wake up in the morning all alone and not have to tell somebody you love them when you don't love them any more."

- Love Poem by Richard Brautigan

or this...

"Many years ago, he had taken the passion he felt for Susan and folded it in half, so he no longer had a drowning, helpless feeling when he glimpsed her beside him in bed: her ropy arms and soft, generous ass. Then he’d folded it in half again, so when he felt desire for Susan, it no longer brought with it an edgy terror of never being satisfied. Then in half again, so that feeling desire entailed no immediate need to act. Then in half again, so he hardly felt it. His desire was so small in the end that Ted could slip it inside his desk or a pocket and forget about it, and this gave him a feeling of safety and accomplishment, of having dismantled a perilous apparatus that might have crushed them both."

- A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

...that keeps me up at night.

I don't want to live a lie because of a lack of courage or let fear eat away at my capacity to love or be loved. Damn Frankie D. for being right on the money when he said, "There is nothing to fear but fear itself." Please bear witness: I'm aiming for present, vulnerable, self-aware, and honest. If I can truly make my peace with fear, it will probably grow bored and decamp, right?

I've heard tell that humans ultimately amount to a combo platter of love and fear (served up in a water bag with a few bones tossed in for good measure). Fear in that scenario being the question, "Can you help me?" and love being the answer, "Yes." Healing being the process of reclaiming via love territory lost to fear in one's life.

So, here's a poultice for those ragged wounds inflicted by fear...

"You're gorgeous, you old hag, and if I could give you just one gift ever for the rest of your life it would be this. Confidence. It would be the gift of confidence. Either that or a scented candle."

- One Day by David Nicholls

(click on pic for god-love music)

Images from the brilliant site, Push The Movement.

Monday, June 27, 2011

In Transit...

Hour 1

The alarm goes off at 4:30am. Graham and I stumble about our respective homes, arming ourselves with coffee (Graham), a shower (me), and breakfast burritoes (intended for both of us, but ultimately lukewarm and forgotten in my bag). Graham kindly drives me to the airport where I hand him the keys to the kingdom (truck and house) for safe-keeping.

Hour 1.5

Great Lakes fails to hail United on the phone to vet my ticket so the puddle jumper to Denver leaves without me. I wait seven and a half hours in the Riverton airport for the next flight out.

Hour 5

Vacuum cleaners roar in the background. I visit the Airport Cafe and get two sausage links and a piece of french toast with cottage cheese (Evan just winced) and syrup for $5.20 with a Great Lakes voucher. I watch Beth's trio of red-headed sprites (three and four years old) give their mom a Skittles-infused send-off.

Hour 12

The threat of missing my connection is enough to dissuade me from getting my traditional boot polish in the Denver Airport although I am sorely tempted.

Hour 17

I remember feeling intrepid and independent getting shuttled around the world on planes. This time around the feeling is more one of loneliness and isolation. It's something about the combo of language barriers, disorientation and watching people in tribes of two or more traveling together that turns me into an observer. Details that I wouldn't otherwise notice grab my attention...

A mother and son sitting next to me diligently practice saying "La Torta Antipatica" as they pour over their Italian flash cards. The pair are utterly intent and sincere as they carefully repeat "The Disagreeable Cake" out loud to each other.

Sparrows duck in and out of the vents and rafters overhead, delighting the human hordes below. I never noticed the birds that populate airports until Evan pointed them out to me. Now I look for them and see them everywhere.

The smokers, relegated to plastic cubes in terminals, are all bunched together and on display below weak trails of smoke.

...The heatbreak of traveling alone is that there's no one's shoulder to rest your chin on as you quietly point out the couple over there.

I miss Evan. When he took off for India last year, I was able to successfully let go of my attachment to what our relationship would look like when he got back. I was able to stay open to unexpected outcomes and trust that all would ultimately turn out for the best. The gift of that capacity was hugely freeing.

This time has been much harder. Sitting in Dulles, it hits me how much of my life I've spent alone and how precious this relationship is to me. Fear whispers sweet nothings in my ear that leave me hungering for a sense of control in the face of change rather than relaxing into faith.

Hour 22

I hit the in-flight magazine jackpot! Articles about Muay Thai, The Cult of Cross-Fit, Louis CK, and traveling around Southwestern Ireland keep me occupied and away from the movie selection onboard the plane to Germany.

Hour 26

I have made it a habit to seek out prayer rooms in international airports during long layovers. I prefer mosques with their plush prayer mats. Sacrilegious some would say, but I would argue that sleep is a wonderful way to commune with God. The chapel in Frankfurt is full of windows and light, I can't find the mosque down the warren of narrow hallways and the synagogue is a stuffy, windowless conference room. I opt for an eye mask, ear plugs, and a bench by Gate A22. It occurs to me --not for the first time-- that a mint could be made by adding gyms and sleeping rooms to airports worldwide.

Hour 33

The Norwegian bus driver announces in broken English, "My Ladies and Gentlemen. You are lucky today. For you we have planes, trains, and buses because there is construction on the line to Oslo for the next six weeks. I will be happy to see you again perhaps? Have no worries about getting lost-- we are together. I will not leave you. Have a happy evening and please give me one meter of space when I unload your bags." Color me charmed.

Hour 35

A saxophonist and his girlfriend let me use their phone. Harald picks me up and takes me straight to a BBQ at his friend's rooftop apartment, overlooking the city. Harald was a student of mine on a WFR in Durango years ago, an inspiring innovator with exquisite taste who just got back from guiding a client to the North Pole. I am presented with my own room, internet access, a set of keys and a cellphone. Harald mentions that I should stay with friends of his in the Lofoten Islands and in Stockholm. I am reminded that it rarely pays to make plans ahead of time when traveling and that I am far more comfortable being the generous one than the grateful one in scenarios like these.

Hour 37

It's still light out when I go to bed at midnight.

Hour 38

I agonize over a relatively simple design decision and send an email home changing my mind about a detail on the back stairwell of the new addition.

Hour 48

I wake up sunken into a partially deflated air mattress, pee dark yellow, pound water and take a run by the river skirting Harald's apartment. I dodge more strollers than I've seen in ages and legions of Aryan-looking exercise enthusiasts. The light rain, salt air, maple trees, slugs and harebell flowers all remind me of the Pacific Northwest.

Hour 54

After a delicious lunch which includes raiding the fridge for brown cheese, spreadable bacon in a tube, and a bell pepper, I catch a bus and ferry to the polished museum paths of Bygdøy. To see the Kon-Tiki, the Fram and a Viking Longship in the same afternoon is to marvel at the scope of Norway's maritime heritage.

Although I followed Harald's directions every step of the way, there is still the thrill of having successfully navigated public transportation as I climb the five flights of stairs back up to his door. I even managed to look bored enough at a bus stop to be approached for directions by a Norwegian. That said, I have quite a distance to travel before I'll be able to say I've truly arrived here. At this point reading any Norwegian sign is an elaborate guessing game in which I look for the English words hidden within constellations of unfamiliar consonants. Sometimes a sense of place comes slowly, if at all.

Friday, June 24, 2011

North To The Arctic Circle

I'm outta here in the morning! My flight leaves tomorrow at an ungodly hour, then it's a slow journey to the northern reaches of Scandihoovia where I'll be traipsing about doing field work until August 18th. I'm super grateful to have this opportunity-- a chance to explore a part of the world I know next to nothing about!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The First Day of Summer

It's official: Today is the day! Most sunlight all year, according to Edward.

This series of photographs was taken by Danny Lyons in the summer of 1974 in Brooklyn.

Here's the link to the whole kit-and-caboodle.

Where were you in the summer of '74?

My parents had just gotten married and I wouldn't be along for a few more years.

I like the feel of the era captured in these photos-- makes me proud to have come into this world during those times.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Call of The Karakorum

The three white guys above are in Pakistan right now to climb the gorgeous west face of the monolith below:

The climbing they're doing? I'm impressed. The cultural and geographical exploration they're doing? I'm REALLY jealous.

Lucky for me, these three musketeers (soon to be joined by a fourth) are wonderful observers and diligent scribes so I can live vicariously through their blog until I get an opportunity to experience that part of the world for myself. Inshallah I will one day.

Incidentally, look for the comments by their moms on the blog-- they nearly steal the show in my opinion. Evan considered joining this expedition at one point and reading their moms' send-offs (so full of well-wishing and proud love) made me think of Jacque. His mom, like theirs, has many years of practice watching her son go off and risk his life to do what feeds his soul. Ultimately as a parent there must be a point when you decide that you want your child to thrive rather than simply survive. Inshallah these sons will do both.
They certainly have thus far.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day!

These beautiful photos are from The Sartorialist's moving post about being a stay-at-home parent.

Go, dads!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Violence On My Mind

Last Saturday, the fifth person I'm aware of this year was on the receiving end of violence associated with a local bar called The Forge. The majority of these incidents have resulted in hospital visits yet, to my knowledge, charges haven't been pressed in any of the cases.

The corner building that The Forge now occupies
has gone through many incarnations over the years and has apparently had a reputation as a locus of conflict since the Seventies. Historically, the tensions that combust there have been between whites and natives from the Rez, between ranchers and liberals, between gays and straights, between out-of-towners and locals. And the violence has also been completely random at times.

It's hard to stomach that people in this place I am proud to call home have been hurt enough themselves to threaten and beat the crap out of strangers in public. Needless to say, this pattern of violence has unsettled the community and left many of us searching for an appropriate way to respond-- one that won't escalate the situation, but communicates that we want to prevent violent and bigoted behavior.

For me this brings up, among other things, the power of stereotypes and the social distortion they can cause. I've been reading Whistling Vivaldi, a book that gets it's title from the story of a fellow in NYC who observed people consistently shrinking from him in fear
as he walked home from school. In order to address the reaction he inspired in strangers as a black man, he began to whistle classical music as he walked. He found that this simple strategy had a dramatic effect on passersby-- they began to smile and relax as he approached. He found a way to diffuse the situation by communicating, "I am not who you think I am and I am not to be feared" without saying a word. Likewise, in a local example, Casey found a way to gracefully communicate the impact of an assault he witnessed to the perpetrator the day after the event in a way that re-humanized everybody involved. William Blake said that damn braces and bless relaxes... there's something to that.

So how do we each bless ourselves and others in order to promote healing? The answers aren't always forthcoming and i
t's been hard to avoid a sense of urgency when it comes to addressing these recent events in Lander. Everybody is acutely aware of Matthew Shepard's death in Laramie, another Wyoming town of good people taken aback by violence yet shot through with pain and prejudice. Given the pressures and challenges involved, it's been especially heartening of late to see people here succeed in finding ways, no matter how small, to reinforce the values we aspire to live by with respect and personal integrity.

"Poco a poco, paso a paso...", as they say. We're all trying our best and I think that counts for a lot.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Jump Seat


The last few weeks I've felt like Evan and I occupied jump seats in the belly of some military plane, awaiting deployment. It's been tedious, uncomfortable, exciting, daunting and nerve-wracking all at the same time.

Evan jumped last Monday, flying to Alaska to lead a summer's worth of packrafting courses. My turn isn't for another week, when I head to Scandinavia for field work that lasts until mid-August. Two months apart-- that's an awfully long time in the air and then there's the whole finding our way back to each other once we land. We both have a lot of jumps under our belts, but that doesn't mean any of this is easy. This is only our second tandem dive towards earth.

The plane's engines drone-- the white noise of mundane logistics like a recycling run to the dump, buying compactor bags and making sure there's someone to mow the lawn while we're gone. Right around the corner though is the moment when I'll step out into space, feel the adrenaline rush and surrender to the adventure ahead. I am trying to catch cat naps, do some light reading and fuel up on comfort foods while I can. Sometimes I wonder if I'm too old for this and other times I hope I never am.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Guns On The Fridge

We have a very strict policy...

... only photos of our friends with guns and save-the-date cards on our refrigerator.

Janeen took these beauties of Annie and Clair during a recent NOLS Staffing teambuilding session. Gotta love Wyoming.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Best Wedding EVER!

Gosh. I can't even TELL you how happy this makes me. First they got hitched in Vegas and now they're moving to Barcelona. I love love LOVE being a part of their lives and look forward to being around as these two navigate the happily ever after. Congrats, Abby and Hovey! You're a class act.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Orders of Magnitude

Sometimes the lightest touch sends shock waves through the heart. This wedding photographer went "behind the scenes" to capture the love expressed in the weight of a hand and found tales worth telling...

I think these would come in at a 5.6 on the Richter scale-- felt, but the impacts are comfortable rather than destructive. Like all the best earthquakes.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sam's News

Here I am last Sunday, atop the St. John's Bridge, biking with my friend, Clemmy, out to the farmland and beaches of Sauvie Island, just north of PDX. Apparently, this bridge was a proof of concept for the suspension used in the Golden Gate Bridge-- I like it better for its whimsical lamps and needle tops though. By the end of the day, my thighs were pure fire and jello. It felt great.

In other news, I'm...
  • Living in a big, cooperative pink house and working at OHSU through June.
  • Blasting off to Europe sometime soon after that.
  • Still gluten-free. Still sugar and dairy moderate. Still full of healthful foods. Still aching to crunch into an glutinous cone of dark chocolate ice cream.
  • Devouring a book of funny moments with the zen teacher, Shunryu Suzuki, as told by his students.
  • Tending your room in my heart.
Thinking of you! I'm hoping to be in touch soon :)

Love love love, Sam

Could my littlest brother BE more tender and sweet?! I think not. Can you believe he was a porker of a baby?! Mind-boggling, I know. Can you tell he tans like an Italian?! Oh, the jealousy.

Other facts you may not be aware of:

1) Sam's favorite color was pink for years (LOVE that). 2) Sam is way smarter than me (although --let's be fair-- wisdom still manages to outfox him sometimes). 3) Sam's middle initials are H. N. because my grandmother insisted my parents follow Jewish tradition and name him after her husband who had just died, but nobody could stomach "Harold Neil" so the compromise ended up being the initials (families can be downright silly). 4) Sam is still attempting to collect damages on an alleged incident where I hung him out of a second story window (I maintain my innocence based on the fact that I did not intend to drop him and was in complete control of his feet at the time). 5) Sam has had to suffer through having his older sister (that'd be me) as a teacher in preschool AND high school (health class, no less!). 6) Sam's in his twenties and right on track-- struggling and winning in equal measure, finding his own strength amidst the storm. "Bravely done," as the beer cap says.

From one human being to another:
I love you and I'm proud.

Friday, June 10, 2011

High Roller

...static... ..static........... ........static..

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Travel + Food + Photography

I would love, love, love to take a workshop from Penny De Los Santos.

I'm in the mood to learn skills, be a student, expand my horizons.

It's springtime after all! Time for new growth.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

S.F. At Play

(click on pic for music)

My immediate reaction upon seeing this photo on Cup of Jo this morning?

I smiled and thought, "That's gotta be San Francisco."

Turns out homegirl can still pick her hometown out of a crowd-- Yesssssss!

(click on pic for music)

I must have missed this commercial (the source of the stills) when it originally aired: