Monday, August 31, 2009

Perspective on Our Existence

It’s amazing to me how people band together in times of tragedy. We see the big picture suddenly, and difference in opinion, lifestyle, belief systems and more just melt away. We recognize that we are humans—encountering the same joy and the same suffering. We are the same.

If only we could hold onto that perspective.

A friend at work was telling me recently about a BBC special where the host of Top Gear goes up in a U-2 spy plane. Flying at the edge of the earth’s atmosphere, he finds himself on the verge of tears. He says it is both thrilling and humbling, and that if every person in the world could experience what he had, it would profoundly affect religious and political views.

This planet is ours to keep and care for. We’re all stuck here together on it living overlapping lives. Coexisting with each other and with nature. It’s our job to maintain that coexistence. It’s our job to protect it and make it better for future generations. It’s our job to band together, whether in the face of tragedy or not. I wish there were a way for everyone to see how fragile and precious life here on this earth is. And I wish we’d start taking better care of it and one another.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Crying for My Mountains

The Station Fire in Southern California is burning in the mountains behind my house. The picture above was taken from my street. These are the mountains I hike in. The ones that have been facing me my whole life—the view from my parents' kitchen; the view from my driveway. The mountains that provide a sense of comfort and security.

That's a tanker plane doing a drop. The fire has been burning since Wednesday, but it thrashed down my side of the mountain like a wild man today. We have friends who have been evacuated. My brother, a firefighter, and dad, a wannabe firefighter, are way up the hill with a dear family friend, standing watch on his house. They cannot get down the hill, but they have a plan in place in case they become surrounded. They want to save the gorgeous million-dollar home—the home to 5 daughters and many memories.

That's the view from my street earlier today. It's not as close as it looks. My apartment is not in danger. But other homes in the area are for sure. I cannot imagine packing my things to evacuate. I cannot imagine making the decision what to take and what to leave. Photo albums. Computers. Souvenirs from traveling. Maybe some books. I cannot imagine locking the door behind me not knowing if I'd be able to return.

As I was driving home from Pasadena today, and I saw the clouds and flame from a distance I burst into tears. It looked like a warzone to me. This dark cloud pitted against bright blue summer sky. I started to think about everything getting scorched. The wildlife being destroyed. It breaks my heart. My mom told me a coyote wandered into the front yard this afternoon and I almost lost it.

I've heard rumors that they suspect this to be arson. Arsonists should be tried in court as terrorists as far as I'm concerned. This is striking terror in an entire community. I hope to God they get a handle on it soon.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Reentering the Atmosphere

I felt sick as the plane was descending. My head was throbbing and my stomach ached. I thought maybe I’d picked up a European bug, but it seemed to just be exhaustion settling into all my cells.

The air was smudged with smog or maybe the creeping smoke from a summer forest fire. Not like the sky in Germany. Not polka dotted with cotton candy clouds like in Richmond.

When I came through the front door, I expected the felines to be waiting eagerly. Instead, I had to hunt them down in the bedroom. They seemed to have forgotten my scent and my purpose in their life.

It felt good to drive a car again, although the familiarity of the roads fogged the glass around the past 6 weeks. The drive to work was a Groundhog Day morning. Suddenly it was as if the last month and a half was a dream. Everything was back to normal. Everything was as it should be. Nothing had changed.

Cursed by expectations again. When I left, I expected some grand transformation of person, relationship, outlook on life. Instead, I simply discovered that I don’t like the rain or spiders or heavy luggage. I prefer the consistency of Southern California weather and I enjoy grocery stores that stay open 24 hours. No epiphanies. Just a new awareness of some things taken for granted.

The same proved true when I landed back home. Like how you think you’ll suddenly feel like a woman the first time you get your period. I just felt like me. Except crankier and a bit more tired.

Desperate to effect some sort of change in my life, I started rearranging things in my apartment. Purging vases, packing away picture frames, restacking books. Mr. Wonderful cleaned out his closet. We must have been sharing a similar feeling. But despite the new plant pots and reorganized kitchen countertop, it’s still my same old place.

I’m not sure what my next move should be. I wonder if this is how it feels when you get married or have a baby. All those months of planning, anticipating, expecting. And then it happens and you try to slow down each moment and burn it in your memory. But the next day, that’s all it is. A memory. And you’re still the same old you.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bonjour Beaune

Friends, I'm still feeling lazy when it comes to this little baby blog. I'm jet lagged, adjusting to being home, and about ready to go eat some grilled peaches with Mr. W. So all you get right now are some pictures of the beautiful, sweeping landscapes of Beaune, France. Although it was hot as blazes in the Burgundy region, we thoroughly enjoyed the little town of Beaune and its many outlets for wine tasting. In fact, we may have purchased about $1000 worth of wine...but shipping alone was $250. I hope it's good!

Me cracking up at Mr. W as he balanced our mini-tripod on a trashcan and almost lost it inside. Nice sunset, huh?

The Caveau des Arches where we had a delicious steak dinner.

Another cavernous place we visited—this time for a wine tasting.

Mmmmm old French wine...

Driving through the vineyards along the Cote de Beaune.

It was so hot, butt sweat was running down my leg as I took this. Seriously. Le butt sweat no bon.

Indulging my crazy cat lady when a little kitty came peeking in our hotel room window.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

German Eye Candy

I'm in Burgundy, France right now...getting ready to go guzzle some yummy French wine...but I thought in case anyone was still looking at my blog, I'd post a few quick pictures from the past 4 days. Mr. Wonderful and I were in Munich and Berlin, Germany. Both were stunning in their own ways. Both were immaculate. And the German people: I adore them. What a great country! That's the Bavarian countryside above, by the way...

A Bavarian castle outside of Munich - I believe it's spelled Neuschwanstein.

A palace built by the same royal figure who built the castle above.

Oh yeah baby—dinner at the biergarten!

One of the perfectly manicured parks in Munich. A truly lovely city.

Berlin Wall memorial outside Postdamer Platz.

The Holocaust Memorial

Some sweet German architecture. Mr. W was in love with it.

That's all I got right now. Travel weariness has taken its toll on me and I need a glass of wine the size of my head. Hopefully, more pics to come...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Three “For One” Days

I recently started reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, which advocates presence in the current moment, and the shedding of repressive, past emotions and future-obsessed thoughts. By focusing on “the now,” it says, one can discover joy, wonder and great tranquility.

I have been trying to be more present on my trip here.

And as part of this, I’ve tried to do something every day that grounds me in my current space. Something that makes me feel alive and appreciative of this great opportunity.

Monday, I went out to lunch by myself for the first time ever. This has always been something I’ve meant to do. It seemed like a rite of passage into adulthood. Yet, it scared me. Silly, I know. I didn’t want to be the girl people pitied for dining all alone. But I sucked it up and walked along the river to a Spanish restaurant, asked for a table for one and sat on the patio, enjoying the view.

It was cloudy and breezy that day, the trees around me rustled and I got goosebumps on my arms. But I didn’t rush to finish. In fact, I enjoyed every bite of my food. I actually tasted it instead of sensing a hint of it in between spoken sentences. It was nice. And very liberating…even though I had my security blanket (a book) with me the whole time.

The next day, I took the train into the city and did a little souvenir shopping in Picadilly Circus. This required me to actually navigate streets and change lines on the tube. But I pulled it off. At one point, a fly got on the subway with me and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was nervous about getting lost at the next stop too. That must be very disorienting to just be flying around your hometown and then suddenly you make a wrong turn and end up at Baron’s Court instead of Hammersmith.

Today I went back into town with Mr. Wonderful, who had a meeting in SoHo for work. We explored the Tate Modern for awhile, grabbed sushi and then parted ways for a few hours. I walked to Trafalgar Square and then to Leicester. It was a gorgeous day and so much fun to wander that part of the city.

Tomorrow I’m going to do it all over again. I think this time I’ll go see the National Gallery…who knows. The day is wide open for this one.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

La Pedrera, Apartment of My Dreams

La Pedrera is yet another Gaudi gem on the Barcelonian landscape. Its marshmallowy exterior is topped with a whimsical, almost surreal rooftop that feels somewhere between Whoville and an alien planet from Star Wars.

Inside the building, we got to tour an actual apartment—which was at least 4 bedrooms and included maid's quarters. It was huge. And gorgeously detailed. But the roof was the real showstopper. If you've seen Vicky Cristina Barcelona, you may remember Scarlett Johansson racing about on it.

To me, these guys looked just like stormtroopers. To a friend of mine on Facebook, they looked like...well, use your dirty imagination...

The museum in the attic had a range of models Gaudi constructed when designing the building. They were just about as incredible as the real thing.

Our next stop on Tour de Gaudi was Park G├╝ell—a beautiful oasis that never quite got finished. It was supposed to be a housing development, but instead serves as the sort of "backyard" to two gingerbread-style gatekeeper's buildings and the Gaudi-House Museum.

The terrace is spectacular, with a hall of enormous columns supporting it, mosaic designs on the ceiling, and an expansive view of the city from its top.

Again, it felt like we were in a different land. Something a little less human, but a lot more alive.

Gaudi's salamander or serpent at the Park's entrance has become an icon in the city. He was certainly a cute little guy and everyone seemed to want their picture taken with him.

After a long, hot day of sightseeing, Mr. W and I couldn't resist one last round of tapas and beer. The Spaniards certainly know how to do their food right...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Oh My Gaudi, I LOVED Barcelona

I’m going to have to split this into two posts. I had no idea that Barcelona would melt my heart like it did. And it wasn’t just the heat that was making me squishier than usual…although that did create a small sweat river in my cleavage that seemed to run continuously throughout the weekend. Seriously, my strapless bra nearly became an extremely padded belt on Sunday…

The city marries everything great about urban life—interesting people, street performers, amazing art and architecture—with the relaxing, free-spirited vibe of beach life. But the most lovely part of it has to be the works of Antoni Gaudi.

Mr. Wonderful went to Barcelona eight years ago, and when he showed me his pictures I thought hmm that looks pretty neat. People: pictures and words cannot do this place a bit of justice. I wish there were a way to properly convey the sheer awesomeness of what I saw. But I think it is impossible.

The basilica of the Sagrada Familia is magnificent. Looking up at it from below, you know you are in the presence of something holy. Sure, it’s a house of God but it is also an unbelievable testament to the divine, creative power of man. Construction of the church began in 1882 and isn’t projected to be finished until 2030. That is an undertaking like no other.

My best effort at describing Gaudi’s style is gothic meets cubism meets a drip sand castle with a dash of gingerbread house. I’ve never seen anything like it. And I would love nothing more than to permanently burn the images of his work onto my retinas.

The level of detail was astounding. The mosaic-pattern stained glass windows, magical. The only other piece of artistic genius that has taken my breath away like this basilica was the statue of David.

You can see the spires from almost everywhere in the city. It’s truly the crown of Barcelona. But speckled throughout the rest of the streets are other Gaudi gems. Delicious palatial treats like the landmarks on the Candyland board.

I could have stayed a month in this incredible city. More pictures to come…

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Giving Women’s Lib a Bad Name

I was in one of the local shops recently when I came upon the refrigerator magnet above and was so taken with it, I bought it for Mr. W. When I showed it to him later that evening, he looked at me with puppy dog eyes and said, “I would never say that…”

And I said, “But if you did, it would be funny!”

I don’t know if it’s the lack of social obligations or the surplus of free time during the day or some internal quirk coming to light, but I’m actually enjoying the domestic duties that have come with living here. I don’t mind making the bed every morning or checking the hamper to see if Mr. W needs me to wash his man panties. I can’t help but fluff the pillows on the couch and check the fridge to see if we need anything from the market. And I LOVE loading and unloading the dishwasher…surely just because I don’t have one at home.

For decades, women have been fighting to stop doing all of these things and I’m thinking, ya know, they’re not so bad.

I think I could even keep it up if we happened to move in together at some point when we get back to the states. There’s something almost nurturing about it all. Like I’m taking care of my man while he’s hard at work. I know, how very 1950s of me…

Am I crazy? Has the British humidity steamed my brain?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Madcap Mishaps of Mr. W

Last week, Mr. Wonderful and I were sitting on the couch discussing the many spiders in the house when he said, “I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but about a month ago I had a spider in my pants.”

I gasped.

“I just sat down to eat breakfast and I felt something tickle my ankle. Well, I looked down and there was a spider crawling out the bottom of my pantleg.”

“Did you scream like a girl?”

“No, but I threw my cereal up in the air and it went everywhere.”

This was the first in the serial cereal incidents.

The second occurred Friday before I was awake. Apparently, Mr. W set up the ironing board to press his linen shirt, and when he set his bowl of cereal on it, it collapsed, sending milk and wheat chex all over him and the guest bedroom floor.

The poor dear followed up that sad morning with another the next day when, upon arriving to Dublin, he proceeded to come down with a 24-hour stomach bug.

He was such a trooper—he stood in line and walked through the Trinity College Library to see The Book of Kells thinking he might pass out or toss his cookies the whole time. After composing himself with a little nap on a park bench, he made it safely back to our hotel where he immediately collapsed into bed and didn’t get up until the next morning.

This made for an interesting day for me.

You see, Ireland is a little like Shangri-La to me. I visited the southern part of the country 7 years ago and just fell in love with the people—the way they sing and act like your best friend even if you’re a stranger. I could listen to Irish accents all day long. There’s a melody to them. And the Guinness. Oh the Guinness. And the seeming presence of U2 everywhere—namely in Dublin…I just love it all.

So as much as I wanted to sit vigil by my sick boy’s side, I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t get out for at least a little while. I promised to bring him Gatorade and a light snack, and I headed out to wander the streets of Temple Bar. I shopped and admired the River Liffey and the impressive spire on O’Connell Street, which didn’t exist last time I was there. I enjoyed the street musicians and the crowds of tourists. And then I made my way back to my favorite invalid and ordered an Irish beef burger via room service.

Thankfully, Mr. W was feeling better in the morning, so we were able to get out to the Guinness Storehouse, where we learned that the drink is a good follow-up to influenza.

And we found time to see St. Patrick’s Cathedral and some great artwork at the National Gallery.

Despite the slight drawbacks of the trip, it was still a lovely one. And Mr. W made it through without spilling—or barfing up—any cereal.