Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Last in the trilogy of bold and daring moves

After the tattooing and waxing – what is left? Cutting off the hair of course. My hair guy Jason and I reached an agreement. To taunt and play havoc with this rather awful last day of May I let him have a field day with the scissors.

The buck stops here. I’m NOT into body piercing.

life was such an easy game to play

Yesterday, my breakfast was at this favorite spot. The blackboard sign says that full meals are served there as well. I remember having eaten a yummy salad of French green beans there not too long ago. But the morning croissants are equally exquisite. Sitting, sipping, watching people (it’s mostly men in the early morning hours) come in and exchange a few words – the world seemed a hospitable place.
the best moment of the entire day Posted by Hello
a good beginning to a day Posted by Hello
Today, my breakfast looked like this, and it was on a counter littered with unpaid bills and misc. papers. There were no cool men or women to watch or listen to.
healthy and terribly boring Posted by Hello
If returns are always unpleasant, let me tell you that mine ranks up there in the unpleasant domain. It may get a prize. At least third place finish in terms of yukyness. Not to complain, but:

1. I missed the bus from Chicago to Madison by minutes and was therefore forced to wait for hours until the next one.
2. I nursed my sorrows at the Hilton bar.
3. My suitcases and bags were heavy, but they had to be lugged (in Madison) over to the parking lot at the Business School, where my car was parked.
4. The Business School was locked up for the holiday and so I had to walk, suitcases and all, down the serpentine driveway, all the way down down down to the car.
5. The car would not start. Dead. Completely.
6. The wonderful custodial staff offered to jump start it for me.
7. It did not work. The car is more than dead. It is negative dead.
8. The wonderful custodial staff offered to give me a ride home.
9. I wanted to log on last night, but I had lost my link card in one of those frantic searches for computer hook up in Europe.
10. So instead I used the phone to conduct unpleasant business.
11. There was no pleasant offset.
12. I fell asleep sometime when I think in Europe people were already on their lunch hour.

As a post script, I have to say the following:
1. The day is sunny. Things look saner under a bright blue sky.
2. I found an extra link card at home for my computer and so I am back on line.
3. Being on line allowed me to discover some pretty special notes from people who had been tracking my travels. Given the above twelve points, I’d say they could not have come at a better time. So thank you. I promise to make this needy stretch as short as possible.
4. The irises are blooming in the back yard. I may hereafter forever hate irises, but they are blooming, and they are pretty.
this morning Posted by Hello

Monday, May 30, 2005

(From Paris): A tale of a meal

When you need to wrap it all up and stuff it inside, when you cannot walk another mile or look into the window of another shop, when the rain starts its Parisian thing again – I say head for a good meal.

I don’t think about where to eat in Paris. If I am here only for a day or two, I check the menu of an old standby and if it looks good (as it always does) then I go there. This isn’t the time to step outside the box – it’s a time to snuggle into a familiar setting and enjoy the parade of pleasurable sights and tastes.

So, I’m ending my Europe posts with a parade of pleasurable sights and tastes of my last evening on this side of the ocean.

Early in the evening, I considered grabbing a snack. Street food tempts.
baguette avec jambon Posted by Hello
Instead, I settled for a Victor Hugo aperitif, if only for the funky color, along with some serious people watching.
Victor Hugo: champagne, pear and creme de curacao Posted by Hello
Much later, when the skies turned dark from both the evening light and the puffed up rain clouds, I go over to the place where Madame was holding a table for me. I’d been there just two weeks ago, but today the menu offered a three week special: a love affair with the lobster. Irresistible.

Next to me, two women were doing a perfect rendition of multi-tasking: savoring the food, the wine, speaking in animated tones and puffing away at their cigarettes. I do not want to exalt smoking of course, but I so completely associate restaurants with smoking in France that I will feel a layer of sensations will be erased the day the last stub is crushed into an ash tray and France becomes smoke free.
at the table next to me... Posted by Hello
My first course: a lobster custard, with a frothy broth.
royale extreme de homard Posted by Hello
Second on the fixed lineup is a beautiful arrangement of lobster, pickled mushrooms and a parsley salad. Along with it come a cedar jelly and scoops of a moussey, buttery lobster spread for the bread that I use generously with every dish.
pinces de homard aux beurres de chitine, gelee de cedar Posted by Hello
The women have left, and now I get to listen to the conversation of this man. He has the most gorgeous blue silk jacket – I cannot take my eyes off of it. He is there with a younger man – someone who is so good looking that I cannot take a photo without appearing like somewhat of a crazed woman. It was hard enough accomplishing this one photo, but the jacket and its owner just had to be recorded here. Ocean does not avoid the tougher challenges.
one of the harder photos to pull off is of your dining neighbor Posted by Hello
Next came the lobster tail, made splendid by the genius of the sauce chef. Someone once told me that you can tell a good French restaurant by the talents of the sauce chef. Here, they have a person with talent for sure. Inside the lobster shell is an assortment of vegetables.
meuniere de homard, petits legumes et canneberges Posted by Hello
As I end the meal, my waiter asks me if I am from Quebec (the lobster celebration is actually in honor of these same lobster days in Quebec). It must be in the way I lick the last drops of sauce off the plate – I imagine people from Quebec are equally dedicated to finishing every bit of their lobster meal. When I say that I am in fact American, he actually puts the dishes down and does an exaggerated double take, before breaking into a smile at his own joke. Labels. They are of course both serviceable and at times grossly misplaced. In this case, the irony is that both countries use the same one when judging the other. ["All French are arrogant." "All Americans are arrogant."]

One of the best things about the last two weeks was that those traveling with me avoided bringing out the obvious labels in thinking about the countries we were in. Raking in experiences pure and simple, as they are presented, without reservation, without distrust. Liking some things, disliking others, based on how they felt then and there, rather than on how they were supposed to feel.

Okay, the end of the meal, and the end of the trip. Dessert: a simple ice cream, a caramelized mousse, and a farina cookie. With an espresso. Ocean returns tomorrow, from Madison.
biscuit de farine torrefiee creme legere su chocolat et sa glace au sirop d'erable Posted by Hello

Sunday, May 29, 2005

(From Paris): twenty four hours of walking, eating, watching others

It is always like this: I catch a noon flight out of Warsaw, spend the night in Paris, and catch the 1 pm next day to Chicago. I need the gradual transition that will allow me to reenter my life across the ocean.

Of course, this time Paris isn’t fresh for me. I had just been here, I had walked on rainy sidewalks with a broken umbrella or sometimes no umbrella at all. I had eaten crepes with melted cheeses and I had argued about who first discovered the blue and yellow Matisse painting at the Luxembourg Palace gallery.

Still, Paris always manages to rub its suave and sensual fingers along your spine and kick you into a wonderful state of awakedness. I had been speaking with a couple from the States on a train in Poland. They had moved to Europe (Switzerland at this point) in search of a balanced life and they love what they have created for themselves here. And they said – when we need to believe again in what we did, when we need to find excitement in our directions, we go for a few days to Paris.

Me too. And so I am here.

Can you tell? Even without a single tell-tale sight or street sign, this photo is a dead giveaway of where I am.
It's the scarves, of course, even on a warm spring evening. Posted by Hello

Saturday, May 28, 2005

(From Warsaw): children

My sister picked me up at the train station and let me loose in Warsaw’s parks. It is my last evening in Poland.

I keep noticing the children. These were my parks too, when I was their age. And where will you be forty, fifty years from now? In Warsaw? Away in some place across the ocean? Where?

You play so hard right now! You do! I played hard too. I splashed and climbed and begged for ice cream cones.

Children. And flowers. And parks. Bring them on, bring on the children, let them play, let them play hard and long.
the joy in feeding a pigeon (of all things) Posted by Hello
on a hot day, in the park Posted by Hello
jumping rocks Posted by Hello
girls with serious thoughts Posted by Hello
a boy with energy Posted by Hello
looking a peacock in the eye Posted by Hello
sweat peas, lilies of the valley, strawberries. Posted by Hello

(From Krakow): Oscar's place

I have a two hour layover in Krakow on my way back to Warsaw. Hot air from Africa is pouring into the main square. I am loaded down with bags. I am undaunted. I have to fix this computer thing. Zakopane fiddled my Dell laptop into a funk.

I go to the place where Oscar faithfully posted during his stay in Krakow. They are saintlier than saints. The computer is fixed (thanks for cooperating, Dell-o-licious!) and I am made richer by a heapin' glassful of black currant juice, two cappucinos and a perfect Polish apple cake.

Life is good.

I only hope I don't miss my train to Warsaw.
returning to a good thing Posted by Hello

(From Zakopane/Krakow): Warm air, warm feelings, broken computer

Okay, my Dell friend. You are so almost dead it’s not funny. You have traveled with me, struggled to keep going in tough times and weird places and now you are fading, fading, on my last day in Poland no less.

And so I cannot write about the bloggers that I spend an evening with last night, I cannot write about my last dinner with my father, I cannot write in any detail about this next 24 hours, where I will have come full circle, traveling from Zakopane, to Krakow, to Warsaw, to Paris and then on Monday – home again.

I’m not mad – I know you are trying to eek out these last words for me, but I do wish you would give it one last effort before I retire you and search for a replacement. Really. I’ve shown you the world, I’ve introduced you to new experiences – it’s time for you to demonstrate some affection and appreciation for my efforts. Okay? OKAY?????

Thank you.

(From Zakopane): Return to Rynias

(on Friday)

Each time I see it, I am overwhelmed. Rynias: it’s not even a village. Just three homes in a hidden valley, at the foot of the Tatras, near the Slovakian border.

Pan Stas and Pani Anna

I have to bribe someone to drive me from Zakopane to the village from where I can begin my hike to visit my aging Rynias highlanders, P. Stas and P. Anna. Easy. People need cash. My driver is a highlander himself. Nie boji sie pani niedzwiedzi (aren’t you afraid of bears)? – he asks. Damn! What I didn’t know wasn’t going to hurt me. Now I find myself listening for bear noises as I walk through the deep forest.

We had a feeling you'd be coming this week!

Such joy to see them! And it’s mutual. I had been here in December, but I had missed Pani Anna, who had gone off for the day to the store. But today both are there – just finishing their drugie sniadanie (second breakfast).

I eat eggs and bread with them as well as her baked sugar cookies, along with a glass of tea. A pang of guilt hits me: I almost did not come. Were it not for my father in Zakopane, I may have neglected this promised visit. [Did I promise? I must have.]

What can I bring you next time?

They have so little! They eat and cook in the little hut, on a wood-burning stove. Their lives do not vary. She has to hike up the mountain and down the other side to get supplies: an hour trek for me, but getting to be two hours each way for her. And so they buy almost nothing.

I bring them sweets and food treats, but this time I feel that maybe I should look for something that would make their lives just that much easier and so I ask – what do you need?

Good scissors for shearing sheep! They show me what they use: paper scissors, cheaply made at that. Once, our uncle found a pair in America, he said they were cheap, and they were wonderful! [Does Menards carry sheep shearing scissors??]

Do all good things come from America?

Yesterday I wore my flowered skirt to church, Pani Anna tells me. The highlanders all dressed in colorful clothing. They sang our old songs. But you know, I bought the skirt in town and they told me it was made in America, not here! And so I paid a fortune for it! After all, it was imported.

Oh, Pani Anna, I don’t think so! You’ve been had! I’m thinking this, but I say nothing. I admire it as she puts it against her middle, the rubber-band waist extending over her hips.

A sad good-bye

I walk with them as they send their sheep out to pasture. I listen to them talk about the absence of mushrooms in the forest, about who died when, about the wheat that will grow in their small field this summer. They don’t complain, they just tell me things, matter of factly, earnestly.

When will you come for a longer spell? When will your husband come? Your daughters? Oh, I cannot be honest now! I cannot say “never.” And so I say, as I always do – soon. Next year maybe. And here comes the promise again: I’ll come next time. Really I will..
Rynias: up past the meadows and down through the forest Posted by Hello
Just around the bend now... Posted by Hello
the final approach: their barn, their kitchen hut, the dog house Posted by Hello
Pani Anna tells me how the year has been Posted by Hello