Thursday, May 31, 2007

the end of the road

Here, we’re nearing our destination. Take a photo, will you?
You’re switching lanes! There are bumps in the road! There are splattered bugs all over the windshield!

Shoot! Waste photos! Or else I’ll do it!
You’re driving, hand me the camera and tell me what you want!

You know: traffic, skyline, construction, all that I think of when coming up on Chicago.


So this is it, the drop off point – the end of the 1000 miles. Thursday, I drive the remaining paltry 150 alone to Madison.

…where I will not sleep for three days straight so that I can finish all that I need to finish before taking off for a long stretch across the ocean.

One-sentence posts, coming up. Until Monday.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Highway notes

There is something brutal about this hugely democratic movement of people across America’s highways. It’s morning, I am at a Holiday Inn in Batavia, New York. Not one of my readers will have heard of Batavia. Or maybe they will have been here, for it is well represented by a clump of motels at the foot of an entrance ramp onto Highway 90.

The Holiday Inn has a lobby that smells of swimming pools. They all do. When I was young, motels had outdoor pools and you drove up to the door of your room in most every roadside inn (for the handful of years that I lived in the States then, my family was big on road trips). I’m thinking that the pools should have stayed outside because chlorine is only slightly better in smell than stale tobacco. (Thank God for nonsmoking rooms.)

We are looking to have a Bob Evans breakfast. Me, I have been won over by Starbucks counters with great coffee and boring but serviceable baked goods, but there isn’t one here in Batavia and so we are likely to order the traditional Bob Evans plateful of foods that do well with maple syrup (pancakes, French toast, etc). With weak coffee on the side. In thick mugs.

Then we will enter the stream of traffic. Pick up a ticket for the thruway, point the nose of the monster car west and push the pedal down. And I will stay in that position for hours, watching the sun move from behind me to in front of me.

My eyes will focus on truckers whose vans ask me to call random places to report on their highway behavior and on highway patrol cars that chase random sinners in the speed lane. I will count down miles to the next service area and then the next one. We will not stop at hardly any, by they are markers of progress. Nothing else gives me the feeling of movement. I am stuck on a highway that looks the same in Batavia as it does will in Toledo and Elkhorn.

Like millions others, we are off, ready to be sucked into the westbound lanes. To be spit out tonight, in Chicago.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

from New Haven: overheard, one last time

Come on, put on a cap so we can take a photo of you – it’s your school, your celebration as well! It’s your JD &MA!
No, I’m here for my little sister’s college graduation.

One has logged in four, the other - eight years of a New Haven life

All the details, the opening hours, the short cuts, the foods, the habits of this city are suddenly immaterial to us! It all no longer matters! So sad.

We disperse. One stuck on a broken Amtrak train, somewhere between Baltimore and DC. One waiting for a flight back to Chicago. And two for the road. Car packed with books, a stack of tapes to listen to, hitting America’s great (and oh so boring) highways back to the Midwest.


Monday, May 28, 2007

from New Haven: overheard

(toddler’s voice) Mama? Mama?
Mamma is getting her degree. You’ll see her in a while.


My son took seven years. Toward the end of his senior year he had a meltdown and wanted time off (to ski). All the relatives had to get refunds for their airfares for his graduation. Today they’re all here. He finished! Seven years later, he finished!


Uncle! Uncle! Climb over here, can you? You can see him walk by here!

So, how do you photograph it all? (See here? I'm not the only one with trepidations.)


...Me, I'm just just biding time, waiting for the right person (out of oh so many) to walk by with a content grin...


Overwhelming? yes, though if I wait long enough, there will always be the food to help me regain my composure.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

from New Haven: hats off

It’s a week-end thing, this graduation stuff. And that’s good. Some of us travel far to see the square hats on our kids’ heads. May as well roll out the carpet for the grads all week-end long.

In the morning, when the streets are still not peppered with black robes, a sole grad takes the time to walk her puppy. Did the puppy come to her with a card saying – good luck! This is your future! He is yours now!?


The Baccalaureate. They gather in their robes and they listen to speeches about their time here in college. A (known to me) young woman gives one last look up toward the gallery, where her family is sitting, beaming…


But solemnity be damned. Today is the fun day. Where black hats are tossed aside for more creative options.

Wait, is someone importing emblems of my home state?



I listen to it all, I sing the songs that over the years you pick up at these events:

Bright college years, with pleasure rife,
The shortest, gladdest years of life…

Mine weren’t that. But things are different now – with pleasure rife for my kids.

Spoken like a true immigrant, no?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

from New Haven: art

A reader commented – doctors practice medicine; artists do not practice art.

Makes sense. But I do support the practice of supporting art. And I would very much like to be supported for finding art.

All that as a backdrop to my walk through the campus this morning. So much of what is here shouts ART!




If you take pictures of art, are you contributing to its creation? Or just supporting it?

The last photo is from the newly renovated Yale University Art Gallery (a modernist building that is as old as I am). The permanent collection here is mind boggling.

A warm warm day, much of it spent walking through art, thinking about art, wishing there was more time for participating actively in its creation.


Friday, May 25, 2007

from New Haven: done

I would say an eight-year relationship is pretty hefty, wouldn’t you? It gives you time to make friends and get bored a little. You develop a history.

My relationship with New Haven has been eight years and now it’s time to call it quits. I’m bowing out.

I hated you when I first saw you. Drab, I thought. But you wooed me. That dinner on the cold rainy March day! I still remember it.

I’m into ratings. I rate your food as awesome. From the pizza to the ethnic beauties – I’ve eaten Ethiopian, South American, North American, Indian, Malaysian, Spanish -- ohhh, I’m having regrets! This is not good!

The reality is that I came here only because my daughters made this their home. Good old daughters. Quirky daughters. New Haven??? It wasn’t meant to last. Now, one has chosen DC, the other is heading west to PA in CA – stay put already, so I can get bored again!

Okay, I haven’t always been bored in New Haven. I have cried here at the various events that I have attended. I have cried when I have left daughters behind and headed home.

And, I have acted stupidly here. Never more stupidly than on the night of September 1st, 2005. The Hot Tomato's bar. Those in the know will nod their heads sagely. Yep, she was an ass then. You are right. I cannot sing je ne regrette rien since that day.

But mostly, it has been a place where my family assembles every now and then. Solid love. And, memories of physical toil (the moving in, the moving out). And mental anguish (did anyone read the New Yorker bit this week about college being one big ride on the anxiety train?).

So, it’s my final visit here.

New Haven. Such a place. Wonderful to be back, this one last time. [I’m staying away from Hot Tomato's.]


Thursday, May 24, 2007

a birth, a graduation and errands

Tomorrow, I’m off to watch a college graduation. Of the youngest one. Yep, I’m that old.

I can’t pay attention to age implications. I am just so… dazed. A college graduation of your youngest is one of those moments you cannot even imagine as you’re trying to get her out of the womb.

Kid, you made it out. You’re good now.

A sudden reconfiguration of schedules has created absolute chaos here, on Ocean. Our family will be there, cheering her, yes, that was set four years ago. We assumed she would graduate. [And guess, what, we will be celebrating law and grad degrees for her sister, same time, same place. Oh, the champagne that all this warrants!] But after the celebrations? We have decided on a road trip of sorts, as she and I will rumble along from the east to the Midwest and then, later in the summer, from the Midwest to the Pacific coast.

In the months between, there’s much ocean and continent crossing and, let’s not forget, there’s teaching, grading and all the other incidentals of work.

And a move.

Am I crazy?

And yet, if you hung with me today, you’d think this was just one of those ordinary, laid-back, late spring days.

I called my traveling companion of the velo trip.

Ed, I have a million errands to run and I am leaving tomorrow and, well, I could use some company.
Motorbike okay?
Yes, of course, just hurry up because I have a million errands to run.
I’ll be there in a few.
Where to?
The AAA on the far far west side. I need maps for my road trip!
(halfway there)
Don’t you have an AAA across the street from where you live?
I do??? I never noticed! Why didn’t you let me know earlier??
I figured you knew what you were doing.

I’m not sure Ed ever believes I know what I am doing, but it’s a good line.


We’re at the mall. I am canvassing endless stores for, well, for stuff. Stuff does not interest Ed. He falls asleep sprawled out on a bench at Banana Republic. Three young things stand nearby, chatting as if he wasn’t there. And they are right. Ed is snoring.

We are outside now.

It is about to rain!
We will get wet.
Is it okay to be wet on a motorbike?
Only a little worse than being wet on a regular bike.

We get wet. He’s wrong. Being wet on a bike sucks more than this. The rain is warm, the sky changes patterns, all is okay.


I'm flying east tomorrow.

All is okay. All is okay.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


One person’s emptiness is another’s bliss. Isn’t it always like that.

I biked up to the Law School and was immediately reminded how it feels on Bascom Mall during the summer.

Where is everyone?

A small group takes to the green space and plays croquet. Croquet?? One person’s emptiness is another’s bliss…


The day was so beautiful and it was so lost on me. Preoccupied, busy, call it what you want. I was not outside except to bike to and from my office.

Until, finally, just before sunset, I went outside just to look and smell. There’s only a parking lot there, before my loft. But at the side, there are small lilacs.

The butterfly and I chased each other for while. Until finally he relented and let me take a photo.


After, he laughed and flew away and I went back to an empty-feeling loft.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

feeling free

I am waiting for someone at an outdoor café on State Street. A young man, sitting on a bench nearby, looks at Isthmus want ads, then makes a cell call.

Hi, I’m selling my laptop. I’m done with school and so I don’t need it any more. I’d rather have the cash.
(pause while other party speaks)
It’s a Dell Latitude. It’s got the usual stuff – Internet, word processing…


After the call, he strums some more on the guitar. He sings, too, but not very well.

Earlier in the day I asked Ed, my traveling companion of a few weeks back, if he would help me clean up the tiny Sony laptop I was returning.

Can we take off the email program?
Sure. Let’s empty out the messages there first.

Click, click.

Ed, my Inbox on my (clunky) home computer is alerting me I have exceeded capacity!
Oh, I must be trashing things from the server, not from the Sony.

7842 messages have been inadvertently moved to the trash bin.

Hmm, let’s delete those that are both in “Trash” and in your “Sent” box – they’re overloading your capacity.

Click, click.

Ed, my mailboxes on the server are now almost entirely empty! What happened to the 7842 messages that a while ago where in the "Sent" box?
Oh my gosh (
actually, shockingly, stronger words were used here)! I think we deleted all of them, from both places!
You mean all the email I have ever written is all gone?

Dial tech support at UW.

Sorry, you’re right, it’s all gone. Forever.

All gone?

Tech support at the Law School laughs along with me when I tell them what happened.

It’s kind of liberating, isn’t it? – they say.

Sure. I’m feeling free.

Like a retired person with suddenly too much time on their hands, I am a person with suddenly too much available space on her server.

Now if I wanted to feel really free, I’d call the ads and sell off the rest of my technology, like the young man on the bench on State Street.

I can’t do that. I was raised in Commie Poland. I never thought personal freedom was as important as connectedness.

Monday, May 21, 2007


Please don not correct me. I know that baby geese are not called geeslings. [They're goslings, aren't they?] But geeslings sounds so perfect.

The children of geese. They appear to hover near their mother goose...


...but really, don’t you think that it is only a rouse? When you look deeply into their souls, can you see the independence? From both parents? Sure you can.


My day, in great measure, was made up of geesling thoughts.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

week-end notes

Today is the kind of day you’re glad not to be hiking. Or biking. Cold rain, gray skies.

But yesterday, now that was a day!

Perfect for the market. And for buying lillies of the valley.


… and for reaching for a chestnut bloom


…for tossing a ball around at a graduation celebration


…for planting things


… for pausing on the ride in to admire a view of the city


Really, a perfect spring day. A shame spring weather is so damn fickle.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

so sweet of you to let me off the hook one more time...

Many hours into the day, I climb up a hill to bid a graduating (and therefore parting) student a fond adieu and I am handed a cosmo. I sit down, put my feet up (figuratively) and exhale.

You cannot expect a person to recoup and regroup after that. So, no elaborate postings tonight.

But tomorrow... ah... tomorrow. So many hours, yet unfilled. See you then.

Friday, May 18, 2007

gee but it's great... be back home.

Sigh... I'll be down to one sentence and/or one photo per day. And that may be a good thing. Who needs to read about how it felt to call Sony and Cingular and tell them that I would be returning their products, never again to be traveling with the luxury of a 2.85 lb. computer and an infinitely ready to fire cell modum wireless?

One has to be realistic. The day has too few hours, the bank has too few dollars. That about sums up this Friday, a glorious day of graduating ceremonies for many. A tough day of reality checks for myself.

But, in about two weeks I am packing books, notes and assignments into an old bag and crossing the ocean again. So keep reading. Because everything is always different than we would have predicted it to be and kids manage well without us.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

from France: Paris notes

It always surprises me how far away the rest of France feels from Paris (and conversely, how far away Paris seems from the rest of France).

This morning, we picked up a small commuter train in the Provence town of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue…


…this afternoon we got off a TGV (bullet) train at the Gare de Lyon and stepped into Paris…


…just as the about to be President of France was stepping into his new post.

The political events completely passed me by as I reveled in the great pastry & people-watching opportunities of this city.



Ed isn’t much of a city boy anymore and I have given up on selling him on Paris. He speaks with enthusiasm about the place when we are here…

You don’t like Paris!
I like it, I like it!

… but on the next round, looks for every conceivable way to avoid it.

…what if we stay in the south and catch a morning train straight to the airport the day of our flight?

We hike from the train station to our hotel (have backpack, will hike). In the past I have tried to keep Ed away from tourist hotspots…

so many people here!

…but this time our path crosses this way:


..and so there you have it. We are surrounded. Half the people around me are speaking Polish. I am not surprised.

In the afternoon I go searching for a bottle of wine to bring home. I cannot explain why I think this is a good idea, given that there are millions of bottles of French wine available in the States at comparable prices. I never open any of the stuff I buy here anyway. The bottles are made precious by the fact that they are purchased, fussed over, lugged and finally, lovingly uncovered back home. And so they wait. For something.

Ed tells me we should send the bottles through in a box, wrapped in dirty t-shirts. The entire idea sounds so awful and unworkable to me that I have distanced myself from the effort, handing over the challenge to a person who hasn’t sent a single piece of luggage through on a flight in his entire life.

Meaning, I am writing off these particular bottles with such beautiful labels (for how else do you select here, when so much is so good?) and concentrating on protecting my jars of seaweed tapenade from Brittany.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Tomorrow, it is true, I return to Madison. But this day (I’m still on Wednesday here) still has the fragrance of Provence around it. Must be the country inn shampoo I’ve been using.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

from France: lasts

What stays in the mind from a last day of biking in the Provence?

The last field of poppies?


The last lunch salad, with grilled goat cheese aux herbes de Provence and a glass of local rose (carafe: 2 Euros)?


The last vineyard? Olive grove?


The last steep ascent, with a commemorative photo from the summit?


The last bad road, that turned out to be not bikable? And so it was back to walking and pushing? Twice, because Ed lost one of his shoes along the way?


The last town, from which we will be picking up a train to Avignon in the morning and then continuing on to Paris?


The last plane tree? The last country inn? The last dessert?


I’m sitting at the train station, waiting. The bikes are returned, the backpack is retrieved. It’s cooler now and my sweater barely keeps me warm. Ed, of course, is in shorts and a T-shirt. (I’ll change before Paris, I promise!)

I’m thinking of the people we met at the inns – the French, the Belgians. And how they described their lives. Lots of low-key travel, not too far from home, always with a nose toward good food.

And the innkeepers: Christophe with his three daughters, keeping the lasagna warm for us, Monsieur Ancienne Cure – taking four months out each winter to be in Chamonix, because he loves the Alps so much, Madame and Monsieur Mas de la Pierre du Coq who keep the inn running for just four or five months and spend the rest of the time with family near Lyons, or vacationing.

We French, we’re not so rich as you Americans, but we know how to vacation well – he tells me. Maybe we haven’t found a balance between work and time off. Maybe the Scandinavians do it better. The next generation here, in France, it is working harder. They are earning more money. Maybe that’s a good thing.

One of the (French) guests talks about how he will be taking his bike up Mount Ventoux, just a short stretch from where we are (the biker’s dream is to do the ride to the summit – a 22 kilometer ascent and a very big moment in the Tour de France), the next day, if the wind dies down.

Do you ride regularly?
Oh, maybe 60 kilometers, once a week. It’s not much.

His little girl is arranging Playmobil characters around my computer. She’s wearing a beautiful pink dress that goes down to her mid calf.

Don’t let her disturb you! The parents say to me. They think I am working on my computer, but I am mindlessly playing with photos. I haven’t done a lick of work for the last five days and I don’t intend to pick it up again until I am on the plane, crossing the ocean.

I have European blood, after all. I am an EU member. I know how to vacation well.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

from France: what the wind blew in

I am sitting at a brasserie (Chez Max), out of breath and shaking. What unbelievable luck.

We had left in the morning, right after the rains had stopped and the thunder claps had rolled back toward the mountains. We were on the retreat. Biking along the upper ridge was out. Time to find a more modest route, along the river valley.

turn my back to the mountains

so many shades of green here

Halfway down and around the mountain (there’s still disagreement raging as to whether these are large hills or small mountains; it’s my blog: I say mountain), I hear thunder.

Ed, are we going to be struck by lightning?
We have rubber tires, we’re safe.
Do you know that for a fact, or are you making it up?

I’m making it up.

Please, please, any shelter will do.

My burst of speed gets us to a decent village café-bar. We wait until the rains and thunder pass.

Neither of us are sure if this is the last of it, but the next village is a modest ten kilometers away and the skies are looking kinder, gentler. Rolling countryside. Pretty stuff. I pause, take photos…


But then, a mere 3 kilometers from the town, the wind picks up force.

It’s the mistral.

I am on a downhill, with all gears set at their lowest and I am making almost no progress. Big, ugly clouds are suddenly pushing their way in.

I can’t do this! I shout back to Ed. He doesn’t hear. We are about to get pounded.

But around the corner, there is Chez Max and it is lunchtime and there are happy, DRY customers inside.

We make it before the torrential downpour swallows the world in its wall of water.

And we eat and drink a lovely rose to our good fortune…


Outside, the downpour continues...


…and I wonder, what if we had been halfway up the mountain still? Or on the ridge?

Ed says – we would have gotten very very wet. But it’s more than that. When you hike, being wet means only that – there is moisture. You’ll dry off. On bikes, wetness has a trickier dimension. You are wet. The roads are wet. Your brakes are wet. Your glasses are wet. There is something very threatening about the whole combination.

Another hour and this storm passes as well. But we are done with our race with the clouds. I call a b&b in a village just a dozen kilometers down the road and we make our way to it, this time without the madness of running from a storm.


This b&b (Le Mas de la Pierre du Coq) is different from many of the others. It’s a private residence, sure, an ancient farm, set among vines and olives trees, that’s not unusual. But here, we are the guests and, along with four others, we share the evening with the owners. They cook for us and eat with us and between French, English and Spanish, the talk of politics and life in general takes on the force of the mistral.

By 11, I am spent. Upstairs, I hear the plane tree outside resisting the wind and think about the next day – the last one of our velo run.

Monday, May 14, 2007

from France: men, women and wheels

I had always thought of Sunday as a family day in France. Most everyone eats a big meal en famille in the afternoon. People go to parks, sit in cafes – Sunday is about the embrace of your own little familial community.

Still, if you happen to be riding through towns and villages on any spring or summer Sunday in, say, Provence, you’ll get a glimpse of a separation that is uniquely French. (Or at least uniquely not American): men are chasing hobbies and women are somewhere on the sidelines, or at least – far less visible to the passerby.

We biked relentlessly. What more can I say. I am logging in 60, 70 kilometers a day (ok, a little less today) and I am feeling like my strength is diminishing.

Isn’t one supposed to get stronger over time?

Not me. I wake up, look outside, see a blooming chestnut tree..


..and think: that is some chestnut tree. Good bye, chestnut tree. Me, I am off to bike over hills and mountains.

My attitude on a ride is all wrong. Instead of “go go go!” I think “oh shit, another incline!”

True, at the end of the day, there is that great sense of accomplishment. But before that, oh the swell of feelings of despair! So why do it? I suppose it’s much like labor: kid pops out, you’re elated and go on to have another. We choose not to remember the tough parts of the day, or else we’d never get out of bed.

Ed and I set out ten minutes before noon. We’re ahead of yesterday by ten minutes!

We come to a village that is celebrating old tractor/car/motorbike day. People are driving in old models of all the above. Did I say people? No no. This is a guy thing.


We get off our bikes and walk around, looking at the ancient models of this and that. Maybe I see a woman or two. Maybe. She’ll be the one standing to the side while a guy she’s with swoons over some engine part.

We bike over to the next village. What’s this? A bike race?


Oh, but this is not novel. You need go down any hilly country road on a Sunday in France and you will understand. There are a lot of skinny, muscled men riding around on their velos out there.

Though for me, this particular race, which consists of four repeats of a twenty kilometer loop, is a source of terrific embarrassment. Their route is along the roads we were riding. Occasional cheering groups are parked along the side. Imagine how fun it is to be panting up a hill where some fifty riders are soon to whizz through in a matter of seconds.

People smile and shout encouragement (allez allez! courage!). I feel like a comic sideshow to the main event.

Okay, male hobbies. There is also the matter of what men see and what you sometimes wish they would not have noticed.

We are in the village of the bike race. Eureka! This is the time to go begging for a spare tube! We used our last one yesterday and we are only halfway through our velo trip.

And so I ask a guy (because I think a guy would know this and besides, I’m not seeing many women) about where on this Sunday I may purchase a spare tube.

Not here, he says. It’s Sunday. Everything is closed. Maybe in the next town? But then, I know you were there already. I was driving behind you as you biked through. I recognize that little suntanned strip on your back!
Ed is grinning - I meant to tell you about that...

Sure you did.

The thing is, pants these days are cut low. And my t-shirts are not long enough. So there is this strip of flesh exposed to the elements where shirt and pants don’t meet. It’s not evident when one stands, like this:


But when you lean forward on your velo, well, if you happen to have a tattoo, say of a sparrow on that part of your torso, that sparrow is going to be in a band of suntanned skin by the time the ride is over and done with.

[And yes, one of the support cars to the racers did have spare tubes and yes, they shared.]

The rest of the day is all about mountains. What a surprise. We have entered the Haute (as in high) Provence, the Rhone-Alpes department. I cannot believe I chose this route.

One last village to pass through. This one at least is at the base of a hill. Kind to the biker. Pierrelongue. So similar in name to my Pierrerue of last June!


We overnight in Buis-les-Baronnies, a village surrounded by high, jagged cliffs. I am trying to focus on everything but the fact that there is no way in hell of biking out of here without doing a lot of ups and downs. And even more so, on the fact that it’s supposed to rain and thunder for the next two days.

I’m sure I’ll survive.


At night, all is calm, all is – southern France villagey.


And the food – oh, so very excellent. As usual.


And tomorrow? Courage! Allez, allez!