Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This

HPIM1042I feel like I’ve become an expert in the art of faux pas while living in Germany.  Once I stopped grinning and waving at strangers in my austere German neighborhood, and being thought the village idiot (I was only being friendly!), I moved on to linguistic lunacy and, apparently, asked for foreplay (“Vorspiele”) instead of appetizers (“Vorspeise”) in local restaurants.  Who knew?

There is a certain amount of idiocy that you can’t avoid when you live in a foreign country–whether because you don’t speak the language well or because you don’t understand the customs.  I can live with that.  I forgive myself these missteps, and the locals are usually forgiving of them too.

But sometimes you just do something stupid.  We all do it.  (Some of us more than others.)  It’s especially awkward when you do something stupid and you are a foreigner.  You see the eyes roll, you can almost hear the thoughts filling the heads around you, “Oh, those Americans!”

We’re heading back to Yorkshire for a visit in the days ahead, and we are considering a stop by Hemswell Antique Center, in Hemswell Cliff.  We’ve picked up some interesting things there in the past and thought we’d take a look again, if we have time.  If  they’ll let us through the door.  My last visit there, I was the person who sent eyes rolling, or at least squinting and watching me like a hawk.

But it wasn’t really my fault.

My husband and I had a big day planned.  My mother- and father-in-law were in town and had offered to watch our children for the day while James and I drove a few hours away to the Newark Antiques Fair–it bills itself as the biggest in Europe, and it is a whopper!  But we wanted to get there early and we had a stiff drive ahead of us, so we had to leave before dawn.

Our house in Ripon wasn’t a big affair, so we had to tiptoe around not to wake anyone.  That day, we decided we wouldn’t make coffee or eat breakfast, we just planned to dress and get out the door quickly and quietly.  But for some reason–I’m guessing a child that sneaked into our bed during the night–we even had to dress in the dark and tiptoe around our own bedroom.  Which we did, and out we went.

newarkOff to Newark and treasure hunting!  We had a great day–it started off grey and maybe a little drizzly, but we wrapped up and it didn’t bother us much.  Many vendors were in tents and we made out well– enough small treasures to feel satisfied, not so many as to break the bank.  I will say my husband bought some questionable art, but he always buys some questionable art.  At this point in our marriage, it would worry me more if he suddenly stopped that habit.

The day grew warmer and sunnier; our coats came off; our arms filled with loot; and we finally felt ready to return home from our adventure.

But, if we made good time on the road, we could just eek out a visit to Hemswell on the way home.  Off we went!

hemswell logoThe Hemswell Antique Center covers a lot of ground–many buildings and antiques of all kinds.  It also houses a cute, but simple, cafe with a Royal Air Force World War II theme. (I think Hemswell may actually be an old, decommissioned RAF base, but don’t hold me to that.)

We knew we could only make a quick run through, so we took off at double speed.  We zipped through this building, we zipped through that building.  Then, in the final building, tired out from the day, I found myself slowed to a stop in front of a case of vintage jewelry.  A few cases, in fact.  As I stared sleepily into one of the cases, a fly caught my eye.  He was stuck inside the case and trying to fly out of the glass.  Repeatedly, he flew at the glass, only to strike it hard, and tumble back to the shelf under the hot lights.  I am no friend of flies, but this little guy was struggling and I felt bad for him.

I turned around to see a salesperson close by. (In hindsight, I think he may have been hovering around me–a very suspicious woman.)  I called out to him and  explained the plight of this poor fly stuck in the glass case.  I wondered if there might be any way he could free the poor animal, who was getting fairly panicky behind the glass.

The salesperson gave me a very perplexed, but gentle, look and said that, yes, he’d make his way over presently and attend to the situation.  I slowly moved around the room and browsed some more.  Two or three minutes later, I heard a voice call out from across the room:  “You’ll be happy to know that the fly has made his bid for freedom!”  I looked up, and the salesman shot me an amused look.  I smiled and said, “Thank you so much.”  He nodded and added, “That should send some good karma your way.”

It was a humorous exchange.  As I left the building, the salesman and his colleague gave me a cheerful, if oddly watchful, send off.  Clearly, as far as they were concerned, I was an awkward American, or maybe the nutty Zen lady.  So be it–I can live with that.

I walked out into the bright sun of a crisp autumn afternoon, pleased with our day of high brow foraging.  I dropped my tired body into the front seat of the car and began fastening the seat belt around me …. only to be stopped cold by what I saw.  What I couldn’t have seen as I dressed myself in the dark that morning;  what I never saw, as I apparently looked in no mirrors as the day progressed; and what my husband, in his own wide-eyed but sleep deprived frenzy of antiquing, had apparently never noticed.  I was wearing my shirt inside-out.

I wasn’t the nutty Zen lady after all.

Oh no, it was much worse.

I was the utterly lunatic bag lady who befriended flies.   Oh, those Americans!

24 Years of Postcards from the Road

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My husband and I just celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary.  By anyone’s standards, 24 years is a good chunk of change.  It’s been two decades of perpetual motion, so it’s no wonder that I find myself reflecting on it this week in a blog named “Travels and Tomes.”

For all of the enthusiasm I have for the next few decades together, and all of the certainty that they will involve “settling down” soon, I look back over our past adventures and our many homes and travels  and I think what a long, strange, and utterly remarkable trip it’s been.

Here’s the two cent version of that trip.

CONNECTICUT:  This predates the 24–it’s where we met in school.  Spring and autumn in New England were glorious; winter was long but happily punctuated by sledding on cafeteria trays. We hung out in coffee houses, bought cheap theater tickets at the Rep, frequented the Brew and View pub in the next town, and made the occasional trip via commuter train into NYC (where we splurged for a Broadway show once or twice, but usually used our pocket change to visit the Met Museum or Museum of Modern Art, or stroll Rockefeller Plaza at Christmas).  We drove out to Cape Cod. It was a great start, tinged with a little wanderlust.

Our next stop was CHICAGO.  These were our salad and frozen pizza days.  We lived in three different apartments over 3 years and each one smacked of “Barefoot in the Park” in its own way.  (Great play, and great movie with Redford and Fonda, if you haven’t seen it.)  The first was at a fine address in the Gold Coast, but it was, literally, a closet.  Literally.  It was a temporary do.

The second was a coach house over a garage in the DePaul area.  Charming.  Until winter came, and we realized that there was no insulation. . . anywhere.  Not in the walls, not in the roofing, and not under the floor.  Cranking the heat did nothing but fill the apartment with gas fumes and heat the air in the middle of the room (as in, three feet up from the floor, three feet down from the ceiling, and three feet in from the walls).  So when the owners raised rent, we went packing for warmer (and cheaper) digs.

Which we found in our third apartment, just north of Wrigley Field (home to the Chicago Cubs).  We had a scant view of the top of Wrigley Field in the distance from our South-facing window, and an up close and personal view of a transient hotel across the street in our front windows…where we also had one bullet hole.  During our stay, no more bullets flew, but our neighbors at the hotel regularly pulled their fire alarms at 3 a.m. (followed by a brigade of firetrucks), and on the rare occasion took firefighting into their own hands and threw flaming matresses out their windows.  It was like having a front row seat at the theater each night.

In the winter this last apartment kept us warm, although ice crystals would obscure our view out the windows.  In the summer, we would broil and spend our evenings walking through the grocery store and opening the doors on the freezer aisle, postponing the inevitable return home.  Weekends found us wandering the boroughs of the city, eating in cafes and people watching–cheap entertainment, but always a good time. Each weekend, we’d walk a different neighborhood: German, Lebanese, Czech/Slovak, etc.  We had no idea this would be good practice for the life of travels that was to come.

DC:  A fast turn around — we lived there one year.  Loved the city, hated the traffic.  Great food, lots of culture, but far too much talk of politics.  Some weekends, we’d storm the city for ethnic markets and museums, other weekends, we’d escape to places like Chesapeake, the Shenandoah river, or the Chincoteague shore–sand dunes, ocean tides, and wild horses. . . paradise.

TEXAS:  Our Texas roundup: tumblwd

  • Steak–never liked it until I lived here.  A revelation.
  • Tex-Mex– again, no one does it like Texas.
  • Tumbleweed and Mesquite– lots and lots of tumbleweed and mesquite.

Our time in Texas wasn’t marked by a wanderlust or cultural broadening–it was more of “going deep” into a down home experience of that region.  It was different, but it was delightful.  And we left town with a secret recipe for salsa from our restaurateur friends Ted and Lena– a priceless gift.

TURKEY:  Culture shock after moving from west Texas to the mediterranean coast of Turkey, but absolute love after that.  If you’ve ever wanted to time travel, rural Turkey is the closest you’ll come.  Hop on a mountain bike and take off through the fields of sheep and shepherds, or explore ruins of ancient cities on the coastline with only goats for company, and you’ll know what I mean.  And the people of Turkey are the most hospitable people I have ever met.

In lots of ways, Turkey is where life “got real” for us. We hit incredible highs; we hit incredible lows. This is one way living abroad differs from simple travel–you’re not just there to see the sights, you are getting on with the business of living a life. goreme  In Turkey, we saw amazing sights:  the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia and homes hollowed out of these natural structures; old frescoed cave churches, in disrepair, but still dotting the landscape in remarkable numbers.  We also endured some tough times: a miscarriage and a strong earthquake that crippled much of the surrounding town and tumbled houses in the older section of the city (which was very old indeed), leaving people homeless.  But life cycles back to joy, always:  our daughter was born in our final six months there, and our family began its travels together.  Have dog, have kid, will travel–that’s been our motto ever since.

Turkey: the memories are less fuzzy than the photos.
Turkey: the memories are less fuzzy than the photos.

NORTH CAROLINA:  Our return to my home state for 5 years didn’t involve a lot of travel, except to see grandparents in a nearby town.  No, these were the days of total immersion in young parenthood.  Puppies and children–we were dripping with them.  Our daughter was six months old when we returned to NC, and our son was born a couple of years later.  Both of our children were born at lightening speed.  (I did make it to the hospital for my second, but didn’t make it into the hospital gown before he was born. I remember nurses RUNNING me down the hall on a gurney, shouting “don’t push, don’t push!”–but there comes a point when you really have no choice. . . just trust me on this one, men.)   And so my husband insisted there would be no third child unless I was willing to move into the hospital at 8 months pregnant. He had no intention of delivering a baby on our kitchen floor.    He had a point.  No more babies.  But we did adopt our sweet puppy Bebe in NC, and she was my furry baby for 15 years. PicMonkey NC

But, as I said, few travels of the suitcase variety.  Loads of adventures in pumpkin patches and parks, on sleds and tricycles, etc.  That’s how it goes with toddlers.

ENGLAND:

Oh, England.  I love this place.  For me, it combines new and exciting travels with the comfort of a culture that you understand intimately.  It’s also the setting for so many childhood memories for my kids:  dress up at the knights

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Ripon Cathedral, view from the river.

school at Alnwick Castle (also home to many scenes from Harry Potter and Downton Abbey), being pulled onstage during theater productions of The Tempest and Robin Hood Tales,  winning a contest for decorating the Queen’s Knickers (on Queen Elizabeth’s birthday), visiting with Santa at the local brewery . . . the list is too long.  Every day that we walked into the market square of Ripon (pretty much every day!) was a treat for us.  It was home, but it never seemed mundane.

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As a home base, Yorkshire, England was a great jumping off point for Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy.  We traveled by plane, we traveled by train, we traveled by car.  We traveled.  I had no blog then, so instead of posting travel notes and quips, I did send postcards from the road.  That seems a little quaint and slow now, but there’s something solid and permanent about the postcard, isn’t there?  It doesn’t say much, but it’s a tangible artifact of your travels . . .and it has the magical ability to fall out of a scrapbook decades from now and catch you by surprise with a flood of memories of a place and a time, of a holiday greatly enjoyed.  I wonder if blogsites will age as well?

We’re traveling back to England very soon, and to some of our old stomping grounds in Yorkshire.  It will be an absolute delight to walk the streets of Ripon, eat the scones of Ripon (!), and wander the dales of the surrounding countryside . . .but I think that it will be a little bittersweet too.  We all have a soft spot for our old life there.

From England, we found ourselves venturing on to GEORGIA and ALABAMA.  These states are next door neighbors, each with its own personality–please don’t take offense that I am lumping them together, but the truth is that this post is getting long-winded, so I’m picking up the pace.  Do you know what struck me most dramatically about the South in our first weeks back?  Tree frogs and cicadas!  The sounds from the trees, especially at dusk each night, is fantastic.  For me, it’s the sound of summertime and my childhood in North Carolina.  About the time when you’d be out playing kick the can with the kids in the neighborhood, or with cousins at your grandmother’s house, the trees would come alive.  You get used to the sound, you take it for granted, but once you’ve gone without for years, you really hear it again and it’s like a symphony.  Give me a screened porch, a cold drink, a hot day, and tree frogs at dusk, and I am a happy girl.

And now we are wrapping up our sojourn in GERMANY.   Time has flown way too quickly.  There is no sense in listing out our recent travels here–you’ve seen many of them posted in this blogspace, and it will take me the next year or more to continue catching you up on the places, people, language struggles, and food (and how!), but I’ll do my best.

If these posts won’t have that magical ability to slip, pop, or leap out from a scrapbook at me in my dotage, reminding me of continents I traveled and tales I told, they do have another astonishing talent–sharing my thoughts and travels far and wide with friends I rarely see, and even some new friends I’ve never met.  It’s like telling tales around a campfire that is surrounded with so many people–some out on the dark edges, beyond the glow, beyond my ability to know who is even out there.

This is the place where any self-respecting postcard would say “Wish You Were Here!” but it feels to me like you are.

Thanks for reading, and, if it’s not too much to ask, how about raising a glass for my husband and me– to another 24 years of adventures, big and small.

Cheers!

The Old Man and the Sea

July 2015,  Prague, Czech Republic

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This is one of those moments that gets under your skin, one of those moments that you wonder about long after the moment has passed.

We woke up early one day in Prague–planning to walk the town, and especially the Charles Bridge area, before the rest of the tourists woke up and the crowds gathered.  It was a good plan.  Prague is a fantastic city, but the summertime throng of tourists (added to the 100 degree heat of this particular week) is oppressive.  DSC_0085

So we started early, in order to have views like this:

We very nearly had the bridge and the streets to ourselves.  We meandered, took photos, and drank coffee.

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The sky was hazy in an early-morning way, and, while our spirits were high, our brains were just peeking out of their foggy morning stupors too.  We were in a quiet, subdued sort of morning state when we turned to make our way back over the Vltava River.

We walked slowly, sipping our coffee, and looked up to see this:

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A beautiful view of the Charles Bridge, with our rower in the mid ground.

I snapped a photo and sipped more coffee.  As I walked along, I kept a lookout over my left shoulder to watch the rower’s progress.

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Once he was close to me, I realized that this was a very elderly man, rowing his solitary boat down the long river ever so slowly.  He was dressed for more than that slight chill of the morning, in a heavy jacket and old camouflage pants, and he sat with his back to his travel bag and crutch in a rustic wooden boat.

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Where was he going, this elderly man who walked with a crutch and a heavy bag?  Was he rowing across town because it was easier than walking?  Was he making a longer journey, across towns or across borders, with just his arms and the current to propel him?  This man was a story that I’d never have the chance to read to its end–and that made me a little sad.  But I quietly cheered him on as he passed– he was the old man and the sea, full of determination and greatness, bowing neither to age nor circumstance.

When you look at a map of the Czech Republic, you will see a land locked country.  I used to see the same.  No more.  To me, the old man and the sea will always be an integral part of the city of Prague.

Had We But World Enough, And Time

Our power must have gone off yesterday.  The two electric clocks we have in the house were inexplicably set to zero in the afternoon.  And that got me to thinking about time.  Well, that and the shock that June is almost upon us (where did April and May go?).  And the real live cuckoo bird who is nesting somewhere in the neighborhood and sounding for all of the world like my clock, but “going off” at random times.  And the son who appears to grow by inches on any given night.  And the beloved dog and best friend who passed away last week.

Time engulfs us and confounds us. We decorate our towers and homes with it, wear it on our wrists, celebrate its high holy days, and mourn its passing.  Time heals all wounds, but steals all souls.  And if we respect it and appreciate all the fine gifts the years bring us, we still fear it.  We don’t understand it at all.

So, today, I offer a few photos and let time speak for itself.

Giant Cuckoo Clock on the Rhine River in Germany--looking out on new shops and very old castles.
Giant Cuckoo Clock on the Rhine River in Germany–looking out on new shops and very old castles.

 

Victoria Clock Tower, which stood by our house in Ripon, England
Victoria Clock Tower, which stood by our house in Ripon, England. On a personal level, a very special reminder of 4 great years in our lives.

 

 

The fabulous Corpus Clock in Cambridge, England--revealing less of itself in the gleaming sun and more of a reflection of King's College.
The fabulous Corpus Clock in Cambridge, England–revealing less of itself in the gleaming sun and more of a reflection of King’s College…because, after all, time is a canvas for the things of life.

 

 

Sienna, Italy
Siena, Italy–Town Hall and Clock Tower standing tall over the historic piazza.

 

South Gate Clock, Chester, England
South Gate Clock, Chester, England– is it a coincidence that clocks so often mark thresholds like this?

 

An 1820 Longcase clock from Leyburn, England stands sentry at our door.
An 1820 Longcase clock from Leyburn, England stands sentry at our door.
The Best Friend we loved and lost
The Best Friend we loved and lost. At 15 years old, she had lived a long dog life . . . but not nearly long enough for those who loved her.

 

The past came alive at a history fair at Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire
The past came alive at a history fair at Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire. And why is it that little boys always want to grow up to be soldiers?

 

Having fun with the past at Tweetsie Railroad in NC many years ago.
Having fun with the past at Tweetsie Railroad in NC many years ago.

 

And so, time marches on. . .

They are young one day, and all grown up the next.
They are young one day, and all grown up the next.

*”Had we but world enough, and time” is the first line of Andrew Marvel’s poem “To His Coy Mistress”