Untitled (Washington, DC … 2017)

December 30, 2017, Washington, DC

It might be more appropriate to call this “multi-titled,” rather than “untitled.”  In my mind, it’s a toss up between “On Thin Ice” and “The Beginning of the Thaw.”  Either title could describe both the photo and the general tenor of D.C. at the moment, but I’m not sure which is most appropriate this week.

Today the government is back up and moving and the weather has finally warmed, so things are looking up.  On the other hand, it’s still the dead of winter and, you know, mercurial D.C. politics are exhausting.  For now, I choose the non-committal and non-partisan “Untitled.”

Still, it’s a great photo.  If you’ve spent any time in D.C., you’ll recognize the spot.  I was standing at the foot of the stairs to the Lincoln Memorial (which is to my back) and looking onto the reflecting pool, with the Washington Monument and the Capitol in the distance.

I don’t recommend venturing out onto the reflecting pool, even after a deep freeze.  Even worse to do it in large numbers. Immediately after I snapped this photo, one knucklehead fell through the ice.  (Not to worry: the pool is shallow.  Still, the cold and humiliation must have stung badly.)  So there you go, the curse of thin ice.

 

 

The Creek Don’t Rise

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Rain fell this morning.

 

I have a buddy named Vic. I haven’t seen him since about 2001, but never mind that– Vic is one of those friendly people that you count your pal despite the decades that may intervene between your visits. I can’t say that I’ve had many occasions to think about Vic in the back and forth of my day to day life, but this week he’s been a constant companion, whispering in my ear every time I look out the windows off the back of my house.

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Vic is from Georgia, down to the very marrow in his bones. He’s prone to phrases like “knee high to a grasshopper,” so when he whispers in your ear it’s a voice that is distinct and immediately recognizable.
One of Vic’s favorite phrases back in the early 90’s was “Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” It was applicable to any situation, and so it rolled off his tongue the way dice roll smoothly, but purposefully, from a gambler’s fingers. And it always seemed to hit its target: truly, our best laid plans are all contingent on factors beyond our control to some degree. So that’s how it punctuated his speech—everything you were doing, might do, or had very nearly clinched had this element of unpredictability to it. Perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be (“Good Lord willing,” it was), or there was always the possibility of unforeseen occurrences or disasters (sometimes the creek rises a little, sometimes the roads become rivers).


In the balance of things the good Lord is willing more often than the creek rises. Thank goodness.
But what does this have to do with me?
My friend Victor has been a chatterbox lately for a very good reason. I’ve just moved into a house that sits by a creek. Not really a creek, but more of a canal-shaped pond, and not so much by the pond as on the pond. It was a bold move on our part.
Two years ago, I wrote a post in this blog called “House Hunting at a Distance, aka Mission Impossible.” The post aired my frustrations with trying to find a house in Germany before we were actually in Germany. This year, we found ourselves faced with mission impossible once again, as we moved from Germany to Florida. But, this time, we chose to accept that mission.
With very little rental housing available for us to consider, and what was there today was snapped up by tomorrow (I kid you not, there was an absolute feeding frenzy around rental houses in this area in early May), we took the dive on one appealing house, despite realizing that it had some pitfalls. Some great selling points, yes, but great pitfalls too. (Do you remember that scene in Harry Potter when Harry is in Ollivander’s Wand Shop? Ollivander notes that Voldemort, whose wand is Harry’s twin, did great things. “Terrible, yes. But great.” This scene absolutely gave me chills. There is a complex, but undeniable truth to that logic. But I digress. . .)   
So now we’ve moved into our beachy bungalow, and I am living with the terrible and the great all wrapped up in one package. Namely, the creek-that-shall-not-be-named, which happens to sit a few feet out my back door.

446bd3e7473c38f5ae19e56ee447e400l-m15xd-w1020_h770_q80It makes for a beautiful view as you sip morning coffee or take your evening tea. It’s really an extraordinary landscape. We’ve only been here a few days, but already we’ve seen herons, turtles, cardinals, and rabbits all cavorting across our back lawn and in the water. In the evening, the sound of frogs is like nothing I’ve ever heard before—not the run of the mill “ribbets,” but like there’s a whole orchestra of croaks and duck-calls and trills. It’s so dark out, you can’t see the vocal rascals, but I go to sleep imagining a virtual “Wind in the Willows” of dapper little frogs in ascots tuning up their instruments.

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And alligators? Well, yes. We’ve asked neighbors about alligators and they do occasionally show up too. It’s not so much a worry as a reality to be aware of.
At least, that was the story two days ago.
Today, they caught a six footer in the next pond down (that’s about eight houses down, to put it in perspective). My doggy won’t be cavorting out back of the house any time soon. . . or any time at all.
I’ve got to admit, the thought of a large alligator on my block is terrifying . . . but also a little invigorating. (There is an echo to Ollivander’s words, “Terrible, yes. But great.”) Maybe awe-inspiring is the phrase I want. For all of the creature-comforts that I like in a neighborhood, I’m glad to know that we haven’t entirely driven the creatures out of their habitat.

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If our red stone castle-house anchored us immediately to our European environs, this bungalow has transported us handily into the heart of Florida. It’s certainly manicured for the Florida golf and baywater crowd, but it’s undeniably wild too. Sip your sangria and tee up your golf ball, and, oh yes, look out for the gators!   
So on the subject of wild Florida, and back to the wisdom of my friend Vic, I’m also feeling the weight of the very literal question, “Will the creek rise?” A question no one can answer definitively. But the neighbors say “No, the creek spills into another pond next to it that lies about three feet lower down.” I’m told that, despite big storms in the past 5 years, there have been no worrisome creek levels. In fact, in my neighbor’s own words, “there just won’t be a problem with the water unless there is something really horrible like a big hurricane.”
So no worries. That never happens in Florida.

     Cue the refrain, people:  Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise. It may be my new mantra.

I should give my friend Vic a call. He’s well schooled in how these things work.  And if Vic doesn’t answer the phone, maybe I should consult our friend Ollivander.

The Rheinland in March: In Like a Lion

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Tuesday morning: the snowy view over the hills around my house.

March has certainly come in like a lion to my corner of Germany.  This past week saw snow showers almost every day.  Each morning we’d wake up to a dusting, or much more (especially in the hills around us), and my kids would cross their fingers as I checked to see if their school would start late.  No such DSC_0798luck for them.

The snow here is beautiful, and the way it sits on the feathery branches of the spruce and fir trees gives this area a fairy tale appearance.  This is the view we dreamed of at Christmas, when the weather was just shy of balmy.  But winter did finally come to us.

After a significant snow on Tuesday, we had a sunny day Wednesday, and, as I walked my dog that afternoon, I was reminded of a quote from Charles Dickens:  “It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” 

So that’s where we stand now.  The last patches of snow have melted in my yard, although I can still see some snowy fields on the surrounding hills.  Next week the forecast promises 50 degrees in the afternoons.

I think the lion has roared his fill and is turning to leave.  I’ll be glad to see March go out like a lamb.

 

Venice: Come Hell or Acqua Alta (Part One)

Acqua Alta = High Water in Venice

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For many years now, Venice and Prague have been on my short list of travel destinations.  A list that was thwarted back in 2008-2009, because of unexpected work obligations.  That was supposed to be the year of Prague, the year of Venice, the year of far flung travel adventures.  But, best laid plans and all that.

So 2015 turned out to be the year of Prague and Venice, and many towns in between.  I wasn’t going to be thwarted this time around: come Hell or high water, my trip to Venice was going to happen.

Well, I’m happy to report that Hell stayed at bay.  High water did, however, make an appearance.

http://www.historic-maps.de/gratis.htm Creative Commons
Old Map of Venice. http://www.historic-maps.de/gratis.htm
Creative Commons

Twice.

Venice is prone to this problem, especially in November and December.  Seasonal winds, high tides, and full moons all play a hand in this, but, you know, the island of Venice is in a lagoon. The original settlers of Venice moved to the marshland from the mainland to get away from the constant threat of marauders.  They knew no one would bother them in the middle of the marsh–no one would make the effort.  Check out the old map above–note that water is not only all around Venice,  but it snakes its way through every “street” of Venice.  In fact, water actually  IS the roadway of Venice.  No cars, just boats.  

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The “streets” of Venice.
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View from St. Mark’s Campanile (bell tower) over the Dogges Palace and out to sea.

 Obviously Venice has flourished and the marauders were kept at bay, but the sea must be built over the top of and constantly drained out.  And when the Acqua Alta comes, raised walkways are put in place and life goes on.

 

 

Pedestrians in single file, walking on "risers" above the flooded walkways.
Pedestrians in single file, walking on “risers” above the flooded walkways.
Cafe tables--plenty of open seats, if you don't mind wet feet!
Cafe tables–plenty of open seats, if you don’t mind wet feet!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Makeshifts waders in Venice acqua alta.
Makeshift waders in Venice’s acqua alta.

Even St. Mark’s Cathedral isn’t spared.  In fact, maybe especially St. Mark’s isn’t spared.  Piazza San Marco is right by the water, so it’s  a first stop for the flood waters.  The water seems to wash in and linger like an old friend  with the locals–and the locals greet it as such.  The tempo of life is not much paused:  merchants continue their sales as best they can, in boots and waders, while tourists whimper and moan, and eventually just get on with it, taking their cue from the locals.  

Any port in a storm? Any dry strip in a flood! Piazza San Marco
Any port in a storm? Any dry strip in a flood! Piazza San Marco
San Marco Cathedral
San Marco Cathedral

 Inside of the Cathedral, the tile floors were beginning to lap with seawater on the morning of our visit.  The flooding wasn’t bad this time, but it’s clearly a frequent enough event.  The beautiful tile floors of the cathedral are far from level–they are wavy like the sea itself.  Whether that’s from years upon years of flood waters spilling through the doors, or from the foundation being built on sinking marshland and bolstered by wooden pilings under the soil I don’t know (every structure in Venice has underlying wooden stakes sunk into the ground/marsh below it to stabilize the building).  I will say that I’ve never seen such a wavy floor before . . . but I was absolutely in awe of it. It seemed nautical, like the city itself–as if the very character of the sea, its rise and fall, its most essential quality, was purposefully captured in tile and stone for Venice’s magnificent cathedral.  It was beautiful.

It was also a reminder of the absolute impossibility of erecting such a massive cathedral in the middle of a marshland . . . and yet, here it is, still standing all these centuries later. Not swallowed by the sea, not sunken in the sludge.   I don’t care what your religious affiliation is (or isn’t)–this is the sort of sight that makes you burst into a Hallelujah chorus.  They must have been brilliant architects, engineers, and laborers to have ever built this place! (Hallelujah!)  They must have been absolute mad men to have ever thought that this was a good idea!  (Hallelujah!)  And we must be very lucky travelers to have the chance to come and see this, knowing that there is just no way it can live forever under these circumstances!  Unless, perhaps, it can.. . because, so far, it has.  (Hallelujah!)  

So there you have it–our first brush with high water in Venice.  First, the water came up to meet us. . .

. . . and then we went down to meet the water.  Or, at least, my husband did. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself–that’s a story for part two of this post.  Maybe next week.*

If you are interested in a short “Wonder List” video on Venice’s Acqua Alta, click here.

*My daughter and I are about to fly off to catch London Fashion Weekend, so there may be radio silence for a while.  But I’ll be back, with photos of London, and a “part two” post about Venice’s Acqua Alta.   Until then,  Ciao!