Throwback Thursday: Van Gogh

Café Terrace at Night

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Left: Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night (on Place du Forum)  Arles, 1888

Right:  Same spot,  ‘Le Café La Nuit’ on Place du Forum in daylight, Arles, 2016

The spot may be less picturesque on a bright spring morning in 2016, but it’s still vibrant enough to cast its light into the darker streets.  Notice the yellow shirt on the passerby?  In my mind, it’s really a plain white tee that takes the gold cast once he steps within the fabled space of the Café Terrace .  After he strolls on past,  it resumes its ho-hum identity as a plain white tee.  (How could it possibly be otherwise?)

A little Van Gogh magic– it’s powerful stuff.

 

There Is A Small Medium at Large

Whoopi Goldberg as Oda Mae, the psychic, in the movie Ghost.
Whoopi Goldberg as Oda Mae, the psychic medium, in the movie Ghost.

Well, my traveling friends, it’s true: there is a small medium at large.  You know how, when you travel, you are met with  new and unexpected experiences?  That’s the draw of it, right?  This is also true when you move to a new region–there are sure to be interesting developments, to be moments of “Oh, wow,  that’s never happened to me before.”

Any number of moments, really.   But here is one for your consideration.

The red stone house in Germany
The red stone house in Germany

As you know, we’ve just moved back to the States from Germany.  And if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I was sorely disappointed that the very old stone house we lived in there wasn’t haunted, even though we had enough ghost stories under our belts already.  Anyhoo, as we packed up to bid Germany goodbye and we planned our new life in Florida, we gave up any hope of supernatural tales.  In fact, in our last weeks, we were told that the old German house used to be called Villa Sunshine by the locals.  Not much spooky there.

So off to sunny Florida, where sangria and surf are the norm and atmospheric tales stay at bay.

Then again . . . we hadn’t even gotten to Florida before a Floridian friend was in contact and, on hearing where we would be renting our house, said “Hey, that’s the neighborhood with the psychic, isn’t it?”  zoltarfull02

Was it?  We didn’t know.  Honestly, we didn’t care.   But weeks later, as we moved into the new digs, we found ourselves on the lookout.  Any odd-birds in the neighborhood?  Anyone walking around in a turban, looking like Zoltar the fortune teller?

Our curiosity was peaked, but we had no idea what we might be looking for.  There were no “Sister Rosa, Palm Reader” signs in front yards–the Home Owner’s Association would have frowned on that.  There were no Gypsy caravans parked in driveways.  So we were on the lookout for any eccentrics that we might pin the role on, but we were coming up with nothing.  Which just made us more curious.

I don’t have any experience with psychic mediums.  My only reference points are examples like the Zoltar fortune teller machine and Whoopi Goldberg’s character in the movie Ghost.  (A character whose narrative arc is pretty interesting:  she starts out as a charlatan and ends up being more sage than she ever knew she could be.)  If you don’t remember her, here’s a small clip for you:

 

Yeah, generally speaking, I guess the idea of a psychic makes me giggle.  At worst, this person would be a con man–  ready to prey on folks who are looking for reassurance or struggling through grief.  But then again, there are some people who are intuitive, you know?   And so many of us have stories that defy logical explanations, so maybe . . . just maybe. . .

Bottom line:  I’m a skeptic, but not foolish enough to say it isn’t possible.

So my husband and I continued our neighborhood watch– it was our project to figure out where this eccentric might live.  We embraced the challenge a little too happily:  we watched the neighborhood and the neighbors, we commented on odd decor and strange choices of head-gear, we sat in judgment of peculiarities or individual flights of fancy.

Little did we know. . .

Honestly, here’s exactly where I should have seen the plot twist coming– I’m an English and Religious Studies major, after all, and this is the age old tale.  When you’re looking for the trouble out there–the fault in your neighbor– well, you’re looking in the wrong place.  More often than not, the fault is your own.

So guess where this psychic lived?  Yep.  Oh, yep.

Turns out, we’d moved into the house.

*  * *

I’ll give up no information on this person– who by all accounts from neighbors, and our own dealings, is fantastic.  In fact, this makes me want to be more open to the idea of a . . . psychic?  I don’t even really know what that is.  I have this hodgepodge of terms in my head– psychic, clairvoyant, medium, spiritualist, etc.– and I don’t really know what they mean, or how they’d be distinguished one from the other.   Really, all this situation has taught me is that I know nothing and should probably keep my mouth shut.   We’ll see how well that lesson takes . . .

But in the meantime, I’m left with this:  as much as I’m a skeptic in my head, my heart seems to be a total buy in– and it’s causing me some real trouble.

A couple of weeks ago, our landlord dropped by the house with an extra set of  keys that we needed.   I answered the door, was welcoming and polite, as usual, and then suddenly froze  as I was shaking this person’s hand.  I had the thought, “What if _____ can sense my thoughts?  What if they know I know?  That I think being a psychic is strange?”  Of course, these thoughts were followed by a barrage of “Stop thinking.  Seriously.  Right now–stop.  Oh, I can’t control my thoughts!!!”    And, intuitive or not, anyone would have gotten some strange vibes from me then.  I’m pretty sure my entire facial expression went to the deer caught in the headlights pose for a minute or more, and I was pretty much a jabbering idiot.  So again, lesson to the arrogant:  judge not lest ye be judged.   Which is not fun.

And this week the same problem arose.  This time, our air conditioning started limping (freon leak), and we had to call the landlord.  My husband tried to hand me the phone to make the call– I’d noticed the problem and would generally have made the call myself.  But I was not feeling it.  It had been a stressful day –unpacking boxes, sifting through breakage, and muttering obscenities all day– and I just wasn’t ready to call up a mind reading spiritualist.   I had to, shame-faced, take my husband out of earshot of the kids and say, “You really have to make this call, because I think that maybe I DO believe in psychics, and I think that a psychic would pick up on a whole lot of bad juju and general craziness in me right now, and I’m not feeling like being evicted from my house today just because I happen to suffer from this-is-what-it’s-like-inside-my-wierd-head-syndrome.”

God bless my husband.  He asked no further questions and just made the phone call.

I did, however, have to speak to our small medium at large a couple of days later to confirm that the air conditioning repair man had been by.  I think that conversation went well.  Granted, I was manically chipper sounding.  Possibly one toe over the crazy-line of chipper. (I had to talk fast before the “can’t-  control- my- thoughts–you’re a pyschic!” stuff crept in.)  But it is what it is.

Any psychic worth their salt would understand the issue and forgive me.

I think it could be a real burden being a psychic and dealing with all us crazy humans.  Hopefully the voices from the other side are much more sensible.

 

Cool Cats of Provence

So you think you’re a hepcat?  You can’t touch the cool of these guys in Provence.

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They own the town.   You will be tolerated. . .or possibly ignored altogether.

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We tried to talk to this guy (loved his beautiful racoon tail!), but he could care less about befriending us.  (He was French, he was a cat, we were clearly below him.)

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And we fared no better with his neighbor:

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I am a cat, not a doorstop.

But we did run across a few cats who weren’t too cool to have a little fun:

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These guys were playing peek a boo.

A few more of my favorite cool cats in Provence:

PicMonk cool cats prov

 

Who wouldn’t want to be a cat in France?

cool cat - Copy

 

 

Oh, My Aching Back

July 20, 2016

I woke up this morning in my new house.  I’ve been here about two weeks and been living out of a suitcase for over a month now.  Often as not, I’ve been sleeping on a blow up bed on the floor.  DSC_0260 - Copy

This is part of the move madness that holds you in its grip when you stage a move from overseas—it’s a protracted madness, because when you move an entire household of furniture over the ocean, you move it on a slow boat.

So I woke up for the umpteenth day on the floor, and I had to use considerable effort to haul myself upright. I’ve developed  a wicked catch in my side that Advil only dulls.  I didn’t have that problem two weeks ago, so I think there is some cumulative wear and tear that this sort of living takes on you.

Then again, I wasn’t 50 a few weeks ago.

Glasses and graying hair-- it's no joke.
Glasses and graying hair– it’s no joke.

Over the hill jokes aside,  I’m holding my own pretty well.  My knees and ankles do click, and reading glasses, which are the bane of my existence, are paradoxically also my most valued possession at present.

Still, I have no real complaints.  All in all, I’m feeling pretty youthful. .  . and just a tad immature.

However, there has been another disturbing development.  That new house I’m waking up in?  It’s in a retirement community. (!!??!!)  Believe me,  I didn’t know this when we signed the contract.  Had no idea.  It’s just a slightly cruel twist of fate.

There are other families in this neighborhood, and some of them young, but the majority of my neighbors are retired.  (Well, this is Florida.)

Before we signed a contract on this house,  I Googled the general area.  All the intel came back positive.  After we signed the contract, I had more time to do the peripheral research– figure out exactly what our corner of the neighborhood was all about.  I started by looking deeper into the neighborhood clubhouse and the many photos of it posted online–just hoping to get a better idea of any activities that might be going on, or a general vibe to the community.  That’s when I began to have a creeping suspicion.

There was a New Year’s Eve party at the clubhouse last year.  Photos were posted.  I thought to myself, this is sure to reveal some neighborhood secrets! And, for sure, it was revelatory.  By the looks of it, the party was attended by only the over 70 crowd.  Still, this wasn’t shocking, because most people have other places to go on New Years. (This is what I told myself.)

Then I looked at the photos from Mardi Gras.  The same senior (but somewhat randy) crowd,  all wearing purple and gold.  It seemed a little suspect.  I Googled the demographics, and suspicions were confirmed: the average age here is over 66.  I wrung my hands and reminded myself, “This is Florida—demographics will be skewed.”

Then we rolled into town last week and were happy to find that there are a few other families around.  Haven’t seen a lot of other teens yet, but hopefully they are here.  The good news about living in an older community is that the community pool isn’t over-run (I think that’s good; not sure my kids agree), and the homeowner’s association cuts your grass for you (that is worth the clicking knees any day!).  But, I confirmed with a friend in town, this area is considered a retiree community on our side of town.  *Sigh*

I won’t lie to you—there is a little sting to turning 50 and immediately moving into a retiree-rich community.  There is a wicked, biting humor to it.

But I do love my neighbors– they are all friendly and eager to greet you with a bottle of wine and a smile.  Also, I have a small beach and quiet pool down the block, and a grounds crew who cut the grass, so I think I can live with it.   I’m just praying that my children don’t draw too many scolding looks for the tremendous noise they sometimes create . . . and that I never have to fend off a pass from the 85 year old crowd.  There are not enough Geritol vitamins in the world to make that okay.

You know, I think I’ll avoid the Mardi Gras party at the clubhouse next year.

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.

The-Wind-in-the-Willows
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.