Archive for the ‘The World’ Category

There is a field

May 26, 2014


(c)Famiglietti 2014

Out beyond ideas

of wrongdoing and rightdoing

there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.

–Rumi, 13th Century 

I’m the question mark with a bag over my face. The ashes I’d rubbed all over my body were too dramatic compared to other question marks in this field. The woman from India sits on a sunny rock, wrinkled face exposed, gnarled hands relaxing at last. She killed her infant daughter “to spare her the miserable life I live.” Here, she finds acceptance if not understanding. The price of admission to this field is not understanding.

My friend Deanna sits beside the Indian woman and hugs her gently. Deanna’s wrongdoing was stealing $10 from a humane society donation jar. She stole the money to buy a tube of Preparation H. Her hemorrhoids were excruciatingly painful, and she was flat broke with no health insurance. Yet, those stray dogs would be euthanized if the jar did not fill quickly.

A man I once worked with has his pockets turned inside out to show he is still broke. He confessed his homosexuality to a small group of senior managers at the Christian charity where we worked. His brothers in Christ fired him within the hour. I don’t see them here. I don’t see abortion clinic bombers or FOX News. In fact, I don’t see anyone who makes my skin crawl.

The prostitute from Uganda approaches Deanna and the Indian woman, a tiny smile twitching at the corners of her mouth. She prays to God every day of her life and blesses the food she feeds to her children. The only way she can earn that food is to sell her body. Her children survive; her spirit shrivels. The Indian woman looks her in the eye and invites her to sit on the sunny rock.

I linger in the shadows, hugging excuses. Is this the place where I can leave them?

I won’t tell you my question marks. I won’t ask yours. Just know there is a field where some walk into the light naked in their truths. Many are here in the shadows with me, gathering courage.

This post is dedicated to my life-long best friend Deanna who died several years ago leaving a large hole in my heart.

Thanks to Nicolo Famiglietti, Ph.D. for providing the beautiful photo. You can see more of his work on his web sites:



Little Stars in the City of Light

December 16, 2013


cancan pix

“Paris is always a good idea” — Audrey Hepburn

In the midst of our heated debate between Switzerland and Italy, my sister offered “Paris” like a peace treaty, and that ended the controversy. We made of a list of things to do besides buy scarves and visit the Mona Lisa and booked a boutique hotel in the Latin Quarter. We learned to decipher a Metro map (with a magnifying glass) along with the rewards and the limits of lists.

Parapluies Simon (Umbrellas Simon), 56 Boulevard St. Michel, was not on our list. We happened upon the shop on arrival day during our jet-lagged stumble to Luxembourg Gardens, which was on the list. This boutique with its ceiling vaulted like an open umbrella has been keeping Parisians chic and dry since 1897. Devoted to keeping the umbrella a fashion statement instead of a boring necessity, Parapluies Simon offers approximately 3,000 umbrellas for every mood and fashion. From frilly parasols to stately gray umbrellas with ivory handles that could take on a monsoon, the shop gave us even more respect for the capitol city of style. The shop also offers umbrella repair services. “Only in Paris,” we sighed, “would one own an umbrella worth repairing.”

Luxembourg Gardens
We eventually wilted into chairs in Luxembourg Gardens and watched children sail rented toy boats in the central fountain. The Gardens were created by Marie de Medicis in the 1600s to surround the Palais du Luxembourg she had constructed to replicate her childhood home: Florence’s Palazzo Pitti. The Palais now houses the French Senate, but the gardens are open to the public and free. On Sundays an orchestra plays in the bandstand, children ride ponies, and even adults sail toy boats. The park has many strolling paths and hundreds of moveable chairs. We read for awhile beside the fountain before exploring. Two delightful finds were a miniature bronze Statue of Liberty and the Medici fountain tucked into a shady glade. Although it was early fall, flowers bloomed in formal gardens validating writer Henry van Dyke’s observation: “Paris is a woman’s town with flowers in her hair.”

Moulin Rouge and more
The Moulin Rouge was not on our list, but a friend from Geneva who met us in Paris wanted to go. He wanted to go so badly he bought new glasses for the occasion and asked wistfully if we could go twice. No. Like the gondola ride in Venice, the Moulin Rouge is something to do. Once. It is a melting pot of tour groups, and the dress code is “whatever.” The meal was three ho-hum courses, the champagne was high quality, and the show was a tasteful, topless, two-hour extravaganza. The only disturbing act was an underwater swim by a topless woman and several bored-looking boa constrictors. In addition to dancers in sparkling costumes gyrating in flashing, blinking lights, acrobats defied gravity and a ventriloquist defied physics. The Moulin Rouge has been drawing crowds since 1889 when the cancan was decidedly naughty.

The best thing about the Moulin Rouge was that it inspired a keen interest in the bohemian Montmartre district. Here is where the cancan was born and the first cabaret, Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat), opened in 1881. The cabaret is now a boutique hotel, but the district retains much of its bohemian ambience.

Posters and paintings of the Black Cat abound at the Museum of Montmartre, 12 rue Cortot. This charming 300-year-old house contains paintings, photographs, and posters that illustrate the bohemian history of the neighborhood. “Le Moulin Rouge” by Toulouse-Lautrec and the “Theatre d’Ombres” by Henri Riviere are two of its most important works. Renoir’s studio was here, and the gardens were recreated using his paintings as a guide. You can sit on a swing swaying in the exact location of his painting “Girl on a Swing” now hanging in Paris’ Orsay Museum. The painting was ill-received when he completed it in 1876 and probably never will be put up for auction. Two of Renoir’s paintings have sold for more than US$70 million, and the Orsay knows how to hang on to its treasures.

From the garden, you can see a vineyard that has existed since the Middle Ages and was replanted in 1933. According to the New York Times, the vineyard is reputed to make the most expensive bad wine in Paris. We decided not to sample the wine, but the view is stunning.

Le Petit Prince
We saved the most poignant attraction on our list for our last day. The official Le Petit Prince store, 57, Boulevard Arago, is in a quiet Parisian neighborhood. No grand marquee announces its location, and we walked by it once expecting bright lights and helium balloons. But the shop is as modest as the Little Prince and, like his asteroid, has just what we needed: silk scarves made in France, baby clothes, note cards and post cards, little cups and plates, mugs, fuzzy foxes and sheep, and the Prince’s proud rose with four thorns.

We wondered, perhaps for the first time since we were children, if the sheep ate the Prince’s cherished rose. After all these decades it remains an important question — as important as sunsets are to the Little Prince. What do we tell the grandchildren after we read them the book and give them each a fuzzy sheep? We will tell them that the sheep did not eat the rose, because children who read the book draw what the pilot forgot to draw: a strap for the sheep’s muzzle. If you missed the book by Saint-Exupery, it was published in 1943 and is the most read and most translated book in the French language. Our mother was reading it to us before we could toddle.

Legendary sandwich
Lunch in the Marais District was a leap from fantasy fiction to fantastic food. Sacha Finkelstein’s, 27 rue des Rosiers, is a family-owned kosher deli and bakery serving the community since 1946. At some point it caught on with the international community. And no wonder. Its signature sandwich with pastrami, eggplant, pickles, and tomatoes is served on a poppy seed and onion bun. We were too full for dessert, but we could not leave the cheesecake for another day. We carried two servings back to our hotel. Don’t tell Mom, but we spoiled our dinner with satin-smooth, lemon cheesecake and were whimpering for more.

French fries in France
That night, instead of fine dining, we strolled around the Latin Quarter. Shakespeare and Company Book Store, 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, was a special treat with its maze of rooms and selection of books both current and rare. That first edition of Babar the fictional elephant was hard to pass up. Hunger struck with a surprising twist. “I want to eat French fries in France,” my sister said. We bought French fries at a gyros shop and carried our snacks to a park bench facing the Seine. Notre Dame gleamed under flood lights and the moon rose as we finished our fries and agreed with Hepburn that Paris is always a good idea.

Originally published in LuxuryWeb Magazine December 2013

Punta Cana bait and switch

July 7, 2013

We selected Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, for our three-generation, all-inclusive beach week, because we thought the youngest generation should have a day of culture and history sandwiched between pool and beach. Santo Domingo is just a three hour drive from the resorts that define Punta Cana. Yes, Columbus slept in Santo Domingo and might be buried there, although Spain argues against that sacrilege.

Where we slept was an important consideration that needed to be balanced by budget. Our “garden view” room at NOW Larimar was in an unspecified location, but as the farthest building looked close enough on the map, we figured we could deal with any “garden view” room. As the van from the airport drove past an outlying hotel building and then on and on to the reception pavilion, my mind ceased its inner soothing tropical music and snarled “bait and switch.”

Yes, we were assigned to what we came to call “the projects.” Despite free golf cart rides to the beach, we knew we had to take the upgrade offer. Our “preferred” room was, literally, steps to the private pool with swim up bar for “preferred” guests, and our balcony had a fine view of the sea. We could enjoy the sea view in a Jacuzzi tub on our porch while other guests, “preferred” one would hope, sauntered by perhaps wondering why we were taking baths in bathing suits.

Rose petals scattered on the beds was an over the top romantic touch for a grandmother, mother, and grandson, but appreciated. Our maid tried to do something artistic with my nightgown, a leftover from Greece. It looked like a melted plastic peony and reminded me I was long overdue for a trip to Paris to buy fetching lingerie–to impress the maids, of course. At my age, the most divine lingerie would not look fetching off the hanger.

The pool, beach, room, and service were exquisite, making for a near perfect beach week that went way over budget. The food was lamentable, but dieting is a virtue and we managed to be virtuous in the buffet line and in the specialty restaurants. But, really, shouldn’t they advertise “food sucks here” so guests can plan for a weight loss week and feel virtuous in advance?

The day trip to Santo Domingo will be covered in a later post. All parents and grandparents should dutifully take the kids there — and warn them in advance so they won’t scream “bait and switch” when you drag them off the beach

Greece — off the Grid

September 24, 2011

Vacation planning should be completed months before the journey. Thus, my friend Susan and I agreed that we would not complain when our last-minute plans to visit one or more Greek islands went awry. How bad could it be? The entire country is historic. Being in the euro-zone, our credit and ATM cards would open doors to all amenities.

We were locked into the last week of August, because Susan was extending a business trip. I told her it was not auspicious that my frequent flier program had many openings for Athens that week. As far as accommodations, anything remotely affordable was booked for every island we had ever heard of. Forget Santorini, Rhodes, Crete, and any island that merited at least a page in the guide book. Boldly, we selected an island glossed in one paragraph: Ikaria, site of Icarus’s burial. Was the Greek god’s flaming finale a metaphor for our tardy planning? Every hotel and guest house had ample room. Why didn’t anyone else want to go to Ikaria? “They booked early,” we groaned, “and are joining the beautiful people on Santorini.”

Missing in Athens

Susan and I agreed to meet in theAthens’ airport boarding area for our 40-minute flight to Ikaria. With just one flight a day, we were fortunate to obtain the last two tickets. I decided to surprise her and meet her earlier. She must be dawdling, I thought, so I moved from the baggage claim area to a café where I would be sure to see her walking down the concourse. She must be shopping, I thought, so I moved to the departures gate. The plane took off without Susan, and I strained to recall how we were supposed to get from the airport to our hotel. She had said something about a bus.

The airport, open a few hours for the daily flight, is a barn with a luggage belt. I could have carried all the luggage from plane to belt in the time it took luggage to arrive for forty passengers. In that time, I ascertained there was no bus. As Susan had the phrase book, I searched for an English speaker. The car rental man found a taxi driver who was willing to take me to the village of Armenistis  for “just” 70 euros. “Sixty,” I sputtered feeling as fleeced as the sheep on the surrounding, barren hills. The setting was Biblical; my mood was not.

Wild ride to the Aegean Sea

After a hundred or so hairpin turns on gravel, mountain roads, I realized that 60 euros was a deal. Every village of four or more houses has a tire repair shop. Approaching Armenistis, the only clue I had to our hotel was a photo on the website. And there it was, Atschas Livadi Beach Hotel. Our room, clean and simple, was forty feet above crashing waves. We had read about the deadly surf, but we were there for wading. It was difficult to leave my balcony view of the turbulent ocean to stroll twenty feet to the restaurant.

The hotel’s terrace restaurant has a similar ocean view. John (pronounced I-o-an-nis) who grew up on the island is prepared to cook to order from 6 a.m. until midnight.  The moussaka was splendid, and I learned to pay 2 euros extra for tzatziki to slather on bread. This is the cucumber sauce used on gyros.  John’s recipes, handed down through the generations, take full advantage of Ikaria’s bounty. He uses produce from his farm, locally made cheese, locally baked bread, and locally slaughtered goat. For 10 euros, I feasted above the salty sea spray. Fortunately, I was too full for dessert, for John does not serve dessert. He offers melon for what he calls a “finish.”

Arrival of an adventuress

In bed, I had a passing thought about Susan, but was too quickly in the arms of Morphes to fret. I woke about 4 a.m. surfing on the sound of waves and feeling more relaxed than I had in years. I woke again at noon and ambled to the terrace for my morning coffee. Susan appeared looking refreshed and unencumbered. A delayed flight out of O’Hare put her in Athens 30 minutes after the plane to Ikaria departed. Being in an island mood, she flew to another obscure island,Samos, had a lovely fish dinner and no problems finding an inexpensive, clean room. She enjoyed a four-hour ferry ride from Samos and caught a bus to the hotel.

She ordered white beans with a spicy tomato and vegetable sauce and laughed about her luggage, somewhere between Chicago, Newark, Munich, Athens, and Ikaria. She had her bathing suit in her backpack and I loaned her a tee-shirt.

We were on the beach by 1 p.m., just a forty steps down from our room. For 5 euros a day, we could rent two beach chairs and a thatched umbrella. A beach bar offered cold drinks and snacks. The weather was perfect for swimming, or in our case, wading, and we did not see a cloud. We were happy that the beautiful people were on Santorini, whose beaches were undoubtedly more crowded and with bodies that would make us feel we should jog instead of eat, read, and yawn.

Back to basics

That evening our conversation drifted regrettably to finances. John told us that the closest town had two ATMs. One was broken and the other was out of money. Therefore, we should go when the bank was open. The hotel does not accept credit cards. For 40 euros a night for both of us, we were not inclined to complain. It was a 20 euro taxi ride to the bank. One way. Susan was short on euros, but I had enough for us both if we adhered to our main objectives: sunbathe, wade, read, eat. We had a little refrigerator in our room, so we decided to dine on the terrace only for morning coffee and our evening meal.

The next day, a kindly taxi driver delivered her suitcase for no charge. We hiked ten minutes to a micro-mini mart for crackers, cheese, olives, yogurt, Nutella, and peaches. Two days later we hiked twenty minutes in the opposite direction to the picturesque village of Armenistis for similar provisions and postcards. We learned that Nutella and yogurt make a fine breakfast, and that there is something delightfully Grecian about eating cheese, olives, and peaches on a beach Homer would have immortalized in verse.

We could have hired a car for 50 euros a day and seen Ikaria’s other attractions: ruins of ancient baths, radioactive mineral springs, a castle, an archeological museum, more idyllic beaches and flat tires. Another option would be to spend a few nights in a remote cottage owned by the hotel. It was just an hour and a half hike, John explained and required a guide. He looked us over. “Make that a three-hour hike.”

We settled for doing what we had come to Ikaria to do: relax. We agreed that we have never relaxed so completely. Perhaps the relaxation factor contributes to the Ikarian’s unusually long life-span. Ikaria is one of the world’s few “blue zones” according to New York Times best-selling author Dan Buettner. He discovered that Ikaria has the highest percentage of 90-year-olds on the planet – nearly 1 out of 3 Ikarians live to their 90s. They have 20 percent less cancer, 50 percent less heart disease, and almost no dementia.

Ferry to Athens

After six cloudless days and more than ten books crossed off our reading list, our luck ran out on the ferry. Our only option for returning to Athens were deck seats on a six-hour evening sail. While Susan struggled with mal de mer on a cold and windy deck, I passed through the passenger lounge with longing. Carpeting, comfortable seats, a lovely lounge – all for people who planned ahead. Despite the gift shop and other amenities of a hotel, the ferry had no Dramamine. Susan turned greener. We arrived in Athens after midnight and, no, the hotel was not within walking distance as advertised. The taxi line was shorter than we had feared, and we were soon settled in the ancient city with a real tourist agenda.

“I want to see the Acropolis,” Susan said, “but I’d skip it for another day on Livadi Beach.”

Amused at first at her cultural blasphemy, I realized I agreed. After Ikaria,Greece will always be a beach surrounded by mythic cliffs and majestic waves.


April 27, 2010


I do not think babies should be banned from planes like some cranky fliers have suggested. On short flights, I am extremely tolerant of screaming infants, recalling my own domestic flights with babies. It’s the eight-plus hour overnight flights with screaming infants that make me grateful for earplugs and the diminished hearing that comes with age. Unfortunately, my hearing seems to have become more acute in the range of baby screams.

I sympathize with parents of babies on planes, and I try my best to be reseated. I trust that the parents have done all they can to minimize the child’s trauma and that humanity can accept the fact that babies cry, sometimes for ten hours within three feet of trapped adults. If humanity can accept it, so must I.

All I ask is a dose of realism. One totally self-obsessed mom of the cutest little baby this side of the angels wrote to a major paper with her solution to her screaming baby on overnight flights. “I just dress her in her most adorable outfit, and she is just so cute nobody minds.”

Honey Pie, we mind. We want to shove that adorable little outfit down her precious little throat. After five hours, if it were not for the drink cart, we would be begging the pilot to put the kid in the luggage bay.

Collateral Damage

March 29, 2010


(written ten years ago, but it still haunts me — particularly in the Easter Season)

This is not a good story. No happy ending, no epiphanies such as, “At he died in his sleep” or “At least she didn’t get pregnant” It is a story impossible to comprehend unless you shoot your neighbor and his wife tonight because yesterday he raped your daughter.

I went to Croatia on a “happy ending” writing assignment for an international charity. The war between Serbia and Croatia had been over for three years. Now Serbia was attacking Kosovo, NATO was retaliating, and CNN was cramming a thousand-year history of Balkan hatreds into sound bytes. The charity thought an upbeat healing-of-the-war-wounds story from Croatia would add a dollop of hope to the Balkans’ current carnage. In the small, local office of the charity, Serbs and Croats — recent foes, worked in the same room for a common, humanitarian cause. Surely they would share inspiring stories of forgiveness and tell me how brotherhood was healing their pain.

A fellow American, Liam, had worked in Croatia since the Dayton Accords were signed. Tight-lipped, but kind, he met me at the train station in Osijek.” They won’t want to talk about it,” he said. “I told your boss this was a bad idea, but he said that people trust you, open up to you.”

I nodded. I had managed sticky situations before. My method was to establish trust, then listen. But Liam did not have much to say, just that he was taking me to Vukovar, site of the worst carnage. During the short drive through the country, he told me about Nikola, the director of the local charity. “He was head of the hospital here during the war,” Liam said. “He had to evacuate patients. He could put them on neutral-country boats going down the Danube or on busses to Croatia’s interior. He thought busses would be safer because there was a lot of shelling along the river.” Liam braked so a cow could meander across the road. “Serbs attacked the busses. Killed every patient — children, old people, a woman in labor.”

Vukovar had been Nikola’s hometown, and Liam said I needed to see it before we met him in Osijek for dinner. He stopped beside a city park and helped me out of the car. The air was fresh and sweet with flowers, like a pristine European village with no belching industrial smokestacks. Liam told me to follow him closely. Even after three years, hidden shells were still exploding; ruined homes were mined. We walked on dusty vegetation frothing through sidewalk cracks. Weeds shaded twisted metal and scorched, fallen timbers in the shelled-out city center. Vines dangled from windows and trailed on broken pavements where people once strolled to cafes and shops.

The lone pedestrian was a one-legged man pulling his body down the street with hand hewn crutches, making awkward detours around holes from ordinance that beat his once graceful town to rubble. We followed him around a corner to a market of wooden stalls where survivors bought food and clothing or begged with trembling hands and need mapped on their faces. The market was built on a new stretch of asphalt that covered one of the mass burials.  To buy groceries, townsfolk walked on unmarked graves of murdered friends. Voices were muted. There were no hearty greetings, no smiles or laughter. No church bells tolled. The steeples had fallen along with homes and hospitals, along with soldiers and innocents, along with trade and tradition. Vukovar was war’s last snapshot, a silenced scene muggy with tears falling on flowers strewn around the new marble monument.

A NATO plane roared overhead, delivering bombs to Belgrade, too high to see the monument, the one-legged man, and windows framing shattered glass.   

Liam asked if I had any questions.

  Tears stung my eyes. I shook my head and followed Liam, careful to walk beside him.

He pointed out a bombed out bridge between Croatia and Serbia, skeletal steel fingers jutting out of broken concrete and curling into the Danube. A wide piazza was littered with fallen statues. I forgot to be careful, walked across shot-up granite and around empty pedestals for a closer look at the statue still standing. The bronze hero from an ancient war had lost both arms to a more recent battle. He had a grenade hole through the heart.     

Nikola limped into the restaurant while we were on our second glass of wine. He looked tired, wary, but his handshake was firm and he greeted me graciously. During dinner, his manners were exquisite, but he did not camouflage his concern that I would rip scabs off wounds of everyone I met. “They don’t talk about the war,” he said. “They don’t say who is a Serb and who is a Croat and who did what to whom. They focus on the work.”

He told me that he and his family had lived in the hospital basement for two years while Vukovar was shelled, invaded, destroyed. “I could not leave my patients,” he said.

I did not ask him what he did after the hospital was evacuated. I did not ask him why he was no longer in the medical profession or how he injured his leg. He seemed embarrassed about his limp. After dinner we walked through a weed-choked park. He made sure I stayed on his uninjured side.          

The next morning, Liam took the long way to the office so I could get a closer look at Osijek. Buildings were pocked with machine-gun fire from sidewalk to roof. Cornices and chimneys were broken.  At an outdoor cafe, a waiter with hollow eyes served us steaming cups of latte. The coffee smelled rich and strong. My hand cupped around the coffee. I shut my eyes.  I was drinking coffee at Starbucks. Shells exploded along the Miracle Mile. A CTA bus filled with refugees ignited. The air shook with ghostly screams.

Outside town, bright patches of new, orange roofs quilted the valley, but did not cover holes where houses once stood. Rusting tanks were junked along country roads, guns pointed toward farmhouses, barns, and the skeleton of a greenhouse. Skull and crossbones signs marked mined meadows, all the lush acres of grass and spring flowers. Did girls too young to read have picnics here, sitting their dolls on mossy rocks? The shelling of the heart went on. No matter where I looked, it went on.

“It takes time,” Liam said, “to plaster over bullet holes and build new homes and grieve dismembered children.”

“It takes time,” he said,” to unearth the grace to go on.”

While shattered bones were still mending and mounds of raw earth covered graves, Liam had invited Serbs and Croats to form a board of directors and hire an ethnically mixed staff to serve the poor of Osijek.  The miracle happened. No one slammed a colleague against a wall and screamed,  “Are you the one who shot my brother?” “Are you the one who raped my sister?” One man beat his fist on the metal desk Liam was standing beside, then raised his fist to Liam’s face, opened lips quivering too hard for him to shape a word. He turned and shuffled out of the room. Several people followed him. The others bound their hatreds long enough to listen to what Liam had to say.

Back in town, the office staff greeted me politely, but their faces were strained. I knew questions still lurked among them and would forever. “Are you the one who. . .?Was it your father  . . .? Your brother . . .?” Did they fear that my questions would dredge up questions of their own? 

“Bring back a story,” my boss had directed, “so people will know that what we’re doing in Croatia we can do in Kosovo just as soon as the war is over.”

But “we” did not bridge the hate. Six Croats and four Serbs left the questions unanswered so they could work together to help their country recover. I did not open my notebook to the questions I had prepared. I asked them about the people they were helping, not the people they were grieving. I asked them about their work today and not their war experiences. I did not try to ferret out who were the Serbs and who were the Croats. They all had pain in their eyes and a hesitation in their voices as if the room were bugged and they feared a later interrogation.

Fear was their daily portion, not just a hangover from the war.  The week before, the financial police had given them an hour to shut down, go home, or face arrest for the crime of helping poor Serbian families. They sat at their desks, continued to work. The police came back, drew guns, made threats.  The staff continued to work. An hour later, the police left, perhaps confounded by their audacity. Liam said that if the Ambassador did not intervene soon, the Croatian police would be back with their rage unleashed.

Those brave young men and women hugged me goodbye, invited me to return. I knew I would not be back. I did not get the story I was assigned to write. I am not the type to jerk a mike toward bloody jowls and demand, “How did you feel just now when they pulled your family out of the wreck?” — even when my job was on the line. I saw myself bagging groceries, pushing carts to sport utility vans in a suburban mall.  The asphalt was smooth, store windows were paned with miles of clean, unbroken glass. I wore a bright, orange safety vest. Customers of all races smiled and wished me a good day. Jets flying overhead landed at O’Hare, bellies full of suitcases and overnight mail, not bombs. Gangs came out at night, hiding under cars and slashing ankles with long knives. I would not have to work at night.

On the way to the train station, Liam stopped at an old brick cathedral. Inside, light shone through stained glass, spreading a kaleidoscope of colors across the polished pews. Painted stars sparkled in a wash of blue between the arches soaring five stories overhead. A priest in red vestments straightened the altar cloth, preparing to celebrate Mass alone. This silent, empty, sacred space was walled with frescos: the annunciation, the nativity, the loaves and fishes, the last supper. The church was consecrated to the God both sides summoned for courage, victory, and healing. I knelt at a pew, buried my face in my hands and prayed for peace in the Balkans. Liam sat beside me and whispered a prayer of his own. When I looked up, he motioned for me to follow him. He pointed to a fresco I had not seen, one that faced the altar. It was the only damaged fresco in the cathedral.

Christ rose in faded splendor from the cross — with a machine gun round through his heart.

 I took a photograph of the fresco. I wrote my four-word article on the back of it, “This is the story.”


March 20, 2010


 The Daily WORD is SUWARTA

Suwarta is a Marathi word meaning “good news.” I was reading a report about an unfunded project named Suwarta and wondering where the suwarta is in a slum that has no schools, populated with children who have no shoes and have a high risk of being sold into the sex trade. “No more India today,” I promised myself.

But suwarta sounded as welcome as tomato-basil soup on this snowy day. (Yes, I went to India to get out of snow, but I attract it like people who hate dogs attract canine affection.) I turned on the news, hoping for some suwarta. Ha! Suwarta doesn’t sell soap or Viagra, so the news is the usual grim.

But during one commercial, the corners of my lips twitched upward, and soon I was laughing. It was that bouncy commercial for Jamaica “Come to Jamaica and feel all right.”

My Jamaica memories, despite the work assignment nature (okay, once I spent four days in a resort between a week in the slums of Santo Domingo and a week in the slums of Kingston, because I NEEDED it) are mostly suwarta. So here is the best.

My colleagues Joan, Liz, and I decided the three blocks between a mission hospital and a mission school did not merit a taxi despite the fact we were in a rough part of Kingston. We set off confidently, although Liz clutched her rosary beads and Joan put on her “I’m from the Bronx” face.

Liz rounded a corner and bumped into a Rastafarian so hard she bounced off him. He was nearly seven feet tall, wearing pounds of beads, and his dreadlocks hung to his waist.

JESUS CHRIST, Liz screamed.

The Rasta man looked down at us from what seemed a great height, raised an index finger, and said in a cool, calm voice: “Tell no one thou hast seen I.”

He walked on.

And so did we.


March 3, 2010

The Daily WORD is MOONS

I’m back in Illinois after an endless plane journey and an interesting layover at UAE airport, which is beautiful.  I shopped (duty free) in the Middle East after swearing I’d never spend a cent there.  Security is the strictest I’ve encountered. Although security at Mumbai airport is serious and complete, I was rescreened before entering the boarding area of the Abu D. airport. Hand luggage re-x-rayed, bag searched, body patted down by a woman in a uniform burka (really!) and four men with guns in the boarding area for one plane!  

Back to moons. After my divorce, I told friends I was a half-moon, and that’s how I thought of myself for years. Half of a couple with twice the work.  Eventually, I forgot about that sad metaphor – thanks to full moons over Rome, a full moon over Zimbabwe, a full moon over Nagpur, many full moons over many places including my home earned with twice the work I had expected in my youth to have to do.

I remembered that half moon while sitting on a beach in Mumbai looking at the full moon over that chaotic city. I was with a friend, not a lover. I was somewhere between longing to be home and longing to stay in India and longing for Rome. Having three possible destinations and good friends on three continents, I wondered who was that woman, anyway, who thought of herself as a half moon?

It is not easy being me, but I would not want to be anyone else.  A full moon – a once impossible dream – now shines on my life. I don’t know when the half began to grow or why. I am just enormously grateful for my blessings and my own weird way of understanding what is and what is not a blessing.  But here are two blessings for the day

Last night my granddaughter took the bejeweled notebook and pen I’d brought  from India and began writing with a serious look on her face. OMG, is this sweet, ethereal  child going to have An Interesting Life? (writers have interesting lives, and sometimes that is a good thing)

Last night, I took a real bath in a real bathtub – after six weeks of bucket baths. Wow! My bathroom is small and the décor is somewhere between trailer trash and starter home, but that bath with leftover soap from Italy was elegant!

I’ll get grumpy again, get on my broom again. But today, I am just a full moon.

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