Thursday, March 09, 2017

2017 Maine * Recurring Revelation * March 9


"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. 
It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."   
~Albert Einstein


Adventure is out there! Even if it's just a tiny one.



I need to figure out where I'm going for the rest of my life. I have no plan, no real goals, I've just been kind of wandering for a bit. I can't totally go far away and do exactly what I would want at this point because of my parents' aging and struggling with illness and my grandchildren are growing and we need to build relationship. 



Something close? In the Caribbean?  Some place from where I can get back to Maine quickly.  When I ask for ideas via social media, many people offer wonderful experiences but 90% of them are vacations at resorts.  I need more in-depth travel.  Getting away from gringos and mixing with the local people.  That’s what I love to do.  I checked a couple places and I really love something with mountains. Puerto Rico has that… And I need something fairly safe.



On the other hand … I just want to go to Europe.



Sudden snow squall forces me to stop driving
Early March in Maine.  Still very much winter with grimy snow banks and chilling temperatures.  I decide to take a day drive, in the sun, up the coast, to clear my mind and open it to stream-of-consciousness ideas.


Brunswick, Maine. Bowdoin College. As I drive northeast along the coast it starts out sunny … then suddenly a huge squall came in.  Snow, sleet, heavy wind.  I arrive in Brunswick and it is ridiculous. So heavy one can barely see the other cars. I pull over to the side of the street, check Weather Channel on my SmartPhone, and it reveals that the storm is moving along exactly in my pre-planned route.  I try to make a logical decision: I might as well turn around and head back south. By the time I looked up again the sky was clearing to a bright cobalt blue.  Still, no sense trying to catch up to and follow that intense squall.

Bowdoin Art Museum


At Bowdoin, I drive around the campus three times before I finally find a parking place. I had become frustrated and was about to give up but thought: “just once more and if I don't find a place I will leave.”  I nearly immediately find a parking spot directly in front of the art museum.  (Why do I forget to send out requests to the Universe?)  I lock the car.  I'm heading in ...



Käthe Kollwitz aquatint
The Bowdoin Art Museum houses a wonderfully eclectic collection of artwork: paintings, etchings, photography, Assyrian sculpture, Falcon mummies, ancient pottery, and African masks. It is an efficient museum, well kept and, on this day at least, with few visitors. The Käthe Kollwitz etchings particularly call my attention.  Ever since I took print making in college, her work has held a powerful fascination for me. The disturbing and melancholy images, rendered in high contrast and deep shadows, which often reflect the tragic historical events that surrounded much of her life, evoke powerful disquieting emotions. [www.bowdoin.edu/art-museum/]



I am reading "Madam X" by Deborah Davis.  It is a study of John Singer Sargent and his rise to artistic fame especially through his relationship and amazing portrait of Amélie Guatreau.  It is a richly woven book with details of the artist’s growth and life and the reputation-destroying scandal caused by the avant garde painting.  It causes me to remember, yet again, that I do yearn to be an ex-pat, or to simply to live elsewhere ... somewhere ...  anywhere else … that is unique for me (but most earnestly in France or Europe).  



My petite adventure of the day, to Brunswick and back, well … it is not truly much of an adventure. Just riding and giving myself a chance to think, without focusing, to allow a stream of consciousness to take over.  It does help me so much.  Later in the afternoon, after more driving, I pull over to read a bit more of the book about John Singer Sargent and Madame X.  

Pine Point
I am at Pine Point, watching the Atlantic waves wash the beach.  The tiny white dots of seagulls are scattered on the sand.  The sky is a pale blue with a dissolving three-quarter moon looking wistfully down upon the water. The ocean is a deep terra-vert tone edged in a ruffle of pale lace as it hits the shore. The tide is out and the exposed earth is a light raw umber with the most fascinating pattern of sky-reflecting rivulets tracing patterns from the higher sand to where they greet the sea below. The sun is beginning to set behind me. It casts a pale light on the dry and faded amber-toned sea grass. Weathered fence posts and linking sea ropes border the beach and the path that leads from the parking lot toward it. I have opted not to go down and run on the shore – although it is a momentary aspiration -- the March wind has picked up force and the temperature has dropped discouragingly.



The insipid existence of my recent days had left me empty and depressed.  I have not truly gained a new process today in trying to make a decision about what to do with my life, nor how to follow any plans I try to make, nor even to start to make them; but I know deep down inside me that something has been decided. It is not easy to take the first steps to move on any such a resolution, but my time does NOT stretch interminably in front of me, my upcoming active years dwindle, so I know it must basically be NOW for action to be taken.  



We each have only One Life. 

Saturday, March 04, 2017

2017 Maine * The Cosmos * March 4

One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; 
the self is more distant than any star. 
~G.K. Chesterton


Minus four degrees whisked by a wind chill for a frigid winter day in Maine.  No nature walk today!  A weak sun occasionally peaks through the grey clouds, but adds none of its distant warmth to this colorless day.  It is Saturday.  I awakened slowly this morning, remaining tucked between my cozy French linen sheets for a while and savoring the comfort.  I take a few moments to be come centered and focus to carry this balance into the conscious existence of the day.  A quick video call from my granddaughter put me in a happy mood for a moment.  Then she hung up .. without warning .. off to do some adventure of the moment. 

She is just six after all.

Still snuggled, I catch up on evening texts from my brother.  He was watching the movie “Arrival” again; a complex sci-fi film where a linguist is basically the savior of Earth and the aliens bring knowledge instead of war.  Texting quickly, we rush off in a discussion of theories of language effects on the brain and multiple language approaches.  “The Sapir Whorf Hypothesis states that the immersion in a foreign language actually rewrites your brain”, he texts,  “ – Linguistic Relativity – as can be done with math as well.” To which I respond that math is, of course, a language.   I share that when I am speaking in a foreign language and my mind hiccoughs over a needed, but momentarily forgotten, word, it automatically seeks a similar-meaning word in the next language (I am tri-lingual).  My brother comments, referring to the Ur-language hypothesis: “Inferring cognitive differences based on linguistic differences can become a circular argument.  Because different languages rely on different cognitive patterns and routes, some less linear than others.  That’s where [the movie] gets the concept of time and relativistic theory, and while it’s highly unreliable at this point, it makes a lot of sense.  Although they made it up for the movie, people are starting to investigate it with weight and import.” 

Yes, these are how our texting conversations often run.

Meanwhile, as I wait for his responses, I am off watching Carl Sagan YouTube videos.  Compilations of “Ten Times Carl Sagan Blew Our Minds”.  Now I’m off on a science and spiritual contemplative hour.  Language, science, spirituality, the cosmos, and Life.

No surprise that I run across Liz Gilbert a bit later in the morning, touting the importance of self-love:

Go outside and look up at the sky, and know that you came from atomic stardust, from worlds that exploded billions of years ago. Look at a tree, and know that you are part of nature's endless story, and remember, as Chief Seattle said, "We know that sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins."

Find that knowing.

I glance around and focus on my paja-toquilla hat (called “Panama” hat) hanging on the wall.  It reminds that I was in Ecuador just a couple weeks ago, but those two and a half weeks seem like months.  Since the abrupt return from my South American trip, I have been occupied mostly with caring for my 90-year old mother (who had contracted pneumonia and was very sick in the hospital – hence my early homecoming).  My older brother had born the weight of most of her care and visits, so I hoped to give him some relief as well.  My father, 90, is also struggling with health issues.   

Between visits, I try to be with my daughters and grandchildren as much as possible, but to small avail.  I am also attempting to organize my present personal life: what I am doing, where I am going, what are my dreams and plans?   

Here am I – as many friends are -- pin-balling amidst contemplation and tasks of the beginning, the middle, and the end of Life.  Such in-my-face thoughts have me swirling in a dense murk.

A cup of coffee and a pale yellow primrose keep me company as I write.  The pale sun fades even more behind the snow-spitting clouds and does not invite me outside into this bleak day.   

Quietly I sit here in my room, alone in the house, and ponder Life and the Cosmos.


~



Tuesday, February 07, 2017

2017 Ecuador * Decision * February 7

"To decide is to make peace within and let the chips fall where they may."
~Lisa Tabak


Cuenca, Ecuador


Special coffee, alone, at Sajsana and time to avoid thinking or doing much. Boredom and depression. Seems like now I'm just biding time to get home. Although home will not be better. Gray days both and cold versus warm.  


After a FaceTime with Mom yesterday and today, I have adjusted various flights and reservations in order to go home this week. I leave Monday and arrive Tuesday afternoon. (My flight is actually five past midnight in Tuesday morning and with layovers it will take the two days). 


Mom is wearing down. Over a week in the hospital now.  Heart and back issues, and pneumonia.  She puts a strong face on when I video-call, but I can tell.  Around her eyes are red-purple and sunken. She's dehydrated, terribly bruised where testing is done, she is not sleeping, eating or drinking fluids much at all.  She doesn't get up except to the bathroom with nurses help and she refuses OT.  My brothers say she is ok and shares that the medical staff considers that she is improving, but my observations and my intuitions convey otherwise.  


I'm going home. A month early, yes … but going. 


Actually once I had arrived here in Ecuador I wasn't excited anyway.  I usually am very eager when I travel.  It is not where I really wanted to be.  I have been here and it is fine, yes .. but if someone is looking for lots of sun and warmth, it is not here in these beautiful mountains. This is a nice, temperate spot, fairly clean and convenient for a  small South American city with wonderful variety .. but .. it is not my spot for now.  


My plans had been firm to visit the Pacific beach at Puerto Lopez for a week, then the my host family (from my teens) in Guayaquil - for what would have been probably my final visit with the mother who is 88 - but that is changed now. I need to get home to my own mother.   I am procrastinating telling my host sister because I know they will try to talk me into a quick visit before I leave. It would be too rushed and complicated. No, gracias, no puedo ya. 


Besides the consideration of my mother’s situation, I am intuiting big changes this coming year.  My grandson growing so fast, my daughter moving out of state, my granddaughter flourishing and in school now, my parents slipping away slowly at 90, and there is a need for me to exam where I am personally after eight years of single life and nearly three years without regular employment.  




In the courtyard below me as I sit and ponder in this wide, soft chair at Sajsana, there is a little girl about five years old, running around and dancing on the stone tiles. Her arms are flying in the air, her curly hair bounces with energy, and the joy on her face of just being alive and enjoying freedom is wonderful!  A traditional Ecuadorian ballad plays in the background. She reminds me of my beloved granddaughter on this day, her sixth birthday, when I cannot be with her.  Just the momentary thought of her is a small joy in this gray day. 


Suddenly the Andean sun breaks through the clouds in an attempt to cheer me.  Heavy white and gray clouds disintegrate to reveal a brilliant cerulean sky.  A single pigeon sits atop the brick toned tiled roof basking in the rays of sun. Behind me the massive cathedral stands sentinel over us all.  And the twirling girl in the pink dress soars on. 




More photos on Facebook:  Photos: 2017 Ecuador to Maine


 ~


My friends Dee & Scott have visited Cuenca a few years now for weeks at a time.  
Scott writes for Cuenca High Life and expresses the trials of being 6'6" in a community created by and for smaller people:

Dee's photo as we wait for the bus.  This sweet Indigenous lady came up to my waist.

Friday, February 03, 2017

2017 Ecuador * Away * February 3

"… Now the sun
Is once again nearing the horizon, and the days
Of my life are shortening, and I dream of the things
That once made me feel so alive..."

~ Greg Barden, from Ballet on the Beach


Away

Mom is back at MMC again after one night home.  Usually I'm at peace when she has a medical episode ... she always bounces back so quickly ... but this one feels different. I keep trying to get my emotions centered.   

My granddaughter’s birthday this week. She’s six.  I am missing my grandson, too, who is growing so fast.  Besides lamenting all this, I'm having trouble getting involved in interesting things to do this time here in Cuenca. I enjoy long hikes, activities, and hanging with my gringo roomies here, but I crave more variety and time with locals to improve my personal Spanish and experiences.

I had planned to spend a week at a beach at Punto Lopez and then a few days in Guayaquil, but I have misgivings now, as my mother’s health is slow to improve. What does make the coastal visit essential is that it will probably be the last time to visit my host mother (of my first visit in 1972); knowing that after this visit I probably won't make it a priority to come back to Ecuador for a while.    

So much is beautiful here but on the list of pros and cons I am making, my sentiment is leaning away from return here any time soon. 

I continue to struggle against depression and often feel I’m without ambition or goals. Not sure if it's my age or something else…  this does not usually occur when I travel.

And then, serendipitously, there's the enlightening moment as I sit atop the Inca ruins of Pumapungo hill, above the rivers, where the air is fresh, with a soft breeze, a warm caressing sun, and the city sounds are so far below.  Near perfection.



 Facebook photo album 2017 Ecuador #2: 


Ecuador still a top retirement place info: 



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Monday, January 30, 2017

2017 Ecuador * Pendulum * January 30

“Simple can be harder than complex: 
You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. 
But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, 
you can move mountains.” 
~Steve Jobs
Cuenca, Ecuador

Sajsana Restaurante, Cuenca, Ecuador
Things are not always as they seem...

Today I am spending some time alone.  I need solitude to think, to write, and to examine my self and life. I haven't had much of a chance to do that yet.

Sometimes lately it seems my mind is not working as well, as clearly, as it used to. It seems that my drive to plan and organize and get things done it's just not effective. Is that my age? Or is it just my present relaxed situation?  Of course, if I were home in Maine,  I would be, most probably, depressed. The lack of gumption along with that cold gray weather would pull me down even deeper.  At least here there are wonderful sensory inputs and decent weather.

I have some life choices to make - and at this point I feel rather indecisive. I'm here “checking out” Ecuador - again. I DO like the weather and the diversity of people here, but there are things that are disquieting to me.  When the sun is out it is absolutely perfect weather, clear air, fluffy clouds, and fresh breezes coming down the green-banked rivers.    

With good choices one can live here very inexpensively.  A bus ride across town is only 25 cents and many restaurants offer good meals for around $5.  The great majority of people are very friendly and overall it is a safe city.   


Flip the coin and realize that downtown the streets are gray with the settled bus diesel fumes and volcanic stone dust from the cobblestones.  Dogs wander free, many are stray, and often get hurt in traffic.  I am able, temporarily, to live with the contradictions, but it can get wearing.  

 Later this year I plan to check out Europe more seriously to make a decision as to where to spend more time.  Can one also live inexpensively there making the right choices?  Sometimes it would just be nice to have somebody to make a decision for me ..  but I know that's not appropriate at this point.  

I have started a list of pros and cons to help me make a decision.  Activities and involvement would help.

This morning I went to inquire about possibly working with staff and professors at the Catholic University to improve their English.  It will not work for me.  They need people for at least six weeks.  At least I made a couple good contacts and some good information.  I have checked the possibility of teaching Spanish to ex-pats, or art classes, or various other activities.  My problem:  I do not have the length of time to commit now.  I have met many foreigners who have settled here:  some love it and plan to stay, others stay for a few months or years and then decide to return to their home. 

I have arranged my life to travel for these few years.  I explore and seek new places and experiences.  I search for a home where I feel I truly belong.  I love this investigation.  Then my heart feels tugged:  back to Maine to my grandchildren, to my aging parents, to my friendships and familiar activities.  Plus I am experiencing a growing tedium of doing it alone.

The tick-tack of that multi-ball pendulum swings – back and forth, thoughts and feelings, decision and indecision, yes or no, to come or go.

I fall into a moment of frustration, of disillusionment, when I realize: "I don't really want to be here" … then, suddenly *BAM* … the mountains and rivers leap into my consciousness and lick my face with the joy of an exuberant puppy.




~


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

2017 Ecuador * Cuenca Musings * January 25

"Cuenca, con justicia declarada Patrimonio Cultural de la Humanidad, 
es una de las ciudades ecuatorianas que conserva 
más vivo el patrimonio de su pasado antiguo." 



Cuenca – a varied, diverse, eclectic city in the Andes.  From the very first time I visited, at age 25, it has held a special spot in my heart.  When the sun smiles on the rivers and the mountains are crowned with dramatic clouds, it is beautiful.



Indigenous and Spanish heritage locals along with foreigners and expats create a wonderful international ambiance.  Most of the people are so friendly and helpful and community-oriented.  Yes, a few expats clump together, but many make good efforts to be involved in life around here..   
 
Birds sing, the rivers symphonize, soft breezes and cleansing quick rains add percussion to the symphony; humans add accents with voices, car beeps, and occasional celebratory fireworks.



Living costs are so reasonable .. do I really want to go elsewhere?  It is something I am re-examining at this time. Yes, Europe has great history, food, and my heart, but Cuenca has life and diversity, mountains, rivers, and sun that fill the soul.


 
                                               Facebook photo album:  2017 Ecuador #1
 



Sunday, January 22, 2017

2017 Ecuador * Doubt in Paradise * January 22

I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, 
as it extends into the world around us,
 it goes an equal distance into the world within.  
~Lillian Smith



“What am I doing here?” 
 

The dusky pre-dawn light struggles to reach my bedroom window that is at the bottom of cinderblock well between buildings. The insipid light barely touches me as I lie in my bed and wonder again:  What am I doing here?



I arrived in Ecuador a couple days ago and this morning is my first in Cuenca, high in the beautiful Andes Mountains.  I stir in my bed, slowly waking.  Doubt often waits for these quiet moments, when consciousness is not quite full, to pounce upon me, like a bothersome cat that jumps on your bed to stick its face in yours and aggravate your final moments of sleep.  The best thing to do is take a couple of slows deep breaths, brush the creature off your bed, get up, and move. 



Yes, my friends, there are doubts even in paradise.



Once I do begin to move the dawn fully lights the sky and my ears open to hear the lilting songs of the birds and the roiling melody of the mountain river, then life returns to my heart.  Doubt slinks away to its shadowy corner and joy filters in.  A cup of coffee adds a boost.



I am in Cuenca, Ecuador, a mid-size city, veined with five rivers flanked by greenbelts, dotted with manicured green parks and lively markets of various sizes and wares.  The city is safe, friendly, alive, and eclectic.  Local people of Spanish and indigenous heritage intermix with a sizeable “gringo” (foreigner) population.  Buildings represent styles from colonial to modern.  City sections are run-down, under construction, traditional and comfortable, or shiny new with a foreign influence.  



Increasingly, the day becomes bright and clear.  The sunlight lifts my spirit and the river waters soothe my soul.  The mountains in the near distance offer peace.  To live here is to experience all these varied things .. these soul-enriching aspects of the city … and the people .. the remarkably diverse people. 



So my pre-dawn question is answered: THIS is what I am doing here – I am exploring the assortment of people, earth offerings, and new experiences.   

I am encountering Life.





Facebook photo album:  2017 Ecuador #1

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

2017 Ecuador * Mountain Fog * January 21

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” 
– Martin Buber



Four inches of grey snow, still falling, starts me on my way in the early Maine morning.  Slush and rain follow as the bus travels south from Portland to Boston.  Such bleak days make it easier for me to leave home – to leave friends, family, and my beloved daughters and grandchildren.   

I am looking forward to being nestled in the folds of the deep green mountains of Ecuador.  In the Andes I am nurtured and renewed, physically and spiritually, as has been my experience since I traveled to Machu Picchu in the Peruvian Andes when I was 25.  There is something here that lifts me above myself and takes me beyond the hectic routine of life in the United States.



Arriving at my AirBnB after midnight, I have to remind myself to drink lots of water and to breathe deeply and slowly to try to avoid altitude sickness.  The inn is a quaint place in Tababela that is about five minutes from the Quito Airport and 45 minutes from downtown Quito.  One has to circumvent mountains, valleys and rivers to get from the airport to the city.  There is no direct route ... except as the condor flies.




The first morning is beautiful, clear sun, with luxurious white clouds.  A flock of birds sings me awake. Tababela is a small peaceful town – a half hour walk is sufficient to explore the streets, small stores, and garden park where I sit on a bench to eat an apple and some chifle (chips like potato chips but made from plantain).   
 
I purchase prepaid time for my Ecuadorian SIM card in my phone. Technology has changed SO much since my first trip here at age 17 when it took three to four weeks for a hand-written, airmail letter to go home to the States and another block of time to receive a response.  Now, instantaneously, I can contact those I care about that are half a hemisphere away.



I am annoyed that I do not escape altitude sickness this time but it’s basically just a foggy headache accompanying the following two days of drizzle and downpour rain.  I get to repose, reflect, and reach out to those far away.  Not unexpectedly, my uncle passes early my second morning here. It is also my brother’s birthday.  And it is Inauguration Day. I experience an amalgam of wide-ranging emotions.  It’s a bit of a blessing to do so in my mental fog. 

 

Each day, at breakfast and dinner many boarders pass through the lobby.  Some here just overnight, others for extended stays.  We exchange travel experiences, ideas of moving through and living in Ecuador.  We are temporary friends, kindred spirits.  A young Brit is heading to the seaside to surf and take Spanish language classes.  A couple from Florida are arranging to become ex-pats here and are having a house built near the sea.  Two American twenty-something ladies have just arrived from Cuba and are ready to explore the Andes.  A Canadian mother, with her precocious and adventurous six-year-old daughter, has lived here near ten years, is now single and seeking to return north with her girl and their tiny black dog.  A real estate agent from Charlottesville is exploring options of purchasing property in the southern Ecuadorian mountains after exploring the region’s towns for six years.   
 
We share snippets of travel life, names of lawyers who help foreigners, information about buses and air flights, all around coffee, our included breakfast, or a delicious home-cooked dinner. 

Tonight I fly out – an hour flight south to Cuenca where I meet up to share an apartment with friends from Idaho who I met last year.  After getting settled, I will head outside for a city walk and try to keep up with Dee and Scott.  They do not have to acclimate to the altitude since they live in the Rocky Mountains - as opposed to this coastal gal.  I am certain we will end up at Goza pub for a beer.



Facebook photo album:  2017 Ecuador Photos #1

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