European Time-Machine: Leavin’ on a jet plane…

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“Home” as seen recently from Governor’s Island. Sitting atop a newly minted hill, my family and I greedily breathed in the darkness as the silence enveloped all who dared to be there.

Here I go again, December 26, 2016 at 4:30pm…in a little yellow taxi to JFK airport for one more “adventure” into the unknown. Its only been six months since that last “leave of absence” from my ordinary life, a road trip of some 4,000 miles by car that took me body, mind, and soul around much of the perimeter of California as well as into its interior in search of “something,” always that nameless something. My mother came of age almost 90 years ago in the little towns that populated CA/Rts. 395 and 66, and many nameless mining communities both north and east–in towns with names like Bishop, Lone Pine, Independence, Ludlow, Betty O’Neal, and Furnace Creek. I was intent on finding all of those places last June and walking where she had walked, hoping to make sense of her life and times. Admittedly I might have been seeking clues to my own life journey, parts of which seemed to be mirrored in the remnants of the life of someone who I am not sure I really knew all that well despite our years together. But it was a start and better late than never. One can never have enough insight into self.

Of those places of the heart? Some were gone or unfind-able or had morphed into crumbling ghost towns. Some showed renewed signs of life thanks to the perseverance of newly arrived immigrants. Others suggested simple persistence in the often harsh environment of the eastern Sierra Nevadas or those Death Valley locales that frequently boast to being some of the hottest and driest places on the face of the earth. I will post that journey one day–perhaps on a re-trip, either physical or emotional—to collect more evidence of my mother and my existences. But first, I must share a more recent journey that also references places and experiences of the past–of small and large cities in Europe that I have either lived or walked in as an adolescent and as a young adult.

This second blog post of my life will meander forth with images and words—occasionally illuminated with fading youthful memories and pictures–compressing those thirty day of constant movement and dislocation, my own personal form of soul food. I won’t apologize for the delay in posting this adventure because I am still digesting and making sense of decades of life experiences that informed this present one. And of course, I must find the scattered notes I was driven to scribble and process the nearly 6,000 photos that were taken. A person cannot rush these things even as one embraces the immediacy of and nagging urge to retell “being there” over and over again. The constant need to dis-locate in order to re-locate is never ending for some of us. Blogging, that re-telling, is another matter entirely, a decidedly new challenge that’s a little like giving birth, one you don’t want to rush even as you know that you must.

Taxi, bridge, rain.

Sitting in a taxi on the way to JFK with my 20-something son Michael and our usual  family send-off of bad weather. At least there are no tornadoes to delay our flight…unlike last year.

So let me begin this particular tale as I promised my blogging daughter Sara that I would. Be still my restless soul because I have so many other tales to set to paper, tales that await me in the hidden recesses of my laptop and camera begging for release. I may break my promise to be consistent, blogging each of those moments day after day in proper order–a few times at least…I must…how can I not…what about that last minute decision to situate myself some 850 miles south in that yellow and green field in Sweetwater, Texas, to bathe in the darkness of totality and experience the transformative return of the light on August 21, 2017? I will post that photo next time I promise even if it is out-of-order…its too  important to me.  But now, back to that taxi, in the rain, perchance to doze on that overnight plane but most certainly to wake up to a rising sun some 3,625 miles away from the Upper West Side, itself still asleep “the day before.”

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A few hours sleep at most and with a crick in the neck I awake to see the lights of suburban Paris as we descend into Charles de Gaulle Airport.

We emerged from the Metro into the brilliant morning sun, the city aglow with color and quiet vibrancy. I am looking out the window of the hotel in San Germaine-des-Pres–btw, they did not hold a room for us to crash and recover from an overnight flight despite repeated assurances from at least 3 different people. The next 30 minutes or so left me limp and numb on their “lobby” couch gazing out the window. Food, need food.

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Croissants, fresh o.j., omelettes, and strong French cafe. Thats about right. Merci.

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Room ready. Up the stairs. Looking down. Nap time. Its 10am Parisian time. NYC? Do the math.

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Oops. Slept all day. There is nothing like 1st day jet lag. Mind the time, there’s a sunset to see.

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Out the door and across the Seine and there lies Notre Dame…IN MY BACKYARD!

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We will climb another day; stairs are closed. Need to cross bridges, night is falling.

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Looking left and looking right.

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Which way to go? I can’t decide. Why not take them (directions) all??

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I will admit to using my cellphone camera for these shots. Sue me. I was still learning how to use my crazy sophisticated Nikon and didn’t want to waste time fiddling.

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Notre Dame is now a distant memory…it is time to turn back to our new found neighborhood and attend responsibly to that gnawing ache of hunger.

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Interrupting the antique dealer’s “accounting” of the day. Pardon Monsieur.

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I must admit I am a color and light junkie..so just a few more shots as we race through the ever darkening streets in our frantic search to refill with food, glorious food.

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Meow.

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Window shopping.

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Ici? No, but it does give me a chance to switch to black and white.

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Here? Oooh, la La Tour d’Argent. I just stumbled upon the site of my “last meal” in Paris, June 1965,  the one my family splurged on before returning home to the United States.

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What teenager saves a menu from a restaurant for 51 years? One who continues to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about her next meal…for the record, I passed the food and travel genes on to both my young adult children and I’m not even sorry.

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Notice the lack of prices on this old menu, when the dollar bought 4 francs and a dream. Sadly, a still tumbling dollar is no match for a necessary downward trending mobility,  my newest racing-to-retire-before-I-turn-85 strategy that still allows for never-ending adventure.

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Looking for cobblestones…

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Are we there yet??

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This way, it has to be this way.

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Over the river, across the bridge…again (we did go the wrong way), and back to Place Saint-Michel and down Cour du Commerce Saint-Andre…a tiny cobblestoned alleyway that led us originally to our hotel. Nested at one end, we find Le Relais Odeon, a little brasserie with an unassuming air that welcomed two more weary travelers, even the American kind.

What calms the cranky soul of a 23-year-old man-child fellow adventurer better than a espresso martini? And a seriously delicious “simple” French meal. There are no words for the wine that can adequately do it justice, by the demi-carafe…cheap, inexplicably and always cheap. Of course, I just had to strike up the first of many local conversations  with the waiter (I do this a lot, commune with “fellow travelers”)–expecting French and we got Spanish, from Madrid…a lucky EU card-holder who happened to share our love of the open road. He nearly got fired, though, for spending so much time reminiscing with us…wait till I tell you about his motorcycle trip through Central and South America…

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Back home is just a few steps away…the amber lights beckon and its time to sleep, perchance to dream…or rather to prepare for the next 30 days…pack, unpack, pack, unpack…

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European Time Machine: Escaping New York

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The nagging unease creeps up on me every 3 or 4 months, that annoying little voice in my ear urging me to “pack that bag, forget the responsibilities, walk out the door, hit the road.” Again. This time, though, it has only been about six months, maybe less, since returning home to the City from my last 30-day road trip, undertaken with a newly broken finger and an ever urgent need to see highway rushing by. Desperately seeking brown bears or scorpions or simply one little tarantula. Settling, not begrudgingly, for a few curious hummingbirds outside my tent in Joshua Tree. And then there were the ghost towns, the water walk through Zion’s infamous Narrows Virgin River and the capturing of a few million tiny stars in Death Valley as my sturdy Nikon-on-tripod struggled to stay upright in the 110 degree night wind.

Coming home is always the hardest. So what possesses me to do it again the day after Christmas? After feeding seven people around my little 5th floor walk-up apartment kitchen space table—we don’t have real kitchens in New York City, only “spaces,” small ones. Tiny ones. Even as the memories of past adventures have started to fade, I am still trying to process the over 8,000 images from the last trip around and within the perimeter of California. Call it an illness. Call it an addiction. Call it a condition that has undoubtedly been responsible for countless job losses, career changes, uncleaned apartments, and numerous failed relationships (distance does not make the heart grow fonder, trust me). Its my parents fault. They started all of this. Maybe it has something to do with being whisked away with them in a basket to Guantanamo Bay as an infant—an early start to what would become a lifetime of movement. As for trying to find that life mate to share my aversion to staying put, well, I have stopped trying. Too busy. I must pack. Again. There is a job to leave, a door to lock, an itinerary to send to a few people who worry about my whereabouts.

I made a promise to my still 20-something daughter Sara to finally do my blog (hey, its hard blogging in the wilderness—internet connection helps, always excuses). So here I am, as the sun comes up in New York City, touching the buildings with a pink and amber glow, frantically typing this first post before my other 20-something son Michael and I depart for a month long European urban adventure. Multiple cities and countries connected by fast trains and cheap planes. A downward trending Euro helps. It will be a journey back in time and space of sorts as I have seen and/or lived in many of these places albeit many many years ago. Its my parents fault although I already told you that. Forgive me, I have to go pack, quickly, and finish off the Christmas cookies. Coffee helps. Sara is coming over soon to make certain I do indeed write something—anything—and to shove me out the door and down the stairs. So until tomorrow, when I will be in Paris, au revoir.

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Collecting places