Horizontal Travel

After thinking about vertical travel yesterday, a comment made me think about horizontal travel. Val of A Different Perspective wrote, “Having just returned (almost) from a horizontal vacation, I find it was a vertical exploration of my self.” That’s the thing. Most travel teaches us about ourselves. It’s wonderful that way.

Yesterday I started the next essay in The Spell of New Mexico, an essay by Carl Jung. It starts with the idea that we learn about ourselves by looking at others and traveling to other nations and cultures. Jung writes how he was looking for something in particular that is related to the psychology of the Taos Pueblo Indians, particularly about their religion. He found it. I think it matters and might be a whole ‘nother blog post, but essentially it is their belief that their actions moved the sun and moon from horizon to horizon; in other words, they saw themselves (see themselves?) as active participants in the welfare of the world. I don’t think that’s so far from our troubling discussion over human culpability in climate change. Jung made the point that Christian religions are generally so abstract that the human is removed completely from participation in the universes. Thinking about Jung’s interpretation of the Taos Indians’ beliefs, yeah. Maybe we should see ourselves as a lot more involved than we have. It also made me think of vertical travel. If a people never leave the small world of their ancestors, everything will look different to them than to the Lawrences, Jungs, me, my friends and other horizontal travelers; all travel will be vertical and god will be right there. Whoa…

Moving on…

One of my favorite traveler’s birthday is coming up this Sunday. I “met” him through an accidental encounter with his book in the library at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, CA. I was heading to Italy to spend Christmas with a man. I didn’t know Italy (ha ha like that’s possible) though I’d been in Venice and Trieste. While my composition students did a scavenger hunt (and drove the librarians mad) I decided to find a book about Italy. I found Goethe’s Italian Journey. I’d had a very superficial meeting with Goethe on a street in Zürich, but didn’t know his work at all. I didn’t have an ID card. The librarian asked, “Are you a Goethephile?”

“That’s a word?” I thought, but I said, “I don’t know. I’ve never read him.” That’s when the librarian checked out the book for me.

It was not a book for me. It was a life-changing experience for me. Goethe set out on a trip to Italy in the dark of night, secretly, determined to escape things that were confining him in Weimar — a hopeless love maybe at the top of his list — and writer’s block. He wasn’t even sure at that point he was a writer any more. He was trapped by his bestseller, Sorrows of Young Werther.

I’ve since read the much smaller book he wrote during his trip which is a little different from Italian Journey. He was looking for himself and believed it could do that best through horizontal travel. In the 18th century that wasn’t so easy. Travel was in coaches. Roads were unpredictable. Weather was a palpable problem. Inns could be sketchy. One of Goethe’s goals was to discover himself by looking at Italy as objectively as possible. He lived in Rome for a while and in Naples. He succeeded somewhat in his objective study of Italy, but like most travelers, he found what he hoped to find — his idealized view of the Classical world made real. He was looking for it. His first classical building was the Arena in Verona.

In this journey, he succeeded in distancing himself from the hopeless love and he began writing again.

Goethe tried to go to Italy again ten years later, but his journey was stopped by Napoleon’s Italian campaign. He tried again the next year, but turned around in Switzerland. If I remember right, one of the reasons he turned around was a sudden awareness that “Italy” was in his mind. I always found it a little odd that Goethe didn’t see (?) all of the classical world that exists in what is now Switzerland, but maybe it has only been excavated since his death. I don’t know, but there are whole Roman towns near the Rhine.

Like a lot of travelers, Goethe took home souvenirs — in his case plaster casts of Roman sculptures. I’m trying to imagine TSA dealing with that. 🤣

At this point in my life, I think both horizontal and vertical travel are important. I think Val is right; we learn about ourselves through horizontal travel and that’s supremely useful in life. In vertical travel, we learn about a place outside ourselves. If we know ourselves well enough, we’ll be able to truly SEE the small place through which we travel vertically as a realm outside of ourselves, our preconceptions and it will teach us.

Anyway I’m not partaking in the wonders of horizontal travel right now, though I wish I were. No money. A brake light in my car needs to be replaced. Until I do that, I’m not leaving the Valley. I can’t sit longer than 30 minutes, but my hip is steadily improving. I don’t have a choice when it comes to travel at the moment. It’s vertical or nothing. Luckily, the days will be cool for the next week, and I can go hang out with the mayflies and the raptors. The cranes will be back soon, followed in a few more months by the soft crunch of fresh snow.

Where would I go if I could? I get ideas all the time. My latest was Newfoundland. I sent for a map and book and looked at all the places I’d love to see — including the excavated Viking community L’anse aux Meadows. It’s a very complicated journey from here. But my dad always said our ancestor, Lief Erikson, discovered America. I’d like to see it.

Red-tail Hawk

A few months ago I wrote a post or two about an elderly man who is the cousin of the deceased husband of a friend of mine. Yeah, I know, convoluted, but what isn’t? Anyway he wanted Louise — the former director of the Rio Grande Museum, my friend, and wife of the deceased cousin (good grief starting to read like a Southern Saga) — to send him some of my notecards. She didn’t. So he found my bidness card on a pack of cards he already had, called me, then texted me. Since then — nearly a year ago — we’ve been penpals.

“Does this go somewhere, Martha?”

Reasonable question. Sorry about that. He recently sent me a beautiful book entitled The Spell of New Mexico. It’s in a format that was popular in the 70s and early 80s. It’s an anthology of essays about — you guessed it you smarty-pants — New Mexico. I live an hour from the border; two hours from Taos. The Hispanic culture here in the San Luis Valley is the same as that of Northern New Mexico.

Where was I going with this? OH yeah, the book. The collection was edited by Tony Hillerman. They were all written by writers and thinkers who’d lived or spent some time in New Mexico. Among them is an essay by D. H. Lawrence. I loved Lawrence in my younger days. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was among the books my dad stashed in his sock drawer for me to find and read so I wouldn’t grow up sexually repressed like my mom (TMI, yeah, for me, too). At this point, Lady Chatterley seems a little ridiculous (“And here tha’ shits, and here tha’ pisses”), but Lawrence has never seemed ridiculous. Written sometime after his time in New Mexico, 1922-23; 1925, it opens:

“Superficially, the world has become small and known. Poor little globe of earth, the tourists trot round you as easily as they trot round the Bois or round Central Park. There is no mystery left; we’ve been there, we’ve seen it, we know all about it. We’ve done the globe, and the globe is done.”

“Whoa,” I thought, “I haven’t read writing like this in a long time. And then…

“As a matter of fact, our grandfathers, who never went anywhere, in actuality had more experience of the world than we have who have seen everything. When they listened to a lecture with lantern-slides, they really held their breath before the unknown, as they sat in the village school-room. We, bowling along in a rickshaw in Ceylon, say to ourselves, ‘It’s very much what you’d expect.’ We really know it all.”

Lawrence bewails the absence of wonderment. I get that. The descendants of those villagers go out in search of the sights promised in the lantern slides. Lawrence might argue that the descendants set out already knowing what they think they want to find, but what they really want to find is their ancestor’s wonderment. Every day I get emails from travel/tour companies promising me “sights” to cross off my “bucket list.” Tourism offers us the world as a commodity, but it cannot guarantee wonderment.

Lawrence’ essay defines two modes of travel — horizontal and vertical, explaining that most of our travel around the globe is “horizontal.” It’s really hard to read this without giggling, knowing Lady Chatterley, but… Lawrence’ search is for the vertical experience (it’s OK, snicker. I have a juvenile sense of humor though it’s also been described as medieval…) Even my year in China — maybe as close to Lawrence’s idea of “vertical” travel as anyone can get — was reduced to a book. Still, it was the authentic experience of a naive alien which is close enough. A Chinese is not a traveler in China, so there is a point where the experience of another culture ceases being the experience of “another” culture and becomes daily life. My Chinese life was close to that. That said, I don’t think any of us can live long enough to see the world any way but superficially. I’m not sure we even see our own world with any depth.

Then Lawrence’ essay takes off where I didn’t expect it to — into religion. It was a little shocking from 100 years on to read the words “Red Indian” but the purpose was so his readers would not confuse Native Americans (an inaccurate term, but not yet in use) with people from India. He fell in love with his understanding of Native American (Ute? Navajo? Pueblo? I don’t know and don’t care) religion. I’m not sure he really “got” it but it doesn’t matter. He writes:

“It was a vast old religion, greater than anything we know; more starkly and nakedly religious. There is no God, no conception of God. All is God. But it is not the pantheism we are accustomed to, which expresses itself as ‘God is everywhere, God is in everything.’ In the oldest religion everything was alive, not supernaturally but naturally alive…”

It’s not pantheism at all, but I guess Lawrence didn’t have the word. I didn’t either until I learned it from an 8 year old kid at dinner in an Italian restaurant in La Mesa, California. The word doesn’t even matter. What matters is Lawrence’ realization of a living world in a living universe.

Yesterday the dogs persuaded me to head out about 10 am. As we neared the small grove of trees, the same red tail hawk we saw the other day took off from one of the trees and flew low across the pasture to a dead tree in the distance. I wanted to tell him he didn’t need to worry about us at all, but there was no way. I saw him in the distance, eyes pointed right at us, waiting for us to leave.

Featured photo: My pencil drawing of a red tail hawk printed on a Mission Trails Regional Park sweatshirt from 1992

“Meaning in the Mountains”

“Meaning in the Mountains” is a series of videos promoting small ski areas in Montana. I love these videos — there are several. The main guy — host — is Vasu Sojitra who lost a leg when he was 9 months old. He skis on one leg. All of the videos (the link below will lead you to some of the others) are beautiful and Vasu is not only a great — meaning amazing — skier but a wonderful host.

Visit Montana, Meaning in the Mountains, Part 5

There are videos of him back-county skiing in the Beartooths — mountains in Montana that I love. It’s great to see them. (I never downhill skied in Montana. I wish I had). If you like ski videos there are a lot here on his blog including this beautiful climbing story.

Fernweh!!!

I love this word. Thank you!!!

I have always had this dis-ease. Less now than in earlier years, but still. It’s funny how small we think the world is when we’re young and overcome with “fernweh.” We learn when we’re older what an immense thing it is, how complex and intricate, how lovely, intoxicating and scary.

Here’s the thing about fernweh. We might have ideas about where we long to go, but when we GET there the places are always three dimensional. I think there are as many wandering styles as there are people. I’ve been lucky to have had a Swiss/Italian family of my own for a while. It’s a long probably fascinating story how that happened, but what a wonder and gift it was, has been to me. It was during that time of my life that I learned that I like BEING in a place long enough or often enough that it becomes more than a dot on a map to me. I think, in a way, I haven’t traveled around; I’ve traveled into.

The other evening I was talking to a friend about the opera. I was rhapsodizing about attending the opera in the Arena in Verona back in 2004. The Arena is a Roman amphitheater and as I talked to my friend I heard myself yearning to BE there.

We talked about the difference between opera in Italy and in the United States. I’d told him that I’d thought of going to the Santa Fe Opera (2 hours away!) which is a world class opera, but when I priced out everything it was almost the same as traveling to Verona to go to the opera.

“You know why? Because here the opera is only for fancy, snotty rich people. In Italy it’s part of life.”

I agreed. I cherish the image of sitting on the sun-warmed marble seats of the Arena waiting for Madame Butterfly to begin. Everyone around us was talking laughing, some had brought a picnic supper. It was the most wonderful atmosphere. And those magical seats were only something like $6.

It was the second opera I’d attended in the Arena. The first was Aida which Verdi first performed in the Arena. I bought fancy close-in seats with backs and arms. It was OK, but NOTHING compared to those marble seats that had held Roman asses. At the end of the Madame Butterfly, a storm came up and we had to leave. Part of the experience was hurrying down the stone steps in the dark, tunnel-like stairwells down which Romans had poured in their time.

Since then, they’ve built a cover for the Arena so people aren’t chased out by rain. Personally, I think that’s a pity.

Once outside, having said “Ciao!” to my schoolmates (it was my last night in Verona and this had been kind of a party), I turned toward home, an apartment on the other side of the Adige. I walked up the hill to the bridge. the river was lined with Linden trees all in bloom. I stood on the bridge watching the river, immersed in the fragrance of the trees, knowing that I would always remember being chased out of the Arena by rain and ending up alone watching rain hit the Adige.

No tourist guide anywhere mentions anything like that.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/08/12/rdp-wednesday-fernweh/

Des Lebens labyrinthisch irren Lauf

Back in 2004 I went to Verona to study Italian for a month. One of the biggest things I learned there is that the Italian I spoke at the time was full of mistakes. My Italian sounded great but wasn’t. It sounded great because I’d spent a lot of time with a family of native speakers in Zürich and I’d been in Italy several times. I’d studied on my own as well, using a great CD rom that was actually interesting.

The problem with my Italian was Spanish. They are very similar, and I’d spoken Spanish most of my life. In fact, when my soon-to-be teachers read my written test, they didn’t know if I was a native English speaker or native Spanish speaker.

I was placed in the lowest class for grammar and stuff. I got to hang out with the smart kids in the afternoon for an art history seminar. BUT, outside of school, my schoolmates shunned me. My schoolmate from Austria even said in plain Italian on a field trip to Padova that she didn’t want to talk to me because she’d only learn bad Italian from me. I don’t think she imagined I understood almost everything people said in Italian. Maybe she didn’t realize I understood her.

And that was that, except for a British woman from Manchester with whom I made friends.

After about three weeks into the month, we had a field trip to Giardino Giusti, where I’d already been. I hadn’t gone to Verona to hang out with classmates and practice grammar, anyway. I was following Goethe and seeing the city, especially the paintings in the churches. Italians I met on my peregrinations didn’t care that my Italian wasn’t perfect, so I practiced a lot. I was obviously a foreigner it wasn’t a great time to be an American, Iraq war and so on… Italy had allied with the US and many Italians didn’t like this, evidenced by the rainbow colored “Pace” — peace — flags hanging from balconies.

Giardino Giusti is an old formal garden, so old, that Goethe had been there. He had loved it and had cut branches from the cypress trees to take back to his hotel/apartment. This act of German instinct was met with condolences as he walked home. The Veronese thought someone Goethe cared for had died or why else would he have branches from cypress trees?

Language isn’t just words.

In Giardino Giusti, beside a cypress tree, is a little plaque (one of several I saw on that trip) attesting to the fact that Goethe had been there. Clearly I was not history’s only Goethe pilgrim.

That afternoon, I wandered around the garden with my school mates. The Austrian woman assiduously avoided me. As is the case with many formal gardens of the times, there was a labyrinth. We decided to “do” the labyrinth and as we strolled through it I said, in German, “Des Lebens labyrinthisch irren Lauf.” This is from Faust, the prologue. The poet/playwrite bewails the wrong turns he’s taken in his life but comments that they are good fodder for drama. It says, according to my translation, “Life’s labyrinthine course of error.”

That phrase had become a kind of mantra for me, an explanation of my own labyrinthine existence that made no sense whatsoever.

“That’s not right,” said the Austrian woman in English. “Why are you trying to quote Goethe? What could you know of Goethe?”

I shrugged. It was right, and I knew it. I also knew that Goethe is a kind of demi-god in German speaking countries, and I wasn’t in a position to prove anything.

“I brought Faust with me. I will look it up when I get back to my apartment. I’ll show you tomorrow,” she continued.

I’d already decided she was just kind of a linguistic Nazi. And she was wrong.

The next morning, she came to school and brought Faust. Instead of showing me that I had been wrong, she showed me that I had been right. I thought that was pretty cool of her. I also liked how the little interchange illustrated Goethe’s assessment of life. After that, she and I began a friendship that lasted a couple of years.

One of the things I learned on that journey was the low esteem in which Americans are held in Europe. Most of my schoolmates (and teachers), at first, didn’t understand why I was there. Few Americans had ever attended that school. Then, they assumed I was a war-mongering, imperialistic, arrogant American. My Austrian friend confided to me later that she never imagined an American who had read Goethe. The list of their assumptions about Americans was pretty long. When they learned I’d already attended the opera (which is held in the Arena and is absolutely amazing), they wanted to go, too, so we all went to see Madame Butterfly. They weren’t totally wrong about Americans, but not totally right either except maybe the learning languages part. In any case, that summer I found it easier to let strangers think I was a German tourist.

A blog post about Goethe’s Faust that I wrote a while ago

RagTag Daily Prompt, maze

The Best Library of My Life — St. Gallen Stiftsbibliothek

On a winter’s day in a deep and dark December in 1997 I opened a door way that led into a gaudy rococo structure that housing thousands of books I could never read.

It was the Library at the Abbey of St. Gall in St. Gallen, Switzerland. I had just dipped a toe into my personal medieval period. I’d recently read How the Irish Saved Civilization (which I’d bought because I thought it would be funny…) by Thomas Cahill, and I was excited to learn that a couple of Irish monks — Columbanus and Gall — had crossed the channel in little round boats and carried the Bible (and other books) up the Rhine. Gall got pneumonia at what is now St. Gallen and left Columbanus on his own to journey to Italy. Apparently Columbanus was a irritated with Gall for being such a sissy, but pneumonia is no joke…

Columbanus and Gall on Lake Constanz (dem Bodensee)


Gall set up a hermitage and a small library with a few books and he gathered followers and saved souls. He is the patron Saint of Switzerland. His animal friend is a bear. The story is:

… that once he was travelling in the woods of what is now Switzerland. One evening he was sitting down warming his hands at a fire. A bear emerged from the woods and charged. The holy man rebuked the bear, so awed by his presence it stopped its attack and slunk off to the trees. There it gathered firewood before returning to share the heat of the fire with St Gall. The legend says that for the rest of his days St Gall was followed around by his companion the bear.

At first, the library itself disappointed me. I guess I wanted to open the door and enter the 8th century or something. The current library was built in the 18th century. I find it very difficult to see anything in a baroque room, and the Abbey Library is one step beyond baroque — it’s rococo. It’s so full of embellishments and ornaments that my mind becomes confused.

Main hall of the Library of the Abbey of St. Gall

But once I got used to it — and librarian came to talk to us (we were the only people there) — I stopped trying to see through the gold and stucco and began to see and understand where I was. He showed me a medieval map of the world.

8th or 9th century CE map of the world

You can see that it’s oriented (ha ha) to the East, the rising sun — Christ. All the three continents are surrounded by sea. The map is less for navigating physical space as it is for navigating spiritual space. This is a somewhat unusual medieval map of the world because it doesn’t SAY Jerusalem is the center, but it is. I saw a couple other maps on which cities were drawn, and Jerusalem was always depicted as the largest city and had tall, shining towers. Although I didn’t understand at that moment, having only at that point dipped one toe into the medieval world, that the physical and spiritual worlds overlaid each other and that the physical world was but a metaphor for spiritual space.

Of all the amazing things this man explained about the books in the glass cases, other books on the library’s locked shelves, and books too old and fragile to be touched at all was that there are some written in languages people don’t know any more. Apparently researchers are working on that, but I thought at the time that it is incredibly sad. Here are words written in very difficult circumstances, with oak-gall ink on parchment with quill pens, stories, ideas, beliefs, philosophies, knowledge and experiences that their writers were desperate to transmit to the future. And there the three of us stood — my friend, the librarian and I — discussing how no one could read them.

He took us into a hallway behind the main room — it was modern, gray and white — with doors along it. “All these rooms have people working on this problem.” Just then a young woman wearing white cotton gloves came out of one of the doors and greeted the librarian. I got a vision of busy young people in white gloves behind all those doors struggling to decode old words. I wondered what they would find.

Of all the wonders in the library, though, for me one of the most wonderful was the inscription written in Greek over the entrance which, thanks to Michael J. Preston, I could read on my own.

Medicine Chest for the Soul

I continued to pursue St. Gall in various places in Switzerland that winter, including a trip to Basel to see the Gallus Portal at the cathedral. I learned a lot — not the least of which that ignorance is a wonderful wonderful wonderful thing because once curiosity is awakened, and you chase knowledge, you will get more than you possibly could have imagined.

I didn’t know HALF of what I was looking at that winter, but on my second to last day, my friend’s mom told him to take me to visit a little medieval church near where they lived. The church is in the village of Gfenn, outside Dubendorf, both north of Zürich. And the rest? It’s historical fiction. ❤

Lazariter Kirche im Gfenn

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/09/18/rdp-wednesday-library/

Self-Archeology

Discovering all those letters I sent my mom from China was a huge surprise. I thought I’d thrown out everything in the Great Purge of 2015. Writing the blog posts about my experiences was fun. Transforming them into something like a coherent book was difficult. Integrating the letters was emotionally intense and when I was finished, I was drained, exhausted.

It’s very strange meeting yourself after 35 years or more and that’s essentially what happened.

Some of what I found was inspiring, some was simply informative, some of it showed me how consistent I have been through time. We are more than the sum of our experiences. We’re also something intrinsically, fundamentally.

Most of all I saw how deeply I loved China.

I also saw the virtue of ignorance — if I’d known more about China and its history leading up to 1982, I might not have gone. But I didn’t know, so I was open to being told by the people around me. In my mind was a vague memory about the Cultural Revolution and, of course, the Beatle’s song, “Revolution,” but as none of that had any meaning to me as a teenager in Colorado Springs, I didn’t pay attention.

When I returned from China I literally read everything I could find, had friends in China send me books, went to LA’s Chinatown to buy books, had a friend in Macao send me books and used the library at San Diego State. I desperately wanted to know where I’d been. It was important, ultimately, to do all that learning away from China and away from the influence and commentary of my Chinese friends who’d all grow up “under the Red Flag.”

For a while I felt that I’d really failed my life since the only great thing I’ve done was go to China for a year, the only adventure but then I thought more about that. What’s an adventure? Yeah, I have regrets over many of the choices I made. I think that’s just part of living long enough to be able to look at your own life as if it were a book. We make some choices because we really don’t know better, or don’t have a clear view of our essential selves, or think we’ll live forever and have time to make it up.

This is the third book I’ve written about my life. All of them are show a character who’s utterly consistent. It’s interesting because several years ago I never imagined writing about my own life experiences. I thought writing memoir was self-indulgent and self- important. Again, a completely consistent aspect of my personality. The very thing I mock or say I would never do is probably the next thing on my agenda.

The most wonderful thing I found in all those letters was this. You need to know my mom didn’t want my brother or I to be artists. She said over and over “Art is a four letter word in this house.” But, the poor woman gave birth to two artists. She thought all artists were Van Gogh, insane geniuses who couldn’t be happy and who sliced off their ears. Still, I wrote her this:

“Dear Mom, I think art (you can cover your ears if you don’t want to hear about A-R-T) if it’s any good has to be about something. If you just stay in the same place and do the same things always you’ll write one story and make once picture over and over and over…so maybe I’m in the process of preparing to make something.” October 13, 1982

Hell on Wings, Part Two, Parigi (Paris…)

Once we landed at Charles de Gaulle, and I was rid of my two extremely annoying row-mates. Each gave me a cordial good-bye and growled at each other.

I exited the plane to see a young man holding a wheel-chair while the mink-clad Nonna sat down in it. “Are you my savior?” she said to him in heavily accented English, accented with Italian. Her fifty+ years living in Las Vegas with the man who’d fallen in love with her after the war, an Army boy liberating Genova, hadn’t smoothed a bit of that away. “And you! Goethe! Dove vai?” I’d met her on the flight from St. Louis to New York. I carried a large biography of Goethe. She’d greeted me on that flight with, “Goethe LOVED Italy!!!” and we had become traveling friends…

“Genova.”

“Oh that’s RIGHT! Andiamo insieme!” She took my hand and somehow I felt privileged (do not ask me why — I couldn’t begin to answer that question).

“Can you carry this for me?”

“Sure.” I took her brown-paper wrapped package, and only later wondered why, as she was on wheels, she didn’t just set it in her lap.

“It’s jelly.” Like hell it was jelly. It was a mink jacket.

The good thing about accompanying one’s Italian grandma as she is whisked through an airport in a wheelchair is that you are whisked through, too. We were taken directly to the Alitalia desk. “You talk to them. You’re young, and I’m not sure I can communicate well.”

Again, mysteriously, I felt honored. I didn’t think, “Whoa, you’re the native speaker. I’ve just learned a bit of Italian from friends in Switzerland and a CD rom!” Completely confident, I went to the desk and explained our situation. I was answered in Italian and all went fine. Finally our ordeal was over…but not really. We had not gone through customs. We did not appear to be international travelers, in spite of our American passports. Our marginal but adequate French, her flawless and my adequate Italian, our appearance (mother and daughter?) provoked no questions. We appeared to be just another bi-national family returning to the home country. Later we would pay for these moments of fluidity and ease, but for now? We got nice seats on the next plane out.

All the seats on the small Alitalia flight over the Alps were equipped with what I’d call “mandatory” entertainment. We had to watch Mr. Bean whether we wanted to or not. By then La Nonna and I had been traveling for 22 hours. We were hungry and dehydrated and had reached a higher plane of human understanding by that point — or much lower. Hard to say. “Non me piace. What ever happened to peace and quiet?” La Nonna grabbed the steward and said, “Si prega di spegnere la nostra televisione.” (Please turn off the television)

Mi dispiace, signora. Non posso. Lei vuole qualcosa di bere?” (I’m sorry, Missus. I can’t. Do you want something to drink?”)

Si, si. Grazie tanti.” She thanked him but with an edge in her voice that said clearly, “You cannot pacify me with wine or Coca Cola.”

We flew over Mont Blanc — it was amazing — and then over Monte Rossa. The plane soon began its descent into Malpensa. We got off the plane and walked across the concrete (no wheelchair for La Nonna this time; she was strengthened by the air of her home land). “See, Goethe? La terra di Garibaldi! The air of liberty!”

Who was “La Nonna” you are no doubt asking, and what happened then?

The Season

Frost per se is pretty rare here unless we get fog and that will coat every small branch, every wire on a fence, every stuck tumbleweed in crystalline magic. This is a high desert and usually there’s not enough humidity for frost to get a decent chance. When it does, it’s most beautiful on top of snow, making sharp small prisms. If we have a few very cold days in a row, the prisms grow, and it seems they will last forever.

It’s a cloudy morning here in the back of beyond, and I have company coming. Snow is in the forecast (from 4 pm to 5 pm) but it’s snowing in the San Juan Mountains so Wolf Creek Ski Area is getting a fresh dusting. That seems to be winter in the real west. Nothing happens, no one I care about is driving, until someone needs to go to the hospital or I have guests, then it snows. 

I knew that when I moved here. 

Yesterday we had a little tea party. One of my friends is facing some tough stuff and the tea party was a way — our way, I guess — of letting her know that we’re here and care very much. I think she probably felt that. I hope so. Messages like that are conveyed in offers of help and willingness to drive. It’s an oblique language that tries to say, “I’m really sorry you have to go through all this. I hope it’s over soon and that everything turns out well, but now it’s hard and we’ll do whatever we can to make it easier.”

The thing is, no one can really DO anything except be willing to do whatever we can when the moment arises. 

Meanwhile life everywhere goes on. Life this weekend in my town means Christmas. Tomorrow we have a pancake breakfast, visits with Santa, a craft fair, caroling, a parade and fireworks. My guests will be coming down to partake in the wonder of it all and I will be very happy to see them. Bailey — my short-term golden retriever — will be coming with them for a visit as will Reina, a brilliant Australian shepherd who used to be my dog. 

As they drive west over the pass, my neighbors will be driving east toward some of the difficulties they are now facing. I wish them all — and everyone else — safe travels. 

Life in Colorado. My friends will be crossing La Veta Pass which is a few miles east of the + sign.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/30/rdp-friday-frost/

Caran d’Ache

When I moved here four years ago I followed the instructions of every moving company and put my treasures in the car I drove myself. My treasures were Lily, Dusty, and Mindy (dogs), and my art supplies. I especially treasure two sets of Caran d’Ache materials — watercolor pencils and Conte crayons. I know that never in my life would I be able to replace the sets. I don’t use them. I work with a smaller set (40) and I replace each pencil as it wears down. These colors are made in Switzerland.

A long time ago I had a Swiss family. It’s a long story — pretty interesting one — but I’m not telling it here. For a few years, I spent most Christmases in Zürich with them. Often, I was given cash as a present, and one year I went to the Glatt (big shopping center in Wallisellen) and bought a giant sent of watercolor pencils. One year I wasn’t able to go to Zürich, and when my friend returned to California from time with his parents, he gave me my Christmas presents. One was the set of Conte crayons.

I have a set of Caran d’Ache gouache that I used once in a while and a set of oil pastels I’ve never used. So far they haven’t fit my technique.

For me these colors are wonderful in themselves and in the way they connect me to a time in my life that was these colors.

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https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/10/rdp-wednesday-color/