A long time ago in a … downtown nearby, some friends and I made a festival called Downtown Saturday Night (DTSN). Forty-one years ago to be precise. I was contracted by the City of Albuquerque to produce arts activities/events in the downtown area as part of a nationwide effort to bring city centers back to life through the medium of culture. It all started with a City Spirit grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and Mayor Harry Kinney hiring me just prior to the end of his term. He was replaced by Mayor David Rusk, who said in my first meeting with him, “Instead of spending a year thinking about this (the grant funded a ‘planning’ year) why don’t we actually do something?” So we did.
DTSN was wildly successful that first year but when forced uptown by a jealous City Councilor who wanted a festival of her own, it worked less well. By then I was already moving into a new position, charged with bringing the KiMo Theater back to life after its closing and purchase by the City, so DTSN was relegated to the history files.
Last Friday night (forty-one years almost to the day from the first weekend of DTSN), the North Fourth Art Center hosted Four Directions, a gallery opening and poetry reading. It just so happened that one of the artists, Jane Sprague, was part of the original small but wildly imaginative…and wild… DTSN staff and one of the Friday night poets was Larry Goodell, who must have been one of the DTSN participants at a coffeehouse we set up in a vacant building along Central. Kathy Schwartzman, my main program assistant lo those many years ago was in town and Bill McHugh, a friend/historian, who did ‘stuff’ for the festival also came over for the evening. How fine it was.
Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a (gallery) quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy [plus]
Old friends, memory brushes the same years, silently sharing the same fears
(Old Friends/Paul Simon)
APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
(T.S. Eliot/The Waste Land)
Before leaving, with some measure of relief, my birth month in this watershed year (the month and year I got old…) of 2019, I must speak to Eliot’s April meditations—which do perfectly reflect my April mood this year.
I declared my travel passion ‘cooled’ in the last post. It’s true and the doldrums into which this frightening birthday year have dropped me get most of the credit. I’ve felt fragile and forgetful and finished. Thanks April. Dead land, dull roots, dried tubers. Yeah, I know, April showers are presumably stirring those dead dull dried things back to life but sometimes I wonder if there’s enough rain in the world for that much stirring.
Now. Finally. The month (merry, merry) of May has arrived and I declare all mention of age over and done with. In fact it may be impossible to find a bad word about May in poetry, quotation or song. Here are two examples:
“And a bird overhead sang Follow,
And a bird to the right sang Here;
And the arch of the leaves was hollow,
And the meaning of May was clear.”
(Algernon Charles Swinburne)
The world’s favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May.
(Edwin Way Teale)
And is it possible…that only eleven hours into May, travel is back on my mind? Phew! What a relief. On the very last day of this month I fly off to Minnesota, to the bottomless green of early summer in the north, the easy availability of caramel malts and sour cream raisin bars, the fine-tuned hum of mosquitoes and the haunting cries of loons (the feathery kind). I feel the happy anticipation of Going Home buoying my spirits already. Indeed, my inner child is already celebrating a much needed visit out to the ‘old place’ where the voices of summers past and apple pies cooling on the roof of the old car and sweet peas preparing to scent our warm weather content haunt me (in a good way). My outer old-child is looking forward to evenings with Robert and Marsha, chatting happily (or grumpily) as the bro endlessly channel surfs; shoe-buying at Bender’s; visits with an old schoolmate, old neighbor, old cousin and Bob Dylan’s old house in Hibbing (shameful that I’ve never paid homage in the past). Lots of ‘old’ but that doesn’t bother me now that it is May.
I know…I know. I always do these sentimental tributes to Minnesota before, after and during my visits ‘home.’ Can’t help myself. I love it there.
And…welcome back May. It’s been way too long.
Remember that first passage of time when you loved another human being? How mentally and physically consuming it was? Those emotions and feelings aren’t so very different with any of our other passions are they? A passion for gardening or cycling or politics or, in my case, travel also contains that desire and/or tendency to consume and be consumed by….
However, unfortunately or fortunately, many passions cool over time including our ‘consuming’ love for another person, gardening, biking or, yes, even travel. Where am I going with this you ask? I will quickly say that I’m not contemplating giving up travel yet…can’t really, given all of the plane and train tickets already purchased for this year…and the places I still must go out there in the world. But…maybe…the temperature of this passion has decreased by a degree or two, a sort of reverse global warming.
It’s the little things. In the past, even sitting exhaustedly in a crowded airport lounge, when flights to other cities were announced I would feel a tingle of interest, a modicum of longing. Now, I’m like ‘Just take me home, okay.’ Of course the fact that I’m always on Southwest Airlines when in the states and the announcement is probably about boarding for Orange County or Des Moines could have something to do with the missing thrill.
Also sadly true is the increased regimentation, unfriendliness, discomfort, lack of amenities of travel. It is the absolute truth that I’ve been on long distance buses in the ‘barely-developing world’ that are several times better in every above mentioned category. The general check-in experience at airports in the ‘white world’ did originally have a lot to do with 9-11 but it continues in an ever-enhanced climate of well-armed hate that still isn’t true across the globe. Discomfort, well that’s about money/corporate greed. Ditto lack of amenities. What I’m saying is that getting to and returning from other places/more welcoming conveyances is in no small measure responsible for the diminution of my travel lust.
Happily I have a long railway journey coming up in late October. Is it possible I’m more excited about that than the forthcoming trips along the Silk Route or eating walleye in Minnesota? Three days, two nights in my own compartment on a train from Albuquerque to Wilmington, Delaware. My love for trains has been stated ad nauseam—some East Indian trains exempted. All others—European, Russian, Mongolian, Chinese, Burmese are unqualifiedly adored. And buses all over Europe, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. I love them all. US trains are okay, maybe not up to a shared compartment on the trans-Siberian Express, but okay. And a whole compartment to myself across most of the country with meals in the dining car and books to read and thoughts to think. Perfect.
But wait, this post is about the perceived cooling of my travel passion. It is true. I do look forward to future trips with a slightly reduced enthusiasm…really…but if a rich uncle (the one from Nigeria or Panama for example) actually sent me a whole bunch of money would I still want to go to every country in the world…all 89 more (197 total minus the 108 so far visited)…Would I Go? Duh! I would have to wouldn’t I? Since I’ve already been on Indian trains what is there left to fear. Perhaps South Sudanese buses? Or unheated ships in the Arctic Ocean? Or a giant cruise ship going pretty much anywhere?
Wow. Hard to kill off passion. You see that old lover across the street; you envy all the fresh-from-their-gardens veggies over which your friends gloat on their FB posts; REI has a sale focusing on cycling gear and you have no reason anymore to spend your money ‘foolishly’; You see a map. That old passion rears its still desiring head. Okay, apparently I’m not in the final final throes of de-passionization. (Note paragraph on train travel!) I can feel it coming though. Next year perhaps…
After some days of being ensconced in the cozy care of my San Diego family, it was north by Southwest to San Leandro where the working masses move when unable to afford San Francisco, or after they’ve been mugged in Oakland…but still love Bay Area salaries and lifestyles. My granddaughter, Lace the Engineer (first engineer in the family…and a female besides…so I mention it whenever the opportunity presents), lives there, sharing digs with another young professional, while considering, finally, a move to that most perfect and unaffordable of all cities, San Francisco. Harder and harder to live there on even two substantial salaries but, if you can, why not for awhile before you find yourself in possession of one cat, two large house plants, three kids, four dogs…and your ageing grandmother comes to live…Just kidding okay!
Friday evening and Saturday were occupied thusly: a lovely meal with Lace’s friend Jon before holing up for the next 36 hours or so with lots of good bread and olive oil topped off with all manner of tasty veggies and butters and miniature pies, pots of coffee AND Season One of “Killing Eve.” I consider myself to be in charge of ensuring that Teresa has a modest amount of sloth (and bad habits) in her life. I will say she seems amenable to being led astray now and then.
Sunday was ever so slightly more stressful as it was necessary to shower and leave the apartment before returning to finish off ‘Eve’ (but only season one; knowing there’s another season already in the bag of an excellent series is much like having money in the bank, better actually since you are not required to make wise decisions). Our outing was to the Mama Papa Lithuanian restaurant in Alameda to meet my friend Susan’s daughter, a friend also, and a lovely young woman. Her mom died about three years ago and it’s a loss I still feel. Susan and I were never Best Friends exactly but we were good friends and supporters of each other in our efforts to lead interesting and meaningful lives in the arts while trying to also be good (single) moms. I’m not sure either of us wanted our daughters and sons to grade us but by now they seem to think we did reasonably well.
Susan was a writer and poet, a good one. I not sure I would have ever made my way to more than a passing acquaintance with the great contemporary poets if Susan had not presented them at the KiMo over the years. She moved to the UK for some years, where I visited her once, and later I thrilled enviously to the announcements of publication of her two books. Susan was one of those friends you don’t see for long stretches of time but when you’re back together it’s as though no time has passed. So yes, I do still miss her…it feels way past time for our next tea and a long confab about books and writing.
I stayed over an extra day to attend my former UCLA teacher’s reading in San Francisco. Unfortunately that did not happen but the good news is her new book was waiting in my mailbox when I returned. In any case who can complain about a day that involved reading, writing and napping! I do love hanging around in Lace’s life and environment whatever we are or are not doing.
Made it. Hike. Didn’t Die. Borscht. Now real life can begin again…and, darn, it turns out NOT to be all about me. However holiday actually does continue just a few more days and, next up, two of my favorite subjects, Jordan and the beach.
So nice after many years to catch up with presenter friend Jordan. Also known as Travel Friend Jordan. We met at conferences and festivals over the years when we were both dance presenters so it was great fun to hear what colleagues with whom I’m no longer in touch are doing now. And also to share the odd and interesting details of our lives since our last conversations lo those many years ago. HOWEVER the best was…the travel talk AND the discovery I’m only a few countries behind Jordan who has actually traveled more than any other human being I personally know. One hundred and thirteen countries, most actual visits of at least a few days. Pretty impressive. Although. I. Am. Going. To. Catch. Up. (At 108…I’m close!)
Jordan and I have travel history beyond those work meetings though. While at a festival/workshop in southern Poland Jordan rented a car for a drive into Slovakia…and there I was, jumping up and down and saying ‘take me, take me.’ He did and the rest is history, the history of how I get to check off Slovakia as ‘visited’ and how we established some minimum requirements for ‘visiting’ (Everyone agrees airports do not count). Here are the basics that must be included for that coveted check mark: a meal, a visit to the loo, a walk-down at least one street/road/path, and, usually, a stamp in one’s passport (although there are exceptions to this rule). So, although I can’t quite remember what we ate or the condition of the restrooms, and I think the walk was only to a souvenir shop, it is a done deal…I’ve been to Slovakia. Thanks Jordan.
Coffee morning with Jordan followed by afternoon Coronado Island beach walk (five miles!) with Scott. Pretty much one of those just-right days.
It was Monday morning and there I was…still in holiday mode. Teresa went off to work and I sat around blogging with a whole slothful day ahead. I stayed an extra day in order to go a reading in San Francisco; my UCLA writing adviser has a new book and perhaps hearing her talk about it would inspire me to write more/better/brilliantly…or at the very least simply to put words on paper/feed words into Surfy. (That plan fell apart but the sloth part of the day worked well.)
But back to April 3rd when the still ‘all about me’ phase of the week hadn’t quite run its course.
Do love that Pomegranate restaurant.
My thoughtful family gave me a perfect birthday; truly a day to remember. I only had three objectives: Climb Black Mountain; Do not drop dead at the actual anniversary moment of my birth; and Eat Russian food. They were all met with only a little effort on my part and lots of family love and humor. I promise…once this photo album is posted, there’ll only be one or two more posts about me and then we’ll move on to the Bay Area and granddaughter-land. So here’s the day in all its celebratory splendor.
One of those days of a millions photo ops…so for starters just the Black Mountain Challenge. In my honest moments I do share that Black Mountain isn’t exactly Everest and it’s definitely not comparable to climbing the Sandias to the Crest. Still. It feels good to do every birthday and it’s small enough so I can manage the climb a few more years. Hopefully.
I do have the Best Sons. Honestly. New Mexico Steven flew out, joining California Scott, to do a Victory Climb up Black Mountain. The victory being…living this long I suppose. Being smart enough to join the Pres Healthplex gym quite a long time ago (Truthfully the Healthplex gets a whole lot of the credit for this climb). Eating fewer doughnuts and more vegetables (well not that many more vegetables…but I’m working on it).
It is April 1st in San Diego. It is not my Black Mountain-climbing birthday yet but yesterday some west coast family friends came over for dinner and cake in honor of this week’s upcoming celebration of my increasingly unavoidable oldness.
As usual…when in San Diego the view from Scott’s dining room must launch each visit. This is Mission Hills and, as you know from every one of my excessively documented visits, from here there’s a good look at San Diego on the move. Directly down the steepish slope is the Washington Street off-ramp—right in front of the 5 northbound—just this side of the first miles of one of the world’s great roadways, the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway). Next up, a San Diego International Airport runway where one can be lulled into believing that all air travel is completely safe, on time and colored blue and red with a splash of gold. Moving on west we pick up the six lanes of Harbor Drive—just before dipping into the blue blue waters of San Diego Bay (where right now a giant cruise ship dwarfs tourist day cruisers and flocks of sailboats)—and Coronado Island and a chunk of high land called Cabrillo—and, finally, the grand and glorious Pacific Ocean all the way to China! I am mesmerized, day or night, by this view. For a few years after Scott and Sandra moved here, I would literally spend whole mornings drinking coffee and staring out at the comings and goings of this SoCal world.
Today’s April first, the first day of my April 2019 to April 2020 challenge, a picture a day, identifying what the day most represents—in the lives of me, my family and friends, and this time and the place where I am. I’ll post the photos in another blog and if they’re brilliant I’ll publish them in a blog book at year’s end. The mission of this photography exercise is to make me pay attention. Entries in my 14-year daily journal and a photo-a-day should do the job—enabling me, on my 100th birthday to look back and say, ‘what a great time I’ve had these last couple of decades’—as I’m carried up Black Mountain in a litter by my multitudes of great grandchildren (I have none of those little creatures yet but by 2039 they’ll be at least ten years of age and able to lift heavy objects). And, thanks to Wikipedia, here’s more important information. Another form [of litter] commonly called a sedan chair, consists of a … windowed cabin suitable for a single occupant, also carried by at least two porters in front and behind…these porters were known as “chairmen”. These have been very rare since the 19th century, but such enclosed portable litters have been used as an elite form of transport for centuries, especially in cultures where women are kept secluded. Sedan chairs, in use until the 19th century, were accompanied at night by link-boys who carried torches. Perhaps, if my sons can still climb Black Mountain by then and aren’t too feeble for the carrying of torches, we could make it a night climb and they could serve as the link-boys?
I am happy. I am healthy. I am in San Diego. I am going to Nordstrom’s after awhile. Then what? A beach walk? Okay Old Age…so far so good.
Later. Still happy and healthy. Nordstrom’s and new jeans. Barnes and Noble instead of a beach walk because I’m almost through my current Nordic Noir exploration of Bad People in Sweden. Nice late afternoon snack at a quiet and friendly Mission Hills place called Harley Grey with a lemonade/watermelon vodka drink and French Fries with gravy (otherwise known as poutine) and pleasant mother/son conversation.
And therefore I must have a birthday. This is a hard one…so I’ve stopped writing book or blog. Stopped thinking generally. I’ve just been Marie Kondo-ing my past. This compulsion to ‘tidy up’ closets, bookshelves, desks, drawers, bins, and cupboards; to rid my life of what doesn’t ‘spark joy,’ elicit a tear, of that which no son or grandchild will want, is powerful. It has become very nearly an obsession and I’m not sure of the impetus other than age. But I’ve had many birthdays now on which to practice getting another year older and they have been cause for a certain measure of anxiety…even a modicum of fear perhaps. This year is different somehow; but no, I do not believe I will draw my last breath at 3pm on April 3rd; and yes, I’m in excellent health (for my age!) and will climb Black Mountain that day…it’s just that…well…it really is all downhill from here…no matter how many steps my Fitbit claims I’ve walked or how many vitamins (or worse yet leafy greens) I’ve consumed. Downhill.
This post is intended to get us from the end of January until now—when travel resumes and life and this blog have purpose once again. The next post will arrive via cyberspace from the Democratic Republic of California, San Diego to be exact. Now however, join me for a picture album of February, March, and me in Albuquerque.
Let the Travel Year 2019 Begin.
Now and then I get just a little sentimental about my sons. About those earlier years of motherhood. Before the three of us became responsible adults (Am I admitting it did take me awhile…). And before the time of the sons caring for this frail little old mother/lady which isn’t quite here yet…although drawing nearer by the moment! Many of these photos have been posted before but here they are again so grandchildren can take notice of the previous ‘cuteness’ of their now ageing fathers.
The other day it occurred to me that I spend a lot of time posting photos and glowing comments about my amazing grandchildren…and rarely say very much about the formative years of two of the extraordinary people who helped make them the practically perfect young humans they are…yes, that would be my sons, their fathers (not discounting for a moment their wonderful moms, but this is a photo album of some years in the lives of the boys).
I have two sons, Donald Scott and Steven Jon. Scott was born the month before my 21st birthday and Steven when I was twenty-four years old. So young. In the late 50s/early 60s girls got married just out of high school and soon thereafter had babies. True, many went off to college and then…got married and had babies: in fact almost all girls followed that love and marriage and babies path. I happened to meet and marry a charming young airman stationed in Orlando, Florida and, as a matter of course, became the mother of two lively, bright-eyed, handsome, and curious little boys. What great good luck that really was.
These nice little boys were, fortunately or otherwise, born to a bookish, somewhat introverted mother, and a playful, if often absent, father. At least their dad had actually helped raise younger sisters so he knew a little about small children but I, while loving my sons dearly, had no clue what to do with babies. I’d spent my entire youth hanging out in the woods, reading books, and wishing I were prettier and more clever. Without The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care by Dr. Benjamin Spock it could have all gone wrong, but thanks to the good doctor and, being the plucky little boys that they were, they survived pretty handily.
It turned out that there were far too many relocations and dislocations in the boys’ young lives; although they came through all that too. I suspect the stories they’ve woven of their childhoods are sometimes better in the telling than in the living.
It all started when Steven was nine months old and brother Scott approaching his fourth birthday. The three of us climbed on board a Northwest Airlines plane in snowy Bemidji, Minnesota and flew halfway around the world to Angeles, Pampanga, Luzon, Philippines. The boys thrived there of course; adored by a housekeeper/nanny named Lety and a security guard named Chris, they really did have their own little tropical paradise.
Too soon, just a little less than two years later, it was back home to the US and Seymour Johnson AFB in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Military bases used to be the best of places for young kids. Sheltered, watched over by countless military moms, playmates galore; also bases provided things to do, places to-be: air shows, pools, safe streets.
Paradise is an elusive location though, and when their dad left for an overseas assignment, the boys, various pets and I eventually wound up in an apartment in Greenville, North Carolina where I could continue a college life started in Goldsboro at East Carolina University. There, I am sorry to say, life was a little more awkward for the boys—their secure buddy-filled lives on base traded for an apartment with mom, a new school and no familiar friends. So it is these decisions, made rather carelessly by me, that I regret…I say ‘sorry, guys’ for being a thoughtless mother; they say (kindly) ‘Hey mom, we had great childhoods, no regrets.’ I do appreciate their considerate take on it, although the truth was probably somewhat different from time to time.
The good news for the boys was their father’s next posting, Holloman AFB in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Back to the good base life, Perhaps this was the last absolutely easy carefree time in their lives. Base school, all those friends with whom to share games and pranks and treats on long summer nights and crisp fall afternoons. They had been exposed to my college life and politically active friends and chose to wear their white-blonde hair longer than the average military kid. This led to dad being chastised a couple of times when his wild little boys were easily identified as part of the pack that put the proverbial dog-poop filled bag on Sergeant WhatHisName’s porch. Fortunately Don was a nice guy who forgave his sons their foibles pretty easily.
What followed all too soon would turn out to be a permanent move to Albuquerque, New Mexico, followed by divorce; a mother too involved in multiple jobs, school, and politics; and several neighborhood and public school changes for the kids as our economic fortunes waxed and waned.
Amazingly enough, Scott and Steven came through it all, a little battered and bruised, but also kind, smart, honest, funny, loyal…way above average human beings in other words. They went to school; they worked; they moved away for awhile, but Steven came back while Scott deserted us for that left-coast oasis of California.
Of course, nice guys like these create families with great partners and exceptional children. They work hard and play even harder as hikers, divers, runners, cyclists, gym rats, and dog wrestlers (a ‘sport’ common to all dog lovers. They are splendid fathers and probably kinder to their mother than she deserves.
So obviously I’m so very proud of these guys. If I’ve made them sound a little too perfect well let me tell you…. Just kidding. I mean you are perfect, guys……….nearly, almost, 99%. Love you.