February 05, 2014
To Matriarchs & Our Roots
I’ve always loved the word Roots. In English at least, the word always made so much sense to me since the word’s foundation is in fact, a foundation….Roots are the source of where things are formed and grow; they are the part of a plant which attaches to the ground and gives it support, just like a family does. It is also the basic cause and the source of origin of something, like our culture and “hood” provide us throughout our lives.
We are all born from a root, a strong thread of sorts that binds us to a known place, a known culture, a known color and a known value system and just like a maple tree knows its soil, we know our own. And, just like that tree grows and blossoms into something rich, pure and beautiful before it eventually withers and dies, we too go through a similar journey, passing through cycles just as nature does, calling on our “roots” to give us the support and strength we need to get to the next stage of our lives.
Somehow we have this notion as children that our parents and grandparents won’t ever die because they were the first source of strength, protection and support we ever knew; it doesn’t seem possible that the matriarch or patriarch everyone turned to for strength, would someday lose their own.
Having been raised by my grandparents, I’ve experienced the journey to death more often than most people my age and seen more people I care about and love slip away before I felt it was their time. We’ve all experienced death in some shape or form -- even as children, we have seen a family pet or bird we may have only nurtured for a week or two die before our eyes.
Amidst all of this tearing and pulling away from our strong albeit gnarly roots, a matriarch or patriarch was there to see us through. While we were fortunate to have a few in our extended family, it was hard to hold a candle to Aunt Jo, the feminine and graceful force behind so many functions and gatherings.
Above, she carries one of her five boys in the 1950s at a summer family outing. Below, four generations gather under one roof.
Traditionally a matriarch is a woman who rules or dominates a family, group, or state or a mother who is head and ruler of her family and descendants.
In some cultures, the matriarch holds more weight than it does in other societies. In the first half of this century, they often came from extended families in the states because the “extended family” was something we cared about and nurtured much more than we do today. The American culture if there is such a thing, was created from a mishmash of quirky customs, each generation struggling to extend the traditions they held most dear.
Aunt Jo who married into a family with customs stemming from Eastern Europe, Wales, England and French Huguenot culture, was one of those matriarch forces. Her roots came from Polish catholic descent and from those roots, I learned to polka, make a mean rice pudding, how to maintain dignity and grace under pressure (especially amidst a whole lotta male energy) and remain constant when things go south.
Together with my great grandmother and grandmother who raised me, these three matriarchs created a family thread for which our roots never strayed.
(The blurry photo below is made up of family members who were nearly all born in the 1800s, including my great grandmother who I lived with for awhile. Albeit short, she is the one who assertively stands in the front with the 'fake chicken' as if she's commander-in-chief...and oh btw, she always believed she was)
We always knew Aunt Jo would outlive every family member from her generation even as children, and so she did…I learned of her stroke not quite a week ago and this afternoon of her passing, the day after her 95th birthday.
Her passing is not just the passing of an amazing soulful woman but of an era, a time when extended family connections mattered, a time when we made time to cook homemade meals for our children and TV, PC and mobile screens didn’t preside over face-to-face talks. We partied together and also mourned together. We went to church together and fought when we got home. Passing the time pissing and moaning over martinis and gin and tonics were the order of the day and most of it was done through a thick cloud of smoke, something people did inside not out.
Adults swore but told us not to, boys would get whacked when they misbehaved and girls took piano and dance lessons. We washed our hair under the kitchen sink in the winter and used green Prell from floating plastic bottles in the lake during the summer. We had curfews but few followed them and if we missed a day of school to help our dad fix a car, it wasn’t considered truancy. We played poker and pitch with adults by the time we were ten and there was always plenty of music, dancing, vodka, sauerkraut, kabasi sausage on the grill and horseshoe matches on the lawn.
This was the small town New England working class America I knew. It was…and remains, my roots. Aunt Jo’s dignity, grace and strength were part of it, as was my grandfather’s “beat-the-system” attitude and my grandmother’s “don’t ever abandon your feminine self.”
Above is a group of women you should be equally scared and honored to know - a treasure, a joy, a lifetime of stories and an inner strength they wore so proudly. Had I not known them and seen life through their eyes, I would not be able to write these words today.
My three mentors sit in positions #2, 4 and 6 in the photo above -- very few women in my life since this miraculous generation I'm proud to call family have given me the courage and strength to move forward as I have, AND even more importantly, accepted me for who I was as a 'let's challenge the status quo child" and who I have now become, which merely extends that same child's dream and heart.
Like many Americans, I grew up learning to embrace four different ethnicities and three religions, even though there were fights between family members over more than one of them. The catholics in the family hung crosses in the dining rooms and bedrooms and the protestants went to boring Sunday morning services and raised their kids with a sense of honor and ethics, yet overdid it on weekends in rural Mad Men style.
At some point, we decide to leave our roots behind for awhile to explore and dabble. Along the way, we taste different kinds of candy, speak in different tongues, drape ourselves with different materials and shades, and discover that there are nearly 1,300 varieties of bananas and 17 species of penguins. Who knew?
Even though I’ve now lived in California for awhile, I still can’t call it home nor ever will. More than any other state, I consider California the most rootless state because its purpose historically hasn’t been to create roots but to sow them. Although immigrants first landed in the east, those with entrepreneurial spirits fled west when the Gold Rush hit in 1848 in hope of a better life.
Beyond the Gold Rush, the promise didn’t stop – from Hollywood and beach culture to America’s first sushi and award-winning wine, California led the way. Today, it’s technology and people now swarm to Silicon Valley for the promise of abundance or the opportunity to build their own thing.
California is a place of “roots” of things and inventions but not people; the melting pot of voices and ideas all stem from somewhere else. Skype was invented by Estonians, Google’s founders are from Russia and Yahoo’s founder is Taiwanese born.
These entrepreneur’s values and roots came from far away foreign lands and while mine came from a combination of five of them, they were all deeply planted in New England.
Some of us run from our roots forever and have good reasons to do so, whether it be a black cotton farmer who left the South in the 1950s because he had no choice, a Holocaust survivor who landed wherever a boat took them, the small town boy from a small European town whose dream was to produce Hollywood movies, or the Chinese girl who might have been killed in the early 1980’s had she not found a new country to call home.
As Ping Fu and Baratunde Thurston exemplify in their books “Bend Not Break” and “How to be Black”, our roots never escape us. In his book "Rescue America," Chris Salamone talks about his Italian roots as a first generation American and how today’s generation has abandoned the very thing that made this country the force it became.
Without our roots, America will look, sound and feel like a bland echo-chamber of brilliant minds without soul, without culture and without purpose. When we sleep most peacefully at night, it’s when our soul is aligned with our purpose and both are in alignment with our roots, even if we are not living on the soil which birthed us.
We’ve all been there.
Richard Russo who writes painfully at times about our shared hood, is so raw in his storytelling, I knew that if I were to meet him, we’d inherently understand each other without needing to exchange a word simply because we share the same roots.
After reading a few of his novels, I wondered if his Uncle Richard had ever sipped whiskey with my Uncle Alton or brought in the morning with a bad cuppa coffee at an old Main Street diner which no longer exists. Or, perhaps they labored in a leather mill together or one of his cousins had played cards with my Aunt Jo.
Nearly a decade into living in California, I don’t feel as if I truly “know” anyone or even worse, understand anyone. This is the truth. And yet, I have 5,120 blah blah whaaadevveerr friends on Facebook.
I write this on this longer than normal American Airlines flight from JFK to SFO, and to my right is a man from Turkey who moved to New York over twenty years ago and to my left is a woman whose mother was Syrian and father was British, yet she grew up in Canada. We talk about roots – their soil, their food, their religion.
When we stop talking and the movie is over, the plane is silent. I can’t stop thinking about my Aunt Jo, the glue who kept an otherwise dysfunctional family functional and strong. The wife of Ed, my grandfather’s closest brother who was blinded in the war, she raised five boys while maintaining elegance, fortitude, strong traditional family values, tradition and faith.
Fighting the tears knowing she could be gone by the time the plane landed, I thought about the countless family gatherings at their house and our summer camp, my grandparents singing at some alcohol-infused function and my Aunt Jo and Uncle Ed dancing in the driveway of their house where many a’ clam bake and barbecue took place.
Above, the early 1960's. Below, the mid-1990's.
When a family member we love dearly passes, we reflect on the beautiful memories of our childhood but in doing so, we also relive some of the painful ones too...the times when we weren’t understood or accepted by the family members we somehow felt we needed the most approval from -- sound familiar?
I’ve learned over the years that in order to fully embrace our roots in a healthy way, we need to absorb the stories and lessons learned from those who did accept and love us for who we were and are today, not those who didn’t and simply won’t. Secondly, roots isn’t just about the people, customs, religion and food, it’s also about the soil which nurtured us.
It’s important to embrace the nature and soil from our hood because what our hands and feet felt as a child is what our body knows and understands and even more importantly, “it” understands and knows us.
The Adirondack Mountains understand me and I them – there’s no judgment or need to be anyone or anything I am “not” around them. I walk among her trees and I swim in her lakes. And in doing so, it brings me more peace, serenity and acceptance than anything I’ve ever known.
Long walks in the snow, swims and canoe rides, red cardinals sitting on maple trees, lumpy mashed potatoes, corn on the cob at clam bakes, flower corsages on Easter Day, handpicked blueberries over French toast and parties with adults who drank more martinis and smoked more packs of cigarettes than days they went to school.
This is a Tribute to you my Dear Aunt Jo, one of the most precious women I have ever known and have had the honor and opportunity to love. Thank you for all that you were and the beautiful imprint you have left on all of us. It’s hard to imagine a life without you in it, so when you decide what bird you will present yourself to us in the months ahead, please let us know. I will look for you outside my kitchen window.
"Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Top photo credit: jtl.us. Red cardinal bird credit: quoteko.com. All other credits Renee Blodgett.
December 20, 2013
Happy Holidays & Reflections on 2013!
As I began reflecting on the 2013 year, I realized it has been a watershed year for me in so many ways. What an incredible year of personal growth and professional reflection, where projects and encounters I didn't think would be diverse and creative ended up being more powerful because of what they didn't offer more than what they did. I experienced calmer and more serene waters, and re-ignited with nature in a way I haven't since childhood. As the 2013 year begins to close to an end, here are some photo highlights from the year.
Happy Holidays & A Toast To An Incredibe 2014!
April 19, 2013
Reflections While Boston, My Old Hood, Is Under Attack
Being on the road and in back-to-back meetings for the last three days, I haven’t had time to digest and process the Boston Marathon incident until tonight. In fat I heard about it during a meeting with a media buddy who was late to the lunch since he was covering the story and had to file before leaving the office. His brow was strained as he said, “sorry I’m late, but I was buried deep in the Boston tragedy.”
My heart raced…..he didn’t at first mention the Marathon, so after my mind darted from massive fire to another shooting along the lines of what happened in a Colorado theatre, he went on, seeing that I hadn’t had heard the news. I heard fragments: Bombs. Finish Line. Terrorism I asked? Chris didn’t know.
Since Boston had been my home for many years and I have experienced Boylston Street’s chaotic crowds for many a’ Spring watching friends and even on one occasion, a boyfriend cross the finish line. I worked with the Massachusetts Association for the Blind when I was in my twenties, while living there, and even watched blind runners I was helping to raise money for equipment they needed, cross that very same finish line.
Personally, I’ve never been a runner so have never quite understood the intense satisfaction and glorious reward a runner must feel after so much training, to then “high five” loved ones as he or she made it to the end, some not quite knowing they would. I’ve known many people participate over the years – some of them trying to improve their time from the previous year, some trying to prove that they had the endurance to make it at all, and others who flew in from other cities because they considered the Boston Marathon a race they must do at least once in their lifetime.
In my later Boston years, we stopped going every year since as I grew older, fewer and fewer people I knew participated and more often than not, friends wanted to avoid the crowds and the chaos of what those crowds brought, none of which is the chaos that poor Boston experienced this year. It wasn’t unlike New Yorker’s fleeing the city during New Year’s Eve or local Brazilians heading to the country at Carnival time.
That said, my early Boston Marathon memories are precious – we were young and so we’d do anything to support our friends and their causes, adventures and missions in life. When Chris referenced the Marathon as the location for the tragedy (oh god, terrorism my mind raced), I realized that my insanely overbooked schedule of the forthcoming few days wouldn’t allow me to digest this incident in a way I desperately wanted to and needed to.
And so, like doctors who deal with the dying every day, and can’t get emotional about every patient they treat, I forced myself to feel very little for 48 hours so I wouldn’t let emotion prohibit (in a way) my ability to execute the insane schedule I spent nearly 80 hours creating, with very little sleep in the process.
I nodded and shook my head in disbelief like every other American in our path over the last three days, but I kept those nods superficial to myself, for I knew that diving into the photos, the interviews and the stories of the victims, survivors and families which I spent time doing last night, would distract me too much to succeed in the delicate execution of a “schedule”, the one people were counting on me to deliver.
And so, I didn’t spend time reflecting on Boston like I did tonight, fighting the tears until I couldn’t fight them anymore, as I scrolled through photo after photo, seeing faces of dead children and twenty year old vibrant faces who never finished their lives, and all for what? And, then to see a visual of 27-year old Jeff Bauman’s tattered bloody limbs as he left the scene after a bomb blew his lower half to pieces, was enough to put anyone over the edge. I realized that I heard about 9/11 while shifting furniture around in my Boston apartment with an old high school friend from upstate New York. The phone rang. An old boyfriend from many moons ago. Australian. The line was muffled. Not clear. Slightly breathless, he asked if I was okay. Not a man to ramble, he began to, until I stopped him and said whoah, slow down. He spoke of bombs, of terrorism, of massive buildings collapsing. New York City. I heard snippets most of which bypassed my memory bank because all of seemed so Hollywood to me, so much so that I dismissed it as some “down under” TV sensationalism that was over exaggerating America’s sense of media humor. Then his voice became serious. Turn on the F-G TV and so I did and…..when I did, I still dismissed it. It must be some movie re-run of sorts I thought, until I saw that we were on CNN and then suddenly began to absorb what I had just heard.
I tried not to go to that place when I heard about the explosion, for when I lived in London, I prepared myself for several years of urban life in the city which consisted of occasional IRA explosions in bars, trains and on busy streets. I had lived in Johannesburg when bombs went off less than a mile away from the ritziest suburbs of the city….close enough where you could see smoke filling the air from the after maths while wealthy whites (at the time) sipped Sauvignon Blanc from crystal and ate strawberries with whipped cream as the men prepared a“braai” in the background. I lived in Israel at a time that was considered safer than others, but never entirely safe and within months, not years, friends I left behind were buying designer gas masks, something which became part of their every day life.
Maybe it’s not the kind of terrorism that we all fear most, the foreign kind from “over there,” in the religious lands American natives can’t get their heads around. And, maybe it is. We still don’t know, but those details right now don’t comfort those whose family members lost someone on April 15 near or on the finish line on Boston’s Boylston Street. All they can and must feel, is pain, terror, anger and excruciating loss of a senseless death of someone close to them.
A few days into the incident, more than sixty victims of Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon remain hospitalized, including a dozen who are in critical condition. Seeing the faces of those who are no longer with us — Lu Lingzi, a 23-year-old Boston University student from China; 8-year-old spectator Martin Richard; and 29-year-old spectator Krystle Campbell — brought tears to my eyes just when I thought I could shoo them away. As I dove deeper into stories, I learned that more than 170 people – runners, couples, spectators, children – were injured, some in critical condition and some who have lost limbs or senses. From a hairstylist on upscale Newbury Street, to an 11 year old with serious leg wounds and newlyweds who both lost their left legs below the knee, they are among dozens and dozens whose lives will be forever changed.
And for what? We are all asking ourselves that question. For what purpose? What message is it that they are trying to convey? Who are they trying to scare and why? What does this victimization and terror that they have created do for them and for those who are spearheading potentially a greater and much more dangerous mission?
Dr. Oz spoke about love and how love and community will be the healing factor necessary for this community. President Obama praised Boston’s resilience, their compassion and their strength. The community has bonded together people say, in a way that New Yorker’s did after 9/11. Americans are not accustomized to terrorism on their own soil — not before 9/11 and not after, until now…..if this is in fact what it is. This country may forever be changed if subsequent incidents become part of every day life, as they have in Ireland, London, Israel, South Africa and other volatile places in the world.
On this white slab of paper which isn’t really paper, but a glaring white digital screen that calls for my feelings to be conveyed, I write and write and write and this is what pours out on this very sad evening as I reflect on those we have lost and those who loved and knew those we as a nation have lost. I embrace you Boston, my old home, and send you strength, courage, love and faith, to get through this tragic time, a city poorly chosen as Obama had said, but one which will endure and hopefully heal with much support from communities around this resilient country.
November 25, 2012
The American Thanksgiving Tradition: Where Did It Go?
Thanksgiving has always been one of those holidays I never took lightly, mainly because it was the one holiday above all other holidays, where we sat down at a table together as a family...one massive large table. While this was also the plan at Christmas and attempts were made and often fulfilled, it wasn't quite the same as the tradition that we forced upon ourselves on Thanksgiving.
My family wasn't exactly "sitters." They didn't like to sit or really know how to sit, at least not for long, so it was remarkable that people showed up, did as they were told and handled hours of conversation on end.
I was born in the sixties, so after dinner, women did the dishes and men drank gin martinis and manhattans in a separate room far away from the kitchen.
Alternatively, the men headed to "the gazable" to smoke as it was famously called at my Uncle Edgar's house which was perched on a slope along a country road, one that had its fair share of pitfalls getting in and out of the driveway after a heavy snowfall.
While we weren't a family that piled on the dinner "grace" at the table, nor did we go around the table and share what we were grateful for, we were expected to talk about what we were "doing." I wasn't aware of how uncommon it was at the time, but my grandfather, father, and nearly all of my uncles and cousins ran their own businesses as did a couple aunts, so everyone was born with an instinctive entrepreneurial spirit.
In the 60s and 70s, that meant something a little different than it does today and all the men regardless of how many hours they put in during the day, also mowed, cleaned, scraped, painted, hammered and plastered during any other spare window they had.
With military men at the table who had toughened and roughened from far too many wars, the gatherings were full of far more alpha testosterone influenced flannel shirts than dresses with flowers and pearls. The men were men, the kind who wouldn't settle for anything but strong women who could conquer the world in case they couldn't one day.
One thing that bonded us during these holiday functions was games and we played plenty of them late into the night -- from cards to board games to charades. And, rest assured, no one believed that children would be messed up for life if they weren't tucked in by 8 pm every night.
Like all families, there was always a Great Aunt Hilda or Great Uncle Alton snoring in some remote room while another had a TV on that no one was watching.
Great Grandma Bert lived through at least four husbands (we lost count) and would always insist on an extra shot in her eggnog and that was after she yelled at any son who would listen to something in the world she wasn't happy about, which grew with age.
While every woman in the family baked something to contribute to the massive pile of food, there always seemed to be at least one white box of Russell Stover Chocolates on the table, the kind that cost about $3 from a nearby drug store and was brought be some lame man in the family who couldn't be bothered to spring for anything else. He figured because he could buy the box with a bow on it (they all included one around holiday time), he was safe from being completely embarrassed. Great Grandma Bert used to take a bite out of one of these highly sugared milk chocolate concoctions and if she didn't like it, she simply put it back in the box, not bothering to hide the indentation her false teeth made in the process.
As kids, our mouths would drop as she proceeded to do this to several pieces of chocolate. As a woman who was born in the 1800s, had thrown one husband out of the house and ran for some political office over the years, she didn't hold back any punches. Catching the glares from her great grandchildren, she'd pipe up and say to us laughing, "if you end up living close to a century old, you can do whatever the hell you want too."
She was always a source of amusement for her grandchildren and great grandchildren although her sons seemed to endure more than laugh, yet they all seemed to respect her strength and persistence despite how difficult she was to manage at times.
Thanksgiving memories included her boldness and directness, a symbolic force in all of our lives proving that even a woman born in the 1800s who was barely 5 feet tall could hold court and utilize her power.
I never got to ask her what the source of her strength was through it all because I was never old enough to understand that a woman had such a thing as a "source" until years later.
I sometimes wonder if she's not flitting around my garden disguised as a bird or perhaps the snarly cat in my neighbor's garden who while gets into night fights from time-to-time, seems to protect the houses in the neighborhood.
From her place of strength came confidence and the gift of the gab, not quiet Gandhi-like solitude. No one in the family seemed to be short on words and not unlike an old fashioned Italian family even though our heritage came from elsewhere, everyone talked and if there was a shy member of the family, I never met them.
If someone became aggravated, annoyed or bored, they'd simply get up from the table and go bark at someone else.
In between all of this chaos was a serious meal: turkey, mashed potatoes with gobs of butter (Aunt Jo made the best of the lot), stuffing, squash, homemade cranberry sauce, pearled onions, glazed carrots, and some thick casserole dish that was loaded with ingredients bound to destroy your arteries, but between the eggnog, chocolate, whiskey and cheese at the onslaught, no one was counting.
And somewhere, somehow between the bickering and the games, we sang. Music was always part of anything we did, whether that meant a family member playing the piano or an old fashioned record we played on a turntable that someone thought was grand enough to warrant repeating every year. Dancing often followed. All of it became a tradition even if it is a blurry mess of one that is hard to piece together it was so long ago.
This concept of tradition was something I took with me as I made my way out into the world even after nearly every family member died, decreasing the pool of gatherings over the years to the fragmented unrecognizable particles they are today.
For those who are still living, they don't unite as one, but as an independent separate families in their own homes. Small and isolated but familiar and safe, forever clinging to something fuzzy off in the distance that may bring them one smile from such a far away time that it now seems like its someone else's dream.
It's one of the experiences in my life that made me appreciate other people's cultures as I made my way around the world. When the Swedes would gather around a Christmas Tree at midnight the day before, and held hands as they circled the large fur, it was merely a Nordic replica of my own family's strangeness of playing particular songs as the tree went up, while men took on one role and woman another.
Children and children's children are often the catalysts that keep traditions alive and when fewer families have them or the great aunts who insisted on keeping traditional gatherings alive have passed, the tradition becomes a mere memory, one that shares little snippets and pieces to someone else in a weird, but sweet kind of way.
Since my family has become a smattering of black and white prints on a refrigerator door, rather than guests at a dinner table, I didn't want the concept of Thanksgiving as I once experienced it to become so blurry that I would forget the taste of that insanely thick casserole dish I can never remember the name of, or the smells of my Aunt Betty's kitchen before we polished off loaves of sweet breads freshly pulled from her 1930's stove.
OR, the wet smell of the orange and red leaves that were days away from being covered by snow. Then there was the taste of the icicle that hung from my Uncle Dick's house, the smell of our car as we drove home with leftovers after a long succulent day and the smell of my aunt's basement as we crawled our way through the dusty and dark nooks and crannies waiting for appetizers to be served.
Later, other marvelous things were added like the pumpkin and blueberry pies I baked, one of which won top prize in the New York State Fair, and my grandmother's unforgettable rice pudding with cloves and cinnamon. Food mattered. Conversation mattered. Games mattered. Bickering mattered. Being real mattered. And, most importantly, showing up mattered.
I'm astounded how many people don't bother with Thanksgiving at all. In the growing melting pot that we live in, it's not surprising. This year, I ended up having a late dinner with six non-Americans kind of by accident.
Family gatherings start early for most traditional American families and dinner is often served between 2 and 6 depending on the culture and part of the country, but rarely later. It was clear that it wasn't a yank who organized the dinner since the dinner reservation was at 7 at an Italian restaurant, one which oddly had a Turkey dinner special in honor of Thanksgiving.
The dressing of course was made with Italian sausage, the cranberry sauce wasn't homemade and there was no squash. My heart stopped a beat when I realized there wouldn't be squash at the table, but it wasn't quite as bad as the stuffed cream puffs that showed up for dessert. I looked around the room and sited families having dinner, and many tables had several looking down at their cell phones rather than talking to the people in front of them. I looked behind me and the cell phones were there too. To my left? Yup. To my right. Heads buried in cell phones everywhere all in lieu of a physical conversation.
The flow of that human connection is suddenly lost and the magic moments that you used to have thousands of are now diminished to perhaps one if you're lucky in an hour sitting.
Later on the train, I checked the news and was sadly reminded of another new American Thanksgiving "tradition": Black Friday, where Americans stand in long lines bundled in warm jackets waiting for a store to open.
This isn't to say that there were not plenty of American families eating dessert at the dinner table together at the same time, but it does mean that millions (not hundreds) forego that experience because "getting a deal before anyone else" has become a higher priority.
With Target and Walmart offering Black Friday deals earlier than ever this year, things got ugly: one man threatened fellow shoppers by pulling a gun while in line, another threatened to stab others waiting in a Kmart line and there was a scuffle that broke out over a cell phone deal at a Walmart.
Let's put this into perspective. Sometime in the 1960s, some brilliant marketing genuis (aka idiot), decided that Black Friday should fall on the day after Thanksgiving, a holiday dedicated to thanks, family and gratitude. Somehow along the way, we traded family reunion for retail, and togetherness and gratitude for spending money.
The term “Black Friday” was originally coined to mark the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season and somehow it has migrated into a kind of madness that derails people away from the core things that Thanksgiving represents, a far cry from how our ancestors celebrated this ancient November feast.
Local boosters in Virginia, Florida, and Texas like others who came off the boat in the 1600's, gave thanks for setting foot again on dry land. Others tout it as the annual celebration to give thanks at the close of the harvest season. How and why did retail take over a holiday focused on family, gratitude and giving?
Traditions are often there to serve as a reminder of what's real and sacred in a culture...in a nation. How did this country become SO far disconnected to what's real and sacred?
While I declined the cream puff whatever they were at the end of my Thanksgiving meal and quietly reflected how foreign the whole evening felt, I realized that 'of course' it would and should feel foreign when I was the only born and bred yank there.
I then smiled at how natural such an occurrence would be in my life having been a global traveler for so many years. It made sense that while the non-Americans at my table now lived in this country, they didn't grow up with a tradition I hold so dear. To them, they didn't know that squash should be on the table, that 7 pm is an odd time for a Thanksgiving meal, and that even if technology could be part of a conversation, that sharing was a very important part of the dinner.
They didn't grow up with this inherent tradition that houses so many beautiful and tragic memories for so many yanks across so many generations. How could they know I thought quietly.
Then I thought about so many Thanksgivings gone right and all the ones that went wrong over the years. What was constant was a bond that brought us closer together year after year.
There's a reason the words "thanks" and "giving" are in the word Thanksgiving. In fact, it's the only holiday we have as Americans that has such precious words, two words that depict the most sacred things we have: humanity.
And yet, the dismissal of this tradition was prevalent in so many ways this year, from the activities the night before, to the barrage of media coverage of Black Friday on the day of, to the next two days with a friend who spent more time on his laptop and cell phone than in a physical conversation, even during a visit from other friends while in the same room. Did we even make eye contact five times in two days?
My point here is not to beat up on my friend's connection to technology - I have my moments...we all do, especially for those of us who live in Silicon Valley. My point is how increasingly common this is becoming among friends and family and more importantly, how little we recognize the fact that this choice values a machine connection over a human connection. It has become so common that we no longer see it as "odd" or "sad" or "disrespectful" or "rude" or "distracted". What this pattern is not is present.
What followed was a failed attempt to share an old fashioned story with my friend. The story is from a record I have from the 1960s, a moment in time so lost that it is hard to find on eBay or other collectable sites today. The tale is told by a little fir tree who is looking for his true purpose in life, a story I carry with me into board rooms and other areas of my life to this day. It is a story that gives me strength.
The gift was lost: not separating from "a machine" for just a few moments in time is in fact a decision to separate from "a human" during those same few moments.
I lived in Amsterdam many years ago, a place I still hold dear to my heart. When I was about to leave the country, my closest friend who was a local, announced that he wanted to throw me a small farewell party at his house. The time of year was between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Before the evening was over, he said it was time for my gift. What followed is one of the most precious gifts I have received to this day.
Hans was a doctor and while he was not a religious man in the 'traditional' sense, he did attend a Russian Orthodox Church where he sang in a choir. He had asked his group to join him in writing lyrics and music dedicated to me and my departure from Holland.
The song was written, the group had rehearsed and then, the voices sang out in four languages while a harp played, and then...the girl cried. She cried from a place of gratitude and "thanks." She cried because it was one of the most "giving" moments she had received in her life. It was a true Thanksgiving moment, one this girl will never forget.
I had wanted to give my friend "a gift of sorts" on that sunny Thanksgiving weekend day. It saddens me to think that technology can control our life so much that we can forego tradition, a childhood memory or the true essence of what a holiday means because of addictive distractions that remove us far away from our center.
I failed to communicate why this Thanksgiving tradition should mean something to all of us and why we should take the time to embrace humanity in honor of it. And so here I am attempting to do so in a blog window while the sound of cat fights echo outside my bedroom window.
As random people were starring down at their cell phones for most of their Thanksgiving dinner the day before, rather into their friend's and family's eyes, I couldn't help but think of all the gifts....all the magical moments they were losing because of it.
What we lose by glazing over tradition and its true meaning is thousands of potential magic moments that bond humans together and form friendships that last a lifetime. By not being present with each other whether its because of Black Friday, laptops and cell phones, the inability to share what is meaningful to us and what we appreciate about each other most, or simply not showing up, we stand to lose the very core of what makes us human.
Photo Credits: Hands: Human Connection Institute, Family shots: Renee Blodgett, Human Circle shot - Theadhikaris and Turkey photo: Stockbyte.
October 22, 2012
New England Venture Summit in Boston
Now in its 7th year, the Annual New England Venture Summit, held on December 5, is an opportunity for start-ups and small businesses to connect with early stage VCs.
VCs and Experts confirmed to speak include:
- Zaid Ashai, General Partner, Point Judith Capital
- David Audibert, Managing Director, Investments, Connecticut Innovations
- Daniel Behr, Senior Vice President & Founder, Access Bridgegap Ventures
- Michael Bishop, Senior Associate, Black Coral Capital
- Nathaniel Brinn, Principal, Vital Financial
- Jason Caplain, General Partner, Southern Capitol Ventures
- Andrew Clapp, Managing Partner, Actaris Capital Partners
- Mark Peter Davis, Venture Partner, High Peaks Venture Partners
- Teodoro Forcht Dagi, Partner, HLM Venture Partners
- Brian Duncan, Venture Partner, Arboretum Ventures
- Steven Dupree, General Partner, Richmond Global
- Patrick Eggen, Senior Investment Manager, Qualcomm Ventures
- Amy Errett, Partner, Maveron
- Peter Feinstein, Managing Director, Bioventures Investors
- Guy Fish, Vice President, Fletcher Spaght Ventures
- Paul Flanagan, Managing Director, Sigma Prime Ventures
- Jonathan Fleming, Managing Partner, Oxford Bioscience Partners
- Stan Fung, Managing Director, FarSight Ventures
- Alexander Galitsky, Managing Partner, Almaz Capital Partners
- Sean Glass, Venture Partner, Novak Biddle Venture Partners
- Mark Goodman, Founder, Terawatt Ventures
- Matthew Growney, Managing Partner, Rudyard Partners
- Krishna Gupta, Founder & General Partner, Romulus Capital
- Bosun Hau, Partner, MVM Life Sciences
- Mahesh Konduru, Principal, Potomac Energy Fund
- Ben Lin, Managing Partner. Great Oaks Venture Capital
- Alexander Lloyd, Managing Director, Accelerator Ventures
- Peter Longo, President & Chief Investment Officer, Connecticut Innovations
- Nick MacShane, Senior Managing Director, Progress Ventures
- Dhiraj Malkani, Partner, Rockport Capital Partners
- Corey McCann, Principal, MPM BioVentures
- Vincent Miles, Venture Partner, Abingworth
- Ira Nydick, Senior Technology Analyst, Panasonic Venture Group
- Patrick O’Neill, Director, Investments, Connecticut Innovations
- John Onopchenko, Managing Director, Synergy Life Science Partners
- Alessandro Piol, Partner & Co-Founder, Vedanta Capital
- Kathleen Regan, Venture Partner, Radius Ventures
- Bill Reichert, Managing Director, Garage Technology Ventures
- Cynthia Ringo, Managing Partner, DBL Investors
- Gary Rubinoff, Managing Partner, Summerhill Venture Partners
- Praveen Sahay, Founder & Managing Director, WAVE Equity Partners
- John Simon, Managing Director, General Catalyst Partners
- Richard Steubi, Managing Director, Early Stage Partners
- Yanev Suissa, Investor at NEA, New Enterprise Associates
- Jeanne Sullivan, General Partner, StarVest Partners
- Anthony Sun, Partner, Aisling Capital
- Roger Sun, Principal, Baxter Ventures
- Markus Thill, Managing Director, Robert Bosch Venture Capital
- Mark Wright, Managing Director, Blue Chip Venture Company
January 01, 2012
New Years Greetings!!
January 1, 2012 in America The Free, Europe, Holidays, Magic Sauce Media, New England, New York, On Africa, On Australia, On China, On Costa Rica, On East Africa, On Fiji, On France, On Germany, On India, On Italy, On Japan, On South Africa, On Spain, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
December 25, 2011
Christmas in Every Language & Customs Around the World
Language is one of the most powerful things we have and when we can't communicate with someone because we don't know their language, we rely on hand gestures, hugs, expressions and the most universal ones: smiles when we're happy, tears when we're not.
I've spend the holidays in several countries over the years including India, Thailand, Australia, Mexico, South Africa, England, the Netherlands, Israel, France and a few places I'm sure I'm forgetting. Celebrations obviously differ even when you're celebrating within the same culture or religion. Jewish friends in New York buy a Hannukah bush, others don't honor it at all. If you've grown up in New England or northern Europe, snow often comes with Christmas and it becomes an association for you. If you live in Australia or Africa, chances are you've never had a white christmas.
Brazilians have a tradition of creating a nativity scene or Presepio, whose origins come from the Hebrew word "presepium" which means the bed of straw upon which Jesus first slept in Bethlehem. The Presepio is common in northeastern Brazil (Bahi, Sergipe, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraiba, Maranhao, Ceara, Pernambuco, Piaui and Alagoas).
In Denmark, a christmas feast was traditionally celebrated at midnight, where a special rice pudding is served. In the pudding, a single almond is hidden and whoever finds it will have good luck for the coming year. The bringer of gifts is known as Julemanden and arrives in a sleigh drawn by reindeer, a sack over his back. Sound famliar? He is asissted by Yuletide chores by elves called Juul Nisse, who are said to live in attics.
In Iraq, Christian families light candles, light a bonfire of thorn bushes and sing. If the thorns burn to ashes, good luck will be granted. When the fire dies, each person jumps over the ashes three times and make a wish.
Like in many Latin American countries, Nicaragua retains many of the customs of old Spain. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, people stroll the streets where there are many things to buy: candles, Nativity pictures, toys and foods. Children carry fragrant bouquets to the alter of the Virgin and sing carols. On Christmas Eve, church bells beckon the people to Midnight Mass.
In South America, Venezuelans attend a daily early morning church service between December 16th and 24th called Misa de Aguinaldo ("Early Morning Mass.") In Caracas, the capital city, it is customary to roller-skate to this service and many neighborhoods close the streets to cars until 8 a.m. Before bedtime children tie one end of a piece of string to their big toe and hang the other out the window. The next morning, rollerskaters give a tug to any string they see hanging.
In Japan, Christmas was apparently brought over by Christian missionaries but today, it has become very commercialized largely because gift giving is something that appeals to the culture. This is an interesting and funny story if its true, but in the scene of the Nativity when it first came to Japan, was so foreign for them because Japanese babies don't sleep in cradles. Like the states, they eat turkey on Christmas Day (ham is also common with many families) and in some places, there are community Christmas trees. Houses even have evergreens and mistletoe. They also have a god or priest known as Hoteiosho, who closely resembles Santa Claus, often depicted as an old man carrying a huge pack. He is thought to have eyes in the back of his head.
And, you've gotta love the Scots since they have so many quirky customs considering how close they live to the English. Celebration around the holidays is much bigger for New Years Eve than it is for Christmas, something they refer to as Hogmanay. This word may derive from a kind of oat cake that was traditionally given to children on New Year's Eve. The first person to set foot in a residence in a New Year is thought to profoundly affect the fortunes of the inhabitants. Generally strangers are thought to bring good luck. Depending on the area, it may be better to have a dark-haired or fair-haired stranger set foot in the house. This tradition is widely known as "first footing."
In the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia and before that known as Bohemia), they bring their traditions from the 10th century home of Good King Wenceslaus, the main character in the familiar English Christmas carol. It is said that English troops, fighting in Bohemia hundreds of years later, brought the song home with them. St. Nicholas is called Svaty Mikalas and is believed to climb to earth down from heaven on a golden rope with his companions, an angel and a whip-carrying devil.
An ancient tradition shared by the Czechs and in Poland involves cutting a branch from a cherry tree and putting it in water indoors to bloom. If the bloom opens in time for Christmas, it is considered good luck and also a sign that the winter may be short.
I'm amazed how many of these traditions involve some superficial physical ritual that somehow tells us whether good luck or bad luck will fall upon us, not unlike snapping a chicken wish bone in two I guess...or flipping a coin.
Below is a fabulous and fun list of Merry Christmas and Happy New Years in many languages from around the world. Obviously, we didn't capture them all but we did include a healthy list to get you started with practicing but you never know when you will come across someone from another culture around the holidays.
Alsatian: E güeti Wïnâchte un e gleckichs Nej Johr
Arabic: أجمل التهاني بمناسبة الميلاد و حلول السنة الجديدة (ajmil at-tihānī bimunāsabah al-mīlād wa ḥilūl as-sanah al-jadīdah)
Armenian: Շնորհաւոր Նոր Տարի եւ Սուրբ Ծնունդ: (Shnorhavor Nor Daree yev Soorp Dzuhnoont) Բարի կաղանդ և ամանոր (Paree gaghant yev amanor)
Bengali: শুভ বড়দিন (shubho bôṛodin)
Cherokee: ᏓᏂᏍᏔᏲᎯᎲ & ᎠᎵᎮᎵᏍᏗ ᎢᏤ ᎤᏕᏘᏴᎠᏌᏗᏒ - (Danistayohihv & Aliheli'sdi Itse Udetiyvasadisv)
Cheyenne: Hoesenestotse & Aa'eEmona'e
Cornish: Nadelik Lowen ha Blydhen Nowydh Da and Nadelik Looan ha Looan Blethen Noweth
Danish: Glædelig jul og godt nytår
English: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Estonian: Rõõmsaid Jõule ja Head Uut Aastat and Häid Jõule ja Head Uut Aastat
Fijian: Me Nomuni na marau ni siga ni sucu kei na tawase ni yabaki vou
Filipino: Maligayang pasko at manigong bagong taon!
Flemish: Zalig Kerstfeest en Gelukkig Nieuwjaar
French: Joyeux Noël et bonne année
German: Frohe/Fröhliche Weihnachten - und ein gutes neues Jahr / ein gutes Neues / und ein gesundes neues Jahr / und einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr
German (Swiss): Schöni Fäschttäg / Schöni Wienachte -- und e guets neus Jahr / en guete Rutsch is neue Johr -- Schöni Wiehnachte und es guets Neus -- Schöni Wiänachtä, äs guets Nöis
German (Bavarian): Froue Weihnåcht'n, und a guad's nei's Joah
Haitan Creole: Jwaye Nowèl e Bònn Ane
Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka me ka Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou
Hebrew: חג מולד שמח ושנה טובה - Chag Molad Sameach v'Shanah Tovah
Hungarian: Kellemes karácsonyt és boldog új évet
Indonesian: Selamat hari natal dan tahun baru
Irish: Nollaig shona duit/daoibh (Happy Christmas to you). Beannachtaí na Nollag (Christmas Greetings). Beannachtaí an tSéasúir (Season's Greetings) and Athbhliain faoi mhaise duit/daoibh (Prosperous New Year). Also, Bliain úr faoi shéan is faoi mhaise duit/daoibh (Happy New Year to you)
Italian: Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo
Japanese: メリークリスマス (merī kurisumasu) -- New Year greeting - 'Western' style
新年おめでとうございます (shinnen omedetō gozaimasu)
New Year greetings - Japanese style
明けましておめでとうございます (akemashite omedetō gozaimasu)
旧年中大変お世話になりました (kyūnenjū taihen osewa ni narimashita)
本年もよろしくお願いいたします (honnen mo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu)
Klingon: QISmaS DatIvjaj 'ej DIS chu' DatIvjaj (sg) and QISmaS botIvjaj 'ej DIS chu' botIvjaj (pl)
Korean: 즐거운 성탄절 보내시고 새해 복 많이 받으세요 and (jeulgeoun seongtanjeol bonaesigo saehae bok manhi bateusaeyo)
Kurdish: Kirîsmes u ser sala we pîroz be (and) Kirîsmes u salî nwêtan lê pîroz bê
Lithuanian: Linksmų Kalėdų ir laimingų Naujųjų Metų
Maltese: Il-Milied Ħieni u s-Sena t-Tajba - Awguri għas-sena l-ġdida
Maori: Meri Kirihimete me ngā mihi o te tau hou ki a koutou katoa
Mongolian: Танд зул сарын баярын болон шинэ жилийн мэндийг хүргэе and (Tand zul sariin bayriin bolon shine jiliin mendiig hurgey)
Navajo: Ya'at'eeh Keshmish
Nepali: क्रस्मसको शुभकामना तथा नयाँ वर्षको शुभकामना - (krismas ko subhakamana tatha nayabarsha ko subhakamana)
Norweigan: God jul og godt nytt år (Bokmål) and God jol og godt nyttår (Nynorsk)
Old English: Glæd Geol and Gesælig Niw Gear
Punjabi: ਮੈਰੀ ਕ੍ਰਿਸਮਸ। / میری کرِسمس (merī krismas - not used) and ਨਵਾਂ ਸਾਲ/ਵਰਾ ਮੁਬਾਰਕ। / نواں سال، ورہا مبارک (navā̃ sāl/varā mubārak)
Raotongan: Kia orana e kia manuia rava i teia Kiritimeti e te Mataiti Ou
Romanian: Crăciun fericit şi un An Nou Fericit
Samoan: Ia manuia le Kerisimasi ma le Tausaga Fou
Sardinian: Bonu nadale e prosperu annu nou
Slovak: Veselé vianoce a Štastný nový rok
Spanish: ¡Feliz Navidad y próspero año nuevo!
Swahili: Krismasi Njema / Heri ya krismas -- Heri ya mwaka mpya
Swedish: God jul och gott nytt år
Tahitian: Ia orana no te noere and Ia orana i te matahiti api
Thai: สุขสันต์วันคริสต์มาส และสวัสดีปีใหม่ - (sùk săn wan-krít-mâat láe sà-wàt-dee bpee mài)
Tibetan: ༄༅།།ལོ་གསར་ལ་བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལེགས་ཞུ། - (Losar La Tashi Delek - Happy New Year)
Tongan: Kilisimasi fiefia mo ha ta'u fo'ou monū'ia
Ukranian: Веселого Різдва і з Новим Роком
(Veseloho Rizdva i z Novym Rokom)
Xhosa: Siniqwenelela Ikrisimesi Emnandi Nonyaka Omtsha Ozele Iintsikelelo
Yiddish: אַ פֿרײליכע ניטל און אַ גוטער נײַער יאָר - (A freylikhe nitl un a guter nayer yor)
The above list was a sample of a longer list from Omniglot, a site dedicated to languages from around the world. Visit their site for more languages including pronunciations. They also made the following note: Christmas is not universally celebrated and there are a number of different dates for Christmas and New Year depending on which calendar is used. Orthodox Christians who use the Julian calendar, for example in Russia and Serbia, celebrate Christmas on January 7. Another collection of phrases for the holidays can be found here. Also check out this link on Christmas Around the World.
December 25, 2011 in America The Free, Belize, Europe, Fiji, Holidays, Israel, New England, New York, On Africa, On Australia, On China, On Costa Rica, On East Africa, On Fiji, On France, On Germany, On Guatemala, On India, On Italy, On Japan, On People & Life, On South Africa, On Spain, Reflections, San Francisco, South America, Travel, United Kingdom, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
November 02, 2011
The Magic of Maine in the Fall: Where Lobster Meets a Perfect Sky
Maine is one of my favorite places on the planet and I'm counting over 74 countries at this point and have lived in eleven of those. Truth be told, I probably gravitate to its familiarity and small town American charm since I grew up in upstate New York and when renowned author Richard Russo writes about either one, I can't always tell the difference. (one of my favorite authors btw and hope I don't end my stint on this earth before meeting him, preferably over lunch).
While I used to drive up often when I lived in Boston, its been years since I ventured up Route 1 taking in every roadside stand, every lobster shack, every pottery stall, every antique store, every candle shop...unfortunately on my way up the coast, it was raining, but I didn't let it muck up all those previous memories camping somewhere you weren't supposed to be, slowly dozing off as you gazed into the fading fire with your last marshmallow on a stick.
There was one point in a turn north of Portland I recognized so well that I actually remembered not just the smell of twenty years ago but the color and texture of the trees on that wild group trip one July.
There were roughly 8 of us and we all decided to camp and cook, particularly since one of the friends on the trip was a French chef, married to a girlfriend from Colorado. We ended up roasting lobsters on the grill, carmelizing onions (Pierre always knew precisely when to grab them from the fire), and boiling corn. We had cheap French Bordeaux for drinking since we were all young with measly salaries, yet we felt as if we were eating and drinking like kings. And, we were.
We had Maine's midnight sky, the smell of pine, the taste of fresh lobster and good friends who loved to laugh a lot....and tell stories. We went up in a friend's open jeep (what I wouldn't do to relive that warm summer weekend where a carefree life with so few commitments was the order of the day).
I heard from that friend with the jeep recently although I wasn't able to see him this time round because of a family conflict. He now has gray hair, children and has one of those responsible jobs my Aunt Evelyn would approved of. I also didn't see my French chef friend and his wife; although they still live in the area, she was in Colorado visiting an aging and sick parent.
We all have schtuff going on and none of us are in our early twenties anymore and yet that drive sent a signal and a voice from my heart to my head that said in a not so quiet voice "you must and you will find a jeep and window where the weather is likely to be grand and drive up the coast of Maine, into its interior, bug spray and all. I'd wake up to a glorious New England sky, without my damn iPhone, without sending a Tweet or a Facebook update, without email beckoning me to do something not all that important.
Often, my ex-husband and I would jump into our beat up cream-colored Chevy stationwagon we called Daisy on a Friday afternoon, close our eyes, point to a place on the New England map with eyes still closed, open them and then drive towards whatever destination our fingers landed on. I paid my grandfather $350 for that car after I returned from a European trip not long after I graduated from college.
It was large enough to sleep in, which may not sound all that comfy, but we had my aunt and uncles mattress in the back from the 1950s (visual - old but very very soft), curtains that I made from some African materials I picked up in Kenya, a cooler, binoculars, sleeping bags and hiking boots. What else do you need in your early twenties? No cell phones. No laptops. Plenty of maps.
Somehow Maine turned up more often than New Hampshire or Vermont but regardless of where we went, one thing was constant: we'd wake up with the back window's light coming in just enough to remind us to jump up to see the early morning rise in the distance, a sight I never see today since I'm often up working (or writing) until 3 am. While New England not have Arizona or African sunrises, it delivers a beautiful sky morning and night and color-rich leaves every October that you can't find with such magnitude and scale anywhere.
The other thing that was constant was lobsters. While neither of us made much (I still find it shocking how much we did and the rich life we led with so little), lobster was cheap.
There were places we could find that for $9.95, you'd get a twin deal: essentially two one pound (to 1 and a quarter pound) lobsters. He often wanted to eat two so sometimes we splurged, but it tended to be the most we'd spend in a day. We ate them often and if we were on the coast, one thing was guaranteed, we returned to Boston late on a Sunday night with our hands and faces saturated with the smell of lobster.
On my way north, I didn't see one lobster shack opened even though I'd imagine October would be prime season for folks trying to make money off tourists. The weather was gray and many of the shops and stalls not only looked closed, but permanently so, I sadly wondered how hard things were hit with the economic downturn.
Things felt more run down and yet, they may not have been I reminded myself. It could very well be that living in Silicon Valley, a modern, fast paced environment where technology rules and money is plentiful, was enough of a lifestyle to make anywhere look recessed.
I had lobster in Camden at a restaurant but it wasn't cheap and it while it was good, I was more focused on the conversation of the group, aware of being present to their energy and input more than the food on my plate. You have to BE with lobster to really get lobster. I always found it amusing to watch how much time my ex would spend getting meat out of the legs -- his lobster and mine. It's a process. It's an experience. It's oh so so Maine.
On my south, it was on a Sunday, the weather was better, there was a blue sky and at the very least cafes and diners seemed to be open as I passed town after town. I ventured into antique stores and a few art galleries with price tags I'm sure only out-of-towners and those with second or third homes in Maine could afford.
It was a day I never wanted to end and yet, as I passed Warren and Wiscasset, I knew I had only about two hours left before those old familiar outer Boston suburb exits would be on my right, a sight that was part of every week of my life at one point in my life, a memory that now felt about as far away as early childhood.
If there were two words that came to mind as I reminisced of those precious days, they were fate and faith, two words I lived my life by. We both did. Fate loves the fearless and fearless we most definitely were in all aspects of our lives. Faith had so many meanings to me. Faith is looking at a sunset and knowing who to thank. Faith is having gratitude when things are not going your way and its been days since you felt a real smile. Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings while the dawn is still dark.
As I was in a place of faith and gratitude, I made my way over the bridge in Brunswick, and the sky got bluer, the clouds cleared out, the wind was dying down and there on the left was the lobster shack that wasn't open on my way up. Sprague's Lobster & Clambakes the sign read. Although a pick-up truck nearly healed me as I made my sudden turn left into the parking lot, I was there and lobster was calling my name.
You could get a lobster dinner with corn on the cob, cole slaw and a roll for $15.99. It was warm enough to sit at the picnic table and eat outside and so I ordered the largest size they had, which was only a one pound a quarter at the time I arrived, something they apologized for.
Sure, deep inside I was hoping for a pound and a half and two pounds seemed outrageously piggish although how often did I have a precious moment like this to take it all in and show up at one of those Boston suburb exits exuding lobster from every pore of my body? But knowing that a dinner at a friends was waiting for me in three hours, I ordered only one -- no extras, just a boiled lobster in all its glory.
The ticket was clipped up on a line, a bell was rung and off it went some 20 feet or so down to where Frank himself was boiling 'em up in a little shack. I meandered down for a chat and as I did so, his neighbor Robert Jones from Ridgeback Pottery came over to hang out as well.
Unlike most days in my life, I wasn't in a mad rush and I didn't care whether I had an Internet or phone signal and so there I was just like when I was ten, able to hang out and chat to two older men full of wisdom, rich stories and kind of humor that can't be found in its purest form on the west coast.
Both talked about their children, one of them lived in northern California, and Frank showed me photos of his dark-haired grandson who was bound to break many a woman's heart in about 15 years. After awhile, as I neared the end of my last claw, I was kicking myself for not ordering the twin lobster and Frank somehow knew this as he didn't give me much of a chance to fight him on cooking up another one before I left.
This time, he threw in a little pesto butter for the claws and while it was fabulous (definitely worth trying), I realized boiled lobster is best in its purest state, on its own, with a little lemon if you must.
While I love all seafood, lobster was what I was after. For those passing by however, Frank has many other options to try, including a crab or clam cake basket, crabmeat roll, fried or baked haddock, fresh chowder with lobster meat and lobster rolls.
You can also get a pound of steamers for $8.95 at the time of writing this. My pound and a quarter on its own with no frills was $10.95. Don't be an idiot like me and not order the twin - they're just too good to pass up and on top of it, you've got Frank's personal touch which is hard to find.
Robert's pottery had equal care and like a true artisan, he was proud as he showed me his work. Done using the Raku technique, the style mixed a little New England with Raku, which originates from the tea ceremonies of Japan.
The pieces are rapidly fired and taken from the kiln as soon as the glaze is melted. The rapid cooling causes the glaze to form cracks at which point, the pottery is placed into airtight reduction containers with pine needles, grasses, leaves or wood shavings.
This causes the cracks to absorb carbon and become black. The lack of oxygen also changes the color of the minerals in the glaze, and then the pieces are plunged into water to set the color.
How I wanted to buy some his pottery and a couple of the old oak chairs I saw in an antique store along the side of the road. If only I had a house down the road.
After devouring both lobsters with a huge smile on my face and the fabulous company of Frank and Robert, I made my way down the final stretch to the Massachusetts border to see old friends, a few I hadn't seen in several years.
Fate, faith and gratitude were the order of the day as my pores filled the car with the smell of lobster and my radio played old tunes from the 70s and 80s, a station that was pre-set and I didn't choose and yet it seemed to play every song I loved and was a magical part of my time in New England, part of one person's life history, stored in my mind's eye and memory only until now it is told in a story as I remembered it on that long drive this past October.
They were both the Maine I remembered, the Maine I still cherish and hopefully the Maine I will return to with a jeep on some future hot summer day.
For more reading about Maine and all things New England, have a meander through our Maine pages.
August 20, 2011
The Connecting Flight, The One Following the Mad Tearing Run…
The flight is delayed and you have to make that connection….or else.
It seems to happen to me more often these days and I’m not sure if that’s the result of airlines having less planes available resulting in fewer connecting flights or the fact that systems are just breaking down.
Certainly, most of the internal systems are antiquated or ridiculously absurd and don’t have a lot of logic.
For example, recently I was on an Air France flight to Paris and had to catch a connection to Budapest. I saw the connection time on the flight itinerary and in “theory” it seemed fine. After all, it was a connecting flight and for some odd reason despite how much I’ve traveled, I thought there’d be one of those “side lanes” where you could transfer to another flight within Europe. You know, arrive at gate C and just walk down a hallway to Gate D and board your plane. Logical right?
The flight was actually on time (ish) however it took awhile to settle at the gate delaying gate arrival by 15’ish minutes. Again, in theory, I didn’t think I’d have a problem making the connection. After all, I was arriving in Gate C and I was departing out of Gate D (Gate D2 that is) from Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Sure, I knew it was massive but as I was scurrying out, the Air France agent assured me it was close, repeating the C and D twice, which certainly seemed logical to me as well.
I started with a brisk walk but not a sprinting one until I realized that D was nowhere close to C since the signs for it kept reappearing after every corner turn and after yet another walking escalator disappeared behind me, there was another one on the horizon with D2 off in the distance.
We’ve all done a short sprint but this one seemed to never end until I finally stopped to ask an Air France staffer who was lingering in a busy hallway with a clipboard pressed up against her. “Budapest D2” I gasped short of breath. “Pardon,” she replied. “BUDAPEST, DAY-EH DEUX” I said, gasping even more dying for my bottle of water which had fallen from my carry-on backpack by this point.
“Tout de doit and sortie,” she motioned. “Sortie,” I thought, NO, I don’t want Sortie, I have a connecting flight. When I heard Sortie and realized she wanted me to exit, I said to her exasperated, “I have a connecting flight, une connection a Budapest. Je ne reste pas ici a Paris.” She pointed straight ahead and repeated Sortie.
So what does a seasoned traveler do with 15 minutes to go, knowing that their flight “in theory” was supposedly already boarding. She sprints of course.
Now, I’m not a marathon runner and nor am I in the best shape of my life, but having grown up as an athlete, the muscle remains. In other words, it re-emerges when it needs to, in cases of emergency or when you know you’ve spent far too much time in front a PC monitor and your body is desperate for a little oxygen.
I was wearing out and not getting a minute of sleep on my 10 hour flight didn’t help matters. When I saw the long line through passport control, I panicked as my heart raced. “Fuck,” I thought, I really don’t want to miss this flight. It’s not that I mind getting stuck in Paris, but getting stuck at an airport waiting for a small plane heading east after a half day of travel across 4 time zones wasn’t my idea of fun. Besides, Hungary was waiting.
In fact, Hungary was calling in a loud voice, saying, “Renee, you’ve been to Paris hundreds of times, I’ve been waiting for your Gypsy spirit to come taste my wine, come eat my beef medallions and my goose pate.”
I firmly but politely grabbed another Air France rep explaining the urgency, flashing my ticket and pointing to my watch which I had just changed five minutes before the plane landed. She took pity on me and ushered me through an empty line, obviously waiting for loud, late, ill-mannered Americans like me. (after all, aren’t we all?)
Passport control man was in no hurry despite seeing me out of breath and sweating and I knew it didn’t help when I hurriedly said in my pathetic French, “Je ne reste pas ici, Je suis en retard pour mon vol de Budapest.”
Quietly I was cursing, thinking, what the hell are they giving me a stamp for when I’m going to be here for 15 minutes? I also knew that the number of pages and blocks which could be stamped was running out and I still had a few years left on this passport. Slowly and smugly, I got my stamp and flew like a bird running from a cat who hadn’t eaten in days.
Sortie was ahead of me but when I re-entered, I noticed that I was somehow standing in the middle of F. Where the hell did D go I thought? It looked like arrivals and I started to move from exasperated to pissed. What kind of connection was this I thought? 45 minutes to get through Immigration’s long line and find your way half way (no, all the way) across what should be one terminal (C to D)?
Here I could speak the language (enough anyway) and was sprinting like a failed marathon runner but one who had a reason to win, and yet boarding had already begun according to my ticket 20 minutes ago and I had not even gone through a NEW security gate.
Security found me amusing no doubt as I whipped off my belt with fury like I was ready to have quick and passionate sex with a 23 year old lover. My boots came flying off as did my jewelry and I was sweating up a storm, as if the sex was already over and it was the best I ever had.
My hair was tossled, my brow was wet, my light cover up was off which showed that I wasn’t wearing a bra.
FINALLY, a sexy polite French security agent who wasn’t 23 came to my rescue. He smiled as he assured me I would make my flight and that I was in D2. but still had to get to D70 WITHIN D2. But, he added, “it’s just around the corner. I’m trying to help.”
Carry me I thought, that’s how you can help. Show up in one of those airport mini-trucks that shuttle the handicapped and seniors and make the damn thing go faster than you think its capable of going. Whisk me away. Call them and tell them to hold the plane for 30 minutes and let’s do a driveby the Air France First Class Lounge for a Parisian cappuccino & some pate for the road and then drop me off in front of my plane.
I imagined him kissing my hand bidding me Au Revoir after he completely turned my nightmare mad dashing run across the entire Charles de Gaulle airport into a nice sweet travel memory.
Cursing under my breath but remaining focused like a good seasoned traveler always does, I made a hard “gauche” after exiting security where they confiscated my mini-bottle of Merlot from my last flight. I looked up and saw the number 58. Of course I was at 58 and of course, the Budapest flight would be 70, at the EEEENNNNNNDDD of the hall. And, so I sprinted.
Nothing about arriving in Paris felt like Paris but thankfully I had so many positive memories of Paris that it would be easy to give this one amiss.
Even if the plane didn’t screw around at the gate for 15-20 minutes, anyone would be hard pressed to make this connection with the long immigration line, the distance they had to travel, and the likelihood that they didn’t speak French if they got lost on the way…easy to do at Charles de Gaulle and easy to do if you’re not a seasoned travel.
Puffing (and huffing) and puffing, I flicked my passport and ticket at the woman standing behind the gate who was about as calm, collected and type Z as you can get.
It was 12:39 and the flight was supposed to take off (up in the air, take off) by 12:45 pm. Obviously the flight was late, so while I was catching my breathe, I asked how late it was. “It’s not late,” the woman behind her said.
Hmmm, I thought. No one was on the plane yet, I was informed they were still cleaning it, yet 6 minutes before take-off and they didn’t classify it as late. Welcome to Hungary I thought, although both agents were clearly French.
I did one of those circular paces that people do when they need to think for a minute. (clearly that is). I circled around 3 or 4 times and then made a slow-paced walk over to the coffee stand where I learned that a bottle of water with the horrific U.S. dollar exchange rate would cost me $8. Had I ever been to Europe when the U.S. dollar was weaker than the Canadian one? At a time, when there are plays, comedians and talk show hosts talking about China as the new super power and America as a third world country?
I didn’t want to think about the exchange rate or the likely $10 beers and $500 shoes that lay ahead which was unlikely to be the case in Hungary since they weren’t on the Euro and I figured I’d lay low and avoid purchases in Paris to and from until Obama fixed SOMETHING, anything, so I could return and buy those $500 shoes for $200 again.
I opted against the $8 water and flopped down on a bright pink “kitch” plastic couch that wrapped around a plant sitting in a bright pink "kitch" plastic pot. It only then occurred to me that I made my flight and as I was looking for napkins at a nearby café to wipe my sweaty body down, a 15 year old Italian girl came down and sat next to me, bumping into me twice when she did so, despite the fact that there was a ton of space on the other side of her.
As we boarded, I stripped down even more since the mad tearing sprint caught up with me and not only was I sweaty but I was baking.
As I got close to the entrance to the plane, I could see the Paris day through the open crack and feel the August sunshine and feel the warm breeze coming through, hitting my face, blowing my hair back just slightly. AHHH yes, Paris in the summer I thought.
There’s nothing like boarding a plane from a place where the weather is fabulous knowing that you’re going to a place you really want to see and knowing that the weather is fabulous there too. The last time I had been to Budapest was in the mid-eighties. Yes, really.
I flopped in my seat, which had no one next to me and the seats were slightly wider than normal with an actual place to sit two drinks to my left. Recline worked. I was in the front. The Hungarian flight attendant handed me a bottle water when she saw the way I looked and I settled in for my 2+ hour flight on Malev, an airline I had never flown before.
Budapest, I reflected as my heart rate started to finally slow down. Gypsies, artists, dreamers, foodies, lovers of wine, musicians, old souls and historians. I remembered an “old world” dining experience I had with an ex-boyfriend so many years ago, where the violin players circled around us and I thought of how young I was. A kid really. What did I know of violin players and good red wine? Or duck, liver, pork, mousse, goulash and cured ham?
And then I smiled when I remembered I was coming to meet technologists not gypsies. From Silicon Valley to Hungary because there’s a wealth of incredible engineers in Budapest I was told and knew I would soon discover. As for my host?
Look for the bald man he had said. I thought, “would there really only be one bald Hungarian at the airport?” “Some say I’m as wide as I am tall,” he had added. A little more data I thought, certainly more than Air France provided me about my connecting flight.
I drifted off curled in an arch, my last visual memory of blue sky and powdery white clouds through my window, knowing that Germany was below us by that point. Hungary is waiting for me I thought as I drifted off into my thirty minute nap. Hungary is waiting for me.
August 20, 2011 in America The Free, Europe, New England, New York, On Africa, On Australia, On China, On Costa Rica, On East Africa, On France, On Geo-Location, On Guatemala, On India, On Italy, On Japan, On People & Life, On South Africa, On Spain, Reflections, South America, Travel, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
March 30, 2011
Long Live the OLD & Traditional Adirondack Chair
One of my favorite memories (period) is sitting in an Adirondack chair with my grandfather in the Adirondack mountains where I grew up, talking about Indian arrow heads while overlooking a peaceful Caroga Lake at the end of a sunny August day.
The weather was perfect with only a slight breeze and the waterskiiers were coming out for their late afternoon ski when the lake once again turned into a glassy glaze as the wind settled down. I was often one of those afternoon skiiers as a teenager, around the time I had started to ban early mornings. As a kid however, I'd scurry out at dawn ready to take a dozen or so cuts on the not yet touched water we all loved about early mornings on the lake.
We had both just gathered some twigs and dry wood for the fire pit where we'd often cook burgers and kielbasa on an old small grill that my grandad would throw over the pit.
Equally magical to gazing out over the lake in our Adirondack chairs was reading a novel on an Adirondack hammock overlooking the same lake, but that's for another blog post.
Alas, the Adirondack chair. When I was really young, we had about four of 'em, all made of wood, all rustic, some with splinters from wear and tear and years of rain. We painted a couple over the years, always dark green, since that was the traditional Adirondack color (same goes for the hammocks), and as they would fade and the paint would wear away, we often wouldn't touch them up right away since the half painted, half natural wood look and feel of the chairs often told the story of our lives at the camp.
In other words, it was outdoor living: life wasn't perfect, it most certainly wasn't modern, we didn't have central heating, the water tank for the showers was small, the plumbing was outdated, our small TV set rarely got a channel, Internet didn't work and until we sold the place, it had an old fashioned rotary phone. (the one we had since the early 1970s).
The Adirondacks are not modern and to try to throw a modern title, label, or experience on top of "Adirondack" anything feels just plain wrong, at least for someone who grew up there. You can imagine my horror when I received this subject line in my inbox: The Classic Adirondack Lounge goes Eco-Modern. The Eco of course is there to make you feel good about buying it. Take a look at their visual:
All I can say is UUGGLYYY. It feels like Walmart plastered blandness on top of authentic Adirondack wholesomeness. Gotta love the tacky plastic looking orange circular thing with the pretzels next to them to add to all that modernity.
It's not as if I don't love modern things. Sure, my house has more antiques and woods than it does modern pieces, but its a mix. And while I have some classic pieces of art, there are some abstracts (photography and oil paintings), as well as some Salvador Dali-like pottery and toy-ish etchings scattered along my walls.
This felt more like a classic American marketing decision: take something that was and is great and cheapen it, while throwing some fabulous persuasive language (and of course sustainable messaging since "green and eco" are important adds right now) on top of it to make it appear that you're going to purchase something of substance.
The materials may be solid - that's not what I'm arguing here. And, I'm all for environmentally friendly materials. But, let's call a spade a spade and let it have its deserved glory. A little history is in order.
The Adirondack chair (also called the Muskoka chair) is used in rural, outdoor settings. The precursor was designed by Thomas Lee in 1903 when he was on vacation in Westport, New York, in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, and needed outdoor chairs for his summer home.
After arriving at a final design for the then called "Westport plank chair," Lee offered it to a Westport-based carpenter Harry Bunnell, who manufactured these chairs for the next twenty years.
The original Adirondack chair was made with eleven pieces of wood, cut from a single board. It had a straight back and seat, which were set at a slant to sit better on the steep mountain inclines of the area. It also featured wide armrests, which became a hallmark of the Adirondack chair. In searching for a chair that was closer to what I grew up with, I came up with the following image on the web although even this one isn't quite right....ours tended to lean back a bit more but those I found with stronger slants, were painted in shiny colors or their original design was altered.
In the yards, patios and on the docks of all the camps we used to hang out at including our own, the chairs were rustic and wooden, often made by locals. Sadly, more of the modern Adirondack chairs are made out of plastic lumber or engineered wood instead of wood.
There have been so many replicas and variations of Adirondack chairs, that its original design is getting muddled, I guess you could call it a furniture mashup. Take a look at the variations from a Google image search:
Remember that I live my life in the modern technology world where mashups happen in my circles every day. In fact, I may be at an event where a mashup of an old technology and the creation of a new one may occur within the hour and a new way of creating, curating or organizing the web is born before my very eyes. I think mashups are great as long as the original "piece" whatever that is, is honored in some way for what it stood for.
In the case of Adirondack chairs, they are all about life in rustic rural environments and frankly, experiencing the Adirondacks on any lake in a modern home with tons of bells and whistles isn't the same, including the furniture. Of course, the designer of this new modern eco chair Mark Daniel will likely not be impressed by my opinion.
While the sustainable, FSC-certified solid eucalyptus wood with a grey stain which is made in China btw (how ironic for an all American piece of design), may be a fit for some, it doesn't preserve what the Adirondacks is all about.....in my humble local opinion that is.
Long live the old and traditional Adirondack chair for sitting in anything other than an original is like experiencing China in Orlando's Disneyland instead of China itself.