Notes from Delphi

Notes from Delphi

Today my 23 year old self would like to say hello to you. I am directly dictating a few of my journal entries from 2004. This step back in time highlights when I traveled into Greece from Italy for the first (and so far, only) time.

July 8 2004 – en route to Delphi

The water is beautiful. It’s that turquoise blue right up to the shore like the water at a Caribbean island edge only creeping up to the mountains of the Sierras instead.

Stefiana has a hypnotic voice. In conjunction with the lullaby like rocking of the bus, I fall asleep. I try to listen and learn and keep my eyes open but I’m not even enjoying it because the whole time I’m trying to pry my eyes open.

I hear her, “Beware of the sea orchards!” As we pull up to the seaside restaurant, I realize she means, “Beware of the sea urchins!”

There’s all these pathways and trails in the water from the movement of the ships and boats. Watching the water mark their journey like footprints in sand.

The waiter reeks of B.O. We’re at a roadside family restaurant where we choose our food from a picture menu. We just dipped our feet in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time. Kim’s lotion slipped her feet out of her sandals and now her soles are the red of the earth. This place smells like some sort of pickled fish, like squid or something. It’s not salty and it’s not solely fishy or sweaty, but a little of all.

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To get to Delphi, we travel up a large winding road along the hillside. When we’re almost to the top we look down and there’s a huge valley stretching between the mountains. It’s a dark olive green floor. The valley is composed of a massive olive tree grove.

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Olives must be soaked in salt water for a week, changing the water every couple of days before eating. Too bitter off the tree.

July 9 2004 – Delphi

Delphi, oracle city of Apollo.

Orange dust of walls turns to gold from noon day sun shining on them. Stones falling sounds like laughter.

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View from our hotel room. New part of Delphi

Delphi pulled the city-states together by making them write history in the same language with same religion, becoming one nation, The Greeks. Speaking water of temple gave Castilian girl power to prophesize. When water stopped talking, Ancient Greece ended.

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Ancient Greeks had two sayings left on the door that held their prophecies: Nothing in Excess and Know Thyself. One for balance and the other knowledge. In a place dedicated to a God, they were telling people not to believe a God controls everything and to believe in rational thought. Apollo and Dionsysus. Two opposites. Two paths. Two ways to balance yourself.

Kim and I are given a choice. Walk up the hill to the theater and temple or down to the museum. We take separate paths. I go up and she goes down.

On the way to the temple, Joe says to me, “Don’t worry, there’s a bar at the top.” These jokes are getting old. *

I am sitting under a tree writing, listening to birds chirping and watching yellow butterflies flit among the greenery. Kim and I pass each other on the road. We both decide to choose each path.

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On the right…the omphalos, the navel of the world. 

These Cypress trees are so strange how they spike out of the vast landscape in no general design or order. Loping hills of olive trees and then a lance of a cypress pointing to the blue sky.

In the museum – Charioteer Bronze Statue from 478 BC of a young boy who just won a chariot race in the Pythian games.

He looks content.

From a little further away, he looks slightly sad. From down the ramp, he looks mad. “Don’t walk away,” he says. “Watch my final lap.”

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*Sidenote: Joe was not making an old man joke. He was a 12-14 year old boy who was making fun of how much Kim and I drank on that trip. We were 23 and everyone else were teachers chaperoning children. Cut us some slack.

The All Seeing Eye

The All Seeing Eye

“I’m Jimmy the Gypsy. I’m from Ireland,” a man with faded tattoos down his arms and a toothless grin tells me as I sit in the grass of Jubilee Gardens watching the London Eye during the 2015 Festival of Love in Southbank.

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“I’m a psychic,” he goes on. He and his friend had just finished smoking a joint. I was trying to enjoy my cider alone on this hot day in London. I knew it was risky sitting on this part of the grass so close to these two characters, but almost every inch of space was taken elsewhere by people lounging in the warm day out by the water.

“I’m not interested. I’d just like to be by myself right now,” I tell him.

A few minutes later, he turns around again, sprawled out in the grass under the shade of the tree. The London Eye moves in slow circles in front of us. The water of the Thames sparkles.

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“There’s a woman on your shoulder. She watches out for you.”

I try not to listen. Not to engage. I sip my cider.

“She worries about you. She wants you to find love,” he goes on. I can’t help but be interested. Is he talking about my grandmother, Tutu, who passed away about five years before? A woman who I considered more like a mother than just a grandmother. I had also been dumped two days before and the message about finding love had me hooked.

He asks me to show him my hand. Well, if he wants to read my fortune for free, who am I to stop him, I naively think.

I show him my palm.

He tells me I shouldn’t look for love in empty wells and that there are too many people draining me emotionally in my life. That I am a moon child and I have five good moon child friends and don’t need more than that. I will come into some money in the next two years, big money. I will have many children, three girls and one boy. This makes me nervous, that’s two children too many,  an Indian palm reader told me something similar and I gulp. That’s another story.

He drops my hand. “What do I think that fortune was worth?” he asks.

I have absolutely no money. I only just arrived the day before and hadn’t visited an ATM yet. I tell him this but he doesn’t believe me. I start worrying about Irish gypsy curses. I hand him my cider. “I have this. You can have the rest.”

He pauses for a second, thinking about it. He takes the cider from my hand and gulps it down in one quick sip then throws the empty cup to the grass angrily.

I zip up my boots and jump up from the shade. I don’t want to stick around to see him give me the evil eye and I run away to meet my Afternoon Tea Tour bus.

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B Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus Tour

I try not to feel bad.

Two years later, I find some things interesting. I did lose some friendships in the last years. Friendships that I wish I hadn’t lost but that I needed to let go as they weren’t healthy for me. I did find love. I haven’t seen any of that big money yet or babies.

I also ponder how the fortune shapes the future by the choices you make knowing it. He had also told me I would be with a man with dark curly hair, and he made a gesture that the man would make of sweeping his hair out from his eyes. Jimmy specifically said he saw that man would do that gesture. I dated a man for three months who did just that. He did it early on and I sometimes wonder if I only dated him because of that, even when I knew it was wrong, even when I knew we weren’t right for each other. Would I have wasted that time if I didn’t think it was meant to be? I can’t say, I can’t see the future like that. But I can say, I’m much happier now without the dark haired man who tucked the hair out of his eyes with his left hand.

As we circle around the carousel of a new year with a lot of unknowns, what do we want the future to hold? What parts do we want to shape ourselves? What do we want revealed to us? What do we want to keep mystical and unknown? How can we change things in front of us that seem unchangeable? How can we shift the story the cards are laying out?

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My New Year’s wish for you all is to shape your own future, to do what you can to make this world a better place for all, to find your moon children friends and your place of love and happiness within the world.

Happy New Year and kind wishes for 2017!

Lost Luggage in London

Lost Luggage in London

Summer 2015, IcelandAir lost my luggage on my way to London. The city was in the middle of a record setting heatwave and the only clothes on my back were the ones I was wearing in frigid Iceland the day before, a coat, sweater, pants and heeled boots. My dresses and sandals for a Cambridge study summer were gone and London was sweltering.

I had a few options open to me. I could sit around the airport all day and hope my luggage showed up on a later flight (highly unlikely as it seemed it had been lost back on my first leg through Boston), I could go to my hotel and strip down to my underoos and lay around on the bed postponing the inevitable which was finding things to wear, or I could use the technology in my hand and find a cheap clothing store and get myself kitted out as the British say.

I pulled out my cell phone while I still had airport wifi. I used Google Maps to find London’s version of San Francisco’s Union Square, SOHO, the place where I knew most retail stores would be cobbled so close together that they amassed into a corporation’s wet dream, and I planned my route, taking screenshots for when I knew my data would disappear. I had just finished two days of travel, three plane flights, was looking down the barrel of an hour long train ride and all I wanted to do was sleep, but I knew I could do this, I would get myself clothes to wear. I was born to shop…as we Americans say.

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So tired on the train

Bleary-eyed, tired, literally carrying all I had on my back, I popped out of the Tube at Oxford Circus and followed the crowd of people into the packed intersection like a lemming. There in front of me was the big box glass H&M store, shining like the Eiffel Tower…oh wait, I’m getting my similes wrong. Well, anyway, it was there. I stocked up on a dress, shorts, a skirt, two tank tops. I was hopeful that my luggage would arrive in only a day and wanted to compliment what I already packed rather than doubling up. I opted out on getting a pair of sandals and got some dress flats instead, thinking they would go well with some things I already had to wear.

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I took myself, backpack, shopping bag, camera bag and all to a restaurant for lunch down the street. The waitress sounded familiar, close to home. I told her about my harrowing travels and lost baggage and she brought me a free glass of wine. We got to talking. She was from the San Francisco Bay Area and had moved to London about a year ago to pursue acting. She gave me information for a performance she would be going to later that evening if I wanted to join. The travel writer in me, wished that I had for the story, but the exhausted traveler in me made myself find my hostel so that I could successfully navigate to Cambridge the next day.

I hopped back on the Tube, having gotten the appropriate pass back at the train station, and found my hostel, Clink78, an old courthouse converted into a shared dormitory. In the ten minutes that it took me to walk from the station to the hostel, my new flats opened a large hole in the back of my heel and blood dripped into the sole of my shoe.

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I couldn’t let this get me down though. I was about to shower, change and go to sleep at 7 pm as I always do when I’m jetlagged. I was proud of myself, happy that I wasn’t scared off by an unfamiliar city or lack of sleep or proper clothing to get myself what I needed. I was even more proud of myself, retrospectively, when it turned out that my luggage, that I was told would arrive at Gonville and Caius College the next day, didn’t arrive for another five, leaving me without my belongings for a full week.

I also think my shopping navigation bolstered my solo travel skills that whole trip, causing me to travel to more little pockets of London on my own, then I would have ever considered trying to find by myself before. I went shopping in Notting Hill, wandering down Portobello Rd and brunching at Farm Girl Cafe.  I ventured out to pick up iced cookies (or biscuits) from The Biscuiteers. I walked through Hyde Park, meandering by the Serpentine Gallery and the latest outdoor art pavilion. I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum at 9 in the morning and waited in an hour long line to get tickets to the acclaimed Alexander McQueen exhibit that was hands down one of the best curated museum experiences I have ever had.

 

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Inside the entrance to the V&A

I’ll be leaving for my first winter in Europe in less than a week, heading back to London, but this time with a very private tour guide, my boyfriend, where he will show me all his childhood haunts. In that spirit, I want to look back at some of my favorite memories of trips to England. This one will be my third.

Here are some things I remember and/or look forward to experiencing again:

Men roasting chestnuts outside the Tower of London.

Eating scones and clotted cream in a cozy tea shop.

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Not a scone but a Fitzbillies’ Chelsea bun is a good substitute

Sitting amongst the pink velvet cushions of sketch for afternoon tea and being dazzled by its opulence.

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Punting down the river in Cambridge accidentally feeding ducks and drinking wine.

Traveling on a coach with my fellow high school students visiting historic landmarks like Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the place where King Arthur might be buried if he’s a real person, as well as Stratford-upon-Avon and more.

Being wary of fish pie in a pub when I was fifteen and then later drinking a pint in a pub when I was thirty-three.

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Mayflower Pub in Cambridge

And in that spirit, here’s to all the pints that will be had very shortly. Cheers and Happy Holidays!

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Obligatory telephone booth shot
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One of my happiest moments on the trip…being reunited with my luggage in time for my hiking trip through Iceland.

*Sidenote: The posts have been few and far between as I am on a deadline to finish writing my novel by the end of the year. I hope to start posting more frequently once that is complete. Wish me luck!

Rosé and Cigarettes

Rosé and Cigarettes

Warning: Not to be read by those under 18. Do not do as I do! I mean it, I’m looking at you. Don’t even think about it!

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I made it 30 years without ever smoking a cigarette. I was very proud of this. In high school I would thumb my nose at all the smokers and feel very holier than thou when I announced that I would not smoke, did not smoke, that not one cigarette had touched my lips. In college, I was a loner. I didn’t smoke cigarettes and the only reason to go out into the snow at 7 pm at night in Boulder, CO was to smoke a ciggy and I would not do that, so I was alone.

And then there was Portugal.

Oh Portugal. Europe on the cheap. Who needs the French Riviera when you can have the Algarve Coast?

I was traveling with my work friend Caroline and we needed a well-deserved break from the school year. And what was the best way to relax, by drinking rosé and smoking cigarettes on beaches in Lagos, in parks overlooking orange rooftops in Lisbon, in al fresco restaurants in Cascais.

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Cigarettes were everywhere and I needed them. They went perfectly with sardines and potatoes. They complimented our chilled wine while we were warmed by sun on our shoulders. They circulated why we played card games with Germans and Italians in hostel backyards. I couldn’t say no and I didn’t want to. I was a chain-smoking queen.

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I would love to say that this piece has a moral to the tale. That I learned that my lungs were heavy with tar and I couldn’t stop coughing for a week. That I felt my skin getting loose and my breath tarnished with cigarette taste for days. I would be amiss not to think about the death of my grandfather from lung cancer and hang my head in disgust. While all of this is true, that is not this piece.

Instead, cigarettes became a lesson in mindfulness on my Portugal adventure. They slowed me down. They made me appreciate the moment. I could just be. Just sit and experience everything in a heightened sense of awareness of this one particular instance of time. It was now and would always be now and I damn well appreciated it. I was doing nothing other than tasting the Tremoços, peeling their skin off with my teeth.

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I was sucking miniature snails from their tiny little spiral shells, letting condensation run through my fingers as I held a glass of wine in the heat, feeling my legs grow warm as my feet sunk into the sand of yet another beach. Each cigarette kept me locked in that moment, slightly high on the heat, the wine, the heady hit of the tobacco. I was here, in Portugal, enjoying the small pleasures. And what pleasures they were.

 

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In Porto, we wandered into a charcuterie restaurant for dinner then meandered down a cobblestone side street to have one last drink for the night. By the time the drink was over, a band had started playing fadó and suddenly the small room was packed with dancers.

On a wine tour of the Douro River Valley, we were taken to a small boutique port vineyard and were handed apricots straight from the trees. They were the sweetest things I had every tasted until we were ushered into a small house from the 1800s and escorted into the parlor where skinless plums shaped into balls were waiting for us. I thought I would never stop eating those plums. But then I had the bread, with the cheese or the olive oil, it didn’t matter, both were delicious especially paired with the ports that varied from white to a deep blushing red.

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In Albufeira, we sat by the ocean and ate large chunks of fish from a stew called caldeirada. The briny broth trickled down our chins and we laughed as the waiter tried to translate all the different seafood we would be eating in our stew.

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I had my first taste of pastéis de nata with a coffee by the seaside port of Lagos. I had avoided it for days but the yellow egg custard pastry was surprisingly refreshing after a night of drinking and for the rest of the trip I would make sure I got one every day.

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This is specifically Pastéis de Belem

After a long afternoon of walking the Alfama, we stopped at a nondescript restaurant and had grilled octopus in a butter and lemon sauce before making our way back up the hill to the Bairro Alto for drinks at Pharmacia while the sun set and waiters brought blankets over to warm our bare legs.

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Outside at night in the beach town of Cascais, I accompanied a Brazilian guitarist at our hostel with Sublime covers. My favorite phrase to say was “Caracois in Cascais” after a local Portuguese man boiled up some snails and had us eat them for the first time. And through all of this, we were accompanied by cigarettes and a summer rosé.

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Would I do it again, just as I did then? Yes. Do I allow myself to smoke cigarettes now? No. They are not the same. I don’t know if it was the Portuguese tobacco or just that summer, but I never get quite the same feeling anymore. It’s not worth it. Could I have enjoyed the small pleasures without them? Probably. But at least for now, I can say I truly had the European experience.

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How uncomfortable do I look holding that thing?

 

Rather than a book suggestion this week, I offer up a movie for your perusal, Coffee and Cigarettes by Jim Jarmusch.