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how to return or, happy birthday michelle obama

You know how when you get an email or a phone message that you probably should return quickly, and then you don’t, and then the longer it goes the harder it feels to return the call? So that what would’ve been a quick little note or a short conversation starts to loom larger and larger, and then it feels like too big a task, so you put it off even longer and the task gets bigger, and maybe it keeps you awake at night because you know you should get to that unanswered message tomorrow, really you should but then you just…don’t. And it drags on until finally one day, for no good reason, you figure oh what the hell, and you return the message and the person on the other end is like “what? what message? Oh thaaat, yeah, I just wondered if you wanted to grab a coffee or something. Whatever.”

Oh. That doesn’t happen to you?

Well then you won’t understand this weird little “blogcation” that I’ve taken. I didn’t really mean to stop writing, I just stopped. Let’s call it a hiatus, shall we? And then the longer it went, the harder it felt to return.

And I know, your lives have been empty, positively desolate without me.

In the intervening month, we’ve been in New York: family, friends, really good pizza, many museums, theater.  Saw “The Goldfinch” painting that is at the basis of Donna Tartt’s ginormous book (which would’ve been a great 350-page novel but was unfortunately 800+); saw a great Magritte exhibition at MoMA as well as an exhibit about applied design that was fantastic (a wind-powered land-mine detector made of biodegradable materials); went to the Met for Balthus and other paintings, as well as a reunion for the boys with their beloved “Arms and Armor” wing.

Then Sri Lanka for New Year’s to recover from all that urban culture:

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In Sri Lanka, there were fresh coconuts, harvested by this guy:IMG_7773

And then the coconuts were turned into charming beverages: IMG_7765

fresh coconut milk, from the coco-mouse, on the left, and a pina colada on the right. Two kinds of coconut fabulousness

Sri Lanka helped me come to terms with my impending millstone milestone: I turn fifty in forty-eight hours. Michelle Obama, my BFF (well, we would be, I’m sure,  if only we’d ever, you know, met), turned fifty already and she makes it look good, so I am comforted by that fact, despite my lack of defined upper arms and political clout. I suppose my AARP card is wending its way from my NYC postbox to my Abu Dhabi mailroom even as we speak. Maybe Michelle and I can get together at a “newbie AARP mixer” or something like that.

There is already much on the docket for 2014 – a book project, another writing project, telling myself that fifty is the new forty, mulling the wonder of Benedict Cumberbatch’s cheekbones.  For the first time in almost thirteen years (which, coincidentally is the same age as my oldest child) I am not teaching this semester, which leaves me with lots of time to read Tom and Lorenzo binge-watch Orange Is the New Black work on my writing projects.  True to form, I am already berating myself for not getting anything done with this mini-sabbatical. I wonder if Michelle O does that? Hmm.

What I have done, however, is slowly begin to remove areas of productive procrastination – you know, those things you do to avoid what you should be doing, which in my case is writing. And yes, in fact, I have already re-arranged the linen closet, complete with using my beloved label-maker to identify which sheets get piled where. I also turned the storage room from this:

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into this: IMG_7814and you will want a close-up of this bag, which I got in 2008 at Economy Candy, the best candy shop in NYC.  I love this bag and frankly, I think Michelle would love it too. I’m telling you, we would totes be besties.

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So. The blogcation is over, the new year has begun, and a bonne annee to you all.

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Written on the sand in Sri Lanka on New Year’s Eve

 

 

Continue Reading · on January 18, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, aging, Books, growing up, The National, Travel

In the suburbs no one can hear you scream

I live in the suburbs now.  From the maelstrom of Union Square in Manhattan to the slightly more sedate “urban” experience of highrise in downtown Abu Dhabi was one shift. But in a weird way the shift from one cityscape to another wasn’t as big a shift as the move from city to the ‘burbs.  It’s so quiet here . . . and when I walk around at night I’m always slightly on edge because my footsteps echo in the emptiness.  But the thing I miss most, weirdly, is hearing the call to prayer, which had become the regular punctuation for my day, when I lived “in town,” as we say now.

In The National today, I wrote about my sense of suburban displacement. You can read the article here and don’t be afraid to share it around: show The National a little social media love (and me, too, while you’re at it).  Thanks.  Would love to hear your thoughts in comments.

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I took this photo of the Grand Mosque last winter during an unusual rainy day

Continue Reading · on November 22, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, environment, expat, NaBloPoMo, NYC, religion, The National, Travel, UAE

Everyone Goes to Vesuvius

Did you know that Vesuvius is still considered an active volcano, and a dangerous one? It could blow at any moment, theoretically.

That thought gave Caleb the added impetus he needed for the hike to the top of the caldera, a task that sounds more impressive than it was: you drive (or are driven)  to the base of the trail and then walk the 800 or so meters to the top.  Caleb expected to look inside the volcano and see molten lava, maybe a few boiling gas bubbles, but alas, no. Inside the bowl of the mountain were just innocuous trees and bushes–the only hint that we were seeing something other than a standard mountain were the wisps of steam wafting up through a crack in the rocks.

A few intrepid souls biked up the twisty mountain road to the base of the trail, but most of the rest of us tourists took small mini-vans or big huge motor coaches. Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a ginormous bus coming down a tiny switchback road, bicycles weaving alongside, and your little minivan chugging up the switchback in the opposite direction–and all the drivers in question are Italian. TONS of fun, many Italian words that were probably not suitable for children, plus traffic jams.  Here’s hoping all the seismic monitors along the edge of the mountain work in tip-top condition, or one day…kaboom…and all the motor coaches will be suddenly airborne. Or carbonized.

Anyway. The whole world, it seems, comes to Vesuvius, including monks from other countries, like this fellow, snapping a picture of another religion’s shrine.

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**

It’s November 1 today and you know what that means: NaBloPoMo! That translates to: National Blog Posting Month, in which those of  crazy enough with nothing better to do serious about writing write a post a day for November.  I’m taking the NaBlo challenge along with all the other writers at yeahwrite, and at Blogher, too.  If you’re a writer, join in –and if you’re not a writer, then do us all a favor and read these posts so that we know someone besides our mothers is paying attention.

 

Continue Reading · on November 1, 2013 in NaBloPoMo, religion, Travel

Italian Ladies in the Rain

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These ladies had just left Saturday morning mass, in Naples.  The church where they worship, Pio Monte della Misericordia, dates to about 1678. We were asked to leave the church while Mass was said–for about ten people.

Why were we in this little church on a rainy Saturday morning?  Because it houses this painting:

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Seven Works of Mercy, Caravaggio

Yep. Just saying prayers in front of a masterpiece and then going on with their day, these ladies in their sensible shoes and their cardigans. I loved them and wanted to follow them home.

Continue Reading · on October 30, 2013 in religion, Travel

in which I try to avoid cliches about Italy

Memory works in peculiar ways, doesn’t it? I mean, I know that when we were traveling in Italy a few weeks ago, I was tempted to leave my bickering children at the top of Vesuvius as an offering for the gods but now, weeks later, what remains in my mind is a blur of ancient beauty, tiny streets, motor scooters, and meals comprised exclusively of variations on cheese, tomatoes, and bread (which is, I think, what gets eaten in heaven, if there is such a place).

But in trying to write about this trip, as was the case when we went to India, I find myself frustrated.  If I talk about laundry hanging off balconies, sheets flapping against the bricks, it’s as if I’m describing the opening shot of an old Sophia Loren movie.

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If I tell you about the Mediterranean light splashing across peeling pastel buildings, I’m channeling every bad romance-in-Italy movie ever made.

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Should I tell you instead about walking out of our lovely little hotel in the Piazza Decumani in Naples, on a Sunday morning with bells ringing across the city to call the faithful to Mass?  And that further down the narrow cobblestone street (awash in garbage, it being Naples), we heard glorious opera pouring from an open window, a secular celebration of the morning? By the late afternoon, however, the morning music had been replaced with the scents of cooking garlic and onions, so fragrant that we were stumbling with hunger.

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Maybe instead I should describe a narrow street in Rome, where cars bump alongside pedestrians shopping for vegetables and people sit at cafe tables sipping wine, a barely functional chaos?

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See what I mean? Italy has been a subject for millenia, long enough to make me glad I’m not Italian: I’d be paralyzed by all that history, all that beauty, all that language.  (Frank Bruni offers a somewhat bleaker view of history’s weight in a recent op-ed piece, here).

Instead I’ll go with these pictures taken inside a church, San Giovanni Decollato, in Rome. It’s a private church and gaining access can be complicated, unless you know someone with a key, and keys are only given to those in the brotherhood or descendants of those who were in the brotherhood of the church. It’s straight out of Dan Brown, isn’t it? And unbelievably, our friend G., whose family belonged to the order, and his wonderful wife, unlocked the church with a satisfyingly big key, and let us walk around inside.  There was a lot of decollato; I couldn’t decide if going to a church with decorations like these would hold my interest during dull sermons or terrify me into leaving the church completely.  Probably the latter, given my heathenish proclivities.

IMG_1059above the altar (Caleb was very fond of the bleeding neck detail)

IMG_1062head on a plate (detail from ceiling fresco)

IMG_1058skulls were everywhere in the church: memento mori

The church was beautiful, a tiny gem tucked into a corner of Rome we never would have found on our own.

I don’t know. I’m beginning to think that Rick and Ilsa may have had it wrong: maybe everything would’ve been different for them if instead of having Paris, they’d had Rome.

 

 

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Continue Reading · on October 29, 2013 in expat, family, Kids, Travel, writing

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