Traveling in Costa Rica Sparks Reflections on Life

This is Epilogue 2 for my book.  In your imagination, add it to the Myth of the Yellow Kitchen as another chapter about life, work, pleasure and complexity.  Learning goes on forever—in seven days I learned about hardship, kindness, new cultures, the technology and magnitude of the Panama CanalCanal and something about the sea.  I could go on and on, but take the trip yourself, and, don’t forget, read my book. 

With some friends, I planned a trip in early January to Costa Rica and the Panama Canal, a recreational trip, a trip to get away from the bitter, January Boston weather.  Boston was 2 degrees during the day and below zero at night.  What a time to get away. I hadn’t been away for a long time and really forgotten what it was like to see new places, taste new foods, experience new cultures, and meet people.  We live on a large planet and there are so many cultures and differences.  On some level everyone is the same, they are born, grow up, marry, have children, work, and age.  But different people do it in different ways.  And that is intriguing.

The ship, The Variety Voyager, was small by general cruise standards with only seventy passengers, generally two to a cabin. This Greek vessel had almost everything you could want on a vacation including appetizing food, spotless, comfortable and beautifully appointed cabins, a gym, cheerful and helpful staff, and great trips on land.

People are Different and Yet the Same

We began in Costa Rica with one night at the magnificent Radisson Hotel. And then from the ship, we sampled the city of San Jose, the wonderful, pristine beaches, nature trails, animals, birds, fish, the special food of Costa Rica.  On one unspoiled beach, we snorkeled in the calm, clear water.  The staff provided barbecues, although how they do it is a mystery to me.  How do they carry all that food and everything else that goes with a meal?  Everywhere we met gentle and kind people.

When I travel to a different culture I learn what is different, what is the same.  Here in Costa Rica, there is no army, but people live in houses guarded by heavy chain link fences. When we got lost, a family asked us in. They gave us tea and told us how to get where we had intended to go.  I was charmed by their hospitality.  Would this happen in America?  They are not afraid.  But the chain link fence is strongly locked.  Contradictions that I perceive and do not understand intrigue me.

Ingenuity of People Amazes

The nights were wondrous as the ship moved gently through the Pacific.  On only two nights the ship rocked with the current and the waves.  There was music at night by a wonderful staff member from Serbia who can play classical music, pop, jazz and a million songs that we sing together.  Where did he learn this?  He did not begin studying music until he was seventeen.  The ingenuity of people amazes me.  We, the Americans, are not wealthy but rich enough to be on this ship and have our children study music at an early age.  I marvel at the staff, their lives are difficult, but they smile, are gracious and play the most wonderful music with joy and passion.

The Panama Canal 

And then we reached what we all came for—The Panama Canal.  It cost $17,000 for the ship to pass through it at night. We crowded the front deck as we watched the ship move through the four locks, pulled by small trucks called mules.  Mules are what pulled the ships when the Canal was built in 1914.  How did they do it then, there was no technology?  The trip through the Canal takes eight hours and the hardy few of us stayed to see us go through the last lock at 1:30 a.m.  How many times in school did I study the Panama Canal?  But I never could imagine, its largesse, the man-made lakes that feed it, the work crews, the locks.  Who were these people that envisioned this feat in 1914?  So much to know and to learn.

A Diverse Staff

One night, the Captain Andreas Sifnotis told us about his life. He is Greek and met his wife when they were both young and working on a ship.  The sea is his life.  He explained nautical terms, what he is responsible for and what makes a ship go.  He was telling us not just about the ship but about the layers of life, of pleasure and work. The staff comes from many places, Greece, Serbia, the Island of Mauritius, the Philippines, Indonesia and Egypt. Some come for the love of the sea, others for work. A few have not been home for years but send money home.  The crew includes four young girls from Indonesia who arrived just a month ago.  They are struggling to learn English but are always kind and helpful.

From Cruise Ship to Canoes

On the last day, we went by man-made wooden canoes to visit a tribe in the rain forest.  The bus took two hours, the canoe ride through the rain forest another hour.  Upon arrival, we were welcomed by twenty-eight families living in the rain forest, wearing loin clothes, dyes and tattoos.  The women do not cover their breasts.  They live on dirt. I wonder how come there is no grass here in the middle of the rain forest.  We eat fish they have caught and some herb they have grown wrapped in a coconut leaf.  They dance to homemade instruments.  Their arts are all around us, for sale, ranging in price from $10.00 to over $500.00.  And here is yet another contradiction. These are seemingly primitive people but they know about money and American dollars.

 

 

Winter in Boston

(Written during the record-breaking winter of 2015)

The Snow is Falling and Falling and Falling

Will it Ever Stop?…..

snowingI remember the winter the snow was falling and falling and falling.  I sat there at my window and remembered those few days.  It snowed yesterday, it is snowing today and the news reports tell us it will be snowing, not tomorrow, but the day after tomorrow.  And on and on.  The snow is piled high and in some places, you cannot see behind the corner.  Mountains of snow are everywhere.

I live in an apartment building and my car is in an underground garage.  This is the first garage I have ever had.  My old and wonderful house had a garage but it was way in the back and too far to shovel.  We left the car on the edge of the sidewalk, to shovel as little as possible.  Besides the garage was just a convenient place to store things like lawnmowers, barbecue devices, bicycles, and anything else we did not know where it should go.  It was a potpourri of things we used and things we never did.

What did I know?  I didn’t know that you had to take care of a garage the way you take care of a house, so by the time I decided to sell the house, I took down the garage, it was falling apart and would not add to the sale, probably just the opposite, it would turn possible buyers away.

So here I am now, in Boston, in a city that is making history.  The snow is making records and maybe there is more to come.  And the news tells us, that again tomorrow there will be snow and then icy rain.  How do the people in Alaska live, or Nova Scotia?  How do they keep warm, get around, get food, go to work.  Here in Boston, the rail system has stopped working several times and people can’t get to work.

But for the moment, it is white, it is clean looking and there is beauty to the whiteness.  How will this all melt?  And what will happen when it does   Huge puddles will be everywhere.  Stay tuned to hear more, and by the way—Did you read my book yet?  It is a great read for a snowy or rainy day.  Just sit in front of the window, watch the snow falling and read The Myth of the Yellow Kitchen.

When Holidays Become Complicated

The Holidays

The holidays can be “the best of times and the worst of times.”  Why?  Let me explain.  We just finished Chanukah and next comes Christmas and New Years, all three holidays representing the best and worst of times.

Chanukah

When I was a child, my grandfather would give us ten cents for Chanukah, that is all I remember.  As an adult with my own children, life had definitely changed.  Advertising had become an overwhelming part of everyday existence and the challenge for Jewish parents was to help their children cherish Chanukah and ignore Christmas.  Did we succeed?  I don’t think so.

All my children intermarried and again I thought my responsibility was to help my grandchildren feel close to Chanukah and Jewish life.  So every year I brought a menorah for each family, candles for the eight days of celebration, and Chanukah gelt (chocolate money coins).  Did it work?  I have no idea because Christmas was an important holiday in each home.

Christmas

I remember the first time I went to my daughter’s house and saw the huge Christmas tree, decorated beautifully with presents all around it.  My heart beat so fast, I had to sit down.  I never said a word and for all the years following I saw the Christmas tree in each of my three children’s homes.  After time, my heart beat normally, and I did not have to catch my breath.  I also gave and received beautiful presents, it was fun and I was with family.

But I never looked directly at those Christmas trees.

20161231_190647New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve can be fun or a disaster.  As a single person, I always wondered what would I be doing and with whom.  It was no problem when I was involved with one of the men in my life.  But alone, it could be heart wrenching.  Once I went out to dinner with a friend, she liked to eat early, but I was home by 9.  Is this the way to spend New Years, she was furious when I would not do that in subsequent years.  Another time, I was home alone, saw a good movie on television, had a glass or two of wine, and went to bed early.  But it didn’t work.  I felt alone, very alone.  This year I am going out with friends, close friends, for a late dinner at a quiet hotel with soft music in the background.

It should be fine, probably not the best of times, but definitely not the worst.

 

Happy New Year Everyone!

Sweeping Up – A Poem About Leaving

sweepingI came to broom sweep my big old house today

Before the closing which will happen soon

I cry when I see where my children did play

It’s  time to clean for the closings at noon.

The floors in the den are covered with dust

Why is it so hard to sweep clean this room?

The file cabinets now decayed with rust

We never had the right hammer or broom.

The house kept us bonded, committed through time

But the price is right and it’s time to go

I’ll get an apartment, it will be fine.

We have new lives to live, new seeds to sow.

All of us young, we were finding our way

The road is new and I’ll try not to cry.

The road isn’t easy and it’s hard to say

How painful it will be to say goodbye.

Now I must learn how to conquer my fear

We loved this old house and my heart is here.

 

This poem was originally published in the Myth of the Yellow Kitchen. It’s a reflection on the transition of moving from one home to another.

 

I Want

chocolate-ice-creamI want to eat all the chocolate ice cream I want without getting fat

I want to find an apartment in NewYork that I can afford, with a terrace and wonderful view of the harbor.

I want never to go into therapy again.

I want to be surrounded by gifted people who think grand thoughts, are never petty, and love me no matter what I do.

I want to know I’ll never have cancer or become a cabbage in my old age, that I’ll always be financially independent.

I want my ex-husband to approve of me, tell me how much he thinks I’ve accomplished since the divorce and what a good job I did bringing up the children.

I want to get a really good night’s sleep.

I want to be one of those people who is always coming back from some exotic place having a grand adventure traveling alone on  a shoestring.

I want to ride my bike down long, narrow  country trails again.

I want to live a conventional life but have everyone think I’m adventurous offbeat and exciting.

I want to have a lover who is good in bed. I want to be proud of him. I want him not to be into games or power. I want him to love me and be committed to me, and i want to do my own thing and not be bothered too much.

I want all women to be successful and smart and believe in the right causes, and be wonderful. I want to be proud of them. I want that for men too, but not as much.

I don’t want everybody to like me because that means I don’t stand for anything, but I want the right people to like me.

I want to be able to take a few drags on a cigarette occasionally without becoming a smoker again.

I want to write a really good poem.

 

 

Adventures and Challenges – the move to Boston

moving-boxesI sat there in the middle of boxes, big ones, small ones and ones too heavy to move. I couldn’t find the dining room table anymore and, as I looked around that morning, in 1998, about sixteen years ago, I had this terrible sinking feeling. What was I doing? I was in the throes of two major transitions, retiring from my academic position and relocating to Boston.

new-yorkI am a born and bred New Yorker and lived there most of my life, except during the early stages of my marriage and when I worked abroad. but the retirement incentive was too good to reject and my three children, their families, and six grandchildren lived in Boston, a rare coincidence when so many families are dispersed all over the country. The combination of retirement and moving seemed logical, rational, and timely. That didn’t, however, make it easy.

I was doing this alone. divorce had been the major crisis of my life, but then there were three young children and I had to learn to take care of everything that needed to be done. Now, after so many years in a wonderful career, my academic life was a solid part of my identity, an identity I cherished. Separating from work was difficult, and I had just ended a ten-year relationship.

There was the sadness at the thought of leaving life-long friends, friends I’d had since I was young, friends whose children went to nursery school with mine. We were an extended family watching our own children grow, marry and have children of their own.  And the communities I belonged to, the Reconstruction Synagogue of the North Shore and Rabbi Lee Friedlander — his voice and support were a part of my life.

And how would my children feel about me living so close to them? I thought they would be delighted if I was careful about not imposing, but who can be sure of anything?

As I look back, there have been life satisfactions and success–at work, in my love life, with friends and family. But there have also been disappointments. I never remarried, although I would have if the right person came along. There were disappointments at work too. In the last analysis, though, I am resilient whatever the issues, I always take the next step, like the move to Boston.

At the same time, I am reminded of my own mortality — sickness and death are around the corner. It is sobering, baffling, and difficult. Illness and death are also reinforcements that life matters, that each day is important and one must make the most of the moment, physically, intellectually, and emotionally.

bostonThese last years have been productive, interesting and fun. I do feel, though, that I shall always be somewhat of a stranger in Boston. My New York accent betrays me, and none of my history is here. My history is someplace back in New York, in the houses and apartments of my youth, my marriage, my single-parent period, my life with past lovers and my career. And, as I said before, “I am still a Yankee fan.” But Boston is where I live now, and it is almost home. And living close to family is icing on the cake.

 

The House

the-houseThe following excerpt is from my book, The Myth of the Yellow Kitchen. 

 It was the day before I would never own the house again.  The next day was the closing.  I came to broom-sweep the house, to sweep away the dirt and dust left by the movers two days earlier, the dirt that was in corners, under heavy furniture, the dust caught in moldings.  We lived in that house for twenty-five years.  Perhaps I really came to sweep away my sadness, to sweep away my ambivalence.

Should I have sold?  Did I make a terrible mistake?  All the furniture was gone; all the concrete reminders of our lives there were gone.  I thought about all the people who were part of that house, my parents, my family, my brothers and sister, my former husband, my friends, the women who cared for my children while I studied and worked, my children, the man in my life, and me. Continue reading The House

Letters to My Family