Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My Rapa Nui

Horses, horses, dogs
Green hills. cerulean sea
Waves pounding on rocks
That is the haiku that I wrote on my first night on Rapa Nui. One of the most remote places on earth -- Easter Island is some 2,000 miles from Tahiti and Chile. An archeologist's dream -- but will we ever really understand the culture that created the giant Moai. Perhaps more importantly -- do we need to?

I am particularly drawn to places where I can walk in the steps of those who went before me. I hate it when I can only look but can not touch -- or more importantly can't stand smack dab in the center of a space and imagine what it felt like to be of that civilization, of that time. How did the Christians feel as they waited beneath the coliseum and heard the roar of the crowd? What was it like for the harem dwellers of the Alhambra as they waited for the Sultan's call? Was being chosen a good thing or a bad thing?

How did Doris Duke feel as she built her own private Shangri-La on the shores of Oahu? A place where she gathered up treasures and encased them in a home that had the wide, blue pacific ocean as backdrop? Did she feel like a poor little rich girl or did she feel blessed to create her own private oasis surrounded by the art of the Ottomans? How did the Mayan ball teams feel as they took to the court at Chichen Itza -- knowing that the losing team would see death in its ranks?

I arrived on Rapa Nui with scant little to go on other than that it is the home of these mystical, monolythic statues left by a civilization about which we know little. The statues that I had been longing to meet, to come to know. Some have imagined that there were alien hands at play here -- how else to explain these giants? Others posit that the statues were created by humans and that they honor the dead. They surmise that the civilization "died" as a result of the devastation of the island's natural resources as trees were felled to move the Moai from the quarry to where they would stand guard.

This is my Rapa Nui -- a tiny green slice of paradise amidst a vast blue sea. An island where it is quite likely that everyone knows your name. A place where I could rent a car and get back in touch with the joys of driving a stick shift. The purr of the engine as I shifted up -- a sound that is hard to come by these days. The sheer excitement of setting off on one's own with my niece Julia to navigate. The memory carries the knee-jerk suspicion of being alone in a vast landscape when that guy on the motorcycle decides to stop behind your jeep for what turns out to be a sip of water. The kind of terror that comes from living amongst large crowds and hardly ever being alone. All of this to occur after a short orientation with a local Rapa Nui tour guide that included the most amazing lunch in his aunt's backyard. A home-cooked meal and good conversation betwixt and between seeing the sites of his Rapa Nui.

My Rapa Nui has waves crashing on rocks and sunsets that seem to go on for hours with each passing minute bringing a new color to the sky and a new shade to the ocean and the statues. It has a hotel with no tv and horses munching on plants outside your sliding glass door. It is a place where when you turn a corner, something new awaits you and where the cemetary lights up at night. A place where the whole island turns out to celebrate new year's eve on the westward facing coast and where one should really have a flashlight even if the moon is full for walking home from town after dark.
My Rapa Nui has horses, cows, and dogs wandering free. It is dotted with remnants of statues that were erected for who knows what reason. Statues that pretty much all had their backs to that beautiful cerulean sea when standing erect. Monoliths that mostly were toppled inwards with those same backsides to the elements as the next civilization swept in and destroyed that which they did not understand or that which they did not believe in. An early precursor to wars to yet to be fought -- humans at their most base.

My Rapa Nui is a place where I can imagine those that went before. I am the master carver who has toiled for days on what is to be the largest Moai on the island. Together with my fellow workers, nay my friends, we have seen this Moai start to take shape under our expert hands. A Moai that would never make it out of the ground. Never be erected to face inward because we started it at the end of a civilization that had destroyed my beautiful island to make these monuments. Yet, I loved this child and its brothers and sisters. They were my creations, my gifts to the island, my children. I am the master carver who survived the downfall of my culture by hiding in a cave below the cliffs with my family as a cultural revolution raged above our heads. I, together with my fellow carvers, participated in the birth of a new civilization even as we mourned the loss of our own.

My Rapa Nui is a place where I can take the threads of history and weave my own story as I criss cross the island in my little red jeep. It's a place where all the roads are less traveled. A place to feast on the sights and sounds of the present while dreaming of those who have gone before. That is my Rapa Nui.
Practical Aspects
All roads do not lead to Rapa Nui. Lan has flights out of Santiago, Chile that are generally full both coming and going. To get to my Rapa Nui -- skip the Explora ( -- that's kind of like staying in an African safari lodge with daily gourmet meals and tours with experienced guides. You need that in Africa but not on my Rapa Nui -- it's small and easily navigated. So stay at the Altiplanico ( or any one of the B&B's that are closer in to town, schedule a one-day tour just to be oriented, and rent a jeep (rent ahead so you are sure to get one). Do eat at the restaurants that are in and around the town of Hanga Roa and do ask which fish was caught that day and order it. Finally, remember to walk around and behind things -- you never know what you might find. Like the rare statue that was toppled face up and that lies dreaming of her Rapa Nui as her twin bears the brunt of the elements and slowly fades away by her side.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Yesterday was the first time I had been in the neighborhood of Gino's at 61st and Lexington since it closed. The green and white awning was gone and there was a for rent sign in the window. All was locked up tightly behind green gates. 1945 to 2010 is a pretty long run for a restaurant -- just think, it opened as my father was returning from WWII.

For while over a decade, Gino's, was one of my three favorite restaurants in NYC (the other two are Union Square Cafe and Big Nick's). It was the kind of place where the maitre'd would greet me Italian style when I wandered in for a meal.

This was a restaurant that was all cash all the time and sometimes, if you looked in the corner, it seemed that the bosses had taken over one corner and their bodyguards the other. It drew upper Eastside couples dressed in silks, ascots, and double-breasted navy blue blazers. There were tourists who had must have read about it in some guidebook or spotted it's green and white awning as they exited Bloomingdale's. And, it drew people like me who came in for a meal and stayed for a decade.

The vibrant yellow doors opened to a red foyer which then opened to an intimate space lined with tomato red wallpaper garnished by prancing zebras. Legend has it that after a fire in the 70s, Gino himself had the wallpaper remade because nothing says Italian restaurant like zebras. Sadly, they are unlikely to survive the next tenant.

Periodically, I would toddle over for a dinner of spaghetti with bolognese sauce. They served two wines -- red or white. And, they saw my own wine tastes morph from red to white once the red started to give me headaches and hot flashes. Antonio was my favorite waiter but others entertained as well. They were all gentlemen of a certain age and they dressed like waiters of old in their starched white shirts, bow ties, and short grey jackets.

I brought many an out-of-town guest and new and old friends over to Gino's for a meal. If I was in the neighborhood, I would sometimes pick up a quart of bolognese sauce to take home with me. On one memorable occasion, post having my gallbladder out and after 3 months of eating NO fats and certainly no red meat, my friend Linda sent a quart of Gino's bolognese sauce over to my apartment. Heaven.

Alas, there is no more Gino's bolognese sauce to savor and no more Italian kisses for me. The doors were shuttered when the rent was raised too high for the restaurant to even break even. the space now sits empty. One has to wonder if an empty store front with no rent is such a great business plan but who's to say.

And me, I've moved on to the Isle of Capri -- it's a little younger than Gino's having opened in 1955 but it does have a good bolognese sauce and these great little private rooms. I miss Gino's intimacy and the zaniness of the zebras. Mostly, I mourn the end of a decade-long love affair with the bolognese sauce.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fear of Failure

I had a horrible thought tonight as I conversed about this blog with a friend. All of a sudden the blog got bigger in my head and started to suck up all the available space. And, I asked out loud -- "what does it mean if I get to the 100th post and I have no followers?" We kind of chuckled and moved on in our conversation but that little tiny fear stayed with me and it grew.

Googling "blogs + number of blogs" didn't help at all. As an aside, it did remind me that I LOVE LOVE LOVE google with 177 million results and the first 10 relevant to what I wanted to know. Just how many blogs are there out there?

112.8 million blogs as a February 2010. Oh my word -- that is a slew of blogs. A whole lot of people with something to say. Have you ever paid attention to the way the leaves are on a gingko tree -- all tightly packed togther on a branch. In the spring here in the northeast, those leaves emerge in clusters out of a single tiny bud. Is that what blogspot is all about -- something that started as a single tiny bud and then proliferated into a whole bunch of leaves packed closely together? And how many blogspots are there out there in how many languages?

That fear of failure is a powerfully seductive fear when it gets inside your head. All one's past failures -- wearing pants to kindergarten when all the other girls are in skirts, spelling orchard wrong in the 4th grade spelling bee, getting laid off, lost loves and loves unrealized -- all of those fears come together and feed the new fear. And, all of a sudden, something I started for fun becomes something that I could potentially fail at just because I might never, ever have a follower.
I suppose I could go out and recruit followers. Googling "blogs + number of followers" returns 8.1 million results in 23 seconds. There are tools and widgets that could help me to get followers. Tactics and strategies -- ways to shamelessly promote my blog. I could start to tweet about my blog, seek to make it as relevant to others as it is to me. Maybe I could cite my own posts -- raise my impact factor (that's a little trick that academic journals use to show they are relevant).

Wow, in just three short hours that little kernal of fear has turned this whole blogging activity into something that is beginning to feel suspiciously like WORK!

Deep breath, step back, and repeat after me:

I, Nancy, take this blog to: write. write, write, and write some more; record my memories for when I am old and gray and can no longer gallivant off to points far away (most likely because I spent all my money doing that now); and explore that part of me that is creative just for the sake of creating and with no end in sight other than that which results from putting pen to paper and writing.
Most importantly, I take it as a way to lose myself for a couple of hours. Writing like this restores me in ways that are unexpected, unplanned, and endlessly exhilerating.

This blog is for me.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Things Gone, Memories Intact

Have you ever dreamed of living in a castle? One with rich tapestries hanging from the rafters and a roast goose on the spit over the fire? While, maybe I'll skip the goose on a spit and go for a viking stove, bosche dishwasher and sub-zero refrigerator.

Of course, a castle would mean more space to be filled, more cleaning, more stuff to throw out if it was -- say -- invaded by pests (aka bedbugs).

I just finished two days of mad cleaning of the fabrics in my apartment. Bed bugs in the office appear to have migrated to my castle. Dry, 20 minutes, high heat. there are about 80 -- ok, maybe 15 -- bags in my kitchen all sealed up. a bunch of stuff is at the dry cleaners with more to follow tomorrow. and countless things were tossed today. my paul simon and bruce springsteen t-shirts. gone. t-shirts from the trip to africa with lisa -- gone. hall high field hockey shirt. gone. columbia sweat shirts. gone. beanie babies. gone. gone. gone.

aah but the memories, they stay.....

Hall High Field Hockey: I was not meant to play a sport -- of this I am pretty sure. But Mr. C said play a sport, proves you're well-rounded and there began four years of, hmm, is sitting on the bench playing a sport? of course, Sally Warren needed people for the stars to play against and so I practiced and ran the burma and, all too often, wondered what it was all about. I still do.

1994 Africa Trip -- Apartheid ends. Rwanda genocide occurs. And there we were in Malawi -- also on the cusp of an election although it was clear who would win -- and in Zimbabwe where Mugabee reigned but not quite with the iron fist of today. that trip was bookended by lisa's affairs with Ron and Augustine. and i learned that one should always fly on the airline of the African country that you are departing from rather than the one you are going to because sometimes the planes just don't make it to you. And, that there is nothing finer than a glass of wine shared on the shores of lake malawi and a picture painted on a piece of cardboard by a small, thin boy.

Paul Simon Concert -- Rhythm of the Saints. FLOOR seats. need I say more?

Bruce Springsteen -- aah, the days of having to buy a ticket in person at a ticketron. the ticketron in Middletown, CT to be exact. we were in line with people who had driven from New Jersey and stopped in every ticketron along the way until they landed in this one. seats - yes, top of the stadium. Born in the USA Tour -- he sure looked good. He looked good last year too -- at age 60, he rocked Giant's Stadium just as he had done some 25 years ago. But, I could tell he was a little older. a little wiser. a little sadder in this post 9/11, sliding economy world, Iraq, Afghanistan War, BP oil spewing world that we now inhabit.

Beanie babies -- not the first of the must have toys but one that certainly had cross over appeal for adults. Mary, Julia and I must have hunted them for hours. I wonder where hers are now? I swear my favorite, the pink flamingo, gave me an injured look as i tossed him into the bag and booted the bag out the door today. It's about time I put childish things aside.

Gone also are the fake flowers -- they never really lived up to nature and so are no great loss other than that I never will be able to keep a live orchid live.

Gone too is the weight of all those things that I hadn't looked at in years. The things I thought I needed to remind me of what had been. It's all right here in my head and my heart.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated by -- and afraid of -- the ocean. The sound of waves crashing on the shore -- soothing. The sheer sensual delight of being cradled by gentle swells just beyond the wave break -- among life's pure joys. The terror of being turned upside down and inside out at Cape Cod's National Sea Shore -- a reminder that we are all mortal.

What is it about the ocean that brings me back time and again as I try to catch it on film? is it the sheer variety of the colors or that no two waves are alike? Maybe it's the sheer power of the water as it pounds against the shore? Or is it the promise the ocean offers of connecting me to new places, new people, new adventures? I have yet to touch all the oceans and seas of the world but there are some memorable moments for those that I've met and come to know. I don't know if Old Lyme, CT was the first place that I saw the Atlantic ocean but I have a mental picture of my Dad sheparding us off for some crabbing or carrying me across the rocks when I was small. How safe I felt then.

I remember my first sighting of the Caribbean as we cruised into Jamaica -- that soft clear blue green of the water over white sand. There is that memory of dipping my toe in the Adriatic after an EPIC journey to the Lido from Venice on a cool late October day. How could I not trudge to the Lido when it was so close? So too, I can see myself dipping that same toe into the dark waters of the Black Sea off of a beach in the Ukraine. I haven't touched the Indian Ocean but I've seen where it meets the Atlantic at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. And there is a glimpse of the Arabian Sea through the Gateway of India in Mumbai to be dredged up from my first "big" trip to an exotic land. The trip where I learned to walk alone through strange streets -- using all the courage I had to get from the hotel to the museum. And that story is a tale for another day.
But my true watering holes remain the Atlantic and the Pacific -- in all their sheer immensity and power. And, even more so, for their ability to restore me and the constant way that they remind me of a simpler time when dancing with the waves was the high point of a summer day.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Alter Ego

I wonder if the founding fathers had alter egos -- inner personas that didn't believe in tea parties and freedom?

This January,, in Chile, I started to sketch out an alter ego for myself -- the famously reclusive Chilean photographer Soledad Franco. She was named for our tour guide (Soledad) and our driver (Franco).

Given that I speak no Spanish, it made sense that she would be reclusive. As the trip progressed, she became Soledad Franco the famously reclusive Chilean photograph who lived on Easter Island. Her photos were treasured by regular people and priced accordingly. She had an assistant -- oddly named Nancy -- who spoke only broken English and who would show tourists the grounds of her simple studio when asked to do so.

Soledad's photos would be found in the local craft markets in Rapa Nui as well as in several smaller galleries in that delightfully arty little city by the sea -- Valparaiso. They were a steady source of income that supported her simple needs on Easter Island. So is Soledad an alter ego or is she just a fun little way to imagine a different life for myself?

I suppose it doesn't really matter. I often think about how my life would be if I chose a more creative path -- be it photography or writing. It is all the more fun to imagine doing that and living on an island surrounded by warm and gracious people and the deep blue sea.

I can actually imagine that life without having the photos or the writing make money for me. Just to have time to wake up in the morning, take a deep breath, and work on something that inspires my soul. Now that would be grand. Having a name like Soledad Franco would be icing on the cake.