Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Obsession

Among my obsessions, men have figured large.
There was the Irish contractor who showed up on my doorstep to bid on my apartment renovation. Seamus. The kind of man that made my knees weak. I obsessed about his bid for a week and whether he would be the lowest bidder, would I be able to justify hiring him? His bid was low enough. We dated, we fell in love, we broke up. And then I obsessed about that -- what had happened, what had we done wrong? I've come to realize that somethings were just not meant to be.

I've also obsessed about my work -- oh, ok, I obsess about my work in the present tense. That obsession varies from day to day. Some days, it's will I ever be able to get everything done? Most days, it is about are we doing the right thing? Could we be doing better? Could I be doing better. A dear friend gave me a copy of Bright Dawn in the hopes of curing this particlar obsessive behavior. That's an uphill battle though -- learning to love my shoes, to love what I have and embrace what I've achieved. I'm working on that.

Currently, I am obsessed with Blogspot's blog stats. Before anyone points it out, I do remember what I said in Fear of Failure -- that this blog is for me. Since then, I've acquired 8 followers which is kind of cool. One of them is a bit of a mystery -- Husker Fan. When you only have 8 followers -- you notice the strangers more easily.

Then blogspot added blog tracking software to its offerings and I've been in the grip of a data obsession ever since. All of a sudden, I can see how many people have viewed my blog, what they are viewing and when they are viewing it, how they arrive at my blog, and where they live. Of the search terms that get people to my blog, my favorite is: "Rapa Nui Bathrooom with Bedroom." Dang, I should have included that the Altiplanico had a bathroom with an indoor AND an outdoor shower. But then again, writer friends have commented that I don't score particularly high marks on the practical information when I write about places I've been. That's probably because to me, half the fun of a trip is planning it. I savor every decision in the way that Robert Frost savored two roads diverging in a wood.

I can see the geographic spread of my traffic -- most is from the United States (and I'm convinced that half of it is my own traffic into the blog). I've had eight -- count 'em -- page views from Kenya! Was one of those the person who googled "harem of zebras" when searching aol image? A lot of my traffic seems to come from google images. The Easter Island shots crop up there. Hmm, maybe I should be obsessing over watermarking my photos instead of the statistics on my blog?

Can the obsession with statistics co-exist peacefully with the principle that I'm going to write about what I want to, when I want to? I think it all depends. Right now, the obsession is a reflection of that side of me that is competitive -- the side that looks at statistics as a measure of progress. I'm going to work hard at keeping it the obsession under control and continuing to write for the joy that that writing brings.

After all, what fun would it be for me if I kept a blog that was about what's on the top of your mind when you launched the google search that got you to this page?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Today

Today, the family and friends of a wonderful man gathered graveside on a beautiful early autumn day to say good bye. Somewhere in NYC, a baby was born and an old woman died. Today, I puttered around putting my apartment back together while watching a riveting match featuring Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Five sets and a king was dethroned. Today was a beautiful day in the neightborhood, and there is the rub.

This morning was that kind of early autumn morning that should make you glad to be alive. I don't like these kinds of mornings so much anymore. They remind me too much of September 11, 2001. The day that New York and the world came to a grinding screeching halt. It's hard to imagine it, some nine years later, but on that day we just stopped. We stopped traffic. We stopped planes.. For moments on end, we all stopped breathing as planes hit buildings and those buildings fell down.

It didn't feel like it would be that kind of day when I woke up that morning. The city had that just washed feel, the sun was shining, and the air was gloriously clear. In my usual "just enough time to be on time mode", I got on the subway on the upper West side early to go to work. You know the drill -- not one minute to spare in the itinerary. When the train stopped just shy of Penn station, you could hear the collective silent groan of everyone in the car. "Not today, I don't have time for this." When we finally pulled into the station, I reached for my cell phone to call the office to let them know that I would be late for my 9:00 o'oclock call. "All circuits are busy" was what I heard so off I scampered to work. I stopped for my cup of cart coffee, arriving at the entrance to the Empire State Building sometime after 9:00. Only to find the building being evacuated.

Security had no time to talk. No time to answer questions. And so I took myself, my cup of cart coffee, and my book across the street to the Starbucks to wait it out -- still oblivious to the events of the morning. I am blessed in that I can read a book and block out the world around me and that is what I did. Until I felt a presence across the table, a tourist, I think a Japanese tourist. She asked if this seat was taken and I said no. She sat. She pulled out a brush and brushed her hair. She began to fidget and then she asked, do you think they will open the observation deck today? I said I wasn't sure why it had been closed to which she responded, "two planes flew into the World Trade Center, do you think they will open the observation deck." I said, "no, I don't think that they'll do that," packed up my things and ventured out into the street -- figuring they also weren't likely to open the offices anytime soon so I might as well go home.

The street was pretty chaotic. I ran into a colleague who was in a hyper-manic state. His father worked in the Trade Center but he was pretty sure he'd be ok. He dashed off (his father was ok). Another colleague and I walked together towards Penn Station. Each intent on getting home. I was the more fortunate one -- spotting a cab heading up town on sixth. I can not remember if she made it on to a train before they stopped running. I do remember that the world no longer seemed so pure and pristine when I got back to the upper West side. I headed upstairs, collapsed in my chair, flipped on the tv and watched the North Tower fall. At some point that day, New Yorkers were asked to stay home. So, like most of the country, I continued to watch events unfold on television -- turning to Peter Jennings because he seemed the most calm in the face of this storm.

The days following 9/11 are a blur -- the inevitable return to the Empire State Building was marked by long, snaking lines with IDs required and a number of evacuations. We dutifully developed a safety plan for ourselves -- identifying a meeting spot, buying flashlights, facemasks, and bottled water, learning the stairs, "just in case." After all, we were working in what had become, once again, the tallest building in the city. We wanted to be ready for any eventuality. We took comfort in the rhythms of work. We no longer wanted office space with a view -- the 8th floor was just fine.


Today, September 11, 2010, was a beautiful day in the neighborhood. A picture perfect early autumn day. They are finally making progress at ground zero. Tennis is being played in Forest Hills. New York city is still a hurly burly world. Life, it goes on. Different yet oddly the same.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Paris Found

Recently, I stayed in the Paris Violets room at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Osbispo, CA. Yes, the same Madonna Inn that houses the wonderful dancers from a different era and the Safari Room that I wrote about in my last post California Dreamin'.

On the face of it, the Paris Violets Room is not nearly as mad as the Safari Room. That is, until you notice that the paintings in both halves of the room are wired for light and once those lights are on, you are transported back to some '50s Parisian fantasy. The paintings are like something Lucy and Desi would have had in their bedroom on I Love Lucy. This side of kitsch now, that side of elegance then.

This is not going to be a post about those paintings although they will help to set the mood as we stroll back in time to my very first trip abroad somewhere shy of 30. And if you are anywhere close to the Madonna Inn in California, you should stop by if only to use the pink sugar shaker to sweeten your coffee in the Copper Cafe.

That first Paris trip -- a seven day junket with my friend Pam where we planned to hit all the high points and some of the low points. I grew up in a family that did not go jaunting off to Europe for vacations. Summers you would find us piled into a station wagon (a big rose one with wood on its sides) heading to my grandparents house or to the Connecticut Shore. Once in a while, we'd see a week on Cape Cod or up in Maine. But mostly the shore or the Litchfield Hills for us in the summer. A few times we drove to Florida for winter breaks -- I still have the ticket stubs from when the Magic Kingdom was only 8 rides and the rest of Walt Disney World was just a glimmer in Walt's eyes. For those trips, our parents would pile us in somewhere around 3:00 or 4:00 am, hoping all the while that we would sleep until 11:00 am before the cacophony of "are we there yet, he's touching me, i have to go to the bathroom, I'm hungry" began.


As a young adult, I had constructed vacations around friends who had work trips that were taking them to exotic places like Los Angeles, visits to my brother in New Mexico, weeks on Cape Cod, and places I could get to in my trusty ford pinto. Those were all easy trips -- involving a little planning, a hope that the weather would be good, and a desire (at least for the Cape Cod ones) for cute boys with whom we could dance and flirt.

This was to be my debut -- international traveler, owner of a passport, the first trip outside of US borders (ok, ok, we had gone to see Niagra Falls from the Canadian side when visiting my aunt, uncle, and cousin in Buffalo when I was little but I don't think that counts as international travel).

That first passport, I can remember filling out the application and bringing it to the post office at Bishop's Corner in West Hartford, CT. Although living in NYC, it just somehow seemed safer, saner to go back to my old home town to apply for this thing that would free me to see the world. I can remember when it arrived -- so blank, so longing to be filled with stamps, visas -- physical representation of what would soon be a host of wondeful memories.

Pam and I couldn't get enough of talking about this trip -- the anticipation was as good as the trip itself. We had booked ourselves into the Hotel Esmerelda in the Latin Quarter -- a room at the tippy top of the hotel with a casement window that we could fling open to the sun and sky and crawl up into to read a novel if we so desired. I was carrying the Hunchback of Notre Dame -- like a pairing of fine red wine with a perfectly grilled filet mignon. Our room looked down on to Saint Julien Pauvre Square -- the site of at least one lunch of baquette, cheese, and a bottle of wine purchased on the fly from the local markets.

This was going to be Paris on the cheap -- we were never going to sit down for our morning Cafe au Lait (standing at le zinc was so much cheaper), lunches would be baquette's and cheese, and dinners would be good but well-priced. Two ladies on a budget -- that was us. The trip got off to a great start as we shared our seat with a young frenchman wending his way back to Paris. We whiled away the time talking to him about our plans and getting his advice on where to eat and making a firm plan for dinner in the middle of our trip. That morning would see this jet-lagged duo seeing the Arche d'Triomphe the hard way (who knew there was a tunnel underneath as we dashed across to the safety of the isle luggage in hand?) and wandering around Notre Dame like ghosts as we waited for access to our room to "freshen up".

It was a glorious week -- the only sunny week that June -- and we did all the things young women on the loose in Paris are supposed to do. We went to the Louvre and sped our way through the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and the Winged Victory (recreating Audry Hepburn's pose in Funny Face even as we raced to our next stop) and then to les Tuileries for wine, bread and cheese. We adhered to our plan of cafe au lait at le zinc -- in the small cafe adjacent to the hotel and to an English bookstore near and dear to my heart, Shakespeare and Company. We wandered the banks of the Seine, meeting Ronnie (who would later visit Pam in New York) and watching the boats float by. We shopped the prints at the bookanistas and the flea markets and marveled at the fowl and fauna caged and available for purchase.


We climbed to the top of Notre Dame and Sacre-Coeur but only went to the first platform at the Eiffel Tower (who wants to wait in line for the lift?). We toured l'egouts -- marveling at the engineering that went into this subterannean Parisian sewer and we traveled out to Versailles to walk in the footsteps of Marie Antoinette. I can see her at the center of her court in this most luxurious of palaces. Insulated from the world outside by the men and women of the court who wanted nothing more than a heir to the throne. I have a photo of a small boy -- probably around 10 -- gazing out longingly to the grounds as the docent droned on about life in the palace before the guillotine would cut that same court's life short. There is a symmetry to "let them eat cake" and "off with her head" -- no escaping that. We visited the van Goghs at the Musee D'orsay (still an all time favorite museum) and had dates with boys who hardly spoke English on our night with our plane friend, experiencing the romance of the artist's bridge under a Parisian moon.

Most of all -- we drank Paris in, leaving time between all the running around to see the sites for those impromptu picnics, strolls on the Seine, and along the Champs Elysee. For a dinner with Pam's American friend living in Paris with her baby daughter. To sit -- finally -- towards the end of our trip in that small cafe by the Seine to write in our journals, read our books, and just drink in the ever-changing scenery of a Parisian street.


Practical Matters
Just buy a good guidebook, book a flight and find a room at your price point and go! Be sure to leave time to take in the sites as opposed to "checking them off" on a "must see" list. Sink into the rhythm of the place by walking on the Seine, feasting on cheese, bread and wine, and sitting and nursing your cafe au lait as you while away an afternoon debating how to choose from the endless options that Paris offers.


Friday, September 3, 2010

California Dreamin'


Tonight, I took a shower in the waterfall shower at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Osbispo, CA. The Madonna Inn is mad genius at work -- every room is done up to a different theme and we just happen to be staying in the safari room -- home of the aforesaid waterfall.

The Inn is also home to a passionate group of the most wonderful dancers who clearly spend many a night here dancing to the tunes of Hank and Frank at the Gold Rush Steakhouse. Well into their 70s and 80s, this group of regulars knows how to cut a rug -- in heels and shiny wing tips. From the swaying white-haired vixen whose gentleman friend did not dance to the tiny man with the widow's hump twirling around the floor with his hand on his partner's butt -- they were like seaweed gently wafting along in the tidal pull. One could imagine them at home in the Rainbow Room in New York -- waltzing as easily with the city aglow behind them as they twirled under the pink chandeliers.

This is a place that is about as far afield from the yurts at the Treebones Resort in Big Sur which is where I slept last night. Oddly, these two places to rest one's head go together in the same way that Venice Beach and Morro Bay; Ohai (stay at the Emerald Iguana) and Santa Monica; or Cambria and Solvang go together. California -- it's a big state.

This California road trip (vintage 2010) was really all about the yurts at Treebones. They sit perched high on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. The first night we rolled in after a foggy drive up the coast to a warm and welcoming lodge and a VERY cold yurt equipped with a small gas stove flanked by two Papazan chairs. The Nancy's Squared had arrived -- foregoing the yurt equipped with a ping pong table for the yurt that had two queen-sized beds (with lots of warm and cozy comforters) and those aforementioned chairs. They were a great place to sit as we warmed our feet by the small gas stove. A bit hard to escape though -- obviously chairs designed for the young. Dinner was ribs that fell off the bone and the house special salmon. All bedecked with fresh vegetables from the organic garden. No cell phone. No internet. No television. Just a bedazzling array of stars and a resort that includes a human birds nest overlooking the pacific.

Falling asleep to the sound of the sea lions barking and the gentle breeze blowing through the trees was priceless. At some point, that first night, right below our yurt a memory was made as a young man proposed to a young woman 'neath the stars in a nest made for two.

We spent the following day driving up the coast to Carmel for a walk on the wide, white sand beach (alas, no Clint Eastwood to be seen) and a leisurely drive back down for a stop at the Henry Miller Library and a short hike to Mcway Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. It's a nice hike out to the vista point -- a bonus was the blue whales cavorting off in the distance.
In Big Sur, it is all about the vistas which greet you at every turn as the highway switchs back and forth along the high bluffs of the central california coast. Our yurt -- much warmer after a sunny day -- welcomed us back with its cheery red airondeck chairs offering a perfect view of a pacific sunset accompanied by the birds chirping in the trees. A midnight trip to the bathrooms up top the hill brought another opportunity to breath in the fresh mountain air and drink in the stars.

I could see living in El Sur Grande -- anchored by the moutains behind and refreshed by the sea vistas below. Looking forward to the colors of the setting sun because that would mean another night of stars at play in the inky blackness of the night.

Practical Matters
I flew into San Diego (Jet Blue, JFK to SD) to meet up with my friend Nancy -- it is easier to fly into LAX or San Francisco. Our route took us from San Diego to Santa Monica where we overnighted at the Loew's Santa Monica -- enjoying an early morning walk on the pier and a quick tour of Venice Beach. Then it was on to Ojai -- a wonderful little mountain town just inland from Ventura. Our room ("Leaf" at the Emerald Iguana was approximately $220 for a small cottage with a full kitchen and separate living room (breakfast included).

From Ojai, we meandered north, stopping in Solvang for lunch and quick tour of this small slice of Denmark in California -- where we whiled away a bit of time. From Solvang, it was on to Morro Bay for the night where we stayed at the Blue Sail Inn (~$129).

Then it was off to Big Sur for a couple of nights at Treebones Resort (~$230/night for a yurt with 2 queen beds -- breakfast (freshmade waffles) included). We started the drive back to San Diego and, on a whim, landed here at the Madonna Inn -- in San Luis Obispo -- for a couple of nights (rates vary, the Safari Room was $259) and then it's off to Moonlight Beach (the Inn at Moonlight Beach, ~$200/night including breakfast) where we will hang with the ladies for a day of shopping, laughing, and eating.
Then, it is the long flight home to NYC to start planning my next California road trip. Mojave Desert anyone?







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