Monday, November 25, 2013

Wherever you go, there you are....

Paris 2012
There is a book about mindfulness meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn titled Wherever You Go, There You Are.  It's an excellent title and I'm not sure if Kabat-Zinn was the originator or whether it is from the Buddha. In my experience, this saying is completely accurate.

Before our retirement, Monsieur and I decided that travel would be an important part of our "golden years". Our first trip together was a repositioning cruise leaving Vancouver and travelling through the Panama Canal to Fort Lauderdale. Monsieur was very keen on the engineering feat, read a lot about  the routes and discovered Karaoke on the cruise so all was well.

Next came my Paris study holiday. I was studying for 4 months and travelling about Europe for a month. As I had rented an apartment in Paris, I was hoping that M. would love the City of Light as much as I do. Monsieur was researching the war records of his grandfather and believed that he had been at Passchendale. Monsieur came for only a week but it was when I had mid-term break so we went to visit the battlefields in Belgium. Monsieur does not want to return to Europe. To me, Europe is not only rich with the art, literature and history but with the music and outdoor activities that Monsieur enjoys. There are so many jazz bars and open mics in Paris' Latin Quarter and in Montparnasse that one could go out every night.
Monsieur in the North Cascades
Right now, the sun is shining on the saguaro outside our window, the cactus wren is calling out and the temperature is pleasant. I am sitting at the bistro table soaking in the afternoon's rays. I have found a friendly church, a nail salon, a neighbourhood bar and restaurant, a drycleaner and a bookstore.
Wherever I am, I find what I need and could easily settle in for months. Although, old friends are impossible to replace, there are so many possible friends in the world that we need never be lonely.

Monsieur prefers short holidays, road trips and camping. He enjoys our annual trip to the North Cascades where he can hike and bike. Right now, performing music is very important to mon mari. Yesterday, we noticed that our local bar in Tucson has live music and karaoke but we head north tomorrow. 

Retirement is not only a time of self-discovery but a time for us to learn more about our relationships.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

You and Me and Rain on the Roof

The rains have come to the desert and they have come with force. Our little house seems to be watertight and warm so I  am bundled in reading and Monsieur is bundled in complaining about the wifi. The speed of wifi is not problematic for me unless I am paying 75 cents a minute as on the ship. Monsieur is involved in Fantasy football and hockey so he is always "setting his lineups". We are very different and have now spent 2 weeks alone together. (oxymoron).

The rain makes it a little easier to head north but I always feel sad when I have to go home. It's not just about travel:it's about possibilities, new experiences and new ideas to explore. Yesterday, I read a book The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea. It is about the attempt by 26 Mexican men to cross the desert close to where we are living. Fourteen men died trying to cross the Arizona desert illegally in 2001. With a downturn in the economy in Vera Cruz, these men were hoping to find work in the fields so that they could feed their families. They borrowed money from the Don to fund the travel and they were left by their guide to die in the Sonora Desert.  Luis Alberto Urrea was a Pullitzer finalist in 2005 and this book although heart-wrenching was fascinating. "Reading in place" is one of my favourite travel activities.

Reading Devil's Highway made me think about my "adopted daughter" Maria in Oaxaca. The "coyotes" or guides call the emigrants "Oaxacas" because Oaxaca is such a poor state peopled by various indigenous people who often don't even speak Spanish.  I hope that Maria is teaching and making life better for the next generation of "Oaxacas"

When I get home, it will be Advent. Christmas lost its magic for me a long time ago. Christmas is for small children and we have only great-niece and nephew in our family. I don't need or want much that I don't have. I have way too much even to live comfortably. Part of travel is just getting away from my "things".

In my first two weeks back, I will have M.'s band gig, the opera, a charity auction and a Christmas party. I will worry about my daughter's job, my mother's health, my weight and my husband's late nights. I just realized a few days ago that I had not seen my dad alive for a year. Only on my computer desktop, will I ever again see his awkward smile. I'm like him, I grimace at the camera. Monsieur will sing Christmas carols at the nursing home and for the first time, his mother will not be there.

The worst part is that what I thought would be a leisurely drive, Monsieur and me together, is going to be a marathon so that we can make this gig. Tempers will flair and nerves unravel.

Perspective! Perspective! I am a very lucky woman to be able to explore as much as I do. All of these things are part of the daily life of a woman in her seventh decade. I have many dear friends and family members that I will be happy to see again!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Lesson in Packing

I have been away from home for almost 2 months, starting in Boston, cruising from Québec City to San Diego, living for 3 weeks in sunny Tucson and now preparing to drive back with Monsieur to Canada. I started my journey uncertain as to weather and to activities along the way. I also started my journey with le valise diabolique and a carry-on. If you recall, I muttered the Volga Boatman Song as I hauled le valise for blocks in the rain in New York City. As it turned out, none of my travelling companions dressed up so Madame has been living out of the carryon for almost two months.

Beige, brown and orange, accented with turquoise and an array of jewellery have been my staples. I have even been wearing the same orange loafers most days. My Gerry Weber outfits have taken me to dinner, Lincoln Centre and to church while my inexpensive beige capris and boot-cut pants have seen me through most days. I wash tops in Woolite and hang to dry each evening and voilà. Admittedly, I have not worn my jacket, raincoat or hat in the two months. I will be needing them soon.
Leopard, orange and brown
So, lesson learned:next time only take a few pieces. Edit, edit, edit. When I go home, it will be WW for me and careful contemplation of what  I REALLY need to pack.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pride, the Virtuous Vice?

Besides touring about in Arizona, Monsieur and I have visited an entertainment centre called Bookman's. While primarily a gigantic used bookstore, Bookman's is more like a curated collection of books, music, memorabilia and music equipment. Monsieur has been lusting after a vintage Sunn bass amp but he has so far restrained himself. When he was young, M. Là-bas used to drive to Seattle to hear the Kingsmen for whom the amp was developed. Performing music was an important part of my husband's family and social life and it seems that for him, music is a way of making a connection.

While visiting Bookman's, we have discovered The Seven Deadly Sins series, a group of books published by New York Public Library. Monsieur and I were joking about with which one we each most identified. My operating system definitely is based on pride. The little brown book, by Michael Eric Dyson, may be a purchase as I skimmed the first few pages and Dyson reflected that pride might be a "virtuous vice".

So as I am wont to do, I have been thinking about the role that pride plays in my life. I have always been a very earnest person so I believe that it is my responsibility to make my best effort. I'm not sure that effort is so much pride as utilizing those "god-given??" gifts to the utmost. Unlike my husband, I have absolutely no sense of rhythm or pitch. I sing in the car, in the shower and quietly at church. I could take singing lessons and improve but musical talent is not one of my gifts.

On the other hand, I was born talking (slight exaggeration) and loving words. I used to write my Christmas lists in poetry and once wrote a poem to my parents requesting a set of encyclopaedia. I read and ponder and wonder about everything. Street names, native peoples...the list goes on forever. I never got my set of encyclopaedia but now I have the Internet. In areas of study, I have always worked to the best of my ability and have encouraged my students to do the same.

This being said, the best of our ability is different in different situations. When I was an undergraduate with a preschooler, I did not have the same time to devote to my studies as when I was a 60 year-old alone in Paris. Through no efforts of my own, I was not born with fetal alcohol syndrome or dyslexia. If I were to develop Alzheimer's or macular degeneration tomorrow, my life would change, again through no fault of my own.

Pride in our accomplishments or our belongings is likely more foolish than sinful. These things are given to us through circumstances and can be taken away just as arbitrarily. Pride in appearance is an even more foolish behaviour. It changes throughout our lives and again is based on "the luck of the draw".

In Christian doctrine , all of our "talents" are a reflection of God. They are handed out to be used to the good of all.

I am probably going to read the book which deals with pride just because I am who I am and I do enjoy thinking about these things.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

At Home on the Desert

We have most of our meals outside.
It's curious how we adapt so easily to our settings. Monsieur and I are enjoying our 400 square foot casita, tucked amid the cacti. We hear only birds, crickets and an occasional dog. Although we have neighbours in the "big house" right now, we never hear them or see them. This property has been landscaped so that there are private seating and lounging opportunities in every corner with a choice of shade or sun. We don't have an inside table so we eat most of our meals outside.
The desert flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds to our  patio.
 As we live in an apartment at home, this lifestyle is a treat for us. We read, write, listen to music and tour about to see the sights of this area which is so different from our home. Yesterday, we drove across desert and up a mountain to 6700 feet above sea level to visit the Kitt Peak Observatory, an important site for astronomic observation.  The view from this elevation was overwhelming and I marvel at the vast spaces of uninhabited land. This beauty is so different from our green coniferous forests and rugged seashores of home.

View from Kitt Peak

I am not a person who can live by natural scenery alone. I enjoy thinking about the people who have inhabited different areas: what they believed and how they lived. I've done a bit of reading about the indigenous people and Monsieur and I have discovered a giant used book store near our casita. It not only sells used books but also musical equipment. Oh, is this Là-bas heaven! Monsieur keeps looking at a vintage bass amplifier (like we need more sound equipment) and I will exchange any books that I have for new ones before heading home. I have my eye on an anthology of Arizona writers. They also have free musical concerts so we heard a Bossa Nova guitar player and a Portuguese singer this afternoon. This is a university town as well as a retirement centre so there are plenty of cultural activities for all ages.

Besides the physical and intellectual, this year I have chosen to explore the spiritual part of my life.
Today, I visited Desert Skies United Methodist Church where the congregation were friendly and welcoming. The sermon dealt with fear and how it was a pointless exercise to worry. As I was already anxious about going to an unfamiliar church and meeting unfamiliar people, the sermon hit the nail on the head! With hope and faith, worry is unnecessary.
The sun is setting.
All of a sudden, the sky turns pink and then it's dark.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Desert Days

View from our bed
It is a bit ironic that I started my travels with fall foliage and here I am in a casita in the desert. My desert day begins with a peek at the saguaros that surround our little house. The desert sky is often blue and I feel as though I am stocking up on brightness and warmth before heading home to December in British Columbia.

Travelling with Monsieur is different from travelling with other people because we have  expectations regarding our roles. I usually take responsibility for buying, preparing, serving food and for cleaning up. Left to his own, which he often is, Monsieur could exist on chips, wieners and bagged vegetables with dip. I, on the other hand, prefer fresh vegetables and fish or chicken. I have blood pressure medication so sodium is one of my no-no's.

Monsieur drives on roadtrips as I really hate driving. Buses or trains always seem a lot more enjoyable to me as both people can experience the scenery. I'm not the best navigator because I can't read in the car due to motion sickness. We both prefer quiet roads where the traffic is calm.Monsieur favours natural scenery and I am always interested in the historical background of an area.

Yesterday, we drove along some quiet secondary roads to Nogales which is the border town between Arizona and Mexico.  As we climbed to an elevation of 4000 feet, we left our saguaros behind and entered ranching country.

Patagonia State Park
As a girl, I used to watch "cowboy and Indian" movies. This land, purchased from Mexico, was the home of the Chiricahua Apaches. When ranchers discovered this grazing land, the nomadic indigenous people were displaced and warfare ensued. With the defeat of Geronimo, the Apaches were transported  far from their homeland. In reading a bit about indigenous peoples, I have learned two terms that help clarify ethnic labels a bit. "Autonym" means what we call ourselves and "exonym" means what others call us. The Apaches were part of a South Athabascan language group and called themselves "dene" (the people) as do many indigenous groups in Canada. The term "Apache" was used to mean gangsters in France because of the reputation of the tribes for savagery.
San Xavier du Bac
Our last stop of the day was the Mission of San Xavier du Bac, founded by Father Kino in 1692. The building is being restored and is the oldest European-built structure in the state of Arizona. The museum adjacent houses exhibits about the Tohono O'odham people who have inhabited the area for thousands of years. Visited first by Jesuit missionaries and claimed by Spain, "liberated" by the Mexican Revolution, purchased from Mexico by the United States in 1853, the Tohono O'odham have lost much of their ancestral lands.

Nightfall comes quickly and unexpectedly over the desert. Because of the warmth and blues skies, we tend to forget that it is mid-November and we are in the Northern Hemisphere.  But there is nothing I enjoy more than another peaceful desert evening with my book.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Traveller's Tale

Just over six weeks ago, I left home on the West Coast of Canada with the intention of touring most of the coastal regions of North America. While it would be impossible to tour it all, I feel that I have seen so many places and met so many different people. I am grateful to have this opportunity to learn about other coastal communities.
Fall foliage inVermont

Travelling in a group situation is new to me and I have to admit that I was wary of "being herded" but a it seemed like "the only way to go." The Autumn Foliage Rails and Sails tour by Mayflower Tours was an amazing first experience of a motor coach tour. Each day we boarded a train or a boat to view the autumn  colours of New England. Many of our meals were included and our accommodation was comfortable. I learned that much of the population of Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire share my Celtic and French heritage and I visited The Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine. Although many of my fellow travellers had little interest in the museum, a well-organized tour should provide a variety of experiences.
Between leaving the Mayflower group in Hyannis and boarding the ship in Québec City, my friend and I enjoyed a whirlwind trip to New City to see some shows and to listen to music. We saw the Motown Musical, an off-Broadway play, Me and Jezebel, and visited Avery Fisher Hall to listen to Beethoven's 9th Symphony with a specially commissioned companion piece. We were lucky to sit beside a 94 year old woman who had subscribed to season's tickets for 50 years. We were able to visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art but we had no time to see the Guggenheim. Like Paris, there would never be enough time to experience all of New York! For me, cultural activities are an important part of the adventure.

Bonhomme, the mascot of la ville de Québec.
After bidding farewell to my first travelling partner, I boarded a plane at JFK airport to meet my second partner and to board a cruiseship. Twenty-eight days is a very long time to spend on a ship and I had never travelled with my second travelling companion. We had not booked many onshore excursions but had decided to find independent activities in the ports of call. This gave us the opportunity to choose activities based on our interests, the weather and our daily level of energy. As a traveller, I feel  safe and able to assess situations fairly well. I do not carry much money and only one credit card or ATM card at a time. Official tourist guides usually have photo identification and are authorized to be dockside.
Fashion Show
Ship days would be difficult for me if I were not a reader. I don't gamble, play cards or sunbathe. I did play trivia, see some musical shows and attend a couple cooking classes and a digital camera workshop.
My friend and I played dress-up  at a jewellery fashion show. I am wearing a chocolate diamond butterfly necklace and a citrine ring valued at over $10,000. We went to the dining room only a couple of times because one of my personal goals right now is to pay attention to portion size. Restaurant portions tend to be too generous for my appetite.
Transitting the Panama Canal
It has been an adventure to visit so many different places although each port day lasts only a few hours. I have visited jungles, mangroves, colonial cities, Hemingway's house at Key West, Nicaragua (for the first time) and the list continues. I have experienced a government shutdown, friendly people, greedy people and a lot of helpful people. I marvel at the economic role that tourism plays in much of the world. Even in developed countries like Canada and the United States, many maritime communities depend on tourism. Leaf-watchers and cruise ship travellers contribute greatly to these economies. Onboard ship, we talked to a lot of the Filipino and Indonesian staff who work long shifts to send money home to their families. The staff were always friendly and respectful and there were times when I wished that I had heard more "pleases" and "thank-yous" from my fellow travellers. Judgement or non-judgement is another of my personal issues.

I am now in another phase of my adventure with my third companion. Monsieur, who drove our car down to meet me in San Diego, and I are by ourselves in the desert outside of Tucson.
Desert house
We are staying in a  casita that I found on the internet. It is the guest house on the property of a house designed by Alex Riley, an influential American architect. The house was his own residence in Tucson. We are renting the guesthouse ($47 a night) but there are no tenants currently in the main house.  Tucson is about a 20 minute drive away and we have books, Internet, a hot tub and a desert to explore.

I have been reading my small group discussion topics throughout my travels and the theme that has been important for the fall  (besides non-judgement and forgiveness) has been gratitude. I feel grateful to be able to have the time and resources to explore the world in my 7th decade and to have so many different people to accompany me on my travels.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Blue Latitudes and Random Thoughts

While I was at sea, I was severely limited in my Internet usage and realized how much I missed both sharing my adventures with others and enjoying the thoughts and experiences of other bloggers. As a social introvert, my favourite place to visit on the ship was the library. The Holland America Line has an extensive collection maintained by a professional librarian. There is also a book discussion group and daily quizzes based on a variety of subjects.

During my time at sea, I chose to read books that explore the lives of women living in the West Indies and in Latin America,  misnomers imposed by colonizers who knew little about geography and less about the ethnic composition of the inhabitants.
Hammock maker in Nicaragua

The first book that I read was Blue Latitudes:Caribbean Women Writers at Home and Abroad. Many of these short stories deal with the sexual and economic exploitation of women and children. Discrimination based on class and colour prevents the characters from protecting themselves from predators who wield greater power in society. The anthology is compiled by Elizabeth Nunez who is the author of Prospero's Daughter, a novel of neocolonialism set in Trinidad.

Prospero's Daughter, set in 1960's Trinidad, is a retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest.  Peter Gardner,   an outcast British scientist tries to create a "piece of England" on a sparsely inhabited island in the Caribbean. When Gardner offers a "British education" to Carlos, the mulatto boy whose home he expropriates, Gardner finds that his "English rose daughter" has feelings for the young man. The novel poses the questions: are we our ethnic background, are we the product of the physical environment that nurtures us or is our nature determined by upbringing and education?

I believe that all of us in the Americas are "mestizos". We carry with us transplanted customs and languages from the "old country"  but as time passes, this inheritance adapts to suit our new home. As the Americas are comprised of immigrants from many different lands, families meld together to create new cultures and new traditions.