Tuesday, August 5, 2008
I have been home now for more than a month. I have a planner again. I've gone to movies. I am busy. I have conversations. I have beer instead of wine. I forget to look at email. I clean house. I do laundry and dishes in a machine. I sleep in a bed and pee in the toilet, most the time. I think of the trip, it was fantastic. I've learned about cultures and countries, priveledges and priorities. India was a study in human deformity and poverty. Africa a study in culutral violence. South East Asia a study in perserverance. Japan a lesson in reverance. I would do it again; and again. But,when all is said and done, Dorothy had it right.
I had been biking in the rain for several days. I was excited at the possibility of shelter, a roof of any kind; a shower house, a picnic pavilion, at that point a port-a potty would have done. Sleeping in a French vineyard in a damp tent in damp clothing no matter how I romanticized it, had grown tiresome. I rolled into the campground, and true to French hospitality I was turned down for camping. The campground was open, others were camping, but for some reason, according to the mean little woman in the speaker box, the campground was closed. Chit. A German couple leaving the campground overheard me arguing with the speaker box woman and gave me directions to another campground close by but up a steep hill. It was shelter and I was thrilled. At this campground I got to talk to a human behind the desk, was assigned a camping spot and told they had free hot showers. Whoo hoo, I was happy. I went to my spot and started setting up when my neighbor, a woman from England came out and offered me a "cup o tea". Could it get better? We chatted in the light rain while I drank the tea, ate the biscuit and asked for another. When I finished, she gathered her cup and plate, said good night then gave me a hug. My eyes welled up. A tear rolled over the edge. A lump choked off my air. When she let go to say good night again and pat my shoulder she looked at me and said "alright,alright what's this?!". I asked her for another hug. That interaction was my first inkling, my first clue. The next week the weather improved a bit, but not much, so I was still looking for campgrounds at night, and maybe another hug. One evening I was set up, cooking dinner when an elderly woman walked by with her three dogs and five cats. I could not resist. I got up and tried to talk to her. She didn't speak English but she "told" me the names of all her friends and then invited me to her trailer in the campground. She was a permanent resident and was happy to have a visitor. She showed me her whole house, her drawers and their contents, where she did her dishes, her canned goods, the medications she took, (holding up each bottle then showing me on her fingers how many pills she took of each), and the plumbing problems she was having. She indicated that I should help her feed the cats, gave me a can to open and the bowls. The cats came running. She was smiling. I was smiling. The cats... were hungry. I eventually said good night and went to my tent. In the morning she appeared with her entourage and we waved recognition and hello. There wasn't much to say, or much that could be said. I watched her walk by and watched her turn the corner. One by one her animals turned the corner and went out of sight as well. The last one, a cat, dawdled, smelling something, then as it slowly turned it wrapped, then unwrapped its tail around a light post, and was gone. I welled up. I was getting ready.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
It is a beautiful day today and I will be out on the farm planting, weed whacking and doing general nesting activities. It feels somewhat surreal, comforting and stressful all at once being home. I need a planner. The cats need feeding,the hay needs to be baled and wow, is it good to see friends and family. I have a few more blogs to share and a final entry. I will do that soon, probably after I feed the cats. I am hoping to see all of you (yes everyone , the whole world) June 7th at the farm for a gathering. It will be so great to see you, and speak English. Can't wait!
Friday, May 16, 2008
I had been warned. I had been told. But still I was not prepared. The French are not friendly, at all. They don't think it's funny when you butcher their language. They don´t think they should share the road with cyclists, and they have forgotten it seems that Americans were their friends at one point not so long ago. I went straight from my brilliant day in Italy to this environment in France. I was surprised. How could this happen in a matter of meters? Where were all my "friends"? Bon Jour? ...Bon Jour??
The last day of cycling in Italy was brilliant. The sun was out, the roads were good, the terrain challenging and fun, and, I was nearing France on my way to see a friend I had met in India. I was motivated, excited and rolling along. Every other cyclist in Italy was out as well (or so it seemed). In my excitement of the day I started saying "ciao'" to all the cyclist that went by. Sometimes I would get no response but sometimes a whole team would go by, a line of perhaps 30 cyclist, and as they passed the ciaos would get louder and more enthusiastic. I was hooked. I said "ciao'" to everyone. I said "ciao'" to the birds, the dogs, and tourists alike. I was singing and smiling and ciaoing my way to France. When I saw the sign at the border of France I welled up, I didn't want the "ciaoing" to end. Oh but it did.
I had been biking hard all day up a pass, it was getting late in the afternoon, I was tired, lonely, and wondering where I would stay that night. I entered one of those tiny mountain villages where the streets are about eight feet wide and the buildings line the street like wall paper. The streets were not only narrow but steep so I was in my lowest gear and crawling, barely faster than a walk. I came upon and began to pass an old, bent, Italian woman, scarf on her head, sagging hose on her legs, apron around her waist and black shoes. She was walking with what looked like a large agricultural bag of cotton slug over her shoulders, her elbows bent over her head and her hands clasped tightly on the knot. I passed her and looked , she smiled , I said buon giorno (that being the more respectful way to say "good day" in Italian) and continued onward. As I looked up from our exchange I noticed three older gentleman sitting on a bench, one resting on a cane, one leaning forward past the first to see, the other leaning back; all in tweed jackets with caps on their heads. I said "ciao". Immediately the woman I had passed spoke in a loud voice to the men, all I understood were two words: "ciao" and "buon giorno". The men responded with something and chuckled. She responded to them with a " my hello was better than yours was" tone. I looked back. They all looked at me. We all laughed. Simple, but sweet.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
I had been biking all day into the wind and I was hungry but it was a holiday and nothing was open. I ate some stuff I had in the packs but it was not satisfying my hunger. Everything was shut down. I went through Genova, a huge city and nothing, nothing was open. I was looking at energy bars for dinner. Ugh. As I got out of Genova I spied a tiny grocery open for business. I broke hard made a u turn and parked my bike. Inside it was like a small modern Krogers. I was thrilled, all the choices, all deli options. The first thing I smelled was rotisserie chicken. I went to it like a fly. I took one off the rack and put it in my basket. I gathered a few more things; bread, olives, pesto, noodles, yogurt and cereal, some apples and coffee. I headed to the check out excited about the pending meal. I took some time stuffing my panniers, and rearranging things to accommodate the bounty but the chicken wouldn't fit anywhere inside, so I tied it to the outside (I felt like I was back in Vietnam) and started down the road. I didn't get far, that chicken smelled too damn good. I soon stopped at a little square in a town center. A few people were sitting around enjoying the late afternoon sun, a few more were feeding the pigeons and talking. I took the chicken off the bike and sat down among them. I looked into the bag and thought... I´ll just eat a bit then get the bread and olives and and my water. I reached in and grabbed a wing. It was a whole chicken so I had to pull to separate the wing. A few pieces of chicken went flying, pigeons ran over, I ate the wing. Man it was good. I grabbed another wing, more pieces, more pigeons, more delight. I turned the chicken over in the bag and tore into the back and thighs. At this time I had it all over my hands, a few pieces had escaped the bag and landed on my face, I had it in my lap, the pigeons were eating off the ground. I couldn't stop. I had another piece. When it was all over the chicken was gone, only a pile of bones remained. I looked up. Some man was staring at me, I shrugged my shoulders, he smiled a bit, I smiled back, he said, "buon appetite".
I was on the strip between Naples and Rome. The roads were confusing, numerous and the area was was mostly industrial or port side. I was lonely and not motivated by the scenery and I was a bit lost. I passed an older Indian guy on the road. He was on a bicycle much like Dorothy´s. But it was rusty. I tried to ask him a question but he spoke no English. I showed him on the map where I was trying to go but he could not tell me how to get there. We stood there. He made a noise with his mouth, bobbled his head and waved me on to follow him. I tucked in behind him happy for the draft. I had been fighting the wind all day. He was amazingly fast on the bike and I had to work to keep up. I thought surely could not keep this up long, and that we would be to the eventual turn off soon. I tried not to feel guilty that he was up there breaking the wind and working so hard. We continued. Occasionally he would look back smile and give me a wave onward. I began to get a little worried, we had been riding about 20 minutes. We entered a really bad area. More prostitutes then I have ever seen in my life. One every 5o meters. I was glad to be tucked in behind him for the safety though I still worried about where we were going. I could not check my map as he was moving onward, and fast. We traveled another twenty minutes. More prostitutes, more wind, more worry. He smiled and waved me on again. I followed. Thirty minutes later, he pulled to a halt in front of a big sign that said "Roma". We had been riding for more than an hour. He smiled and patted me on the back. I said my thank you´s. Then, he made a u turn and headed back. He had escorted me to my destination, way past his.
Cindy was thoughtful and flew out during the time my birthday would pass. She was very happy to do so and was anxious to make things special for me on that day. We were in the Amalfi coast, quite possibly the most beautiful spot I have seen, and we were in the town of Amalfi on my special day. That evening we walked around looking at restauraunts trying to pick a nice one in which to celebrate. During our walk we met a couple from the U.S., started talking and decided to share dinner with them. Cindy told them it was my birthday and the celebration began. We ordered a bottle of wine, and then another. Over wine we talked of traveling, politics and life abroad, getting older and taking opportunities and risks and the rewards of doing just that. I noticed the reward the wine was affording me but before I could think about what I should do the waiter brought out lemon cello´s for the table in my honor. Well I had to partake, and the mix of red wine and lemon cello was ...well delicious. So I had Cindy´s as she was not drinking it, and I had our new friends drink as well. Why waste it right? Our new friends decided to call it a night and so we all retired to our hostels. I stumbled to ours. As soon as I got in the door the room started spinning. I layed down and the speed increased. I got back up and I felt a change, in my stomach. So I made my way to the throne and did what you might expect, repeatedly, like an eighteen year old. Cindy lay in bed shaking her head.I did not deserve more.