Sunday, September 25, 2011

Things That Take My Breath Away

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to pray in and play in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul." (John Muir)

Three weeks have whizzed by since I last wrote.  How can my days be filled so quickly and completely that they become just a blur?  Thank goodness I have the good sense to seek an "oasis" on Sunday afternoons, and to find some beauty, some healing and strength in just being still.

I recently read another blog where the writer had written an entry titled "Things That Take My Breath Away".  I enjoyed reading what they shared so much that I thought I'd use it myself.  So, let's go "wandering", and see what we see...

Things That Take My Breath Away

  • Views that seem to go on forever.  When I'm reminded that I am really just a very, very small part of a very big world.  And that all my scurrying and worrying really doesn't do much to change that world - but being willing to be a part of it, always changes me.

 View from Cape Perpetua, near Florence, Oregon
  • The pure, unadulterated (what a perfect word!) joy of children playing and exploring.  Kids are natural "masters" at this.  Why as we get older do we forget how to do this?  Too much to protect?  Too afraid to fall?  I want to keep remembering how to play - and that a "skinned knee" is just a "boo-boo", not the end of the world.

Our granddaugher Marley on the slide
  • The courage of one, standing for something true, inspite of what opposes them.  I was reminded today in class of the need for that kind of courage.  Not a courage born of strength and resistance, but a courage that because its roots are in humility, can see that in any moment of challenge all that's ever required is to take one small step.
"Tank Man" - Tianamen Square, Beijing China - 1989
  • Morning glories.  Every year we plant some in the front of our house, and I love them because of their beauty and shy optimism - always reminding me to "turn towards the light".  This year I didn't plant any.  But a half dozen plants came up anyway - and taught me an additional lesson about persistence!
Our morning glories
  • Sunrises and sunsets.  I can sit and look contentedly at them, anytime, anywhere.  Funny how I can feel so at peace with nature's daily "beginnings" and "endings", yet be so stirred up at times when I'm faced with a "beginning" (Monday morning, a new project, something unexpected) or an "ending" (a good time ends, something has to be fixed, I make a mistake).  Life's full of beginnings and endings - all can be used - for the good.
Sunset at the Franciscan Lodge, Lake Tahoe CA (a favorite spot of ours!)
A sunrise above the hills of Grants Pass, OR
  • A simple act of love.  Deborah and I just celebrated our wedding anniversary yesterday.  We had a wonderful evening at a fancy restaurant in Ashland:  ate the finest food we've ever had, were treated like royalty by white-shirted servers.  We enjoyed it all, but I also know that our love for each other has been expressed in ways smaller and simpler - but all the more divine, because they were uncomplicated and absolutely pure. 
A note Deborah left me - made with paper dots - while cleaning my office
  • The joy I feel in sharing my life with Deborah.  What a wonderful, magical mystery Life's "mathematics" are!  That "One" + "One" would = Something Far Greater than Two.  In the last six years, we have shared big adventures (Italy), painful moments with people close to us, busy times, and like today, quiet, sleepy afternoons.  All of them have been special to me.  Why?  Because they also remind me, just as a majestic oceanside view does, that I am not meant to live in a world just of, and for myself.
Deborah on a hike with me this summer.
"The most beautiful view is the one I share with you."

"Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God's handwriting - a wayside sacrament.  Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

So what't the Pearl I walk away with this afternoon?  Nothing new - but something I easily forget, or drop, as I whiz through my days.  Stop and find moments of stillness - not "whenever I can" - but deliberately, intentionally - each day.  There is beauty all around me - just waiting for me to stop and let it touch me.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Viva Italia!" - Arrivederci, At Last

"If you want a happy ending, that depends of course, on where you stop the story." (Orson Welles)

"So, allora, my have the rest of the afternoon to explore Florence.  Shop, have fun, eat lunch at a nice cafe.  Please meet back in the hotel lobby at 7:30 pm for to leave for our final dinner together.  We will go someplace very nice - please dress up, ok?...bene, bene!"

With those last instructions from our guide, Raffaele, the rest of the Perilloistas dispersed across the Piazza della Signoria, hunting for bargains or a cool granita to sip. But Deborah and I had other plans first.  We were off to the Ponte Vecchio for an important delivery.

The night before we had enjoyed a fairy-tale like encounter with Giorgio, a wealthy Florentine businessman.  We drank champagne with him, shared some laughs, and were surprised when he offered to give Deborah an expensive leather coat.  We politely declined, and everyone left smiling.  But Deborah was afraid we had been rude.  So the next morning, she wrote a note of apology to Giorgio, thanking him again for his kind offer, and even inviting him to come visit us in southern Oregon, should he ever travel there. (What a sassy offer!  I love my wife - she's not afraid to say anything!).  After our morning tour was over, we went back to Giorgio's shop to deliver the note.  When we got there, he wasn't there, but the sales clerk recognized us ("Ah, Giorgio's American friends!") and promised to give the note to him when he came in.  We smiled and thanked her and left.  We had done the "polite thing", and could now relax and enjoy our final afternoon in Florence.

We returned to the Piazza della Signoria and sat down at the Cafe Perseo there for our final lunch:  Pizza Marguerite, a house salad, and a glass of wine.  Our friendly waiter, Joseph/Giuseppe, even took our picture.

Suddenly, Deborah leaned in and whispered to me.  "Oh, my God, Jonathan!  You won't believe who's sitting behind you!".  As I turned, Deborah chirped, "Giorgio!  Hello!  Fancy seeing you again!".  And there he was again (oddly, still wearing the same clothes we saw him in last night!).  Giorgio turned and beamed.  "Buon giorno!", he replied, and got up and came over to our table and gave Deborah an "official" Italian double kiss on the cheeks (I got a hand shake).  "I got your note!", Giorgio said excitedly, and pulled it out of his pocket.  "Thank you so much for your kind letter".  The envelope was opened, and he seemed quite touched at Deborah's sincerity.

Giorgio was seated with two other men, who he introduced to us:  a cousin who worked for him, and his lead designer.  Both men were the epitome of sharply dressed, cosmopolitan, suave Italian style (kinda like this):

Giorgio's companions were very interested in talking to us, especially about politics and current events.  Deborah scored BIG points with them when she told them she loved Ronald Reagan as President!)  "So, you are history teacher, no?", the designer asked me.  "What area was your specialty?".  I tried to tell him that I taught Economics now, but then he surprised me with a pop quiz.  "Tell me, Mr. Teacher.  This is the 150th anniversary of what event in your American history?".  Nervously, I tried to do the math in my head, searching for the answer, but alas, none came.  Where was my encyclopedic brain when I needed it!  "I don't know", I weakly replied.  "Tell me.".  "Why it's the beginning of your American Civil War.", he answered with a superior grin, shaking his head at my ignorance.  I laughed and shrugged my shoulders - and thankfully, our lunch arrived, saving me from further embarrassment.  Ah well, no worse than being shown up by a smart student back home in Medford.  Giorgio and his friends said "Buon Appetito!" and left for other urban adventures elsewhere, and we finished our lunch.

We returned to our hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon packing for our trip home the next day.  Our flight was scheduled to leave Florence at 7 am, which meant being at the airport at 5 am, which meant being up at 330 am.  A long day once again loomed ahead.  Packing to go home was also a little more difficult than packing to go to Italy - mainly because of all the shopping we had done here!  We had paintings and bags and shoes and clothes and all sorts of trinkets to bring home somehow.  So we crammed and stowed as best as we could; we lined up our clothes for the marathon trip home; checked our passports and boarding tickets for the umpteenth time.  And before we knew it, it was time to head out for our final dinner with the group.

Everyone was dressed in their finest (at least as fine as could be when living out of your suitcase for 10 days). We boarded the bus and drove up to the Piazalle Michelangelo, above the city, to the Caffe Ristorante La Loggia, for dinner.  The view up here was spectacular, especially on a clear summer night.

After drinks on the terrace, we all went in and sat down for another sumptuous 4 course meal.

For one last time, the wine flowed...the laughter poured out as we told our stories, and shared a meal with our good friends.  We promised to keep in touch with each other, as best as we could.

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive.  ~Anäis Nin

Thanks again to Angela, Lloyd, Mary, and Diana for being such good friends and companions on this trip with us.  We were glad to share this little part of our worlds with you!

And then our dessert came... just a little something simple...

And then before we knew it, it was 1030 pm, and time for all hearty travelers to head back to the hotel.  The next day would be a long and tiring one as we all wound our way back home.

So, we said "Buona sera"... some of the men danced a jig in the Piazza as we boarded the bus, and we said our goodbyes to Italy.

Deborah and I barely slept that night.  We finally woke at 3 am and then just laid on our beds in our clothes, just wanting the day's ordeals to begin so that they could end, and we'd be back home.  

The trip home was indeed a long one.  Our flight from Florence was delayed 4 hours, and we had to stand in line for over an hour to get rebooked and on our way.  Florence to Amsterdam to Seattle to Portland.  At each stop, we endured a different challenge.  In Amsterdam, the Customs officials pulled us out of line to check some irregularity with our passports.  (Reminded Deborah too much of an episode of "Locked Up Abroad"!  She had visions of us being put in a dark cell somewhere!).  We managed to sail through and continued on.  Eight hours later in Sea-Tac Airport, TSA officials rustled through Deborah's bag and tossed out some "contraband" liquids (that somehow had made it all the way TO Italy and back, without anyone before noticing them.  Thank God the U.S. of A. was once again made safe from shampoo!).  Screaming kids sitting two rows from us on the last flight from Seattle to Portland made the last 45 minutes of our journey a special kind of challenge.  But we survived it all and finally made it back home to Oregon, and then to our quiet little house in Grants Pass. :-)

It's now been two months since we came home.  Our trip to Italy was an adventure shared that we will never forget.  We don't know when we'll ever get a second chance to return to Italy, but I know we hope we will.  A second chance to just go there and to sit in one place for a week or more, and just soak in the sun, drink some wine, eat pasta and gelato until we're full, sip a limoncello, and smile.  Perhaps to Sorrento...perhaps to parts unexplored like the Cinque Terre or the Tuscan countryside.

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” (Jawaharial Nehru)

But, regardless of where we go, or when, I know one thing for sure.  I will look forward to sharing all of the beauty, charm, and adventure that comes with my wife Deborah.  I couldn't ask for a better travel partner.  "Ti amo, bella donna!".  Thanks for being with me on a summer journey that I'll never forget...

Us at dinner in Sorrento at O'Parruchiano Ristorante in our best Italian linen

I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” 
(Mark Twain)