Wednesday, March 28, 2012

crocus



i observe she is always the first to arrive
in this season of awakenings, this season
of erupting life—edgy, eloquent, forthright—
surrounded by her siblings
she stretches upward aiming for the sun

and i am struck by her couture
by that tiny body flashy with outrageous color
showing off a slim white form from which spring
long green sleeves and a smallish purplish hat
festooned with lavish orange embellishments
that make the statement here i am.

i can tell you the reason for her prompt appearance—
well before the steadfast daffodil
and the exuberant forget-me-not, never mind
the prim lilac—is simply the advantage
of her location—as they say, it's all about
location, location

location on a rich hump of sunny dirt. but don't
get worked up—that's not the whole story.
that's not what's making the dirt even better.
can you imagine, better than compost?
rather, it is this: her nether regions are securely
lodged, along with fistfuls of worms,

in the hottest spot in the town—no, that's a lie—
take away town and add yard—
in the soil directly on top
of the simmering sludge
within the slow-cooking
septic tank in the garden.

and if she could express her feelings
i think she would pose a riddle
in such a way that neither dictionaries
nor encyclopedias nor all human knowledge
could help solve it—

leaving the answer in something immediate
in something, i imagine, she, at least,
has intimated all along.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

cobwebs



i threw open the windows, slipped on a pair of flip-flops, made some iced tea, put my hair in a ponytail, and started to attack the cobwebs on the screened porch with a broom. ah, summer.

but wait. it's not summer at all. today we're back to chilly. quite nippy. snow in the forecast!

that was last week, last week was summer, and those wonderful "summer" days with temps in the 60's, 70's and 80's were so much more than just a taste of summer, they were so much more than just a tease—they had me downright confused. they tricked me into believing it really was summer. it was like a button or something had been turned or pressed in my mind and when it clicked it sent me reeling and lurching over into a false summer mode.

one or two unseasonably warm days won't do that, but six or seven of them will. the balmy weather that didn't belong in maine in march almost —but not quite—had me convinced that i could skip april and may and move right into june. those days really messed me up.

but today it's back to reality.

the spiders will be pleased to discover i've decided to stop my vigorous sweepings and leave their dusty, silken tangles alone.

for now.

until the real summer weather gets here.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

eight strangers



i felt annoyed—an irrational annoyance with people i had never even met before and a legitimate annoyance with myself for feeling this way—as i impatiently finished brushing my hair, picked out a pair of earrings, and speedily applied a dab of lipstick. what would they be like? would we get along? who were the other six people assigned to table 405?

our travel consultant, who gave us all kinds of great tips (including dinner arrangements) about taking a cruise, and offered ideas about the best ship and itinerary for us—she suggested a stateroom upgrade, and even told us the exact stateroom number we should pick—was beyond helpful. if i had gone online myself and started poking around i would have been lost—too many choices for someone who has never been on a cruise before and who was a bit anxious about the whole thing in the first place.

after months of waiting we were finally about to experience our first dinner onboard. we walked down the the long staircase to deck 4 and as we crossed the large formal dining room toward our table, i saw a man and a woman just settling in at a table for eight directly in front of a dramatic two-story wall of windows with a view over the ship's stern, a table which would also turn out to be ours. they were alone; the six other chairs were not yet occupied.

these two smiled and laughed and chatted with the head waiter—all the wait staff were men dressed in crisp black suits with white shirts and black ties—as he pulled out the lady's chair and handed them their napkins. i thought to myself as we got to the table: they look nice—yeah, down-to-earth. they seem happy and comfortable and relaxed. you'll get along just fine with them. but then i quickly amended my first assumption when panic snuck in and i thought: you're crazy. you don't know these people. they're complete strangers. you can't tell anything by merely looking at them. they could be uncommunicative. or pretentious. or obnoxious. or, even worse, what if they haven't read a good (discussable) book or a thought-provoking book or ANY book at all in the last few months?


i was eventually able to let out a big sigh of relief—as it fortunately turned out my first assumption was the correct one, about this couple and our four other table companions.

their names were bob and linda.* linda was a university administrator and bob did something businessy—i can't remember what, though. they were in their early fifties and they were a pleasant couple who engaged easily in conversation. we seemed to have a lot in common. they had three kids and this summer they were going to be grandparents for the first time, just like us. they lived outside st. louis, missouri.

also at our table for eight was one other married couple, danilo and caliso, both medical doctors (she's a pediatrician), originally from the phillipines, who now lived in the suburbs north of detroit, michigan. they were in their early sixties, had three kids and two grandchildren, all born in the states. cali looked to be about forty-five—just like me. (no joke. people say that. go ahead and ask them, plus it's fun to do some number flipping, right ams?) cali was petit and fine-boned and very pretty. she was also rather funny and talked fast like i have a tendency to do when i get into a good discussion, when i'm enjoying myself. to me they were an extremely pleasant couple, interesting and fun to talk to.

the last two people at the table were marge and evina. they were friends from nova scotia whose husbands didn't want to go on the cruise. evina was an anesthesiologist and marge worked in the medical field and they each had one twenty-year-old daughter. evina was originally from scotland and spoke with a delightful scottish accent.

after completing these initial introductions, we launched into some good conversations which extended over the next few nights. we were not obligated to sit with one other at an assigned table, and we could easily have eaten dinner in any of the ship's other four restaurants, but, just like that, we agreed that we were fortunate in having been sorted into our present seating arrangement.

we were eight strangers tossed together on a ship in the middle of the ocean, trading stories and laughing and drinking wine as if we had known each other for years. we were eight strangers who, just like that, were friends for five days—a flash of days, quick as lightning—here and then suddenly gone, as if maybe they had never been real, as if they had never actually happened at all.


*i changed everyone's name for no reason other than just for fun—because i felt like it, because i can—not to protect identities or anything. the names are fiction, the rest is not.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

the winding road into the mountains

 the green mountains with camel's hump in the distance


fog and drizzle mark the beginning of my 3 day trip to the mountains. (but the weekend is supposed to be unseasonably warm and sunny—hooray!).

out on the free and open road, i cruise over the big "yay maine!"bridge—a family tradition, started over 50 years ago by my mother-in-law when the family used to vacation here, is to yell "yay maine!" on the middle of the bridge when traveling back into maine—to new hampshire and zip to concord in the fine company of mpbn's world news, the writer's almanac and concertos by scarlatti  and mozart.

the ascent commences on route 89. a lone, wild turkey flies across the highway. the road leads up and up, curving through the fog, occasionally punctuated by a short, meandering descent but always more up than down in this direction. here is the vietnam veteran's memorial bridge, spanning the connecticut river between new hampshire and vermont.

finally i'm in vermont.

past exit 1—quechee, killington—i notice the first of several bright yellow signs placed at intervals along the highway alerting drivers to be cautious: MOOSE CROSSING. DEER CROSSING. BEAR CROSSING. i have only seen deer along this highway in vermont (in maine i have seen moose). it would be a real thrill to see a bear. (a bear could cause a potentially dangerous pile-up of cars, but it would be worth the risk.)

the fog thickens. on this day i am out of luck—no large wild animal sightings. and even if large animals are indeed walking on the side of the road, it is not possible to see them. the fog is as thick as a blanket. at first i can make out about four car-lengths in front of me; suddenly, the visibility drops to one car-length. i feel blind and almost smothered by the fog (but i like the eeriness, too). i drop my speed from around 80 to 55 (the speed limit is 65). in the distance, appearing and then disappearing about three car-lengths away, i see a tall, ghostly form. now it's there, now it's not. as i drive i get closer to it. it turns out to be the back of a huge truck with no lights on.

the fog clears but everything is still gray, a translucent gray giving way to a gray that is transparent—gray upon gray upon gray. a slight drizzle coats the windshield. the shapes of vermont's green mountains are mere one-dimensional  silhouettes—like mock mountains built for a stage set—of generic rocks and trees and dirt. i know they are mountains because i know mountains. (but had i been a space alien, none of these undulations would make any sense.) clouds hover around the towering gray forms and rise up stringily like acrid smoke from thousands of smoldering campfires.

i'm almost there. some mountain bumps seem to follow me, watching over me. usually the camel's hump double bump is directly ahead or just over my shoulder. but not today. i must be patient. i will have to wait until the clouds lift to see it.

my girls live in these mountains, my girls—one a college student, and one, my oldest, with her own bump, a baby on the way.

yes, and i'm so thrilled, thrilled beyond words.

i've arrived at my destination and i'm going to be a grandmama.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

seed



back when a black sky awakened with the first smudge of the first orange light and continued to brighten under a newly formed sun, in an era before many words were spoken, and then later when the sentences uttered were few and guttural, and then way beyond that when, at last, there was a babel of languages—none of which could possibly be comprehended today—it flew across the land.

it careened past fiefdoms and serfdoms and dukedoms, danced over terror and famine, knowledge and expansion, sprouting famous and infamous people—kings, queens, generals, empresses, tzars, dictators, poets, prophets, tyrants—and all the lesser folk no one has ever heard of or read about in a book.

on mountains, deserts, plains and jungles it settled and lived, grew strong and insistent, lifting and spreading itself at every opportunity, seeping like mist, rising like vapor in and around every gaping crack on earth.

it flowed river-like along currents of time—air and ocean currents, too—and, most recently, sailed on wooden ships, steamships, and liberty ships and cruised on jet planes. it arrived in this place, right here where i stand on the porch in the bright, warm sunshine eating an apple and pushing a stray piece of hair out of my eyes. tirelessly it traveled and then presto!—became the me of me.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

in conjunction



a few scenes—ordinary scenes, some would even say boring scenes—performed over the last few days in maine were, to me anyway, worth noting.

the worlds of venus and jupiter were visible—bright, vivid, bold—high and mighty in the west on cloudless monday evening, so close together in the sky they were practically holding hands.

earlier in the day, a day that showed off a gentle warmth that was weeks ahead of schedule, it was the gray versus the red, each holding on to their positions in the backyard.

in a flurry of rapid-fire squeaks and squawks, a chattering war was going on out there. i watched from the window as the battle lines were drawn—the little red squirrel occupied the high ground on the bird feeder pole and the large gray squirrel, at a definite disadvantage, was below the feeder in the garden.

they put on an entertaining show. red rushed down the pole when gray dared to get too close, causing the big guy to run. satisfied, the little one climbed back up the feeder to guard "his" stash of sunflower seeds, but then gray would pivot, take a couple jumps and stop, walk, stop, walk, like he was sneaking up on red or something.

finally red could not take it anymore. he jumped off the pole and ran gray straight out of town. congratulations, red, for being monday's winner.

and the maine black bears up north? let's not forget the bears. (who could forget the bears?) the two adorable cubs, now almost two months old, are very active—they tumble and play-fight and ham-it-up in full view like they know they're on camera—and they're obviously getting sick of being cooped up in the den watching momma sleep.

the bears, right here, were fun to watch this winter, especially lately. but it's almost spring and i know one of these days when i click the link to the live camera the bears will be gone.

i will really miss them.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

jamaica in layers



the throaty purr of the engines rises from deep within the ship's belly and rumbles upward along her metal ribs to the deck outside our stateroom and greets me by transmitting a comforting hum under the soles of my feet. i like the feeling—especially when i'm barefoot, and that's a lot—and the constancy of the warm feline-like vibration. (i will miss it when we say good bye to the ship.) my feet are learning to roll as the ship rolls, to move with her, to adjust to the pitch and instinctively steady themselves. some people feel queasy and ill as we approach jamaica—luckily i have escaped this fate—and as the ship is forced to leave falmouth. storm clouds smother the sun and the sea is too choppy for the tenders to carry passengers ashore. she must change course and tie up at the dock in ocho rios.

uncooperative weather has canceled several of the shore excursions so i go and sit on the pool deck, gab with newly made friends, and let myself fall under the spell of the turquoise sea. some adventurous men head out on their own into ocho rios and are quickly offered the opportunity to purchase all kinds of naughty pleasures and to negotiate "private" guided tours in the hills surrounding the town. i worry about their safety when i hear this and i am relieved when the men return safely.

in the land of reggae, rastas, ganja, and rum, the stories i hear the men tell when they get back to the ship go something like this.

you're barely off the dock when you meet the first man. he's a young man standing on the side of the road and he comes up to you and, in that familiarly pleasant jamaican-accented english, asks in a low voice, "hey, mon, you wanna buy some booze? rum. real cheap." you pass. you keep walking and a second man approaches you in the same manner as the first, "hey, mon, you wanna woman? real pretty." again, you pass. a third man approaches and quietly says, "hey, mon, i got some real sweet ganja. real good stuff, real good deal." you wonder what other treats the island will have to offer as you keep walking on the road into town.

and another story.

you're barely off the dock when a young man—a real good salesman, in fact—wants to make a deal. he will, for 60 bucks, be your personal tour guide on a 3 hour hike unaffiliated with any of the tours offered by the cruise company. (this sounds a little risky but he seems pleasant and articulate and motivated and you know he needs the money, so you count out the cash and hand it over.) he will take you up into the hills (he points to a trail on the side of the road) and he guarantees you will experience a rare opportunity, a first-hand look at the real jamaica, the jamaica most tourists don't have a clue about.

as you scamper up trails and jump across streams you are slowly introduced to the layers, the levels, one at a time. first, the layering of the gorgeous land—the lush, green jungle, the exquisite view of the tall blue mountain peaks in the distance, the towering banana and coconut trees, the winding rivers and breathtaking waterfalls.

next you witness the other levels, the really eye-opening ones, the ones that trickle down from the mountaintops and highlight a modern day type of class system, a social layering based on color (you know how it works—generally, the lighter the skin, the higher the class). at the very top are the vast coffee plantations. a little lower and you get a peek at the large vacation homes—hey, look over dare, mon, dats mick jagger's house, mon, and he rent it out to da best people, but only da best people—hidden beyond the barbed wire. lower still, you view the gated apartment complexes and you think you're at the bottom at long last when you see the wooden shacks and tar paper and cardboard and metal shanties. but you're wrong. there's still another level—the level of the graveyard and the garbage dump.

when you get back to the beginning of the trail you thank the young man for the excellent tour and hand him an additional, well-deserved 30 bucks (your last greenbacks). what's 30 bucks to you? you dig your hands deep into your pockets and pull out what you find—2  lighters, a handful of quarters and dimes, 3 packs of gum, a pack of cigarettes, and a container of mints. you give them to the jamaican. after all, he can use this stuff way more than you.

Friday, March 9, 2012

under a cuban sky



and standing on the free soil of the pearl of the antilles—i can wish for it, wish for the impossible, wish for the possible—that's a better attitude—there's always that. no one can stop me.

instead i'm here, on a ship, atop a lounge chair, dressed in a t-shirt and striped pajama bottoms, cruising past the tropic of cancer—the cays and isles of the sabana-camaguey archipelago to the west—through the great bahama bank at a steady 19 knots, staring at the ghostly form of her cool, pine-covered slopes, slopes partially cloaked in gray clouds—the trinidad peaks, the sierra del escambray, the sierra maestra—moving, shifting in the distance—what is land? what is sky? what is hidden?—getting closer, 14 nautical miles to starboard, cuba the unattainable.



elusive freedom. a ten years' war, an 1898 war, regime after regime, with wars and rumors of war blocking her, blocking us, and always the fight to ensure her citizens would have civil and political freedom, the fight to guarantee that, at the very least, her sons and daughters living away from her shores could visit and send money home. always the fight to lift the barrier—push it away once and for all—which shrouds the pearl from our view.

to hear her music—the latin american son cubano of spanish guitar and african rhythms, and the derivatives, salsa, rumba, cha-cha-cha; the mambo "conversation with the gods", songs in kikongo brought to cuba by central african slaves—in the place where it originated. into cuba. a wish. will it happen in our lifetime?

video


video

             
i tried to bring you the buena vista social club's mandinga but it's not working and i can't delete it. sometimes i hate computers.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

welcome aboard



for years i think it was a mixture of wariness and dread—a mild dread, but dread nonetheless—yes, those two things, that affected my whole notion of cruise on a monolithic cruise ship.

i was uncomfortable with the thought of being stuck onboard a vessel hundreds of miles out on the ocean with 2000 strangers. i was unnerved by what i perceived in my own (mostly imagined) version of the cruising demographic (mostly based on food orgies, attire, and level of drunkenness, instead of the usual age, sex, and income level): vacant-eyed, rum-guzzling gamblers under the hypnotic spell of slot machines and blackjack tables, white-haired folks (god love 'em cuz i'll be one soon enough) with tall white sport socks rising stoically out of tidy white sneakers (white hair is fine but, dammit, i refuse to put on this footwear as part of my twilight years fashion ensemble), people whose pot bellies tried to remain politely contained but instead willfully cascaded over high-waisted pants, and those travelers with a kooky love for nonstop eating in general and ice-sculpture brunch buffets in particular.

it all started last year. we bid on a cruise at a charity auction, never really intending to be the highest bidder, only meaning to have some fun and to raise money for a good cause, but then, before i knew exactly what was happening, the auctioneer called out "SOLD" and pointed in our direction. it was a done deal.

suddenly i was going on a cruise to the caribbean.

i know that most people would jump at the chance to sail in the warm turquoise waters past cuba and around jamaica and the grand cayman islands, and i know, had i written this before i left, that if i had told you that as the date of our embarkation approached i began to get a little nervous, you would have said to yourselves as you read this how can she be such an ungrateful wretch? she should stop being ridiculous and just have a good time.

exactly. i could hear you saying those words, i had a premonition about those words, so that's what i did. i listened to you. i went on a cruise and had a good time, just like you said, and i lived to tell my tale.

but before i go and have that good time that i'll tell you about soon (let's pretend it's still a few weeks ago), i have to get something off my chest, so to speak. i must confess something embarrassing to you, the real reason i balked at going on a cruise all along. confession #1: i hate crowds. i'm talking about the kind of crowds at the mall on a rainy saturday (you'll never find me there), the crowds in subways during rush hour, the crowds in touristy gathering spots like times square on new years eve (nor there either) and the all-day crowds on the piazza del campo in sienna (i survived), and the kind of crowds i envisioned on a giant cruise ship. confession #2: it's embarrassing, but i can get physically ill in dense, surging masses of humanity that press against me—my skins crawls, my palms start to sweat, my heart races, i feel headachy, nauseous and dizzy.

there. i've said it. i feel so much better now that i've unburdened myself.

as it turns out, i needn't have been concerned about crowds in the first place. the ship was huge and obviously, obviously—look at how i can toss out that word "obviously"with confidence and reckless abandon now that i've returned—the 2000 people were easily dispersed over all that square footage on deck after deck after deck. only the pool area was mobbed, but even the pool was okay when gobs of people debarked for excursions in the ports of call.



we walked around in town and then jumped back on the tender hours before we were due to set sail again to take advantage of the uncrowded atmosphere, to relax and listen to the live steel drum music onboard.



and the real demographic of the cruise? a pleasant mix of older folks, those in the middle aged 45 to 60-ish (that's me in the middle of the middle age demographic), trendy young people, and families.

as for the conclusions i drew from my own unofficial demographic, i can sum them up easily enough—my fellow shipmates dressed very nicely. i didn't notice any long, white tube socks paired with white sneakers—no, not even on those glassy-eyed, vacantly-staring gamblers. i couldn't help observing, however, the extreme popularity of the over-the-top ice-sculpture brunch buffet as i walked from table to table laden with platters of mouth-watering goodies (i've never seen so many different salads, meats, fish and desserts in one place) and happily filled my own plate sky high.



it was a wonderful trip and the millennium is a beautiful ship.

~ i'm back on dry land again at home in freeport and i am shaking my head and wondering about my imagined fear of cruising. coming up: more on cruising—stuff you won't find in travel brochures.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

unlocked doors



it is a quiet crime—an unlocked door, nobody home except one ancient cockatiel and two gentle labradors who welcome anyone with lovely smack, slurp kisses—and a tidy crime, too—almost unnoticeable until you look real close.

come in; walk with me. do you see what i mean?

no mess, no untidiness whatsoever. this is not at all how i imagine a crime scene to present itself (too much hollywood in my head, i suppose). no drawers opened and riffled through, their private contents lewdly pawed over and exposed, raked and sprawling over the edge of the wood. no breakables broken, no lamps toppled, no paintings hanging askew, hardly anything out of place. no evidence of a ransacker (such an expressive word!) until.....

you get to the master bedroom where there is some damning evidence that a ransacking has indeed occurred. the burglar had inspected an antique jewelry box, and its contents had been partially, selectively, removed—why, i want to ask this person, pocket a few nice looking pieces of jewelry and not the others? even though some of the pieces may have seemed expensive, none were—everything in the jewelry box was cheap costume jewelry—except one piece which, quite inexplicably, was left behind. why did you do that? and another question for you: why remove an infant's silky pink hair bow from the box—a keepsake from when my youngest was newborn—and take it with you? you worked very precisely, whoever you are, nothing knocked down or tossed aside, or, in an effort to make a hasty retreat, dropped onto the floorboards on your way out the door.

next let's turn our attention to other areas of the thief's plunder. witness this: several pairs of fine gold earrings snagged from the top of a bathroom counter (normally my good stuff is in a safe place but, unfortunately, not on this day), one macbook pro deftly lifted from a desk, but another, clearly visible, left on the dining table—why? one large backpack was stolen, too (i presume, and the police presume, to carry all this stuff); i had left it on a bed (in another of the four rooms where items were stolen), filled with folded clothes, a couple books, paper, pens, and a cosmetic bag i was bringing on a trip with me in two days.

witness a totally neat freak thief: the clothes were not quickly, messily, dumped out of the backpack, as one might expect, to make room for the burglar's loot, but instead were neatly, and oh so tidily, removed and placed on the bed, still carefully folded and rolled the way i had packed them earlier in the morning. of the three sterling silver bracelets on the bed beside the bag (the only items of value in there), one was pilfered, the other two left behind. i say spooky. weird. a quirky thief?

people ask me if i'm nervous these days, they wonder if i feel sullied, violated—almost in a physical way—because my home, my private domain, was rudely invaded by a faceless stranger. i can honestly say no, i don't feel those things. i'm just glad no people were home and that the dogs are fine (if only the dogs could speak! if only they were fangy, snarling dobermans!)

at first i was angry—now i'm only saddened. i'm not saddened by the loss of mere material objects which can be easily replaced, but by the shear desperation of a human being who has sunk into such a mire and feels compelled to do something like this. for what? drug money? or just money? why? i want to ask the thief how did you get to this place where burgling is a normal and okay occupation? how did you reach this point in your life? what caused the plunge to this lowest of lows?

the police detectives continue to investigate. there have been nine other similar robberies—unlocked doors, stolen jewelry and computers—in neighboring towns.

things change. maine country life is not as idyllic as it used to be. we have to increase our vigilance and be aware of suspicious activity, strangers, the unknown. we have to remember to stick the key in the lock and give it a forceful turn, even if we only step out for a moment.