Summer Searching – Archaeological Travels in the Mediterranean

It has been too hectic of a time to write as I have been traveling since the end of May: first to Portugal to see something of the country for a few days before starting work at an archaeological dig in eastern Portugal. I visited Lisbon briefly before taking the train to Porto and spending a few nights there, exploring the city by day. I met up with an old friend from New York and we had a wonderful chat at a crowded outdoor bar near my hostel.

The next day I picked up a rental car and drove to Spain. On the way I visited a site in Portugal called Citania de Briteiros, where a settlement full of round, stone houses once flourished from around 200 BCE til the Middle Ages.

I continued on toward northern Spain, crossing a beautiful National Park and finally arriving at Ourense, where I’d read about thermal baths along the river. I found one and spent some time there, relaxing with locals in the natural hot mineral water, not far from a Roman bridge which was still in use for traffic until recently.

I went back to Lisbon and there met up with the rest of our dig team at the airport to head out to our home base in a small town called Safara. We were staying in the family home of the dig leader, Mariana’s partner, Joao. They had a toddler and lived downstairs in the newer part of the house, while we all bunked upstairs. Normally we would have left for the dig site before dawn every morning because of the heat, but we had unusually cool weather, so our mornings were surprisingly relaxed.

We ate cheese sandwiches for snack time between hardcore digging sessions. We unearthed slag, beads, and even a spindle whirl. We had lunch each day at a local restaurant which catered to us, serving traditional Portuguese dishes. In the afternoon we would wash pottery and chat before a bit of rest and dinner, shared at a long table to fit all the participants in the dig, which was the first season of excavations at this site, called Castello Velho. On weekends we had field trips to local sites, including a couple of medieval walled villages.

Once the dig was done, I had a full agenda: southern Spain, Malta, Sicily, Southern Italy, and Sardinia. My itinerary was shaped largely by my interest in the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, related groups that originated in Canaan (modern Lebanon) and spread across the Mediterranean during the early Iron Age. Some (surviving) notable cities founded (or heavily inhabited) by the Phoenicians include Lisbon in Portugal, Tangier in Morocco, Cadiz and Malaga in Spain, Palermo in Sicily, Cagliari in Sardinia, Genoa in Northern Italy, and Marseilles in France.

Unfortunately, the more successful and long-lived a city, the less likely it is that we can find traces of it’s foundations, as they are lost under layers of subsequent construction and occupation, with many of the original stones reused in later buildings and walls.

Luckily, at Cadiz a recent demolition in the old city allowed archaeologists to excavate several meters below current street level to find the remains of the Phoenician settlement from the 8th century BCE. Though a theater has since been built on top of the excavations, it is still possible to visit the subterranean site for free and get an idea of what Cadiz (Gadir) was like in the early era of Phoenician habitation there.

They even found a skeleton of a man who died when the settlement was destroyed by fire and genetic testing revealed him to be born of a local mother and a Phoenician father. I stayed in the enchanting city for days and befriended two lovely women at my hostel: one from Belgium and another from Finland. I loved Cadiz, but had to move on for time’s sake, so I rented a car and my Finnish friend, Karin, came along for the ride.

First we visited a site near El Puerto de Santa Maria (on the other side of the Bay of Cadiz) where the ruins of a Phoenician settlement have been excavated. It didn’t look like much, but it was very interesting to see this Middle Eastern-style tell in southwestern Spain. Further south, we pulled off to visit a beach for a picnic and swim and I walked out on a long stony quay or water break poking out toward the island of  Sancti Petrie. It doesn’t look like much, but it bears the crumbling remains of a medieval fort built atop the once renowned temple to Hercules (Phoenician Melqart), which made the region famous in antiquity, attracting even Julius Caesar to pay homage there.

We continued on along the coast to Bolonia, where we stumbled upon a Roman site known as Baelo Claudia – the name alone speaks of its Phoenician heritage, since Baal was one of the primary deities of the Phoenicians (the name means ‘lord’ and the deity was the consort of Astarte, the queen of the Phoenician/Canaanite pantheon). However, the Romans constructed a new city on top of the original settlement around 200 BCE, completely obscuring the Phoenician city except the name and the heavy focus on fishing and maritime activity.

We continued on to Tarifa, where we met up with our Belgian friend, Julie, for tapas in the charming old seaside city, with winding little streets.

Then it was on to Malaga (Malaka) where almost nothing remained of the original Phoenician settlement, though the local museum had much in the way of artifacts and information about the Phoenicians who founded the city. A few kilometers from downtown, a boatbuilding workshop and ethnographical museum called Astilleros Nereo has been working with archaeologists to reconstruct a Phoenician boat based on remains of a shipwreck found off the coast of Spain. Its size and dimensions are very similar to the Spanish fishing boats (jabegas) which were still used for fishing until recently, when prohibitions on net fishing put an end to the trade. They even still have eyes painted on them, just as the Phoenicians used to do!

Julie arrived in Malaga and the three of us went to the Festival of San Juan on July 24. It’s an ancient pagan ritual co-opted by Christianity and given a Saint’s name, but it remains pretty Pagan. A former coworker from Spain told me about the festivals around the solstice and several years ago I attended a rather fateful party on her rooftop in Brooklyn, where we celebrated the festival, with a ritual fire in the firepit, which we jumped over at midnight. The festival in Malaga was huge – thousands and thousands of people gathered on the beach for a concert and general merriment, not unlike New Year’s Eve in Rio de Janeiro.

Julie and I went to a less populated part of the beach and found people with bonfires sitting quietly, some with candles and other ritual implements. We found a fire with a beautiful scooped hearth and chatted with the family who built it. They told us what to do and let us participate in the ritual using their lovely fire. First we had to write three wishes on a piece of paper and burn it. Then we were to jump over the fire. The final step was washing hands, feet and face in the sea, but Julie declined the last step.

I, on the other hand, waded in.

Though I’d have liked to search out more sites in Spain, I was soon on to Malta to see the famous megalithic temples there. I knew there was also Phoenician history on the island, especially at Mdina and Rabat, but unfortunately my time was too short and I had to skip the trip there in favor of seeing Gozo. The archaeology of Malta certainly demanded observation, Phoenician or no. I saw some wonderful temples and visited the archaeological museum at the capitol, Valletta, which had quite a large section about the Phoenicians and their impact on Malta. The museum is full of great finds, though it isn’t a large space and many labels are outdated and even illegible. The sites of Ħaġar Qim, Mnajdra on Malta, and Ġgantija on Gozo were fascinating and well worth the visit.

After Gozo I had to make time getting back to Valletta to get my bags and catch a ferry to Sicily. There happened to be a free MTV sponsored summer concert happening in the city just at that moment, so I had to hop off the bus and speed walk to the shop where I’d left my bags and then again to the ferry terminal, by which time I was a total ball of sweat. But, I made it on time and celebrated with a glass of rose and a packet of chips.

We departed at sunset and the city looked beautiful from its glittering harbor: I could just imagine the delight of the Phoenician sailors who came to Valletta and set up camp on the island just off the coast. It was a quick ride over to Pozallo once we left Valletta’s beautiful harbor. Google Maps took me on a wild walk about town and a sympathetic taxi driver stopped to pick me up and offer assistance. When I finally arrived, I was exhausted and ready for the luxurious single room I had booked for the night. I wasn’t hungry, so I washed laundry under the light of the full moon and hung it to dry on the rooftop lines, then went for a beer at a local cafe and wrote in my journal. I was impressed by the activity in the small city, with children and adults alike strolling the boardwalk and playing in playgrounds, though it was after midnight.

After a good night’s sleep, I hung out at my hotel to make arrangements for my next steps. I booked a train for Syracuse that evening and had a flat arranged for my arrival there, though I committed a classic blunder and didn’t check how long it would take to get from the train station to the flat. My train was over an hour late, and it turned out that the flat was an hour’s walk from the center of the city – practically outside of Syracuse! By the time I arrived there, I was quite sweaty and exhausted and since the buses didn’t run very late, I stayed in the area, buying groceries to cook for dinner and then visiting a nearby beach I saw on the map. It turned out to be associated with an old church, now in ruins, called Santa Panagia – the saint of all things – a common appellation for a female ‘saint’ likely related to a goddess in pre-Christian times. I brought a beer and chips and went in search of the sunset, which was beautiful with Mount Aetna in the distance. I explored the ruins and found a good spot to enjoy my well-earned happy hour.

Then it was back to the flat for a rare bath and the chance to make my dinner in a real kitchen – welcome after weeks of hostels.

In the morning, I had breakfast and went back to Santa Panagia for a swim. I cleaned up the litter around the rocks heading to the cove and then hopped in and swam for the little beach at the head of the cove, where I’d read that a fresh water spring flowed. The beach was covered in bottles and other plastic litter, and I set about cleaning it up as well. In half an hour, the beach was largely cleared of rubbish, though I couldn’t get it all. And I even discovered a “globster” – the remains of a sea mammal, maybe a small whale which had died and washed up in the cove some time ago, leaving nothing but a decaying pile of whitish blubber.

Thinking back, I’m reminded of the trip I took with my best girlfriends from college for our 30th birthdays, the August before my sister Erika died. We drove from New York to Maine and spent several days exploring the area around Bar Harbor. Our last morning, I was hungover from the festivities of the night before and threw up even before we visited one final beach. It was a misty morning and we couldn’t see much of the sea, but suddenly a rock emerged from the mist. As it cleared, the rock seemed to move closer until we realized it was a whale. Everyone on the beach stood motionless, awed by the sight of this enormous creature, dead and floating into the bay. Then the wind shifted and we were all hit by the smell of the rotting whale. Sarah moved so fast it was like she teleported to the other end of the sandy expanse, away from the putrid behemoth. Nora and MC likewise moved back to safe distance, gagging all the while. I retreated to the edge of the beach and barfed. It was a strange finale to a bizarre birthday trip.

This whale was pretty far gone, however, and aside from a little stench, the globster was nearly imperceptible, covered in seaweed. Otherwise the beach looked lovely cleaned up. Then I walked around toward the back of the beach and found the freshwater spring, trickling from some rocks and down into a stream which flowed to the sea. I drank from it, giving thanks for the beautiful beach and the clear sea, and then headed back to the flat to pack up and leave.

I arrived to find that I’d been given bad intel and I was late to check out, so I packed in a hurry and headed into the heat of midday. Rather than wait for an hourly bus, I walked back to the center of town with all my things, but I had a good sun hat and my parasol from Seville, which served me well.

I forgot to mention Seville, as it wasn’t my favorite stop, but there was a wonderful archaeological museum there, which I entered for free and which contained some fabulous traces of the Phoenicians in the form of the Carambolo Treasure, found not far from Seville. I also learned of some archaeological sites near Seville where the remains of Phoenician temples had been unearthed, but I couldn’t manage to reach them.

Syracuse was full of Greek and Roman ruins, but something about it had the scent of the Phoenicians: they loved to settle islands just off coastal areas to form trade relations, and they loved places like Santa Panagia, where fresh water meets the sea. I walked through the large archaeological park on the way to my hostel near Ortygia, the island of Syracuse. Once I’d settled in and showered off the sweat from that long stroll, I took my parasol and headed to the archaeological museum, where I spent several hours learning about the prehistory of Sicily and seeing countless wondrous grave goods from all sorts of burials. There were also the remains of temples, some of which had once been on Ortygia, which was the hub of the city from the beginning. I was struck by the near complete absence of a mention of the Phoenicians.

Then it was time to see Ortygia. Two bridges connect the island to the rest of the city and boats crowd the canals and marinas. Upon entering the old city, the temple of Apollo is the first things one sees: a cluster of columns remains, a couple of meters below the ground level. Nearby is the market and to the other side, the city’s ancient streets wind in a pleasantly tangled web of churches with stately edifices and restaurants serving pizza and seafood. I went in search of the fountain of Arethusa, which is said to have been created when a nymph sought escape from unwanted advances and was transformed into a sweet spring on the island. Ortygia supposedly means “quail”, possibly referring to the island’s shape. I wasn’t able to drink from the fountain (which was more of a pool) but went for a dip at the small beach nearby, which was most enjoyable. I got a prosecco and some snacks at a nearby establishment, and settled in for the sunset. The streets were crowded with tourists and residents alike and the bustle was pleasant. Once the tangerine sun disappeared, I went in search of food and found a pizza place outside on a main pedestrian street. In spite of asking around, there wasn’t much happening in Ortygia that night, as far as live music, so I wandered back across the bridge and home to my hostel.

In the morning I went bright and early to the archaeological park, and was disappointed to find that much of the sprawling area was closed: I was able to visit the so-called “ear of Dionysus” and a few nearby caves as well as the Greek theater, which was rather interesting because of the caves located just above the seating area, sometimes used as tombs. All in all, I was disappointed that so little of the park was accessible, and moreso because the ticket hadn’t been cheap. There are so many Greek and Roman theaters throughout the Mediterranean, anyway, that unless you specialize in them, they get rather repetitive: I’d seen one in Cadiz, another in Malaga, and there were more to come.

Then I went back to Ortygia to look for a Jewish ritual bath or mikvah, discovered beneath a hotel. I passed through the market on the way and then had a bit of lunch before taking the guided tour to the baths. The guide told us that the baths likely existed in some form long before the Jews of Ortygia modified them, possibly dating to the Greek era of the city, before the Roman conquest. I smelled the Phoenicians, knowing how they held sacred springs which met the sea, but I held my tongue and dipped my feet into the baths before re-emerging to the brightness of Ortygia. I made my way back to the font of Arethusa and took a swim at the picturesque little beach before heading to my hostel and then to a bus for Catania. I caught it by a few minutes and headed north to Catania.

I didn’t have much on tap for Catania, except that it was a good jumping off point for going to other parts of Sicily. The city itself was rather unexciting, though I did find a park with a lovely gazebo that reminded me of a Maxfield Parrish painting, and as I was walking back to my hostel, a tiny kitten scampered out of the shadows at me and I spent several minutes cuddling it before the park was closed and it was time to go. Kittens encountered in my travels always remind me of Erika and her propensity for feeding strays on her travels.

The next morning I got up bright and early and strolled toward the historic center, where a fountain with an obelisk astride a black basalt elephant is the symbol of the city. According to legend, the elephant has been the symbol of the city for a long time, with the elephant perhaps coming from Libya around the time of the Roman victory over the Carthaginians. The city was associated with elephants long before the current fountain was built in the mid 1700s. I visited the nearby fish market and had a yummy apricot cornetto with a cappuccino for breakfast before wandering back toward my hostel to get my bags and make my way to the airport to catch a bus to Agrigento, the next stop on my tour of Sicily.

Agrigento is famous for the so-called Valley of the Temples, located just outside the small modern town. Until around 300 BCE, Agrigento had been an influential city by the sea, famous for its temples.  I checked into my hostel and made some lunch before walking to the temples. It was a long hot walk and I was grateful for my parasol. Luckily, it was free that day and I got to spend a couple of hours exploring the popular site, which is the largest archaeological site in the world, with temples dating mostly to the 6th century BCE, built in the Greek style.

The Carthaginians overthrew the Hellenistic city and spent about two hundred years in Agrigento, but little of the information at the site mentions them, except as the destroyers of some of the temples when they conquered the city in 406 BC, though there is an area of excavated Phoenician-style settlements not far from the acropolis.

That evening there was a festival in town in honor of the patron saint of the city: bright lights arched over the small main street and sellers of sweets and balloons filled the village square. I ate some dinner at the hostel and then poured some wine and brought it along to watch the festivities, but I found myself feeling a bit under the weather and ended up leaving before the fireworks to fend off my impending cold. Unfortunately, I felt even worse the next day, so instead of visiting the famous Scala dei Turkiye, I just went to the local museum for a few hours and then came back to the hostel to rest.

In the morning I left Agrigento for Marsala, where I stayed in a brand new apartment for practically the same amount I’d been spending on hostels. I was feeling a bit better and my host was a young Sicilian guy who had his friend, Salvatore, come over to make me lunch and show me around the city. We took his scooter to the local museum, which was famous for the remains of a Carthaginian war ship dating to 235 BCE.

I showed Salvatore around the museum and explained things in my extremely limited Italian: the museum itself was located on the site of the ancient Phoenician city of Lilibeo, which was founded after the island site of Motya was destroyed by the Syracusans around 397 BCE; instead of rebuilding there, they’d opted. The museum was small but full of treasures and I enjoyed exploring it. Then we went to the center of the city to see a couple of other archaeological sites and explore the old town.

The next day I visited a sacred spring and bathing pool under a church, which seemed to me likely to be the remains of a much more ancient religious site – probably a “Venus” or Astarte temple.

Then I caught a bus to go to the island of Motya, which was a very special place indeed. Founded by the Phoenicians around 800 BCE, Motya is unique in that the Phoenician city was left just as it had been after its destruction. On the ferry, I met a friendly American family who recommended I visit Erice, a medieval town to the north of Marsala – advice I decided to take. I spent a happy few hours Motya, exploring houses, temples, a fabulous sacred pool area, and the museum of local finds. It was one of the highlights of my journey, being the first large Phoenician settlement I was able to visit without any pesky Roman ruins to obscure it. In antiquity, a road existed between the island and the mainland, allowing carts, chariots, livestock, etc. to access the city. It was a truly fascinating afternoon.

I left for Erice the next day, taking a train to Trapani in the afternoon, and from there getting the bus to the funicular. A mountain juts sharply upward about half a mile inland from the sea, and at the top sits the city of Erice, known as Eryx in antiquity and famous for the Astarte temple that once stood on a rocky outcropping high above the surrounding plains. Funny little pods traipsed by and I got in one and watched Trapani spread before me, the sea washing perfect blue-green against the city’s shores and then receding as I went up the mountain, further and further till clouds enveloped my pod and all I could see in all directions was white. It was unearthly and the journey upward took some time, though we moved swiftly. Wind buffeted the pod, but soon enough I could glimpse the city’s towers and stones through the mist. I had arrived.

I was staying in another apartment, as there were no hostels there. It was still early evening, so I dropped off my things and went off to explore the little medieval town. It was certainly touristy, but I was in a sweet little flat not far from the temple site, so I headed in that direction. White clouds concealed the shape of the castle, called the Venus Castle, which was built atop the ancient temple, using many of the well-hewn blocks original to the temple. After several minutes, the clouds began to clear and the castle emerged from her shroud, shedding veils till the whole of the structure was exposed: the defensive wall and a tower were in tact and you could clearly spot the large Phoenician stones – yellowish in color – mixed in with the grey, small and un-hewn medieval stones. I was able to get into the castle for a discounted rate, thanks to my student status and it was a wondrous place, though I generally care little for castles. One section of wall was thought to have been Phoenician and the remains of Roman baths are also there, but as the temple was probably open air, and the stones of any structures have been reused, it is hard to know what the ancient temple was like.

Astarte, Aphrodite, and Venus were different names for the same goddess of love and war, and the dove was her principal symbol. Libya was another name for her, and it was said that Astarte’s sacred doves would fly from Erice to her temple in Libya and when a red or pink dove returned to the mountain, it was considered to be the goddess returning, and celebrated with great feasting. In Roman times, the temples was popular throughout the Mediterranean and devotees of Venus Erycina were many. It was in the first few centuries of the common era that her temple was destroyed and her worship was curtailed.

After the temple, I went in search of the city walls, which are all that remain of the Phoenician city. I wandered through the arched stone gates and marveled at the well-constructed walls, nearly circumnavigating the city to see them. Winding streets and charming buildings make the medieval city popular, but I was pretty into the walls.

I went back to my flat for some wine and a snack and found a lovely park to enjoy the last dim tendrils of sunlight. I thought of Erika and how she would have liked it there and enjoyed this happy hour with me.

I had to go in search of dinner eventually and headed into the winding streets in search of a vegetarian dish.

I searched in vain for signs of nightlife after an overpriced but tasty dinner and went home to bed. I awoke to wander the city, visiting the castle again and then breakfasting on the local pastry: a round fluffy sort of cookie filled with warm custard and topped with powdered sugar. I read my cards and sipped a cappuccino before checking out of my apartment and making one last stop at the local museum.

Again, my entrance was discounted and I thoroughly enjoyed the small but sweet little museum, with an interesting collection of Carthaginian and Phoenician artifacts.

Then I took the funicular back down, grabbed a bus and headed for Trapani. I explored on foot, stopping for a change of clothes and a quick dip in the sea by a convenient door in the sea wall. Little fishing boats, not unlike the jabegas of Malaga, bobbed about in the surf and the sea sparkled just as it always seemed to in these Phoenician port cities: they certainly had refined taste in coastlines.

I grabbed a bus for Palermo where I had booked a convenient hostel not far from the central station. Palermo was another Phoenician city, called Zizi or Sis before it was renamed Panormo by the Greeks. It was a large city, but I made a beeline for the museum and stayed till they kicked me out, absorbed by the remains of temples and artifacts from sites like Segesta and Selinunte.

The next day I went to the airport and rented a car (I’d attempted to reserve one in advance, but it apparently didn’t go through). Luckily I found one for a bearable price and went to Segesta to see some pretty lovely temple ruins in a stunning valley. Then I drove to Selinunte, just south of Marsala. I got free entrance to both parks, for which I was most grateful, since I was spending extra money on the car. Selinunte was so large and complex that I spent hours there, walking to the different areas. There were impressive temples and a sprawling Punic settlement by the sea – I even saw mosaic floors with the symbol of Tanit: a decidedly Carthaginian motif.

After my sweaty wander (during which my parasol again came in handy) I was ready for food and a swim in the sea. I drove to the nearest town, called Marinella, and bought pizza and beer to take to the beach. After my snack, I went for a swim and washed off the dust of the day’s travails.

I drove back toward Palermo, passing through Mazara del Vallo, to see what I’d missed (not much) and then on to the airport. After a bit of petrol stress, I returned the car and found a ride to my hostel.

It wasn’t too late, so I went out for some drinks with some girls from my hostel. It was oddly quiet for a Saturday night, but we went to the plaza near the Museum and the street was full of people drinking, smoking, talking.

The next day I planned to leave Palermo for Taormina, so I went to the train station for tickets and tried in vain to find another train for one final nearby site: Solunto. I ended up paying for a taxi (ouch) but it was a wonderful site and certainly worth it: perched on a mountaintop with temples and a wonderful city plan. White ships sailed in the brilliant blue harbors and you could really see what the Phoenicians saw in the place.

As I left the site, a family turned around to offer me a ride down the mountain. I had them drop me off at the station, but then I realized I had just enough time to go to the beach for a dip before my train back to Palermo, so I hightailed it to the nearest spot with sand and sea and immersed myself for a few blessed moments before catching the train. I had enough time in Palermo for a quick bite and a beer before I got the train to Taormina. I planned to continue to southern Italy from there, but I had a hostel booked for the night at least. Taormina didn’t hold much in the way of archaeological interest for me, but it was said to be lovely and it was a good place to catch the train to Naples, so I headed there all the same. The train from Palermo was comfortable and timely, though we did have a bit of a delay getting to Catania, where I needed to change trains. Luckily, we made it just in time and I got to Taormina a bit after sunset.

As I waited for the bus to take me up to the little city, I struck up a conversation with a couple of French women – sisters traveling together – and they showed me around the little city and then suggested we meet up once I’d checked into my hostel.

It took a minute but I grabbed my meager food and drink offerings – cheese, bread, and wine – and went to meet up with my new friends. We walked together to their Airbnb and there we feasted and chatted in French – I was a bit rusty but it was nice to meet these sisters, traveling together as Erika and I did several times. We enjoyed the rooftop at their place till it was time for bed, as they were due to leave early the next morning. I went home and climbed into my upper bunk, where cold air conditioning blasted me and I awoke with the sniffles.

I spent the morning making arrangements to renew my passport in Naples – booking an appointment and filling out the necessary forms over a cup of espresso and a sad excuse for a cornetto. In the process, I met another denizen of the hostel named Florian and we got to talking and decided to go for a granita, since I hadn’t yet had one.

We attempted to visit a ruined castle located suspiciously on a hill called ‘Mount Venus’ on a tourist map I saw, but we were stymied by locked gates – it was closed to visitors. Instead we went to the sea, as it was steaming hot. In the evening, Florian put on a juggling show in the main piazza, attracting a large group of spectators and awestruck children. Then he had a bus to catch and I a train. We said goodbye and I got the bus to the station and soon a sleeper train was whisking me away from Sicily to Naples.

I awoke when we were close to the city and prepared for a long morning. I looked like death warmed over, so I visited a Mac store in the station and begged the woman there to spruce me up for my passport photos, as I had an appointment that afternoon at the embassy. She did her best and I looked presentable for my photos, even though I had to retake them at the embassy after a slightly sweaty commute. Once I was in and out (and they let me keep my old passport in the meantime), I headed to the train station to get my bags out of storage and catch a train toward Otranto, in the heel of the boot of Italy.

I got to Lecce and my friend, Silvia, arrived to meet me there. It was wonderful to see her after several years since we both left New York, where we met. Now she was living in a beautiful place with her boyfriend, Robbert. I spent about a week with them, exploring the area’s many caves and other archaeological sites. We also went to some of the most beautiful beaches I’d ever seen – not really beaches, but white limestone cliffs and basins. The rest of our time was spent cooking, chatting, and looking after the Ortho de Lidro – their beautiful farm with fruit trees and arugula and a handsome peach-colored cat. A new kitten arrived during my stay, as well – a little tabby, fuzzy, like my Ivy kitty was when she was small.

It was lovely to be with friends and in one place for a while, but soon I needed to return to Naples to retrieve my passport. I went first to Herculaneum, near Pompeii and resumed some real sightseeing from my base at a nearby hostel. Herculaneum was nice for its small size and fewer people than Pompeii, which was overwhelming in scale, by comparison.

I went to Pompeii in the afternoon, and on the way to the train station, I met a tiny black kitten, filthy and hungry. When I discovered my train was still 15 minutes away, I went back and bought a chicken kabob wrapped in bacon and sought out the kitten, who had scampered down the street after me. I scooped it up and plopped it near the food and it was so hungry, the food was half gone in seconds. I caught my train back to my hostel. In the morning, I moved to a hostel in the heart of old Naples to be closer to the embassy and my passport. Once I picked it up, I was free to make other plans and explore the city. I wasn’t charmed by it, but I did enjoy it, especially dipping in the beaches and exploring the Spanish Quarter, though it was stiflingly hot.

I booked a ferry for Sardinia and spent one last day in Naples before heading to the docks. Unfortunately, my new passport had caused confusion about my ticket, and I had a last minute dash to get a new printout, but I made it on board and celebrated with bubbles.

Well, this post is overdue and long enough, so Sardinia will have to wait!

Love and miss – to be continued!

Kira

 

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The Three C’s

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind trip to Copenhagen, Cleveland, Chicago, and back again. My good friend, Nora, invited me to join her and her six month old son, Jack, for his first trans-Atlantic flight to visit her family in Cleveland. In conjunction with this trip, my parents and I planned to meet up in Chicago to visit my cousin, Laura, and her family there.

I finished up exams and handed in a few assignments before catching a flight to Copenhagen, where Nora and her husband had a night out together while I stayed in in case Jack awoke (which he did, only when his parents came home, very considerately). Jack is a happy little bundle of baby who smiles and gurgles and jumps in his Johnny-Jump-up. Nora and I got some time to catch up before bed, and it is always my pleasure to see her. We’ve been friends since 2000, our freshman year at college, and later we lived together in New York.

We had a sunny day in Copenhagen that Sunday and Nora and Anders and Jack and I took a long walk through Parliament and then to Tivoli, where the flowers were bursting out and families crowded the quaint walkways between carnival games and ice cream stands. I cooked a curry of beets and cabbage and sweet potato with black chickpeas and pomegranate seeds. It came out quite well, if I say so myself.

On Monday, Nora packed up all her baby accoutrements and we headed to the airport on the Metro, in true Danish style. We whiled away long layovers in airport lounges and made it to Cleveland without much of a hitch. There we had a few days of sunny weather and intense family fun with the Ziegenhagens before I caught an Uber to the bus station and traveled to Chicago. Mom and dad picked me up downtown and we checked out Little Italy for lunch before heading to meet up with my cousin in her neighborhood near Wrigley Field.

We enjoyed a lovely dinner and snuggled Laura’s babies: twin five-month olds and one very precocious 2-and-a-half year old.

Then we drove out to our campsite in a park about 25 miles outside of the city. It was a large green space with woods and well-organized sites and we shared it with only a few other campers.

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Happy Spanky in Chicago – dad and the camper

I woke up with the birds chirping around 5:30 in the morning and after breakfast we headed to the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. It was a tough time finding parking for our truck with the camper on the back, but we managed eventually and had a lovely stroll through the campus to the Institute.

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Dad in the park

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Mama with a lamassu

There were amazing artifacts and statues from ancient Mesopotamia, Turkey, Egypt, Nubia, and Persia and we spent several hours exploring the museum before looking for lunch at a nearby middle eastern restaurant. By then, the day was sunny and warm and we took our time making our way back to the truck. From there, we drove along the Lakeside Drive appreciating the blue of the lake and the picturesque parks along it before turning in to check out China Town. By then it was pretty hot out, so we took Spanky the dog with us as we strolled and she was happy to help us with our yummy Thai ice cream and an almond cookie dad couldn’t resist.

Then it was time to meet up with Laura’s family again, so we headed north towards their neighborhood and spent an hour at a playground with Tessa, her eldest. We had a lot of fun together, playing on a jungle gym and meeting other kids, and then we headed home to order pizza and await Laura’s return from a business trip. We enjoyed our dinner on the back patio in the last of the warm summery day.

I spent the night at their place and the next morning mom and dad made their way back from the campground (with some complications). We loaded up all the kids into Laura’s car and bundled mom and dad into their first Uber and met up at the local Farmers Market. It was another brilliant day and we all got food and picnicked in the shade of a tree.

Laura and her husband took the kids home for a nap and mom and dad and I walked through Lincoln Park to visit the zoo, which is free and was a popular place to be on a sunny Saturday.

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We made our way back to Laura’s and got a little more time with the kiddos et al before returning for one last night at our campground. Mom and dad had discovered that wild ramps were growing near our site, so we took Spanky for a walk and surreptitiously dug up some of the trendy greens as we enjoyed forest bathing in the lush spring greenery.

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I cleaned them once we got back, and dad built a fire upon which he made some sausages and we grilled some of the ramps. Mom used the gas stove in the camper to make a pasta with pesto sauce and I rehydrated some dried morel mushrooms and prepared the salad dressing.

It was nice to be camping with my parents a gain, as we did last summer in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Dinner was luscious and satisfying and afterward we all got ready for bed, grabbed our books, and packed it in for the night.

In the morning, I made an omelette with more ramps, plus spinach for breakfast, and we crowned it with avocado slices. Luckily we had Spanky along to do a solid pre-wash of our dishes. We packed up our camp chairs and the ladder my parents picked up along the way for free (their favorite thing). Dad and I poked in the sides of the camper as mom lowered it down – we locked it in place and hit the road, enjoying a sunny morning with spring blossoms just emerging.

We drove to Indiana State Dunes National Park, which we had considered a potential camping spot, and we were pleased that we’d chosen to stay in Chicago, since we’d gotten more time with my cousin and we didn’t care for the look of the camp ground in Indiana, emblazoned with signs prohibiting alcoholic beverages! What kind of camping is that? I beseech you! (to quote Bill Hicks).

We got back on the road after a visit to the beach and its intriguing (but gutted) pavilion, built in 1919. We had toll roads the whole way to Cleveland, but it wasn’t a bad drive. By the time we got to Nora’s house, it was nearly 4 pm and the sun was out in full force. I did my best to fancy up (mostly mascara) and we brought a bottle of rose, since there was a large gathering of friends and family there to meet baby Jack. He awoke not long after we arrived and emerged like Simba, to the oohing and ahhing of all.

He was a good sport as they passed him around and my parents got the chance to snuggle him, too. He is a most snuggly baby.

We left to find our campsite at the nearby Punderson State Park, and discovered we had the place almost entirely to ourselves. It was a Monday, so all the weekend traffic had dissipated and we didn’t have any neighbors at all.

Once we got our things settled, we went back for dinner with the Ziegenhagens and had a lovely night chatting and eating and enjoying the good company.

Somewhere in there, I got a sinus infection and I spent the evening taking medicines and sucking zinc tablets.

The next day we looked for a plum tree dad wanted, but to no avail. We stopped by the Ziegenhagens’ to say hello, then we went for lunch in downtown Cleveland, to a location of Yours Truly, a chain of restaurants belonging to Nora’s family. After stuffing ourselves, we went to Chagrin Falls, the charming little town near Nora’s home, and wandered around its quaint historic district.

Back at the campground, mom and I took Spanky for a long hike around the park while dad attempted to pilfer some trout lilies we’d seen growing nearby, with a spade he’d purchased for digging up the ramps.

Mom hung up a hammock and we took turns lounging in it and preparing things for dinner. I whipped up a veggie chili with beans and jackfruit and mom made cornbread in her tiny red oven, which I call her EasyBake Oven. Dinner around our campfire was delicious and Spanky again offered her services as dishwasher, with gusto.

Finally, the fire died down and it was time for bed. In the morning, we went to the Ziegenhagens’ and Nora’s mother made us delicious pancakes for breakfast. After one last snuggle with Jack, we said farewell to my parents and they were headed back south.

It was another beautiful day and we went to Nora’s sister’s for lunch and lotsa baby time. It was gorgeous out and we sat in the backyard and enjoyed the sunshine with the kids.

That evening we all went out for Darlene’s birthday and it was another big family affair with crying babies and lively conversation.

Finally the night was over and it was time to turn in for one last night in Cleveland. . . or so we thought. There was a snag in our plan when a thunderstorm made us miss our flight to Chicago and we were rebooked on a flight for next day, after eight hours at the airport. So back we went to the Ziegenhagens’ house for one last night. We were a merry party and Darlene cooked us a late dinner as we sipped drinks and told our harrowing tale.

The next day held more excitement, but we ultimately got to Toronto, where we hunkered down for hours in the lounge, which was the best we experienced, by far. Finally it was time for our flight to Copenhagen.

We were nervous about Jack, but ultimately he ate and slept and didn’t fuss too much, and slept more, and then we landed and he was still sleeping! He slept all the way home and kept on sleeping once he was in his bed. Nora and I were exhausted and her husband Anders met us at the airport to help with bags and bought us breakfast once we got home.

Because of the delay, there was not much time before my flight back to London, but we had a good time together (and napped) until I had to go back to the airport and back to London.

It felt strange not to have any babies around, strange to be  still and alone, when I had been constantly on the move and socializing for two weeks. Here I was back in my flat, which unfortunately smelled awful due to some black bananas and some sheets I’d forgotten in the washing machine, which had mildewed in my absence.

I threw out the old food and went to the store for the basics: pizza, basil, chilies, coconut milk, and wine. I spent the next couple of days sleeping at odd hours and feeling totally unfocused, slowly emerging from the fog.

Now I’m in the thick of one last paper, and then it will be time to head to Portugal for a few days of sightseeing and a couple of weeks on a dig. Then I will go to Spain and Italy, visiting friends and seeing new places. I hope to make it to Sicily and Malta and then I’ll head to France. I hope to see friends there, and then I may have to go back to the States to sort out my visa for next year. It seems quite likely I will be doing my Masters at UCL next year, so there is much I must do!

In the meantime, I am busy weaving a tangled plan of advance on the next few months! Hopefully I’ll be a more frequent blogger once I’m done with my papers (for now)!

One final note: last night was a new moon and I had the strangest experience. It was a sort of psychic visitation that’s a little hard to define. Sort of like a waking dream. I’ve never had such an experience before (well maybe once long ago), so either I was delirious and imagining things or maybe I had a meeting in the liminal space between sleeping and waking.

I do so love a little fantasy in my life. And I’m almost too busy for real relationships lately, though I did make sure to enjoy the beautiful weather on Tuesday and took notes for my paper at a sidewalk cafe before shifting to the canal, where I brought some rose and one of my sturdy charity shop goblets and lounged on the median by the locks.

I’d been there only once before, with my ex, nearly four years ago now. But honestly, I don’t feel so haunted by him anymore. I feel clarified, purified, justified in my choices and standards. I enjoyed my rose and reading till the sun set behind the burgeoning buildings. Then I met up with my friend Saltanat for a chat and some of my standard curry (that makes it sound unappealing, but it wouldn’t be my standard if it sucked).

And now to focus on finishing my work and preparing for the next step in my journey.

I’d better get to it!

Love and miss,

Kira

 

Love and Time

I’ve been thinking a lot about time travel lately. Not in the personal sense, but as a device in stories. How to facilitate it, how to make it believable, interesting. I’ve always liked stories where a person is living in one world and somehow crosses into another. Perhaps I crave these tales of crossing over because I have never felt I belong in this world. I’ve learned its ways, to some extent. But so much of living is navigating between the inner and the outer spheres – how do we let out what we experience on the inside? Do we?

I met a woman at a campground where I stayed in southern Crete a few years ago. She was friendly, smiling, traveling alone as I was. She came from northern Greece – Thessaloniki – but she talked about how special Crete was, how the water, “Kriti water,” was good for your teeth. The campground where we both stayed was just across from a pebble beach and we would lounge there in the heat of the day, sipping orange juice or the iced coffee slushies they like in Greece. In the shade of the trees which grew along the beach, we would talk about our lives, about our interests, about traveling, about love.

“Have you heard of this story, “The Valley of the Roses?” she asked me. I told her no, I hadn’t. She told me the story in her pieced together English: a man in Switzerland in the 1920s fell into a coma-like sleep and awoke in a different body, at a different time – about 1500 years in the future. The people spoke a language he didn’t know, but they recognized his German as one of the “old languages” and soon they put together that this was someone from a different time in the body of their friend and colleague.

I googled the story, but didn’t find much on the internet. Eventually I figured out the name of the man who had this experience and documented it – Paul Dienach. While he was in the future, he could not sleep, instead staying up every night to write down his experiences and thoughts, what he learned from his conversations, what he remembered from his own time, how different the world of the future was.

Last summer when my parents visited me in Seattle, I told my mother about the story and we discovered it had been published in English. Then I got so swept up in moving to London and starting school that I forgot all about the book, until Christmas this year, when my mom brought along the copy she purchased and passed it along to me.

It is one thing to do what I am doing in my studies of archaeology and look at the past. The past already has patterns we can analyze and interpret – it has lines to read between. The future is another matter entirely, where the lines are not yet drawn and we have little to draw upon but our hopes and fears, our desires and dreams of what the future might hold.

When I read Tarot cards, I always tell people that the future cards will make a lot less sense than the cards representing the past and present, matters we are already familiar with. We can think back to the past, reflect on the present, but the future is conceptually impenetrable – opaque.

These days I can’t seem to get beyond the three of swords. Whereas 3’s are normally a lucky number of growth, the three of swords is different – it bears a red Valentine-looking heart pierced by three swords, a rainy sky in the background, viscerally representing pain, shock, surprise, love-triangles. This card has been showing up in my readings for at least the last month, if not longer. It isn’t the sort of card you want to see in a reading, least of all in the future position.

It is a card I have gotten twice when I was blissfully happy in a relationship. Both times, I was riding a high of love and sex and believed no clouds were on the horizon. And then I read the cards, and the three of swords said something was being hidden from me. Neither time did I think to ask my beloved if there was something amiss. I preferred to dismiss the meaning, obvious though it was – to hope that it could mean something else – that the cards were wrong. Both times, I soon found myself out in the cold, the blissful feeling gone, along with my beloved, and my heart. It sounds melodramatic, but I do not love lightly. Perhaps that is part of my problem.

Paul Dienach was like me, though. A person who’s soul cries out for love above all else. A romantic. A victim of longing.

Paul had loved a young woman who was forced to marry another and died in childbirth. He held onto the sadness of losing her for years, never seemingly attempting to replace his dead love, but mourning her loss in perpetuity. Now, living in the future, he finds love again. The people of that time are more true to their emotions – they do not deny them, hide them, fear them as we do. The people there were guileless, accomplished at a young age, childlike in their fascination and appreciation for nature, beauty, and deep emotions. People love and admire each other for their capacity to feel and show love. That desire to merge with another is held sacred – people do not conceive of themselves as automatons or robots, following blind desire, trampling hearts. The basic starting place of all relationships is respect and empathy.

The Greek woman who told me about the Valley of the Roses was in the throes of new love when we met. She had found a “very handsome man” several years her junior, with whom she’d fallen madly in love. She had the gleam and excitement, the magic one exudes when everything seems possible. I hope everything worked out for her.

Love seemed to be all around me then, at the camping ground. A cute couple pitched their tent near me: an American guy and a European girl, looking happy and free together, and I couldn’t help but think about the man who’d seemed to be mine just a year before. I had envisioned similar happy adventures with him. I felt jealous of that joyous couple; I imagined that in some other version of events, that might have been us.

I’ve spent so much of my life mourning for the past. Holding onto sorrow because it was as close as I could get to love. Instead, on that trip, I was dogged by men who tried to get close to me, at least in the physical sense. They came on in fast sequence: first, the father of my friends (someone at least twice my age), then the restaurant manager in Santorini, next an English backpacker in Bodrum, and then a Turkish tourist guide in Ephesus. I was mostly left alone in Lesvos, then there was the personal trainer at Delphi, and finally a musician in Istanbul. Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink.

It all added to the feeling I had that something had gone wrong somewhere. Somehow the magic had left my life and I wasn’t sure if it would ever return. I remember the feeling as I looked out over the harbor below Delphi, the twinkling lights of a distant village, the sky heavy with stars above us, and there I was with some stranger I’d met on the street, who’d invited me to dinner and driven me to this romantic lookout spot on his motorcycle. It was clear he wanted to kiss me next to that ancient sparkling abyss, but all I felt was the deep feeling of loss.

In the two and a half years since I was in Greece and Turkey, I have released a lot of that old sadness. It took time and work and a fair amount of distraction and self-love. Moving to Seattle seemed to help me to leave behind some of the pain of what had happened. New York had become a city of broken dreams and any new place was a respite from those old memories.

Now I’ve returned to London, where once things felt so right. But my presence here hasn’t meant a rebirth of that old love, though it looked like that was a possibility, for a brief moment. On the contrary, it seems to be a sort of final coda, tacked on to the end of an old song.

To return to the idea of time travel, I recently watched a series called The Outlander, in which an English woman is transported from Scotland in the 1940s to the 1740s. She is unable to go back to her own time for long enough to fall in love with a handsome Highlander, and then she doesn’t want to return, preferring to stay with him, in his time, than to return to her life and husband in the 1940s. When the two of them are unable to prevent a battle which they know, historically, led to the death of nearly all Scottish fighters, her husband tells her she must return to her time, and keep the child she is carrying safe. So she does, and twenty years pass, during which she assumes her true love died in that battle and mourns him, raising their daughter with the man she had been married to before her travels. When her child is grown, she learns from some old documents that he survived, after all, and she decides to return to the past, to look for him.

In The Outlander, the time travel is a device to tell a wonderful love story about two people brought together across hundreds of years and the cultural divide that comes with it, but it is what makes the story satisfying for a love junkie such as myself. Even when the two are separated by (apparent) death and time, they don’t let one another go. They can’t. I know it’s just a story, but it resonates with me, because that is the sort of connection I seek.

Of course, the world is full of people, but I don’t enjoy the hunt. I’m too single-minded for the games of love people play. I’ve had my fill of flakes and phonies, philanderers and fairweather folks. I’m fortunate to have found great friends in my life – women and men I will love as long as I am able. All I seek now is that pinnacle friend, a fellow follower of the one true faith: love. For too long I’ve felt myself a stranger in a foreign land, far from  home, even in the place of my birth. I’d hoped by now to have found my fate.

Finally, I seem to have cycled back through all the false starts I’ve made up till now. I’ve learned much about my own faults and fears, grown through my mistakes and felt the depth of my ancient pain. I’m ready to find my own family and to release the failures of my past.

I haven’t learned the secrets of time travel and the future is still a mystery to me, but at least I’ve made peace with the past. The task before me now is simply to feel my freedom in this present moment, and to move forward without fear.

I see in my own family the example of what not to do: in January, my aunt Elisabeth died alone in the shell of a life she might have left long ago for greener pastures. Love for her was found and lost in Miami, and she lived with its ghost for the rest of her life, forsaking other paths and embracing a past full of empty boxes, far from family, focused on her pain and what she’d lost.

After her mother died, she had no one but her brothers, far away and preoccupied with their own lives and families. My sister, Erika, was always the best at staying in touch with her. In the last few years before Erika died, I think she managed to forge a real bond with our lonely aunt. To make her feel loved and treasured. I tried to live up to her example, though I know I wasn’t as good at it as she had been. Dear Aunt Elisabeth, wherever you are, I’m sorry I can’t go back in time and be kinder, more loving, more present for you.

Love is really the only thing that conquers time. It is what binds us together through changes and years, through progress and fears.Wherever my aunt is, I hope her husband is with her; I like picturing her sitting down to a home-cooked meal made by her mother, my Omi, with Erika pouring everyone a delicious vintage. After dinner, they’d have dessert and play gin rummy and maybe even smoke a cigarette like they used to do.

Recently I encountered a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Without love, there is no reason to know anyone, for love will in the end connect us to our neighbors, our children and our hearts.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Love and miss,

Kira

 

 

 

Surfacing or Going Under

I have surfaced, or else I have gone under. From rainy London town to sunny Florida. A flock of cranes soared, calling out over the backyard copse of sky-stretched pines and live oaks and the sun is bright between the sparse cotton of clouds. It took something like 15 hours of travel to make it to Tampa, through Dallas-Fort Worth – my least favorite airport in the country and perhaps the world. I nearly lost it on the last leg of the journey yesterday, having to go through security a second time, and then crunched in a middle seat for the trip from Dallas to Tampa. I came pretty close to having a panic attack – but once I made it to my sister’s house, I was in pajamas and asleep in bed in two shakes.

This morning I awoke to a fluffy white arctic fox dog at my door, ready to climb in bed and cuddle me, energetically.

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Me and Elsa, my sister’s doggie

Then my sister was up and then my nephew and finally my niece. I got some time to chat with each before they were off to school – my sister is an elementary teacher. And now I have the morning and a working computer and sunshine on my shoulder.

This morning is the anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre of children and the radio was playing a touching tribute to each of the victims – descriptions of their personalities and proclivities, when they were still vital. Such short lives, and it takes me back five years to when it was the second Christmas since my sister Erika’s death. I was working at Elysian Fields, as I did over the holidays for several years, and a woman who came into the shop that morning first told me there had been an attack.

She was shaky and slightly panicked and she needed something comforting. I found her a nice chunk of black tourmaline and she clutched it gratefully and didn’t want to release it. It wasn’t till my lunch break that I heard the full story about how many children had been killed.

Elysian Fields has changed enough that it no longer feels like home to me, though I still like to pop in and shop there. I no longer have the studio at my grandmother’s house to make my home for the holidays – where I would lay out my crystals on the roof for full and new moons, where I would play music late at night and make my altar around an alabaster carving of a reclining woman – one of the few figurative pieces in my grandmother’s oeuvre.  Now those days are gone, as David, my grandmother’s friend and roommate lives up there, and I stay in the second bedroom in the line of four rooms where my grandmother is in the master, my parents in the guest room, and I am in the middle room, since Erika is no longer with us. It is a room big enough for a couple to share, and when my aunt and her husband are in Sarasota, they get the the guest room and mom and dad take the middle room.

The last time I had a partner home for Christmas was 2009. Jesus that’s a long time. I’ve been thinking about that relationship lately: I met him before I moved to India in 2006 – got tangled up before I took off and carried the torch for several years after, till I was living in New York and he was in Portland.

We spent Christmas together with my folks in Florida, making our little love nest in the studio. He brought nice presents, mostly from the store where he worked, and we spent a night camping at an Everglades State Park one night, hiking, cooking veggie gumbo, playing music. But that was the last time we saw each other. I drove him to Tampa  to drop him off at the airport and that was the last I ever saw of him. We broke up not too many months later and I told him that that was his last chance, and he blew it.

Though I normally try to keep friendships with ex-boyfriends, that was the start of a  habit of cutting off communications entirely with some exes. Those who I felt had betrayed my trust in some crucial way – cheating, lying, ghosting.

I didn’t even consider contacting him during my year in the Pacific Northwest. I don’t mind the absence. He was someone I’d loved because of how I believed he felt about me. I honestly believed that our feelings had always been mutual, but in the end it clearly wasn’t. There was more he wasn’t telling, I’m sure. I’m not interested anymore.

But, it has taken years of practice to become so disinterested. I am such a loyal-hearted lover that it just doesn’t occur to me that people (esp lovers) can act so unlovingly at times. To me, that feels so pointless. I would never welcome someone back into my life only for momentary gratification, but it seems that others don’t share those simple standards. I can’t believe that all men are so inclined, so I must admit the liklihood that I am drawn to men who are emotionally incapable of requiting my affections. Perhaps the amount I care is directly proportional to their incapability to return my feelings. Since I can’t stop loving, I must therefore build a higher threshold of behavior to be met before I open those floodgates. Here is my opportunity, again.

Despite  the lessons I’ve learned over the past ten years, I still haven’t figured out how to protect myself from falling into the same traps again and again. I create unwinable situations a plunk myself right in the middle of them, hinging my happiness on the capricious affections of those who are, for whatever reason, unable to meet me halfway. I can’t blame the other: the issue must clearly be mine to deal with.

I must focus on feeling secure and loved without needing confirmation or affirmation from others. Especially those who have shown me again and again that my feelings and happiness are unimportant to them. I can’t bank on the idea that others will change, so as much as old habits die hard, it is time to remind myself that I can’t change the past with hoping and wishing. But I can change the future with my decisions in the present.

Tis the season for going into the depths and reemerging with new insights, new passion, new love in my heart, and new faith in the future to sustain me.

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Celebrating my arrival in Tampa with a wine spritzer and a bikini!

Love and miss,

Kira

 

 

A New Dawn in Albion

I’ve been in London now for just over a month. It’s a new beginning for me in this country, in a new field of study, in returning to school but in a different time and system – all unfamiliar, though oddly not as strange as I’d have thought.

In the week I arrived, I managed to find a flat in Camden Town, a place where I have some experience, as I was once in love in Camden Town. It seemed like a magical place – somehow it seemed bigger then, too. Perhaps that was in part why I was drawn back here. Not the only reason, of course, because I also wanted to be near my university. Camden Town started as a separate village from London, fed by the useful Regent’s Canal and connecting to the rail system. It is still village-like, in a way, and I find that that has held true even without the magic of love to sprinkle her additional charm over it all. It just glitters a bit less now, like the sparkling sucrose crystals gone from a box of frosted flakes. The cake without the frosting, the sundae without the topping. Ah c’est la vie, I suppose, that’s just how it goes when something slips away and you don’t know why, like my dream of a houseboat failing to materialize. But I’ve mostly been too content with my flat and too occupied with studies and visits from dear friends to dwell too much on what’s missing.

The first weekend – indeed the day after – I moved into my flat, Sarah came a’calling and I was happy to have a place to host her. We explored the city in a way I haven’t done in a few years, and then I was being guided – almost never on my own and certainly not giving a tour! We wandered hither and thither, visited Camden Market and Harrod’s and Selfridges and went out one night with our good friend Kim, exploring the local pubs.

 

I had lovely meetups with friends who live in London, including New York friends and some friends I made at Nora’s wedding in November – Natasha and Pritish. We went out for a delicious vegan feast at a local place called Manna. It was delish and great to see these wonderful women again!

Soon I got a visit from Mary Caton, in London for a conference! What a treat to have double doses of my besties! All we were missing was Nora, who was due to have her first child any day – and did, not long ago! A joy to know that she and her beloved Anders have brought baby Jack safely into the world and their lives – all our lives! I can’t wait to meet him! MC and I had several afternoons together to roam and eat tasty meals and drink delicious drinks and just enjoy London before my classes start. She was staying very near to UCL and it was nice to show her my campus and my neighborhood. We had one last night together in Camden Town and enjoyed ourselves before going to rather early bed, as I was coming down with a cold and she had to catch a noon flight back home.

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MC in town!

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The Handel – Hendrix House

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Bloomsbury beauties!

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The Horse Stables Market

Since she left, I have been working on reading and school stuff in general with some nights spent reading at a local pub, mingling with the townies. London is a friendly town, in many ways. I’ve been drinking tea and cider and visiting my local charity shop, Mind in Camden – which I am sort of in love with. I visit on days when I do have classes and often find just what I need for my little flat – a silverware holder for the dish drier, a teapot, pepper grinder, framed print of Victorian England, crystal fruit bowl, silver serving tray – even a laundry hamper from a rather shi-shi store. I’ve also been to Brick Lane market several times and really enjoy looking through the flea-markety tables in one area – they also have some Turkish tiles and bowls I’ve been thinking about ever since I decided not to buy one!

I have gotten to go to some lectures and an exhibit about the Scythian people I have long been interested in – an excellent exhibit at the British Museum of artifacts and many textiles. It was right up my alley.

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In the Park studying on a sunny October day

Friday was my 36th birthday, which I intended to be a gathering of friends (plural), but ended up a night out with my singular friend Vilde. We volunteered together in Molyvos, on the island of Lesvos, and it is good to be able to swap stories and memories about our experiences, as it was such a surreal time.

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Birthday cider!

After dinner and pints of cider (and a few more pints), we headed back to my flat for a couple of Red Stripes and I read her tarot cards. It was a very powerful reading and really full of information about some major changes coming up for her. I hadn’t read anyone’s cards in a while and it felt good to do it – like visiting an old friend.

I thought to treat myself to finishing off my new Philip Pullman novel or watching something on Netflix, but I was both hungry and tired, so I heated up some leftovers and ate them as fast as I could and then went pretty much straight to sleep.

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The Book of Dust! Already devoured it!

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A red sun during a recent hurricane induced dust storm

Fridays are the most exhausting day, as I have class from 11-1:30 and then again from 3-4:30. I was out like a light, but awoke rather early this morning, feeling compelled I suppose, by the sunlight through my little window. I have had vivid dreams lately, in my London bed. Hard to tell what they signify, if anything, outside of my own desires and questioning.

I am of two minds – that of moving forward and past what’s passed and toward all that is new and promising, and that which reflects and looks back, that which still appeals to me, like a call I hear off in the distance. Is it just an echo, fading, or is that persistence a sign of something that is still pertinent, valuable, remarkable?

I must admit, I cannot tell. My heart still dwells on an old amour, yet I am simultaneously sure that I’ve gone down this road before and it led me to darkness, sadness, and despair. I thought I did my best to sift through the ashes of that old burnt out affair to make certain nothing was left to salvage. I tried to test those waters, just to make sure there wasn’t a baby hidden in that bath before I tossed it and moved on. It seemed that there was no “there” there. There, there, little heart. She heals but slowly and sometimes there is a need to return to the scene of the deed just to verify that it’s done.

I suppose I should read the cards for myself and see if they have any light to shed on me. It is funny how sometimes I encapsulate so many different things inside one being. Parts of me tend to stay hidden, though unintended messages surface. I cannot quell the part which whispers of the mystical and inquires after curiosity, clings to the arcane and eschews merely mundane explanations.

I love looking after mysteries, but still I remain one to myself. Often, my desires take aim and fire before considering the repercussions. I fell before without concerns for where I’d land, and ended up a heap when my trust fall failed. I don’t want to be untrusting, but not do I want to be a heap.

I keep thinking about the story of Eros and Psyche. It came up in classes at the Carl Jung Institute in Manhattan. Psyche falls for Eros without really knowing or understanding who he is, and on the condition that she not attempt to look at him. Everything’s happy until, encouraged by her (jealous) sisters, she peeks at his sleeping face and sees that he is beautiful, but she wakes him with dripping wax or oil and he runs away.

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Eros and Psyche

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A pot depicting Aphrodite, Eros and Psyche

She then spends years looking for him everywhere and ends up at his mother’s house – Aphrodite in the Greek myths but she hearkens back to the old Mountain Mother, who’s priests were castrati. With Eros imprisoned inside her castle like Rapunzel, Aphrodite assigns Psyche to complete four impossible tasks, which she eventually does, with help from different animals. Still, she is defeated by a trick of Aphrodite: Psyche is sent to retrieve a certain box from the Underworld – a place of no return – and told that it contains the elixir of youth. She is warned not to look inside the box, but as before, she goes against instructions, because she just has to know. Instead of eternal youth, she finds eternal sleep inside the box and passes out for good until her beloved asks Zeus to revive her.

Eros and Psyche end up happy in the end, but it is a story which carries both historical and allegorical seeds which fascinate me. The tale of her descent into the Underworld makes me think back to the story of Inanna’s descent into the Great Below, her deep sleep is the parallel for Inanna’s death at the hand of her sister, Ereshkigal, who smites her with the “eye of death” and hangs her from a meathook. Like Psyche, her curiosity, her desire for power, have led her to a state of unconsciousness – death of the soul. The butterfly struck through, stuck to a velvet lining.

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Psyche taking a close look at her love – notice her butterfly wings

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Inanna Queen of Heaven

But in Inanna’s story, her lover is not faithful – he was not the one to plead to Zeus for his beloved – it is Inanna’s friend, Ninshubur, who goes to ask for help. She is the one who keeps vigil for Inanna, while her beloved seems unconcerned with her disappearance, even sitting on her throne. When Inanna returns, she is angry with Dumuzi for his lack of faithfulness. There was a price to be paid for her return, and Dumuzi, through his betrayal of his queen, has earned himself a place in the Great Below. Through an exchange, he would return seasonally and bring the green of spring along with him,  – and when the seasons turned the women would weep for him, gone again to the Great Below, leaving the Queen of Heaven alone.

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Inanna

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Inanna and Dumuzi

Three years on and I’m wondering what, if anything has changed? The day after my birthday was the three year anniversary of the last time I saw the man I was in love with in Camden. I happened to see him again, the day after my birthday. It didn’t occur to me to mention it

Love and miss and happy Halloween! I’ll leave you with a pic of my pumpkin and my recent altar for the New Moon. Nice to have my flat feeling homey!

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Kira

The Storm

Well, it has been a very interesting last few weeks! Mom and dad arrived a bit earlier than expected and spent two weeks with me in Seattle and subsequent travels. First, of course, I showed them around town a bit. They had already been to Seattle before, so we skipped the Pike Place Market and the Space-needle and went straight to Alki Beach – like a little bit of California transplanted to the PNW, it was a sunny late-summer day and we took their dog, Spanky, for a walk along the beach before going to eat dinner at an outdoor Mexican restaurant where Spanky could sit near us and we could enjoy the lovely weather.

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Mom, dad, and the majestic spotted hound at Alki the day they arrived

In the morning I took them to Seward Park where Spanky dipped into Lake Washington and mom and dad foraged for blackberries, gleeful about such a late berry season. Foraging was a major theme of the trip!

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I wanted to take them to the International District for lunch, but couldn’t think of anywhere to go, so instead I took them to Ethiopian food, which they enjoyed immensely (also the cheapness was right up their alley).

The next morning I took them to Kubota Gardens, a beautiful and old Japanese garden not far from my house in Seattle.We all enjoyed the gardens (and more blackberries were found and consumed). Spanky liked the water features especially.

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That afternoon we went to Ivar’s Fishbar and Restaurant so they could sample some of Seattle’s famous seafood. It was another toasty day and we enjoyed being on the water. We visited the Fremont Troll and then I dropped them off in Downtown Columbia City before heading to work at the Triple Door.

The next day was the anniversary of Erika’s death, so we got some supplies to celebrate her: a tin pan to be our firepit, some sparkling rosé (of course), yummy bread to make her favorite radish crostinis and I had bought radishes and green tomatoes at the farmers market, so I fried up the tomatoes, just as we had done with the ones from Erika’s garden six year ago, after she died. Our feast was spectacular and then we set fire to this year’s Burning Woman effigy – a hot air balloon with a wine glass instead of a basket, which my mom cut out and painted on cardboard. We played music from her memorial and drank our pink bubbles and cried and remembered her. I still had some candles from her memorial service and we lit one, tucked into a bottle of wine from her extensive collection, now finally nearly exhausted after 6 years.

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Mom building this yea’r fire

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Our lovely dinner spread in Erika’s honor

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Getting ready for the Burn!

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Erika was present in the form of this drawing I made of her and we burned one of the candles I saved from her memorial

It felt really good to be with my parents for this ritual. I played some songs on my guitar and “The Rainbow Connection” on my banjo uke – a song mom has come to associate with Erika.

In the morning, we packed up to head out to the Olympic Peninsula for several days of camping and exploring. Our first stop was Port Townsend, where we got pizza for lunch and browsed around a bookstore Sarah and I discovered on our trip out there in July. Then we drove through Port Angeles and by Lake Crescent to Sol-duc hot springs, where we had a site reserved. I forgot to mention that mom and dad drove up in a truck with a camper on the back, so we just had to pull in and pop it up! Then mom and I went for a soak in the hot springs before foraging some firewood and eating a light dinner before heading to bed. It was a chilly night in the mountains after the heat of Seattle summer.

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Mom and dad in front of Lake Crescent

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Me n mama at Sol duc Hot Springs

We hit the road to drive toward La Push, but we saw signs for the Makah Reservation and decided to take a detour to visit the museum there. It was a lovely drive up to Neah Bay and as we drove, the phone rang. It was my aunt and uncle, concerned about my grandmother and sister, who were in the path of hurricane Irma in Florida.

It all felt very scary and especially so for my grandmother, who is 95 and very attached to her home. But here we were on the opposite side of the country, unable to do much but advise and commiserate and worry.

We made it to the museum and again mom and dad found some berries to forage before we went in. It was a really interesting museum, focused on the Makah people and the artifacts found when one of their ancestral villages was uncovered by erosion. It was one of the places I had hoped to take dad, and I’m so glad we made the detour.

Then we headed south toward our RV park up the road from La Push. Once we had our site, we hopped in the truck and headed to the beach, which was misty and windy, but very majestic with large driftwood pieces and stately rock islands, big enough to grow their own little forests. We collected pebbles for mom’s Party Patio mosaic and Spanky frolicked with joy along the beach, sniffing everything in sight. On the way back to camp, we stopped to get some smoked salmon from a local Native – it was over-priced, but certainly the local economy is pretty tiny, so any bit we could contribute seemed worth it.

Back at the campsite, I made dinner of morel mushrooms and green beans with pasta and a butter/wine/cream sauce. It came out really deliciously (if I do say so myself) and we had just enough time to enjoy it before the weather changed and it began to rain.

In the morning, we decided to go to the beach once more and then checked out a second  access, which (we didn’t realize) was about 7/10s of a mile hike in, but was well worth it, as mom spotted a hen of the woods mushroom (which we took home with us). There the beach was different, a fresh spring running across it and some cool anemones and mussels growing on a big rock on the beach. The tide was out, so there were tide pools and I spotted a dentalia shell in one of them – something my mother had been looking for since we saw them used as jewelry at the Makah museum. Yoink!

We hiked back up to the truck (it was harder going up!) and headed off to the Hoh Rainforest. There we picnicked and dad joined us for one small hike and then retired for a nap in the truck (Spanky was already doing likewise). Then mom and I checked out the Hall of Mosses (“Holy Moses” as dad insisted on calling it) before we continued on to our campground for the night in Kalaloch, another beach.

When we arrived and got settled, we walked down to the beach, again covered with driftwood and interesting rocks.

Then we returned to camp to make dinner of jambalaya with veggie sausage  and some of our hen of the woods mushroom, plus some black beans and a heavy dose of creole seasoning. It was very hearty and rather spicy and even my staunchly meat-eating dad approved.

After they went to bed, I stayed up a while longer to sip some wine and write in my journal. It was beautiful to be among the trees, under the dark sky and the bright stars.

The next morning we headed out of Kalaloch and made a brief stop at Lake Quinault to visit their historic lodge.

Ocean Beach to explore and have lunch. Mom spotted a place that had all manner of (fried) seafood and also happened to have a veggie burger for me, so everyone was happy (especially Spanky, who enjoys fried food).

Then it was back to Seattle to change clothes and get ready for an evening of Patsy Cline music at the Triple Door. We got a nice table at the back of the theater and enjoyed drinks and some light apps during the show. It was fun to see my dad singing along and enjoying himself – not a lot of live music opportunities in Green Forest, AR!

We headed home and spent the next day packing up the camper with the remnants of my life in Seattle – all that I wouldn’t be taking with me to London or shipping home in boxes. I also managed to sell Erika’s broken car for $300, which was a nice and unexpected turn of events!

We finished early enough to head downtown to take the Underground Tour of Pioneer Square and then strolled along the waterfront to meet up with my cousins for dinner. It had been years since they saw my parents and the only bummer was that no one thought to take a picture!

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Me n daddio in Pioneer Square

In the morning we made tracks for Portland to visit my friend Jenna before continuing south to Crater Lake. We had a lovely brunch with her and stopped by a European meat store for dad (he needed some real sausage).

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Then it was off to Crater Lake.

The drive was lovely, if a bit long, and we made it to the south entrance to Crater Lake that afternoon. As we got closer and closer to the campground, we saw smoke from nearby wildfires and my parents voiced concern, but we had checked out the visibility with their webcam, so I knew the smoke wasn’t bad at the lake itself.

We finally pulled into the campground around 7pm and set up camp and poured ourselves some sundowners (aka wine with some other stuff mixed in to make a sort of sangria) before foraging for firewood and making up some dinner. We decided on grilled sandwiches and pea soup, but unfortunately it took longer to cook than anticipated and we ended up with slight crunchy pea soup. Ah well – not every camping meal can be gourmet!

The next morning we got an early start and drove up to Crater Lake – further from the campsite than I had thought and also much bigger than I had thought! It was like seeing the Grand Canyon, filled with the clearest and purest water! It was honestly breathtaking and we didn’t even get to go down to the lake, but just seeing it and the crater left by the volcanic eruption was very impressive, and knowing that only a week before it was impossible to view because of the smoke made the sight even more amazing.

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Glorious Crater Lake

Then it was time to go. We drove out of the park and continued south and east through Nevada. It our longest day of driving, nearly 6 hours. We stopped for the night in Elko at a cushy RV park with showers and a hot tub and coffee in the mornings. There we whipped up our last big camp meal of the trip – morels with more of my veggie sausage and tomato sauce served over pasta.

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Mom made sure to awaken early with one thing on her mind: baking cookies!

The final day of our roadtrip, we headed to Salt Lake City (where I was set to fly out the next morning). We got there relatively early and claimed a campsite at Great Salt Lake State Park before venturing into the city for a late lunch/dinner at an Indian restaurant.

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Yummy Thali in SLC – farewell dinner with my parents

I introduced my parents to the thali (and they made sure to order something they could share with Spanky after) and once we were all properly stuffed with curries we went to the Museum of Natural History to check out an exhibition on Vikings and their collection of Native American artifacts, plus some minerals and dinosaurs, of course.

After the museum we went to the center of town to check out the Mormon bit (though we didn’t feel like getting out of the truck and subjecting ourselves to potential conversion attempts (lol). Instead we went to the Gilgal Sculpture Park, which reminded me of the Coral Castle outside of Miami, which mom and I went to visit a few years ago.

It is another example of an eccentric loner making an odd sort of fervor into a stone monument to his eccentricity. It was bizarre, but more appealing than the creepily majestic Temple Square.

We bought some essentials at Trader Joe’s and made our way back to the campsite in time for one more round of sundowners while we watched the sunset.

A friendly Native man who worked at the site offered us some free firewood and I stayed up again, enjoying a bit of solitude with the lake and the stars till it was time to climb in for one more night in the camper with mom and dad.

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Last campfire of the trip

I awoke around 6 am and slid out to take photos of the sunrise around the lake. It was a glorious morning and the rain that had come in the night cleared up just in time to let the sun peep through.

I had one last morning with my parents, sipping coffee and strolling on the beach one last time before it was time to head ’em up and move ’em out, as the cowpokes say.

My flight left around 11 that morning to take me back to Seattle for a few more days of work and packing up and goodbyes.

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Antelope Island and the the Great Salt Lake from above

I had my last few shifts at the Triple Door and went out for some final hurrahs with friends and the fella I’ve been seeing for the last six months or so, on and off. He was kind enough to give me a ride to the airport (and help me load up all my heavy things like a champ). Nice to have a friendly send-off instead of a stressed cab ride, though Seattle gave me the final flip-off of making sure we hit nearly every red light on the way. File under things I will not miss!

I made it just two minutes before they closed check-in and some sympathetic airline employees really helped me out. Then it was just dealing with curious baggage scanners (apparently largish crystals in one’s carry-on need to be scoped out, even though they’re basically just rocks?) and walking for an eternity with heavy (crystal-laden) bags in a rush, just to find that the plane hadn’t begun boarding yet. Whew!

I earned my in-flight drinks!

I’ve met so many lovely people and had such a great time in Seattle over the past year, but I can’t say that it ever felt like home, exactly. However, I will miss many of the people – the friends and coworkers – and I even managed to date two different people for more than a couple of months each, not long distance! So hey, there was some progress from New York.

But I didn’t fall in love – not in the way I want to be – with the city or with any thing or anyone I encountered there. It was a very beautiful and inspiring way-station, however, and I am glad I called it home for the year.

And now I am in London, mostly recovered from jet-lag, registered for classes, and ready to start my year at UCL! Tomorrow, if all goes well, I will get the keys to my new flat in Camden Town – three years after I last spent some weeks there, so it still feels somewhat familiar, as does the whole city, in fact. I wonder if I would feel as comfortable here if I hadn’t lived in cloudy, rainy Seattle for a year, softening my memory of the other big city I used to call home, New York.

London’s not bad – and already I feel that I know more people here than I did starting out in Seattle. Plus it makes me think of Erika, who studied here for a semester in college, and who, I think, was always a bit more partial to the city than I.

More to come – time to wrap this one up!

Love and miss,

Kira

 

 

The Calm Before

I recently passed my one-year anniversary of moving to Seattle and I’m getting close to the one-year mark for my job at the Triple Door as well. So much has happened in a year – most importantly, I feel like I have made progress in my personal progression and faced down my boogie men, in some ways.

Wednesday we had a gathering in Volunteer Park in honor of Sarah’s impending departure from the city she has called home for three years now. A group of her friends gathered by the blooming dahlias and spread out wine and cheese and fruit and other yummy things on picnic tables. We drank rosé in the fading light and the waning heat of an August evening and released biodegradable balloons with messages of love and well-wishing. The leftover balloons were full of helium, which we sucked after dark, in a circle, singing snippets of songs with our high pitched voices and giggling.

The summer feels like it is winding down already, though we should have another month of sunny days, if we’re lucky.

The beginning of the month was hot and hazy, the skies over Seattle filled with smoke from the wildfires raging in Canada and Montana. On the positive side, the haze made the days less hot and kept things in the 80s instead of the 90s as predicted. It coincided with Seafair, which I recall from last year, when I was still staying with my aunt and uncle in Magnolia and Seattle felt brand new.

This year the Blue Angels roared over my tiny house in Beacon Hill and for three days in a row they made themselves known. After the Fourth of July this year, I’ve realized how much I dislike patriotic displays of war prowess.

Sarah and I have taken good advantage of our time together in Seattle. Since our outing to Victoria, we have gone to The Can Can – a cabaret in Pike Place Market – and returned a couple of times to Capitol Cider for our favorite jazz jam.We even went to Shakespeare in the Park and checked out Rumbar – a place she’d been longing to try.

Tonight we will go to the Triple Door for a cabaret singer I like called Lady Rizo and tomorrow night, Sarah will be on a flight to Columbia.

I sympathize with her feelings of inner conflict – it is hard to leave a job where you love your role and the security and the fact that you’re needed and appreciated. Even if that job isn’t what you ultimately want out of life, it is the end of a certain chapter. I’ve got a bit more time before I’ll similarly be saying goodby to things and this city, assuming all goes well with my visa. So far, so good.

Seattle has been an interesting place to live. I’ve grown to love my co-workers and the environment at the Triple Door, which is such a cool space and which has inspired me in many ways. The people I work with are – in the best possible way – freaks and misfits, in-between travelers, pierced, tattooed, rainbow-haired rebels and youths. Actors, musicians, writers, dancers. There are benefits to working in the service industry. The people are a big one.

But there’s been nothing to hold me here. Now that Sarah is leaving I feel my ties unbinding. I like being here now. But in my mind, I’m shifting. I do love my little cottage, still, and my patio is comfortable and calming, white spots of light dance reflected from the lazy motions of a string of mirrors. My tomatoes grow and peppers are sprouting, cucumbers fattening and basil in bloom.

I think increasingly of Erika, who had such a charming and effortless garden in California. I wish I had moved to the west coast when she was still alive – wouldn’t it be nice if I could simply drive somewhere to see her? Just a day’s drive away in Napa. But her garden is no longer hers, her condo still features the bathroom tiles mom helped Erika install – no doubt some other traces of her still abide, but fainter and fainter.

Her car sits unmoving on the side of my street as I wait for final confirmation of my studies in London. As I hold onto her Rav4, because it is still, every so slightly, part of her. She put most of those dents and scrapes there; she wrote about her little car in her journal. It will be the end of an era to say goodbye to it. Six years have passed so quickly I can scarcely believe it when I see the years the stretch back to our last trip together in Brazil. To fill out my visa application, I had to list all my travels for the last ten years, searching through old emails for dates, reliving the trip to France when I started this blog, glimpsing emails from lovers past, not read in years, but still surprisingly fresh. Did I come back to New York for him and was it a mistake? Am I going to London for the right reasons?

Erika once studied in London for a semester. My mom and I visited her there when I was 17 – another trip abroad I recalled in applying for my visa. For a city I am not overly fond of, many of my life’s turning point moments seem to center on it. Perhaps living there will be better than I previously thought. Meanwhile, I am looking for a houseboat to live on like Anais Nin. I love having a charming living space – it really improves my quality of life. Such a first-world thing to say. Lol!

I’m looking forward to the eclipse in a few days. I always adore the moon and her mysterious movements. I’ve never seen a solar eclipse before and though I’m not driving out of my way to the “path of totality,” I think it will be 90% visible from Seattle.

Sarah will be gone by then. And about a week later my parents will come visit and then the final countdown begins.  Looking forward to seeing what the future holds and playing my piano as much as possible before I have to let it go.

One last note, as Burning Man approaches and mom and I have discussed what sort of shrine to burn for Erika this year: I recently ended up at a park watching a bunch of grown people doing a very fun and whimsical dance in a children’s wading pool at Volunteer Park. I didn’t know it then, but I recently learned that the performance was to honor the last wishes of a dying artist who lived on Vashon Island. She helped plan the music and choreography and costumes and then these people who loved her came together and performed a joyful, magical tribute.

I’m really glad I went. Joyful dancing is the best answer for just about anything, it seems.

Love and miss,

Kira

 

Independence

It is hard to believe we are already half way through 2017! Time does indeed move fast and each beautiful day lately is sunnier and warmer than the last.

The last weekend is worthy of writing about. Friday and Saturday evenings were spent, comme d’habitude, at the Triple Door. We had a fun campy burlesque show there (literally summer camp-themed acts).

On Sunday I had the day to do laundry and tidy up the house and my little garden patch before going to see one of my favorite bands from high school, Ween. They’re such consummate musicians and I’d hoped to see them last year – even had a ticket – but then my companion for the show ditched out and I wasn’t prepared to go it alone at a massive NYC venue. This time, I met up with my friend Peter and a group of his Ween-loving friends at his place in the International District (Seattle’s mishmash of China/Japan/Korea etc towns). Then we piled into his vintage Chevette and drove out across the great Lake Washington and to Marymoore Park, shrouded in trees of deep soft green. The sun sets late here in the summer and it glinted through the looming pines throughout the show. I sipped rosé and enjoyed the show immensely.

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It was over rather early and we all headed back to the International District for a little karaoke.

Or rather, a lot of it. I rolled out my greatest hits, as the place was empty and turns at the mic were frequent.

Unfortunately, by the time I got home, I was rather toasted, as dinner never happened. I say unfortunately, because as I climbed up into my loft, I lost my balance and fell from the ladder to my carpeted concrete floor. I knew instantly that I’d hurt myself, but I was so tired that I just crawled up to bed and hoped for the best. But the next morning, Sarah and I were going to Victoria, B.C. where much walking would be required.

The drive to Port Angeles was just a couple of hours, but I was hungover and carsick and once I looked down and my phone had butt dialed an ex-boyfriend to whom I’ve not spoken in 5 years! Christ, that took the blood from my face!

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Sarah got me an ACE bandage and I wrapped up my foot and hobbled as best I could onto the ferry where I was again wracked by nausea from the rocking of the ferry. Finally, we went to the upper deck, which was much more pleasant and I napped until I felt better and we disembarked in Victoria.

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Beautiful Legislative building – lights up at night like a carnival

It is a cute little port town, both European and American in feel. We visited the Natural History Museum and then went for drinks at the Empress Hotel (they serve a high tea there for $70 a person) – we got rosé and nachos! It was the first and last food I was able to eat for a while!

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Wooly Selfie with Sarah

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Rosé at the Empress

We took a cab to our Airbnb, a cute little apartment with a cat named Wednesday in residence. After a shower and a change of clothes, I was ready to hobble around some more!

We meandered south, sipping some wine Sarah had brought along, thoughtfully. It always makes me think of Erika when I drink wine al fresco from paper cup or water bottle. We crossed through the little Chinatown (one street, spangled with red lanterns) and looked for an open place, but many we tried were closed on Mondays.

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Finally we went to an Italian restaurant, very quaint, and they served very interesting food, but I lost my appetite again and wasn’t able to eat much. Frustrating!

After dinner, we tried briefly to find a bar to inhabit, but we decided to go home and cuddle the cat instead (not a euphemism).

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In the morning, we walked toward downtown for breakfast on Antique Row (and of course some book and antique shopping) before walking to a Victorian copy of a Scottish castle for the local coal and iron barons, the Craigdarroch family.

We spent the afternoon learning about the chateau and its long history as a music school and military hospital after it was no longer a private house.

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Then it was time to get back to the ferry. We caught a cab and made it just in time for boarding. I felt much better on this crossing and my foot wasn’t too bad. We got back to Port Angeles and then decided to check out Port Townsend for dinner.

There was another fabulous bookstore to be explored – full of treasures (and I was reading aloud to Sarah from a book of Joseph Campbell’s lectures about the Goddess as we drove, so we were quite inspired). Dinner was unfortunate again, as I ordered something far too rich and regretted it – it was drowned in a blue cheese sauce that overwhelmed me and killed my timid appetite again. Damn my car sickness!

Sarah and I made it back to Seattle just in time for darkness to set in and the fireworks to be set off! It sounded like bombs going off over my head and made me stressed and annoyed until it finally ceased. Ah, sweet silence.

I am still waiting to hear back about getting into school in London, but I am already looking forward to missing out entirely on the 4th of July celebrations. Not my bag atall. I’ve never been crazy about the English climate, but if I can handle Seattle, I guess I can try London!

Meanwhile, it was back to work for me yesterday, and luckily, my foot feels much better, thought it still definitely stings a bit and I might need to take it to a doctor. The best news is that Peter let me borrow his Chevette while my car is broken (if I don’t go to school, I might as well get Erika’s car fixed, especially as it isn’t likely to sell for much). So much up in the air at present.

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The Chevette

My garden is growing and I divided up my baby lettuces so now it is survival of the fittest. They are from a package of seed (from Walmart, no less) which once belonged to  Erika. I’ve had them for the last six years, though I never had anywhere to plant them before. Lo and behold, they’re growing!

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My sprouting garden

Strawberries were ripening more and more each day, enough to get a handful for breakfast each morning, but now they are slowing down.

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Despite my foot, I walked to my local farmers market on Wednesday and brought home fresh raspberries, blueberries, apricots, carrots and flowers to brighten up my little home.

My landlord is finally clearing out some of his art from the “groovy cottage” as he calls it – it was jam packed with objects and paintings and postcards when I moved in. Not that I minded – our tastes are pretty similar. But it is certainly more spacious- feeling in here, despite the piano!

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For last night’s full moon in Capricorn, I set all my crystals out for a sun and moon bath.

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Today, I met up with Sarah around noon and we got dolled up for a Steampunk Promenade around Green Lake with strangers! It was right up our alley, since we like playing dress-up! I’d say we both did a great job of finding Victorian-looking get-ups on short notice. We met people and drank tea and ate goodies in a lovely breezy afternoon, dressed like weirdos!

Mom and dad are planning to drive up to see me in early September, and I look forward to what adventures we might have!

By then, I will be without Sarah in Seattle 😦 What will I do?

Well, time will tell. All for now,

Love and miss,

Kira

Summer At Last!

Lately the days have been stacking up onto each other in layers of sunshine and blue skies at last, after a long and rainy winter in the Pacific Northwest – my first outside of the East Coast in nearly a decade. The flowers are still making their extended spring displays, popping up in turns like fireworks in a well choreographed display of purple, yellow, magenta, white, lavender, and pink. The gardens around my cottage are in bloom and I harvest flowers to decorate the house.

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I still sometimes get snatches of the city in my mind’s eye. Familiar corners pop up as if I might see them again soon. I miss the subway and the Beauty Bar and pizza by the slice. But I also think fondly of things and times and people from years past in the city – not so much great loves, but incidental friends – my time working in the design department at my catering company, my old roommate and apartment in Williamsburg. But both have moved on. My old room is gone and Josh moved to Paris. The gas station right outside my window will persist no doubt, its owner tromping about with badly dyed hair and matching red tank top and shorts, gold crucifix glowing from the forest of his chest hair. That corner bodega I used to visit, owned by Yemeni men – I wonder about them and how they are doing. I miss all of it in a way. That French cafe down the street with the open mic where I met my North Carolinian friends.

The years pass swiftly – it all seems so recent.

But here I sit on my little porch in Seattle, the sound of planes resonating above me – accelerating engines echo from elsewhere, but it is otherwise quiet except the sound of Teri Gross’ voice on the radio.

I cut my hair recently – in part to fix the layers which got screwed up by someone else. But I was also ready for something new. So I gave myself long bangs – or fringe, as the English have it.

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Things are really shaping up in my tiny house, which is such an absolute pleasure to live in, especially now that the rains have stopped and the sugar ants which invaded me over the winter have left me alone (encouraged by poison and some intense caulking sessions around the cottage). I just bought a little device called a HooToo NanoRouter which is tiny indeed and has solved my one persistent issue: weak wifi. Now I have a solution which allows me to use my little laptop on the porch or wherever without constantly refreshing the connection. It is also highly transportable and the sort of thing I might have dreamed of while traveling in years past.

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It is hard to believe, however, that nearly a year has passed since I got to Seattle. I guess the fact that I didn’t settle down in one spot till January made it seem like I had recently arrived. But from three months here to 10 months here has gone by in a blur!

I have been playing music – my piano and of course the guitars in my life. Trying to get back to writing songs, which seem to have been hard for me after working on my memoir for so long. It’s been nice to start writing in my journal again and learning songs on the piano after not having one for years is such a pleasure! I am so glad I bought the darn thing, or rather, paid to have it brought to me! I learned Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe When I Fall In Love” and Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” – therapy songs of power and joy.

I guess I have realized – or perhaps admitted – that I have been depressed. I haven’t put that word on it till recently, perhaps because I am finally starting to come out the other side of it. I hope. I don’t think I’ve been truly, deeply depressed since I was a teenager, though I did experience a time in college when I was very anxious. And my anxiety does always seem to be centered on the topic of love. I get squirmy and rather nervous around relationship. Very fight or flighty. I seem to search out psychologically troubled people, or they respond to me – probably both. I have to at least ask how that is reflected in me.

One aspect of my low spirits has been increased anxiety around my creativity – song-writing specifically. It’s funny how something can flow so effortlessly at times and suddenly be stanched. But I think I know what happened: I put my heart in a song – all of my love and talent and spontaneity. But it did not win me what I wanted. I’ve written songs since, of course. But the problem with writing from your heart is that it sometimes feels like wallowing. So when things didn’t work out with someone I’d thought longingly of for years, I didn’t feel like writing about it. I couldn’t. I was exhausted by grief. For my sister, my lovers, myself. I couldn’t face writing my sadness into songs and then having them in my brain as evidence of how wretched I felt.

Anyway, the point is not to go on about depression, but to say that I think perhaps I am starting to feel better. Though I loved New York and miss it in some ways, I am happy to be out of there and living a different life. Happy to be considering my next steps. I’m applying to a program in London and perhaps I’ll also go to Mexico at some point – especially if I don’t get into my London thing. I hate to think of leaving my little casita so soon – and I also enjoy the Triple Door and the friends I have been making there. But I am not sure I have found anything – or anyone – to stay here for. Once my dear Sarah has vamoosed, will I feel at sea in Seattle? Who’s to say, but I recall how strange New York seemed without my dear Nora. I do so appreciate having close friends nearby. In the absence of a reliable male partner, my girlfriends have been my closest friends and partners. Companions of heart and intellect. My sisters.

For now, we are still together and Seattle is at its most beautiful and verdant, the gardens all over the city are full of flowers and plants strange to me, mixed in, of course, with recognizable things. Strawberries are ripening in the patch of earth I weeded out and I planted two types of basil last week and today, a third, plus two kinds of tomatoes, some pickling cucumbers, Thai chilies, and lettuce. Hooray for growing things!

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Last week I went for a hike up to Rattlesnake Mountain in one of the first truly glorious days of the year. We puffed and sweated all the way to the top for the big payoff: views of the valley below, Rattlesnake Lake and tree-covered foothills stretching out for miles in the distance.

On the weekend, I had a rare Saturday off and went to the Folklife Festival in Seattle’s City Center.  We had a fun evening, drinking beer and listening to music before the festival ended and we went to a park for more beer and then walked up to Kerry Park for a view from the hillside of Queen Anne, giving a gorgeous tableau of skyline and Space Needle and the Sound.

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The cherry blossoms are done blooming, but other flowers and plants still take their turn to blossom in yards and at roadside parks. I do like all the green things growing in this Emerald City.

I’ve put this blog off for so long, I think I’ll wrap it up!

Love and miss,

K

Sisters in Seattle

I was sad upon leaving Sarasota in January: sad to say goodbye to my family and sad because I hadn’t gotten to spend much time with Skye over my two weeks there. With a continent between us and only a once-a-year reunion, it was enough to make me tear up when it was time to fly out.

So Skye booked a trip to come out to Seattle for a visit. Unfortunately, Florida in March is much nicer weatherwise than Seattle, but at least it didn’t snow!

I picked her up on Friday night and we had plans to go out to a fancy club (her former favorite past time) but she was tired and after we came home and drank some pink bubbles, we instead went to Pioneer Square and met up with the fella I’ve been seeing at the bar where Nirvana apparently played their first show: the Central Saloon. It’s got a kind of seedy old school feel and I introduced my sister to my favorite cheap local beer in a can (the equivalent of PBR or Gansett on the East Coast), Rainier, usually served in tallboys. We had a couple and headed home at a decent hour, her day having been very long.

Saturday was spent exploring Pike Place Market and the shops on Post Alley, shopping for souvenirs and checking out the funky stalls and shops. Then we moved on to Pioneer Square, where we found some South Indian food (miracle of miracles!) for lunch and then did an underground tour.

In the olden days of Seattle, the downtown sloped off toward the Sound in a way that meant the streets were often inundated by the tide shifts and roads had massive potholes, large enough to lose a horse in! Logs cut from the steep hills above were skidded down to the water on what was colloquially called Skid Road. After a fire destroyed the city, they decided to build up the low lying areas and diminish the slope of the hill, but in the meantime, they built new buildings with two first floors: one for the interim before the ground was raised, and the second floor also equipped with a front door and storefront windows in preparation for the day when the new streets would be constructed.

We had hoped to dine at the revolving restaurant at the top of the Space Needle, but it was all booked up, so we satisfied ourselves with a visit to the gift shop and then went to the bar at the Edgewater Hotel, which I didn’t realize was made famous by The Beatles and Zappa.

We met up with Sarah and went out dancing at Havana till we were done, then we followed Sarah to her salsa dancing club and watched her cut a rug in her element there.

We didn’t have much left on our list by Sunday, but we visited the Volunteer Park Conservatory and met up with Sarah for dinner and drinks. Somehow, I neglected to take Skye to the place where I work, The Triple Door, and instead we went to a place called Vito’s with live music and a swanky vibe.

Skye left the next afternoon and we made a few last stops before I took her to the airport to return to Florida and her family there.

I went back to work and back to trying to earn some moolah to make up for all we spent on our adventures.

I’m finally starting to feel ready to play music out again, after a few years of being rather retreated from the limelight. And I am trying to put my heart out on the market again, though it is hard to trust total strangers! Spring has started to unfurl her tentative shoots and sprouts and I again celebrated the Persian New Year, Nowruz. I had the day off, so I went shopping for the essentials: hyacinths, apples, dried fruit, an orange to float in a bowl of water. I found some fake pastel eggs at Target (perfect because I’m not that into real eggs lately) and Sarah and I each painted one for the hast seen table, which we set on my piano.

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The Nowruz spread on my piano!

Skye’s ex-husband brought back this amazing collapsing basket from Afghanistan and we used that to display several of the traditional items on the table: walnuts, garlic and figs. Sarah found us some sumac and I had some sprouting lentils ready.

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Sarah found a perfect recipe for a soup of lentils with pasta and spinach, combined with a yogurt and mint sauce – a traditional dish for the New Year in Iran. It came out really yummy, if I do say so myself!

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It was nice to have someone to celebrate the festival with instead of doing it alone. Funny to think what I was doing last year at this time: in Brooklyn, in the snow on the first day of Spring. And now here I await the awakening in the Pacific Northwest.

I love my tiny house, though it has recently been inundated with sugar ants from all sides. They seem to have decided to nest in the walls and crawl in to bug the shit out of me. Literally. God, they’re on me now. Die ants. Die. Sigh. What have they driven me to?

The sun shines weakly through the crack in my door, but it’s welcome – the end of winter at long last. Hopefully with the end of the rains my ant problem will also dissipate like the grey skies and the shadows of the past. I don’t want to let bitterness creep into my heart. I have always been something of a nostalgic, but I don’t want to be so backward looking that I neglect the present or the future. I sometimes feel that danger. So I must keep creating and moving and loving. Lately I keep thinking of the Chinese proverb: “If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come.” This spring, I am garlanding my heart with green. I want to release the old flames that’ve burnt up and burned out. Those people I loved, those shining lights were sparks, not the sun itself.

I realized recently that my trip to the netherworld of myself and my psyche has scraped away so many layers of my external being that I must rebuild. It is a marvelous chance and a massive undertaking to recreate oneself. I have done it before, but it’s been a while. I recall how it feels. The pain and tenderness of new eyes, new skin. We Scorpions shed our shells to stay alive – to grow. Perhaps that’s partly why I’ve stayed single so long. It has been a decade of transformation for me. And it is hard to keep anyone close at such times.

But of course I don’t really ever plan to stop transforming. So here’s hoping I learn how to be with someone while I change!

All for now –

Love and miss,

Kira