The Gift of Immigrants

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 9.47.58 AMYou’re young, alone, and surrounded by strangers who speak a language you don’t understand. You’re weary, having travelled thousands of miles into the unknown, because everything you knew and loved has been destroyed.

Meet Bessie

This is the tale of the woman Baltimore came to know as its premiere kosher caterer, Bessie Bluefeld. About 100 years ago she followed her husband Charles from Ukraine to settle in Baltimore.


You can meet Bessie this weekend at the Atlas Intersections Festival, Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street NE.

DC actor Terry Nicholetti performs this history/theater one-woman performance on Saturday at 1:30 and Sunday at 2:00 pm


I Give Thanks for the Sea

Have some images from my writing retreat at Ocean City Maryland, from Thanksgiving and the following weekend. There is nothing quite as beautiful as the edge of the world, all water and light.

click on any photo to enlarge, you’ll get a slide show view

A Sea of Red

I didn’t expect to blog about Veteran’s Day

or Armistice Day, or the 100th anniversary of the War to End All Wars, but the devastatingly beautiful installation “Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red” at  the Tower of London unexpectedly moved me to tears.

Artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper created the commemoration, composed of 888,246 individually made red ceramic poppies, each representing a single fatality from the British & colonial forces in World War 1.

One cool and blustery day in November of 2004, just after the re-election of George W Bush, I was in London. I wore a button that read “I did not vote for him.”  Being a lefty all my life, I had quite recently campaigned for Kerry, and had vigorously protested our going to war with Iraq.

As I approached St. Paul’s cathedral an older man in antique uniform approached me with a paper poppy. I gladly exchanged it for a 2£ coin, and when I thanked him he exclaimed: “Oh, you’re a Yank!! We love you Americans. Thank you for all that you did. We love you!” and there were tears in his eyes, and my own.

Power speaks the truth

This installation vividly illustrates the grief and horror of war, and greatly honors the bravery, sacrifice and commitment of veterans and the families who lost them. The visual power of that monumental wash of red, surrounding the Bloody Tower itself, feels like a truth-telling. One we have all needed for some time.

Scots and Independance

bannockburnWhat little authority I might have to weigh in on the wisdom or folly of Scottish Independence is debatable. But I did live in Scotland for a year in 1977-78. I went to the Festival, studied at University of Edinburgh, traveled the Highlands and islands in search of stone circles, and taught for a while in Shetland.

I drank with my colleagues and friends and heard many a tale of how, over many centuries, like other colonists, rebels and indigenous folk, the Scots suffered greatly at the hands of the English.

But I want to share a tiny moment that has as much or more bearing on today than the bloody swords of yesteryear.

6794779707_811d3266a4In 1977 I arrived my cheap London hotel near Kings Cross, a naive young midwestern student, too jet-lagged to be excited. The terrific bargain hotel proved to be thrice the cost as promised, and the lift was broken, so I lugged my heavy case up the stairs.

As I checked out the bath-down-the-hall, I saw a purple sticker on the toilet tank. I peeled it off and stuck in my journal, puzzled. I had never considered Scotland as separate from the UK before, and the recent construction of North Sea oil platforms had barely reached my embryonic consciousness.

Little did I know that I would find strong opinions and a very fierce, proud and distinct culture north of the Borders. That Shetlanders didn’t consider themselves Scots, much less British. That, for good or ill,  memory of ancient battles lives on in the blood. That although the United Kingdom appears united, the stories of Bannockburn, Culloden, the Clearances and other atrocities leave a mark, and, now that Scotland’s economy is strong, England may have some karma coming due.

Alive Inside, the Power of Music

When my father was in Hospice in has last three days of life, he relaxed, grateful that no one was forcing him to eat or go to appointments. He dozed, phasing in and out of awakening. He heard a wisp of something and asked me:

nanaGoldy“What is that beautiful song?”

I listened, and heard the strains of The Godfather’s haunting theme, floating in from someone’s tv down the hall.

He began to sing  “Dah, dada da, da dah,” very softly.

Inspired, I went to his home, got a portable music player and grabbed some cassettes from the car. They were the filled with the theater pipe organ music he adored, and I hurried back. When I tucked the light headset around his ears, his eyes flew open and he beamed at me, grinning with delight. For the next 2 days, he smiled and dreamed and hummed along to his favorite tunes.

Later that day I went to the meditation garden and heard a song come, not on the breeze but into my mind. It was Greensleeves, my mother’s favorite tune. I shivered, then welcomed her gladly. She had been gone nearly 9 years by that time. I felt as if she walked with me back to his bedside for those final hours.

Last night’s concert (see previous post)was a heart-overflowing event where the music community showed love and support for its own. But what about that which they offer us? What is the value of music?

There’s a new film coming called Alive Inside, that may help answer that question. It’s about the work of social worker Dan Cohen and his Music & Memory™  program.

Terry with her mom, 94

Music & Memory is a non-profit that brings personalized music into the lives of the elderly and infirm, training nursing home staff and elder care professionals to create and provide personalized playlists to enable those with memory and cognitive disorders to reconnect with the world.

My dear friend Terry Nicholetti, a DC actor, has known about this power for years. She cares for her 94 year old mother, who long ago lost her capacity to remember or even speak, the result of Alzheimer’s disease. Terry takes her guitar to of the nursing home and plays old-timey songs for the Memory-Care patients, most of whom do not speak or even interact. They often will respond with enthusiasm, some even singing along. Their musical memory is intact when other pathways may be long gone.

“American culture is wrong: there is actually life beyond adulthood. The aging we experience holds very important learning and lessons.  Theres the opportunity to live and grow and become elders. No pill does that.”

from Alive Inside

Culture of Trust

On the radio this morning I heard this story on NPR Morning Edition about the rapidly growing “Sharing Economy.” Talking about AirBnB, a web site I have used successfully as a host and guest, I heard this statement:

Renting out a home, your home, for the weekend on the Internet to complete strangers is kind of a radical idea. 

In 1977, as a young American student abroad, I arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland at the beginning of the reknowned Edinburgh International Festival, and needed a place to stay. It’s a notoriously difficult time for last minute lodgings. I was there to begin my school year in a special program for young educators, and had no idea what the festival was all about.

edinburgh suburbsBut my first amazing experience was meeting my new landlords. A couple with three kids, and a house in the ‘burbs, rented me their spare bedroom. I arrived, Mrs. Fraser showed me to my room, a basic suburban bedroom. Loo down the hall.

“Help yourself to a cuppa, or anything you need, dear. We have to go out, we’ll see you later, or not.” She smiled, and handed me a house key then  she and her family waved goodbye.

I had just embarked on my life’s biggest adventure. I was dazed and travel weary and disoriented and amazed. But I was particularlry astonished by the generosity and trust of complete strangers a world away, just welcoming me into their home. Just like that.

It was an experience repeated many times in Scotland, Shetland, the Hebrides… a warm and generous welcome offered to a traveling stranger. It felt like something that would never happen back home in suburban Detroit. And I marveled at this culture of trust.

One of my Uni professors told us a tale over a pint, about an American couple who were unable to find anyplace to stay during the Festival. He told them “Come home with me, we’ll make room for ye.” They fled from him, suspicious of anyone who would offer to take them home ‘just like that.’ He commented: “Americans are suspicious folk.”

Years later, as a host on the newly-launched airBnB I welcomed a young couple to my home for two weeks. The timing was perfect for me, and for them. They loved my pets, enjoyed the house and became new friends.  It only took 35 years for Americans to let down their guard.

from the road: LAX to Ventura

June 26-

Are you lost in paradise my love, or have you found a home?  ROO PANES — INDIGO HOME

I could wander the planet following the bloodhound nose of my curiosity, and seemingly never tire of the lure of what’s just around the bend.

So many ideas I thought were a fixed part of me have been falling away. It starts with little things, opinions in examined for years, like “I won’t like LA.” Surprise! I kinda do! “I’m a water person, I could never live in the desert.” Wrong: I adore the arid zones, they fill me with an effervescent excitement, I love the big spaces and seeing the bones of the earth laid bare.

So how am I to understand my own self going forward?


Astounding: after a nap, fitful at best, I raise the window shade and recognize the landscape we’re flying over! I am looking down on the Rio Grande river south of Albuquerque. The clouds are hyper- real, as if the distinction between them and dry air makes them tighter, shiny, iridescent. I see the blotches of malpais spreading out, and see the narrow green passages that bring water out of the hills.


I’d guess we’re over AZ  now. Earth peach then cream then rosy rust, freckled with sagebrush and scored with fine lines of roads. Ambly rivers mostly dry, wide dry washes, scoured places, the cross hatching of Mesa cliffs rising to their tabletops. There’s a river that looks to be milky sand white, shaded with green that fades quickly from the edges.

There’s a layer of yellowish mauve smog above us that was nowhere to be seen in April. Smog at over 30,000 feet – clearly that’s not from around here.

June 27 —

When I was a young teen I had a transistor radio, the boxy kind with a wrist strap, a 9v battery and only the AM signal. It was my constant companion, hanging from bike’s handlebars, saddle horn and nesting under my pillow at night. I was discovering all kinds of music, from R&B to folk to acid rock, and loving the journey.

In those years my radio station was CKLW out of Windsor Ontario, one of the old Clear Channel power stations. At night you could pick up those big stations hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles away. I heard CKLW in Connecticut one time, visiting a high school friend who moved away.

Now I have my iPhone in my hand or nearby, all my waking hours, and often it’s streaming internet radio. And there are still those magic times when sounds float out of the radio that make my senses thrill, a wild sense of joy and freedom arise, or a deep longing for something lost or never seen.

July 1 —

Beacon coffee, Ventura California. Dont miss the coffee here, seriously. yum.

The Manage the Manager conference ate my weekend, in the best possible way. The course wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, but the companionship, networking and socializing with amazing people was better than I could have dreamed.

Last night’s twilight drive up through The Valley was pretty stunning, these shades of violet steep hills backlit by a soft mauvey sky – I thought it was such a cliche image, but this am surfing for a similar scene and I can’t find it. I guess I should try a painting.

Today I head north up to the Santa Ynez wine country and on to Pismo Beach for the night. I booked my hotel there because I needed to sleep where I could hear the Pacific, and it cost me pretty dearly. So last night in a chain motel, just crashing along the road, there is a ‘theme’ on the TV with wave sounds and an animated  ocean and moon. The video was too bright, but the wave sounds were just what I needed. In theory I resent the synthetic ocean, but it was really excellent sleep, so what’s to complain about? I’ll compare to the Real Thing tonight.

By chatting with my host the coffee roaster I learn that from Ojai to Ventura is the setting for the award winning film There Will Be Blood,  directed by Paul Thomas Anderson with music by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. (The score really boosts  the intensity of this film, which is not about nice guys. Fair warning!) It sets the tale in the era of oil discovery in California.  I highly recommend the film for a glimpse of our industrial history, as well as its cinematic quality.

Floating in the Garden

fig treeMulberry and fig trees, heavy with shade and fruit, hung over the luminous turquoise pools as liquid light wrote sinuous patterns on the pool floor, the water and the bodies within. It was meditative bliss to float in the Warm Pool at  Harbin Hot Springs.

Harbin is a ‘take the waters’ resort in the hills north of Middletown, CA. You can find it by driving North through the Napa Valley, through the beautiful vineyard vistas and small towns north of the Bay Area.

What a beautiful place! in the apex of an increasingly steep valley the mountain gives forth her waters in a cool spring, a mineral spring and a very hot hot spring. There are a variety of pools from 113ºF/45ºC to the cold plunge at barely 60ºF/16ºC, with a full size lap pool that’s comfortably cool and a warm pool for silent soaking that’s big enough for dozens to share. There is an elven quality to the place, with lovely metalwork, tile, stone, gardens. There are cottages, dorm rooms, cabins and lodges as well as a campground. When you’re not soaking you can dance in the temple, stroll in the labyrinth, read in the library, snack in the cafe . And the dining hall serves delicious vegetarian food with a few fish & chicken options as well.

For Harbin pictures I refer you to their lovely web site, for the pools are clothing-optional and few opt for clothed bathing. There is a no-camera policy that forbids phones, iPads & iPods and computers in most areas of the resort, thankfully.  Really unplugging from technology is but a pleasant side effect. Harbin offers in impressive palette of bodywork with world class therapists, everything from reflexology to scalp massage, deep tissue and lymphatic massage to Watsu, a waterbourne treatment in addition to all its other restful qualities.

I’ve enjoyed naked swimming before in different settings. There is always a code: Growing up in Michigan skinny dipping always took place at night, since our cottages were crowded together at the river. At the Ithaca reservoir swimming itself was forbidden, so why not dispense with attire? Suited swimmers were greeted with suspicion.

Harbin Hot Springs takes great care to preserve the healing and peaceful experience, with three of the pools  dedicated to meditative and sacred space,  silence requested. It’s against the rules to proposition someone, so it’s not a cruising spot.

But I will say, as an artist, the people-watching is amazing. So many sizes, colors and ages, I wished for a painter’s day, when bathers would give permission to become inspiration for artwork. How I wanted to sketch and paint those figures in repose, surrounded by the Edenic beauty!

Was I self-conscious about stripping? A bit, at first. I was with friends whom I don’t often see, and hanging out naked with them brought us closer, faster. The trickiest part for me was shopping for spa-wear: what to wear when you’re not wearing anything! Sounds silly, but the linen big shirt I draped myself with, and the sarong I purchased, had to be just right.

In daily life I often feel like an outsider because I’m quite fat. At Harbin I experienced being a body amongst bodies, a goddess amongst gods and goddesses, connected and human, as if our differences, instead of being revealed had been shed like skin. We were in the garden, eating from the trees of life, and we did not notice our nakedness at all, except to feel that it was right and good. So mote it be.


Close or Far

When Jose and I visited the Grand Canyon we were admiring the Temple of Shiva, a mesa standing apart from the North Rim. In the late afternoon light the warm colors of the canyon were increasingly spectacular, and Shiva was shimmering in violet, rose and gold. After a few moments Jose went to read an info-graphic nearby, and came back to report that the Temple was over 9 miles away. Not only that, but the North Rim in general was 14 to 18 miles away. Our jaws dropped, minds boggled, and we were challenged to believe our eyes.

Temple of Shiva is the highest point on the horizon

NINE MILES? Really? We could see it so clearly!

One of the great pleasures of the west is the mind sensation of seeing over such vast spaces. It certainly draws visitors to the Canyon. I know I gloried in the many broad vistas we enjoyed in our travels. Even in crowded the Bay Area a trip across any of the bridges opened up into a soaring space. Our visit to Marin Highlands was literally dizzying for me.  I could swim, fly, soar and plunge in all that magnificent visual space.

click for larger version

I learned a new word from Astrologer Rob Brezhny in this week’s reading. He writes:

The German word *Fernweh* can be translated as “wanderlust.” Its literal meaning is “farsickness,” or “an ache for the distance.”

Now that I’m back in lush, forested Southern Maryland, I’m finding the intimate treed locations to be claustrophobic. I am grateful or the shade, I love the greens, the rustling sounds, the many, many birds. But I’m pining for the wide-open spaces where my mind’s eye can soar. I am so glad to be home, my lovely home and friends, yet I am experiencing farsickness, feeling it like a physical longing in my bones. I am aching for distance, pining for that vastness, that wilderness of a scale that swamps my ability to measure it.

Brezhny quotes poet Robert Haas:

We call it “longing” because desire is full of endless distances.

In the rest of my weekly reading the astrologer challenges me and other Scorpios to explore the yearning and the distance, and find ways to bridge the gulf. I know that I feel much more in possession of my citizenship of this vast country, having made this trip. I stayed connected to a close friend who was moving away, in fact deepened our relationship. Attending a business conference far from home, I cemented  relationships with colleagues and potential partners all across the country. I’ve spanned some great distances within myself, stretching to be connected to people in new ways.

And I am remembering how I carry those great spaces within myself. I can return to that canyon rim in my meditation and feel the sensation of awe that reminds me:

(I am large; I contain multitudes)

Now, where shall I go from here?

The Bay Area is Amazing

What more can I say? After our long journey across America in all its splendor, California’s Bay Area hardly disappoints. Jose’s new home is in Pleasant Hill, a dense suburb with rapid transit and all the comforts of American excess. The neighborhoods are more compact, the homes smaller than I’d expect with this level of affluence, and that’s grounding. It is a pleasant and convenient place.

Last night we drove in to the Oakland hills to visit friends. The route took us through and under some of those spectacular steep grassy hills that look like golden suede, or the hide of a Sharpei. Popping out on the western side, there is The Bay, shimmering like a mirror. Said friends have a complete urban farm that runs on solar power and collected rain water. On a small lot they grow fruits, veggies, flowers and herbs. I’m enjoying one of their luscious lemons in my water.

Today I got to visit the Siddha Yoga Ashram in Oakland for a lovely lunch in their cafeteria, a browse in the bookstore. We peered into the large auditorium, dim and scented with years of devotion, then meditated in the temple, a tented garden where the flowering vines are working their way in, as if to receive blessings. What a beautiful place. Not just the surroundings but the pervasive aura, calm and loving.

Golden Gate Bridge

After the Ashram we set sail for the Marin Headlands, which took us on a magical tour over the Bay Bridge(s), across the Embarcadero, through some neighborhoods and onto the Golden Gate Bridge. I remembered how the first time I saw it I gasped “It’s RED!” I had assumed the bridge itself was golden.

San Francisco Bay

The topography of the Marin Headlands is mind boggling. Climbing up above the GGB gave me serious vertigo – the sensation that I was going to fall down, down, down.

I’ll leave the rest to pictures, and Josephine.

Friday evening, May 3rd

We’ve now been in Pleasant Hill terra firma for just a little over 48 hours. I oscillate between open-hearted wonder of being here, gratitude for sleeping in the same bed — for two nights now! —  and a certain anomie. I am not altogether rootless, and yet, it will take time to grow those roots that makes this home. So when I’m experiencing that not-here-yet, I have my free-floating fearful moments. They pass. They rerun, sometimes in dreams.

Today, open-hearted delight in taking Patrise to my beloved Siddha Yoga Ashram in Oakland for lunch, and after, a brief tour of the place. I was welcomed by Swami Siddhananda at the front desk, an old friend from years back. The very energy of the whole place welcomed me, as well as Patrise. I have arrived, I am home.
Our next destination was the Marin Headlands, where Patrise, Tango and I ritually touched the waters of the Left Coast. Connecting and grounding of another sort. After 10 days and 3,550 miles of patiently curling himself up in a small corner of the car, Tango –off leash — joyously galloped full speed up and down the beach, a bit shy of salt water, and ran and played with several other pups.
I have arrived. I am home. I will need to repeat that mantra more than once.
Tango and Patrise in the surf

We have completed our #coast2coast project. Touching the pacific, feeling its chill foam slosh around my legs, touching the salt to my lips, the mission is complete. The journey, however continues, with no less wonder.