Solo in Cali Part II (Monterey)

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Coming up with a strategy for the first half of my trip was a combination of getting advice from everyone I knew, browsing AirBnB listings, looking at maps despite being a little map-disabled, and then making well-informed but ultimately random snap decisions. So after my second night in San Francisco, I woke up Wednesday morning, got an early start in my trusty rented Toyota, and headed south towards Monterey.

I found parking near what seemed an interesting spot—Cannery Row of Steinbeck fame. The woman at the parking lot I chose (mostly for its location and the availability of empty spots) decided I was a potential best friend. Greta was her name and she quizzed me on my trip, exclaimed at the fact that I was on my own, said she never could do a trip to New York alone, and made me feel kinda badass. She proceeded to tell me about her kids. Her daughter’s ex-fiancé who turned out to be gay. Her horrid ex-husband who wronged her in these specific ways (she then listed them in detail). Her dogs and two jobs. Greta demanded a hug before I walked off in the direction of Cannery Row.

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Despite being the setting of Steinbeck’s novel, the Row nowadays lacks cans, canning, or any evidence of seafood processing. The only seafood in evidence was on overpriced lunch menus, but my desire for a cold drink and my phone’s desire for a charge (I had not yet realized the car had a USB port that I could plug my house charger into) led me to a touristy restaurant with a view of the water.

After lunch, a quick perusal of the Row led me to walk swiftly away from it in search of a place to relax by the water. I found some tables outside a hotel about a half mile away. It was peaceful and uncrowded, unlike the clogged thoroughfares and souvenir shops of the Row, and I went back to my car to retrieve my journal and a pen. I got sucked into another long conversation with Greta who this time walked to her car to retrieve her two tiny fluff-dogs. She introduced me to them, and told me some more stories. I really wanted to go sit in the sunshine and look out at the water, but that was not to happen until some more bonding took place. I had to borrow a pen from her and on account of that, plus just because, I could not be rude to her. So we talked some more. Then she gave me the pen. A “really good pen” she said. I was grateful. She asked for another hug.

Back at the seaside table, there were now two large men leaning on the railing directly in front of me, blocking my view. I turned to the side, adjusting my seat to allow me a view, and set to catching up in my very neglected (of late) journal. The pen broke pretty darn quick but I did manage to limp along using just the skinny thing inside the pen that actually writes, but that is hard to hold onto. No biggie. I wasn’t writing a novel.

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At some point my AirBnB host called to welcome me to Monterey and give me the code to retrieve the key at Clementine Cottage, possibly the cutest AirBnB accommodations ever. I eventually moseyed over there and had time to read the amazing book my host and her husband had put together with an original fictional account of guests from another planet, Oob and Oona, as well as more fun things to do around Monterey than I’d ever get to.

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That relaxed and sunny evening I got dressed up, headed to Fisherman’s Wharf to see the boats in the harbor and watch the sun lowering in the sky as people fished off the pier. The sun made long stripes of light on the water and the breeze—like that in San Francisco but fishier—was a perfect reminder that it feels good to have skin on my bones. My hair flew up and over and into my face and eyes and I felt happy.

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Next I drove to a nearby town—Pacific Grove (home of the butterfly parade)—recommended by my host as being home to a restaurant with okay food and great views. At this point the views were more important to me than food. I’d made a reservation, but got there early to wander Lover’s Point, a small peninsula that thrust into the water and offered more California eye candy. Pretty soon I went in to await my table at the bar, drinking a yummy basil infused cocktail. The dinner was rather mediocre and the glass of wine nothing to write home about, but I did-not-care-one-bit because I was on the California coast and it was almost sunset.

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Dinner view

Dinner view

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I sat outside after dinner, watching the sun go down and feeling the temperature drop from cool to cold. Hustling back to my car and then to my cozy Clementine Cottage I thought about Greta. She lives in a lovely part of the world. So do I. She probably won’t make it out to see my lovely corner of Earth. How lucky I am that I got to see hers.

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Saw this at Monterey beach as I drove in from the north. A man in flight. That's on my bucket list.

Saw this at Monterey beach as I drove in from the north. A man in flight. That’s on my bucket list.

Solo in Cali part 1 (San Francisco)

SF skyline

SF skyline

California had not been on my top-ten list of places to see and I feel bad about that now. Because California is as foreign and fascinating as anything outside the borders of this country. (Well maybe not anything, but it really is very cool and has a major “wow” factor for a northeastern gal like me.)

Cali became my destination because the PSI conference was in San Diego this year and, as a board member of Postpartum Support International, I am expected to go to the conferences. And why wouldn’t I go? They are awesome! So if (I thought to myself) I was going to go all the way across the country for a three day conference, why not extend the three days to two weeks and see some stuff.

Starting the trip solo was an adventure all in itself. I had to make all my own decisions about what to do, where to go, what to see. Doing this kind of “highlight” trip was a challenge to me because I wanted to miss nothing, but knew I had to. Once I released the anxiety of “what if I do the wrong thing?” (meaning what if this choice is not going to be as awesome as that choice would have been?) I just had fun.

I saw this as I drove into SF for the first time and thought it was there just for me. My great adventure.

I saw this as I drove into SF for the first time and thought it was there just for me. My great adventure.

My first stop was New York where I was to launch early on a Monday morning. The trip started off with my Uber driver picking me up at 5:00 a.m. then proceeding to Union Square to fetch my ride share, and driving him to JFK, even though my destination was LGA. Huh? Good thing I leave nothing to chance and had given myself an hour’s wiggle room. Still, I barely made it.

My first stop in CA was San Francisco. I was destined to love it, and I did. It’s a city, for one thing. Walkable and vibrant, like the city of my childhood, NYC. It is on the water – I almost cried when, driving my rental car from the airport, I went around a slow curve and saw an expanse of blue stretching out before me. It’s the perfect temperature. I wore a light sweater and sometimes a light scarf around my neck the entire time I was there. If the sweater came off, it always went back on. Constant breeze to cool and refresh.

I sensibly parked my car in a garage for the two nights I’d be there, walked a few blocks with my absurdly heavy suitcase, giant purse, and computer bag to the AirBnB I’d booked. It was completely barebones accommodations. But the room I stayed in had furniture! And my host left me towels and a key. Why would I need more?

First off, I learned quickly that when in a city for just one day, don’t bother to learn the public transportation system. A week, yes. A day—Uber. Despite my Uber-glitch in NYC I am basically in love with it.

So what I saw in San Francisco (in one day):

  • The water. Coffee on a park bench beside the water, with the Golden Gate down to my left and the breeze keeping me delightfully cool.
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  • The Presidio. Entirely by accident. I walked for two hours or so in the vague direction of the bridge, came upon the beautifully maintained Presidio district as realization dawned: the Golden Gate Park is nowhere near Golden Gate Bridge. So I got my first Uber.
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  • Golden Gate Park. My driver became a tour consultant and we set the agenda for my day as he drove me to the part of the largest urban park in the US that he thought I would like: Stow Lake. I chatted with some elderly Japanese American men who remembered the days of the internment camps. That was humbling. And the park is exquisitely beautiful. So I spent an hour there. IMG_4642 IMG_4639
  • Sausalito. Next stop, the ferry terminal. The first Uber driver I called gave up. He said he could not find the boat house where I waited. So I tried again. This guy got to me and took me to the Embarcadero—a lively waterfront neighborhood—where I caught the ferry. Like the Staten Island Ferry from lower Manhattan, this ferry offered the perfect view of the SF skyline, as well as excellent views of both the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate.  Sausalito is a small city built on a hillside with a gorgeous waterfront “downtown” jammed with shops and restaurants, of course. By this point I was fairly obsessed with getting the views, and from my restaurant on the water I had nothing but.
    Ferry ride view.

    Ferry ride view.

    Sausalito.

    Sausalito.

    Proof.

    Proof.

  • Starbucks. While in Sausalito, I did have to stop off in a Starbucks to charge my phone for a bit, as being Uber-dependent meant I was phone-dependent and since I was taking about 300 pictures a day and texting them to my kids (and my friend Jim, of course)… well, I was using up a lot of battery. So forgive me.
  • Embarcadero. When I returned on the ferry I had my first encounter in CA with someone I knew. Pat Dunn, my son’s dear high school friend, lives and works out there. I had not seen him in ages and it was like seeing a long lost family member. We had a drink in the sunshine and caught up. I gave him a hug from his mom, and one from me, and we parted ways.

    This is Pat! The coolest.

    This is Pat! The coolest.

That night, my second in SF (I’d arrived at 7:00 the evening before), and after the epic day in which I did all of the above—I feared I was getting sick. I was flagging big time, felt clogged up and achy. I bought some empanadas at a stall in the Embarcadero, some NyQuil at a Walgreens, and headed to my AirBnB to eat in bed and put pix on Facebook. Slept a thousand hours and woke up in the morning feeling grand, ready to schlepp my not-lightly-packed belongings back to the garage and drive south.

Road Trip Yummy

Crossing the GW bridge.

Crossing the GW bridge.

On the road.

I can do anything. Stop at every Starbucks on 95, even when the latte I got at Vince Lombardi’s rest area is still half full. I can take a pee break every 45 miles with no one making wise cracks about how much water (and coffee) I drink.  I can get off the highway in favor of local roads and less convenient conveniences. Listen to Classic Vinyl on Sirius for three hours straight. Pull over at a rest area to take a nap or write something down I happen to be thinking about. Randomly decide to stop halfway to my destination at a funky motel with lavender shutters and no wifi. Change my plans! Make new plans! ANYTHING.

As Ms. GPS ticks down, reminding me when I’ll arrive at my “final destination” (at least for this leg of my trip), I might throw the little minx a curve ball. Ask her to find a nearby Apple Store. The glitches I’ve been living with on my phone are suddenly two exits away from being solved. While I’m strolling across the strange parking lot, I think about what living in this city would be like. “Wow, this mall has an Anthropolgie. I can see living here.”

I like to drive past university campuses. Work, read, or write in local coffee shops. Type local coffee shop passwords into my computer and tell it to “log in automatically.” I could be back here one day, after all.

Friendly barista.

Friendly barista.

I imagine that, instead of driving south into the lowering sun, I head to the lecture tonight about the “emergence of eco-critical art history.” I ask the barista for directions to Mitchell Hall. As I walk out with my tall black decaf he says, “Enjoy the lecture!” I get back in my car and head for the highway.

The sun falling low in the sky is almost as thrilling as the sun on the rise, glamouring the horizon at dawn when I launched this trip. Long, long ago this morning, or yesterday…. Or last week. Long shadows make me sad, but mostly happy.

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When I am on a road trip by myself, I pull over often to get out of the car and take pictures. The trip I’m on as I write this, spring emerged before me as I headed south. Any roadside bush with its branches fuzzy with baby leafbuds is worthy of my attention and immortalization via iPhone. The sun falling slantwise on a clump of crocuses or the green-gray of an awakening field. Sometimes these small moments feel like a fist slamming into my chest to awaken my heart.

The gift of crocus.

The gift of crocus.

Getting there might be the best part. But being there—that is wonderful too. When I am there, I am elsewhere. Mysterious and new, or familiar—a place from my past, perhaps, elsewhere excites me. Later on, when I head home again, elsewhere will whisper in my ear, “There is noplace like home.” By then, I’ll be tired of my road trip and ready again to believe that truism.

But while I’m in the sexy arms of another city, another state, or another stretch of road, I’m damned fickle.

Sisterhood

An island the sisterhood sailed to together where we lunched on mahi mahi with our toes digging in the sand.

The sisterhood sailed to this island and lunched on mahi mahi with our toes digging in the sand.

I have understood the beauty of sisterhood – on some level – all my life. I have two sisters, went to a girls’ school for most of elementary all the way through high school, and have some powerful lifetime friendships with kickass women. But it has been a very long time since I’ve lived with women – not counting my daughter who, somewhere along the way, went from girl to woman.

Recently I spent seven days with 8 women in St. Martin. There were nine of us there to share our love for a friend who celebrated her 50th birthday last month. Nine is such a powerful number – standing sturdily on a triad within a triad it is as invincible as the trinity cubed. 50 is such a powerful number too – so full of life lived. At 50 we have arrived, but we also have so far still to go. Nine celebrating 50 was blessedness.

The nine of us arrived on a Wednesday afternoon and two jeeps, one candy red and one lemon yellow, waited for us. We used them to zoom off to our island aerie. Well, we zoomed cautiously, as the island is riddled with speed bumps. Once there, we stripped off all semblance of where we came from and eased into the pool holding goblets of rum punch. For the next seven days, we were together. We played, ate, talked, explored, talked, swam, drank, laughed, talked, laughed, cried, and played –together— in seamless, effortless camaraderie. Oh and we talked a LOT. And laughed. Did I mention that?

Some rum punch awaited us when we arrived. Of course, not all sisters march to the same drumbeat when it comes to afternoon beverages. Thus, the beer.

Some rum punch awaited us when we arrived. Of course, not all sisters march to the same drumbeat when it comes to afternoon beverages. Thus, the beer.

We didn’t have to cook – David took care of that when he arrived at the house every day at around 6 to prepare flawless meals for us. We didn’t have to clean up, plan, shop, or set an alarm. We were –yes, spoiled. But no! I reject that. Spoiling implies doing damage to someone through overindulgrence – undeserved indulgence.

Not only did we deserve every stress free day, we were far from damaged by the process. We healed, inside and out. As working women and mothers, all 9 of us know the constant pull of things to do and plan – what am I making for dinner, I have to call that client while Billy is at the orthodontist, can I get the laundry into the dryer before I go pick up child number 1, 2, or 3 at school or drop off child number 2, 3, or 4 at hockey practice?

Responsibility is a constant thread in our lives. Worry, or at least concern, about those responsibilities is a drumbeat that we don’t recognize until it is gone. Most people go on vacation just to think about stopping at the grocery store or herding the troops in a new location. There is always something refreshing about being somewhere different, but the background music of “things to do and plan” is constant and unrelenting.

There was not one single moment of “things to do and plan” while we lived in the now-bubble of the Caribbean. Hours could go by as we floated in the pool – several of us or all of us, bobbing like buoys in the gentle blue water. Some of us might sit on pool-sunk stools at a pool-bar kind of thing where we could be immersed in the water while we drank a wine spritzer or noshed on cheese and grapes. High sun gave way to long shadows as we circled the pool, emerging, sunning on chaises, reentering, as conversation ebbed and flowed. We kvetched, we cried, we said “I love you” to one another.

Many days found us on a beach. About half of us were sun-worshippers. The other half stayed in the shade of beach umbrellas, set up for us ahead of time by beach boys with whom we would shamelessly flirt as we ordered food and drinks on the shore. Most of us wound up topless at some point, realizing the true liberty of a culture that neither demonizes nor worships naked breasts.

I honor my sisters by not posting their photos on this blog, but here is a deserted beach we visited one day and inhabited, alone, for an hour or so.

I honor my sisters by not posting their photos on this blog, but here is a deserted beach we visited one day and inhabited, alone, for an hour or so.

Long lunches and longer dinners were luxuries of connectedness and proof that we had nowhere else to be. I found the openness of time to be very comforting. I often went off by myself, to read in the hammock or write under the roof of the sprawling outdoor dining room that opened to the pool, the open-air kitchen, and the view to the sea. I never worried about missing something, falling behind, or being out of the loop. The loop was a cocoon that embraced and held us all. Even when one of us was outside the immediate close circle, we were all “looped in” to that circle.

Alone time.

Alone time.

Was it the luxurious relaxation that made the sisterhood seem so important? No, of course not. We could live in sisterhood anywhere, at any time. But having literally nothing pulling on us allowed us the gift of time and space to focus on ourselves and one another fully. FULLY. I remember it now, sitting here at my computer. The total focus on us.

One of our members had a saying she’d call out joyfully whenever moved to do so: “I love us!” We all loved us.

Showing up to dinner as dressed up or down as we wanted, braless under summer dresses, with or without pearls, with or without shoes, we could banter, cry, drink wine, groan with pleasure at the next course, laugh without holding in our bellies. And we learned that…sisterhood is freedom. Sisterhood is dirty feet and afternoon naps and the comfort of loving each other’s children. Sisterhood is when someone puts sunscreen on us so carefully that we could not have done it better ourselves. Sisterhood is dancing to one another’s play lists, reading tarot for each other, and fixing each other drinks “while we’re up.”

Sisterhood is the easy comfort of being ourselves for ourselves, and for each and every sister whose direct, loving gaze mirrors us to a T. I realized it’s easier to be me with 8 women than it is to be me with one man. Maybe this reveals my own issue. But it also is proof positive that sisterhood is home.

Pinel Island, where we spent a few blissful afternoons.

Pinel Island, where we spent a few blissful afternoons.

Stonehenge: England Part III

photo 3Turns out Stonehenge is a convenient drive from Bath. Admittedly, all of England (not including Ireland and Scotland) is smaller than the state of Michigan, and can be traversed easily in one day. But the ancient site was less than an hour away and we arrived in England with tickets already purchased. On the appointed day, we rented a car and, with Maggie riding shotgun with her iPhone GPS, we wended our way through the countryside.

Things I noticed about England:

  1. Very picturesque everything.
  2. Lots of sheep.
  3. Few if any forests, woods, or even that many stands of trees. They’ve all been cut down long since.
  4. No wooden houses (see 3).
  5. More hours of daylight (is this a latitude thing?).
  6. Unbelievably helpful, friendly people.
  7. Fantastic tea no matter where you are (I maybe should have put this as number 1).
  8. No disposable plates or cups – even museum cafes serve on ceramic plates and tea comes steeped in cunning little pots.

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But I digress. I only wanted to make the point that the drive took us past many sheep, stone and brick houses, grassy fields abutting more grassy fields, or maybe cultivated fields, or fields about to be cultivated, without benefit of trees. Except for the strategically placed picturesque trees that managed to charm us from various spots along the way.

Upon parking in the lot at Stonehenge, and acknowledging that Stonehenge and parking lot are truly paradoxical concepts, we retrieved our audio tour thingies, hopped on a trolley and headed to the fantastically old site that promised to be so drenched in history, energy, and spiritual magic that I was already trembling inside, under my breastbone.

At first we forgot about the “proper” path to take and the audio tour. Maggie and I clutched one another’s hands (she’d been once before with her program but there is no “getting used to” the place) and walked to the nearest spot we could get to the monolithic stones. I teared up, feeling awesomely moved, and flooded with the spirit of the place. The tourists there that day faded rather quickly into the recesses of my awareness.

We collected ourselves after a time, and the three of us went to the first station on the audio tour (I fell in love with audio tours at the Baths and the one at Stonehenge did not disappoint). History geeks, we loved hearing all the details about the stones, their origins, the engineering that has been figured out that was mastered by the pre-Celtic folk who built Stonehenge 4500 years ago.

We were there.

We were there.

Rising out of the English landscape the way they do, massive and organized, precise yet rough hewn, there is a feeling of inevitability to the stones. They clearly belong there, though they originated many miles away. The astronomy, the engineering, the ancient religion, the very real energy field that surrounds the site, all of it creates awe. Awesome is a word that meant something real that day.

My favorite stones. Maybe not as elegant as some more smoothly hewn, these just did something for me.

My favorite stones. Maybe not as elegant as some more smoothly hewn, these just did something for me.

We tried to find a quiet spot to settle as near to them as we could get. We spoke to the spirits who reside there, made an offering, left behind words of intention and gratitude. photo 1

 

The Roman Baths: England Part II

photo (4)After the drama of the first installment of “Dream Come True: England,” we landed at Heathrow. Just writing that word –Heathrow –is thrilling.  Heathrow of Love Actually fame…. I was a little disappointed not to see oceans of people hugging and kissing everywhere, but that’s okay. I knew I’d get a big hug once I got to Bath, where Maggie is living this spring.

Jet lag began in the form of my body and brain saying, “Wait, why is the sun out? Why is everyone drinking coffee? Why aren’t we in bed? It’s 2:30 in the morning!”  But sure enough, the day was in full swing in London, England, where it was (after customs and baggage claim) 9:30 a.m. The effects of a prolonged flu, a horrible day of mass transit combined with codeine induced vomiting, a seemingly endless interlude in terminal 4 of JFK, and a restless, leg cramped, neck twisting 5 hours on a plane during which I slept about 3, in spurts, well, let’s just say they were taking their toll.

Countering all that, however, was my over-the-top excitement and happiness to be on foreign soil, to be seeing Maggie in her new temporary home, and to be at the beginning of 8 days stretching in front of me. 8 English days.

Accessing public transport from Heathrow was quite easy. Trains, busses, cabs, all are handy options. We caught a bus to Reading, about 45 minutes away, where we were dropped at the train station. There we caught a train to Bath, with not much wait time. After a blurry hour on the train that passed lots of sheep and stone cottages, during which time I dozed and clutched a ticket no one ever took from me, we arrived in the prettiest, quaintest city I’ve ever seen. Bath looked delicious upon first glance and only got better as the days passed.

Phone contact is a challenge when you have not gotten an English SIM card with which to call anyone on English soil. So I needed Wi-Fi in order to text or call Maggie using Viber (the coolest internet based phone system ever). We found an internet café and paid royally for the privilege of logging on and texting Maggie. We walked away from the train station, she walked towards it, and we met within minutes (Bath is not so big). She literally ran/skipped all the way down the street to us. A little verklempt, I was rather teary by the time she threw herself into my arms.

After we checked into the hotel, the afternoon is a blur of old architecture, the Avon river, a late lunch at a cunning little place largely wasted on us (well not wasted on Maggie as she was not a zombie), finding a store to swap out my SIM card, and a late afternoon cocktail at a bar right on the river. In bed by 8, I slept 10 hours and the next day felt myself becoming human again after all the sick and all the travel.

The Avon River runs through Bath. Everything looks old, and most of it is.

The Avon River runs through Bath. Everything looks old, and most of it is.

View from the riverside bar that is downstairs from Maggie's flat.

View from the riverside bar that is downstairs from Maggie’s flat.

Brilliant blue skies, chilly breezes, warm sun and eternally blossoming trees and flowers – that’s what I remember about all the days of Bath. Some trees had been in blossom when Maggie arrived in early February, and by mid-April, the whole landscape was green dashed with color.

We had tickets to see the Roman baths, right in the center of town. We spent over four hours wandering the spaces within the superbly restored complex, which included not only many spa rooms – from the main pool to a caldarium to a “cold plunge” room – but a temple, too. The caldarium was a sauna room where fires would be lit beneath the raised floor. Visitors in ancient times would wear wooden sandals to keep their feet from burning.

The temple was in honor of the Roman goddess Minerva, as well as the Celtic goddess Sulis. I love this tidbit: apparently when the Romans arrived in Bath and found out about the healing waters of the hot spring, they knew the site was sacred. The learned of Sulis, the goddess who resided there. She reminded them of Minerva. I can hear them now, “Oh, cool. Sulis is like your version of Minerva, so that’s awesome. Let’s call her Sulis Minerva now.”

And so they did. Sulis Minerva was revered and favors were sought. Maggie and I definitely asked her for some recognition as we whispered her name, our gratitude, and our requests, and made an offering to her in one of the pools.

The main "pool" in the baths. Originally this was under a high vaulted ceiling but is now open to the sky. This would be where women and men could hang out together and relax.

The main “pool” in the baths. Originally this was under a high vaulted ceiling but is now open to the sky. This would be where women and men could hang out together and relax.

Benevolent Gorgon's face in partially reconstructed frieze. Very iconic image for this site.

Benevolent Gorgon’s face in partially reconstructed frieze. Very iconic image for this site.

I have been at an ancient site once before – Poverty Point in Louisiana. An early native site, thousands of years old, and thousands of years older than the native peoples we learn about in school. It is a sequence of massive earth works, majestic and awesome, with energy swirling over the land. But the Roman baths and temple were my first experience with such a volume of artifacts and an extensively excavated site. The engineering feat alone – how they created drains and diverted the flow of water as they wished, from this pool to this one, and the giant vaulted ceiling over the main bath (no longer there)—were mind blowing. Also, long colonnades from end to end of the massive site. Breathtaking.

Only intact Roman colonnade in Britain. It stretches the entire length of the baths.

Only intact Roman colonnade in Britain. It stretches the entire length of the baths.

Outside the baths is a small square onto which various shops open, some restaurants, and the eastern aspect of the huge medieval Bath Abbey. So God and the goddess are neighbors. The Christian history of England meets the Roman history and the Celtic history all in that single city, in that square, in the timelessness of no-time. We can walk back to 1000 AD or 100 BCE by entering this church, or that temple, walking on an ancient road, or crossing a historic bridge. This was a feeling that struck me again and again during my time in England as magical, indescribable, and very moving.

The doorway to the Bath Abbey is just feet from the doors to the old baths and temple.

The doorway to the Bath Abbey is just feet from the doors to the old baths and temple.

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From the top of the abbey one can look down upon the baths. The house of God and the temple of the goddess are friendly neighbors in Bath, England.

Dream Come True: England Part I

Virgin aloftWarning, I don’t get to England in this installment, but bear with me.)

I don’t usually start writing anything by coming up with a title, but today I am picking my title (Dream Come True) and sticking with it. Corny, sentimental, trite… yeah yeah yeah. But it just so happens to be true in this particular case.

Looking back at my ENTIRE ADULT LIFE, during which I wanted one thing – to travel –I wonder what kept me home? Well, I have a pretty good idea. I got sucked into the poverty mentality that so imbued my family of origin and then my family of choice. I also gave up all control over my own decisions, in some really strange ways that no one casually looking on would have realized since I seemed so strong, determined, and “together.” (Refer to my last blog!) But I viewed partnership as a non-negotiable situation where every decision I made had to be “approved of” by my spouse. Not the little decisions like what color to paint the bathroom (he didn’t care) or what to make for dinner (he liked everything), but anything that was about me and for me. (We were lucky that we saw eye to eye about virtually all child-related decisions.) This was a collaborative delusion, but I take most of the responsibility for imposing that insane stricture upon myself.

I also did not have financial autonomy. I mean you never really do if you are splitting the bills with someone. But outside the running of our lives, it wasn’t till I was 25 years into the marriage that it occurred to me to have my own savings account. And now that I have my own everything account, I am truly liberated. No matter what comes my way in life, I will never, ever have a joint bank account again. With anyone. For any reason.

So, when my daughter was about to head off to England for a semester, suddenly my lifelong “wanting to go to England” became a very real “going to Europe.” To visit her during her semester abroad experience became the most normal of expectations, and her father Dan and I planned to take the trip together in mid-April.

Prior to flying, my body decided to see just how determined and tough I actually am. I came down with an epic, unprecedented flu. We’re talking 102+ fevers daily, body aches, wracking cough, and orders from the doctor: “don’t mess around, go to bed, and don’t get up until further notice.” He knew I was flying five days later. Four days later, he called. That means he was concerned. He’s been my doctor for 24 years and I’ve never actually seen him concerned before. (Except the time he had to put my son in the hospital for croup but that’s another story.)

The day of my flight, I had to head to JFK on my own with all the luggage because Dan was going to be making it totally last minute after work as he got a ride to the airport during rush hour traffic. I spent the car/bus/train/bus ride from my house, into the city, and out to JFK having a violent reaction to my codeine cough medicine… in the form of uncontrollable vomiting. Ever so fun while in a car. And bus. And train. My primary thought for much of that journey was: “Can someone shoot me now?”

Yes, body, universe, anyone who is paying attention: I’M VERY TOUGH, VERY STUBBORN, and at that particular point in time, VERY DETERMINED TO GET TO ENGLAND.

JFK terminal 4.

JFK terminal 4.

I finally arrived at JFK, dragging a suitcase, my shoulders dangling with various bags, terminal 4 – Virgin Atlantic. (I’ve never understood why so many airlines have the word virgin in their names—is there something about a virgin that makes us feel we’re in good hands as we hurtle through the air 30,000 feet above the earth? What?) Trying not to cough and give myself away, literally bent over with exhaustion (it was now 3:30 p.m. and I got out of bed for the first time in 5 days 7 long hours ago), I dragged myself to the counter and the charming, red-clad, smiling Virgin Atlantic employee. She looked at my passport and heard me tell her “flight 45” and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. That plane is still grounded in London and we are not sure when, or if, it will take off today.”

I did not really hear her, because I was trying to focus on taking my next breath. “What?” I asked.

She went on: “If it doesn’t take off by 1:30, we’ll cancel it and put you up in a local hotel.”

“1:30 AM?” I asked, confused. And HORRIFIED.

“Yes.”

“Can I at least give you my bag?” At that point getting rid of that bag was all I could think about. The idea of schlepping the huge suitcase around JFK terminal 4 all afternoon and evening made me want to lie down on the floor and doze off on the spot.

“You may need it if….”

“No. I won’t. I have what I need in here.” I wiggled the shoulder from which dangled my carry on, replete with contact solution, glasses, toothbrush, pair of clean underwear and a few other necessaries. And a book.

I ditched the suitcase – I mean checked it, then sat in the supremely noisy, uncomfortable arrivals waiting room for an hour and a half until she would be able to tell me more. I literally slept in an upright position, arms twined in knots among the various straps of my bags. Nowhere to lean my head, nowhere to put my bags, I became a marble statue of exhaustion. Every 15 minutes or so I cracked open one eye to peer at the wall clock and see the time inching forward. If only, I thought, the next time I look an hour will have passed. Never happened.

Finally it was time to visit my cherry-red pal at the counter. “Good news!” she said when she saw me. (She remembered me. Pretty impressive, but I am sure I was memorable to her for how AWFUL I looked and how PATHETIC I was.)

Skeptical, I asked, “What is it?”

“The flight is in the air from London and we anticipate it will turn around by 1:00 a.m. at the latest.” (7 hours late.)

At this point I’d have been grateful for a crappy airport hotel to just lie down in, but realizing I’d still get to England at some point on Saturday after all perked me up a bit. I headed to the gate, at last, and called Dan. He was en route, and we both realized that had we known all this in time I could have just driven down with him. Oh well.

Eventually 1:00 a.m. became 9:30 p.m. They had the super awesome idea of using a different plane, instead of waiting for the one coming from England. We were impressed with this strategic thinking that got a shit-ton of frustrated, exhausted travelers out of the terminal and into the air.

Dan arrived, we ate a highly unsatisfactory meal served by incompetent servers at a JFK version of an Irish pub. I removed my contact lenses, bought a pillow from Hudson News, and we waited. Boarded. Settled (in different rows). Slept.

Next thing I knew I was being served truly delicious tea – yes, on an airplane – and that’s when I knew for sure I was headed for England. I opened the shade next to my seat and saw the dawn flooding through it. Grainy eyed, stiff, pretty much beaten-up by a helluva 24 hours, I smiled. This was joy, for sure.

To be continued.

Dawn, heading into the sun, England a mere hour away....

Dawn, heading into the sun, England a mere hour away….