Jogging up Sabino Canyon a middle-aged African-American man wearing an MLK T-shirt calls out to me, “Hey kiddo, nice to see you today!”
“How are you doing?” I ask.
“Outstanding! Have I told you this one: Why did the raisin take a prune to the prom?”
“Nope, I haven’t heard it.”
“Because he couldn’t find a date.” We both giggle. Fist pump, and he continues jogging, “Good health and happiness to you!”
This smiling man stops to talk with everyone. People are glad to see him. Nearly every time I’m walking in Sabino Canyon, he’s there jogging.
The world is a beautiful place, wrote Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He’s right. And the people are mostly beautiful, too.
If only world’s most powerful ones were more empathetic, less selfish, more compassionate, less consumed with money, and more willing to save our planet.
If you harbor concerns about your flight and are flying into London Heathrow, look for troubleshooting agents in the left-hand corner before you approach the gates.
Magic — like walking through the brick wall to Hogwarts in Harry Potter books — may win the day for you, as it did for me.
American Airlines kept changing our flights to Madrid, then Bordeaux, France, the start of Claire & Sheila’s Excellent Adventure. Claire — a Maine friend of more than forty years — and I booked “reward” tickets more than a year ago.
On May 14, our meeting date in Madrid, long-made plans turned topsy-turvy. My flight arrived an hour early so I quickly texted Claire: “I’m running to get on your morning flight to Bordeaux!” Meanwhile, she texted me, “I missed the flight because of a workers’ strike. I’ll be on your 4:20 p.m. flight.” Searching for each other in the Madrid airport, which turned out to be way more complicated than expected, we finally met outside.
“Can you believe it, we’re finally starting our excellent adventure!” We laugh heartily.
Claire and I spent hours prior to the trip grumbling by phone about “Evil AA (American Airlines). “I’m so done with them!” we frequently told each other.
We tried to get on the same flight across the pond — Claire from Boston and me from Philly — but AA’s phone reps wouldn’t have it.
The only other thing we grumbled about was the weirdly mispronouncing GPS that was supposed make driving around in France go smoothly.
“HA, I hate her,” I often pronounced, following GPS’s garbled directions over narrow, curvy mountain roads, trying to reach tiny villages only an hour away…
Our trip is now a rose-infused, shiny-leafed vineyard, bike-riding, two baguette plus Rose wine dream.
Still, it’s only right that I commend the ponytailed AA agent, who on June 4, persisted in changing my flight home to Tucson at London Heathrow, otherwise I would have waited for seven hours in Dallas (my least favorite airport, in tornado heaven).
“Smashing!” she announced, when she managed to get me on an earlier flight to Phoenix. Magic, indeed.
In flight when I woke from my four-hour nap, flight attendants were passing out GOURMET chocolate ice cream. What a lovely surprise. AA redeemed itself.
Air France: Printed on my May 24 boarding pass from Charles de Gaulle to Florence was Gate 47. Two minutes before takeoff my name blasted over the PA calling me to Gate 54, where I met a nasty agent, yelling: “I’ve cancelled you from the flight! Yes, you weren’t here for boarding. ”
“What?? I didn’t hear any announcements about a gate change,” I replied.
“Well, we can’t do that because it’s too noisy.”
I finally boarded the flight after more arguing, already unhappy about paying AF 44 euros to check a small suitcase.
My June 3 return flight from Florence to Paris, was delayed for six hours due to “technical reasons.” Exhausted when passengers finally lined up, a French lawyer explained “Watching the grounded plane I didn’t witness any mechanical crews. Mon dieu, It’s a personnel problem. Air France does this all the time. They’re so unprofessional.”
On board, a so-called “flight attendant” dressed in jeans and a t-shirt wore a security pin. You can’t get a glass of water without paying. Finis, Air France!
Fellow/Sister adventurers, don’t let airport mishaps stop you! And, there’s always Turkish Airlines where the pilot addresses the “dear children” before takeoff. There’s a menu welcoming you on your seat, which features better than edible food and a smashing chocolate mousse.
Burnt red tile rooftops in Florence, Italian voices wafting up from the overcrowded streets, and bathroom bidets remind me that I’m far from home.
No longer at the Tuscany Villa where we six women bonded — hailing from Washington State, Hawaii, Arizona, New York, New Mexico, LA, and New Orleans — we’re now in bustling Florence. A flurry of roses, poppies, olive or cherry trees aren’t visible from my hotel window, I can tell you that.
But each of you is a distinctive blossom (I’m too tired to cleverly figure out which).
How can I adequately thank Sheila Bender for helping me to see the forest through the trees, and for her generous spirit? Probably by continuing to write my life. I have such admiration for her skillful gardening.
Lee — a daughter of Sicily — deems me an iris. With her quips, one-liners, and hearty laugh she would be a great stand-up comic. Whether or not she creates pandemonium with children’s stories, she’s committed to the best words.
Nancy — previously devoted to writing children’s nonfiction, she’s been brave to switch to poetry in the past five years, and to plant herself in our villa garden — despite her helicopter children’s protests.
Julie — a rose is a rose is a rose. Exuding calm and positivity, a master of onomatopoeia (or maybe synonyms?), she will finish her “Spacious Unknown” on the Italian coast. She inspires me with her adventurous and intuitive nature.
Lucille — precise, caring, and a talented professional, she’s solid and straightforward. I hope she finds the exact rose she’s looking for. She may be a New Yorker but she’s clearly not provincial.
Rhonda — no bullshit for her, strong and sturdy. She’s gone through a lot and will help others grow by telling her story, of which I have no doubt. Her sharp images have stayed with me.
May your writing flourish, wherever it takes root.
Mon Dieu, the South of France is exquisite! Join me for a quick peek at Claire & Sheila’s Excellent Adventure! Perhaps I’ll dispatch a few photos and not say much (What! Yes I’m tired after driving three hours today).
What an amazing trip my Maine friend of forty years and I have been having! We’re staying in a castle tonight, on our way from Sarlat to Provence. Drinking one or two glasses of red wine nightly has become a delightful habit. I’m looking forward to sipping Rose and wearing lighter clothing in Provence.
Sarlat, the heart of the Dordogne region, was magnifique. We stayed at the Lanterne, and were greeted by our wonderful hosts Jayne and Ian Holliday, Brits who wanted “to try something different.” The smiling, witty couple moved to France a year ago.
Saved by history, the Dordogne villages we visited included Beynac (my favorite) — complete with a Game of Thrones castle — high atop a hill overlooking the Dordogne River.
Je me souviens, as they say in Quebec. French culture’s attention to beauty, relaxation, and food is indisputable. Uplifting. No matter what, a beautifully presented dejeuner and a glass of wine — or two — reminds me how grateful I am. For now, bon soir, mes amis!
Ok, chatting with Stephen King was pretty cool. His author presentation opening the Wordplay Book Festival in Minneapolis — of which my amazing daughter-in-law is the founding director — was super funny, smart, and humane. King’s fan base and reputation as the second wealthiest author on the planet is astonishing (after J.K. Rowling, last I looked). But he’s an ordinary guy.
Having owned the Oz Children’s Bookstore in Southwest Harbor, Maine, for fifteen years, I had met King before. When I told him Friday night that my son was born in Ellsworth, and had been driving the RBR around Minneapolis for the past two days, he said, “Let’s go see this Mainer.”
I took meticulous notes at King’s Saturday morning talk, quotes and all, on my iPhone. Somehow I deleted them. What I remember most: King believes his writing can dispel anxieties, especially when it crosses over to the supernatural. It’s so subtle the reader may not recognize the transformation, but sure, it serves as an escape from the unease of real life. Guess the reader worries so much about the horror she’s immersed in, small worries disappear.
In a way, I’m glad I deleted my notes/quotes. This morning I met three more ordinary people, who haven’t amassed a fraction of King’s notoriety, but each contributed to my faith in humans.
First Conrad the Lyft driver : He picked me up at my Minneapolis hotel. We talked about Judaism, Conrad being super religious and me being super secular. Upon our arrival at the airport Conrad handed me a dollar bill, telling me it would be good luck for my trip. Also, he said, “You must do a mitzvah,” or help someone I meet, which I’ll be more than happy to do.
At the Minneapolis airport: Amanda, a beautiful young American woman, who works in the coffee industry, and lives in Lima, Peru, told me, “You must go to Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina in Florence! It’s to die for!” She encouraged me to travel more.
And what about the calm, efficient woman who waited on us at the French Meadow cafe for breakfast? She took care of every diner’s requests with a smile. I told her she was fantastic. Inspiring, really.
The waitperson, the business woman, the Lyft driver, and Stephen King encouraged me to rock on…Now I’m waiting for American Airlines to get our plane going to Philadelphia, from where I’ll board my flight to France.
Oh, and did I say that a really nice American Airlines employee helped me check in my suitcase, which I’m happy I did.
We made it. Packing up in our tiny Ibis Budget hotel room in Bordeaux, we’re heading to the Dordogne countryside. Onward for Claire & Sheila’s Excellent Adventure!!!
Enter the monastery. My shift was from noon to 3 p.m.; folding clothes would be my bag. The well-organized, super well-stocked free-clothing shop welcomed migrants already approved for political asylum: “Born to be UA Wildcat” onesies for newborns; jeans for every size and shape; colorful Southwestern tops and dresses; even size one sparkly boots for little ones on their way to Minnesota.
We were ready. But the building was quiet today, not like last Friday when I dropped off clothing for the newcomers. “We’re expecting 400 more people tonight,” one woman said then. We had seen people arriving in large Department of Homeland Security buses as we strolled by on our way to a movie at the Loft Cinema.
“There are only 70 people here, with 25 more expected later,” the same woman said today.
So I quietly folded a giant bag of new unisex t-shirts. Apparently, the sorting room emptied out prior to Easter. Not anymore. Crates stacked high, marked with their contents, await the next influx of migrants. Human beings who have somehow made it from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador. Places no longer hospitable to them.
Here, three meals a day await them in the immaculate comedor (dining room).
I say “Hola” and smile at everyone I pass.
This home away from home exudes kindness. Formerly occupied by a few elderly nuns, it welcomes all. Spanish-speaking volunteers accompany a mother and her two children, each carrying a donated new pillow for dreaming sweet dreams.
Last week I felt heartened watching so many smiling kids as they blazed around the monastery yard on toy vehicles and tiny bikes. Going fast. Weaving between fruit trees. Trying out their new world.
I wonder what the family’s next stop in our scary country will offer?
I wish them well.