New Job, New Culture, New World!

I’m not a stranger to roads  less travelled,  but I’ve recently entered a place that’s forcing me to chart new territory.  Last   week, I began teaching (observing, really — I won’t teach for a couple weeks)  in a place where I’m a minority, a place where the vocabulary, and the etiquette — even the position of chairs in a room —  are all intensely new.

VLR sign

Vision Loss Resources, Lyndale Ave, Mpls,  is full of chances to see things differently. Yesterday, I  accompanied an Orientation & Mobility  i.e. white cane,  Instructor, as she worked with a client.  She  used words  like “shorelining,” and “feeling for the bubbles [underfoot]“.


Heading to and from Target, we crossed streets,  went up and down escalators, and rode both bus and  light rail.

Clients at VLR start with the Braille alphabet and punctuation, then move to the next level, where they learn to read whole words. Our client yesterday doesn’t yet know enough Braille to read this directional sign. Instead, he  listened for the oncoming train, and once he realized others were  on the platform, asked them if this were the Midtown train.

LtRail Sign


feet & cane

The instructor  and I sat 10 rows back, so that, as she explained, “People will assume he’s alone.” The he is middle-aged man, blind from birth, who has been so dependent, for so many years, that he’ll probably never live outside a group home. Yet, from what I can tell, nobody  at VLR –  from the CEO to the newest  client — ever says never

My colleagues, who all seem to know I am sighted,  treat me, nevertheless,  with respect: I do  not have a guide dog, and I can see  paperclips and jump drives; at the computer,  I have to use a mouse, rather than directional arrows or JAWS to locate desktop files and open folders. Yet, they don’t  hold this against me. In fact, they are, fortunately for me,  Bodisattva-like, in their compassion.

As  the newest Newbie,  I probably notice things that others take for granted.Today, as I walked through the lobby,  I saw this poster for a Great Books Discussion Group. For a split second, I was bemused by the hand, until  I remembered I wasn’t at TGHS.  

poster Grt Books

REALLY, I’m trying to  learn to do familiar things in unfamiliar ways , e.g.”Please don’t worry about saying, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’ or ‘Did you see the latest piece about Syria?’ We all say it all the time.” or “You know that joke about how to make Helen Keller cry (Rearrange the furniture!)? Well, here, it’s for real, so push  your chair back in its place when you leave the classroom.”

Long story short: I hope my colleagues have as much empathy for ME as they do for our incredible clients. So far, so good.

[Today is just like] January in India

Despite a  forecast dangerous for State Fair goers,  it had been a fruitful morning for me, personally   – air conditioned Mass, then a promising meeting on St Cecilia’s Domestic Violence work  with the pastor, as well as  with one of my all-time  personal heroes,  Mary Louise Klas.

Once home and  planted safely  in front of my a.c., I did a broad-stroke outline of  this year’s Escape-Winter-Ice Travel Plan,  then began the memoir thrust upon me earlier in the day by Judge Klas.  My weekly ESL work  is allowing  me just the narrowest glimpse into Somali (Muslim) women’s lives, and yet  the experience has sparked my interest. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say the experience has also raised questions [aka flags],  as I watch the   women in this 23-floor high rise, so I am fascinated by Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s INFIDEL.

Reading for a sweltering day

Reading for a sweltering day

Spice Grinder for Garam Masala

Spice Grinder for Garam Masala

IN OTHER NEWS:I have started cooking Indian this summer: coriander, cumin, cardamon… 

My first batch of Garam Masala, that defining pleasure of many Indian dishes, was…well… Mary Briel,  you will remember how I had  you  taste that finely-ground brown mixture   I’d  brought back from Chennai? Remember how we decided I’d mixed up the plastic bags, and you’d just tasted Ananda Ashram DIRT,  instead of  Spencer Plaza GARAM MASALA?

Yes. Well, let me say this: my first batch of GM tasted just like India…the dirt of India.  “…you will want to  play with the flavors,” said the lovely Sri Lankan who sold me the spices and the grinder online, then called several times to check on my progress.  (I was being overzealous with the nutmeg; the GM is improving).


Ths afternoon, as we edged into the upper nineties in St Paul, I did what the women who cook at the ashram do: made a spicy chicken dish.

Indian GM ChickenThe picture won’t make you envy me, but it really is quite perfect, especially with a little of this…

IMG_4826                              (and I see it’s only 84F in Chennai today!)

Ceci’s Day

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Most elegant sun in months, and it appeared for Cecilia’s First Communion

Processional (that’s Kieran cheering as he recognizes his sister)

My bags are packed…

I loved calling Cianciana My Home for awhile:

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Certo, la vita è bella a Cianciana

Odysseus, The Cyclops, Aeneas (& Anchises): All Present & Accounted for, and…What’s THAT???

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We turned right along  the Straits of Messina and kept driving until we saw it, the volcano which,  even in the past week,  has been playfully erupting.

From Taormina -- Mt Etna

From Taormina — Mt Etna

We’ve now been two days in Catania, with better sightings of Mt. Etna, better photo ops than ever, yet I haven’t bothered. I should begin with full disclosure: I am a sucker for mountains. Anyhow, a couple days ago,  as we started the short walk up to chic, bustling Taormina,  I saw  the great, to me mystical, mountain for the first time (outside of the car ride, when Etna was something of a moving target).It  was  like seeing the Taj Mahal – those first views erase the cliché and etch the thing itself in the cerebrum, forever. No longer any need for pictures.

And Catania? It seems to be a grimier version of Palermo, and I mean that in the nicest way.

First, there were the Breakfast surprises:

Then, ah! a market to rival any I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something

LOST in Sicily

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Today was to have been  a 3-hr, 300 km drive.  About 80 km into the missed the A19 exit, I mentioned that I thought we were off course.


A few hours, several mountains, many  tunnels, and a long series  of adventures later, I tossed aside Lonely Planet  and Rough  Guide. 

Our Fiat is small, but the streets of Western Sicily are narrow. Result: large scratch. Today, we waited the 30 minutes requ

Our Fiat is narrow, but the streets of Western Sicily are narrower.  Result: large scratch. Today,  Guido reduced the scratch to niente.

View from the hotel in Brolo

View from “Sea Palace Gattopardo,” Brolo

We asked a delightful  Brolo native   if he could help us  find a hotel, and now  here we are, about 150km away from our day’s intended destination, but in  A Room with a View - and WHAT A VIEW

PILGRIMAGE to an Ancient Windy City

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“OH, NO, Signora, we never run the gondola if it is too windy. Today is wind [sic], but we will run it for you.”

Gondola, on the 750m trip up to Erice

Gondola, on the 750m trip up to Erice. Remember to double-click on this photo, so you can count all the other people who made the trip up and down the mountain with us today. Hint: it’s less than one.

As our gondola climbed the mountain, I pretended to agree with the chipper Peggy Schmidt, as she    peered around at all the other – EMPTY – gondolas and crowed,  “See? If it were a sunny day, you know we’d be fighting the crowds.”
The  city, even shrouded in mist today,  really is spectacular, and its denizens? Lovely.

Erice was founded by a people claiming descent from the Trojans. What remains today is mostly medieval – walled city, narrow streets.

The art of the cell phone

The art of the cell phone

At the end of our visit this afternoon, we visited Sicily’s finest pasticceria, “Maria Grammatico,” where I ran into Maria herself coming out of the kitchen. She was clearly flattered that I recognized her, b/c she smiled [long-sufferingly?] and took my hand.


Maria Grammatico’s

In case anybody  wondered, it's still within the Octave of Easter

In case anybody wondered, it’s still within the Octave of Easter


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