CLOSE CALL

Finn joined me in Atlanta with what I assumed was a summer cold, and by Athens I was hounding pharmacies for antihistamines and saline drops for both of us.

We carried on, easy to do in one of the world’s best cities —

Then an email from mn.gov informed me that someone I’d “been in contact with during the past 15 days” had just tested positive for COVID-19. It was one thing to consider changing flights and Airbnb’s because of the fires raging in Rhodes. Going into quarantine? Aargh. But we knew what we had to do.

Iva recommended a good lab. Sadigue and Amir came along with us — we’d spent a lot of time with them in the previous couple days — and off we all went for a Rapid Test.

In the end, all four of us tested negative, we said our good-byes, and went off to Porto Rafti for fishing and seafood.

The Greek Kitchen

It’s been hot, and I was This Close to excusing us from our cooking class. Fortunately, Finn – and my better judgment – prevailed. Best experience we’ve had. So far.

Delightful, smart, affirming teacher, plus companions-for-a-day to talk with and laugh at [yes] and with, from Wisconsin, S. Korea by way of the UK, and Austria.

We began at Athens’ Central Market, a place I’d warned Finn about: the smells, the sights, the screaming vendors. He loved it.

Lamb, goat, pork & etc etc etc
Whole rows of sea critters

In the end, as the teacher picked out vegetables for our lesson, Finn eventually (not here – ) chose figs for us.

Friends for a Day: The Greek Kitchen Gang

All Athens, just not Every THING

We’re in the foreground, Acropolis and Parthenon behind us… and that is as close as Finn and I will get. Just this morning, we chose Ermou Street/shopping over waiting in line to climb the Acropolis and visit the Parthenon. Or even waiting in line for the (imho…) spectacular Parthenon Museum. Yes!

Paying Attention: by Sharon’s Daisy

Really, it’s crazy!

But 2020, the election, both gone

2021, the future, still hazy.

Really, it’s crazy!

Attend to this time-lapsed prayer plant by Daisy

Attention swerves this way, then wheels anon

Really, it’s crazy!

But 2020, the election, both gone.

For Peter

I had a day shy of two weeks in my Massachusetts quarantine spot, a rustic setting, with lazy days of walking, reading, Zooming, cooking (eating). And then one morning, “Could you come a day early?” And so I did, and so did he — Peter Alasdair Briel.

The Little Prince seems sure of his place in the universe as his mother and father prep for the journey.
Seamus: “BRING IT ON”.

RAINY DAYS AND SATURDAYS
Seamus, if you could entertain Joey for a couple minutes, that’d be great.

That’s How the Light Gets In

Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” has sometimes felt like a cliché to me, something to toss around when the personal or collective tunnel is in all likelihood ending. Tonight, though, it’s much more truth than cliché.

Whether you’re reading this in India, Thailand, Hong Kong, Israel, Greece, Switzerland, France, the UK, or the US, I’m afraid the killing of George Floyd by police in our Twin City across the Mississippi River is known to you. In the viral video, his calls for help – “I can’t breathe” – mark a stark contrast to the three silent police officers who look on as their brother officer plants his knee on George Floyd’s neck, applying BVD (“The Carotid”).

The day after the killing, fearful of the fires and looting that had occurred in Minneapolis, many Saint Paul businesses near me – cafes, restaurants, shops – hired carpenters to board up windows.

That day after the killing, as I took my two short neighborhood walks – part of requisite pandemic therapy – I saw what quickly became commonplace.

Tonight we still hear the sirens and helicopters, but many fewer, and by now most of us can tune them out. We’re not out of the tunnel, but let me mix that metaphor even more, and say that, yes, there is some light about to come through the crack.

Quite possibly, the desperate hunt for hope has started to reveal some of its treasure. Around the corner from my apartment this afternoon, I came across this group producing a mural to cover the boards that had been put up over the windows.

Work in Progress on Selby Avenue, Saint Paul

And there’s more.
The other day, a friend and her son – some of Totino-Grace High School‘s finest – designed their own Anthem, this one in the form of a question.

I’ll have one in my window soon. And maybe inside my sunroom, too, facing me, so I can adapt the spiritual practice (cf, below)

In her letter introducing the sign, Christy recalled putting a different one outside her home as she began working against the Marriage Amendment in 2012. Everyday when she looked at the “Vote No” sign in her lawn, she prayed for those who had gone before her – at lunch counter sit-ins, marches: people who sometimes gave their lives to clear the way for people like her and her husband and their children.Christy referred to this as a spiritual practice, and of course it was.

Now, I need to start that, too.

(RING THE BELLS THAT STILL CAN RING)

Technology in the Time of Corona Virus

  I don’t care that the Times is printing articles about Zoom Fatigue. I’m still charmed.

Tuesday Centering Prayer usually takes place in the neoGothic sanctuary of St Thomas More Catholic Church here in St Paul. For over a month, we’ve been centering via Zoom. Others – from Minnesota, California, Nebraska – have also joined.

Two weeks ago a group of friends from the convent, some of whom had not seen one another in 50 years, met for a Zoom visit. We all told one another how great we looked, though later some of us probably said to ourselves, “I wouldn’t have recognized —–.” Anyhow, by popular demand, we’ll meet again this week.

And a few days ago, the Retired Teachers Monthly Luncheon metamorphosized into a lunch-less Zoom meetup. I was mildly nervous the teachers (including me) would talk too much, but our facilitator graciously moved us along. I’ll bet we’ll do it again sometime.

But by far, the technological gift that’s offered me both the most heart-satisfying and heart-rending moments has been Zooming classes with some of The Melissa Network, based in Athens. These women, most of them young mothers, would normally be gathering for class in one of the generous spaces upstairs or downstairs. Or weather-permitting, we might be having class in the the garden of  Melissa’s gracious  old house near Viktoria Square.

“Melissa” is Greek for honeybee, and consciously or not, the name describes the low buzz which would emanate from groups of these migrant women,  mostly African and Middle Eastern, as they gather most weekdays for companionship, as well as classes and therapy of all sorts. They’ve nearly all made the sea voyage, a sense of which a brilliant young American writer, filmmaker, and Melissa teacher taught them to capture on film.

The women would have a hot lunch, and before or after that, French Press or tea; their preschool children went to daycare downstairs.

These days, as I say, we Zoom. We started with grand intentions (mine), dividing into Farsi-Arab-French-speaking ESL students; then I added an advanced conversation group; after that, a basic ESL, and eventually, a Melissa Moms’ English-speaking group, to which Elizabeth, has brought her Hong Kong expertise as artist and facilitator of other Zoom groups.

But things happen, don’t they?

I’ve let go of the Basic ESL, and I’ve merged Farsi- and French-speaking ESL students. I’ll probably merge some more next week. This week and also last week, two women wrote me to say they were now homeless, so wouldn’t make it to class. Another has lost wifi, and yet another has moved to a place without a connection. They can Zoom on their phones, most do, but Wifi is the great issue. When you borrow your neighbors’ signal w/o mentioning it to them, you fade in and out. When you change apartments, it takes awhile to get a SIM with WiFi capabilities. Some never will.

Sometimes I think of starting a Women’s Wifi Collective (JK).

But back to Athens — because Greece responded quickly and strictly to the pandemic, some places in the city are now starting to open. The mothers we met with today, though, aren’t at all sure they trust the city. To make the point, one of them sent me this video from outside her neighborhood market: social distancing outside, and a few masks, but not so indoors. We’ll see what next Thursday’s meeting brings to the discussion. And the Thursdays after that.

Melissa English Class back in the day.

Barcelona

Everybody told me I couldn’t not visit Sacrada Familia. Elizabeth had spent much of last summer in the city, so she’d been around the outside, which itself has stories to tell. This time, she went along inside with me.

Inside and out, it has a dreamlike quality that Gaudí surely intended.

Exterior –

Eastern facade: Nativity

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For me, the other great adventure in Barcelona was visiting the studio where Elizabeth worked, learned, and produced her prints last summer.

The 3 of them visited in 2, occasionally 3, languages. Ask me about the evening we visited — in its own way, a dream.

E. With her 2 mentors — in one of the (many) rooms in the studio.

Boston/Worcester Before All

Joey, 6 months, who doesn’t appear in the photos, had his first real sickness over Christmas. Caught by an alert daycare provider,the wheezing eventually subsided (nebulizer, you have to love it), and by all accounts,he’s now nearly fully recovered.

Seeing the “Nutcracker” was a dream — for Mary, for me – thanks to Megan. They posed beforehand with two of the dancers.

Uncle Tom’s gift of Indiana Jones – his dog’s look alike – was another dream for MIB. This Indy is probably as close as she’ll get to a pet at this point, but who knows?

Santa or somebody else gave Seamus and Mary nerf guns for Christmas. I may have reservations, yet as is evidenced above, these two are now a regular Bonnie & Clyde poster.

Oksana, great friend from Athens, made the trip from Boston to Worcester.





Image

Aeolus’ Bag of Winds, et cetera

LAST weekend at Porto Rafti, where the sea and the sky matched the Aegean and the flag.

Visual Description of 3 photos from resort town 45 minutes from downtown                                                 1: From our table at lunch, over pots of white flowers, across the road, to the Aegean Sea.                    2: Exterior, Whitewashed Greek Orthodox chapel, with blue-and-white Greek flag.                                     3: Shoreline of the Aegean, deep blue sea, and in the background a pyramid-shaped island

THIS Weekend in Athens

As it was  for Odysseus and his crew, however, Aeolus’ bag of winds can be brutal in Greece.  People in cafes, forced away from the ubiquitous  umbrellas-and-tables outside most cafes, move inside, pleased to bring themselves in where it’s warm. At the best (imo) cafe in my Exarchia neighborhood,  The Blue Bear,  their pets are welcome inside, too. 

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(Visual description of photo inside The Blue Bear Cafe: A young German Shepherd, standing guard inside the cafe, where his owner is finishing up a latte. I insert this photo of 8-month-old Mojo because he is, as Tom Briel said, “Indy’s brother from another father” – Indiana (Jones) is Tom’s 8-month-old German Shepherd.)

As I was saying, the winds change everything here. 

–> Passengers can’t take ferries to the islands.

–> People on the streets don heavy coats, scarves, and some of them, gloves and  hats. The temp as I write this morning: 53F. 

—> My herb garden’s 3 plants are toppled a couple times a day, but still require watering because the gusts dry out the soil so quickly.  

Visual Description of photo: Edge of terrace, Elizabath’s studio. 8′ and very thin pieces of bamboo lie on the ground, propping up rosemary, basil, and thyme plants

The bamboo overhead awning on the terrace, shown above supporting my tender herbs,  came down in September’s hurricane. I haven’t done anything about getting it re-positioned or replaced. No, I’ll leave that to another season, and to an  eye  more seasoned, artistically-speaking,  than mine. 

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One thing that’s  never out of season for me, and I don’t care  how many times I’ve a said it:  Melissa Network, the NGO for young women refugees.   The other ESL volunteer is an amazing young woman, an experienced ESL teacher. We’ve taken to teaching beginner students together, but honestly? Her lessons, her props, her manner with our students are all so fine, I sometimes  just stand around soaking in what she does and how she does it —

img_2914Visual description of photo: foreground, on table, an open laptop shows Joan Baez about 10 years ago, sitting in what appears to be a  kitchen, holding her guitar and preparing to sing “We Shall Overcome.”  On the right side of the table are some Melissa students; on the left, several more; this group is purposely edited out of the photo.  The young teacher at the end of the table is standing before a whiteboard, as she finishes her lesson. 

If you look at the laptop, you’ll see one of my own props, Joan Baez. I’ve used her part-Farsi version of “We Shall Overcome” in previous visits,  but believe I’m  only now understanding how to Teach a Text to Beginners. I’d like to say it’s the online ESL course I’m completing, but really? It’s pure Trial and Error and Joan, who explains that  she dedicates the verse in Farsi “to the people of Iran.”  Most of our students in this class speak Farsi (though not all are from Iran). It’s not unusual to hear them wailing a line or two in English or Farsi, as they pick up their books and head out of the classroom. 

By way of follow-up the other day, I tried to get them to name things they were not afraid of. That’s pure American optimism-cum-naivete, and you can see they had no time for that. Sidenote: sometimes the young women  have a poetry workshop (as they did after this class) with a brilliant, MacArthur Grant recipient,  much-published American-married-to-a-Greek poet. I looked at what they said, and I wrote down,  and thought — this has poetry potential. Doesn’t it?

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After “We are not Afraid”: Students flipped it before I had a chance to revise the topic, So here’s  what I’m afraid of…

Visual description: Whiteboard, with the words NOT AFRAID OF at the top. As explained above,the students were having none of it. Instead,  they named these things that they are afraid of (in this order…):  centipedes, snakes,dark,  rats, mice, sea, bees, myself, injection, everything.

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