Saturday, June 26, 2010

Viva La Vida!

Mexico City is for lovers. M and I, on our pre-honeymoon (luna de miel), feel right at home amidst the couples kissing on the crowded sidewalks, flirting at the feet of splashing fountains. Compared to Turkey, where hand-holding seemed a risky gratuity, this is as refreshing as the cool mountain air that keeps the largest city in the world breezy and light. Smiles are easy to come by. No one is in a hurry, except in the giant pastry shops, which are apparently a requisite for an enjoyable Saturday afternoon. You can set your watch by the late afternoon thunderstorms that let loose a fury of warm rain to drive everyone home. Whether cozy inside our high-ceilinged hotel room, reading, or tromping around in my Tevas, I relish these storms.

Yesterday we rode the metro, which, at 3 pesos (about 23 cents) a ride, is the cheapest in the world. It rocked us to Coyoacan, place of the Coyotes, a quaint tree-lined village that was Frida Khalo´s hood from birth until adulthood. (thank you Leilani for the recommendation!) We visited her Casa Azul, a lovely courtyard-enclosed home where she painted from her bed and navigated her tumultuous relationship with Diego Rivera, whose toad-like appearance is hard to reconcile next to her smoldering beauty. I marveled at her painting entitled Still Life, a sensuous ode to fertility, in a wooden frame Frida designed to look like a womb. After a delicious late lunch of fried fish and bean soup, we pranced through the crescendo of rain that drove us back to our hotel for a rest.

Today we leave for Cancun, where we will explore the Yucatan. ¿Is it possible to feel nostalgia for a place after only four nights? My heart is full: with the teenage boys playing twilight soccer in the courtyard of a cathedral, the chubby-cheeked ninos holding tight to their parents´ hands as they cross the busy streets, the vibrant colorful shops filled with art supplies that look good enough to eat.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

That Time Again

23 minutes until the cab arrives.

Back-pack is full but not too full.

I'm still debating, do I really need my cozy pants? After the plane ride, will I ever wear them in the 90 degree humidity of Cuba?

Plants are watered, bed is made, windows locked, YMCA membership on hold, fridge is empty and defrosted. Loved ones notified.

And just as the solstice ripens, we're off.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


Sociologists (like my sharp fiance) have long opined that you can learn a whole lot more about someone based on what they choose to do with their leisure time than what they do to make a living. It makes a lot of sense, since our leisure time is ours alone to choose what to do with; lots of people work jobs they don't love, but why would anyone spend their free time doing stuff they didn't love?

It happens every year. School grinds to its alarming halt, graduation speeches are recited, report cards are finished, and I am free. For a couple of days I lay around and read, I go for long walks, I harvest the garden for dinnertime salads, I cruise the neighborhood streets on my bike. I flash my teeth at strangers. My wardrobe shrinks to the same few skirts and shirts piled conveniently in a corner on the floor and I lose track of when I last showered. At night I sip ginger ale (sometimes spiked with whiskey) and watch straight-to-DVD movies on Netflix and then complain with M about how they must have ran out of money halfway through filming. I don't know what time it is when I bed down, am shocked to find that it's ten thirty when I wake up. It's all quite grand.

Until I get restless. No classes to plan, no writer's salon until deep summer, no obligation greater than Pilates on Saturday morning. I sniff around and find myself at the helm of an unwieldy ship known as free time.

So what do I do? Well, other than try to write (God, I wish I could say that the bulk of my leisure time was spent writing) and sniff my luscious coconut-scented hair, my favorite way to wile away the hours is doing artistic DIY projects. I use the term artistic very loosely here; most of these projects involve little more than paint and collages of some sort. Still, few things are more satisfying than turning a beat-up chair into a funky artsy (there's that word again) sea-foam green and pink number that makes you proud every time you sit down. Or turning a boring black lap-top bag into a visual delight with strips of bright duct tape, stickers, and a cassette tape patch. Or ripping cool pictures from magazines and making an autobiographical collage (mine includes the Smurfs, a basketball, Lucky Charms, jack-o-lanterns and a burning heart).

After my summer travels, I return home with millions of receipts, ticket stubs, business cards, mini-maps, newspaper clippings, that are too significant to recycle, too unremarkable to frame. So I make collages: a giant picture frame with my Indonesia rabble and a magazine holder with my Turkish rubble. (Now I'm just itching for my next... Cuban bread box? Mexican stool? )

And so, as the longest days of the year shine their honey freedom light, I get inspired with my next project: turning our coffee table even cuter with a fresh coat of deep ocean blue paint and a decoupage of treasured artwork. Tables are perfect opportunities to make good use of those drawings and postcards and other bits of rad debris you have amassed. For me that includes a Berenstain Bears postcard, a watercolor from Thailand, a photo of a graveyard in Bulgaria, a Pretty in Pink movie jacket, a Turkish currency note and, the crown jewel, a classic Wayne Thiebaud print of pastries and a wedding cake. Now that I've done the lay-out, all that's left is to glue them down with Mod Podge, seal them with polyurethane, and voila: a one-of-a-kind coffee table that will spark conversations during evening soirees for years to come. Even better, a sweet reminder that fun and productivity can be close friends when it comes to my recess time.

What about you? What do you do with your leisure time?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Nothing But Flowers

Just back from our end of the year camping trip and feeling wiped out, worn down, aimless and excited. In years past we've camped at Lake Mendocino in a forested beach-side group camp-site that spills down into the water. The time floated dreamily by on a sea of talent show goofiness, soccer on thick green grass, and hours of splashing, canoeing, and, my favorite, swimming across the lake. I'd stay up late with the kids, playing word games around the fire-pit, warmed inside and out.

The end of the year trip was always as light and buoyant as the banana boat the kids clamored to ride over and over again, even if it meant getting thrown off in a menacing amble of sharp elbows and knees. On the third and final day I'd linger long as I could, one last swim, one last sun bath, one final dip to get cooled.... it was a wonder I'd ever leave, with a car full of girls who insisted on shouting the lyrics along to the Grease sound-track as we soared hot down highway 101. We'd stop for ice cream in Hopland; once we even pulled off the highway for a decadent float down the Russian River where it gushes green through Squaw Rock. Those were the days---when the end always came too fast, when my yearbook overflowed with long letters from dozens of students.

This year was different. The Lake Mendo group site is closed due to budget cuts, so we camped at Benbow on the Eel River, which was rocky, frigid, and definitely too shallow to tug a banana boat. Drastically fewer kids, quieter, so mellow I actually felt restless, burned by a hazy sun, swept down river by a fierce current. Too many blank pages in my yearbook, too much leftover cake from graduation. Just after the talent show, which was still goofy, still great, I felt water graze my face. We stood around the roaring bonfire and flashed stunned smiles, hastily saving the wilting books and edibles from this unexpected rainfall. I was in the tent earlier than usual, listening to the sky cry above me as kids, determined to stay up all night, murmured and chewed on candy. In the morning the gray sky warned against a swim. On the drive home, in the shade of a thick redwood grove, I listened to David Byrne sing “it was a shopping mall, now it’s all covered in daisies...” and I thought, there is no stopping time. “You got it, you got it.”

We took the two students who also live in Santa Rosa, so this year, for the first time, we didn't have to return to the community center in Sebastopol and wait for the parents to pick up their tired and dirty children. Cami and Marisa lingered at our house for over an hour after we got home. I fixed them a snack of cheese and bread and we looked at old yearbooks, marveling at the baby faces of those now grown. We all seemed too tired to say good-bye. They tinkered on the piano and surveyed my book shelves. We talked lazily about nothing in particular.

We held on tight, but inevitably the banana boat always flips. When they finally left, Cami with an old Nonesuch student who came to pick her up, Marisa on foot to catch the bus, I left the front door open, half expecting them to come right back.

Friday, June 4, 2010

School's Out

One thing I've learned: endings are almost always anti-climactic. So it's over. Now what?

On my final day of high school, Lauren, best Camel-smoking co-conspirator a girl could ask for, drove us out to the tiny Cajun town of Breaux Bridge for lemon ice-box pie at the famous Cafe Des Amis. We sat under the whir of a high-ceilinged fan and lazily ate our dessert, wondering why we didn't feel the ecstasy we were supposed to. We walked over the bridge and watched the bayou, its coffee and milk-colored waters moving so slowly it was impossible to tell which way it flowed. Summer already damp on our white uniform blouses and running shorts.

On the last day of school at Nonesuch its heavy and warm. Gray clouds hover close outside the window as my first period class scratches out their final. By afternoon, the schoolhouse smells like old slippers and forgotten sandwiches. The kids are restless and cheery, greedily spreading cream cheese on another bagel no one will finish, leaving trails of hastily graded papers in their freedom wake. I, too, feel a bit frantic, filling out report cards, slapping my red-inked enthusiasm all over their writing, made more brilliant by its sudden surrender.

Plans are corrupted. I slack on my advanced comp final, focus instead on the "final" final celebration I'll have with them. Vanilla ice cream with crushed Oreos! Then lunch-time and two realizations: these are my over-achievers, they want a challenging final! And: the ice cream never made it into the freezer as promised. Uh-oh. I cover the board with questions, assemble bowls and spoons for the soupy dessert, and in they come. Their eyes widen as they notice the board. What's all this? they ask. We thought you were gonna go easy on us, just hang out and chat. Do we really have to answer ALL those questions?! Melted ice-cream, anyone?

The air is thick with questions no one can answer. Will school open again come fall? At the end of five years, Nonesuch is a sinking ship and I can't bring myself to jump. A few of the girls linger in my classroom, and we talk about Israel, blue eye shadow, books. I don't leave school until the kids are all loaded in the van, lumbering down the hill, over the bridge, and up Bones Road one final time.