My traveling companion is 5 years old

July 28th, 2014

Memory is supposed to take form after four years old, which is why a lot of parents put off life changing travel till their kids are of age. But Tin’s passport already had Tangiers, Spain, Croatia and Gibraltar stamped in it multiple times before we embarked again for Spain this summer. Now that he is five and a half, I thought some parts of travel would take firmer hold in his imagination. However, after sleeping through the most intense flamenco show in Granada at Casa del Arte Flamenco, taking an audio tour of the magical Alhambra and its gardens, being served a special plate of spaghetti bolognese while the rest of us feasted on Morrocan cuisine at Arrayanes in Albayzin, the best part of Tin’s trip thus far? The rooftop swimming pool at the hotel in Granada. And so it goes.

I’ll take his pool memory and raise him one. While Tin was swimming, four South American children varying in ages 7 to 16 and already darker from the summer showed up in the pool, behind them came their thin, blonde, 50ish, white mother. When Tin yelled to me to come back into the cold water, the woman said to me, “Yes, Mom, come on in, the water is nice and cold.”

It was being called Mom by our children that made us strangers no more.







The Truth About Plans

July 25th, 2014

Tin and I were going to get up and go to the Prado, but because we were up at 3am watching Frozen on my computer, we actually ended up waking for real at noon and having about an hour to run down the street to eat.

We were in room number 7, an omen for a trip that was already going smoother than expected.

We stopped into La Fabrica and I had another delicious pot of pu erh (this time red) as Tin slathered creamy butter on large slices of toasted bread. We had the good fortune of another window seat, where he and I striking a pose caused people to turn their heads – hmmm, a bald white woman with a handsome African American boy (what goes on there?) – and us looking at them as well thinking the same thing.

We lugged the giant suitcase to the Atocha and sat in the huge steamy terrarium waiting for our train. I knew Tin would be hungry for lunch on the way and so I bought a whole pepperoni pizza that I had to delicately balance between the already awkward backpack and unwieldy suitcase that someone at the airport had tagged – heavy.

And we made our way to coach #7, and once in our seats it was announced that the movie was about Dinosaurs. Really? How convenient, because for years the train video has been about war and violence and guns popping off, but now in the age of Tin’s huge love affair with dinosaurs that’s what was showing on lucky #7 coach.

He watched and I read, missing most of the Spanish countryside as Botton’s book held me rapt – yes it’s the story of love and deceit and regret. I have a few of those narratives under my belt, but Botton has laid his out in such a cogent manner, it’s easy to just insert names into his frame and consider your own story told.

There is usually a Marxist moment in every relationship, the moment when it becomes clear that love is reciprocated. The way it is resolved depends on the balance between self-love and self-hatred. If self-hatred gains the upper hand, then the one who has received love will declare that the beloved (on some excuse or other) is not good enough for them (not good enough by virtue of associating with no-goods). But if self-love gains the upper hand, both partners may accept that seeing their love reciprocated is not proof of how low the beloved is, but of how lovable they have themselves turned out to be.

I thought about our trip, most of it is before us, and it made me think of my seatmate on the plane from New Orleans to Atlanta. Her pendant had caught my attention, two gold wedding rings joined together – the small one dangling inside the large one. She was on her way to Paris then to take a Viking cruise through the Bordeaux region. This was a trip she had planned with her husband, perhaps brought on (we both concluded) by her watching Downton Abbey and seeing the Viking cruise ads one too many times. But as she received all the brochures, her husband took ill and before she had time to even think he was dead. Forty eight years together she said, and he went quickly. I noticed the gleam in her eyes, which did not match the memorial pendant. “So I’m here with my traveling companion who also lost her husband and we’re taking the widowers’ trip.”

Stalking Greens in Spain

July 25th, 2014

The food in Spain makes me wary – it’s highly nationalistic – no one tires here of tortilla española, patata bravas, manchego, and jamon. Eggs, Potatoes, Cheese and Pork. SAVE ME. It’s enough to make me give up on trying to find a salad as I perused the menus at the open-air cafes along what is commonly referred to as the golden triangle – the blocks between Madrid’s three great museums – the Prado, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen-Bornemsiza – where our hotel is situated. A salad according to every menu lacks the thing that I consider the key ingredient – greens, lettuce, a vegetable of any kind. So it was fortunate that we stumbled into La Taperîa and ordered grilled octopus, a salad of spinach, beets and fennel, baked potatoes in their jackets with an array of fresh made sauces of cilantro, aioli and that spicy brava sauce, as well as bottard, a sheep’s cheese aged in a similar way to manchego but richer in taste.

And it was there that I realized I was entering into this impending joy state of mind.

Afterwards, we hit the playground hard until one of the little Spanish toddlers peed by the slide then it was time to go; we got one of the ubiquitous calypso ice pops and listened to an outdoor concert under the Caixa and stopped into a boutique and bought a ring for Tin’s girlfriend back home. The ring’s large stone had a pattern very similar to a Klimpt painting. Then we strolled down the paseo in the dark to Neptune’s fountain where he was lit up like the God he is but then quickly, sticky hands and all, made our way back to the hotel to sleep again.

Tomorrow’s agenda – Prado or Le Corbusier exhibit at the CaixaForum. Hmmm, such wonderful decisions, who could choose?


July 25th, 2014

I noticed that the weeks leading up to our leaving for a month in Spain brought a rain of abundance in terms of work projects – YAY and HEY. With the surfeit of financial blessings also came friends and outings, all conspiring to make my goal of losing weight before the beach a fantasy gone awry.

And at the 11th hour, the obstacle came out of nowhere – the four-ton air conditioning unit – on the 15-foot platform attached to my house to prevent theft and flood damage – began to fall off the house bringing with it the exterior siding. Really?

But also at the penultimate hour, Dr. Bob came through with a sign for over my front door that I had asked him about a year ago – BE LOVE OR LEAVE – in memory of the BE NICE OR LEAVE sign that I had left over the threshold of the LaLa. The theme of LOVE is much more fitting for the Spirit House.

And so it was that love produced itself in abundance as well – my realtor Tommy Crane came through with the great white knight of HVAC land (Richard) while simultaneously a friend in Boston (Susie) recommended Alain de Botton’s Essays in Love. How these two became complicit in my awareness that my life was changing will be explained.

Andrew at Tommy’s office has continued to support my house long after he helped me buy it – perhaps it is because of my friendship with Tommy, but I think it is also who they are as people. They believe that 18 months after buying a completely renovated house means that the A/C unit should not fall off the back of it.

And the Essays in Love – well, I began reading this wonderful contemplation of modern love on the plane to Spain. In Chapter 6, entitled Marxism, Botton says:

When we look at someone (an angel) from a position of unrequited love and imagine the pleasures that being in heaven with them might bring us, we are prone to overlook a significant danger: how soon their attractions might pale if they began to love us back. We fall in love because we long to escape from ourselves with someone as ideal as we are corrupt. But what if such a being were one day to turn around and love us back? We can only be shocked. How could they be divine as we had hoped when they have the bad taste to approve of someone like us? If in order to love, we must believe that the beloved surpasses us in some way, does not a cruel paradox emerge when we witness this love returned?

Botton unlocked a key for me to decode many a relationship from my past – my first love whose wandering eye and penis made sure that his love for me was always compromised, one husband whose secret life was impenetrable, another husband who always saw me as his inferior in intelligence as much as social breeding, and of course the partnership built on a house of cards. Yes, I could see clearly now, it wasn’t them – IT WAS ME.

Botton’s piercing statement: “At the end of a relationship, it is the one who is not in love who makes the tender speeches” is enough for me to not digress into how and when or how many times I had found love at first sight only to imbue each lover with desire and profound love and let’s not forget – expectations – to the point that each dynamic vacillated from a smothering love to an indifferent one. My friend Tommy likes to say there is nothing deader than dead love.

Though I am embarking on a new love – a different sort of love to call into being. I have needed to fall in love with me – and so while the white knight of HVAC-land screwed in the Dr. Bob sign, I said to myself something the mother of a lover had told him a while ago when he, I and others got caught up in a horrible quadrangle of romantic disenchantment, “Oh, honey, you’re simply [Rachel] – love you.”

This all fast-forwarded to my sitting in a restaurant looking out at the plaza in Madrid where I began to realize an old familiar feeling made new in that moment – impending joy. This had come to me many times in the past, particularly times in San Francisco, but back then it was a giddy joy that I anticipated – and now it is gilded joy that I feel bursting from my heart – impending joy – brought on by my newfound love. I love you, Rachel! I love you, Spain. I love you, Tin.

I’m Going To Spain

July 20th, 2014

Vestida con mantos negros
Piensa que el mundo es chiquito
Y el corazón es inmenso…


Draped in black
She thinks that the world is small
and the heart is immense…

Frederico Garcia Lorca

Another day to flip the script

July 16th, 2014

A friend reminded me the other day that we always have the ability to begin again, and so this morning was my renewed expression of flipping the script. As Tin drew trains in beautiful detail and color on his drawing paper, I kept Stella in her kennel after the third paper towel was stolen and chewed to smithereens [sometimes it IS us and them], and began to organize my work day to encourage fruition instead of frustration. This is my own best mantra – try again – and the best parenting tool I have found, “Would you like to try again?” It helps all of us who are so vulnerable to concrete posturing to be kinder to ourselves. It offers us a chance to get it right the next time.

Da Capo

Take the used-up heart like a pebble
and throw it far out.

Soon there is nothing left.
Soon the last ripple exhausts itself
in the weeds.

Returning home, slice carrots, onions, celery.
Glaze them in oil before adding
the lentils, water, and herbs.

Then the roasted chestnuts, a little pepper, the salt.
Finish with goat cheese and parsley. Eat.

You may do this, I tell you, it is permitted.
Begin again the story of your life.

— Jane Hirshfield

(from The Lives of the Heart by Jane Hirshfield)

Groundhog’s Day – NOT

July 16th, 2014

I have taken to smiling thinly and telling people it’s like Groundhog’s Day around here because this is what my schedule has looked like every day even on weekends:

1) wake at 5:30 take Stella and Heidi out
2) feed dogs
3) make tea – watch it grow cold as Tin wakes and engages in counter maneuvers to thwart my parenting
4) argue with Tin about breakfast
5) argue with Tin about getting dressed for camp
6) take Tin to camp and listen to him dictate orders for what he wants me to bring when I come get him
7) rush back to desk to juggle multiple projects that pay me 1/10th of what I used to make
8) stand at the kitchen counter and wolf down food that I have no interest in eating much less making
9) work all afternoon while taking dogs out and feeding them again
10) go sit in the car line to pick up Tin from camp
11) take Tin to whatever fun thing he is doing and wait for it to be done
12) come home and take the dogs out, feed the dogs, and yell at Stella who has chewed something
13) feed Tin food he wants and then doesn’t eat, argue about getting in PJs, have a nice moment reading a book
14) fall into bed instead of reading the Sunday NYT that are piling up on the coffee table
15) read one paragraph of my book and fall asleep with my mouth agape

But I forgot GRATITUDE:

So yesterday when the dog sitter for the summer seemed to go awry and I was woken up at 11PM by my neighbor ringing my doorbell who told me my A/C unit is falling off the back of my house pulling off the side with it and I needed to turn it off so it would quit vibrating, and a thunderstorm of epic proportions erupted wrecking the sleep I was finally getting after fretting about the a/c unit dangling by one screw, and then if that were not enough when I finally got back to sleep at 3:30 am, the phone rang with a wrong number, I chose instead to be grateful that the rain was keeping it cool enough to get through a night without the A/C.


See, I left out gratitude in my Groundhog’s Day preaching, I should have been grateful for days that beget days, which all seem to blur into one big to-do list that frustrates in a familiar way yet never seems to change or get done!



July 16th, 2014

Stella graduated from dog obedience training – an A+ student throughout – and yet, undercover she is a criminal and a thief. She steals whatever she can get her hands on – she destroyed a very expensive beach tote that I’ve carried from place to place in pristine condition – she chewed Tin’s bathroom rug – she has chewed the built in hutch that was newly refinished last summer – she chewed a corner of the house – she’s dug up my plants – she’s ruined my sleep.

But she graduated. Yip Yip Yoorah!


Confessions of a Workaholic

July 15th, 2014

Everybody has an addiction right – in this house, we call Tin the 5-year-old a trainaholic and Heidi the German Shepherd a cataholic and Stella the mutt is a chewaholic.

My addiction is working. I’m in the thick right now of juggling so many multiple projects, steam is coming out of every orifice from the gears grinding so hard.

However, I can say that I get immense satisfaction in completing work projects.

Raising a child, training a puppy, not so much. No one listens to me in this house, I yell and scream like a banshee and all I get is Tin telling me to calm down and Stella looking at me like I’m nuts.

I can post a cute video like this one below and everyone gets warm fuzzies about kids and puppies and may even think, look at Rachel, how lucky she is to have those adorable creatures – but they ain’t no picnic, let me tell you.

On the other hand, give me a to do list any day that I can go through and complete each task and this beast of burden shines. I’m happy. Really. Maybe it’s true that at the end of life I won’t say I wanted more work projects, but on a daily basis I get deeper satisfaction in a job well done than parenting or owning a pet has ever given me.

You heard?

There goes the neighborhood

July 14th, 2014

I moved to the 3rd ward in June of 2013 without much fanfare. I had left the luxury living on Bayou St. John, an address with a sense of an address, to join the urban riff raff who had been living in the dark, literally, for years after the 2005 Federal Flood.

My front strip of grass was an amalgam of stones, old cans and bottles, and Katrina detritus that stuck to the bottom of your flip flop like super glue – a clay mote existed between my house and the street. If you Google mapped my address you would see two young men coming out of the side door with long dreds, sagging pants and stained wife beaters on. My neighbor on the corner was a pretty African American transvestite whose hair was usually wrapped in a black silk do rag, and on the other corner was a squatter living with his two pit bulls who had a penchant for my front water spigot, which he used to collect his water and sometimes shower.

Within weeks of moving in, my street had three huge dumpsters on it. India House had bought the last house in its row between Canal and Cleveland and was fortifying it into its compound. The double across the street was being completely overhauled, and the other double next door where the woman had rented for 23 years was having its porch tore up and replaced with a fine wooden porch.

I had arrived at frontier living in New Orleans having come from the country land on the bayou all just by moving half a mile away. It was sort of jarring, but never you mind, it felt like home nonetheless.

This morning when I went to let the dogs in the backyard, a Hispanic man was peeing against the back wall of the corner store turned apartments next door. The transvestite has since moved (sigh) and been replaced by a young African American with a nice BMW that broke down a few weeks ago and has been parked out front still tethered to the yellow rope that drug it here. He has two fine dining chairs that sit outside his front door with a sickly looking house plant in a pot on them.

The man relieving himself waved me off as if to say he’d be finished in a moment, but my Shepherd was having none of it – she wanted him gone, NOW. And I must admit, I agreed with her.

The house directly in back with its see through walls has been completely renovated after being sold at auction for under $50k and now houses two young couples on each side. Both white. The church came a couple of weeks ago to unwrap its double two doors down and begin renovation after being cited by the Blight committee. The burned out house that borders my backyard has also been cited and is now boarded up awaiting its next phase.

Morris Jeff Community School has risen in steel and concrete from the empty lot on the corner. And yesterday as I was driving home, driving down Salcedo, I passed a porch where a middle age Hispanic woman sat on a wooden chair with a checkered table cloth tied around her while a younger woman wearing kitchen gloves applied hair dye. On the corner, an older African American gentleman wore a loud Bob Marley tee shirt with ONE LOVE scrawled across Marley’s forever youthful face.

The neighborhood is going to be squeezed by the Bio Med center that is on the back nine of construction and the school that now bookends it. Already there is a neighborhood outcry against blight, against crime, against noise. It’s happening here in real time.

When I first moved to Cleveland Ave, I picked up dog shit every day from the two pits living in the squatter house, and I waved hello to the transvestite as a morning ritual. Now a young white man approached me with a small Chihuahua and said that he lives around the corner and was introducing himself.

The neighborhood is changing – pretty soon we will have many transplants to feed the Bio Med Center – the papers say they need 850 housing units. Soon the Bob Marley tee shirt will be replaced with green scrubs so often seen in medical environments. They will be looking to park their BMWs on secure streets, they’ll want the trash picked up, and they’ll perhaps do away with the loose dogs and the army of feral cats that are everywhere.

Today I passed the woman who walks through the neighborhood with a plastic suit that looks like lawn trash bags. She always sports a long white scarf that hangs almost to the ground from her neck. It is the “sweat”suit of my youth, where those intent on losing a few pounds would do it by sweating them off. It’s certainly an anachronism but more importantly it’s absurd in this heat to think you need to wear that to sweat.

I want only one thing from those new people moving in – for them to make short work of the ride or die flies that populate my backyard – otherwise, I’ll take my oddball hood characters any day over the blank stare of a medical researcher who never learned social graces from the medical tomes his head has been stuck in for all of his young life.