Friday, October 23, 2015

Time for an update...

Tonight I am suffering from major writer's block.  I've three pieces of writing going: my Free Press column, an entry in my travel journal and this blog post.  I've started each numerous times and have yet to successfully finish one.   Words generally flow easily for me and when they do not it's unbelievably frustrating. 

I've tried my usual tricks:

  1. Get up and walk away, in this case to get hot water for tea, come back.  (Fail)

  2. Go do something slightly mind numbing but enjoyable – so I watched the big cranes move shipping containers around for a half hour or so.  (Fail)

  3. Vent to a friend via iMessage, try chatting about any old thing to get my brain going. (yep…fail again)

  4. Go back to my cabin and write about how I'm struggling terribly with said writer's block. (End up with half a page)

Things are mostly good.  Two days ago we left the Mediterranean and crossed back into the Atlantic, which left me with feelings of both coming home and realizing just how far away from home I really am.  Currently we are docked in Morocco and I'm a bit overwhelmed with just how different this place is from anywhere I've ever been.  Europe was new, yes, but still filled with so many things familiar; language, food, and some similarities of culture. 

Here though are sounds, sights and tastes I've never encountered before – or at least not within the context of this place.  I have eaten couscous many times, but never served from a steaming tagine, with lamb and an array of local Moroccan vegetables piled high atop it.  I have visited outdoor markets before, but these markets are filled with the powerful scents of mint and sweet figs that remind me of warmed maple syrup.  I have certainly never sipped mint tea quite as strong or as sweet as what is served here (something I've still not 100% made up my mind about as to whether or not I like it).  And today I heard the music of the Gnawa, the deep strum of the guembri and the rhythmic clacka-clack of the krakeb.

And all this in only the past 48 hours…

Tomorrow I will take a train to Marrakech.  I'll spend the night so that I can experience the night market, something many have told me is not to be missed.  I am eager for more music, more dancing, more food and whatever new there is to encounter.  It almost seems too much…

And perhaps that is the cause of my writer's block.  There is so much new that I have encountered.  My mind simply needs time to sift through it all. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Italy: Lemon Gelato

Note:  I wrote this for my travel writing class.  I thought I'd share it here too. 

I wanted to have A Moment.  Yes, the capital letters are intentional.  I wanted to have one of those eye opening, heart filling, Oh-My-God this is the best…pizza, wine, view, walk, church, work of art ever…moments.  I wanted to experience something truly profound that would sum up my visit to Italy in one neat, deeply moving little package.

                Instead, I had lots of little, Oh-isn't-this-nice moments.

                Isn't this a nice pizza?

                Isn't this a nice wine?

                Isn't this a nice view and look at that really nice, really old wall?

                Perhaps it was because I was one the lookout for such a moment that it did not occur, or maybe I was distracted by my lingering sense of homesickness, or my worry that there must be something back at home that I forgot to take care of before I left, or maybe it's because I'm 43 and I've lost my sense of wonder, but truly I cannot lay the blame on any of these things.  I can only blame one thing, I blame the lemon gelato.

                It was just one scoop of gelato.  One scoop of lemon gelato placed neatly aside a scoop of strawberry.  Two small scoops atop a cone for 1.5 euros, sold out of a tiny storefront near the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere.

                The strawberry, pretty close to my favorite flavor of anything, was the one I initially wanted.  The lemon was the one I'd not tried before; my adventure scoop.  I was looking forward to that strawberry gelato that I imagined would taste of summer and sunlight.  It was my back up, my safety net, just in case my adventure scoop turned out to be less than delicious.  Perhaps if I'd eaten the strawberry gelato first, instead of saving it for last, things would have turned out differently.

                The moment I tasted that first scoop I began to regret that my second scoop was not also lemon.  This flavor was not just lemon, it was the essence of lemon.   It was as though the world's most lemony, lemon, yellow and brightly flavored had been blended with cream and sugar.  It was the coolest, most refreshing glass of lemonade you'd ever had put into gelato form.  It was heaven on a cone, worthy of poetry.  My strawberry gelato, slowly melting on the cone had become a contaminant in midst of this cold lemon perfection.

                I looked longingly back over my shoulder towards the gelato shop and wondered briefly if I should turn back.  I could buy another scoop.  I could abandon all my afternoon plans and just sit at one of those small tables outside the shop eating lemon gelato.  But this was Italy and I was in Rome; I had sights to see and antiquities to discover.  I pressed on.

                I visited numerous piazzas filled with stunning marble statuary and fountains.  As I watched the water flowing and splashing from spout to pool I thought to myself how refreshingly cool it looked but I knew what would be even more refreshingly cool.  Lemon gelato.

                I climbed to the top of the Gianicolo to take in the Roman skyline.  As I gazed out upon the towers, domes and turrets of Rome I was, for a moment in awe, but as the moments passed the towers transformed into cones and the domes into round, delicious scoops of icy-smooth, lemon gelato.  I thought to myself that while Rome might be considered a feast for the senses, lemon gelato with its delicate lemon scents, its sweet and tart taste, it's cool and soft creamy feel on the tongue, was a banquet.

                I entered the dark sanctuary of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere.  I craned my neck to see the beautifully overdone baroque ceiling with the ascension of Mary into heaven at its center.  I walked the exquisite marble floors covered in spirals and mandalas; no two were alike.  I sat, head bowed before the painting of the black Madonna and felt humbled, but even then, in that quiet moment of meditation it was there. 

                Lemon gelato is where you will find peace.

                Lemon gelato will bring you a sense of purpose.

                Lemon gelato IS your purpose in life.

                Lemon gelato is life.

                Lemon gelato.

                I left the church and continued to wander the city, seeking something that would replace the thought…no, the desire that was tugging at my very soul.  Before this day I had liked gelato, there were even flavors of gelato I liked a lot, but this was different.  Lemon gelato was not merely a tasty cool treat on a too hot, too humid afternoon, it was a transportive experience; it took me to another place, a higher plane.  It delivered what religion and Calgon promised but rarely delivered. 

                 In my search for escape, for something else to replace what had become an obsessive thought,  that day I walked nearly 15 miles.   I saw artistic masterpieces that moved my heart.  I visited churches that were so wonderfully full of tradition it brought me close to wishing I was still a Catholic. I ate pizza that made my taste buds dance.  I drank wine that warmed me from head to toe.  But at the end of it all I felt only one thought.

                I really, really, really, really wish that I'd had a second scoop of lemon gelato.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Problem with Being a Tourist

Dubrovnik has survived earthquakes, tsunamis and war.  It has been reduced to rubble and rebuilt multiple times.   Today it is an urban medieval artscape in marble.  Breathtaking is an entirely appropriate are touristy, crowded and hot.  It is a beautiful for sure and it is amazing how, over the past 20 years, it has been restored to a point that you'd never know that in 1992 most of the buildings inside the old city were missing roofs, walls and windows (and in fact most students from the ship had no idea that, within their lifetimes, there had even been a war here).  It is indeed a place to put on your list if you are travelling to the region but be prepared for the crowds.  

This place is packed with tourists.  My Portland, Maine friends can likely relate to the frustration that comes with the experience of attempting to walk to some place in the Old Port at the height of summer when the sidewalks are full of slow moving, sky-gazing tourists.   Unlike these cruise ship and bus  borne interlopers you KNOW where you want to go and all you want to do is GET there, which you would totally do if the apparently lost and overly wowed tourists would simply make way for you!!!!  Multiply that times a thousand and you'll have Dubrovnik.  

Okay so at first I didn't notice, because I was too busy being one of those slow moving, sky gaping waddlers.  And since most of the tourists come from cruise ships that stop in for only a day, my guess is that they don't notice the crowds either.  Overwhelmed by architectural artistry their senses are oblivious to the press of bodies around them, it is all they can do to keep their eye out for the flag, umbrella or other handheld sign that  their tour guide wiggles and waves above the bustle because without they they'd become quite lost in the warren of narrow, shop filled streets.

As frustrated as the crowds made me one really can't blame them.  Most tourists are in the city for one day, maybe two.  They jam in as many sights as they can, eat a local specialty, drink a little too much and by a souvenir magnet for the fridge so each time they go for leftovers they will be reminded of that beautiful city they visited but never really got to know. 

And I guess that is the blessing and the curse of being a tourist, and what I am beginning to question about this journey; one tastes a lot places, but gets to know none of them.  The place I am coming to know best is this ship and this sea, but that my dear readers is something I am saving for another blog post.