Saturday, November 29, 2008

happy thanksgiving!

My cousin Melissa arrived in town Wednesday night, just in time to make it feel like a holiday weekend. She is stopping by on her way back home following a few weeks of travel in Madagascar and Mauritius.

On Thanksgiving Day we headed out to Cambridge for a few hours on our way to Thanksgiving dinner.

Since I don't actually have any pictures from our dinner, I figured I should include this food picture from a market in Cambridge in honor of the meal. From Cambridge we proceeded to Huntingdon where we joined a proper American feast courtesy of a friend of mine who was visiting his aunt and uncle and invited us to join in.

Nearly at the end of our Thanksgiving Day, we were thankful to be able to wait indoors for our next train instead of out in the cold.

And to you and yours....HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!! (a day late)

Friday, November 28, 2008

things in Europe that have made me smile

Italian stop sign - obvious, isn't it?

First, you should know that I’m easily amused. Second, you should know that these aren’t the only times I’ve smiled. Just in case you were worried. ;-) In recap style, here you go:

*Stop signs in Italy, or at least in the part of Italy I was in, are in English, exact replicas of stop signs at home. Why? Did some American stop sign maker score a seriously good business deal when he convinced the Italians that everyone has watched enough American movies to know the English word for stop? (Incidentally, this same stop sign maker’s sales person apparently scored deals in Slovakia too, though I didn’t catch photographic evidence of that, only saw it.)

*Another strange sight: Jessica, Stephanie and I walked past a nicely situated house during our walk along the Tuscan country roads near their house. Upon passing back by the house, I noticed a red mailbox just like the black one outside my growing-up house. Upon further inspection, I discovered that this mailbox in the Italian countryside also said “U.S. Mail” on the mailbox door, just like the box at home. Upon even further inspection, I discovered that all the names on the side of the mailbox were Italian names rather than something like “Smith” that would have made more sense. Perhaps they picked it up as a souvenir during a jaunt to America?

*Watch your TV listings for a special Geraldo Rivera special on going undercover as a Bratislava tram driver. While Julie and I waited for the correct tram one Bratislava day, a tram approached that was not the one we were waiting for. And sitting in the driver’s seat wearing a warm-looking, off-white, cable-knit, high-necked, zipped-up cardigan (it seemed odd that the tram drivers in Bratislava didn’t wear uniforms, just normal clothes) was a dark-haired, mustached dead-ringer (at least from a side viewing from a distance of a couple yards away through tram glass) for good ol’ Geraldo. And who would put it past him to be doing a special on a week in the life of a tram driver? I’m sure it was him. Definitely. Except that the necessary camera crew was doing an amazing job of being incognito.

*During one of my first couple weeks here, I think I saw a chimney sweep during my walk back home from the Brockley train station. I’ve already been enamored with all of London’s chimneys, so spotting a soot-covered (face, clothes, everything) man carrying a broom toward a van parked beside a quiet stretch of residential city road only added to the old school charm of the chimney culture. (And, of course, started such tunes as “chim, chimeree, chim, chimeree, chim, chim, chi-ree” singing through my brain.)

*Walking to the train station one mid-day (the Lewisham station I use most often), I turned left off Brookbank Road toward the short stretch of road leading to the pedestrian tunnel under the train tracks. As I passed halfway down the block, someone was carrying things into their house or something. Their front door was open and suddenly, loudly out the front door rang an exuberant line of song that transported me back home as I chuckled: “Ain’t nothing but a hound dog…”

*Late last night as cousin Melissa and I walked back up the hill on Brookbank road, two guys were petting the orange cat who’s been my friendly greeter on several of my very regular jaunts up and down the hill. I hadn’t seen the cat lately and have been wondering if it’s been locked inside since it’s been so cold out. Yesterday was warmer. I stopped and asked the guys whether it was their cat. It’s not. And they aren’t sure where it lives, but perhaps five doors down, they said. I explained that the cat had accompanied me down the road the morning I was rushing downhill with my suitcase at 4 am to catch the bus to the airport. That is not the time you want a cat rubbing up against your legs for a friendly morning greeting. I was more generous when it greeted me during my 3:30 am return from my travels two weeks later. I stopped to pet it that time. As we walked on up the hill from our brief conversation, one of the guys called out, “Happy Thanksgiving!” I guess our American accents were pretty obvious.

What determines a mailbox's nationality? Where it's located or what it says on it? And for that matter what if you put non-US mail in a US Mail box?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

just for fun and because the music's good

Here's a link to the MySpace page for the band I wrote a bio for while I was in Italy: St. Lola in the Fields. They've posted the bio, and you can also check out their music. Good stuff!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

round 1 of italy photos - from jessica's camera

When you work in the kitchen, you get to eat scrumptiousness before the retreat kids arrive: hot brownies, real raspberry sauce, chocolate chips melted by the hot brownie and whipped cream on top of it all.

Apparently cutting and serving pizza is serious business in Italy.

The logistics/teaching team for the retreat: Jessica (MCYM staff person), Kami, Cheryl (Jocelyn's mom), Jocelyn (MCYM staff/main teacher/speaker for this retreat), Jaime (Jocelyn's friend), Tido (MCYM regional director).

I enthusiastically manned the "Olive Oil Shop" for a couple hours at the end of the retreat. This is grown and bottled across the street from the retreat place by the Ammirabile (sp?) family I mentioned having lunch with. Notice how green it is? That's what olive oil looks like when it's first bottled during olive harvest time, but the green part (the chlorophyl?) settles out by the time it reaches American store shelves.

View from the back of the main retreat building. Even more stunning in person. All those gorgeous Tuscan pictures you've seen are true.

Pretty stand of trees along the nice country walk Jessica and roommate Stephanie and I took by walking down the road from their house. (i.e. they could see this every day if they wanted to!)

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is really in Pisa! (confession: Before learning that I would be in Pisa, I had never before stopped to realize that the "leaning tower OF PISA" was anything other than a name. I never realized that that probably meant there was a town called Pisa somewhere.)

We were trying to make ourselves look nearly as interesting as gorgeous San Gimignano in the background in it's stony, towery glory.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

next apache is the name

Life feels as it should today. I’m in Bratislava in a slightly smoky, cozy tucked-away café (that gets extra points for having a roomful of used books—in English--for sale), and I’m typing away, working to tell the story of a great London-based charity, wishing I could spend more time with their clients and have more space for words to tell their stories. The room I’m in was mostly empty until just a bit ago. Julie is in another room meeting up with some women for a Bible study. The main room of Next Apache has filled up, but since the other patrons are speaking Slovak to each other, I’m not so distracted as usual as I try to block out the conversations around me. In this cozy space, Slovak sounds prettier than it has to me most of the time here.

Two other quick anecdotes before I jump back to what I should be working on…

My Italy travels produced a new entry in the story of my crazy job. Thursday afternoon after my arrival and after one hour of sleep the night before, I was doing a quick email check in my friend’s office while she shopped for retreat food. Then I planned to take a nap to shake off a bit of the fog of small sleep. Well, the email account I check less frequently contained an email from a Nashville acquaintance-friend asking if I did musician bios and if there’s any chance I could write one for his new band by the next day. They’d decided last minute to apply for a music festival and Friday was the deadline. I generally don't turn down assignments unless there's really just no way to finish them on time, and I've been on a working holiday more than a vacation these past two weeks. So with a couple email exchanges we decided to go for it.

I collected a bit of info from him via email, took a quick little nap until my friend returned to her office, emailed Jeremy her office phone number, and then participated in a conference call: me in Italy, Jeremy in Nashville, and his bandmate in Canada. Then, between that night and the next morning before Jessica and I left for the retreat, I whipped out the fun assignment. And it was more fun for the fact that I had to get it done so quickly that it never even made it onto my to do list, so I could never feel behind on it. :-) And it was nice to have a connection back to Nashville for a few hours.

Anecdote #2

Sunday was a really lovely day here. After church Julie and her roommate-ish/co-worker-ish/friend Heather and I went to lunch at the home of some friends of theirs from church. Karen is from New Jersey, and Lubo is from Slovakia. They have a nine-year-old daughter Alexa. They live in a lovely house outside Bratislava in the village of Marianka. Our lunch party was rounded out by Nick, an Australian ESL teacher, and Roger, a British businessman in Bratislava for a week who found the church on the internet. So it was quite an international collection of people.

We had a really delicious and leisurely lunch followed by our choice of coffee or caramel espresso. I chose the espresso courtesy of my week in Italy (not courtesy of my five years behind the Starbucks bar). Then late in the afternoon as dusk was arriving we all went for a walk to the village center, stepped inside one of the oldest churches in Slovakia, and toured the stations of the cross set up along a path bounded by tall, old trees. We returned to the house and sat around on very comfortable couches enjoying hot drinks and good, thoughtful, wide-ranging conversation. Such a nice, leisurely way to pass a Sunday.

However, Heather, Julie and I thought we’d been trapped in the Slovakian Bermuda Triangle on our way home. The buses and trams we needed seemed not to be working, and what should have taken us an hour tops took about 2.5 and included multiple walks back and forth between different bus and tram stops. Not so lovely, but it ended well since we got home eventually. :-) Oh, and by then it was raining. And cold. Everyone’s favorite end to a really nice day. :-)

Okay, that’s all for now. Next entry will be posted from London. I’m off to pack up for my evening flight. (Oh, yeah, I’m no longer at the cute, cozy café. A few hours have passed since the beginning of this entry. :-) )

continental recap

Tomorrow is the end of my first continental visit, and I've decided to tell you about it speed style since I'm unlikely to find any more time for recapping after I get back to London than I have during my visit.

Here goes....

1 - various locations in Italy's Tuscan region, mostly in the vicinity of Pisa and Florence
2- Slovakia, primarily in Bratislava, the capital

1 - Like everyone else in the world, I like Italy. I'm trying to figure out if a cute little apartment in Florence should be my next writer-base-du-jour (or month or three or six). The exchange rate between the dollar and the euro is better than it is with the pound and surely I could pick up enough Italian to get by, right? :-)
2 - I'm not adding Bratislava to my list of possible writer-base-du-jour spots, though it does have some charming old-Europe parts of town and though I do think the manhole statue is very clever. Unfortunately, it doesn't help that I just don't find Slovak to be a pretty language in how it sounds or how it looks. So Slovak has not made it onto my list-of-languages-I-want-to-learn.
1- In general, people are friendlier in Italy.
2- In general, people on the streets are less friendly in Slovakia than in Italy.

1 - Eating lunch with the Ammirabile family (spelling?) and Jessica and a couple other guests. The Tuscan countryside was in view, and the olive oil and wine were born and bred on the land surrounding our table. I also quite enjoyed participating in the real post-meal Italian espresso tradition.
2 - Going to Vienna (yep, that would be Austria) for a few hours and meandering around town instead of being in consume-everything-you-can-in-a-day tourist mode.
1 - Going on a walk with Jessica and Stephanie in the Tuscan countryside around their house and visiting San Gimignano, an old and still lived-in city built of towers and warm-colored rocks.
2 - Today's 3 or so hour hike to Devin castle, somewhere west of Bratislava near the Austrian border. The hike through the woods was gorgeous, the company was fun, and the village we finally found was nice. The castle was mostly a pile of falling down rocks too high up to see much of at dusk. :-)
1 - Reconnecting with college friend Jessica.
2 - Hanging out in Europe with my old friend Julie while we both contemplate where God's directing us next.
1 - Meeting a new culture and its people.
2 - Meeting a new culture and its people.

So there you go. Hopefully, photos will follow before long.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


October 30, 2008


The door to human nature captivates me as I sit chilled by
their disregard
their oblivion
their uncertainty
Their lack of simple courtesy
Their pinpoint focus in this big-canvas world.

The outside cold doesn’t have to reach inside.
But it does
as they exit,
open door in their wake.
Minds uncluttered by concern for the comfort of those behind them,

The ones they never noticed during the moment of their co-existence
and couldn’t be expected to remember
Upon parting.

can we say: behind?

Greetings. I'm hopelessly behind here. I've been busy with work and travel these past couple weeks, too busy to visit my lovely little blog. For now, I'm finally adding a post I wrote weeks ago now: way back when it was still October. I first wrote it on paper, which was actually a nice change from the usual: writing on computer screen. It's a nicely tactile experience to write on paper. And it's also nice because there's less chance of losing everything you just wrote as I just did at the hands of two wrong keystrokes or something sinister like that. Long live paper. And now for that promised tome from October. Oh, and for the record, I've been in Florence/Pisa, Italy for a week and am now wrapping up a week in Bratislava, Slovakia. So far my first visit to the "continent" has been quite brilliant. There are plenty of impressions to type your way. Some day. For now, here's October.

Thursday, October 10, 2008

Four weeks into this venture I’m nearing a better rhythm for my days – beginning to better juggle the work in front of my computer with the non-computer work of relationship-building and experience-gaining. I’m also learning slightly savvier was of getting around. It’s good.

Yesterday I wrote a piece I think I feel really good about. Today I finished it and sent it on its way to its editor. And then I headed out – feeling liberated after writing the kind of piece that leaves me feeling most alive – to meet a friend at an art gallery in a part of London I haven’t been to yet.

By only paying for the train to and from Victoria Station and walking 15 minutes instead of jumping on the Tube that would have taken me one stop closer to the gallery, I saved money, got exercise and soaked up another bit of London’s streets. And now I’m sitting in a Starbucks on a busy street corner near Victoria Station not minding the early darkness or the cold because it’s cozy here and I’m stopping for a bit. Sitting. Reading for more than a 10-minute stretch, which I’ve been aching to do since I arrived. Splurging on a mocha instead of the cheaper hot chocolate. Lingering.

And speaking of rhythm: when I get home in an hour and half or so, I’ll still catch business horus in the States and can return some emails I left when I dashed out for the gallery. Brilliant indeed. That’s the part of being five hours ahead of eastern time that I like.

The frenzy of arrival and settling is starting to ebb. I’m adjustable and go-with-the-flow enough that I tend to underestimate the time it takes to re-rhythm things in new places. So I need to keep learning to plan time for that, when time’s available for that. The weekend with the house to myself while my landlord family was away for a wedding was a good time for working my head out of guest mode to renter mode. I have ownership in this home. I’m paying to be here so shouldn’t have to tiptoe around. I’ve never lived with a family as a lodger before, only as a guest, so it’s been unexpectedly challenging to figure out the difference in those roles.

Now just as I’m settling into more productive days that are sprinkled with cozy moments like this one, I’ll be disrupting my schedule with a little jaunt to the Continent. Next week I’m the willing participant in an unplanned (before I arrived in London) trip to the Tuscan region of Italy. I’ll be there nearly a week before I fly back to spend a day at Stansted Airport in London and then leave on an evening flight to Bartislava, Slovakia. This trip to Slovakia was the one big excursion I was planning for this fall. An old friend is there just until the end of November, and we knew we had to visit if we were both going to be in Europe for the same few months. Hopefully I can jump back into my infant rhythms easily upon my return, even if I’m a bit fat with new images and experiences.

I continue to be amazed—in spite of the ever-present challenges of this way of life—that this is my life right now. I feel like I’ve been given the most exquisite, generous gift. I hope I will enjoy and celebrate it well.

The gallery, Saatchi Gallery, was a really nice experience. The rooms were big with only a few pieces in each room, on white walls or light-colored wood floor. The pieces were shown off well by their simple, clean surroundings. They were more accessible than I expected. Most of the pieces were very large but were enjoyable partly because they weren’t all crammed in together. The rooms of the gallery felt more peaceful than the usual museum/gallery display because they did not feel like sensory overload. The current Saatchi exhibit is all by Chinese artists, but for me that wouldn’t have been obvious based on the art. A surprising amount of it felt Western-themed to me.