27 November 2006

Tag line courtesy of Martha Stewart

Good Things:

M arrived safely home on Saturday morning, and we spent a quiet weekend at home.

We put up our Christmas tree! Our plastic, 15.99, comes-in-a-box Christmas tree! But you know, it's still magic the moment you switch off all the lights and let the tree twinkle and glow.

I have now figured out how to upload pictures to the blog, if that mess of code that just appeared above these words means a picture will appear when I click "publish."

I saw the sun today for the first time in a long time.

And, just now, at the grocery store I found gold: a bag of cranberries! It was sort of tossed into the corner, and it was the only bag that I could see anywhere, but I snatched it like it was the holy grail. Now I can go make some cranberry sauce.

25 November 2006

At least my hand wasn't cut off

The following is, unedited, what I scribbled down the other morning after waking up:

dream about losing glasses--
unfamiliar university campus
sewage end, Luke Skywalker-like
Many many bl & red glasses
but none were mine.
Snuck into library (which was sewage plant)

Though it might pass for avant-garde poetry, it's not really my style and I wouldn't want to read this all printed up pretty in a book.

Instead, these are, as it were, cliff's notes to my dream of that night's sleep. I shall interpret the cliff's notes, and then you shall help me interpret the dream, OK? Sorry about the memory-holes. Happens with dreams.

So, in the dream, I was with my brother Dan visiting (purposes unknown) a huge university campus. We toured the library and looked at the reams and reams of books (some stuff happened there that I can't remember), exited via a metal gangplank thingy towards idyllic green grass just as they were closing, then drove around in a rattly stick-shift looking for some sort of event (can't remember what it was). As it was getting dark, I realized that I had lost my glasses, my new black-and-red glasses. Maybe I left them in the library?

I went back to where we had parked the car, a strangely European-like tiled plaza, and drove around convinced that I was going to break the car. Couldn't find the library. Found myself on a huge hill at dusk with wide-laned roads that overlooked the city, but I couldn't see the library. I asked a student-like guy (cargo pants, sticky-up hair), who hopped in the car, and instead of driving me there, drove to find another student, a girl (busty, sorority-type), whom he then convinced to drive me to the library.

When we got there, it was dark and not just closed, but boarded up and covered in plastic sheeting. The girl took off. I pried open the plastic and plywood and jiggled a door on the gangplank part until I got into a sort of entryway. Then, there was someone coming! I tried to hide, but he saw me. It was a janitor, but he turned out to be friendly. He led me through windy windy passageways and up some stairs into a series of plush offices (wait, is this reeeally a library?), where he rummaged in a drawer and pulled out a pair of glasses.

Yes! Those are mine! Delirious with joy, I grabbed them, and then...realized they weren't mine. They were little kiddy plastic sunglasses with red frames. He proceeded to pull out black and red glasses of every shape and size, but none were mine. He told me I could look around, and disappeared, so I roamed the library-that-wasn't-a-library, and then stuff happened that I can't remember, but I didn't find the glasses, and suddenly I fell through a trap door into some sort of trash chute and things started getting sinister.

I was flushed out the back end of the library into a bay, and there was trash and noxious green stuff, so I knew, intrepid investigator that I had become, that the library was up to no good and that the EPA should be notified. I was hanging tenuously onto a piece of the trash chute that closely resembled the scene in Star Wars where, after his hand is cut off, Luke is dangling on a skinny antenna-thing at the bottom of the trash chute and by telepathy gets Lea and Hans to come pick him up in the Millenium Falcon.

My brother came to pick me up, and that's the last thing I remember from the dream. I guess I never got the glasses back.

Now you come in. Does this dream:
1. Represent my anxiety about working on my sewage-like PhD while very far from my home university/library and maybe never finishing ever?
2. Indicate that deep down I think I would look better in different color glasses?
3. Show how during the 80s my brother and I were into Star Wars?

Choose one, or fill in the blank:
4. Other _______________.
I'll be eager to hear what you think.

24 November 2006

It was a black crayon

In French class on Wednesday, our teacher actually grabbed my notebook and held it up for all to see, exclaiming that THIS (pointing at my homework, written in obsessively neat lines and paragraphs, with space for her to write corrections, and without any crossouts or scribbles) is how everyone should write out their devoirs.

I wavered, in the space of those thirty seconds, back and forth from giddy pride at how well I had done (at writing on lined paper--yes, we are reverting to second grade, aren't we?) to sheer embarrassment at being the goody two-shoes in the room. Then relief when she handed it back, then more embarrassment when another student grabbed it and my notebook was passed around the room (more, I think, to copy study my answers than to admire the straight lines of writing). Grown-up students are just as inclined as kids, it seems, to not doing homework and then copying it or scrambling to do it at the last second (even after class has started). This is a practice that annoys me to no end. I did my homework, why do you get to freeload off of me? Now I am being a goody two-shoes.

(Note: After a brief search, I just discovered that the phrase "goody two-shoes" comes from a "rather twee" 1765 children's book. The main character, named Goody, only has one shoe, is given a new pair, and then acts all show-offy about it. Source. Ain't the internet grand?)

Speaking of classroom embarrassment, I am reminded of a time in first or second grade when I raised my hand to say that I couldn't find my crayon (our teacher had passed them out for us to work with). Everyone laughed at me, because I had somehow twisted the crayon up into my hair and then forgotten about it. They, meanwhile, could plainly see it hanging there in my white-blond hair. I had evidently been doing the "very very shy + absentminded girl with long hair twisty around finger (+ crayon, in this case)" thing: this was a long-lasting epoch of my life. I was mortified.

You know, I didn't even remember that I remembered that. But there it is. And so, the lesson that I learn from this brief detour into memory lane is that, although I was embarrassed the other day, nothing can compare with the mortification of a shy childhood when one twists one's crayon into one's hair.

23 November 2006

No turkey for me not to eat

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

It's not very thanksgivingy around here since this country does not generally celebrate the holiday, and I'm just here by my lonesome today, but I plan on calling my family in medias res (where "res" = turkey-baking), and I got to talk to M in Honduras via a very wobbly skype connection. This weekend when he gets home (after he finishes up with the--and these are direct quotes of today's agenda items--"lunch with the central American ambassadors" and "meeting with the president of the congress") I'll cook up stuffing or some such in order to reprise the holiday on a smaller scale.

And anyway, when I was in Vermont on Halloween, my mom and my sister and sister-in-law and I made a thanksgiving dinner, so that I could have a taste, albeit while trick-or-treaters were ringing the doorbell and grabbing fistfuls of candy, or, if they were little enough, standing stock-still in wonder that you were actually offering them mountains of gleaming sugar-bombs. For them to take. And then eat. And their parents were letting them, in fact, urging them on. My little nephew, cutest of said little trick-or-treaters, in a leopard costume, got the hang of it after only a few houses despite the tender age of fifteen months. They catch on quick, those kids. Especially when it involves candy.

Looky here, I've gotten on a tangent about an entirely different holiday than the one I started with. Back to thanksgiving. But I guess if you think about it, it's not hugely different than halloween. It's like putting all the candy on the nice tablecloth and the special china and then eating it all at once, to show how thankful you are for the abundance of candy in your life. And I am, to be sure, very thankful for all the candy. Even when I wish we could spread it around the world more fairly, so everyone could have their very own stash.

Here are some of the other things I am thankful for, in no particular order:
(Not such an original list idea on thanksgiving day, but unoriginality will not stop me oh no it won't. Also, my dad usually makes us go around the table and say what we're especially thankful for this year, so here's my contribution from afar. And since it's on my blog, I get to say as many things as I feel like.)

1. Babies. My friends and family keep having them, and I am loving those babies, and wish I could get to know every single one of them. This fall alone, five girlfriends have had babies, or are going to have them very shortly. I feel lucky when I get to spend time with the babies, like the week with cute nephew in October, or weekends in Barcelona with cute nieces, or getting to know a friend's little boy when we were the only Vermonters of our acquaintance to be living in the boondocks of Indiana. Keep them coming! (My sister is pregnant, so she's doing a good job. And the baby is due on my birthday!)

Here's a weird but true fact: In the past two years (well, maybe my memory doesn't go back that far accurately, but at least in the last year) ALL of our American friends and family have had boys. ALL of our European friends and family have had girls. Coincidence? I think not so.

2. This is related to the babies. I'm thankful for the people who are making those babies, i.e., friends and family. And even people who aren't making babies at the moment, or aren't making them any more (i.e. our parents). I know that wherever we are living in the world, it is a beautiful thing to have the love and support of friends, and the love and support of family. Those people who know you inside and out, and so when you describe something in an e-mail or on the phone or online, they can imagine you doing it or thinking it. Because they already know.

3. Being married. These past almost-five months have been so incredibly great, and I feel blessed not only to have found the sweetest and smartest man ever, but, by God's grace, to have married him to boot. And after so long of living an ocean and substantial amounts of solid landmass apart, it is so cheering and lovely to see him every day, and share our lives even more deeply. Even when one of us departs for a trip, the good news is that we always get to come home to each other. Also, this year I am thankful for our wedding day. That it was beautiful and home-spun, and sunny and simple and singing and sweet. When I want to feel happy, all I have to do is think about the details of that day, and how I married the man I love, and how the people I love were there to send us off into weddedness. (Have I used enough superlatives, with a dash of alliteration, in this paragraph?)

4. Technology. OK, that's sort of a geeky and surprising thing to say after all the hearts and flowers of the previous paragraph, but what I mean by it is that technology makes it possible for this whole living-really-far-away from family and friends to be endurable. Witness A: this blog. Witness B: skype conversations with M, and, only moments ago, my family in Vermont, who were about to sit down to a breakfast of eggs and homemade cheese braids. Witness C: airplanes that ferry us back and forth from Brussels to Barcelona to Boston to Burlington (yes, I have already taken note of the fact that the important cities in my life all begin with B). Witness D: e-mails like the one that contains pictures of little nephew and my dad and sis at the computer into which I am talking via skype that just popped into my in-box.

5. I am thankful for a whole lot more besides, but those are the basics. If you would like to know about other things I am thankful for, I can refer you to other blog entries, where I wax cheesy about books and food and travel and language and music, and indicate thankfulness for the big yellow cookbook, the new apartment, the old one, for my job, for M's job, and more of the things I mention above.

6. I am also thankful for a pretty poinsettia, which is sitting on the mantle. I'm getting ready for Christmas.

I only burnt my fingers in two tiny little spots

A friend came over tonight and I made her dinner, because I wanted to try out more recipes from the big yellow Gourmet, and it's no fun making fancy food for oneself, now, is it? (This is why I miss the House of Love. Making Food x People Squared [i.e. people to make it and people to eat it, not Square People] = Good Times.)

Here is what I made, and it was goooood:

Fresh mushroom soup (I told you I would make this again! And I'm going to make it again after this. This time I substituted all-soy products for the cream, and it tasted just as good if not better.)

Roasted beet and pear salad (This salad was both colorful and amazingly flavorful. It had fried almonds on top that I fried myself. Yum.)

Israeli couscous with roasted butternut squash and preserved lemon (Although it was very tasty, it was a tad bland. Maybe because I left out the preserved lemon. Because preserved lemon involved another recipe, and that recipe involved five days' worth of preservation. Maybe this should be a lesson to moi même: never leave out something that is in the title of a recipe.)

Individual molten chocolate cakes (With ice cream. And whipped cream. Molten. Chocolate. Cakes. Need I say more?) (Yes: I would like to add that I love the word "ramekin.")

If you want recipes, just ask! I will send them to you, special delivery speedy fast.

21 November 2006

Spic and span

You may have noticed some changes around here. Thanks to the sage advice of my brother-in-law to switch to blogger beta, I can now do fancy things like label my posts and organize them in a more clever fashion (drop-down arrows!). My little loves-to-align heart goes pitter patter at these possibilities.

In addition, the posts are now correctly time stamped with the moment that it is here, i.e., the six-hours-different netherland called Europe.

Eventually, when I have time (today I have procrastinated enough with this little blogging machine), I can add a list of links and photos, and all sorts of other interesting things. And I can change colors and fonts and page arrangements on the blog. So if you strongly object to any given format aspect of my blog page, please feel free to leave me a note, and I'll consider your input.

Plus, I have the power to delete comments, and I now receive them in my e-mail inbox, so I don't have to neurotically check my own blog to see if anyone sees fit to respond to the words I am sending out into the wind.

Dolled up

I'm no doll (in fact, I object to the phrase "dolled up," because no woman is just a doll nor should she be seen as one). Yet, I like to put on a dress every once in a while, and pull out sparkly earrings and that totally cute but useless (it's not even big enough for my wallet) tiny sparkly purse. Especially now that I'm working at home and not teaching, there's not even an excuse to put on a sharp shirt and dressy pants and boots.

Plus, I got new shoes that make even my humongous feet (yes, humongous: size eleven, wide, high arch) look sort of perky and petite, with a peep toe and a little bow. And the bonus is that they're from Payless, so were cheap, but in Europe no one will know they're from Payless.

All of these items were packed in my suitcase last weekend, because I planned to wear them to the opera. But my plans were foiled, because we had to rush from our meeting with the contractor right to the opera house, although I seriously considered a pit-stop back at iaia's that would have involved running at full tilt up and down at least four blocks and throwing on said items in a mad hurry. As M pointed out, part of the point of getting dressed up for the opera is enjoying the ritual, and if we were going to do it in such a slapdash way, that effect would be lost.

So I showed up at the opera in jeans and a sweater, and I felt kind of frumpy and peered around to see if anyone else was wearing jeans. Of course there were some people wearing jeans, but there were also people wearing what amounted to ball gowns. (I suppose if you pay over a hundred euros for a seat, you're going to dress up to match.)

But the nice thing was, M told me I looked beautiful as I was, and then I felt beautiful, reflected in his eyes.


Last night, falling asleep at around 2 am (for no good reason other than that I kept deciding not to go to bed because M wasn't here and it seemed boring to do so without him), I thought up some really excellent lines of poetry.

But I was too lazy to turn on the light (it's not, as it should be, at the side of the bed, it's at the foot of the bed, so involves getting out of toasty duvet covers and lunging down the length of the bed (it has to do with outlets)), so I just lay there and told myself that I would write it down in the morning, and fiddled around with the line breaks in my head, happily (delusionally) confident that these words were indelibly written into the gray matter.

But now, in the cold light of morning, do I remember a word of it? (You knew this was coming, clever reader, didn't you?)

I do not remember a word of it.

I think *maybe* it had something to do with clouds. Or matchsticks. But it wasn't cheesy, it was brilliant. It had rhyme, even. Clever rhyme, and subtle undertones of political commentary, and literary complexity that would have any New Critical scholar rubbing her hands together with glee. All this in just a few short lines.

It would have taken the literary world by storm.

19 November 2006


OK, so I'm going to cheer myself up by recounting the happy events of this weekend.

First, one of those weird maybe-coincidence things: On Thursday I arrived in Barcelona airport and as I was walking toward the train, a man with an Irish accent neared and explained that his luggage had been stolen and that he needed to get to the Irish embassy and could I spare him five euros?

Now, usually I don't just hand out money, but while he was talking I was thinking that his face looked vaguely familiar. While rooting around in my wallet--no five, had to be a ten, I couldn't very well ask him for change--I asked where he was from, where his bag was stolen, etc. He was very nice and grateful for the money, and as I walked off, it dawned on me: He said his bag had been stolen in the Sants train station! When I was in Sants the previous weekend, I'm almost certain that I saw him leaving the police office with his arms around a crying woman (which is why they caught my attention). Is it possible that I was there when a guy's bag was stolen and then, after a quick trip home to Belgium, was there to be asked for money by the very same person? I wish I had run back to ask.

Then, after dropping my bags off at iaia's house, I got to spend the evening wandering around the center of Barcelona with a big smile pasted on my face, just because it felt so good to be there. First I stopped off at the glittering opera house to pick up the Lucia di Lammermoor tickets for the following night.

By the way, that was the surprise I referred to in an earlier post, my gift for M for his saint's day: yes, you heard right, Spanish people basically get to have two open-presents-and-celebrate-me days. Like a half-birthday. This was, however, a belated present, since I had totally forgotten the day, which had fallen on the previous weekend along with the town festival in M's hometown (because the town's patron is the same saint), involving street food, fair booths, ponies, a Mozart concert at the century-old church across the street, exhibition openings, and "correfocs" (a highly scary Catalan tradition involving people dressed as dragons and dancing around with loud bangs and fire-spouting sticks and deliberately running towards the crowds; I'm always more scared than even the children and am convinced we're going to get set on fire). So every year, if he's home, M gets a sort of double celebration. I forgot about it entirely because we unlucky Americans have only one birthday-like day and do not, unlike Spaniards, carry around mental files of which saint is commemmorated on any given day. For the record, it was my first "doh! bad wife"- feeling moment. Forgot the saint's day.

Back to happy meanderings in beautiful BCN. I strolled up Las Ramblas, admired its graceful curve toward the Colom pillar, even benignly tolerant of the souvenir shops and tourists, paused to admire the candy jewelry in the window at the modernist pastry shop, Escribá, and stopped at the Boqueria market to buy some fruit--couldn't resist the gleaming piles of produce and hearing the fruit ladies call me "reina" when it's my turn to order.

Then I headed right towards my favorite bookstore, La Central, which has a great selection of English books (I've always wanted to compliment their buyer), and a huge inventory, including literary studies and poetry. I found three brand new anthologies of Spanish Civil War poetry, including a reprint of Rafael Alberti's 1944 collection of Romanceros de la guerra civil. Score! I also bought Cynthia Ozick's Heir to the Glimmering World, since I've wanted to read one of her novels for ages. (Finished it this morning: I liked it, but found the main character/narrator strangely cold/absent, especially for a first-person story; laughed when I read a back cover blurb that described her as a "plucky heroine.")

I spent several hours browsing and reading, and then headed to one of my favorite restaurants for solo dining, MamaCafé, right around the corner from the contemporary art museum and the Camper hotel. I wowed and astonished the waitress with my Catalan ("m'has deixat parada!", said she--literally, you've left me stopped!) and enjoyed a delicious meal that ended with--surprisingly tasty--rosemary ice cream with pomegranate seeds, and a chat with an American kid who sat at the table next to mine.

The evening only improved when I headed back to iaia's (M's grandmother's) to meet M upon his return from Strasbourg via train to Paris and plane to BCN (no, Strasbourg is not what you could call well-connected).

Saturday was noteworthy because, drum roll please, we signed the mortgage and the bill of sale for the new apartment! It doesn't quite seem real that we are now in possession of yet another apartment, and that we are total innocents now headed into the project of creating a kitchen and bathroom--we also had a meeting with the contractor, who seems to be very reliable and considerate of what we want (we'll see where that stands five months from now...).

We celebrated by heading off to the opera. The seats were bad (15% and 10% visibility were the best I could find at the last minute), but at the intermission we switched to fabulous, expensive seats. The principles all had exquisite voices, and the Lucia (Patrizia Ciofi) carried off the notoriously difficult mad scene to perfection. I love the interplay with the flute in that aria, as if she is chasing a chimerical happiness, the Edgardo that only she can see. Also, I hadn't remembered how beautiful the harp solo in the first act (?) is. M and I agreed that the costumes were a little clichéd (doesn't every production these days clothe the singers in drab, vaguely world war I or II uniforms?), but that the set, despite its severe gray squares, was really quite effective in conveying the sense of the mounting opposition that backs Lucia into the corner of her murder and madness (from a fem-crit perspective, the inevitable result of her father, brother, and even lover's patriarchal negotiations, reinforced by law and religion, that proscribe her actions from every direction).

After the opera we went to a restaurant we've wanted to try for a while, called Organic, which serves, um, organic food (very tasty). As we paid, the woman who owns the place wanted to know all about our vegetarian-non-vegetarian marriage. She told us about her "awakening," and that she could never marry a carnivore, so she insisted to M several times that my love for him had to be "amor verdader," true love. It was an odd moment to hear a wide-eyed stranger pronounce upon our marriage, but we couldn't argue about the "amor verdader" part!

The next morning--yesterday--we got up at 5 am to fly back to Brussels, so that was it for our very quick trip, but it was a lovely one, and we even ran into a good friend of ours, who we hadn't seen for a while, in the line for our plane. A good end to 36 hours in Barcelona!


This is the time of the year when everything begins to get dark at 5 pm. At 5 pm, there is still a lot of the day to be lived, but the world seems to be telling you: "Listen, punk. Time to slow down, curl up, and forget about your ambitious plans for the evening. The natural light is gone. Your best option is sleep."

I try to remember that in other parts of the world it is still morning: I'm streaming Vermont Public Radio on my computer, and there, the Sunday morning programming is still on! Also, dear husband is at this very moment flying to Nicaragua, where it is still light out, and warm! To no avail. Darkness has settled over the earth. Or at least my patch of it. Plus, the aformentioned fact of dear husband's departure for South America--a five am kiss goodbye in the depths of my sleep--has left me feeling not so chirpy happy.

Winter has hardly even begun, and I'm already wishing it would end.

15 November 2006

I heart Ruth Reichl

One of the prized wedding gifts (thanks, friends at the House of Love!) that I lugged back to Brussels from Vermont in my bulging bags was the big fat yellow tome that aspires to contain every recipe you'll ever need. It's called the Gourmet cookbook, a compilation of the best of the best from the Gourmet magazine.

The reason that this was the one cookbook I chose to put on our wedding registry is that the chief editor is Ruth Reichl. I will follow her recipes to the end of any yellow brick road, because her funny and food-infused autobiographical books (Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, and Garlic and Sapphires) have made me believe that she is someone who knows and loves tasty food. Must be some sort of calculus in there: honest words sine cotangent derivative root blip blop blippety (can you tell how much attention I paid in calculus?) equals honest food.

Since bringing it home, I've been trying to make something from the Gourmet every day. (I kind of wish the title weren't so posh. There are no pictures, and while it has fancy schmancy dishes, it also has the basics. I'd even say more of the latter than the former.) I usually eat my cereal in the morning while poring over it to decide what delectable foodstuff I am going to prepare in the afternoon or evening. Even on the days I don't actually make something, I still fantasize about making something.

Here's a partial list of what I've made so far. Almost all of it yummy, only one thing burned (in my defense, instead of being labeled with sensible numbers that are actual temperatures, our oven has a preschool-style knob labeled from 1 to 9). Almost everything was made with substitutes and uncertain equivalents due to not being sure if French and/or Flemish labels were what I was looking for. For instance, baking powder proved difficult to find. Had to make do with flour that includes certain rising agents that I hoped were basically baking powder. Also, haven't been able to figure out which cream product is most like half-and-half.

(Ooh, while we're on the topic of why it's exciting but mostly frustrating to cook in a foreign country: it's fall, and I'm craving pumpkin, cranberry, and maple syrup, and I can't find any. I did find one store that sells cranberry juice, which is good, but not the real thing. I found a place selling "pumpkin soup" and snapped it up excitedly, but it was really only squash soup. Tasty, but disappointing when one was hoping for glorious pumpkin. I want to make pumpkin maple pie, and I want to make cranberry sauce, I whine, stomping my feet. Will it help if I whine louder?)

Raw apple muffins: This was the first thing I made because I had to try out my cool new silicone muffin forms. Squishy silicone is so much easier to carry in one's luggage than large muffin pans. M liked the muffins very much, and it was cute when he called them magdalenas.

Coconut macadamia banana bread: This is what burned. But it was still tasty, and I brought a loaf to Barcelona and everyone liked it, even my sister-in-law who doesn't like bananas. The silicone bread pans, also carried in my luggage, were the reason I endeavored to make bread, and they work great except it's much more dicey to carry a wobbly rubber, instead of rigidly metal, thing full of mushy dough to the oven. Much more likely to do backbends when you least expect it, risking the deposit of said dough over kitchen floor.

Beef(less) stroganoff: I just left the meat out of the recipe, didn't have to change a thing, and the mushroomy-ness and the sauce was deeelish.

Roasted cauliflower with garlic: Yum for roasted vegetables. Easy as pie. (But pie is not easy.)

Chipotle sweet potatoes: Though I continue to go pumpkin-less, at least the African markets in our neighborhood carry sweet potatoes, and I made them spicy and good.

Fresh mushroom soup: Made this week, the first night by myself after flying back from Barcelona alone (M in Strasbourg). I think I could eat this soup every night for a month, it was that yummilicious. I will make it again for M when he's back, and I will make it again after that.

Sesame spinach with ginger and garlic: Was kind of a no-brainer, and I could have made it without a recipe, but still. Glad it's there.

Tahini sauce: I bought tahini at the Oxfam store today, and so wanted to cook with it. This fit the bill, and was so rich and creamy put over my rice and vegetables that it was almost too much. Next time, maybe I'll eat it more like a dip.

OK, that's all folks. It's time for bed, and I'm still so stuffed from the tahini-rice-vegetable thing I made that I'm not even getting hungry from describing food. Tomorrow I fly back to Barcelona, for the second weekend in a row, and I'll meet M there, who is flying back from Strasbourg, at his grandmother's apartment, where we're staying for just two nights before flying back to Brussels. Dizzy yet? He flies to Guatemala on Sunday, so we just have time for relaxing on Saturday before it's goodbye again, blech. Although in Barcelona we barely have time for various meetings regarding the apartment we're buying and renovating, the good news is I have a little surprise up my sleeve...

09 November 2006

Home again, home again, jiggety jig

Despite the obvious reasons not to like flying (lines, lost luggage, crowds, delays, cancellations), I still can't help but enjoy the method of travel that enables me to get my feet off the ground and fly above the clouds. Every time, there is something magical about the fact of hanging in the air, about seeing fields, cities, and mountains from so far above. It feels like a pause in normal space and time (especially long trips, which do actually make hours appear and disappear).

Take off and landing, despite being theoretically the most dangerous parts of the trip, heighten that sense of space, rising and descending as the real world turns into a toy set and back again. Some of my favorite landings include Barcelona during the day--incredible views of the city's landmarks from the direction of the water--and Boston during the night--zooming right into the heart of the twinkling lights.

And I love airports. Granted, not every airport. I have a particular distaste for Heathrow and its buses, which seem to take you through every inch of the ugly gray bowels of its maze. (Of course--Murphy's law--the connecting airport I most often wind up visiting is this one.) And Boston during the Big Dig was no great shakes either.

Yet, there is always something magical about suddenly being in a different city, with the character of the place humming beneath the bland carpeting and bustling crowds. In London, there's Harrods and Boots. In Boston, a good clam chowder. In Philly, I buy a couple of soft pretzels. I love landing in the south and suddenly hearing twangy accents, or in Amsterdam and hearing the strangely English-like rhythms of Dutch. The smaller midwestern airports are neat and tidy; the airports in Naples and Larnaca feel patched together with mediterranean swagger. In Barcelona, you know you've gone south because there are palm trees outside the glass walls.

I also love the feeling of a vast mechanism at work, and being a little cog inside of it. The complexity of getting all of those people, bags, and planes in and out at the right place and time is always a little bit of a miracle. In fact, I'm sometimes amazed that my bags aren't lost *more* often. (Don't quote me on that.) And many airports, or at least parts of them, have a cool, modern feel that makes me feel like the world of the Jetsons has come true maybe just a little bit: moving sidewalks, huge curving architecture, brightly lit shops, hi-tech screens.

Plus, airports make for excellent people watching. Since air travel has become a relatively affordable way to move around, you can find all stripes and styles. Everyone from Mr. matching leather luggage set to Ms. first time flying, from Mr. baseball cap to Ms. sari-wrapped is there, and the real democracy of it is that even those first-class passengers have to wait in line and take off their shoes and belt when they go through security.

This last trip on my way home to Brussels, we stood in a security line in London for over an hour; there was literally no end in sight as the line snaked down an interminable hallway and then hooked a right into another room. I amused myself by watching the people around me (admittedly, I had the luxury to be amused since my flight wasn't for another two hours)--psychology at work. It was fun to watch the reactions on the faces of people as they entered the hallway and were told, yes, this is the line you have to go to the end of. Shock, jokes, anger, resignation... Even some of the BA people walking from the head of the line to the end were astonished by its sheer length. Still, one eventually makes it through the line, and reaches the other side, albeit without any liquids in an amount larger than 100 ml.

And the best thing about flying? It means that you are arriving somewhere, the anticipation of being in a new place or a familiar place, of seeing new or old faces. This trip was especially happy because when I flew to the US, my family there was awaiting me. And when I flew back, my new family--my husband--was awaiting me here. The exquisite joy of knowing that our long-distance days are behind us, that the return trip will always mean flying back into his arms.