Tonight I Needed to Remember the Magic of Things, so I Visited Italy up the Street

Tonight I needed to remember the magic of things so I dressed up in the lace wrap I brought back from Tuscany and the earrings gifted to me by an artist and friend I met in Southern Italy.

Feeling the joy of wearing such sentimental items, I slipped a book into my purse, walked out my door and headed through the cool night air to the Italian restaurant I have passed so many times on Alberta Street. Tonight, I’d open the door and stay awhile.

Sitting at the little table alone with a large glass of red wine in my right hand, I smiled, savoring the familiar feeling that became so common while traveling – the feeling of peace that comes from enjoying my own company and living solely in the moment, taking in every detail with curiosity and forgetting about anything that happened before now, or that will happen after now. I stared at a map of Italy while the perfect tomato sauce danced on my tongue and the creamy mozzarella melted into the warm pasta on my fork. Oh how good! And then a pang of longing – realizing my heart still yearns to be back in that country painted on the wall across from me in blue and green.

I ended up spending a total of 2 hours drinking wine from Puglia and talking about life in Italy and the U.S. – the similarities and differences in culture and philosophy – with the owner of the little restaurant. With a smile, Enzo explained “In Italy, we see our children as a part of us, that is why we don’t mind that they live with us – we don’t want them to go. There isn’t the need to be alone like here; we keep our family near us.”

And after the final espresso had been drunk and the last spoonful of whipped cream licked off the spoon, I felt as if I could cry when Enzo stood up, outstretched his arms, and shouted “Come here! Let me give you a bacio (kiss)!”

I’ll definitely be going back for Italian lessons and more chats about life over espresso. I love life’s little surprises. And I’m so grateful that the magic I sought was revealed to me tonight. Feeling a mixture of emotions with missing the people I love in Europe and feeling certain I’ve found new ones to love right here in my own neighborhood.

The place I called home in Baia, Campania, Southern Italy. Looking outside this window became a sort of ritual - the view gave me perpetual feelings of awe.

The place I called home in Baia, Campania, Southern Italy. Looking outside this window became a sort of ritual – the view gave me perpetual feelings of awe.

The View from the Bridge that Never Looks the Same

A glowing orange sun scatters a dusty reflection across the steel-blue river, while a flock of geese fly toward the horizon – black silhouettes of wings and beaks. In the distance, a majestic cone of snow, rock and ice hovers stoically. There is no sight better for my morning commute than a rising sun over Mt. Hood and the Columbia River as I cross the bridge, and state line, from Oregon to Washington.

It’s become a daily practice to take in the view on my way to and from work, and I’ve noticed that it is never, ever the same.

When we had a cold-snap in Portland, the river was hidden under a veil of rising fog, causing the monstrous mint-green bridge stretching across the water to be nearly hidden, with only the tallest arches visible, peeking out above the smoky clouds. On that day, I gripped my steering wheel and practically held my breath while crossing the river. It scared me to not be able to see my surroundings and I reached the opposite bank feeling grumpy and frazzled.

On another night, while heading home, I looked to my left from the center of the bridge and in the cloak of dusk, I saw a yellow, glowing beam of light moving across the dark water. Behind the spotlight was a large object gliding across the water toward the bridge. In the split-second that I saw it, I imagined it was a giant whale and the light its eye. On second thought, it was probably just a large boat carrying freight. But it’s much more fun to let my creative mind fill in the details.

The repetition of crossing the river twice a day has gotten me thinking about how I cross the bridge, meaning what attitude I carry with me and how I face the omnipresent anxiety of being suspended over a giant, powerful body of water until I reach the other side. It’s become a metaphor for trust, which takes practice. Some days, I feel stressed and afraid, my back is tense and I look straight ahead, wishing I’d reach the other side quicker. I can practically feel the churning waters below me and my thoughts become panicked. But on other days, when I’m feeling present and grateful, I scan the horizon in awe and wonderment. I glide over the bridge ease-fully and relaxed. I know the other side will come when I reach it. I’ve noticed that my mornings are significantly happier and more meaningful when I cross the bridge this way, as opposed to panicked and distrusting.

Now with a slight shift of perception, we could translate the bridge to represent any difficult point in our lives – a transition, a relocation, the end of a relationship, an episode of depression or deep confusion.

Are you beginning to see the metaphorical bridges that you personally cross? Good, then I will pose this question to you, which is one I’ve been asking myself a lot lately; how do you cross the bridge? Do you grip the wheel, grit your teeth and hit the gas pedal to speed through the discomfort? Or do you sing out-loud to pass the time, take in the view, trusting all the while that you will reach the other side not only intact, but wiser and stronger from the experience?

My goal is to aim for the latter and cross the bridge feeling grateful that there is a bridge at all. (At least I don’t have to swim across the river!) My theory is that if I can trust the surface beneath me and the trajectory of my progress moving across it, then maybe, just maybe, I can trust the transition from uncertainty to certainty. Maybe I can trust the path I’m on, even though there isn’t a map to it.

Whatever the bridge is that you are crossing, I hope that you find a way to enjoy the journey and pause to relish in the details. There’s raw beauty in there somewhere, and I believe it is patiently waiting for your keen eye to discover it.

A bridge I walked across in Portugal.

A bridge I walked across in Portugal.

But I’m in My Slippers! And Other Sick-on-Christmas Horror Stories

Your head aches, your eyesight is hazy, you try to breathe – it’s like stretching an undersized piece of skin over a drumhead, tight and painful, and the base of your throat is searing from coughing. In your delirium you have the sense to take your temperature. It’s a fever alright – your face is burning, you’re shivering and can’t get warm no matter how many layers of blankets you pile on top of you. Logically, you turn up the heat, COMPLETELY unaware that there’s a problem with the ventilation system and it’s pumping gallons of toxic fumes into the house, which you can’t smell due to the viral war raging in your head and chest…

Dear readers, welcome to my Christmas Eve.

My sister arrives several hours after the scene I have just described above to drop off some provisions, opens the door and instantly covers her nose and mouth in horror. “It’s toxic in here! Why does it smell like diesel fuel?!” I try to leap from the couch, but it feels more like I’m Sasquatch swimming to the surface of a lake in very s-l-o-w m-o-t-i-o-n.

I think she’s crazy at first. “I don’t smell anything!” I say red-cheeked and panting from the exertion of standing up. She starts researching furnace oil on her phone to determine whether or not she should call the fire department. I turn off the heat and try to remain calm, but I’m terrified, and sick and utterly exhausted. “I can’t stay here. Please don’t leave me here!” I say beginning to tear up. Of course she wouldn’t have, but I was in a fever nightmare and everything felt ten times worse than it was. Once we determined I would come with my sister and brother in law to their house, I tried to grab what I thought I would need – pajama pants, tooth brush, my thermometer, computer, a few changes of clothes. Somehow as we all bustled out the door, leaving the plume of fumes behind us, I manage to forget two very important items: #1 my Christmas gifts for the family and #2 MY SHOES!

Too bad, they say, we’ll open your gifts later and at least you’re wearing slippers! It’s true, I do have on my favorite rudolf red wool slippers. “OK” I sigh, “let’s go.” Fast forward through three hellish nights with a high fever, aches, shakes and chest-ripping coughing and Christmas has come and gone – after-all, it hardly arrived for me, since I spent most of it in bed – and my sister is dropping me back off at my dreaded fume-filled house.

But first we stop at the New Seasons near my house (you know the one where I bought a shower cap to stay warm when my heat wasn’t working the first time) to buy some kleenex and cough syrup. When we park in the lot, I start to get out and then suddenly realize I’m not wearing shoes, and I’m still in my pajamas. “But I’m wearing slippers!! I can’t go in there like this!” I begin to protest. My sister is unmoved. “Of course you can! You’re in Portland, remember?” Well, she does have a point, I think to myself. I shake my head again in protest. This is so embarrassing. I look like a freaking wreck! I hope I don’t see anyone I know…followed by…who would I see anyways? I’m new to town; I hardly know anyone!

OK FINE. I trudge across the concrete, unable to ignore the fact that I’m wearing large, glowing red slippers and that my hair probably looks like I just flushed it down a toilet and then tied it into a haphazard pigtail on top of my head. But as I trudge through the entrance, past the usual traveling-artist-street-kids out front, I see a young woman playing the banjo with giant arms-length holes in both the inner thighs of her jeans and I chuckle, thinking, it is Portland after all. People wear whatever the hell they want here and call it cool. At least I know I can feel comfortable going to the grocery store in my slippers!

Today I am still in bed recovering from viral bronchitis and feeling only slightly less depressed about being sick over the holidays. Sadly, this gal’s going to be staying in on New Year’s Eve as well, resting up. At least there’s a reason to slow down. Maybe I need this rest after the whirlwind move up here three weeks ago. Either way, I hope whoever you are, reader, that you are healthy and jovial this holiday! Please be twice as much…for me 🙂 And if you’re wondering about the fumes…we got the heat fixed, only to have it break again a day later. So Monday, we’ll be having the furnace repairman over again. Let me just say, I don’t intend to ever rent a home with an oil furnace in it again!

Oh! And if you have any sick horror stories of your own, or recipes and tips for beating the winter virus season, please leave them in a comment!

My favorite red slippers

My favorite red slippers

Red slippers