Kona, Hawaii and Hard Shelled Ninja Sleepers

A few months back I visited Kona, Hawaii for a week-long vacation with friends.  I had been to Kona before, as well as all of the islands, however this trip wasn’t work related so I had an opportunity to really settle in, sleep in, eat in and generally love the island up.    As I’ve said before in other posts I’m not really much of a shopper.  When I do shop I’m searching for something specific and will spend all day looking if need be.  However typically I don’t just shop to shop….especially at obnoxious tourist stores.  I’d rather take a swift blow to the head then pick through cheesy trinkets made by machines and plastic and such.  How many shot-glasses does one really need anyway?  I have one that I bought at the grocery store after my other one broke – it’s plain glass and well used.  When I make drinks for people no one ever asks me where I bought my shot-glass…

So when my friends announced they’d be filling the car and heading out one morning for a day of shopping and lunch I politely declined the invitation; letting my feet take me to the local beach – towel in bag and book in hand.  I had been going through one of my introverted phases and was in need of alone time anyway, especially after sharing a house with so many women.  Fortunately for me, they’ve know me for years and years and don’t even bat their eyes when I go off on my own.

Enjoying the sights and sunshine I walked quite a way down the dark sand beach, away from all the vacationers and locals as well, until I found the perfect quiet spot to sit and read my book.  It wasn’t until I settled in and was on my fifth or so page that I noticed I had unsolicited company just a few feet away.  I’m not sure if he was there when I arrived or had with Ninja-like skills, come out of the water to relax without me hearing.  I was enjoying my book, but for me not to notice an enormous sea turtle sunning himself beside me was highly unlikely.  However and whenever he got there I don’t know; though he was so beautiful and peaceful I was grateful for the company.  As I introduced myself he didn’t stir.  Instead he slowly opened one eye before returning to his deep, sun-drenched slumber.

After about twenty minutes of reading and listening to the sounds of the ocean I happen to look up to the water and noticed yet another Ninja was making his way to sun himself alongside of me.  I sat and watched his slow, methodical process.  As the small waves came to shore he would use them to his advantage; pushing himself by his flippers through the sand and rocks each time.  He would then wait patiently for the next wave to help him along.  The ocean was like a mother scooting her child along, feet dragging, off to bed to rest.  The sea turtle, half asleep, was her child.

As I left the beach hours later I thanked each of my guest Ninjas (there were a total of three – the last making his way just before I left) and wished them all well.  The largest of the three offered me another slowly opened eye and I was off again on my way down the dark sand beach utterly at peace; not even offended that they didn’t get up to see me off or offer me a shot glass with a map of Hawaii on it……

Ninja

Ninja II

Verona, Italy and She

Anne Lamott once wrote, “You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn’t nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.”

There were times, even entire years, that I have ignored her – my intuition. Once in a while, however, I would listen and She would reward me with warmth and ease, while other times I considered her my foe, deeming her incompetent.  She would scream at me and I would scream back in argument.  She would jolt my stomach, a warning to be weary, and I would swallow an antacid. If She created a storm of apprehension, I would put on a raincoat and galoshes and fare the weather of emotions like some great sea-captain. Some months back my cup was emptied. I lay broken on the shower floor and She softly reminded me, via a whisper, that She had told me so.

I conceded that day and we’ve become close, She and I.  While I’ve agreed to heed her warnings as well as embrace the signs of encouragement and wonder, She has agreed to leave my stomach be and cease all storms.  My willingness to finally acknowledge, as well as listen and feel her, has reaped many beautiful new friendships, opportunities and artistic endeavors.

As I make my travel list for my six-week working vacation in Verona, Italy this September, I find myself leaning on her simple art of knowing more and more.  There are many other places I’d like to visit, however She moves me once again towards Italy.  While transferring the money to my Italian landlord to secure my apartment today I was struck at just how easy it was to commit to.  Although there have been many times that my rational mind sets out like a gun for hire to thwart my plans, I find he always misses the mark and she prevails as the more intelligent of the two.  As money to pay for my trip appears and co-workers step up and offer to cover my work while away, I am reminded of just how universal She really is.

Since my decision to embark on an extended working vacation in Verona, and through my listening to her, I have since made friends with an amazingly gifted artist living in Seattle who happens to have grown up in Verona, Italy.  She will in fact be staying on Lake Como in just a few short weeks.  Yet another new friend has introduced me via email to a wonderful couple my own age living in Verona who have already opened their dinner table for me with open arms.  Even my parents, who haven’t been to Italy in years, are looking forward to a bringing my teenage sons for a week-long visit and letting me show them, my family, the country as well.  I’ve offered my second bedroom to a few friends; and I do believe they both are making their own travel plans as I write this.  I assume if they all listen to their own “She” then it’ll be just as easy for them as it’s been for me and their own gun for hires dressed as “rationality” will be thwarted as well….

The view from my flat

Temporarily

While strolling downtown San Diego today on my way to meet a friend for lunch, I happened to find myself behind a couple about my own age.  They didn’t hold hands or talk much – Instead they held their phones in their hands and ignored one another – their butterflies long gone. Although I wrote the poem with them in mind, it has many meanings….

Temporarily
by Jennifer Allison 

They escaped slowly -
somewhat methodically.
So slowly, I felt
each last weak flutter
disappear.

Stomach in knots.
Feelings escaping with them.
Stillness in their place.
While they flew
free.

To house themselves
inside of someone else -
temporarily.

Before flying home to
enter once more 
through my breath 
as it’s being taken
away.

Again they’ll flutter.
Feelings arriving with them.
While I smile
at the mere thought of their
return.

Until they leave again
to house in another -
temporarily. 

San Diego Train – Empty

Tacoma, Washington and Smelly Geoducks Sprinkling the Lawn

The graffiti read, “I HATE THE WORLD.”  It was in all capital letters, spray painted in florescent orange paint, under an overpass.

I was a passenger in the car and on my way to celebrate a milestone in my life.   Friends and family would be cheering me on, clapping, crying and capitalizing on every photo opportunity of me they could while an African drummer played a traditional drum beat on the side of the stage.  They would watch me and the other Geoducks take the stage, smile, receive our validation that yes indeed, we were now bona fide.  My mother would tear up, my father would hold her hand and smile proudly and my sons would wonder when the speeches would be over.  Graduate school acceptances would be announced, mine included, and there would be more praise – more tears of joy, and yet…..

Every once in a while during the ceremony, I caught myself being transported back to the freeway – a passenger in a car, driving under the overpass, seeing the florescent orange words, “I HATE THE WORLD,” while I listened to Johnny Cash sing The Man Comes Around.  It wasn’t as if it depressed me terribly or ruined my special day.  The words simply had me wondering a bit as most things do.  Ceremony or no ceremony my curious mind never really stops.  It was there, in the fifth row while the Senator sang her own tune, that I decided I knew what the “taggers” problem was – He didn’t have a sense of smell, which in turn fed his unhappiness.

I’ve always said that if I could have a journal of only smells from my life I would never need the written word.  Smells tell me everything and are my strongest sense.  They take me back to places, people and feelings, and with them bring along an entire story.  I understand why Napoleon kept violets in a locket after Josephine’s death.  It was the smell that reminded him of her; not photos or words, but the simple smell of a flower could transport him to her instantly.  The scent of her precious violets remained with him until his death – a reminder of the tumultuous love they once had.

There was a period in my own life, in the not too distant past, that for a number of years I didn’t smell much either.  Although I harbored no hatred of the world my own personal tumultuous life had taken over my being, my essence, and in turn my sense of smell.  There were glimpses of scents every so often, but they remained somewhat elusive – just beyond my grasp…like the man who hates the world I suppose.  I would occasionally smell the earthiness of my son’s head when I hugged him tight, my dog’s fur after being out in the rain, or the sweet breath of a lover, but for a few years they were left to mere chance.

As I sat in the fifth row contemplating my sense of smell, or lack there of, the hatred of the world and the origin of geoducks; something absolutely serendipitous happened – Someone began mowing their lawn close by.  I knew this because I smelled the cut grass, the occasional dirt being blown from the blades and the gasoline in the tank vaporizing in the air.  As I smiled to myself, inhaled deeply, and took it all in, my name was being called to make my way to the stage to receive my paper from the higher minds and enjoy the world, it’s pleasures and most importantly… it’s smells

Prison Yoga with Bob Dylan

Rummaging through my kitchen cabinets earlier today, looking for an old antique pottery bowl to give a friend of mine as a gift, I came across another piece of pottery I had completely forgotten about.  I had tucked it away in the cabinet so as not to break it.  I do that sometimes; put pieces of art away to protect them, then forget where they are, and when found, regret that it wasn’t displayed or used as it should have been.  It’s a beautiful bowl; Asian in style. It has the palest of green background with jade color markings smudging the outside and covered with a thick cream glaze.  The quality is similar to a piece you might find at an art show, pottery house or farmers market.

I received it as a gift a while back.  While I was in the middle of teaching a yoga class it was dropped at my studio door by UPS.  The package had no return address, and my name and address had been handwritten on the outside.  After class, I sat on my mat with my package and opened it.  I found a note resting in the bowl, which was nestling protectively inside of a multi-colored quilt.  It read, “Jennifer, I wanted to thank you for coming to teach us and being so kind.  I have a hard time sitting and quieting my mind, but when I make things it helps me meditate.  I hope you enjoy these gifts and want you to know how much your visiting and teaching us means to me.  Namaste, Janet”

Janet was an inmate at the Woman’s Prison and one of my yoga students.  She was also a lifer who had already served eighteen years.  I had been volunteering in the prison to teach yoga to the inmates for some months and Janet had always been my most enthusiastic student.  She looked like the sort of person you’d find working at a Starbucks – very polite, wholesome looking and always neat and clean.  I never knew what put her in prison for life at the age of nineteen, and to be honest, I never wanted to know.  I had asked the women in charge of the program to please not tell me why any of my students were there.  As I saw it, I was there to teach, to help their present state of mind and to alleviate anxiety.  I was afraid that if I knew what it was that put them behind bars I might judge them without meaning to…..I’m only human…

We practiced each week in a cold grey room, moving tables and chairs before each class, then moving them back after class.  Students would drop off, new students would start and others would lose privileges all together. But Janet: She never missed one class.  Every week she sat in the front by herself, smiling, listening and practicing.  When I would read at the end of class and lead them into meditation she seemed to melt on her mat.  This went on for months, until the room needed to be used for something else, something sterile, and the classes had to be postponed…

And so it was that the bowl brought me back to prison, which brought me back to yoga, which was subsequently where I was headed to after finding the bowl this morning.  I placed it on my table, filled it with nectarines and headed to meet up with my practice partner, Judy.

Every time I enter our little yoga room I feel warm inside.  There’s something really amazing to not only practice yoga, but practice next to a friend as well.  When I say friend, I don’t mean some superficial friend that you go have dinner with or double date with, while talking of recent events or politics, I mean a friend that if I were sick, would take care of me; would insist on taking care of me.  If I were on the street, would have a warm bed for me and if I were an emotional basket-case (of which I have been….ugh,) would encourage me on.  Of course we do the superficial stuff as well, but it’s nice to know you can swim in the deep end of the pool if you need to, instead of always hanging out in the shallow end.

After our hellos and a quick catch up session, she set her Ipod to Bob Dylan and we began our practice alongside one another.  The older I get, the softer and more feminine I become both physically and mentally, as does my yoga practice.  We usually chat some while practicing as well, but today we were silent, letting each pose flow freely; lost in practice and music.  I felt especially blessed to be healthy and free.  When the song Blowing In The Wind began to play, my thoughts were brought back to Janet, in her cold grey prison cell and her making of the bowl; wondering if she still practices, still creates works of art and still tries to meditate – her mind blowin in the wind…

 “Blowin’ In The Wind”

 Yes, how many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea ?
Yes, how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free ?
Yes, how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.


M.C. Richards, Poetry and the Person

“From the seed grows a root, then a sprout; from the sprout, the seedling leaves; from the leaves, the stem; around the stem, the branches; at the top, the flower…. We cannot say that the seed causes the growth, nor that the soil does.  We can say that the potentialities for growth lie within the seed, in mysterious life forces, which, when properly fostered, take on certain forms.”

Victoria, BC and Wax Matt

Victoria, BC is a really a gem of a city.  It’s British heritage runs strong and whomever is lucky enough to stumble upon this capital city, it’s inhabitants, as well as it’s charm, will likely plan a return visit.  I’ve personally made the short trek from Seattle a handful of times without disappointment.  B&B’s abound, as well as small motels and impressive large-scale hotels, such as The Fairmont Empress, which quite literally greets each and every guest to the island with it’s grandiose size and central waterfront location.  It’s Ivy covered facade, exclusive “high tea,” and superb spa services quite simply scream, highbrow.   Its doors were opened in 1908, by San Francisco sisters Tessie and Virginia Fair.  They must’ve been a dynamic duo.  Incidentally, my sister and I once discussed working on a project together.  The idea lasted all of one day, as we quickly realized that although we love each other, we really can’t stand to be around one another for more than a few hours at best ….and liquor is typically involved….

Although I enjoy highbrow immensely, and at times, fancy a stay in such exclusive places as The Empress – sipping the fine wine, dining inside paneled rooms with crystal chandeliers and private Sommeliers, I’m just as comfortable at the Sticky Wicket Pub, chowing down on all things fried while tossing back a vodka club and watching a beach volleyball game on the rooftop sand court.

That said, the one place I’ve never missed while visiting Victoria is the Royal London Wax Museum (which, sadly, is now closed until further notice…..sigh)  I’d drag whomever was with me, tickets in hand, giddy at the thought of maybe seeing a new statue, while promising them a lovely waterfront walk afterward.

On my first ever visit to Victoria many years ago, I’d made a point to see the museum.  Having never been to a wax museum before I was all at once entertained, creeped out and fascinated.  What it was that drew me in, I can’t say.  Was it Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, John Wayne, Abe Lincoln or maybe Walt Disney?  Perhaps it was the mechanical torture reenactment in the “dungeon?”   One thing was for certain; it was a place, like all museums are, that I could stand, stare and daydream, and it was perfectly normal.  It’s a strange feeling to examine a replica of a person up close, without feeling as though you are intruding.  I would study each little pin-prick mark on their faces and arms, while trying to look for any flaws, and quite literally, act as though I were judging a contest.  “Oh they did a wonderful job on Princess Diana’s facial expression, but how could they botch King Henry up so awfully? Maybe they’re new,” I’d critique.  As sick as it sounds, after my brother passed some years ago, and for as devastated as I was, I remember viewing the body before the funeral, seeing the tiny pin-prick marks on his wax-like face and thinking, “decent job, but too much rouge………”

Sicily, Italy, and Tarzan Stealing Oranges

Sicily is, and will forever be, one of my favorite places.  For some reason, in my mind, Sicily is synonymous to complete relaxation.  Maybe because I felt so relaxed while spending a warm Spring week there, or maybe it’s because the Sicilians are themselves, so utterly relaxed. One can’t help themselves but breath a little deeper, walk a little heavier, and eat a little slower – of which I did all three.  Staying near the town of Taormina, my travel partner and I were graced not only with the charming town itself, but medieval walls, castles, warm water to swim in and miles of roads to drive and explore.

We, my travel partner and I that is, did this all without arguing – which was quite a feat for the two of us.  You see, my travel partner was also my quasi-long-distance-boyfriend.  I say this, because we had never lived in the same country, yet met every few months to see each other.  This went on for a few years.  It was an utterly dysfunctional relationship from the beginning, that on it’s last breath, ended in utter dysfunction; him coming to the US to work temporarily, quickly filling his bed with someone else, while I… well, continued to fill my bed with myself….and my dog.   But I digress……

During one of our day trips near Mt. Etna, we decided to find a trail we read about that led to a river.  Parking in what appeared to be a visitors parking lot in the center of a small village, we proceeded to take a foot path situated discreetly by an old and crumbling house.  Chain-link fencing rose up on each side of the path, and just a short walk in, I discovered why.  There was an archeological dig right there in the middle of the neighborhood, behind an apartment building.  The “dig” itself looked quite old, like perhaps they had been working on it, decided it was enough for the time being, added more fencing so nobody would disrupt what they did happen to find, and went about their way to another “dig.” It was a sight I had seen many times while traveling through Italy; archeological digs forgotten about.  I wondered if any photographers had ever considered a series of photos of forgotten “digs.”  It’d be a fascinating subject really.

The path went on for quite some time, and before we knew it, we were in an open field, surrounded by gentle rolling hills, a few Norman ruins still standing erect on one of them, and an orange grove, fenced and locked, with a “for sale” sign hanging on the gate.  The orange trees were heavy with fruit – like an old woman heavy with grocery bags, waiting for someone to help with her burden.  Happy to oblige, and much to the dismay of my travel companion, I scaled the small stone wall leading to the orchard and began climbing a tree.  When I was a kid, I practically lived in the trees.  I was no Jane – I was Tarzan himself, only the girl version.  I still, at the age of 40, have a few scars on my knees to prove it.  Filling my skirt with oranges I gingerly made my way down the tree and over the stone wall, and began enjoying my loot.

While peeling an orange, the juice filled my hands, running down my forearms, and onto the dirt beneath me.  I tried to capture all of it in my mouth, savoring the sweet taste of my hard-earned work (well, not really….It was an easy climb.)  It was by far the sweetest and tastiest orange I had ever had in my life.  I can’t decide if it was so delicious because it was really that tasty, or that it gave me more than taste….it gave me a feeling of being a child again, climbing trees, eating things off trees and bushes, and feeling free…..

Love, by Matthew Dickman

We fall in love at weddings and auctions, over glasses
of wine in Italian restaurants
where plastic grapes hang on the lattice, our bodies throb
in the checkout line, bookstores, the bus stop,
and we can’t keep our hands off each other
until we can–
so we turn to rubber masks and handcuffs, falling in love again.
We go to movies and sit in the air-conditioned dark
with strangers who are in love
with heroes like Peter Parker
who loves a girl he can’t have
because he loves saving the world in red and blue tights
more than he would love to have her ankles wrapped around
his waist or his tongue between her legs.
While we watch films
in which famous people play famous people
who experience pain,
the boy who sold us popcorn loves the girl
who sold us our tickets
and stares at the runs in her stockings each night,
even though she is in love
with the skinny kid who sells her cigarettes at the 7-11
and if the world had any compassion
it would let the two of them pass a Marlboro Light
back and forth
until their fingers eventually touched, their mouths sucking
and blowing. If the world knew how
much they loved each other
then we would all be better off. We could all dive head first
into the sticky parts. We could make sweat
a religion. We could light a candle
and praise the holiness of smelliness. Imagine standing
beneath the gothic archways of feet,
the gilded bowls of armpits. Who doesn’t want to kneel down
and pray before the altar of the mouth?
For my part I am going to stop
right here,
on this dark night,
on this country road,
where country songs come from, and kiss her, this woman,
below the trees,
which are below the stars,
which are below desire.
There’s a music to it. I can hear it.
Johnny Cash, Biggie Smalls, Johann Sebastian Bach, I don’t care
what they say. I loved you
the way my mouth loves teeth,
the way a boy I know would risk it all for a purple dinosaur,
who, truth be told, loved him.
There is no accounting for it.
In fact there are no accountants
balancing the books of love, measuring
the heart’s distance and speed.
In the Midwest, for instance,
there are fields of corn madly in love with a scarecrow,
his potato-sack head
and straw body, standing among the dog-eared stalks,
his arms stretched out like a farm-Christ
full of love. Turning on the radio
I know how much AM loves FM. It’s the same way
my mother loved Elvis
whose hips all young girls love, sitting around the television
in poodle skirts and bobby socks,
watching him move across the screen like something
even sex dreamed of having.
He loved me tender for so many years
that I was born after a long night of Black Russians and Canasta
while Jailhouse Rock rocked.
I love the way my screen door, if it isn’t latched shut,
will fling itself open to the wind,
how the clouds above me look like animals covered in milk.
And I’m not the only one.
Stamps love envelopes. The licking proves it.
Just look at my dog
who obviously loves himself with an intensity
no human being could sustain, though you can’t say we don’t try.
The S&M goddess
who brings her husband to the mall,
dressed in a leather jumper, leading him through the food court
by a leash. The baker who scores
his wife’s name into the thin skin of the pumpernickel
before peeling it into the oven.
Once a baby lizard loved me so completely
he moved into my apartment and died of hunger.
I was living there with a girl who loved to say the word
shuttlecock. She would call
me at work and whisper shuttlecock
into my ear which loved it! The blastoff
of the first word sending the penis into space.
Not that I ever imagined
my cock being a spaceship,
though sometimes men are like astronauts, orbiting
the hot planets of women,
amazed that they have traveled so far, wanting
to land, wanting to document the first walk,
the first moan,
but never truly understanding what
has moved them. Love in an elevator.
Love in the backseat of your parent’s Chevette.
Love going to college, cutting her hair, reading Plath and sleeping
with other girls.
Sometimes love is lying across the bed
but it might not be yours.
And sometimes it travels into a hostile territory
where it’s hardly recognizable
but there all the same.
I know a man who loves tanks so much
he wishes he had one
to pick up the groceries, drive
his wife to work, drop his daughter off
at school with her Little Mermaid
lunch box, a note
hidden inside, next to the apple, folded
with a love that can be translated into any language: I HOPE
YOU DO NOT SUFFER.

Boston, Massachusetts and La Bella Donna

Little Italy, Boston, is known for a few things – like shopping, small charming streets and most importantly, FOOD.  On any given day, the line spilling out of Mike’s Pastries can seem to go on forever.  However, a good cannoli is a good cannoli, and Mike’s cannoli’s are damn good.  That said, I have a salty/cheesy tooth, not really a sweet tooth, so although I appreciate the cannoli’s, it’s not worth my waiting in line.

On my visits to Little Italy, I prefer to check out all the different delicatessens’ versus pastry shops, as it’s a salt lover’s dream.  Once in a while, I’ll find one I haven’t been in before.  While lost (yes lost) one warm summer day on one of the many side streets, I stepped into a tiny little meat and cheese market for a bottle of water, and was immediately taken back to my life on Via Serpente, in Roma.  In fact, the shop wasn’t that much bigger than my micro apartment had been. Hanging from the ceiling were hunks of Prosciutto, Coppa, Salami and Bresaola.  Loaves of bread lined the back wall, and the cooler held an array of cheeses that would make an Italian cry (not that it’s that hard to do so.)   Even more impressive, was what was sitting ever so gingerly on the top of the cooler; tuna stuffed red cherry peppers in olive oil.  I had hit the food jackpot, and while trying to contain my excitement, I swore I heard harps playing, ever so faintly, in the background…

I ordered water, six stuffed peppers and a sliver of Asiago cheese to take with me from the man behind the counter.  He was one of two young and handsome Italian American men working in the deli that day.  As he was getting my peppers and cheese ready an old woman with beautiful white hair, a crisp white shirt and pressed jeans walked in the door.  “Ah Bella! Come Sta,” the younger of the two called to her.  She answered in Italian, but soon they were chatting in a mix of English and Italian.  As I paid for my food, I heard her ask him, “Do you have a girlfriend yet, David?”  His answer was absolutely brilliant; “No no Bella, I’m waiting for a woman like you and I can’t find one anywhere!” Even I smiled at that one, as I watched her cheeks blush and head tilt back as she giggled.  Taking my bag I walked by her as she held the door open for me.  “Grazie. Buongiorno,” I said, walking out.  “Prego, prego.  Buongiorno Bella,” she replied, still beaming….