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Letter from a vagabond 12 12 2018 The things we can do…

December 13, 2018

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For the last twenty-four hours, I have laid low, after coming down Monday afternoon with a cold, not terrible, but enough to feel miserable, to use up more than one box of tissues, to have a cough, to pray for scientists to come up with a cure.

Monday I was working at the bookstore, happily going along until, rather suddenly, a sniffle became a snuffle, and all went downhill from there.

It is Wednesday, and I am pretty sure I am on the mend, having doubled down on vitamin C, drinking lots of fluids, including doses of Airborne, utilizing nasal spray, and staying warm.  Are you supposed to starve a cold and feed a fever or is it the other way around?  I never remember though I think I am erring on the side of starving the cold as I haven’t had much appetite.

The view out the window of the house where I am staying is stunning, Edgartown Harbor, with Chappaquiddick across the bay and beyond that the Atlantic, and I have awakened the last two days to devour the beauty that is in front of me.

In the last couple of years, freed from having to be in an office at a certain time I have developed a new rhythm in the morning.  Waking relatively early, I have a little caffeine to start the engine, and spend some time reading the news on my phone.  It is the dose of reality I allow myself every day; to do more would be to invite the gnawing and gnashing of teeth.

One of the things I have discovered, is that generally, as I move through my small routine, there comes a moment of gratitude.  Not every day but most days.  Now in my 60’s [however did that happen?], I have lived longer than I would have thought when I was a college student indulging too much in the pleasures of my day.  Or in my twenties, grappling with being alive and making sense of that.

Here I am, sitting, looking out at the water, enjoying the moment.  It felt this way last summer, working at the bookstore, when I was living in “The Best Most Exotic Marigold Hotel” of guesthouses and this fall in St. Malo, in the wonderful hotel there, facing a day of wandering the streets of that small walled town.

My European journey reminded me of the ragged and often bloody road we have taken to this moment in history.  The Ossuary at Verdun is captured on my phone and in my heart, a reminder of the evil done by humans.

Yet we laugh. And joke.  Have moments of great kindness; talk of things great and small.

An old friend of mine worked with an illegal immigrant in sanctuary, helping her return to her country of birth, in hopes she could then return to the United States, legally, to be with her family here. And that gives a sense of Christmas hope.

I look for ways to move the needle of goodness in the world.  Today, I will smile spontaneously at someone and see if there is some small kindness I can accomplish.

The huge issues; I still work to see how I can affect them.  Sometimes, I feel there is nothing I can do against the assaults happening in the world and yet feel I must try.

That’s the gift of life.  We get to try.

There is tragedy in Yemen and countless other places and I am here, absorbing the beauty in front of me, and not ignoring what else there is in the world and accepting, at this second, there are limits to what I can do while knowing I need to move the needle a little here, in this little space of time I own.

Letter from a Vagabond 07 12 2018 Remembering Pearl Harbor and other things…

December 8, 2018

 

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It’s December 7th and it is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, a day “that will live in infamy” according to President Franklin Roosevelt who guided the U.S. through the Second World War only to succumb to heart failure as victory was within sight.

The course of history changed; we benefited from the sacrifices of “the greatest generation,” a new world order was established.  As I still keep up the Facebook Page for Edgartown Books, I reminded folks of what today was and where to find history books in the store.

At the moment, I am training north to Hudson, spending the night at the Keene Farm, and heading over tomorrow to catch a ferry from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard where I will be until Christmas Eve, helping people with their Christmas book shopping.  I can’t think of a nicer way to get into the Christmas spirit.

Last Saturday, I went to Baltimore to pick up a few things I needed for the Vineyard, spent a few days with Lionel and Pierre, then up to New York for a Board dinner last night, breakfast this morning with my dear friend Mary Clare Eros, then lunch with my friend Gary Koven, always a nice thing, though I will be adding his father to my prayer list as he is recovering from back surgery and his dad is not having an easy time of it.

Not living in the city anymore, I have forgotten how miserable the traffic is this time of year as streets become overcrowded and roads are blocked for holiday events.  Journeys double in length of time, due to traffic.  As lovely as the city is, I am glad not to have to deal with the crowds.

It will be interesting to see the Vineyard in the winter, with its dramatically smaller population.  On Christmas Eve, I will drive to my “nephew” Kevin Malone’s Boston area home, where he and his wife, Michelle, live while she is finishing Harvard Law.

Since my last letter, I haven’t written, distracted and a little tired, for no good reason I can ascertain.  My British stomach ailment pops up now and again, which is inconvenient but nothing more.

It feels a bit surreal we have arrived at Advent and the Hanukkah candles are being lit.  Can the year really have gone this quickly?  Yesterday, my friend Rita Mullin and I went to the Morgan Library and took in the Frankenstein exhibit [quite a delight].  I made a comment that in museums, time moves more slowly.  Perhaps that is why Christmas is catching me by surprise, during my European trip time moved slowly and then sped up once I returned.  I feel “discombobulated.”

While in Baltimore, Pierre and I put up my white Christmas tree and decorated it with bulbs and ornaments harvested from Target, whose “Wondershop” looked like a wildly plucked field, plowed over at the end.  There were only three strands of white wired lights in the store and I guarded them closely before checkout.

Last year, I started buying Christmas presents in January and this year I have bought none.  Instead, I will make a donation in the name of family and friends to a charity doing some good work in the world.

This year has been an interesting year and I am changed by it and will be assimilating the changes until the last bell has been rung for me.  Not so long ago, it seemed I was at adventure’s end and now feel like it’s another chapter of adventures beginning.  And that is a good feeling.

The world around us is mad; let us give sanity to each other in this Holiday Season.

 

Tuesday thoughts from a vagabond… 11/27/2018

November 27, 2018

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Out to the west, the sky is clearing, a little, after two dreary days with heavy skies, leaden with a mixture of rain and snow, falling alternately.  The windows are spotted with dots of water from the last little rain that fell, ending a few minutes ago.  To cheer me, I have started a fire and am listening to a couple of songs from “Mary Poppins Returns,” out in theaters soon.

Today, the plan had been for me to go to New York, have lunch with friends, then a drink with Nick Stuart, and back to the country again.  Waking even before the alarm, I knew immediately it would not be a good idea, but it took until I was in the shower to convince myself it really wasn’t a good idea.

The stomach virus that has plagued me since Cornwall returned again to once again to inflict its discomfort on me and only recently have I pulled myself from the comforts of bed.

As well as the stomach bug, I feel like I am shaking off a post-Thanksgiving kind of blues and I haven’t been able to reason with myself why that is. Is it because I am now back, both from the Vineyard and Europe and must sketch out my next moves?  Is it the rebuke one of my readers gave me for being “miserable?” Is it the unremitting greyness of the last three days?  A combination of all these things with the stomach right at the top of the list?

Probably, the latter.

A small storm of perfect proportion coupled with having apparently lost my favorite reading glasses yesterday!

And all these things, I must remind myself, are white wine problems.

Unlike Paul Manafort, I am not looking at spending the rest of my life in prison.  AND, it has been reported, that our good friend Paul, visited with Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London just before stepping into the role of Trump Campaign Manager.  I am sure he didn’t!

And I am not an immigrant at the border of the United States and Mexico, where tear gas was used over the weekend.  Nor I am in one of the camps this side of the border, housing detained [insert your own word here], where it appears that, while it is mandated, no one has been performing required background checks.

I am not a transgender woman who died in custody in one of those camps.  Her autopsy demonstrated she had been beaten before her death.

Nor was I a passenger on the Lion Jet airliner that crashed minutes after takeoff.

What I am is a more than middle aged white man, resting very comfortably in the guest house of friends, staring out at the Catskill mountains, over which the sun is bravely trying to emerge.  I am freshly back from a summer on the Vineyard where I loved selling books and a fall traveling, much of the time in Europe, seeing monuments everywhere, built as memorials to those who died in this war and that, each one more awful than the last as weapons got more vicious and am sobered by that in a way I wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t been to Verdun, Omaha Beach, Pont du Hoc, Mont St. Michel, Heidelberg Castle, Cologne with its Roman Museum and other places.

Perhaps, I shouldn’t be bothered by any of this and should only be thinking of how good my life is, savoring each glorious mouthful and, yet, here I am, bothered by the starvation following in the wake of the Yemeni war and a slew of other issues our world is facing and feeling there is something more I should be doing.

At every church I hit in Europe, I lit a candle and asked the universe for an answer and maybe this bout of blues is because I have no answer from my question to the universe and must struggle to find it for myself.

Well, damn…

 

 

 

 

Letter from the vagabond… 11 24 2018 Good people…

November 24, 2018

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It is the evening of the Saturday after Thanksgiving; a fire burns in the Keene Farm fireplace and jazz plays on Pandora, which can be piped through the house.

Yesterday, some of the Thanksgiving guests arrived at the Keene Farm around two and we had a marvelous brunch:  croissants, toast, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, jams and jellies, coffee, Bloody Mary’s, mimosas, champagne, fruit – a day after brunch feast that came close to matching the feast from the day before.

When it was over, everyone went off to take naps.

This morning, I woke in a wonderful mood and set off to do errands, taking things to the Transfer Station [“the dump”], getting quarters at the bank to be able to use the air machine at the gas station, picking up things at the Post Office, putting air into my under inflated tires, saying good-bye to Lionel and Pierre, saying hello to old neighbors.

And I finally met the people who bought my cottage.  They invited me to stop by and have coffee with them, which I did.

It was the first time I had been at the cottage since I sold it and it was fine.  I was glad someone was there who now loved it as much as I loved it when I was there, and I didn’t feel nostalgic for the place.

They are delightful people, both artists.  She is an actress, Victoria Finney, and her husband, Julian Crouch, is a stage designer with a show on Broadway and works with La Scala in Milan.  When Vicky opened the door, she gave me a great hug and when I left, so did Julian.  They have two children, James and Josh, who are quite wonderful.

When I decided to sell, I asked the universe to give me buyers who would appreciate the place and they do.  It is entrusted to the next people and I am peaceful with that.

My life is moving forward and there was no need for the rearview mirror; a thing for which I was very grateful.  It was just fine.

Finishing my errands, I went to The Red Dot for brunch, joined by my friend Jim Karic, having a good “chin wag” with him and now I am back at the Keene Farm, a fire burning, jazz playing.

Another good day.

Letter from a Vagabond 11 23 2018 The day after…

November 23, 2018

My young Turkish friend, Yetkin, when he was still struggling with his English and had an upset stomach, would say, “my tummy is touchy.”  And for two days before Thanksgiving, my tummy was touchy.  I blame it on the fact I had Caesar salad both Monday and Tuesday and on Wednesday, the CDC told us not to eat any romaine lettuce.

Regardless, I didn’t eat very much on Wednesday or Thursday until we sat down for the Great American Feast of Thanksgiving and, I must say, I did myself proud and without consequences.  Hopefully, my tummy is no longer touchy.

As has been the tradition for the last ten years or so, we gathered in Stuyvesant at my friends, Larry and Alicia’s magnificent home and consumed our share of turkey and fixings and wine and…

And then we gathered around the baby grand in the living room and sang show tunes.  Well, everyone sang but me as I can’t carry a tune to save my soul and the whole evening was delightful.

It’s early on Friday and eventually the guests will gather here, at the guest house, and Lionel and I will fix a post-Thanksgiving brunch with eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, croissants, fruit and we will all go into what is left of the long weekend, sated.

It’s also Black Friday, where millions lay siege to big box stores for bargains.

You will not find me, I suspect, within a mile of any of those locations.  Shopping is painful for me at the best of times and the thought of today’s frenzy makes me a little crazy – it’s a shopping thing that seems to have spread around the world.  Earlier today, I saw a picture of store in Sao Paulo in Brazil where mobs were handing merchandise over their heads to other family members.

Sorry, I just can’t.

Never could.

Dunham Department Store in rural Pennsylvania doesn’t go in for Black Friday madness either.  They help their customers have a slow and thoughtful experience.  It sounds like my kind of store and not one you find many places.  Cheers to you, family run Dunham!

This post-Thanksgiving morning, my spirits are good, my tummy steady and I am looking forward to a good day.

May all your days be good also!

Letter from a vagabond 21 November 2018 Happy Thanksgiving!

November 21, 2018

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It is November 21st and my birthday was last Sunday, a day filled with unplanned joy.  Usually, I organize things for my birthday and this year didn’t, too fresh from my time in Europe, still absorbing being back on American soil and lacking any real sense of what I might want to do.

So, I let the day happen.

First, I went down to Christ Church where I was serenaded by the congregation with a round of “Happy Birthday” and that was followed by meeting Lionel and Larry at my favorite bistro, The Red Dot, for a long, lazy lunch.  Alana, who owns the place, and Patrick, Alana’s partner, were there as well as a rotating room full of friends and acquaintances.  There were many rounds of “Happy Birthday” sung, toasts given, and laughter shared.

Lionel, Larry and I went to The Flammerie, a German restaurant in Kinderhook and filled ourselves with flammkuchen and other delights.

We came back to the Keene Farm, had a nightcap, more laughter and then to the sweet sleep that follows a day of fun.

And I have floated through the following days on the joy of that day, with a remarkable number of people wishing my Facebook greetings, phone calls and texts.

We are now facing the great American Feast, my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving!

This year it will be a catered affair at Alicia and Larry’s, brought together by Melanie, a good friend of Alicia’s.

The last of the errands were run today; I delivered a Thanksgiving pie to Alicia and Larry this afternoon, along with a few other things after shopping for the Friday brunch at the Keene Farm which follows Thursday’s feasting.

And to all of you, I wish a Happy Thanksgiving.  Great joy, lack of strife, good food.  In his column today, Sam Sifton in the NY Times, reminded us all to just relax; it will be all okay.

He also linked to a wonderful ad done by Elton John for John Lewis and Partners in the UK.  View it here.

And have a tissue handy.

Personally, I am thankful my sister seems to have done well with some not a walk in the park surgery yesterday and is out of ICU and while will miss Thanksgiving, the surgery has addressed a long-standing issue.

 

 

 

 

Poem from a vagabond… 20 November 2018

November 20, 2018

Mary

Is back with a book,

Gray head bent,

sipping white wine,

Having lunch with words.

Letter from a Vagabond 16 November 2018 On the elasticity of time…

November 16, 2018

The first nor’easter hit New York and I am sitting in what I now think of as my writing room observing the snow as it lays unevenly across the landscape; heavy winds left some ground completely exposed while in others there are three or four inches of accumulation.  The cold is bitter, with a wind chill driving the temperature down about fifteen degrees.

So, warm and cozy, with a big mug of coffee, I am listening to female jazz vocalists and letting my mind wander across the wintry landscape to catch what thoughts it might.

Having promised Jeff Cole, head of the Digital Center for the Future, I would write an article for him, I successfully put it out of my mind while traveling and, now that I am back, must face the music and think about it.

If anyone has ideas for a good article, please let me know.  I have a couple floating around but this won’t be the last of my articles for the Center, just the first.

The sun is almost blinding off the snow, now that it is coming out.  I had to figure out how to lower the shades – everything works off electronics here and I am still figuring out how to turn on and off the lights.

It’s a good afternoon; I’ve put laundry in as the housekeeper didn’t make it over this week and Lionel is arriving, so I am getting clean sheets ready for him.  I am feeling like I am back in America again and ready for the next adventure, which seems to be a trip back to the Vineyard to help out at Edgartown Books before Christmas though I am still waiting on final confirmation on that.  If not, I might go to Nashville to visit friends who are cranky I have yet to make an appearance since I have entered the vagabond phase.

One of the things I have noticed since I began traveling is the elasticity of time – a few days in St. Malo felt like a few weeks and seven days at sea felt like seven hours.  Two days in Heidelberg seemed two hours.  Five days in Wiesbaden felt like five weeks.

It reminded me of times in my youth when I felt a lifetime was lived in a few days, especially if romance was involved.  Alas, today, no romance but time hasn’t lost its ability to confuse and thrill.  It is now five days I have been at the Keene Farm and I feel as if it were only two and I find the rhythms of each place I go different and interesting and singular.

The day is mostly drear and yet I am happy here, with my very strong coffee and my laptop and my thoughts.

Letter from a Vagabond 15 November 2018 Home again…

November 15, 2018

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There is a little round table in a corner of the guest house at Larry and Alicia’s, where I sit with my laptop and stare out, with sweeping, unobstructed views to the Catskills, shrouded all day by grey clouds, scudding busily across the sky, portending a winter storm which has been predicted.  Here, I gather my thoughts and think.

There was a young man on the crossing, Ed, thirty, an admissions officer at a business school in England, near Luton, now wandering New York as a solo visitor.  He is a very nice young man and I hope he is having the best of times.  Before we parted, we exchanged emails and I will write him next week to see how he liked his time in New York City.

On the flight back to the UK, he will be with two other people from our dining table, a couple who spend much of the year on their boat in Holland and when the weather gets rougher, such as now, they travel other places.  Four others at our dinner table of eight were crossing on the Queen Mary 2 and immediately returning to Southampton on the next crossing.

At the last night, we all discussed how quickly the week had gone.  Was it possible for a week of doing nothing to go so quickly? It did.

The seas were rough for the first three days, confining many to their cabins and cancelling some performances as performers were seasick. It did not affect me too much.  One gentleman told of almost being tossed from bed one evening but I seemed to have slept through that night, as I did all nights on the ship, the best rest I have had in years, sweet and dreamless.

Now I am in America again, embracing the vagabond life.  From now until after Thanksgiving, I will be here at Larry and Alicia’s house on the Keene Farm, a mile or two down the road from their house, then to Baltimore, back here for a doctor’s appointment and then off to help out at Edgartown Books for a bit, a few meetings in New York, then to Boston for Christmas itself and then we’ll see where next.

Every time I entered a church or abbey in Europe I lit a candle to reach out to God and the universe to help me see what the next phase of my life might be.

The journey I took was not a vacation in the sense of going off and seeing things for the sake of seeing things.  It was a journey to touch my soul and history, which I certainly did.

My time in Verdun will live with me until I die; it was as affecting as my friend David suggested it might be.

300,000 dead; 700,000 wounded in a battle that changed nothing.  That sobered me for the rest of my trip as did the trip to Pont du Hoc and Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery.  At Pont du Hoc, I had trouble not breaking down in sobs at the thought of the bravery of the Rangers who took the first sliver of Europe back from the Nazi war machine.

There was solace in walking the windswept streets of the walled city of St. Malo, destroyed in WWII because, erroneously, the Allies had been told it was armed to the teeth and a munitions depot.  There were only a hundred Germans there and no ammunition.  The rebuilding officially ended in the 1970’s when the spire was replaced on the Cathedral.

It was made special by the attentiveness of the staff at my hotel and their generosity in caring for me from the moment I entered until the second I left, and I would return to the Hotel de France et Chateaubriand in a heartbeat.

In Wiesbaden, I ate my way through town with my friends Lionel and Pierre, not missing a spot.  The scrambled eggs at Maldinger’s are sublime; not to be missed and a reason to visit.

Plus, I had time with Erik, met in Bayeux, who spends parts of every year in Wiesbaden at their family home.  He’s the one who frets about America.  And I could empathize.

When young Ed and I were talking at dinner one night, I quoted something I had written in my journal.  “A tourist seeks, a traveler finds.”

This last trip, I was a traveler, not a tourist.  And I found many things, inside and out.  Surrounded by a continent full of testaments to the wars men have created, I have found a deeper support for feminism.

My love for home was strengthened even as I grew comfortable with being away, touched often by the kindness of strangers as I moved through across the European countryside and doing my best to be kind in return.

Letter from a vagabond 11/11/2018 Written at sea…

November 11, 2018

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It is Friday afternoon, less than 36 hours out from New York, and I am, finally, putting fingers to keyboard; laziness has won every moment since I stepped on board. It has been a long and languid crossing and I have softly surrendered to slothfulness.

Outside, the sea flows by and I struggle to find an adjective that describes the grey the mid-Atlantic owns, a grey so dark it borders black.

We have had days of rough seas; Dramamine has been handed out like candy at the Purser’s Desk and I have sailed free of the need.

There is a television in my room; I have turned on only once, to check the time. The mid-terms came and went with my only reading about them.  The strum und drung of cable news is more than I could bear.

For months now, I have only read the news, cherishing my NY Times, Washington Post and WSJ apps.  It is enough; the strident voices of the cable pundits too much for me.  Down that road lies madness…

 

Saturday, our last full day at sea.  Some of my companions have gone into a pre-partum funk over the ending of the crossing.  I woke this morning, very early, with a slight edge of anxiety for the first time in weeks as I step back into American life after five and a half weeks of traveling in Europe.

While I have been gone, there were the mid-terms, pipe bombs, shootings, fires and floods.  From all of it, I have felt cocooned and now I am exiting the cocoon of travel and hotels and food to the reality of America.

In Wiesbaden, I had lunch with fellow traveler Erik, who told me, as if he had never before confessed this, that he was afraid in America.  Not just of random violence but because of something deeper, a rent in society he could barely articulate, but which informed his understanding of America, of something very wrong, not just politically, but societally, a civilization no longer understanding civility, on any level.

That conversation lingers in my mind.

 

I am returning.  This ship will dock.  I will pack today for departing tomorrow.

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In every cathedral or abbey or church I entered in Europe, I lit a candle, asking God and the universe for guidance in what more I could do in this world, for this world, against the backdrop of One Tree Hill, the photo of the now dead girl who galvanized the world about the famine in Yemen, of the restaurant in Thousand Oaks, California where twelve died, of the African-Americans who died in a Kroger because they were African-American, against a world that seems roiling with hate on every continent.

That is my anxiety, that on returning, I will not know what more to do any more than I did before I left, and I feel the universe is counting on me to do more.