Tuesday, December 18, 2012

finding that old thrill of Christmas morning.

We had a red velvet chair during the years Santa visited our house. It was bright red. I would insist on camping out behind this chair on Christmas Eve. I needed to see the man who brought me all those wonderful gifts.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Pic-me-up Monday #2

To all those standing in line so they can see loved ones. For the ones who weather storm delays. Missed connections, early departures, and canceled flights. Traveling during the holidays can be hell.  To all of you. Deep breaths and Godspeed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A season of skiing, Swiss style

Group photo of one of the groups I had. The one with the "pointed finger" over his face was a handful.

It was dark but light from the star-filled sky flowed over the Swiss Alps. We stayed a little too long at the local ski lodge feasting on fondue, toasting with rosé one too many times. We set out, skiing under the influence. A group of my friends and fellow ski instructors were given torches, yes, flames on a stick, by the owner of the chalet. Picture a dozen hooligans each carrying a large flame down a ski hill.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pic-me-up Monday

On Mondays I will post a photo reminding me, and maybe you, to not take life too seriously. (this photo was taken in Northwestern New Mexico, and yes, it is a real sign.

Monday, December 3, 2012

In search of a new beginning one temp job at a time

Recently I paid a visit to my friends in San Francisco. Which reminded me of a time when I called that city home, if only for a year.

It was October (2004), with leaves on the ground my trusty (for the most part) 1980 mercedes benz coupe named Ruth and I set off in search of a new beginning in San Francisco California, a state where even the Terminator can find steady employment.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Then I realized - being in a rut isn't always bad.

I woke up this morning in a rut. Big, heavy questions started to roll around my head as soon as my eyes opened. So I went for a run. It was the first snow of the season. the air was crisp and cold. The kind of cold that bites. The kind that creeps under clothes and chills the core. It was clear Old Man winter was coming out of his rut.

I returned home, hoping I had run off my rut. No luck. So I turned to my trusted friend to help me realize that life isn't so complicated, that all things can be looked at in a different light and become not only non-stressful, but funny. Stephen Colbert. Watching the Colbert Report goes a long way in improving my mood. I flipped on Hulu and watched. It helped. So did the coffee. I was almost out of the woods.

Having used up all my tricks I was on the brink of returning to my rut when I had an unexplainable thought to step out onto the deck to get some fresh air. It was still morning. It was still cold and still snowing. Not heavy, the flakes floated in the air before hitting the ground. Like artificial snow on a hollywood movie set the white flakes seemed light enough to dance with each other before gathering on the ground.

I walked out on the deck and was greeted by the big eyes of whitetail doe staring up at me. I stood motionless. Standing still I stared back. It was completely quiet. The kind of quiet that almost has a sound. The kind of quiet that is a noise the way only mother nature can make no sound be a sound.

I watched as the doe turned away, not seeing me as a threat she took her time fading away under the snow covered pine branches. Something made me stay. I stood there enjoying the moment when nothing seems to really matter except appreciating life for all that it is and all that it isn't.

A moment later a four point whitetail buck stepped out from under the trees. He paid no attention to me. I knew he was on a mission. I then smiled, knowing he was also in a rut. And it was then that I realized not all ruts are bad. I walked back in the house wishing I could give him a fist bump. After all, he just helped me get out of my rut.

This photo is dedicated to my friends Tom and Mike, both of whom I know would have rather been seeing this guy between crosshairs than worrying about aperture.

Monday, October 29, 2012

On the campaign trail with my running mate

All of us need a running mate. At the moment mine is Flo Rida. With the ipod on I lace up my running shoes. Dawn has arrived and I'm trying my best to get from the bed to the trailhead. Flo Rida gets me out the door then passes the responsibility to Joe Purdy. Still getting the lay-of-the-land from my temporary digs I scramble from the bedroom down the sandy hillside until I reach the dirt path.

The trail shoots east before turning into a wide loop that descends to the bottom of the gully, from there it's a steep climb back up to the house. I never time how long it takes to run this loop. It doesn't matter. If I had to guess its only about 5 or 6 songs long. 

Thoughts start cranking with each stride. I evaluate my priorities, reminding myself of Ghandi's words "actions express priorities." I think about where I want to live. I quickly reorganize my contacts that have expressed possibilities of employment. What about the French Chef who taught me so much during those weeks I helped him at that cooking school in Provence. Surly he could help me find a gig in New Orleans while I land something full time.

Joe Purdy hands off to Wye Oak. The cold morning air which first cooled my core now feels good. I can feel my heart beat. A doe jumps and bounds from the trail down into the tall brush. I stop and stare. Our eyes lock on each other. Neither of us move. The Roots start to play in my ears as we turn and run from each other.

The trail narrows into single track. I love this section. There's a short stretch here where yellow leaves litter the trail. Like a bridge that connects one season to another I race across the leaves deeper into the gully. At the bottom there's only one way home. Up.

Straight up, heart pounding, sweat inducing, its just a matter of how far I can make it before doubling over gasping for breath. No thoughts, only short strides. "Simmer down" by Bob Marley starts just as I stop on the side of the hill.

I'm on the homestretch. Only a couple hundred feet left. Switching to a slow walk, I enjoy the first rays of sun on the side of the valley. Old school Pearl Jam plays as I drop my running shoes, now damp and dirty, outside the door. Eddie Vedder has long been one of my favorite running mates in this campaign called life.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Odd Job: Feeding a bunch of hungry hippies

You might think it strange to feel stress while wearing a tie-dye apron but that’s exactly how I felt. Bear, the owner of the pizzeria in Hope Idaho, had hired me to help him make pizza at the Barter Faire in Tonasket.

“Find your zen.” was the only piece of advice he gave me before turning me loose inside his retrofit van built for making pizzas. His tricked-out 80’s Econoline is fully equipped to crank out pies. Exactly what you would imagine if one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were selected for “Pimp my ride”.

Just as I started to find my groove, turning out pies as fast as I could Bear came to the back of the van, “don’t stress but we’re gettin’ busy so keep’em comin’.” Faster I thought.

The Greek pizza in the oven needed rotating. The “Village” was cooked and ready to cut. The pepperoni pizza needed be moved to the bottom rack. And the cheese pizza was ready for some heat. 

Shit. The cheese pizza wouldn’t slide off the peel. I forgot to dust it with semolina. Semolina flour, made from durum wheat, allows the pie to slide off the peel. I tried in vain to shake off the pizza but it became stuck in the oven.

Desperate to rescue it from the inferno I scooped it up only to drop it on the oven door. I felt like I was on an episode of I Love Lucy. I was in the middle of a culinary crime scene. I started to panic as the mangled cheese pie sizzled on the open oven door.

I dumped the disfigured cheese in the trash, built a new pizza and pulled myself together. After weathering the worst of the dinner rush I rolled out my sleeping bag on the floury floor of the van, tired from working a twelve hour day.

The next morning I awoke to Bear’s friend known as Africa John who mockingly shouted “Barter Faire! I’m popping the yellow one!” Fluent in French, Arabic and some Spanish, Africa is a weathered UN humanitarian worker turned hand-sculpted-stone-bead seller. The massive encampment was silent in the early morning as we sat with our cowboy coffee, taking a moment to watch the sunrise.

I spent the day working the till with Dora, Bear’s Mexican girlfriend, serving up hot tamales, puff pastries and pizza. True to its name many customers wanted to barter for food. Hats, chocolate, organic vegetables, pretty much anything imaginable as proven by a young man who offered to go get his “guitar and play a Jimi Hendrix song for a slice.”

Much of what I knew as normal was constantly challenged by these unique surroundings. After giving one guy his change he reached his hand over the tip jar and dropped some bud in my hand. “Here ya’ go man.” Another passed by the booth dressed in a loincloth “Yeah, I’m looking to start a land trust.” I heard him say.

This “fight the system” vibe seemed to radiate from everyone. At the Barter Faire “living off the land” wasn’t just a catch phrase dropped at farmer’s markets but a way of life.

Families sold yearn, old blue jeans, organic vegetables and other goods under E-Z up tents. Old vans, converted school buses and Winnebagos resurrected from the 80s were commonplace among the long rows of campers.

I felt like a foreigner far from home. My bald head seemed even more naked among so many dreadlocks. My “casual Friday” attire left over from an abandon desk job was in stark contrast to brightly colored natural fibers.

After four long days we loaded the van, strapped the hula-hoops to the roof and headed back to the land of electricity, running water, and cell phone reception. It was early morning as the dusty van rolled down a long stretch of road.

A faint morning fog covered the pastures along highway 21. Bear was at the wheel, I sat shotgun and Dora was seated on a plastic lawn chair lodged between the two front seats.

Sloping green forests were dotted with the yellow tips of tamaracks and the aspen leaves flickered in the sunlight. In that moment I couldn’t decide if I had found my zen or I was just dead tired.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Searching for tamales on my Triumph

Fall days were made for motorcycles. I wasn't home for more than a day before pulling the cover of my Triumph Bonneville. The open road was calling and I had an old friend to visit.

Pulling down on the throttle I headed north bypassing Coeur d' Alene, searching for unknown back roads, cutting through Rathdrum and Spirit Lake. Reaching Sandpoint I turned east wrapping around the north end of Lake Pend Oreille towards the small town of Hope Idaho.

I was in search of an old friend who I met along the coast of Mexico a few years back. I knew him as Oso, Spanish for Bear, but around these parts he's known as Bear. As luck would have it, he owns a Pizzeria in Hope which is a 2.5 hour drive from Spokane. 

I found him back in the kitchen making pizza with his girlfriend Dora from Mexico. "We met a few days after you left San Agustinillo!" He said looking at her with a big smile. "She doesn't speak english and I still don't speak spanish, so there's a lot of quiet time." "If something gets real serious we fire up the computer and use google translate."

We headed up stairs to the deck with a few of his friends to enjoy a giant pie with big chunks of garlic. "Grab a beer!" he said as we passed the cooler. The sun was setting over the lake as we talked about all the characters we knew back in San Agustinillo.

The evening ended in the kitchen. I helped him prep food for the massive Barter Fair this coming weekend in Tonasket Washington. "I don't know how patriotic you are, but you fold these like you fold a flag." He said, teaching me how to prepare Spanakopita. Meanwhile Dora was making tamales, "we're gonna sell tons of her tamales this weekend!"

It was late by the time we reached Oso's small cabin up on the hill over looking the lake. With no chance of rain I found a flat piece of ground, blew up my pad, rolled out my sleeping bag, and balled up my leather jacket into a pillow. It was a cold night but I was warm in my sleeping bag. The sky was covered in stars.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Somewhere between here and there.

I travel with one big black duffel bag. Packed with some clothes, tent, 60L backpack, sleeping bag and panniers. I like to call it my Jason Bourne bag because it has everything I need to survive a life on the road including a zip lock bag with maps and SIM cards for different countries, which as my sister reminds me, isn't quite the same as having multiple passports. But I love my big black bag. Not because of what it contains but because of what it represents. Exploring the unknown.

These notes from the field are proof that I’m often most comfortable in uncommon places. This blog was created to document what I see and feel during my travels. Which is why I always begin to question its relevance whenever I board my return flight. “What will I write about now?” I ask myself the closer I get to the country, culture, and language I’ve known for most of my life.

My first impulse, usually felt in the middle of wicked long flight from the unknown to the known, is to stop posting on the blog. Maybe a farewell post. Which is what this post would be if it were not for an email I received from a distant friend of the family. He wrote that "although it’s difficult to clearly determine, all of us have a purpose and something to offer the rest of the world." In short, I took his inspiring email as a challenge to keep telling my story.

It would be easier to turn off the blog, to not worry about posting anymore. But I love a good story. I love to share a good story. I love to be inspired and inspire others. If this blog reaches but a few people who find some of what I write inspiring, than I am doing something I believe in. Which is really all I'm searching for during this nomadic life. Well that, and a place to live.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Taking a walk before heading west

Taking in the same view that inspired van Gogh to paint Wheatfield with Crows

My stride is often criticized for being a saunter. However, I find a slow walk allows the imagination to run wild. This theory was with me today when I stepped off the train at Auvers Sur Oise, made my way up the hill, passing the church to an open field where Vincent and Theo are buried.

Getting from the 10th Arrondissement in Paris to Auvers happened in a flash. At 10am I caught the direct train which only runs on weekends from Gare du Nord. In 30 minutes the busy streets of Paris transformed into rolling farmlands.

Before noon it felt like fall. The sky was a solid tone of gray and the faint breeze had a cold bite. After paying my respects to Vincent and Theo I started to walk the loop that showcases spots that inspired some of Van Gogh's most well known paintings.

By the afternoon the sun started to shine through the clouds. I was making my way towards Dr. Gachet's house when I came across a bench on the side of the tiny street. I took a seat, broke off a piece of baguette, crammed it full of Camembert and started to laugh out loud as I read The Dharma Bums by Kerouac.

I looked up from my book every so often desperately wishing Vincent would pass on his way to meet his friend and physician Dr. Gachet. Once I had my fill of baguette and self-induced hallucinations I continued my journey around town.

Evening arrived around the same time as my train. I took my seat and stared out the window turning my thoughts towards my good friend Pat Bognar. I remembered the first time I heard her rave about Auvers Sur Oise during a Black&White Photography lecture.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How I found a fratello

A person goes through life meeting people. We are constantly meeting people. Some stick and some don't. I believe this to be even more true when traveling. During my five summers I spent working at a sports camp in Switzerland I met a lot of people. It was my first summer and my roommate was an Italian named Nicola Stella. That was almost a decade ago.

Now, after several summers/winters in Switzerland, countless beers shared across the globe, and a master's program that gave me the opportunity to live in Torino, I have infiltrated Stella's social circle. His network of friends is unlike anything I have ever known back home. Stella's collection of friends have shared the same playground, they remember the names of each other's high school girlfriends and, having remained close even after university, formed an enduring bond often reserved for brothers.
Top row: Mimmi, Guido, Fabio. Bottom row Matteo, Stella
I have one wonderful sister but no brothers. Growing up my older sister taught me things I would have never otherwise known. But just as I can appreciate what she has taught me I have always been envious of others who have brothers. I imagine that dynamic would be different. Just as my sister instilled in me a sense of style (which has worked with varying degrees of success) I believe a brother would teach skills from the other side of the spectrum.

Fortunately I found five brothers. This small group of guys who were Stella's friends when I met them nine years ago have since become some of my closest friends. Roughly the same age, we have watched each other evolve, sharing advice and insights along the way. I have come to appreciate each of them with their own distinctive personality. Jokes and jabs aside I admire how they look out for each other, overcoming challenges not alone but as an elite squad of friends finding their way through life.

Who knows why we meet the people we meet. I can't guess why a random set of circumstances led me to work that first summer in Switzerland. But one of the many things that traveling has taught me is to never take anything for granted, whether it is finding a shepherd who shows you a hidden source of fresh water or getting the "ok" to stay at the Shakespeare and Co bookshop. Logistical good fortune aside, the people I have met from traveling are what I am truly thankful for. To have found such a friend as Nicola Stella will remain one of the greatest gifts of my life, made only sweeter because through him I have found five brothers I would have never otherwise known.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

So long Sardinia

I pedaled a little slower on my last day in Sardinia. It wasn't from tired legs but from not wanting to leave. It may be considered Italian by the mainland but never before have I had to remind myself where I am than on this enchanting island.  Sardinia consumed my imagination with its beautiful beaches and soaring mountains. Even the shortest interaction with locals had me wishing I could speak Sardinian dialect. Not being able to listen to these proud people tell their stories will forever haunt me.

It's another all night ferry from Olbia to Genoa for Lyudmila and I. From there a train to Torino to share a long dinner with old friends.

Editor's note: I was just along for the ride. Up steep climbs, cranking hard on the pedals, Lyudmila managed without a single flat tire, broken chain, or snapped cable. Nothing. She never quit me.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

When you wake up next to a bicycle.

Dawn breaks as I roll over (off my sleeping pad) and see her (Lyudmila) leaning up against a tree, staring at me through the thin netting of the tent. Like a dog that wants to be walked my bike wants to go for a ride. Secretly I'm just as excited to start the day.

The first hour of each day on this cycling adventure is like they say in photography terms the "golden hour". I break down camp. Every item has its specific place in the panniers. Every movement starts the flow towards that first crank of the pedals.

Finally setting the wheels in motion, leaving behind the known for the unknown, we begin the search for the most important destination of the morning. AN OPEN CAFE. Like the black lab that can pick up the scent of Orca scat, Lyudmila somehow steers me towards the lonely tired cafe owner firing up the coffee grinder.

Once inside the ritual is always the same. Go straight for the warm croissants that are always found in this magical little plastic set of shelves, pull a napkin from the dispenser and pick out the one with the surprise inside (apricot jam) while ordering "un cappuccino". Then stand at the bar and bask in the five minutes of banter between the bartender and whoever else is up at the ass crack of dawn.

And then it beings. The real sense of adventure hits me when I start to ride away from the cafe and find the open road under my wheels. Everyone is waking up. Starting their day. The road is quiet, the only time the road is quiet. The sun still fighting with the moon for earth's attention. The cool air is giving way to the heat of the day.

I pass an elderly man and greet him with the best Italian tone I can muster.
"Buongiorno!" it just rolls off my tongue.
Looking surprised he sends me a soft reply with a smile.

The road unfolds in front of us and we follow it, wherever it goes.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Bentu maestru and amazing beaches in Sardinia

My mother is famous for quoting the idiom "it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good." But as I pushed my pedals in order to go down hill I couldn't help wonder who or what was benefiting from the Mistral (or Bentu Maestru in Sardinian).

The powerful wind that whips down from France started on my second day in Sardinia. The locals have told me it will blow for three days. Taking it slow and steady I head over the middle section of the island, going west to east over the mountains. For now, a few photos from my time along the southern coast.

The beaches of Sardinia have to been seen to be believed. 

Killing some time as I wait for the ferry to reach the small island of San Pietro just off the southwest corner of Sardinia

Flamingos in Sardinia. They glowed pink in the early morning.

Reaching the far side of San Pietro.

The people of Sardinia are proud to be from this island. I have noticed more than one tattoo outlining the island's shape. So it came as no surprise when I saw this mini cooper, sporting the flag of Sardinia.

Kids at play during the rough seas created by the Mistral

Sunset along the coast.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Making sharp turns along the Amalfi Coast

Taking a break on a quiet side street in Naples
It was nighttime in Naples as I leaned against a stone wall outside the pizzeria waiting for, you guessed it, a pizza. Across the street I watched as a fat rat appeared from a crack in a building. It stared at me for a moment, then quickly pinched its large belly back into the crack.

I smiled, having spent the last several days touring some of the most famous/beautiful/touristic coastline in the world the raw and gritty feel of Naples was refreshing. The city has a scruffy charm. You get hard looks here you dont get anywhere else in Italy. Riding the streets by bike I could sense how little people care about human powered transit in a city that is famous for its "anything goes" approach to driving.

A quick lap (by boat) around the island of Capri had me remembering the last time I was on this island shortly after 9/11. It was a weekend trip with the Gonzaga study abroad program. A large group of us hiked to the top of the island and set up camp. I selected a place far from the others on the flat roof of an old monastery. At dawn gunshots rang out all around me. Taking cover as best I could I was certain that terrorists were targeting our (American) program. After a few very tense moments alone on the rooftop I began to wonder why no one else was panicked. I shouted over to another student who informed me the terrorists were bird hunters.

Lyudmila and I took the challenge of riding the crazy roads along the Amalfi coast. Blind corners, narrow streets, dark tunnels, and blazing heat were only justified by unbelievable views, breezy descents, and beautiful little towns. I could recap what it was like to spend a few days in Positano or I could pass you to John Steinbeck, who wrote a great piece about his time in Positano in 1953.

If the Amalfi coast is a playground then Mount Vesuvius, with its destructive personality, is the school bully. It's hard to imagine Vesuvius blowing its top in 79 AD. Walking around what remains of Pompeii is a powerful experience. Seeing the plaster casts of victims from the eruption, their arms forever frozen over their mouths, searching for breath in the toxic fumes from the volcano.

As luck would have it I found myself pedaling along side my friend Paul if only for a few days. We traded the yellow jersey up steep climbs and down curvy descents, taking a break for Granita every chance we could get. Now Lyudmila and I find ourselves taking on the unknown again with an all night ferry from Naples to Cagliari. Arriving on the (Italian) island of Sardinia, we will start from the south, pedaling up and around the coast.Editor's note: Guido stopped pedaling after we left the island of Elba, returning to Torino to continue his work as an architect. His problem solving skills and loud laugh will be missed in Sardinia.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Photo Essay: Last days in Tuscany

Like a bottle of Brunello my bike trip through Tuscany was something to be savored. A blend of flat tires, friendly faces, long laughs, old friends, incredible scenery and food that felt as though I was tasting flavors for the first time.
Passing through small villages for a quick water stop often led to a community conference about our two-wheeled journey.

Meeting up with a few of Guido's friends along the coast we traded sweat for sand. Known in Italian as a Spiaggiata we made a bbq on the beach that lasted all night. It seems the Italian language has a specific word for every kind of social activity.
Guido and I found our old friend Mimmi, Laura and little Viola after a short ferry ride to the island of Elba. 
Adapting to our surroundings, the longest bike ride was a few blocks to the beach.

Easy Rider(s) in Elba
Morning rush hour on the island.

Searching for our spot to take an aperitivo, the drink before dinner. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Photo Essay: More from Tuscany

Sunrise over San Gimignano

We made a lap around the fresh track in Siena. The city is preparing for the Palio dell'Assunta  (horse race)
What goes up must come down.

Taking a (pizza) break
The iconic Mediterranean Cypress lining the roads in Tuscany

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Photo Essay: riding through Tuscany

Riding around the wall surrounding the beautiful town of Lucca was a perfect way to start the bike trip through Tuscany. Such a great way to view a city.

A ride through the center of Lucca to take a quick look before heading south 
Fitting accommodation considering we are riding through the center of world's connection to Chianti

Taking a break after making the long climb up to the Etruscan town of Volterra

After a long set of hills this was a welcomed view of San Gimignano

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