XMAS, HOLIDAYS, TRAVEL AND NEW YEAR’S EVE

It is January 1, 2018 and I am sitting in my small apartment in Salies de Béarn thinking about writing this piece to begin the year. I am happy. It is pouring rain, the wind is howling around with a tempest called “Carmen” which will continue all through the week; according to the weather man there is no chance we will see the sun until Sunday (how appropriate!) and today is only Monday. And I am happy and peaceful.

cofTwo days ago (that would be the 30th of December, 2017) I awoke at 9:30 in the morning in the small hotel where I always stay in Madrid. It was a beautiful, sunny day so I decided that, in spite of possible jet-lag, I would make the 6 hour drive home that very day. But there was nocof

jet-lag and the drive was easy, and I even went the extra 10 kilometers to pick up Salomé before heading home.

The no-jet-lag was definitely a surprise, but perhaps I should start at the beginning.

This year my son had invited the whole family to spend Christmas at his house in Lake Tahoe. After enjoying two days in Madrid, where I was treated to the most incredible oznorsunset over the city, I flew to Los Angeles on the 19th of December and spent the night in my son’s house in Malibu; the following day, we (my son, his wife, me, three grandchildren and their little dog) drove in two cars to Lake Tahoe (10 hours); it was snowing when we arrived (delightful). To make a long story short, a couple of days later my daughter and two more grandchildren arrived, one of them with his girlfriend. By that time we were 10; one other grandson –who had to work over Xmas- spent three days with us before returning to L.A. My son’s eldest male offspring arrived on the 25th with his girlfriend making us an even dozen.

IMG-20171224-WA0026Now consider that I spend 99 percent of my time living alone in a small apartment with a dog that doesn’t even bark; I hardly ever put on music and the only sound I hear is when I watch a movie or while talking with someone over Skype. I am my own boss: I eat, play and sleep when I want, what I want and with or without whomever I want. So the idea of spending 9 days with 12 other people –no matter how close to my heart they are- was daunting to say the least. Would I be able to stand it? Would I get irritated? Would I find myself running off to hide in my room most of the time? Were there going to be fights, unpleasantness, criticisms… I admit I was, at moments, a bit frazzled.

However, once there I began to have the time of my life. Yes, at moments the noise levelIMG-20171223-WA0010 was daunting with no one listening and everyone talking at once in voices that got louder and louder as everyone strove to dominate the general mayhem, and occasionally I found myself going hoarse in my effort to get a message across and finally giving up; I admit that –added to this- the constant musical background without which modern generations seem unable to live seemed absolutely unnecessary as it was never actually listened to. (I am tempted to remember that in my days and those of my parents, we put on music and then sat down and actually listened to it without talking. Music constituted an art form to be enjoyed of and by itself. Today, I’m afraid, people appreciate music the way my mother appreciated the Louvre, a museum she went through in less than 15 cofminutes.) The day everyone went skiing and I stayed home alone, my son asked if I wanted him to put on some music for me (he kindly thought that it might make me feel less lonely, as if being alone ever made me feel lonely) and I said “most certainly not!” and proceeded to enjoy the absolute silence.

Except for that one day, I spent every waking moment with the family: helping in the kitchen, making the gravy for the turkey, washing the dishes, playing table games with my grandchildren, shopping for food, petting or walking the dogs, fixing my own breakfast, mixing granola to share with the grandchildren or just sitting and watching and listening to my cofwonderful, beautiful family. I don’t remember a happier Christmas in my whole life, and it wasn’t at all about presents. Yes, presents were given, but somehow they weren’t the center of attention; they were almost like an afterthought. Much more important were the conversations, the hugs, the caresses, the games we played and all the times I got the giggles with one cofgrandchild or another. Everyone participated in the preparation of meals and I loved just being one more cog in the machinery of cooking and cleaning up.

When the moment my departure came, I realized that I would have loved to stay another four or five days until after New Year’s; I feared I would be terribly sad upon leaving. Apart from separating from the family, I had booked myself 26 hours of travel which made the prospect even less promising. But then I did something I had never done, and everything was perfect. I left without leaving. From the moment I stepped into the Uber car for my drive to the Reno airport, I began documenting my trip by taking photos and then sending them by Whatsapp to the family site so that every moment of the trip I was still with them and they were with me.cof

There was the picture of Lake Tahoe from the mountain top as we drove towards Reno; (below which I wrote “I still see you!!”); then cofan image of sprawling Los Angeles right before landing.

In the terminal, where I had a 7 hour layover, the “I Love L.A.” oznorsign over a store in the airport, the moving belt where I waited for my luggage, my suitcase coming down the chute and then the two matching bags standing side by side were all recorded and duly sent. I kept taking pictures and sending the info of my progress coftowards home, and this way, I realized that I hadn’t really left, I could still imagine each member of my family hearing the ‘ding’ of his or her phone, gazing at the screen and connecting with me upon receiving the photo.

My hours in L.A. airport became pictures of what I ate in the VIP lounge, of a hat on a stand outside a store which read: “I can’t Adult today” which was exactly how I was feeling in my playful mood; there were pictures of other coftravelers crossing my path; of a frozen yoghurt I treated myself to in memory of another time when I had shared one at the same stand with my daughter and granddaughter; of me reclining in a comfy chair; of the moving walkway where I cofstrolled back and forth to get my exercise of the day; of the luminous Iberia sign announcing that the flight would leave on time and that boarding was to begin at 8:50p.m. It became a game in which I was the only player and I was having a great time. I knew the other family members would be looking at different moments and soburst felt connected to them even if there made no comments: they were busy still having their own fun. But I was taking them with me at the same time: there was no way I was letting go.

sdrThere is a picture of the people ahead of me going down the jet way onto the plane; and of me in my seat with my feet up, followed by a shot of L.A. lights on takeoff. mde

Then I settled into my usual routine on long flights: supper and then a sleeping pill. I awoke 5 hours later perfectly rested, took a picture of the moon over the wing against a beautiful blue skycof and sent it to the family. Still in touch. I followed with a snapshot of the porthole, wing and a bed of clouds below; and finally of the London landing fieldcof at Heathrow the evening of the 29th as I sat in the plane for over 30 minutes waiting for a slot to disembark and fearing I would miss my connection to Madrid. Finally, after the usual race through Heathrow airport convinced that I would never make it, I sent a photo showing my boarding gate as closed (panic) and then one discovering that they had changed the

 

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gate and my flight to Madrid was delayed. Plenty of time to board. Once more, a selfie of me sitting in my seat for the final leg of the

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journey. By the time we took off, I had been travelling for 24 hours although, by clock time, I would lose a total of 9 hours in the transit. I landed in Madrid an hour and a half later (which by the clock was two hours and a half because of the time difference), picked up cofmy car and drove to the hotel, arriving exactly 27 hours after leaving Tahoe; I was –by then- quite tired. The last two pictures I sent were of a bowl of hot soup I had in the restaurant for supper with the caption: “warm soup for good little girls”, and my hotel room. Then I crashed.

And yet, I was not home. The following morning (after sleeping 9 whole hours) I hopped in my car and took off, continuing mysdr

pictorial journal with photos of the fog filled highway, and then the clear skies once leaving the central part of Spain, a photo ofsdr

my luncheon salad and detox juice in a place called Quintalapalla, and finally the picture of little Salomé on the car seat beside me which appears at the beginning of this post, and the sunset from my bedroom window. I was home.

I sent a message of thanks to my family for the wonderful, wonderful holiday and unpacked. Surprisingly enough I have neither suffered from jetlag nor from sadness or solitude. Everything about the trip was so perfect, even the way I ended it; where would sadness fit in? It turns out that nowhere! WHAT A WAY TO END 2017!!!

THE DELICATE FIBER OF LIFE

HURICANE IRMABetween last night and this morning I was shown how delicate, fragile and precious the web of life actually is. Irma (the hurricane) is hurdling towards Florida where two of my grandsons live, one with his girlfriend and the other in college (they are in Tampa now in the house of a friend which is supposed to be very safe). Mexico City, where my daughter and two more grandchildren live, was shaken out of its sleep by an 8.4 earthquake (oscillatory) in the middle of the night (the 1985 earthquake was 8.1 and claimed over 10,000 lives). My son and his wife (in Los Angeles where wildfires raged a few days ago) had to rush their dog to the hospital yesterday to have melon-sized tumor removed and waited most of the night to see if 1) she survived the imagenes NIKON (July 2011-Sept 2011) 014operation and, 2) if there were metastasis in which case the dog would not be woken up from the anesthetic (fortunately the big black labradoodle survived the operation and showed no metastasis). And last night I lost Salomé in the dark. I’ll start with that.

It was 8:30 and it had just gotten dark… I mean dark. The full moon would not come up for a couple of hours and the blackness was left to a couple of feeble stars that managed to shine in spite of the clouds. We left the house and –as usual- I allowed Salomé to pick our evening route. She decided on the ‘around the corner and out towards the vineyards’ way, so I took her leash off. There are very few cars on that route at night and only one street to cross so she goes on her own.

We’d had a very nice walk –lots of smells for Salomé; a gentle breeze and peaceful quiet for me-, had turned around to come back home and were just arriving at the far end of the vineyards when Salomé decided to go into the 2-3 meter wide grassy patch between the grape vines and the corn field. As she often does this and then catches up with me, I continued walking slowly. When I had almost gotten to where the vineyard ends (about 20-30 meters on) I turned to look for Salomé and saw that she was just coming round the last row of grape vines and heading in my direction along the grassy strip between the vines and the road. I continued walking slowly waiting for her to catch up. About a minute or two later I turned again to see how she was progressing and she wasn’t there. My gaze swept the whole grassy strip up to where I was standing and the street down to where we had separated and the sidewalk on the other side of the road. Nothing. The area was well lit, so it was obvious she wasn’t there. I began to walk back calling her name, something that generally gets zero response from her but that I hoped might work this one time. Nothing. I got all the way back to where our ways had separated. Nothing. I OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwalked into the grassy space a bit turning on my phone flashlight in order to see between the rows of vines. Nothing. I knew she wouldn’t go into the corn field because the stalks are too close together, so I walked back up the whole length of the vineyard. Nothing. Thinking that perhaps she had crossed over and gone around the other way which sometimes we take to go home, I walked back and around. Nothing. I repeated these now desperate steps another three times, calling all the while with a voice every moment more pleading and desperate. Nothing.

The moon was coming up, but it wasn’t the lack of light that was causing the problem; the problem was that Salomé was nowhere to be found. ‘Maybe I missed her when I was going around the other way and she is waiting for me in front of the house’ I thought, trying to give myself hope. I walked all the way back to our building. Nothing. I did the whole tour twice more and then scoured one of the streets leading into town that we take sometimes at night when I need to put the extra steps on my phone’s Health App. Nothing. I was beginning to feel panicky: my little dog doesn’t just disappear into thin air! But she had.oznor

I was becoming quite tired from walking as quickly as possible back and forth, and there was a hollow feeling in my chest and stomach. How could she have just vanished? By this time I had been searching for over an hour. I went back to the house and took out the car. Now I drove, slowly, going down the wrong way on the one way street we had been on, searching both sides and the middle. Nothing. She was gone. My mind kept saying over and over: ‘How could she have just disappeared like that?’

I kept telling myself that everyone in town and nearby areas knew her and would definitely bring her back if they found her, but the thought of little Salomé spending the night alone wandering around and me spending the night alone looking for her with all the terrible images my mind could produce weighed like lead in my chest. It was getting near 11 o’clock. I decided to do another round with the car.

dic 31 2011 027Just as I was entering the one way stretch of road the wrong way again, I saw her. She was trotting rather rapidly (she probably noticed I was nowhere to be seen) in the direction of home so it seemed that she knew where she was even if I didn’t and it was a relief to see that she would have gone to the front gate of the building where we live if I hadn’t found her.

I stopped the car, opened the door and said her name as if we had just spent months apart. She came towards me as I unbuckled the seat belt and I just scooped her up into my arms. I don’t know if she was trembling or it was just my own trembling but in order to not add insult to injury, I imagined that she had been just as frightened as I had been and held her tightly for the next ten minutes.P1010581[1]

When we got home, she went straight to the cupboard asking for a treat. I couldn’t help myself rewarding her despite my hour and a half of emotional torture, so she got her treat. On the positive side, however, thanks to her I racked up over 14,000 steps on my health App (around 9 kms) for the day instead of my usual 9-10,000. Salomé went to bed immediately and fell fast asleep; I took a while to finally put the dread of loss to rest and find my own path to dream world.

And all the rest… well, that was this morning. I awoke to find 42 messages on the family WhatsApp group. My daughter-in-law wrote about Zuka’s tumor and operation; pictures and lamentations went back and forth until Zuka came successfully out of surgery. Everyone relieved. Then my eldest grandson announced that he and his brother (both actually living on the Atlantic coast of Florida) were in Tampa to wait out the storm; again messages back and forth urging them to stay safe and sending lots of love. Then my grandson in Mexico informing everyone that they had just had an earthquake and everyone was fine, although he had been very scared. Apparently it was oscillatory (side to side) and not trepidatory (up and down) which was why damage in Mexico City was at a minimum. I found my daughter still awake and we messaged back and forth a couple of times more (it was past 2am in Mexico City and she gets up at 5) and then I sent her a goodnight kiss.

oznorSooo, now it is past midday and I am wondering at life which can produce so many near disasters in one night without anything really serious happening. For the moment, my world seems to have survived lost dogs, dogs with tumors, hurricanes and earthquakes and –as the song goes- the sun is shining/ oh happy day/ no skies are cloudy/ and no skies are grey/ oh happy day/ oh, oh, oh, oh lucky me.