Water Babies Athirst

There was a whopper of a rainstorm in Dallas recently. We were at our friends’ home, enjoying a little birthday party, and heard a few low growls of thunder in pauses between the chatting and laughter but had no great confidence rain would follow. It’s been overcast or cloudy often enough lately without granting so much of the hoped-for watering as it seems to promise, so we never take it as a given that we’ll be watered nicely. Not, in this instance at least, until the front door smashed open under the force of sideways gales and blasts of firehose rain. Bashed open once, and closed; then, a second time. And latched tight; the neighborhood was pelted well and truly until just a little before we left for home.
Photo: Drinking-Fountain Fountain

At home, it appears, no rain had come at all. Our gardens and spirits remained thirsty. I’m quite certain that a coastal-born person of my Washington upbringing and Scandinavian roots is a little more water-conscious, if not obsessed, than average. But the hints of rain that do arrive here, whether in sky-splitting gouts that last but an afternoon or in a steady series of lightly sprinkling days as we are sometimes blessed to see, are a fairly universally admired gift. And I find that north Texas is hardly alone in this.
Photo: Swan Like

The traveling we did this summer in Europe had very few rainy days among the many sun-soaked ones, and while we neither regretted the warmth and light of the sunshine nor bemoaned the drizzling times, we saw plenty of people in Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Stockholm, Port Angeles and Seattle who relished their rain-baths and their waterfront or fountain-side relaxation every bit as much as we did. Even the swans, geese, ducks and waterfowl seemed all the more pleased with their daily peregrinations on the days of and after the rains.
Digital illustration from a photo: Falling, Falling

I think that there might be in all of us a certain kind of thirst that mere water only reinforces and reminds us is different from the sense of desire and hope that can fill our spirits. River or fountain, a strong and cleansing rain, ocean or streaming tears of joy, the only water that can quite slake our longing for wholeness and growth and hope is the remembrance that we are primarily made of water ourselves, and as such, will always seek a way to the well or the shore that reassures us we belong.

Foreshadowed

There we were in our hotel room in Prague—much more sophisticated and glamorous than the sort we’d have booked for ourselves, to be sure, thanks to the tour organizers—and I looked up and saw this through the curtains on our window:
Photo: Through the Curtains

Isn’t it amazing how just the hint of an image, a fluttering silhouette in the afternoon sun, can promise so much romance and adventure?
Digital illustration from a photo: Shades of Dusk

You know, naturally, that since we were in Prague, any promise of romance and adventure was bound to be fulfilled and, indeed, surpassed. A holiday of any sort is not to be shunned, generally speaking. But when I find myself in a city so marvelously compounded of history, mystery, drama and delight as Prague, I feel from the first glimpse of its thousand towers that frisson, that lovely shiver, presaging wonderful things not yet imagined even by me in my most vivid dreams.

Foodie Tuesday: Artful Eating

Another pleasure of travel—of getting out of my familiar paths and habits—is discovering not only new things to eat but new ways of preparing and presenting foods I might have known all along. Whether there’s some entirely unforeseen ingredient or the known ones are combined in a completely unfamiliar way or plated more exotically or beautifully than I’ve seen before, it’s all, well, food for thought. And a danged fine way to assuage the hunger pangs brought on by wandering and exploring in new territory.

The time we spent in Europe in July was yet another happy example of this truism. So much so that I’ll just give you a few tantalizing shots for your contemplation and not go further. You’ll be wanting to dash off for lunch before I have any time to go on further anyhow, don’t you know.Photos: Artful Eating (Series) 2014-08-05.2.artful-eating 2014-08-05.3.artful-eating 2014-08-05.4.artful-eating 2014-08-05.5.artful-eating 2014-08-05.6.artful-eating 2014-08-05.7.artful-eating 2014-08-05.8.artful-eating

Just Press this Button and Be Amazed!

I’ve told you that I am enamored of digital photography. How could a person who loves taking pictures—but is too confused by the functions and uses of a ‘real’ camera, and far too lazy to do anything like the intensive study required to become skilled with said functions and uses, let alone learn how to process photos afterward—how could I not love digital cameras and photo processing?

One of the bonuses of the ability to revise and improve my photos digitally is the element of surprise that comes when I’ve taken very dark photos (at night or in poorly lit places), open up what looks like an entirely black image in one of my favorite editing programs, brighten it and change the contrast, and voila! there’s that thing I was looking at and had entirely forgotten by then. Sometimes the photo turns out to be something I had no idea I’d shot, too, but even those pictures can be interesting in their own ways.Photo: Gnats 1

Take this particular black rectangle from our recent time in Prague. I knew I’d taken photos on a couple of evenings when we were out and about with our compatriots, but couldn’t necessarily say exactly what the subject of them had been. A little tweaking brought the memory out of the dark.Photo: Element of Surprise 1

Gnats! There was a flurry of gnats flitting around a lamppost and making a tiny but lovely little display of sparkling fireworks, and when I took the photos I had no clue whether they would actually show anything at all, given the intensity of the surrounding darkness. But my hopes were rewarded, if not with a magnificent set of photos, at least with a welcome memory of that beautiful evening that even a clueless picture-taker like me could enjoy.Photo: Element of Surprise 2

Coming in for a Landing

Travel! When the opportunity arises, it’s such a joy. And one of the pleasures is that first glimpse of Destination from the plane as it’s approaching the airport. On the recent trip, that was Hungary. Well, Frankfurt first, for the layover and change of planes, because Budapest is, inconveniently, not a direct flight from Dallas-Fort Worth International by means of any airlines that wanted to haul 100 wonderful yet mildly wacky choristers and choir groupies like us over there.Photo: Wing Watching

But then there was the arrival in Hungarian airspace, the gradual coasting down below the thirty thousand foot level, the passing through a thick padding of cloud, and the gradual appearance, between shreds of the last clouds, of lovely farmland and countryside, soon followed by equally tantalizing sightings of increasingly suburban and urban zones. As the craft eases toward the runway, there’s that little tickle at the back of the brain that says, This is Finally Real! After weeks and months of planning and imagining and arranging the possibilities, thinking the adventure infinitely far away, suddenly one is looking out a plane window at trees and roads and buildings of a place-that-is-not-home, and it feels quite lovely, even if one is groggy from a long day or night (or more) of travel to get there.Photo: Aerial Patchwork

Returning home after travel can have something of the same effect, of course, since even when it’s awful to have the holiday or away-time end and worse, there are chores and jobs and catch-up of all sorts to attend as soon as the wheels touch the tarmac, there’s still that bit of gladness welling up at the sight of familiar yet unfamiliar land below, stuff not normally seen from such an elevated angle. And it also says that the known comforts of home are not far off after a long day or night (or more) of travel to return.Photo: Signs of the City

So I’ve now had both versions of the experience anew, more than once each as it happens, in a recent journey and, rather than dulling the pleasure, it reminds me afresh of what appeals and beckons about flying off to distant places. And about winging back to home turf, too. Flying from Dallas to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Budapest, riding in massive coaches with the choir from Budapest to Vienna to Prague; flying again from Prague to Stockholm, then Stockholm to Frankfurt to Dallas—and all the while, looking out windows for signs between the buildings, the trees, and the clouds to say that some new sort of excellence lies just ahead—this is a journey worth all of the weeks and months of labor and dreaming, plotting and packing, and one that only makes me hungry for more.Photo: Over Budapest

I Love Cities

Those who visit here with some frequency know that I am mighty fond of the rural landscape and its many, many charms, but it might not be quite as obvious that I am equally smitten, often enough, with the joys of urban life. Some of my happiest times and most exciting and meaningful adventures are attached to various wonderful and fabulous cities where I’ve been privileged to live or spend time.photo + text

Whenever anyone asks me to name my favorite cities where I’ve visited or spent any little amount of time, the first places that come to mind are truly lively, astoundingly adventure-filled places. I’m not big on bravery or constant busyness or the unknown, as you may well know by now, but I always manage to find myself energized and passionate about what these fabulous environs have to offer at every turn. It turns out that there is no shortage of urban places that fill me with dazzling delight. In addition to my hometown of Seattle, there are so many other magnificent cities for me to love wildly, places like Stockholm, Boston, Vienna, San Francisco, Munich, Cincinnati, Oslo, San Antonio, Vancouver, New York, Prague, Chicago, and London—for starters.photo + text

I will always crave my quiet time, and often that’s best found in the sweet, laid-back grace of the countryside, removed from cities’ bustling pace. But besides that it is possible to find moments of peace right in the middle of any major metropolis, if one only knows how and where to look, there is the inherent buzz and boisterous beauty of urban life to enjoy as well, and I am not at all immune to that kind of happiness when I can bask in it. I suppose the root of the whole equation is always, quite simply, to seek my well-being wherever I happen to find myself.

Wish I were There

memento assemblageMuch as I adore where I am at any given moment, I’m not above reminiscing about and longing for other places I’ve enjoyed, or fantasizing about ones I’ve yet to try even in the midst of the current Happy Place. It’s not a matter of comparison, of course, just that persistent tickle at the back of the mind that everyone suffers who has ever been two places–opposite ends of the couch or of the world–that are both pleasing and desirable for their own reasons.memento assemblage

So I can sit in a ray of gilt sunshine, in a high-backed soft chair, sipping cool water and feeling quite contented–yet my brain keeps flitting around, from Praha to Portland, from Boston to Berlin, from San Juan Viejo to San Antonio. In my heart, I may be tucked up in a mews in Wexford or striding along the West Side to find a small concert venue after dark in New York. Perhaps inhaling the dazzling steam of glorious Indian food in a surprise find restaurant in Oslo, watching the koi slide through their semi-tropical pond under the snow-frosted glass pyramid of the conservatory in Edmonton or testing the tenderness of lovingly handmade pasta in a cozy family ristorante in Bolzano.memento

Wherever I may be, my thoughts will always drift. It’s not the least a sign of dissatisfaction or discontent, but rather that I’ve found delight and happiness in such a wide variety of places that they all compete for attention even (or perhaps especially) when I am full of well-being. There is so much beauty to be enjoyed in the world and there are so many great sensory experiences to be had that the soul grows restless for them.memento assemblage

Much as I like my reminiscences and the memories of all of those fantastic places I’ve journeyed, the astonishing and dear people who have welcomed me there and introduced me to each place’s peculiarities and pleasures, and the thought of all of the songs, foods, walks, sights and adventures that have enriched every one of those times, I am always hungry for more. The sweet sense of something marvelous that’s yet-to-come is as poignant and piquant as the promise of any other sort of romance, and my wishes always lean toward the more-ish, especially when the outing is made hand in hand with my dearest companion. Though the old-fashioned postcard tradition for travelers may have been to write to friends and loved ones saying ‘Wish you were here’, the truth is more often that I wish I were nearer to them, wherever they are.memento assemblage