One Stellar Day and The Eleventh Hour

I had a stellar day.

I used to have them regularly. In fact, it was the odd day that wasn’t. But it’s been a long nine months since I’ve experienced twelve hours that were gorgeous from beginning to end.

It began with a moody sunrise.

Clouds stirred a potent stew setting the stage. Anything could happen.

My morning routine behind me, I readied my computer to tune in to Jessa’s class. My oldest daughter has created a niche for herself that nobody else can occupy simply because they haven’t walked in her shoes. This child of mine heard a different drum and listened. From an undergrad in psychology, she enrolled in the California Institute of Integral Studies for her Masters in Women’s Spirituality which took her to the Goddess Temples of Malta for ritual, dance, and music. There she experienced the archaeological remnants of pre-patriarchal culture. 

After grad school, Jessa was hired by Yeungnam University in South Korea where she taught English to English Literature majors for several years. During that time, she explored other parts of Asia. Every so often I’d get a message: I’ll be out of touch for a while Mom…I don’t want you to worry….which would instantly trigger acute anxiety and push all my fear buttons. With a local guide, she journeyed by donkey along Tiger Leaping Gorge, completely off-the-grid. That visit to the matriarchal Mosuo community on Lugu Lake near the Tibetan border in China gave me weeks of nightmares. She loved it. Leaving Mother Lake: A Girlhood at the Edge of the World, by Yang Erche Namu, is the memoir of a young Mosuo woman. If you want your eyes opened to an alternate universe, read that book.

For ninety minutes I scribbled notes as Jessa presented her class Crossing the Aquarian Threshold: The Jupiter Saturn Grand Conjunction. Forty of us Zoomed with her on a deep dive into the ramifications of the planetary alignment that will arrive on Dec 21, 2020, the Solstice. Her diverse perspectives and surprise ending gave me so much hope for the future that, as soon as she finished, I had a full-blown meltdown. I know, that doesn’t make sense. I should have been overjoyed, not unglued.

I think it was the build-up of nine months of horror, holding myself tight to maintain sanity, making daily life-and-death decisions, “Can I see this person? Am I Covid free? Are they? Should I go to the store? The restaurant? The library…?” A message of hope seemed too much for my nervous system to bear.

There’s nothing like a blubbering, cleansing cry to refresh the soul.

It took a while but eventually I collected myself and made a huge bowl of fresh mango topped with homemade granola for lunch. Ketut appeared just in time for Nescafe and gosip, a favorite pastime that isn’t really gossip. I don’t know how we got onto the subject of the Cempaka tree and its metal heart, but I learned that Cempaka heartwood is incredibly strong, like metal, and is used for temple structures and wood carvings. Ketut wanted to know if there were such trees where I come from. I said there might be one in a botanical garden inside a glass house to keep it warm, but not growing wild like Bali.

Good laughs, always good laughs with Ketut.

After sitting all morning, I needed to move my body. For several days I’d been itching for new reading material. Ubud’s Pondok Pekok is a lending library about a quarter-mile from me. It also has a section of used books for sale ranging from seventy cents to $3.50 USD. They’re not in any logical order so it’s a game of hunt ‘n’ peck. I’ve passed hours paging through musty tomes, but this time it went fast.

I found three good novels, then a splash of color caught my eye. Out of a stack of used and abused children’s books I pulled this gem.

The cover sold me. Tell me, who could resist opening this book? It was in utterly pristine condition – an enigma in the Ubud library world. Every page was a feast for the eyes.

Graeme Base is an author/illustrator, a rare bird in literature, and he’s written this story in delicious rhyme. Above are pages two and three of Hubert the elephant’s birthday party mystery entitled The Eleventh Hour.

The feeling that I’d struck gold lingered as I hurried home and rearranged furniture to prepare for the next event of this exceptional day. My table found a perfect spot under the ceiling fan – also the best location to catch cool breezes. I use the term ‘cool’ loosely as rainy season is upon us with high temperatures and 99% humidity.

Ketut had challenged two friends to a few games of Texas Mean which he always wins. But not this time! Our precocious thirteen-year-old neighbor took four out of five rounds and I got lucky with one. She was blissed! He was skunked (overwhelming defeat – check it out) but took his losses with jovial goodwill.

A few hours later, games finished, I started to return the table to its original position. But the chair and ottoman I’d moved out of the way and tucked in a corner looked so inviting I couldn’t resist a sit-down. Before me stretched the wide-open view of sky and clouds. I day-dreamed until it was too dark to see. Wholly at peace, full from heart to toes with gratitude for life, I pulled myself out of my cozy spot, showered, grabbed one of the new books, and went to bed.

What made this day special, superbly elevated above endless days before it?

  • The message of hope
  • My blubbering melt-down
  • Gosip with Ketut
  • A successful treasure hunt
  • Fun with friends
  • Cloud-dreaming

People. Learning. Variety. Challenge. Surprise. Fun. And HOPE. Hope that there will be much more of this in the weeks ahead. I don’t think I can wait nine months more for another perfect day.

If you want a peek at where else Jessa’s been and what she’s done, here’s the link to the credentials page on her website. And to all who are reading this – wherever you are – I hope you’ve had more than one stellar day. It isn’t quite enough.

P.S. A recording of Jessa’s class Crossing the Aquarian Threshold: The Jupiter Saturn Grand Conjunction is available for $35. Please include your email address so she can send you the recording. You can make your payment via PayPal or Venmo. Once she receives payment, she’ll email you the link to download the recording, along with a bounty of resources she references in her presentation.

The recording is about 90 minutes. One of the participants, Mary Foley, had this to say: “Such an amazing presentation, thank you so much! I love how much you bring from your work in somatics and racial justice. You weave a picture of hope without letting us off the hook for the tremendous amount of work we have to do!

For more information and for other offerings, you can visit Jessa’s website:

We Can’t Plan for a Future that Has No Past

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to speak of many things…”

I hadn’t read through the whole poem of The Walrus and the Carpenter, by Lewis Carroll until today. It’s a horrible story! But that well-known line captures the feeling I’ve had for months – the necessity to state the truth of the situation and move forward.

Moving forward means going toward the future, a future that has no basis in past experience, nothing to look at and say, “When this happened before, this is what I did.” If Covid has done nothing else, it’s shown me how much I’ve depended on the past to navigate and plan for what’s next.

So now I’m flying by seat-of-the-pants intuition and my gut.

All the while nursing mild hysteria at being cooped up without nearly enough social stimulation. Not to mention the black hole of lonesomeness for my family a g’zillion miles away. So if what I’m about to say sounds impetuous….

It’s not.

My decision is based upon hundreds of hours of banging my head against a wall, meditating, then banging my head a few more times for good measure. In other words, I’ve thoroughly thought it through, considered all the options, changed my mind then changed it back, and finally have arrived at a place of knowing what I want.

I’m selling the lease on my property here in Ubud and embarking on the next great adventure.

Please check out this link and forward it to anyone you think might be curious or interested. Income Property with Owner’s Studio Suite in Ubud

Bali has been my home for nine years. That’s longer than four of my marriages. I’ve thrived here. The island welcomed me, nurtured me, and grounded me in a deeper understanding of myself. Out of a driving desire to communicate with Ketut’s family, I learned to speak Indonesian and my escapades on the back of his motorbike will remain some of the most precarious and precious moments of my life.

It’s been a glorious ride, literally and figuratively. But my gypsy soul has itchy feet and my Viking heart is pounding a new rhythm.

Do I know what’s next?

Remember, there’s no past giving me clues to the future, and my crystal ball’s gone cloudy. But I can stay in the present moment and take the next right step. Then the next. And the next. To relieve myself of my responsibilities here is the first right thing. The old must be set aside before the new can emerge.

“The time has come...”

Bali: Before and After

My love for this island hasn’t wavered. I’ve written poems and posts praising her wondrous landscapes and warm-hearted people. My taste buds have acclimated to chilies and fish sauce. I can’t imagine going back to canned-soup casseroles after thriving on fresh-off-the-tree dragon fruit, papaya, mango, and the magnificent red banana.

Here’s what I wrote in June, 2013, a word-picture of the old Bali that put all her eggs in the tourist basket. And the last verse, the Bali now, is a much different scene. As you read it, the word Bule means foreigner and is pronounced Boo-lay, accent on Boo.

Bali Beats

  • Kuta Beach, braid your hair?
  • Won’t take long…buy sarong?
  • Maybe two…good price…
  • Kuta Cowboy nice, you want
  • Mushroom? Weed? Speed?
  • What you need, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Gamelan in the streets, cremation tower
  • Dodging power lines, three times
  • Black bull circles
  • Dizzy spirits flee
  • Can you see it, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Kecak chorus, chant, trance
  • Women dancing
  • Golden deer and Hanoman
  • In the night by firelight,
  • Are you frightened, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Rubbish smoking
  • Choking when you breathe it in…
  • The din of tourist bus
  • Clogs narrow streets
  • Defeats the purpose, Bule…
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali beats…
  • Trash in ocean, river, piling up
  • While Bali smiling for you, Bule…
  • Taxi, yes? Today? Tomorrow, maybe…
  • Where you stay?
  • What you pay, Bule?
  • Bali beats, Bali beats, Bali bleeds…
  • Covid came and Bule fled
  • Business dead, no smiles here
  • Just fear, uncertainty
  • And empty streets
  • So quiet I can hear
  • The beats…of Bali’s…heart

The situation is bleak, and it’s a stern wake-up call. An economy based almost solely on tourism is fragile indeed. But the Balinese are resilient and creative. They will adapt. Many have already gone back to resurrect their paddies and vegetable gardens. But those who no longer have land, those taxi drivers, hotel staff, and restaurant owners who depended upon a steady stream of tourism for survival, are suffering.

I’m a Bule who is still here, and while I grieve for my Balinese friends, I also watch wildlife return. Birds and butterflies I haven’t seen for years twitter and flutter about the garden. Fumes from the exhaust of too many cars, buses, and motorbikes, jammed in gridlock, have faded away. The air sparkles clear.

They say it’s like Bali twenty years ago…before the Bule stole her heart.

Just Turn Your Pillow Over

This is Ketut’s helmet. It looms directly in front of my face as we race through the countryside.

When you see the occasional white moon at the bottom of an otherwise spectacular shot, that, too, is Ketut’s helmet.

For example, here…

And again here…

It’s only on steep downward inclines that I can actually see what’s in front of us, which happened several times today.

Wanderlust has bitten hard.

You might have thought after the grueling 170 km (105 mile) journey a week ago I’d have had my fill of the road for a good while. It seems to have worked the opposite.

I love the coastlines of Bali but terraced mountain paddies long ago stole my heart. A motorbike adventure is one of the safest, most gratifying pass times during this era of Covid. Sidemen was calling.

Tell-tale sounds of a damp morning woke me. By time to leave the rain had stopped but serious-looking clouds threatened. We took precautions, suiting up in water-resistant gear.

A friend who’d heard about our trip to Rumah Gemuk let us know she was available for future events. We invited her along and the three of us set out.

For a while we followed a garden that was following an ambulance.

Can you guess what captured the attention of these guys so completely that they totally ignored the road ahead? I have to admit, she was a stunner…

Truck art. I wonder if the driver knows…

Finally the traffic and bustle of village life lay behind us and we started the climb. Soon paddy-magic was everywhere.

In no time we’d reached our destination. Warung Uma Anyar is a local eating spot occupying a lofty perch with a spectacular view of Mount Agung…sometimes.

But not today.

Those same moody morning clouds obscured that majestic mountain. But rolling foothills and surrounding peaks provided a more-than-sufficient visual feast.

And speaking of feasts, this is not your average roadside stand. The presentation, the flavors, the damask tablecloths set a tone in keeping with something much more refined. I love to bring unsuspecting guests here. Our friend made appreciative noises as we settled in for a leisurely afternoon.

Roasted peanuts and spring roll appetizers were followed by heaping plates of local fare and somehow we started talking about dreams. I told them I’d had a very strange experience a few nights ago. I’d awakened around one a.m. with a poem in my head. It was an odd little ditty that I’d never heard before. I grabbed my phone and wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget by morning.

Ketut and our friend listened attentively as I rehearsed the words:

  • Lit I a moon so big and bright
  • That all could see it day and night
  • Lit I a sun so faint and small
  • That none could barely see at all

They frowned at me in silence for a few long seconds, then my friend asked, “What does it mean?”

I shrugged. “I have no idea.”

“Is there more?” Ketut wanted to know. “Maybe there’s more. You should have turned your pillow over so the dream would continue.”

We stared at him, fascinated. “Really, Ketut? That’s what you do? Turn your pillow over then go to sleep and you’re back in the dream?”

“Yes. But only good dreams. For bad dreams, don’t turn your pillow over.”

Breath-defying views, wonderful food, humid warmth with a just-right breeze – a perfect day. But nothing compared to that nugget of Ketut’s folk wisdom that left us howling with laughter.

Mood Management 101

I used to know what I wanted. I had a dream. My assumptions about the future allowed me that freedom.

Now my world is probably similar to yours, a basic box with X number of rooms where we are told to remain, with only a few exceptions for intermittent escape. And like an animal that’s been in captivity for a long time, even if the gate opened I probably wouldn’t venture through it – not right away.

The uncertainty of the future sucks all potential out of dreams. Dreams need to anchor in something solid to feel achievable. Unless your dream exists within the rooms in your box, or the pixels in your computer, it has probably already evaporated.

Nothing in our prior experience prepared us for this un-reality. I’ve found the best way to successfully navigate uncharted waters is to manage that over which I still have control.


People spending so much time at home begin to notice things that have probably irritated them for years but they were too busy to address. My sister and her husband decided to redo the water system in their kitchen and move the sink.

A nearby neighbor fixed a leaky drain pipe. Then he dug a new septic tank. (This is Bali. You can do that here!)

Stuck in my studio apartment I suddenly needed more elbow-room. It took a day of grunting, groaning, and pushing furniture from side-to-side and back again, but I managed to creatively reconfigure the contents to my satisfaction.

MOOD MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLE #1 – Become industrious in your own space. It’s one place where you still have control. Whether it’s cleaning, organizing, painting, repairing, or rearranging furniture, it shifts attention off the computer, the phone, the news, and away from doom and gloom.


A Facebook friend began a Get-Healthy-and-Lose-Weight routine January 1st. She posted the other day that as of April 30th she’d lost 37.5 pounds (17 kg) and social distancing has made it easier.

Another acquaintance funneled his anger and feelings of helplessness into poetic verse. He said he never tried poetry before but it keeps him focused on the rhyme instead of the reason. His poems hold to strict anapestic meter with an AABBA rhyme scheme and they’re brilliant.

Then there’s the friend who left an abusive relationship after many years. In close quarters it finally became intolerable.

MOOD MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLE #2 – Practice extreme self-care. It’s another thing you can control. We have to become aware of how this pressure-cooker situation is affecting us personally. It impacts everyone differently. Individuals handle it according to their stress-management ability and it’s a challenge even for those who are stable, well-adjusted, and emotionally healthy.


My Airbnb host in Italy went into total lockdown with his family fifty-three days ago. His school-age children were sent home to learn online. All income for both him and his wife ceased. They are just now being allowed a brief walk outside. He messaged me: Can go nowhere, do nothing, not even sex. (Spoken like a true Italian!)

There are similar stories world-wide. How do people cope with a life turned up-side-down then put on hold? We aren’t used to moving so slowly, not in our bodies and not through time. It rubs the wrong way. We experience shifting emotions: anger, denial, rejection, alarm, resistance, anxiety, panic, and potentially, terror.

Our nervous systems must undergo re-calibration. This can occur consciously or unconsciously and it makes a difference. What happens in the mind manifests in the body for better or worse. Happiness boosts immunity and resists disease. Stress in all its various forms attacks the immune system and invites illness.

If we allow ourselves to get sucked into the downward spin of endless news reports…

If we let anxiety crawl under our skin until we’re so antsy we want to scream (and maybe we do)…

If we feel helpless without our familiar routines and fail to create new ones…

If we sit on the couch watching hours of TV, numbing-out with alcohol or drugs…

…we wont’ survive intact. Something will give, either mentally or physically.

MOOD MANAGEMENT PRINCIPLE #3 – Push the reset button. Your mind is the third thing over which you have control. Right now the definition of happiness doesn’t fit the situation: Happiness is that feeling that comes over you when you know life is good and you can’t help but smile. Yeah…no. Let’s change the word happiness to positivity.

It’s tough, but it IS a choice. We don’t have to dwell on the horror of death and disease even though that’s all anyone thinks or talks about. We can focus on the things we can control: home improvement or self-care projects, hobbies, culinary experiments, online classes or exercise routines. (I saw one on jump-roping. The guy was a machine.) Upon waking in the morning we can resist the urge to check the news and instead look at the sky and breathe a word of gratitude for another day of life.

It takes intention and willpower, but it is possible to observe our minds and manage our moods. If thoughts begin to slip into dark places, we can acknowledge that this is a crazy-making time and adopt a zero-tolerance attitude toward self-destructive energies.

And there’s one fall-back activity that never fails…

Take a nap.

Food Glorious Food Glorious Fooooood!

I’ve embraced food-love.

Not just the flavors and nutritional value for my body, but the beauty, the colors and textures, the rugged heartiness or delicate elegance of the visuals (and victuals) on my plate.

I still prefer simplicity. One dish well-prepared delights me far more than a variety. I don’t know why that is – maybe I’m too easily stimulated by flavors. Maybe my palette gets confused and goes into overwhelm.

Whatever the reason, I’m much happier going deep into the complexities of a single entrée than sampling many. A table groaning with selections thrills some. Maybe they’re the true foodies. But for me, in quantities of food and friends, less is more.

Speaking of friends, small-talk, the inane chatter between people who don’t know each other well and may not care to, is painful for me. It’s like those all-you-can-eat buffets where you leave grossly stuffed but haven’t really tasted anything. I’ve taken new acquaintances aback when, after a few minutes of chit-chat I say, “So…tell me about your childhood.” The ones who reply, You first, are friends for life.

Food and friends. The two go hand-in-glove, don’t they? I hadn’t intended to write about friends – they just slipped in. But it makes sense. Sharing the daily repast is probably part of our DNA from the beginning. I don’t think Eve ate Adam’s rib. But she did offer him an apple – which didn’t end well. Hmm. Bad analogy. However, I think historically speaking, breaking bread together has been a peaceful endeavor, not an act of war.

But about the photos…

That’s lentil stew ladled atop the brick-hard bread I’ve raved about. I paired it with Sartori Pinot Grigio. A red wine would have been too heavy. Even though the slices of spicy salami I boiled first, created an intensely flavorful stock, and the chunk of bread added heft, the white complemented beautifully without overpowering.

In spite of the stunning meals I’ve had here, I was missing my Bali breakfast of homemade granola and coconut yogurt, topped with tropical fruit. On my next trip to Tutto per Tutti market I scanned the cereals on offer and came home with Kelloggs All Bran, a container of Yomo plain yogurt, bananas and strawberries – not quite dragon fruit and papaya but adequate.

The first day I ate it with yogurt. The following day I ate it without. It was either surprisingly good or I’ve completely forgotten the taste of my other life.

My latest achievement is a stew identical to the first, but this time I added kale and more garlic. Not only that, there are still plenty of bread boulders to submerge in the broth for exciting crunchy mouthfuls. That bread! I wish I could bring a year’s supply back with me – although it wouldn’t be the same in Bali’s climate. A bit heavy perhaps…?

I’m loving this – the prep and eating of food. I wouldn’t want to devote my life to it, but it’s fun for an hour or so during the day.

And in case you’ve forgotten, here are the lyrics to the last stanza of Food Glorious Food from the musical, Oliver:

What wouldn’t we give for
That extra bit more
That’s all we live for
Why should we be fated to do
Nothing but brood on food
Magical food,
Wonderful food
marvelous food,
Beautiful food,
Food, Glorious food glorious fooooooood

Old Vines, Exquisite Wines – Tenuta San Francesco at last!

I felt like I was back in Bali when I saw the terraces…almost.

We left the coast and climbed into the Lattari mountain range. It’s cold enough up here for trees to drop their leaves but warm enough for grass to stay green. Nicola had his phone tuned in to Google maps but still asked locals for directions a few times.

I’d originally thought I’d take the bus from Praiano to Tramonti and walk from the station to the winery. Had I done that, I may still have been walking. Our trail through the mountains reminded me of the last lines in a poem by Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The story of my life.

Four people watched us expectantly as we approached the winery. It was the tour group waiting for me.

Sophia, the daughter of one of the owners of Tenuta San Francesco, was our guide. The three gentlemen were from Brazil and I was the lone American.

Sophia is a teacher. She was brilliant, speaking Spanish to the Brazilians, English to me, and Italian to anyone else. She explained we would do a tour of the vineyards then have our tasting, was that all right? We agreed, three Si(s) and a Yes.

I’d been awed by the elegant pergolas spiderwebbing the mountainsides as we’d driven through this area. I asked about them. The framework is chestnut wood, Sophia said, and workers use willow twigs to tie branches to the beams. She explained that willow is organic material and deteriorates. When that happens, it takes four months for experienced knot tiers to replace all the bindings on the vineyard’s thirty acres of vines.

We were standing under the spreading branches of a vine that was over 500 years old. Sophia told us when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, volcanic ash created perfect soil conditions for grapes. And when phylloxera, a type of aphid that attacks the roots of grapevines raged throughout Europe, many originals were lost.

The infestation began when plants carrying the phylloxera aphid were brought from North America in the late 1800s. What followed changed the wine industry in most of the world. Since only vines from North America were immune, in order to preserve and perpetuate the varieties of grapes throughout Europe and other countries (even Australia) original vines had to be spliced onto plants with roots imported from North America.

But because volcanic soil resists phylloxera the vines of Tenuta San Francesco were protected and survived. In a few other areas of the world where similar conditions exist, original vines remain, some over 2000 years old.

She explained that the quality of wine from the rare Tintore grape, which is the variety produced by the original vines of Tenuta, is some of the world’s finest. But the yield from old vines is not large so supply is limited. It’s considered a boutique wine.

The branches from this twisted, ancient specimen create a network overhead covering an area the size of a toddler’s playground. Gardens are planted underneath. Sophia pointed out a plot of fava beans sprouting just behind us.

The vineyard tour completed, we headed inside.

Buildings in Italy seem like they’ve existed for all time. I’ve never been comfortable around glass and steel. Give me rocks, timber, crumbling plaster and I feel at home. There’s a sense of being grounded in antiquity, a connection with the past that I felt as I walked through those doors.

“How old is this cave?” I asked as we entered.

“It has been in the family since the 1700s,” Sophia replied. Sleek steel and electronics against three hundred year old stones jarred me in an exciting way, a bit like waking up to the mechanical hum of a drone peering in my bedroom window in Bali at six a.m. (Don’t laugh, it happened!)

The winery logo was stamped on barrels lining the walls. Sophia showed us how it can be read as a T for Tenuta, and an F for Francesco. She also explained this type of cross was used by the Knights Templar. The designer added a stylized bunch of grapes at the bottom. Classy.

Information continued to flow. Whites are prepared and aged in the steel vats. Reds start there then are transferred after many months to wooden barrels where they age for two years before being bottled. Red wines, we learned, can handle the wood undertones. Whites cannot.

When we were saturated with Sophia’s knowledge to the point of overwhelm, she said, “Would you like to taste?”

She didn’t have to ask twice. We followed her into a sunlit area where our table waited.

Sophia’s mother was preparing food for us.

Gaetano Bove, the man I met in the cafe who invited me to tour his vineyard, introduced the first wine, Per Eva, which he’d named for Eva, his wife.

Sophia’s mother set plates in front of us. “Winter salad,” she said. Fresh goat cheese, warm potatoes mixed with olives and onion, and tomatoes with chucks of hearty farmer’s bread. Silken crispness of Per Eva, like spring rain, enhanced the subtle flavors of the salad and softened the onion’s sharp surprise.

Before we emptied our glasses of per Eva, Gaetano was pouring Turmiento, the winery’s organic red.

I’ve only tasted a few organic wines and wouldn’t go out of my way to find them again. Turmiento was an exception. If you know organic restaurant owners who import wine, recommend this one. It’s rich, warm, and it paired brilliantly with the dark farmer’s bread, pecorino cheese, and sliced salami that had just appeared on our table.

Gaetano radiated love for his craft. As he brought out our third wine he mentioned famous people who had visited the winery, among them Justin Timberlake and his wife, actress Jessica Biel.

Then, as our glasses swirled with liquid of the deepest, richest crimson, Signor Bove told us he’d recently gone to France to attend a meeting of top international wine makers. He’d taken E’ Iss, the red, made from the ancient pre-phylloxera vines. Each of the fifteen attendees had brought their specialties, some bottles selling wholesale for as much as 25,000 euro ($27,000 USD). They did a blind tasting, he said and shook his head. “Mine was better. And only thirty euro per bottle.”

We sipped, and sighed a collective, “Ahhhhh.” I thought Turmiento would be my favorite. It was smooth, seductive. But it turns out E’ Iss was like the difference between the boy you date on the sly and the one you bring home to meet Mom and Dad. I brought E’ Iss home.

Which, by the way, was no small feat. When the food was eaten and the wine was drunk, I said goodbyes and Gaetano drove me as far as Maori, the coastal town where he has a veterinary practice, and dropped me in the square. From there I’d catch the bus to Praiano.

Nicola had instructed me on the finer points of navigating the bus system. I had to buy a ticket before I got on, and he suspected in Maori I could only buy a ticket to Amalfi. I would need to buy another in Amalfi to get to Praiano.

I found a helpful person by this playground who pointed the direction to the Tabacci shop where I could purchase my first ticket. I set out. It only took two more queries to locate the tiny place.

Ticket in my pocket, I started back to where I’d seen people waiting in bus shelters. “Where do I catch the bus?” I asked a street vendor tending her cart. The woman took me by the arm and steered me to the side of the road and pointed.

“To Praiano?” I asked, just to make sure.

“No,” she said, and pointed to the opposite side of the street.

It was a twenty minute wait. I boarded, took a window seat, and snapped photos all the way. If you scroll through fast, you’ll get a feel for the wild twists and turns of the fabulous coastal road.

Then we were in Almalfi with another ticket I had to hunt, kill, and drag home! I asked for directions and was shown the newspaper shop across the street.


A bus with no driver idled nearby. The sign above its front window said Sorrento. I asked a man if this bus stopped in Praiano. He didn’t know. Then I heard, “Yes. To Praiano.” A face with a neatly trimmed gray beard and mustache nodded at me from the front seat. Gratefully I boarded, inserted my ticket and turned to walk toward the back. The bearded old man patted the empty spot beside him.

“I can sit here?” I asked. He nodded.

Within a few minutes the driver appeared and another gut churning ride commenced, but this time I had a seat companion. “You speak English,” I said.

He nodded. “I speak three languages, French, English, and Dutch. You know pork?” he asked.

It seemed a strange question. “You mean pig?”

“Yes, pork. In French pork say this.” A strange, pig-like grunt erupted from his mouth. “In Dutch pork say this.” The intonation was different but still unquestionably porcine. “And in English…”

To say I was happy when we reached Praiano would be an understatement. Still, I was grateful when Signor Pork reached across me to ring the bell for my stop or we would have sailed right by.

By now it was dark. I stood alone at the corner where deserted Via Umberto heads uphill and Via Roma, with more traffic, is a straight, level shot to my blue gate. I poked around in my memory trying to bring up the map of Via Umberto. Without data on my phone I couldn’t request Google’s help. Dressed all in black I’d be invisible on the busy Via Roma, narrow and without sidewalks…

I started up Via Umberto knowing with the certainty of experience that somewhere there would be a staircase going back down. After about 150 meters (apx. two city blocks) a footpath veered off to the right at a serious downhill slope. It was beautifully lighted so I took it. A few hundred yards later I knew exactly where I was. The stairs that take me from Tutto per Tutti to my house were right there.

I just want to say to senior women, men too, if you’ve ever dreamed of solo travel, if your feet sometimes itch and your eyes long to gaze on something other than your own backyard, do it now.

No matter what creams, dyes, or wrinkle retardants we use, we don’t get any younger, and time doesn’t wait.

She’s Old But She Likes Chocolate

So, we’ll go no more a roving
   So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
   And the moon be still as bright…

Lord Byron’s poem, sung like none other by Leonard Cohen, is probably descriptive of my feelings about roaming the ink-black stairways of Praiano after dark. Once was a scary thrill. Twice won’t be necessary. Not when there are sunrises like this, and days bathed in gold.

As luck would have it, this February has been unseasonably warm and sunny for Praiano – a walker’s dream. And I am, dear friends, a walker! Not the White Walker Game of Thrones type – just an ordinary, past-middle-age-but-still-young-at-heart woman who loves to walk. And today I’m taking you with me to the Piazza San Gennaro where I hope to see the inside of the church with the beautiful blue dome that has captivated me since I arrived.

But before I go, I want a bit of background. The Encyclopedia Britannica says: Saint Januarius, Italian San Gennaro, (died 305?, Pozzuoli, Italy; feast day September 19), bishop of Benevento and patron saint of Naples. He is believed to have been martyred during the persecution under the Roman emperor Diocletian in 305. His fame rests on the relic, allegedly his blood, which is kept in a glass vial in the Naples Cathedral. Of solid substance, it liquefies 18 times each year. While no natural explanation has been given, the phenomenon has been tested frequently and seems genuine.

Until today I didn’t know there was a saint for my birthday month. Nice. I mapped my route and was off .

The photo hasn’t been touched-up. That water is really as turquoise as it looks. But it’s a lot farther down than it appears and diving is not recommended.

As soon as I could, I abandoned Via Roma and ducked into Via Rezzola, a series of stairs and pathways for pedestrians only. I passed one. I could tell he was a local man by the way he said Buongiorno with a nod and the curl of sound around the o-r-n followed by the slightest lift on the ‘o’ at the end. I’m becoming a connoisseur of this melodic language.

Of the paths I’ve trod so far, this one is the prettiest. Bright painted ceramic pots line the wall. I love this depiction of my sun sign, Capricorn, the sea goat.

It was unmarred tranquility until I heard something coming toward me that sounded like children beating on wooden bowls. It wasn’t children. This time I didn’t miss my opportunity.

There were four of these lovely creatures. I think they’re mules, longer manes, nicer tails, more shapely legs. They’re the only vehicles allowed – the only vehicles that can do steps without assistance. They’re the haulers, essential for any construction that happens on these cliffs.

And then I was in the Piazza. Two young boys were using the massive square as a playground. A couple sat on the side sharing a picnic.

I walked the circumference then sat in the sun, watching.

There are three entrances to the church: the doors in the middle and one on either side. Nobody was going in or out and the metal gate was closed. A woman, beautifully dressed in a fuschia coat and scarf, with a crown of white hair, walked in my direction. She smiled, “Buongiorno,” she nodded then said something that must have been wonderful if I’d been able to understand.

Mi dispiace, non parlo Italiano, I said. I’d practiced all morning to get that down. If I learn nothing else I need to at least be able to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian.”

My new friend walked over to me and beamed. “It is beautiful day, no?” she said.

We talked.

No, you don’t understand…we TALKED. Together. Communicated. She owns the hotel by this square and interacts with guests so she speaks English.

Over the course of conversation I asked her if the church was open to visitors. She said of course, I could just walk in. It was always open. Had I not met her, I wouldn’t have gone inside.

Thank you beautiful lady in the fuschia coat.

The interior of the Church of Saint Januarius did not disappoint.

Image result for the tile floor of san gennaro church
The tile work on the floor is spectacular.

There were people praying so I didn’t take pictures of the Rococo and Renaissance style art, sculptures, niches, and stations of the cross. But one stood out: a woman serving her breasts on a plate. I found a picture on the internet. The one in the church was similar to this:

Image result for Renaissance painting of woman serving her breasts on a tray

I looked her up. She’s St. Agatha, patron saint of rape victims, breast cancer patients, martyrs, wet nurses, bell-founders, bakers, and (her name is) invoked against fire, earthquakes, and eruptions of Mount Etna.

Church bells pealed as I left the square.

I took the road uphill to Tutto per Tutti with a quick detour to check out Che Bonta. It was open! I spoke to Claudio, actually, Claudio spoke to me, holding his hands cupped together in front of him the way professionals in the service industry often do.

He explained it was only their second day so the menu, which was on the chalkboard in front of us, had the specials. He apologized there were only eight options. But I could also order off the regular menu which he produced for my perusal. I’m guessing there were at least another fifty possibilities there – pizza, pasta, panuozzi, antipasti, salads, and a dessert of the day. Oh, and they deliver…

Claudio, Claudio – you rock my world – you and the lady in the fuschia coat.

Tutto per Tutti was closed.

But Centro Market was open and I needed chocolate. Tomorrow at noon I will go to Felicia’s house to watch her cook. What a privilege to spend time with an Italian family. The chocolate is a hostess gift. I asked Nicola if she likes wine. “Not so much,” he said. “She’s old. But she likes chocolate.”

What does being old have to do with liking or not liking wine? I didn’t ask. I’m quite certain I’m older than she is and I have no problem with wine.

I found assorted chocolates. Here they are, wrapped and ready. That’s the Che Bonta takaway menu. And the Rosamundi is my latest wine-tasting trial. It passed – I couldn’t wait for 5:00. I think that rule is only known to Minnesotans. The rest of the world tends to pour a glass whenever they want.

I’m a quick learner.

The Wild-Haired Women of Paulo Sandulli

Paulo Sandulli creates art in an 800-year-old medieval tower.

Assiola was built as a defense lookout in 1270 when Praiano had a thriving silk industry and marauding pirates were a constant threat.

The curious round structure was the first thing I noticed from my terrace when I arrived. You really can’t miss it. I Googled: Tower in Praiano, and Signore Sandulli’s name popped up. I read about this multi-talented artist and knew I had to meet him.

Today I did.

The rugged approach was challenging after the 2,966,843 steps down from the street. I exaggerate, but not much. It’s rumored that Sandulli has goats. I didn’t see them, but the terrain would suit.

The door to the studio was open. He motioned me in. Oh, please converse in English, I prayed.

He did so with eloquence.

As one would expect, the circular space was a visual cornucopia. Sandulli has been working his magic here for thirty years. Right now he’s madly pumping out product preparing for the summer onslaught of tourists who flock to buy his pieces.

“Do you ever get tired of creating?” I asked, wondering how anyone could maintain that level of productivity over such a span of time. He raised his eyebrows, no doubt surprised at my cheeky question, looked around to ensure we were alone, then nodded the affirmative.

He was obviously able to power through whatever boredom might plague him. The room, bursting with torsos and busts, attested to that. He told me the figure beside him with glasses was a likeness of his father. I could see the resemblance.

On shelves and tabletops were rows of women sporting hair in a riot of colors. “Sponges,” he said. He removed one elegant lady’s updo and handed it to me. It was light as cotton balls.

For the next hour, the master himself treated me to a personal tour of his studio – a workplace magical and enthralling.

He excels in every medium: clay, oils, watercolor, acrylics. I paged through reams of charcoal sketches that prefaced his creations.

Unfinished busts sat drying, works in progress, and the blue box in the background is his kiln.

Mermaids cavorted in bathtubs…

Scantily dressed teams played tennis…

Nudes rode sea creatures. He told me the name of this fish…grouper maybe?

And in their private glass case, a group of fishermen played cards.

Sandulli’s muse Eleonora, “…was born in a tower overlooking the sea not very different from this one,” he said of the Aragonese princess, who in 1473 sealed a dynastic union by becoming the wife of the Duke of Ferrara. A picture of her hangs on the wall.

Paulo’s process is a study in economy and brilliance. He has only a few molds he uses for the chest and hip portions of the body. Then he attaches the head and limbs and assigns different positions to make each character a unique individual. For those that ride sea creatures, the hips spread wide for stradling broad backs. On some he attaches a mermaid’s tail.

It’s similar with the busts. The basic head is the same, but while the clay is still malleable he varies the shape of the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and gives each one a personality.

The terracotta figures are flamboyant and fun. But Paulo’s paintings tell deeper stories.

As my visit drew to a close, I thanked him for sharing his time and he grew contemplative. “This tower was used to defend Praiano from people who would have destroyed her,” he said. “With my paintings I also wish to defend this place. Make a record for future generations before it is lost.”

It’s a noble cause. Thank you, Signore Paulo Sandulli. I wish you well.

Oh, and by the way, please keep that painting for me, You know the one. I’ll be back.

MAGICAL THINKING — Game of Thrones Style

Image result for magical thinking

I watch Game of Thrones. Didn’t want to. Heard it was gory and violent. But I happened to see the first episode about a year ago. That was all it took. I was hooked.

I’ve tried to figure out what captivates me. Why the fascination with White Walkers, Wildings, the nasty Lannisters (except for Tirian), and beautiful Daenerys, the Mother of Dragons? Speaking of…wouldn’t it be great to have a couple of flying, fire-breathing beasts to call upon when you needed to make a point? Even a smallish one would serve the purpose if it could burp a little flame. She wouldn’t even have to fly.

None of the main characters in Game of Thrones do battle alone. Queen Cersie has an army, the Iron Islands have ships, John Snow, King of The North, has Wildlings, and Daenarys has her dragons not to mention thousands of savagely loveable Dothraki warriors.  

I usually don’t feel sorry for myself, but one day recently I got to thinking. When the chips are down, I’m really all I have. It’s not that others don’t want to help but my battles are with inner demons, and beyond lending a sympathetic ear (which is a comfort), there’s not much anyone can do.

As my mind meandered down that trail, one thing led to another.

I thought about fairy tales, white knights, genies and the like. How waiting for something else to be the answer is pretending I’m helpless. It’s casting myself into the role of victim, a part for which I’m extremely ill-suited, thank you very much. So I made a list of all the things that wouldn’t be showing up to help me and suddenly, with a little massaging, a poem emerged.


No white knight is riding to your rescue
Your kiss won’t make a prince of a warty toad
There are no magic potions to heal the heartache
No magic words or wands to smooth the road

No genie will appear when you rub the lantern
To grant your wish or bestow on you three more
The golden coach that should have come at midnight
Is a pumpkin in the field just like before

Good luck with the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow
Ali Baba’s thieves stole it years ago
And forget the sound of Santa on your rooftop
Rumor has it he’s gone south – can’t stand the snow

There’s only one thing sure you can depend on
In this crazy world of​ caustic disarray​ ​
Your own brave heart in bold determination
Will illuminate the path and clear the way


This poem reminds me that I am the answer I’ve been waiting for.


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