Second Cities and True Loves

Sorry for the shameful gap in posting. I am really going to try to work on that. I do have a reasonably good excuse for the past few months, which is what this post is about.

As many of you know, I’ve been working and living part time in Chicago since mid-April. The working part started first, but by June I was here a few days a week on average and it made sense to escape the horrors of hotels; I now have a place to leave some clothes, my favorite breakfast cereal, a few books and (perhaps most importantly in the Age of the Quart Size Plastic Bag) duplicates of a few indispensable toiletries.

The work has been hard – taking over the leadership of a team that needed some – but also extremely rewarding. I’m working with fantastic people, and it’s worth the effort because they have so much potential. It has been a bit like getting a rusted out classic Mercedes from your rich uncle… lots of work is required but you know it will be magnificent when it’s up and running. For a while I still had all of my Seattle responsibilities to manage too, but that has been rationalized a bit and I’m concentrating on fewer things to greater effect. My team back home, the new one here and all the managers scattered around have been really wonderful and I’ve really never felt out on a limb – I have known every step of the way that lots of people are backing me up.

But as is often the case with my work, the less said about it the better. The real challenge of being here is about where I’m not: home. Looming somewhere below the glimmering trite whiteness of clichés like “there’s no place like home” and “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” there’s this great iceberg of longing and loneliness that I had only ever imagined in the most childish of ways. It’s one thing – wrenching at the time to be sure – to be a homesick child, and I did have my share of that. But to willingly put myself away from family and friends, for work, realizing from 1,720 miles away exactly how much I love the life David and I are blessed to have built together… it’s crushing really. My father spent a lot of time on the road and living away for business, but for him it was necessity – literally how he kept our family fed – and he managed it without complaint. There’s a bit of vainglory in my assignment, given the queasy knowledge that I could say “enough” if I couldn’t stand it and go home with career and reputation largely intact. On a bad day, that lends the impression of a self-imposed exile.

I’ve had a couple of those. For only the second or third time since I claimed a Second City, it hasn’t made sense to go back to Seattle over a weekend. Work days here are invariably 12 or 14 hour affairs, and even when I’m back at the “Chi pad” I’m catching up on email, reviewing documents and generally able to anesthetize myself with the small details of a small life alone – laundry, perhaps a jaunt to Whole Foods, the occasional TV show watched in Tivo-less real time. In the context of that, a short call to David cheers me up more than it makes me miserable. Weekends, though, yawn like an abyss. It’s nice, in a sad way, to have 48 hours to collapse into and recover. There’s always a bit of work to do, more errands and in theory one of the world’s great cities at my doorstep to explore. And I have done a bit of that – and enjoy Chicago much more than I ever expected. (More, to be sure, on that happy topic later.)

But this weekend, as with all the time away, has revealed itself a terrible joy. What passes as our quiet domestic life in Seattle is, from this perspective, so clearly a miracle. David – surpassing in his wonders, surprise and above all patience – is simply so much better a match than my wildest dreams ever hoped for. The life we have built together, the friends whose love and companionship we enjoy together, our home (currently under rather ridiculous renovation!) and even the silly dogs are… perfection. When I’m home, time with our best friends is such a blessing too; when I’m away, it means so much to know that they love David almost as much as I do and take such good care of him. I’d like to think I have always appreciated these things as much as I do now, but it is simply not true.

In the day to day passing of “ordinary time,” it is easy to get caught in the trap of wanting more, of hoping for different, of pushing for the next thing. Distance has lent me perspective, and every time I’m home – which, really, is wherever David and I are together – the smallest, most common moments just knock me over. A Sunday sleeping in with the dogs snoring at our feet is heaven; if it happens to be one of those sun-kissed Seattle summer Sundays, I lie in bed awake smiling broadly, trying not to move and jar any part of it out of place. Against all the odds of place and time and the vagaries of attraction, we found each other… and I can’t keep from feeling like an ass each time the plane door closes to take me away.

I also can’t truly fathom how hard it has been for David, too – extra work to keep everything together, responsible for all the inscrutable needs of the dogs, and left with a big empty house when he comes home from his own long, hard days of the office grind. Though in my mind I imagine him enjoying a break from my chatter and ceaseless motion, I can hear in his voice how much he misses me too. We parted ways last Monday morning after a fantastic week and a half vacation – first in Houston for my cousin Clay’s wedding, then in Cancun with absolutely nothing planned or required of us. The margaritas were fine, but it was the time together that left me drunk. Saturday, the one day we were back in Seattle together, must have been the hangover — I was in a fuzz to about-to-be-gone-ness.

It’s just a few more days now until I’ll be home again through Labor Day, with a couple of weekends away together to look forward to. And I do. I suppose the end of all this rambling is simply how grateful I am to have someone I miss so much, who is patient and understanding enough to put up with this temporary arrangement, someone so manifestly good to come home to.

I should cut short this ramble and save something up for another post before too long, but I’ve been radio silent for too long. Thanks to everyone who has been putting up with my travels and travails lately. Most of all, darling David. I’m counting the hours until I see you again, at which point I’ll shift to savoring every simplest moment that passes.

Charging for checked bags is a stupid idea

Ever since American Airlines announced they’d be charging for the first checked bag, this is the blog post I’d intended to write.  Well, close to it anyway — I’d also thought that the only effect is going to be everyone trying to bring bags on board and making the clusterfuck that is boarding even worse, but charging for carry-on bags instead
is a brilliant idea. The only modification I’d make is to make it apply to bags in the overhead compartments only (the space in front of your legs is still free).  The airlines could sell a limited number brightly-coloured carry-on bag tags (for say, $15 each) for each flight, and anything found in the overhead compartment without a tag automatically gets checked.  (Passengers in bulkhead seats get a free tag to compensate for the lack of underseat storage.) It’s a great way of managing a limited resource, and a revenue generator for cash-strapped airlines.

And on a similar topic, I now refuse to fly US Airways since they announced they were to start charging for soft drinks during flights. This is simply penny-pinching gone to far.  In the dry environment of a low-pressure airline cabin, everyone needs a drink. Just add a few dollars to the fare, for chrissake, and save all the costs of re-engineering the beverage and cash collection process!

Hitchhiking to Alaska, a photo essay

Found this cool story about a young guy’s hitchhiking trip from NY to Alaska.  Check out the “abridged” link for some of the best photos, but I really enjoyed the stories from the unabridged link.  Really reminded me of the film Into the Wild that Jay and I just saw.  Really good film, especially for me since I hadn’t read the book and was totally surprised (and even shed a few tears!) at the ending.

Me again, after a long hiatus

Yo, kids. How´s life in the real world? I´ll start out by apologizing for the lack on postings. Matt and I have been all over southwest france and eastern spain and when we´ve come upon an internet cafe i´ve been either tired, hungry, or ready for a glass of wine, and walked past. I guess the ease of overseas phone and text messaging makes it easy enough to stay in touch that i haven´t felt the urgency of writing as much. But it´s our last day here, so I´ll at least give a few highlights.

I love windfarms. They´re actually quite graceful and all over the place here.

I think we liked Biarritz and a mountain town in France called Mendes best. We´re in Sitjes, just outside Barcelona right now, and it´s lovely, but the call of an early morning flight is looming.

We´ve eaten so well. The hotel we stayed at in Mendes had a two star restaurant and the food was incredible. The mountain air was amazing. And the next day was the Saturday market so we walked around and bought some saucisson sec and cheese, though later Matt wouldn´t eat the sausage because it smelled like Yogi´s feet. Go figure.

We´ve stayed for the last 5 nights with rooms looking out onto the beach. Last night it was the Mediterranean, the 4 nights before it was the Atlantic. Two in France, and two in Spain.

We´ve seen so many sites, churches, cathedrals, castles, walled cities, roman arenas, etc, that by the time we got to Biarritz we were ready to just relax and hang out in seaside resort places, which is so not what we were expecting. But we did get to have lunch in a cave inside an old Templars´fort from the 14th century or so. Carcassonne was really cool too.

The tally of towns we´ve stopped or stayed in is dizzying: Barcelona, Blanes, Balyieu sur Mer, Arles, Avignon, Mendes, Carcassonne, Toulouse, Biarritz, Hondarribia, San Sebastian, Biboa, and Sitjes. We have yet to get the car towed (knock on wood), cuz we´ve figured out the parking payment system.

We drove coast to coast yesterday. From the Atlantic to to the Med Sea, at least.

The dogs of Spain and France are so well behaved, and there are so many of them we´ve really missed our Yogi.

Anyway, I´ve left Matt on the beach and he´ll probably melt if I don´t rescue him soon. We head to London tomorrow morning early, and hopefully after a few hours in town, back to Seattle. We miss you all, and can´t wait to see you. I´ll see if I can´t think of a few good anecdotes.

Ms. McKay and Mr. Sand drive out to see a view; Paulette drives them

Or rather, they drove off the highway because Matt said the Dali Museum was off a certain exit. Which, apparently was not the case, however it did give us anple opportunity to drive along the sea, which is lovely, and the roads are narrow and twisty and many hundreds of feet above anything else, and largely without guardrails.

And have I mentioned yet that Matt is afraid of heights? Which is likely why, as we rounded a corner on a one-lane street, high above the cute little beach town we were traversing, and a truck came barreling toward us, forcing us to swerve ever so slightly to the right, Matt let out a terrified yelp of “oh, fuck me” and then upon looking down at what he assumed would be our landing place after the nonexistent guardrail failed to stop our fall, he let out an even more panic-stricken “oh, fuck me twice!”

Is it bad that I enjoyed that moment so much?

Anyway, when we had turned off the highway, having made excellent time out of Barcelona, I should not have said “hey, we’ll be in France in half an hour” since it then took another 4 hours of nearly single lane roads well above the sea and switchbacking around mountains before we reached the French border. Not long after, we decided to call it a night, found a nice little town and a hotel on a beach in it’s own little cove where the cost of a delicious dinner (lentils with seared foie gras, grilled dorade with eggplant pancakes, and tarte tatin), as well as breakfast were included in the price of the room.

At the moment we’re in Arles, where van Gogh did his thing (including the ear thing) and wandering around, likely heading to Avignon sometime later this afternoon.

Love all around!

you didn´t think i´d ever get around to writing, did you?

And all because I haven´t in like three years. Silly, silly people.

Well, Matt and I are in Barçelona, and I am going to start off by answering the question so many have put to me in the days leading up to our offgoing. “How different will it be for Paulette traveling with Matt than alone?” Let´s see…we´ve gotten lost nearly everyday, walked a bunch (mostly in the wrong direction) and eaten well. So not really all that different, except I have someone else to blame for getting lost, especially since Mr. Sand claims to be able to read maps (and I know I can´t) and he thinks he can navigate by the sun, which is either just showing off, or the effects of the Horatio Hornblower book he´s reading.

Shall we start with the eating? Last night was dinner at a place Hisop, which is near our hotel, does neuvo Catalan cuisine, and was recommended by JT´s friend Terry. Awesome choice. The place was all white with one wall of red cabinets and the white highlighted only by red roses on the walls. The food was outstanding. I had an octopus salad with tomatoes, mizuna, and avocado ice cream, garnished with tomato consume. Matt had a sea cucumber and mushroom salad with blood sausage appetizer. Both fantastic.

Oh, I almost forgot the amuses. First was an oyster, lightly marinated in thyme and lemon, served with mango sorbet and a wasabi pea. Second was tuna belly with a tarragon and reduced balsamic bonbon. Both yum.

Main courses-I had the scallops, lightly seared, with zucchini flowers, a zuchini slaw, and a sauce of pumpkin soup, garnished with pomegranate seeds. Matt had braised veal shank with a red wine reduction and a turnip pudding. I can´t claim a favorite. They were both outstanding.

Yesterday we saw the Gaudi church and the Castillo Battli which was expensive to get into, but incredible. Especially the “courtyard of light” with is in the middle of the seven story building. It´s made of wavy blue tiles that get darker the higher the floor, but following a progression fo the same pattern. Thent he overlook from each landing into the courtyard has this very wavy glass you look into, giving the impression that you are under water and that the higher you climb, the deeper into the water you go. It´s the closest thing i can imagine to what it must be like to be a fish!

The church is amazing too, though far, far from finished, even though it was started 125 years ago. The people funding this massive undertaking better hope that Barçelona is not on a fault line!

The day before we walked the Rambla, kind of the big tourist street with a pedestrian way leading toward the Boqueria market. It´s lined with news stands, and people who paint themselves up in elaborate monochromatic and probably toxic paint to stand on a box and hope people will put money in their buckets. It also seems to be the equivalent of an outdoor pet flea market, with stands selling all manner of birds (from adorable tiny pink finchy things to parrots, pigeons and chickens) as well as rabbits, mice, gerbils, itty bitty little frogs and much larger tortugas with bumpy shells on their backs, and of all things, hedgehogs and chipmunks). It was, well, odd. But the animals were cute.

First night we ate at a Sicilian restaurant near the hotel because the place we wanted to go was full and a lot of things didn´t seem like the right atmosphere. They´d been open a week, but the food was delicious and homey. Matt had homemade tagliatelle with ham, peas, and mushrooms. I had linguine frutti di mare. Turns out the owner is from near Messina, where my brther and I will be going with my mother in six months time.

While we were there, some very chic chick sat at the bar and managed to kick one of the wine bottles ont he ledge below used for decor (bad, bad planning) which knocked two more down, for a spray of red wine and glass all over us, a lot of embarrassment on their part, and a topic for conversation to get started with our waiter, who turned out to be Tunisian, though he and the owner spent the night in lively conversation easily switching between Italian, Spanish, and French.

The next night we ate a small restaurant with a loud television, but delicous croquettes and ham and olives and mushrooms and fried herring that were then pickled in olive oil, vinegar, and paprika. One of the waiters dropped a bunch of salt and pepper shakers, so they moved us away from the mess. So you can imagine we were rather relieved that our three hour 5-star dinner last night didn´t result in any broken anything.

Today, I think we´re going closer to the water adn taking a funicular, or some such thing. Kind of depends on whether we can find it. Although we did atleast manage to get a pretty good idea of how to get to the nearest metro station without getting lost.

Talk to you all soon!