Backpacking-through-Europe Part I: Preparation

Ahhh…it’s that time of year…vacation-planning season.  The weather is starting to warm up a bit; people are getting “itchy” to start moving around; and everyone is fantasizing about what they’re going to do for vacation this summer.  Having done just a little bit of travel in my life, I find myself becoming a bit of a “travel advisor” for my friends and coworkers.  Not that I mind, mind you…there’s almost nothing I love more than encouraging people to travel, to fill their heads with enticing stories about what awaits them, to watch them, wide-eyed and giggling, as they imagine themselves there already.  So, my next few posts will be completely travel-related.  First stop, Europe.

Three years ago, with the economy spiraling downward, the company I work for, in a valiant effort to eliminate layoffs, began a program of periodic furloughs for all employees…forced vacation without pay.  At first, we grumbled about it, felt like we were being bullied into it…but it was a helluva lot better than losing our jobs; and, I have to say, it forced me to take a trip I always wanted to take but never did.  I was one of the many who would have loved to have backpacked through Europe between high school and college, or between college and the headlong plunge into the working world.  Alas, high school transitioned instantly into college, which in turn forced me upon the working world while in school.  There was no way to stop the momentum; and my dream of traveling the world alone, a young, wide-open book, passed me by.  (Besides, there were other distractions…but more about that later.)  I eventually landed a job that took me all over the country and all over the world; and I loved every minute of it.  However, the romance, the adventure of traipsing through Europe with nothing but a backpack pestered me…like a 25-plus-year butt itch!

Enter the furlough.  With 2 weeks of furlough facing me, in March 2009, refusing to spend that time at home, I embarked on my dream trip.  I bought my Eurail pass for unlimited train travel through Europe (First Class, oh-la-la!) and loosely planned my circuit of Western and Central Europe.  This is the first of 5 installments I texted on my Blackberry to family and friends of my journey.  Come join me…

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Backpacking-through-Europe Part I: Preparation

Sent Tuesday, March 17, 2009 5:46 PM

Hello! This is the first installment of my 2-week backpacking-through-Europe trip. Don’t feel any obligation to read each installment, which will come every few days; but if you do, I hope you enjoy reading about these adventures…or should I say MISadventures? (And…oh…stay tuned…there’s a surprise twist at the end…it’ll be in the last installment!!!!)

So, you may ask, “Kanani, aren’t you a little OLD for this kind of trip?” Haha! Yeah, this is the trip I shoulda taken at 18 instead of at 44….but at 18, I was just discovering the Big Gay World out there…it was exciting and eye-opening…and during that amazing, fascinating time of self-discovery, Big Gay World trumped Big European World. (I mean….drugs, sex, rock-n-roll…well, more like, “It’s Raining Men, Hallelujah, It’s Raining Men”…the choice was QUITE clear to ME, thank you very much!)

Since the late ’80’s, I’ve made many trips across Europe…on business and pleasure, alone and accompanied variously by Ralph, my parents, my brother Kawika and several close friends. All fabulous trips, no question about it; but there has always remained that unfulfilled, romanticized adventure of procuring a Eurailpass, hopping on and off the train as much as I want, in any country I want, staying in youth hostels (a strange yearning for the college dorm life I never had, perhaps?), and savoring the experience fully for “pennies”…er…”Eurocents”…a day…oh yeah…all the while carrying all I need on my back. (Well, that part kinda sucks; but it comes with the territory. Thankfully, I’m a master at packing light; and Mom and Dad helped me pick out the perfect backpack at REI when we were in Seattle in January…big enough for 2 weeks of “stuff”, without looking like I’ve murdered someone, wrapped them in a tent, and nonchalantly strapped the evidence to my back!)

At 44, I know this whole scenario should sound repulsive to me; but instead, it sets my heart a-flutter and creates the same thrill in me I had as a kid when my Grandpa took me and my sibs to the circus at Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu, or my parents shelled out the big bucks to take us to Six Flags Over Texas! Maybe it’s the thrill of the unknown, the bizarre and unexplained love I have of “not knowing”, of being plunked down in unfamiliar place and having to just “figure it all out”. Or, maybe it’s an early mid-life crisis…my proverbial “red sportscar”…except there’s no gas, maintenance, insurance…nor the DREADED Mahelona-Family-Broke-Down-Automobile Curse!!!

So, the trip begins with fasting the day of departure. (C’mon…y’all know I don’t do things “normal”!)  I had read that drinking only fruit and vegetable juices (no food, caffeine, milk or alcohol) from the time you wake up on the day of departure until your morning arrival in your destination city (including the free “food” on the plane and all that free wine-DAMN!!!-you get on Trans-Atlantic flights) is the ultimate jet-lag prevention…something about recent findings that it’s the feeding cycle that affects our body-clock more than anything else…the fasting allows you to sliiiiide on into your destination feeding cycle smooooothly.  It sounded pretty primal…and compelling to me!

I’m happy to tell you that it worked like a charm…the ONLY thing I’ve ever tried that really works! Over the years, I’ve tried timed naps and sleeping, jet-lag pills, abstaining from caffeine or alcohol (but not food), melatonin, drinking lots of water….and always, about halfway through the day in my arrival city, BAM!…I hit a wall and am reduced to a worthless, snoring, drooling, zombified Dorothy-in-the-poppy-fields-of-Oz. But my entire first day in Brussels, I had tons of energy, wakefulness and clarity.

Granted, when the flight attendants began the hard-sell, “We’ve got (mummified) chicken or (rubberized) lasagna today (surprise, surprise!)”, I actually felt a fire of desire in my stomach…but I stuck to my guns and doused it with another bottle of V-8. But I have NO regrets….my body-clock and appetite were immediately on Brussels time…I never got sleepy (until all the Bruxellois did); and I haven’t kept odd hours or needed a nap since then!

Good thing, because I’m on a tight schedule! I’ve basically allowed myself an afternoon train arrival in each city, 1-1/2 days and 2 nights of exploration (read: walking my ass off) and sightseeing, then an early morning train departure to the next city.  It’ll be the same pattern for the entire trip. I’ll start in Brussels/Bruxelles, with a daytrip on the 2nd day to the Flemish town of Brugge/Bruges. (They spell everything 2 ways in Belgium…Flemish and French…how international…how cooperative…how annoying!)  Brussels will be followed by Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Budapest. I had originally left the last 3 days of the trip open before heading back to Brussels for my return flight to NYC. But, I’ve decided to head back to Brussels for the last 3 days, “rounding out” my “European Tour”!

Oh…and did I mention that I’ve budgeted 100 Euros for each city? Not each day…each city! At the current exchange rate, that means about $80 for each 2-night, 1-1/2-day stay…including lodging, food, sightseeing and local metro/tram/bus transport (hence the “walking my ass off” I mentioned earlier!).

This means sitting down in restaurants will be out of the question. Instead, I’ll be eating mainly local “street food” which, in my opinion, is the best way to “soak up the local flavor” (and grease!). That, and beer and cafe food…again, not a sacrifice for me at all! Top off my nutritional pyramid with amazingly cheap (not to mention fresh and delicious) European supermarket fare, plus the free (and pretty damned good!) breakfasts at the hostels.

Wanna know the REAL clincher here, without which this whole trip would be completely ludicrous? My hostel stays average only about $18 a night! (Sit down, Rick Steves! Haha!) Ever wonder why Europeans can travel so much? It’s not just because their countries are so small and close together…it’s because they stay in hostels!

So far, the hostels have been fantastic…way better than I expected.  (They even have their own bars; and I’ve made some great new friends there!) I’ve eaten lots of delicious food; and I have imbibed more awesome beer than ever (well, at least since my beer-buddy, Ben, shared his German beer collection with me last Thursday in NYC!).

At this writing, I’m already in Amsterdam, leaving for Berlin in the morning, having enjoyed Brussels (and especially Brugge) tremendously. I will work on the 2nd installment of my travelogue (Brussels, Brugge and Amsterdam) tomorrow, during my 6-hour rail journey across The Netherlands and northern Germany (with a train change in the Dutch town of Amersfoort) into Berlin. Until then, I hope you enjoy the reading!

Guten Nacht! (Yeah, gotta practice my German for Berlin; and I gotta get up early tomorrow!)

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The Torso Story

 

This past weekend, I reluctantly found myself completely immersed in thoughts of, and surrounded by reminders of, the dirty “C” word…no, not that one…the really horrible, awful, heart-wrenching one…”CANCER”.  On Saturday, still recuperating from one of her many surgeries, my sister-in-law, Stacie, posted that it was the 2nd anniversary of her breast cancer diagnosis.  Though it isn’t something to necessarily “celebrate”, it was an important milestone, one to be acknowledged and honored.  I responded to her Facebook post that I remembered walking into her hospital room after her first, big surgery in Dallas, and how I was so comforted by her huge smile that day, even though I knew she was in pain.  I commented how that smile seems to have never left her face…and it hasn’t.  She’s a strong, beautiful woman!

On Sunday, Ralph and I went to see the final Broadway performance of “Wit”, starring Cynthia Nixon as a college professor facing metastacized stage 4 ovarian cancer.  Powerful, funny, yet heartbreaking, the play left us, the audience, in utter silence as we exited the theater.  And on Friday, I had begun reading a book my sister Kelli gave me for my birthday, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”.  It is a fascinating and sad account of the life of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman from Baltimore whose cervical cancer cells were taken at her death in 1951 and became the foundation of the multi-billion dollar cell culture industry, resulting in medical breakthroughs from the polio vaccine to gene therapy to corneal transplants, among many other things…while her family continues to live in extreme poverty.

All of this brought my thoughts to my sister Malia, now in her 8th year of surviving breast cancer.  I spent the weekend reflecting on her journey – the multiple surgeries and chemotherapy, the lifesaving-yet-finance-taxing medications, the annual trips to NYC to walk the Race for the Cure in Central Park.  I remember flying home to Dallas to have an opportunity to sit with her through one of her chemotherapy sessions.  As I watched her sit peacefully and calmly in a chair for hours while powerful poisons dripped into her veins, my respect, admiration and love for her grew tenfold.  I always knew how strong and beautiful she was; but on this day, she was supernaturally so.

I decided this weekend that I would post an old email I sent out a few years ago, recounting an art project I instigated in tribute to Malia, who was about to undergo her first mastectomy – one of many major surgeries she would face.  It was an attempt to create something beautiful out of tough, life-changing, body-transforming decisions my sister had to make…and with the love and help of family and friends, I think we succeeded.  Below is the post, with photos of the project.  To my sister Malia, my sister-in-law Stacie, and all the other strong, beautiful women in my life who are surviving this disease (Pam S, Jean H, Mary Ann D, Harrilyn A and others), keep fighting, keep living, Ladies!  I bought a t-shirt for Malia when I moved to NYC that says it all:  “Cancer, you picked the WRONG bitch!!!”

The Torso Project, 2004:

I was in Detroit for a technology conference at Eastern Michigan University, the week before my sister Malia was scheduled for her first mastectomy. While I was at EMU, I happened to pass by one of the fashion-design classrooms; and I noticed that the students had made dress forms of their own bodies for draping their own garments. They had taken duct tape and wrapped each others’ torsos in it (over thin t-shirts), then cut off the forms and painted them white to stiffen them.

I was amazed; and I had the idea of doing the same thing for my sister Malia, to capture her torso before she had her life-altering surgery.  When I returned to Dallas, she came over to my Oak Cliff apartment; and I wrapped her in duct tape over one of my favorite, old t-shirts, then cut the form off her down the center back and spray-painted it with several coats of white to stiffen it. For days, it sat on my countertop, eery and profound, a glowing, porcelain-like cast of Malia’s body as it would never be again.  Seeing it every morning, every evening, I was reminded of the impermanence of all things – our youth, our bodies, our lives.

Not long after her surgery, I joined family and friends for a dinner party at Malia and Matt’s house in Waxahachie.  I brought my shoeboxes filled with tubes of acrylic paints and brushes in all shapes and sizes.  Throughout the day, everyone at the gathering participated, if even a little bit, in painting the form.  We painted, then painted over and over each other’s work, building layer upon layer of color and texture, merging each other’s designs into a beautiful work of art.  At some point, it just sort of “emerged”; we all figured the work had declared itself “complete”.  We stood back and admired it, walked around it, pondered it…a wild, swirling mix of angry and happy colors, of chaotic and soothing patterns…and definitely, an expression of love from everyone who participated in the project, to Malia.

When the paint dried, I took the form back to my apartment and spent days hand-sewing glass and metal beads over it, in scattered areas across the broad shoulders, the curves of breast and hip.  My fingers raw and sore from pushing the needle hundreds of times through the thick, hardened layers of paint and cloth and my eyes raw and sore from crying over what lay ahead for her, I finally finished.  Handling her former “body” in my hands for days, I was finally able to come to terms with her illness…and finally had clarity that she would be okay…she would survive.  In gratitude, I closed the open back by punching holes in both sides of it with an old metal awl, criss-crossing it closed with red satin ribbon. I hung it on an antique, wooden coat-hanger and presented it to Malia, in hope, admiration, and love.

 

“Cocktail Lounge, 1962″…or…”I Was a Middle-Aged Drag Queen”

On February 8, 2012, my older brother, Stephen, turned 50.  (Happy Birthday, Bro’!!!)  I’m still having trouble grasping that concept; because it seems only yesterday that I was celebrating my PARENTS’ 50th birthdays in 1995, dancing my butt off with friends and family at the bar atop the Army Air Force Exchange Service’s World Headquarters in Dallas…and not long before that, I swear, that my sister Malia and I baked a chocolate cake in Honolulu one late August night in 1979 for my GRANDMOTHER’S 50th!!  Time has zipped by at warp speed.

In 1962, the “Rainbow Tribe”, as my parents used to call their gaggle of 5 children, began.  (Our mixed-race heritage manifested itself in a brood sporting both dark and light skin tones, straight and kinky hair textures, thin and broad noses…hence, our collective nickname.)  Stephen Robert Lanakila Mahelona, my parents’ firstborn…and an amazing big brother to Malia, Kawika, Kelli and me…arrived in style.  In celebration of his half-century mark this year, he and his wife, Stacie, decide to throw a big bash at their home in Dallas – a 1962 cocktail-lounge party.  A perfect time setting, as that time period, the early- to mid-1960’s, is a time period that my siblings and I adore.  It conjures a dramatically-changing, booming period in Hawaii’s history, when jet travel brought the masses to the islands, hotels and skyscrapers shot up in Waikiki, and tiki-bars and ultra-stylized, “Polynesian” architecture had their shining moments.  Having had a somewhat avant-garde upbringing by my parents, I remember Martin Denny’s “exotica” music and Brazilian Bossa Nova grooves sexily emanating from our old record player, not the Top-40 sounds of the Beatles or Beach Boys.  Stephen can attest to the parties hosted by our parents as the ultimate in COOL – evenings when our livingroom was aglow with candles dripping their wax down empty Chianti and sangria bottles, our lullabies consisting of drunken artist-musicians banging on bongos, tambourines, guitars and ukuleles, howling out Dylan and Baez ballads.  (That is, when we kiddoes weren’t banging on tambourines along with everyone else!)  My Dad can attest to his mischievous little rugrats tiptoeing, the mornings after, over passed-out bodies in our livingroom, sipping all the leftover cocktails.  This is our “nostalgia”.

Stephen and Stacie bring it all back to life, brilliantly, in their mid-century home in East Dallas.  A glowing, tiki/outer-space style bar, dirty martinis shaken non-stop, kitschy hors d’oeuvres on toothpicks, radiating, Sputnik-style, from whole pineapples…all of this amidst their 1960’s collection of furniture and artwork, against the lilting backdrop of the music of the age…send us back 50 years.  Not to mention all the revelers in every shade of 1960’s dress – hippie, beachboy, go-go girl, beatnik, Twiggy wanna-be, Andy Warhol groupie, Vietnam soldier, girl-group singer…they are all here, dancing, laughing, conversing, noshing, sloshing, celebrating an amazing man, my brother.

When the Evite went out for the party with its call for costuming, there was NO question I was going to do this party in drag.  It has been nearly 10 years since I held my last, annual Halloween costume party in Dallas.  These were great parties, with glow-in-the-dark apple martinis, amazingly creative costumes, great conversation and laughter, and the mandatory, after-party trip down to Dallas’ annual gay Halloween street party on Cedar Springs Road.  And the hostess, yours truly, unfailingly hosted the soiree in diva-drag.  It’s been too long…

Drag.  It’s such an interesting, fascinating, misunderstood thing.  For gay men, it can be a rite of passage, part of our counter-culture.  Not everyone partakes; but those gay men who have never once gone to a party in drag have missed a part of our evolution as gay men.  (I also think every straight man should go out, at least once, in drag…it’ll give him insight into how much his female partner has to go through to present herself to the world…the shaving, moisturizing, painting, camouflaging, tucking, squeezing, pushing up, pulling in…all the manipulation of skin, muscle, body fat, hair and nail…the crunching compression of feet and toes and precarious balancing on stilts.  The female body as construction site and daredevil act.  Women are, no question, the stronger sex!)  Contrary to popular belief, drag rarely ever means, “I wish I was born female”.  It is, in fact, dressing up as something else…but to the nth degree; for the hardest thing a man can do convincingly is BE a woman, his exact, physical opposite.  Dressing as a clown, a vampire or the Village People is hardly a stretch for a man; but gliding gracefully on 6-inch stilletos, in a corset that has squeezed his internal organs together with carbon-to-diamond pressure, while maintaining a natural smile that won’t crack the layers and layers of makeup – now that’s a challenge for a man…and Lord knows I like a challenge.  Bring it!

Drag is also an act of rebellion, of daring, of pushing buttons, of usurping power.  If I walk into a room in drag, I can instantly see, feel and recognize the whirlwind of emotions it creates…the fascination, the intrigue, the desire, the envy, the confusion, the discomfort, the fear, the repulsion.  It is interesting to me how it is impossible not to be affected by, or react to, good or bad, the presence of a man in drag.  There is no question that whoever is in command in the room at any given moment will instantly have their thunder stolen by the entree of the dreaded Drag Queen.  For me, though, it was just plain fun to do once a year at Halloween.  It’s silly; it’s a caricature; it’s an alter-ego that lets me do or say things I might ordinarily not.  And anyone who knows me well knows how I LOVE to push people out of their comfort zones!  (Evil Queen!)

So, that decision having been made, Ralph and I spend the days before the party running around Manhattan, rummaging through the cocktail dresses, skinny neckties and open-toed pumps of the Goodwill Store and Housing Works Thrift Store, the wigs and accessories of the Abacadabra costume store, the baubles and beads of all the cheap-import-costume-jewelry shops in the Garment District, and the makeup section of the Duane Reade drugstore, where we find the accoutrements necessary to bring to life his 1960’s college-student/young professional persona, and my 1960’s, Jackie-O-inspired, middle-aged-socialite persona.  My dear friend, Anna (who, by the way, is constantly pushing ME out of MY comfort zone), double-dog-dares me to post photos of my physical transition to this drag persona in my blog.  When she does, it gives me butterflies in my stomach.  For some reason, posting this in my blog IS a stretch for me.  I know right then and there it must be done.  (Stay tuned, if you dare!)

The evening’s celebration was the party of the century…or half-century, at least!  Having flown in from Honolulu as a surprise for Stephen, my younger brother, Kawika, completed the family gathering.  It’s a rare occasion for all 5 of us siblings to be together…and when we are…it’s always a party!  Hanging out with old friends, new friends, extended family, drink in hand, platters of food everywhere, we had a chance to let our hair down and reflect on our younger days.  We danced in the livingroom and hung out in the “retro lounge”…and cameras went wild!

1962 was a pivotal time in American history.  With the upcoming assassination of our President and our deadly plunge into Vietnam, America lost its innocence.  A new generation shifted from the grip of its parents values and mores; and a uniquely American counter-culture was born.  We would never be the same.  But on this night, we reveled in our innocence, grooved and go-go’d…we laughed as we spilled our martinis.  We posed for snapshots, emulated our mothers and fathers in their heyday, and strutted our stuff in their honor.  Party on, Stephen….here’s to your next “fitty”!!

And now…the middle-aged-socialite-diva emerges…

                                                                                          Step 1:  Nair for smoothing the legs, forearms and underarms and a thorough moisturizing of the entire body.  Walk around hotel room in stilleto heels for a couple of hours to practice balance and grace.  Iron black Liz Claiborne cocktail dress found at Goodwill for $9.99.

                                                                                           Step 2:  Time to get this construction project started…

                                                                                                Step 3:  A good facial shave, plucking of any stray/unruly eyebrow hairs, moisturizing of the face and lips and a strong slick-back of the hair…

Those darned, post-holiday blahs…

This is one of the times of the year I like the least: post-Christmas, post-New Year’s Eve.  It’s always so anti-climactic and dull.  The fabulous, candlelit holiday parties remain only as photos on your camera-phone and wine stains on your carpet. Glittery, shining Christmas decorations are banished to dark closets and a year of accompanying families of dust-bunnies under the bed. The homey, comforting aromas of cinnamon and apples, roasted turkey, gingerbread and warmed brandy are too quickly replaced by an undoubted, extra “wiggle” around the waist, and by buttons and buttonholes struggling in desperation to reunite. Torn-and-crumpled, colorful-and-metallic wrapping paper, ribbon and bows choke the recycling bins; and, most shocking of all, the the cheery, red envelopes in your mailbox are quickly replaced by greetings from Visa and Mastercard. It’s “show me da money” time! Quite plainly, this time of year just sucks!

In NYC, the post-holiday blahs are particularly a let-down. No longer is the Empire State Building illuminated in its party dress of red-and-green. The Macy’s windows are boarded up while the mechanical-wonderland displays are dismantled into an eery collection of puppet heads, arms and legs cast into storage boxes. The millions of strings of twinkling lights, though still up, have gone black, leaving the awful impression of a city wrapped in barbed wire. The tourists in their childlike wonder have been replaced with the grumpy, daily commuters, unhappy to be back at work. Most depressing, though, are the piles of discarded Christmas trees, stacked like dessicated corpses, on the sidewalks. It’s enough to drive a Manhattanite to drink. (But alas, the Sugarplum, Toasted-Gingerbread and Spiced Red Apple martinis have all been taken of the menu!)

This Christmas was the first Christmas I spent away from my family in Dallas, which was odd and a bit melancholy. Luckily, Ralph and I were cheered and comforted by the visits of his children and grandchildren to New York City. We put up a Christmas tree for the first time since moving to the city 7 years ago; and little Jackson and sister Emily helped us decorate it. We sipped hot cider and frosted Christmas cupcakes.  Nothing makes the holidays sparkle like the laughter and wonder of little kids! When they all left to return to Texas, we missed them terribly; and the post-holiday blahs began. If it weren’t for the remaining glitter we keep finding on our floors, clothes and noses, I’d really be down in the dumps! (And I’m sure as heck not taking our Christmas tree down until I’m absolutely shamed into doing so! I can see me now, sneaking it out to the curb under cover of darkness in March or April!)

I’m digging in my heels, determined to hang on to the holiday season as long as I can. I seek out the last holiday displays left standing; and in a city so commercial that it’s already marketing Valentine’s Day (!), I’m shocked when I actually find one: the 29th annual “Wreath Interpretations” exhibit at the Arsenal Gallery in Central Park. I rush over as quickly as I can; as the exhibit is nearly about to come to a close. This yearly exhibit is a celebration of the wreath, ancient symbol of renewed life through the winter, but with a “twist”. Local artisans create stunning wreaths from non-traditional media, which are displayed on the walls of the old Arsenal building and offered for sale to the public. If there’s one thing that can absolutely lift me up and make me hopeful again, it’s surrounding myself with the creative spirit of others. Whether it’s artwork, gourmet cooking or live performance, (did I mention we took in 4 Broadway shows PLUS the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall in the space of 12 days?!), it’s the best medicine for me. “Wreath Interpretations” did not disappoint. Here, I discovered beautiful, quirky Christmas wreaths made from unusual materials as varied as chopsticks, plush toy animals, cooking utensils, antique clothespins, champagne corks, dollar bills, etc. My favorite was a large one made from used paintbrushes, the bristles of each caked with dried paint in a myriad of colors. I walked from wreath to wreath, taking in their beauty, imagining the artists creating each work, wondering from where they drew their inspiration. It was just what the doctor ordered.

I make one last pass by the paintbrush wreath, intensely drawn to it, and wondering what lucky dog forked up the $800 for it before anyone else could. Not that I’d dare spend that much money on a wreath recycling old paintbrushes; but its creator has definitely inspired me. I smile and nod my head in gratitude at the wreath; and I decide right then and there that I’m going to embark upon a new, creative activity – something I have yet to explore. Refreshed and with a big smile on my face, I pass back through the grand, old building with its creaking wood floors and its grand, crystal chandelier, back out into the cold, grey sky hanging heavily above Central Park. My creative juices begin to flow; and I’m thinking ahead to the weekend. I’m reminded that I’ve always wanted to take up the art of weaving.  Visions of warp yarns and weft yarns dance in my head…and I’ve completely forgotten I was in the midst of those darned, post-holiday blahs.

Playtime in Puglia

Ralph’s speaking engagement having ended a smashing success, we have two full days to relax and enjoy (read: PLAY!!) the southern Italian region of Puglia. Our newfound friends, Denise and Angelo, have armed us with a list of local sightseeing favorites: Polignano a Mare, Alberobello and Matera. Our first dilemma: how to get there. We could do a group tour…NOT!  We could catch a train to the one coastal village on our itinerary, Polignano a Mare; but the train wouldn’t take us to the other two, inland towns up in the hills.  We could rent a car; but the traffic signage here is a jumble of incomprehensible, nonsensical (though highly aesthetic) symbols and icons…just like a Mac! (Haha!  Sorry…had to get ONE Apple jab in!)  Besides, southern Italian drivers are mad and make the worst NYC cab drivers look like Grandma behind the wheel.  We’re not taking our chances.  Thankfully, Ralph has the perfect solution: he’s hired a driver for the next two days.  At €200/day, it’s not that much more than a high-end group tour would be; it’s totally stress-free in terms of getting to and from our destinations; and we can explore on our own, on our own timeframe. Plus, relaxing in the back of a comfy Mercedes-Benz sedan with a good-looking Italian man at the wheel is nothing to sneeze at!

Polignano a Mare

First stop, Polignano a Mare.  A mere 20 minutes south along the coast from Bari, this is a beautiful, if somewhat run-down, village of whitewashed cubes for homes, stacked one atop another and perched delicately on vertical cliffs overhanging the sea.  Our first stop is a scenic overlook dominated by a beautifully-posed statue of Domenico Modugno, a singer/songwriter and native son of Polignano a Mare who wrote and sang the 1958 song “Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu” (better known as “Volare”).  “Volare” means “to fly”; and the bronze statue depicts Domenico with arms outstretched, head raised toward the sky.  It’s quite beautiful, especially with the open sea at his back and the wind blowing into his hair and face.  Domenico looks like he may ascend to the heavens any second.

I’m just old enough to remember the TV commercials for the hideous Plymouth Volare automobile; and the song is ingrained in my memory forever.  I have to admit, at the time, I thought it was a beautiful car and secretly wished my Dad would buy one.  But I knew that until said Volare could survive the steep levys and mud bogs of the Trinity River bottoms in Dallas or take on the dirt bikes chewing up the landscape off Hwy 360 near the then-new DFW Airport, I would just have to fantasize about cruising suburban Grand Prairie, Texas in a shiny, white Volare, wearing a corduroy blazer with suede elbow patches and leather pants,  waving to my schoolmates in their front yards .  (Pimpin’ the ‘hood, 70’s style.)

The water of the Adriatic is a gorgeous, deep turquoise here (oddly enough, the artificial blue of Tidy Bowl on the first few flushes!).  Ralph and I are standing on a rocky ledge 30 ft above the water; and it’s all I can do to resist tearing off my clothes and jumping in.  I’m certain that if I’m in any danger once hitting the water, the fishermen dotting the ledges, dangling their lines below, will rescue me.  (Or maybe they’ll just think, “One less crazy American tourist in the world!”)  I think Ralph breathes a sigh of relief when I head back up, fully clothed, toward the town.

Crossing the tiny bridge, Ponte Lama Monachile, over a great, dry ravine leading from the upland hills to the sea, we enter the old, medieval part of Polignano. Entering under a large, crumbling arch adorned with faded frescoes, the Arco Marchesale, we step into the enclosed village – and into a time warp.  I imagine the surroundings haven’t changed much since the original fishing village was established eons ago. The impossibly narrow streets, criss-crossed overhead with laundry drying in the gentle sea breezes, twist and turn out of sight, but all eventually lead you to another overlook onto the gorgeous, azure sea.  Wherever the sea reappears, we run to the edge and peer down, fascinated by the sheer, uninterrupted drop from the houses to the ocean’s surface.  I can only imagine how beautiful it must be to open your windows to the breezes and views these people must have!  They may not have much money; but they have views that “Trump” (pun intended) those of any Central Park West socialite!

The minimalistic, white-plastered homes and stairways, brightly-painted shutters, vibrant, potted bougainvilleas, delicate lace curtains, and fluttering clotheslines (all backed by an impossibly blue sky) cause Ralph and me to pause in awe, to allow these beautiful images to settle permanently into our memories.  “This is EXACTLY what one thinks of when thinking of Italy,” Ralph exclaims.  I couldn’t agree with him more.  It’s early on a Saturday; so no shops or restaurants are open, not a soul stirs outside. Ralph and I practically have the whole town to ourselves; and we take full advantage: running through the town like Wee Willie Winkie, disappearing separately down one lane one minute and crossing paths with each other the next. It’s so perfectly “Italian”, I’d swear we were running through an empty movie set!  We stop to curiously admire the ancient church, Chiesa di Purgatorio, with its morbid skeletons and skulls-and-crossbones above and beside its entryway.  We pass through the town’s main piazza, surrounded by more churches and stuccoed buildings shabbied by time and sun, but whose years and years of peeling paint layers, salmon pink on top of golden yellow, on top of rusty brown, on top of sage green, create a stunning texture and mosaic of color.  The piazza is empty now – peaceful and silent except for the “squeak” of little seabirds and the “look!” and “wow!” of me and Ralph.

When people finally begin to come out of their houses to sweep their doorsteps, bring in their laundry or gather with neighbors to chat, I notice the population is quite old. They eye the few tourists wandering into their secluded village with curiosity but do not speak. I engage them with a cheerful and well-pronounced (if I do say so myself) “Buongiorno!”, which brings surprised smiles and return greetings. I would love to have the opportunity to sit down and get to know them, to savor their local dishes and wines, meet their grandchildren, hear their family histories, answer their questions about Americans and the U.S.  If only I could speak the language…DAMN, that pesky language barrier!

There is a spot in the village, a tiled, rustic and very sun-worn patio, which presents the onlooker with the most beautiful vista of the Adriatic, including, directly below, the small, pebbly beach cove where an eager, lapping tongue of the sea, the Cala Ponte, reaches in to get a taste of this town of stacked sugar cubes.  An elderly gentleman, obviously a longtime Polignano resident with rather rustic, sunworn features himself, offers up a seat in the two plastic garden chairs he has set up for the handful of mesmerized tourists who pass by.  Realizing I’ve been wandering alone for a while and thinking I probably need to reconnect with Ralph, I decline with a soft, “No, grazie.”  Later on, I see this same aging-yet-still-handsome  man hobbling to and fro, gathering additional chairs from other residents’ homes to accommodate the tourists. I nod at him in passing and am rewarded with a warm, Italian smile.  My heart smiles back at this man from another culture and another time, proud to share the fortune of this place, his home – eager for us to put up our feet, to stay awhile.

Alberobello

Our driver, Angelo, waits for us patiently; and when we emerge from Polignano’s medieval quarter, passing back beneath the Arco Marchesale, he whips us away from the coast, inland, through acres of olive groves, to our next destination: Alberobello.  Ralph and I have been fascinated by the olive groves since we arrived in Puglia.  Spreading out as far as the eye can see, they cover the lightly undulating hills, separated by crumbling, ancient limestone walls.  We notice large nets spread on the ground beneath certain trees, presumably to catch the olives as they fall.  I’m intrigued by the trees’ grotesquely-twisted, thick and stout trunks and silvery leaves glimmering in the sun. Ralph is curious about the way the branches grow skyward to a certain height, then abruptly turn back down to the earth. We’re not quite sure whether this a natural growth pattern or (more likely) a result of years of pruning to keep the fruit low.  I wonder the age of these ancient trees; and I try to imagine the generations of farmers who have tended them. (And of course, the designer in me thinks these silvery branches with their onyx-like, black fruit hanging in weighty clusters would look FABULOUS in a floral arrangement, mixed with tall, black hollyhocks, the giant, ghostly leaves of cardoon and trailing, blood-red roses!)

One by one, “they” soon appear – the “trulli” – Alberobello’s claim to fame. Tiny farmhouses made of “chiancarelle”, flat stones, thin as tiles, stacked to form a circular wall and culminating in a perfect, conical roof, these whitewashed beauties are amazing to behold!  Each one we pass, few and far between at first, in varying states of disrepair (or all-out crumbling) brings gasps of excitement from us both.  We had been told about the trulli by Denise and Angelo at dinner the night before; but we had no idea how precious and endearing these Lilliputian homes would be!  And so it was that we were left speechless when our driver made one last, unexpected turn into an entire village, two hillsides ascending on both sides of the road, entirely encrusted with trulli!

Like two kids let out, wide-eyed, at an amusement park, we are giddy with excitement at the prospect of exploring the twisting lanes weaving throughout the village.  We are surrounded by trulli, like clusters of giant mushrooms in the golden sunlight near day’s end. At any moment, you almost expect a family of woodland elves to peer out behind the tiny, wood-framed windows or step out of the miniature door frames. Some trulli sport chimneys releasing the homey scent of woodsmoke. Other trulli appear to be 2 trulli merged into one, Siamese-twin of a structure – medieval Puglia’s version of a “double-wide”.  Some trulli feature white cryptograms etched onto their stone roofs, magical symbols to ward off evil or bring good fortune to the home. Nearly all the trulli have distinct and beautifully-shaped limestone pinnacles capping their conical roofs, each a signature of its builder.

Back in the 16th century, the noble family Acquaviva, Counts of Conversano, brought 40 peasant families to this area that was once a great forest (“Silva Arboris Belli”, which eventually became “Alberobello”), to have them settle and cultivate their land. In the 17th century, in a stroke of deceitful brilliance, the tyrannical Count Giangirolamo II Acquaviva Aragona (known as “the Squint-Eyed of Puglia”) decreed that the families build their miniscule homes without mortar.  In the event that a representative of the ruling King of Naples should arrive to survey the land and tax the Count for every home on it, the families could simply be ordered to knock down their homes, presenting the surveyor with nothing more than piles of rocks, then quickly rebuild the trulli after the surveyor’s departure.  In 1797, the king proclaimed the town of Alberobello to be under his rule, free from the Counts of Conversano; and the people were allowed to build their homes with mortar, to finally feel grounded, to feel, at long last, at “home”.

Ralph and I have a chance to peek inside a couple of trulli – one that has been turned into a snack bar (where we scarfed down the most delicious pizza and insalata caprese), and another that has been turned into a shop and gallery featuring the beautiful work of a local photographer. A central room is surrounded by thick walls into which deep niches have been excavated, creating places for storage and sleeping.  A well inside the trullo provides fresh water; and a hearth provides fire for warmth and cooking. In the photo-gallery trullo, a wooden platform in the conical roof space hides a cozy sleeping loft, accessible by an ancient, wooden ladder. I want to move in immediately.

Our arms stocked with black-and-white photos and postcards from the gallery, as well as little, trullo-shaped bottles of the local, almond-flavored “mandarle” liqueur, Ralph and I survey this fantasy town of Alberobello from the rooftops and stop by the town’s pièce de résistance, the Chiesa (church) di Sant’Antonio (built in traditional trullo style). Reluctantly, we head back to Angelo, patiently awaiting us in his black Benz. The drive back to Bari finds us both nodding off in the backseat – kids that have played hard, finally giving in to exhaustion.

Matera

Though yesterday’s excursion would have served as the perfect end to our trip, we have one more full day in Puglia; and we’ve saved it for the further trek to Matera.  I read an article about Matera several weeks prior to our trip and was fascinated to learn about this ancient and unique town carved into the rocky hills of Murgia. Ralph has hired Angelo again for the day; and as we head further into the interior, we also head to a much higher altitude than we’ve been thus far.  Soon, the entire coastline of Puglia is spread out below us – the rocky, dry hills giving way to an infinite, grey-green carpet of olive groves, and that piercing blue sea beyond.

It turns out that Matera is a fairly modern, sprawling mountain town; and we aren’t much impressed until Angelo stops the car in the older part of town and we catch a glimpse of the Sassi, two ancient settlements, the Sasso Barisano and the Sasso Caveoso. That’s when our hearts leap from our throats.  Deep down below us, in a narrow valley, winds a small-but-once-raging river, the Torrente Gravina di Matera. Rising from both sides of the river are steep hillsides, covered in carved-rock dwellings. On the side opposite us, true caves – natural rock formations punctuated by a myriad natural and man-made openings in the rock. It’s a honeycomb of a village – settled since Paleolithic times by cave-dwelling troglodytes and thought to be among the first human settlements in Italy.  (I’ve always loved that term, “troglodytes”, reminding me of the big-eyed, lime- and fuchsia-haired “troll” dolls of our childhood.)

We are on the “newer” side of the river, in the city founded by the Romans in the 3rd century B.C. as “Matheola”, after the Roman consul Lucius Caecilius Metellus. This area features Roman-style homes and water cisterns carved deep into the soft tufa stone.  It’s a fascinating, steep village of stairways above, below and on all sides of you; and being in it is a little disorienting and surreal, like wandering inside the famous M.C. Escher lithograph, “Relativity”.  Intrigued and eager to follow each stairway, the hundreds of stone steps you have scaled simply escapes your awareness.

The gorgeous vistas offered here are innumerable; and it’s no wonder people have wanted to live in Matera for the past 9,000 years. Beautiful churches hang precariously on the edge of the ravine, which is majestic, wild and rocky, yet serene. The carved houses are so interesting, especially their earth-colored, clay-tiled roofs and (my favorite) their distinctive, decorative ceramic air vents in a myriad of pinwheel- and flower-shaped forms. A group of students exploring the caves across the ravine calls back to us, their echoing shouts bringing smiles of delight to tourists and locals alike.

As is the case of many European villages, if it’s a Sunday and you’re hungry, you better get your food- and drink-on early!  Everything starts shutting down before you know it; and you’ll be wandering aimlessly, stomach growling, through a town of shuttered storefronts and stacked cafe tables and chairs.  This has happened many times to me in Europe.  (One of my most memorable European dinners was the one spent with my parents, brother Kawika and his wife at the time, Trudi, in our chateau B&B in the Loire River Valley in France, eating our collectively-scrounged meal of cookies, a bottle of wine and potato chips.  We had spent a Sunday driving around the countryside; and before we knew it, every restaurant for miles around was closed.  We laughed at our lack of foresight and planning; but potato chips and wine never tasted so damned good!)  Ralph and I got so caught up in the scenery of Matera that we got caught in this European food vacuum, once again.  Luckily, we found a Turkish doner kebab shop still open.  Now, one thing you will know about me if you travel with me is that I ALWAYS eat the local food.  You won’t catch me ordering Chinese takeout in Paris, or ducking into an Italian cafe in Lima…and you will NEVER, EVER catch me sneaking beneath the Golden Arches to scarf down a Big Mac in Prague.  So, I was very happy to see a menu of rustic pizzas and hearty calzones in the kebab shop!  Ralph and I split a calzone; and I accompanied my half with a big, cold bottle of Birra Moretti.  Biting into the hot, crisp calzone, dripping with gooey mozzarella and tangy marinara, our eyes roll back in our head.  Italian food in Italy is probably the most delicious food on Earth; and I marvel at the ability of Italian cooks to use the fewest ingredients, yet create food whose flavor is a veritable Roman orgy in your mouth.  If you’ve been here and tasted the food here, you know what I mean.  There is no way, try as you might, to describe to someone just how delicious the food is.  They just have to experience it for themselves.  (So if you haven’t made this journey, DO!!)

And it’s not just the food (and the wine!) – southern Italy is a feast for all the senses.  It’s a place of warm, boisterous and beautiful people.  It’s a place dripping with history so ancient and important, it’s practically a huge, outdoor museum.  It’s sunshine that warms your skin and entices your inner olive complexion to come out, ocean so blue it’ll hypnotize you, and balmy breezes that convince you to let your hair down.  In Puglia, you just can’t help but want to “come out and play”!

*For my full photo album from Puglia, feel free to click on the link below.  Enjoy!                                                                                http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150400435413541.368658.761823540&type=1&l=fd65477ed4

Turning 40…again…

Well, today is my 47th birthday (ouch!)…and all the birthday wishes from friends and family have made it a GREAT day!!!  When I first started the blog, I made myself a promise that I would post new entries on a somewhat regular basis; and, at the request of several of my friends (and my blogging guru, Anna Brindley), I would put up some of my older “blogs” from years past.  Kinda like watching old reruns on TV.  Today, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone by posting an old rerun with a birthday theme.  Below is the “blog” I wrote when I turned 40, a major turning point in my life, as I was preparing to step into middle age and move away from Dallas to start a new life in New York City.  I have several friends who turned 40 this year or will turn 40 next year.  This is in celebration of them…enjoy!

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November 28, 2004

2004.  What a year to turn 40….

I turned 40 the year my sister was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, breast cancer; the shock and fear seared my insides as if the chemotherapy and radiation had been accidentally turned on me .

I turned 40 the year I decided to move to New York City, extracting myself from a closely-knit family and dear friends, straining to pull up roots that had grown strong and deep through years of nurturing, years of loving.

I turned 40 the year I felt personally and profoundly defeated in the presidential election, the most crucial one ever for gay people like me fighting for true equality in our country.

What a year, 2004……..

But “be careful not to confuse the year with the age,” I reminded myself.  For most of 2004, and through all the sad events above, I was 39, not 40.

So today, I sit here as a 40-year old, gay, Hawchigermiriguese American man (made that up…that’s Hawaiian-Chinese-German-Irish-Portuguese), “feeling my forty-ness”.

At 40, I feel more “at home” in my body than I ever have in my entire life, finally accepting its limitations and imperfections, curiously (not fearfully, nor eagerly) awaiting the next gray hair…”sparkles”, I call ‘em.

At 40, I don’t mind the fact that I’m a little thicker around the waist than I was at 38.  (I’m not jumping for joy about it either; but I’m not grossed out by it, nor ready to join the carb-repulsed masses.)  Besides, at 40, I can stand comfortably in the yoga asana Natarajasana – on one leg, reaching behind to grab the opposite ankle, and bringing it up and behind, level with my head.  At 20, I would’ve injured myself even trying.

At 40, I no longer define myself by my status in my profession or the company that I work for.  Those things that seemed so important in my 30s now completely (and in good conscience) get put to bed when I leave the office.

At 40, I read mostly for pleasure, secondly for information….but no longer to feed someone back “the right answer”.  I no longer follow one genre or read the bestseller list.  I read what good friends and loved ones recommend…it’s always the best bet.  I also feel absolutely no pressure to finish a book that’s just not rockin’ my world.

At 40, the “old school” music of my childhood and adolescence groove me even more than they did back then…in addition to the bad-ass rhythms of soul, disco, funk and new wave, this music washes me in wonderful memories of growing up with my parents, my siblings, my friends…memories of shakin’ my groove thang in some awesome 70’s bell bottoms or some fabulous, bleached-out, jacked-up 80s hairdo…and eyeliner…of course.

At 40, I no longer watch TV and rarely read the newspaper.  I feel released from the claws of corporate advertising moguls trying to coerce me into liking things I really don’t, believing in things I really don’t, wanting things I really don’t.  I feel liberated from the endless news chatter, of the media making mountains out of molehills, of everything being the latest, biggest story…”this just in”.  I feel excused from reality TV, from becoming addicted to the everyday moments in the lives of people I don’t even know.

At 40, I have learned the meaning of TRUE friends.  The ones that were there in my 20s and 30s and are still here at 40 are the ones that will be there forever…the lasting ones.    The ones who accept me as I am, and love me anyway.  My “short list”.  You know who you are…this letter went out to you.

At 40, I’m finally beginning to understand a relationship.  My track record was never that good…and boy, have I had a track record!  But I know now that the common denominator in all those failed relationships was…well…me.  Not that it was all my fault; but it took me 2 decades to realize that I needed to look at “me” closely before I could even begin to visualize “us”.  I’m in a good one now, one that feels loving and wonderful and happy and sad and tough and all kinds of things…and I hope it always feels that way…ripe and raw and unexpected and warm and scary and safe.

In my 30s, as I watched my niece and nephews grow up, I realized how short a childhood is….mine seemed so, so long!  At 40, I realize how short adulthood is.  It’s kinda spooky, a bit humbling.  But it has made me appreciate each year, each month, each day so much more.  “Spend it while you got it”…”Eat the good part first instead of saving it for last”…”You can’t take it with you”…at 40, I finally “get” those things.

At 40, I finally feel like I know exactly who I am…what I like and don’t like, what I believe in and don’t believe.  I know my faults, my talents, my strengths and my weaknesses…and I accept them equally…my different colors.  Just as blue is bluest when there is red or yellow to highlight its blueness, the things I love best about myself are heightened by the presence of the things I like least about myself.  I care less about whether anyone likes me or not…as long as I do.  I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had, the things I’ve learned, the loves I’ve lost and gained for anything, even the youth, vigor (and smooth skin) of my 20s and 30s.

When my partner, Ralph, told me last year that he wanted to take me on a 40th birthday trip somewhere and asked me where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do, I asked for 2 things:  to wake up next to him and to do yoga someplace amazing, high on a hilltop or cliff or pyramid.  This year, as my 40th birthday approached, he told me the destination for the trip would be a surprise until the moment we arrived there; that both criteria would be met; and that they would take place somewhere beginning with a “B”.

B? Berlin?  Too cold in November.  Boston?  We already went there this summer.  Brazil?  Belize?  Bali?  Too far for a short trip.  I was so tempted to get out a world map and comb the globe for “B” destinations…surely, it’s not Ralph’s hometown of Beaumont,Texas!

We arrived at DFW airport.  As I checked in at the self-service kiosk at the terminal, I learned of our destination: San Jose, California.  “B?” I thought.  “Oh, by the way…we still have a 2-hour drive from there,” Ralph mentioned.  Sneaky-deaky.

From San Jose, we drove South along the California coast for 2 hours, half of it making dark, twisting turns on the edges of cliffs that dropped to the sea…hmmmm…cliffs!

We arrived for the night in Big Sur…at the most beautiful resort nestled in the redwood forest, Ventana.  I won’t make you too envious with all the details of the 4 luxurious days there.  Let it suffice to say that we spent the days and nights surrounded by hummingbirds, soaking in hot Japanese baths, taking amazing hikes through ancient redwood forest and enjoying breathtaking views of the ocean.

At 40, I learned that coastal redwood trees grow in families.  They grow in a perfect circle; and each tree in the circle has the exact same bark pattern as every other tree in the circle.  Trees in a different circle have a totally different bark pattern; but each tree in that circle has the same.  It was so awesome…no longer like looking at just trees…but like looking at a family that has been together longer than this country is old…a family that has stood as one and witnessed countless historical events,  that has withstood the deaths and cutting of members among them…a family whose members all resemble one another, standing in a circle, holding hands.  It was like my own family.  It was beautiful!

At 25, at 30, at 35, the earlier milestone years, I never experienced the depression or anxiety I often hear about.  Those birthdays weren’t that different from my others.  But the day before I turned 40, I hit a wall.  I was silent; I was sad…I was, I guess, depressed?(!)  I didn’t know what was wrong…and everything was wrong.  I was sad about moving to New York.  I was sad about my sister.  I was sad about my parents getting older.  I was sad about what I had for lunch.  I was just plain pathetic.  Poor Ralph.

I took a walk on my own that evening and went to lay down in the middle of the family circle of redwoods on the Ventana property.  The sun was close to setting.  The dense carpet of redwood needles was soft and comforting.  Birds flitted back and forth from tree to tree within the circle.  There was power within that circle.  The Esalen Indians who lived in the area married and had their children within this circle.  I looked up at the sky through the ring of trees, listening to the quiet of the forest; and the tears began running down my cheeks.  I just closed my eyes and let myself cry, not trying to figure out why I was crying…for nothing…for everything.  After about a half hour, I opened my eyes.  I felt healed…completely refreshed and relaxed, yet energized…smiling.

I walked back to our room to apologize to Ralph for being so distant the entire day.  He hugged me and reassured me, saying, “Sometimes you just have to get away from it all, to slow down enough so that you can deal with all the things you haven’t had time to deal with.  You’ve had a lot to deal with lately…you just had to go through the sadness.”  He put the words, clearly and concisely, to what I had been feeling the entire day.  He amazes me.

The next day, my 40th birthday, was wonderful.  I got to wake up next to Ralph; and I got to do yoga with him someplace amazing.  I got to climb up to a cliff and sit, overlooking the ocean.  I got to walk through a grove of eucalyptus trees covered in thousands of monarch butterflies, on their way to Mexico from Canada.  I got to stand under the oldest living coastal redwood tree, 1,540 years old.  As we stood in awe, looking up from the base of this great, living being, Ralph whispered to me, “Fifteen hundred and 40 years?  Now, 40 doesn’t seem so bad, does it?”

Not so bad at all…it feels pretty damned good, actually!

So, how does my “forty-ness” feel?

For me, 40 feels like this:

And 40 feels like this:

Life: “Spend” It Wisely