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TAKING A BREAK

TAKING A BREAK

If vacation does one thing for me, it is the reminder to slow down and take stock of my daily life when I return. From what and how I eat, and where I shop for the food I have to have once I return, ( Azorean butter for example) to how I exercise and go through my day to contemplating the busy-ness and the friends I surround myself with, getting away makes coming back have a different outlook. Vacations in new countries adds one more layer to this and as I have returned from my three week venture away from almost all things alayne, I have found myself calmer, more relaxed and more humbled and way less digitized.

What I noticed also is that there is so much to read online, everywhere I turn, from Pinterest to Medium and all of the news sites blasting their stories, I have started to feel a bit inundated. Why does anyone even want to read what I write? There is so much out there now. “Three ways to feel better,!” “Ten things you can do now to change your day!” Five steps to get healthy, NOW!” Non fiction after non fiction piece, blog after blog, story after story. I feel almost a little burnt out from all of this digitizing of writing and need to get back to the basics. Like reading real books and writing on real paper.

This has changed my daily writing habit to a daily reading habit because the fact is there is only so much time in the day to get everything in that I love and something has to give. I have found since I have bought my typewriters that I love typing on them and I have taken a dive into almost daily typing. With that comes added time to my already jam packed mornings. The interesting surprise about typing on a manual typewriter, besides the frequency of errors, is the different way I have been writing. What I have noticed mostly are my limitations, especially when it comes to the fiction I have been attempting.I have a lot to learn and this excites me. I realize I need coaching or a creative writing class or writing group that challenges my vocabulary and I have found myself at a bit of a standstill.

Any great writing book I have bought has said a few basic tips. The top two repeated over and over again are write every day, (check) and read a lot. Reading definitely helps my writing and I realized that this was something I definitely needed to add to my daily list. Typical of my personality I have read five books in three weeks and am on number six as I type this early am. So I have decided to read and read and read rather than write and post and write and post for a bit. I am still writing every day, but just typing on Old Bess and giving my one page stories away instead, old school on vellum paper mistakes and all. Reading with the intensity I have allowed myself is showing me how much I have to learn and what better way than a book at a time at the library around the corner.

Vacations and time away brings me to awakenings and awarenesses, challenges and hunger for learning in a way that staying put doesn’t. I love being home armed with this new outlook and at the same time, I can’t wait for my next trip. I’ll be writing and posting again, I am sure, sooner than later, but for now I am taking a break to get caught up on all of the books I need to catch up on. Perhaps this short hiatus is in the good time with my one year anniversary of my final surgery coming in September, maybe I have poured out all of the non fiction in my body as it is reaching its one year of final healing. Who knows if the timing is as perfect as it seems, but for now I lean in to what my mind and soul command. Vacations, especially solo ones, do this for me, reminding me that this one life is a fragile one and there is so much to do, to see, to read and all of it that lies ahead is my oyster to do what I want with.

As September approaches at a rate that seems to accelerate as I get older, what I appreciate is the ability of choice and how I want to direct my life is totally up to me and me alone. This is what vacation is about and this is what life is ultimately. As Wayne Dyer said perfectly, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Yep.


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SEMI SOLO TRAVELING

SEMI SOLO TRAVELING

I love to travel alone. Every time I do book the one ticket please flight for any travels whether in this beloved USA or out of it, I have a sense of personal freedom. I came upon an article not too long ago, perhaps in the NYT or Medium about traveling as a lone female and the freedoms of the experience. I related instantly. There is an inner quest of exploring on my own terms, no compromising, no negotiating, no trying to read someone else’s mind or thoughts that makes traveling solo some of my most memorable.

Flying alone, finding my way to my hotel and figuring out where and how to spend my time and money is some of my most liberating experiences since I went on my first excursion to Paris when I was a mere twenty two. I say semi solo in the title because on that first trip semi alone, I flew with a friend whom I had been working with at a local bar for the summer. He haphazardly asked me if I wanted to fly over with him as he had found a flight for $400 to Paris. At the time, this was 1988–89, this price was a steal. Little did he know that I was in the dire need of leaving a relationship and this was a great chance to move on. In many ways, a trip that was out of my comfort zone, was the push I needed to end a young relationship that I had outgrown. I said yes, not sure if he had asked seriously, this was not a romantic relationship, just one of friendship and it seemed like a safe and great opportunity to fly to a foreign land with someone also headed that way.

This trip was from Boston to New York, New York to Iceland, Iceland to Luxemburg and then a train to Paris. Needless to say, it took a while, but when you are young and without much money to spare, the distance was part of the fun.The plan was he, his name was Chris, and I would fly over to Paris, look up some friend he had met at the bar that summer and stay with them for a couple of days, then he would head west to another friend’s and I would stay in Paris alone for a month.

I had discovered Rick Steves travel guides and had been studying it for months leading up to trip so I knew where I would be staying once I got there. Kind of a step up from a hostel right smack in the Latin Quarter the day after Christmas. It was magic at that time in Paris as it was the 200th anniversary celebration of the Revolution that I knew nothing about. When my friend Chris departed on the second day after we arrived after getting me safely to the place I would be calling home for the next month, I had my first moment of hesitation.

Parisians at the time were notoriously famous for low tolerance for the “Ugly American.” I did my best to practice learning French and had become pretty proficient at asking where something was or how much something cost, but had failed to think that their response would be in very fast French, a dead giveaway for the illusion of my French communication. Traveling alone in 1989 was a lot different for a twenty two year old girl whose previous travails had been a month in Israel and Italy under my grandparents’ care when I was only in sixth grade. Besides an occasional flight to Florida to visit said grandparents, this was a big adventure for me. There were no cell phones or laptops, no google, no apps, and no credit cards. If you needed money, you had to go to the American Express office and this was my place of feeling comforted when I had any moments of panic alone. Not panic because I felt in danger, but just trying to sort out my feelings that came up as this was the first time I was really alone.

I was trying to sort out the inevitable feelings and just get to know them get to reacquaint myself with me. I had taken a personal vow of no romantic relationships, no interludes, a vow of celibacy so I would not be distracted by a boy when I needed to be connected with my inner workings. Boys had been distracting me for most of my young life and I needed to find out who I was and what I was made of. And I was trying to live on the one thousand dollars for one month that Rick Steves had assured me was possible in his book titled something like Paris on Ten Dollars a Day.

I met this great young art student named Carl who was from Wisconsin within my first few days there and he taught me the streets by foot, the art because of his classes and how to navigate the city with a map and our feet. He refused to take the Metro because he was both frugal and he felt that the only way he could really see Paris was above ground. We became fast friends and I went along with him on his walks all over the city. I saw things in Paris I would have not likely otherwise seen because of Carl. A mass on New Years Eve at Notre Dame, which happened to be around the corner from where we were staying. An opera at the Palais Garnier, The Rodin Museum, the modern and newly opened semi controversial addition to the famous Louvre and drinking champagne at the Eifel Tower on New Years Eve also on the eve of the two hundred year anniversary of The French Revolution. Paris was a magical experience for me and gave me much insight into my own sense of self and female power. I have brought this trip into my own self serving luggage ever since.

Traveling semi solo this time to the beautiful Azores to semi be with a group of women was a little different then this first trip to Paris. First of all, I have a lot better economics and I wasn’t there to find myself. I have a great partner who isn’t as interested in global traveling as I am so off I went into the joy of abroad knowing that I wasn’t coming home to figure my life out, but rather missing the life I had figured out. Traveling solo helps me refine my scope. What I appreciate, what needs changing, what parts of me I can say goodbye to and what areas I want to revisit.

Though my semi solo trip layered over a few days with the ladies, because I wasn’t part of their planning party, I knew I could continue to do what I wanted when I wanted. I could lean in to their party or walk away with no hard feelings. This way of traveling is so satisfying to my personality and I recommend it to every woman. We are often told we are supposed to conform to certain preconceived notions on how we live our lives. I like to buck those notions and traveling solo is one of those great gifts we can give ourselves at least once in our lives. Don’t get me wrong, I love sharing new experiences with my man, but we don’t need partners to guide us; we can and should be on occasion, our own compasses. I have the luxury of a partner who allows this self guided tour I call my life without a moment of hesitation. While I am off and running, he is home and waiting with open arms. This has been a gift in my ability to buy the ticket and climb aboard. We only have one life that we know of and the challenges and risks we take are part of the party. I can’t wait to see where I land next.







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LEAVING ON A JET PLANE

LEAVING ON A JET PLANE

“To change your flight, it will either be $350 economy to Boston or $475 Business class to Providence,” Eduardo from Fall River who owns the quirky travel agency I used for my trip said via a text message over eight days ago. I arrived here in this place called Sao Miguel in the Azores, a virtual speck on the planet smack in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean barely a stones throw from the East Coast, but a world away over twelve days ago. I knew instantly that six days would never be enough to cover this beautiful landscape and typical of my spontaneous personality extended my trip as quickly as I could eat another bolo. There is something that happens to the spirit when traveling, especially solo. I blow all cares to the wind, worrying about money like calories disappear and like magic it seems like both are unlimited as my traveling companions.

Because I have a most fabulous team who cares for me as much as they do about my business, they rose to the occasion to allow me an extra six days away and I took door number two, Providence, business class. The flight leaving at 10:25 instead of 8:00am and arriving at a much more civilized time for my very accommodating son to pick me up. I am flying business class which is a complete luxury I do not take for granted. I have only had this experience once before with my dear brother friend, Ken who is a frequent flyer and got us business class on Lufthansa headed back from Spain.

There is something really over the top snobby about the business class experience. It reminds me of the stories I have read about first class and way below first class on ships coming from areas filled with wealthy tourists traveling on the top and immigrants on the bottom of the ship starting new lives in America. There is a slight discomfort in sassing to my own special line marked Sata Plus, being allowed two bags instead of one, being able to wait in a special lounge with free waters and unlimited snacks that gives me a little hesitation and cringe. I am not complaining, after all I paid for the benefits of this. So when I got to the security check point to place my bags through like everyone else there was no special treatment for the three bottles of pineapple liquor I had purchased at the pineapple plantation. I forgot that they couldn’t go in my bag as they were eight ounces each and I had already checked my luggage. I was asked whether I had any liquids and had just replied no when I watched my bags held up in the scanner. Shit, I have the three bottles of pineapple liquor totaling forty-five euros (about 60 dollars), I remembered and came clean immediately hoping that my business class ticket would allow the free pass. No such luck, confiscated promptly and as I offered the kind woman the bottles to enjoy for herself she assured me they would be going in the trash. What a waste. I secretly hoped someone was in the know of this pile of tourist trash and regularly scoped out the barrels so at least someone would get to enjoy. I’ll never know, but it was quite hilarious as I finally got through the gate and was faced with the duty free store selling the same pineapple liquor. I have to admit, I was tempted, but on principal I refused the temptation.

This glorious island got enough of my economics this last twelve days. From the plastic Virgin Mary statue, my friend Jane bought me, along with the t shirts and beautiful skirts, volcanic stone necklaces, heart shaped rocks, pottery and local teas I have the materials in my two pieces of luggage that will forever remind me of this past twelve days. But even though security took my pineapple liquor, there is not a cell in my body that does not feel one hundred percent in love with this island. As I told the kind woman at the gate that I had a great time and didn’t want to leave, I surprisingly welled up with tears- clearly a sign of a much needed and great vacation. For this I will allow the word journey. Breast cancer twice, learning of a genetic mutation in almost an entire family line, a mother who doesn’t speak to me, a lifelong best friend who went silent for no apparent reason with not even the consideration of an explanation, a double mastectomy, reconstruction surgery, that is not a journey. This has all been my life for the past three years, not a journey at all, more like a tragedy. but this trip, this magical past twelve days of delight and the kindest of people, the laughing, the crying and the laughing so hard you cry, this I will call a journey. My heart is full and I can’t wait to come back.


my morning goodbye to the good life, till we meet again, Azores!
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THE PORTUGUESE MASS


THE PORTUGUESE MASS

This island of Sao Miguel sprinkled with one charming little town after another is a paradise started by and formed by volcanic eruptions. It is a Catholic island, definitively, and I know this because there are over two hundred churches seemingly on every corner and then some. This island is about thirty-nine miles long and ten miles wide and houses over one hundred and forty thousand people and I have had a connection with the people of the Azores for most of my life. Since my family lived in Fall River, Massachusetts and I now live in Bristol Rhode Island, there is a very large community of this amazing group of spirited souls, Azoreans as I have learned to call this group of people, who love, with the greatest of pride, their homeland.

I guess many families who have had mass immigration have a feeling of longing for the lives they left behind as either they, themselves, or the generations before them took a leap of faith for a better economy leaving customs, cultures and family behind as they tried to look ahead rather than behind. This spectacular and very slow island moves at a pace that I have absolutely reveled in for the last twelve days. I have had the unique scope of deep hikes in the quietest of places, food as fresh as the day’s catch, the freshest of meats, cheeses, butters, wines and the friendliest and kindest of people I have had the privilege of meeting. I know the hearts of the people of the Azores because of my good fortune to know many back home, but experiencing their actual community has been the deepest of the onion layer I have enjoyed like they have been my own family.

Usually in my travels as much as I try to travel to places where I know someone so I have the scope of their own perspectives as much as possible, there is always a barrier that separates us versus them. Maybe it is because this culture is so incredibly familiar to me where I don’t have that wall separating us, maybe it is because it is only a four hour plane ride, perhaps it is because I have grown up surrounded my the language a few streets or neighborhoods away, I have loved this trip more than most and I have loved my trips of the past. It could be because this is the first trip I have taken since I have had my final surgery and traveling alone has given me a deep dive perspective on my love of life and travel solo. Maybe it is the blessings I feel in my own health and confidence in my instincts for travel that adds to this distinct pleasure.

From the simple walks around the town of Ponta Delgada at all hours of the late and light filled evenings finding small intimate places to listed to Fado, to the vigorous hikes on trails up mountainsides and down hills to waterfalls and lakes that have taken my breath away. Then there are the monuments and the layers of volcanic rock paths and walls that were built on the backs of hard working men stone by stone centuries ago that remind any traveler that all places are fragile, especially volcanic ones that are in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I don’t mean to make this sound like this is Fantasy Island, but for me this past twelve days, it kind of has been.

Women and men have lots of body love for one. Going to the beach every day right across the street from my hotel reminds me how screwed up Americans are about their bodies. I have witnessed the heaviest of rolls of women and men lying comfortably among each other in string bikinis without so much as a twinge of discomfort. I wear one of those cute Athleta skirts, Serena Williams like, sporting my strong and solid thighs and I am the only one with one of these on. I am not exaggerating. No one here wears a skirt, a skort, a tankini or a pair of boy shorts. Everything is exposed from the largest of derrière and breasts to the smallest and in fact, the smallest is kind of the oddball out. I have leaned into some serious body love here enjoying my curves at the beach with the rest of these people; I am never going to not have curves and it is super ok here in this neck of the ocean. Like many Europeans though, no one seems to have gotten the memo that smoking is bad and that to go coffee cups are ok, but this is a small price to pay for every other element being spectacularly easy. I have learned how to speak a very small amount of Portuguese but now it is the day before I leave and it is almost too late. I have gone to the most gold gilded churches and sat among the tiny women praying in the middle of their days for miracles and have tried not to chuckle at the irony of the wealth on the alter. I have gone to Mass for the first time in my life with my friend’s aunt and mother who have instructed me on the dos and do not’s of their religion and have been humbled by their passion.

This past Sunday I went to St. Anna’s Mass in Furnas with my friend’s mother and aunt and watched a first communion take place. I had no idea it was going to be a two hour mass with no AC. I at once became aware of my religious difference as I realized that my people, in my lovely reformed Jewish congregation would likely never sit for two hours in the baking heat with no AC and if this wasn’t an immediate come to Jesus moment, there never would be one as I fanned myself with the liturgical handout that seemed on paper much shorter than two hours. The beauty of listening to a two hour service in a language I didn’t understand likely made the whole experience much more spiritual. There were a few moments where Tia translated, like the time that the priest was instructing the children to be good and not to be bad. I had to bite my tongue here with the respect my grandmother would have wanted me to have as I almost suggested perhaps it should be the children instructing the priest with all of that skeletons in the closet and shameful burying of the atrocities of men in power.

I was somewhat and humorously commanded by ‘Tia’ to sit and stand and kneel as I listened to a mass in Portuguese as the entire congregation anxiously awaited the St. Anna feast and the procession that was to follow. She had prepared me for the religious indoctrination before we got there, reminding me that I was in no way shape or form to go up for communion. (Like there was even a remote possibility I would be doing that). In her beautifully broken English, when the time came she barked out, “You will stay here and watch my purse until I come back,” and with that order, off she went to stand in line with about five hundred other people, mouths open or hands depending on your level of OCD with germs, I supposed. I found it hilarious that she didn’t see the irony of asking me to watch her purse in church, but I kept that to myself. When she came back at the speed of light, (I am always amazed at how quickly they are able to move what had to be almost eight hundred people through the communion line), I asked her why some had the priest place the wafer in their mouths and some had them place it in their hands. “Personal choice,” she matter of factly replied. Then she spoke softly letting me know that she always worked for priests and they used to tell her after the service how painful it was to put the wafer in so many mouths because of the terrible breath and would wash their hands vigorously with vinegar after mass. I laughed aloud. I had never thought about this and I had to turn my head away so I didn’t start crying with laughter. I remember my doctor jokingly affirming how great it was to get a pedicure before my delivery of my son when I told him my plans of this. He told me how bad some women’s feet smelled. This reminded me of the same thing. Ahh… the problems of priesthood. Who knew?

There is nothing like traveling to gain new perspective, to look at your own life with a different set of binoculars checking out other people’s viewpoints. I learned so much here and of course add to this stunning recipe my own Jewish heritage. The search for any Jewish history here and a story unfolded today like it does in every other area I have traveled to where Jews have been persecuted simply because they chose to practice a religion that started much before Catholicism and Christianity, you know, Old Testament New Testament? But I’ll save that for a different piece because that little gem deserves its own essay. Until my next travels. MUITO OBRIGADO, my beautiful Azorean Friends and Warriors. Until we meet again.




My tour guides, Paula and Christina at LAGOA DO FOGO and at the most delicious restaurant in Lagoa. The beautiful statue of arch angel michael, why the island was named, the small synagogue I found beautifully restored. There are no Jewish people left on this island. For now anyway.




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IN THE VAN OUT OF THE VAN

happy smiley malasadas lady at Nordeste, two bites in and I’m pretty happy myself.

IN THE VAN OUT OF THE VAN

“Alayne, roll the window and take a few pictures,” Jane commanded as we drove by an incredible scenic view in Ribeira Grande, Azores, “the place where the first settlement happened,” our driver guide, Jaime said as he made the curve around the blend of “sweet” water and salt water. By this time it was almost five in the afternoon and the seven women ranging in age from sixteen to seventy seven were a bit spent. (not to mention our male tour guide who probably had enough of this estrogenic bunch). We had completed a whirlwind tour of Nordeste, the northern most tip of Sao Miguel in a Mercedes Sprinter having left at nine am. The frequency of stop, get out, look around, pee and get back in was starting to take its toll on this variety of traveling women.

I don’t usually travel like this. My preference is a full day outside in one area exploring and walking and breathing in the scenic air, learning a little about the landscape, but more so experiencing it with my body and mind and the strength of my legs. This is how my partner and I travel. We are both fit and like to incorporate movement with our lessons of the world. But in this case, I really wanted to see this area, I really wanted to be with this dynamic group of women and be immersed in non stop Portuguese for over nine straight hours. I think. No, yes, definitely. I was willing to take the hit for a day as the van winded and twisted up the hillside in this magical place called Sao Miguel.

I am a solo traveler who surprised her friend so I am in the unique position of saying yes to a day or no to a day because I am not part of the original traveling party. This works for my personality who can easily get annoyed with too many decisions and discussions about where and when to meet for things as simple as dinner. I know myself well and this day of Nordeste in a van full of women speaking Portuguese allowed me to be a witness to two families who argue, love, talk over each other, say it like it is and genuinely enjoy each other’s company through all of it. I am the lucky one as I sit in the front seat with Jen who gets carsick like I do in a tight fit van climbing and then descending the roller coaster experience of the northern drive up and back down again.

Because I had been here for three full days before their arrival, I had already seen a little bit of the towns leading to Nordeste. Because my guides are professionals and knew I was going there, they were careful not to duplicate the journey but instead took me on a deep dive to some real out of the way places within some of the more predictable stops we were likely to go on in the van. Agua de Pau, a coastal find and one of my favorite stops took my breath away as I was surrounded by cliffs and water and volcano remnants that make up this entire island. With my tour guides and my desires, there were no drive bys or drive throughs. We got out of the car, and really walked around, had food, smelled the air and dove in. The opposite of the day with the ladies to Nordeste, but both served their purpose and both were an experience. I don’t’ really even know what we saw yesterday other than one hundred percent beauty, gardens, oceans, cliff and churches.

We had lunch at a place that had the name, Melo in it, Jane’s maiden name, which was in a little town in a hillside that served a buffet like I will surely dream about when I get home starving for just one more plate of Bacalhau. Codfish, for those who are not in the Portuguese know of the translation. I always thought that Bacalhau was the word for the layered yumminess of soaked salted codfish with potatoes and onions, kind of like the Portuguese version of lasagna. Here I have discovered that, no, it just means codfish and the versions of it are endless on every menu here. Kind of like the way one might find the word, pasta in Italy. At least this is my opinion, perhaps this comparison is sacrilege. I don’t know, but I can’t get enough.

When we finally made it to the northern tip, we were greeted by a park with small trails and waterfalls. Water from the mountain running through an actual home that is now a tourist walk through led us to a woman who was selling homemade Malasadas, a Portuguese doughboy, but that word is almost insulting. Like a bottle of wine at a particular special occasion, hard to recreate by buying the same exact bottle later on, it is the experience that we knowingly had that made that glass so delicious. Maybe it was a cold fall evening in a chair by what you would know would be one of the last fires outside after dinner and after a stunning foliage season that made this wine taste so good in retrospect. This malassadas was like that, eating it in an old home handmade by a local woman who had a smile that was part of the sugary joy of the first bite.

The food here is deliciously authentic and homemade beyond my dreams. There is the bread at every table and the local butter and cheese and the ice cream. All taken from the cows I saw in the midst of blue and white hydrangeas that grow like a weed on the hillsides they have instinctively made ridges in with their hooves so they don’t roll down the steep volcanic hills. Organic and au natural like no farm in America could ever claim. Oh and the wine and the tea. We stopped at the tea plantation along the way to learn how they make tea and it was fascinating to make a connection between what goes into those individual bags I drink daily. At least here I got to see how completely natural and pure the process is and understanding that local tea at this plantation is the real deal. I promptly bought twelve boxes because I am insane and am already worried I will not be able to drink it again until my next visit.

And as anyone from Rhode Island would predict, at the tea plantation we ran into someone we all knew from Bristol also visiting here and immediately took a photo. I have seen over the years of travel that no matter where I go, I always run into someone I know or who knows someone I know from little state of Rhode Island, the smallest state in our country. Add this to another element I love about where I live when I do finally make it back there. There is a simple and slow quality here and even though where I am staying is mobbed with tourists at the major points of interest, there has been no pushiness or impatience even with the American travelers I have encountered. (well maybe a little with the Germans, but we can talk about that in my next writing). My friend, Jen, keeps joking that we are in a place that runs on PST, Portuguese Standard Time, and though she says this jokingly, I have learned in my short stay that this is a compliment. We need more slowness to our lives. At least I do, anyway. Getting in a van and out of a van all day with my self proclaimed adopted family who has welcomed me like I am one of their own was a glorious experience that I will never be able to recreate. Once was enough, but the once was a gem in my life and I am so happy I said Yes again.





running into our friend Sony from Bristol at the tea plantation was a trip, the making of the tea, the ladies in the van, waterfalls and food, what could be better.