FUN, travel

BOOB TAPE AND IDENTITY

There are so many odds and ends when you are getting ready to travel out of the country. Besides the packing and the postponing of newspapers and mail, there are the phone calls to the various banks and credit card companies letting them know when a charge comes through that is not your norm, it is ok.

We were headed to Quebec and Canada is such a close neighbor that it is easy to forget it really is not part of the our borders. I forgot to let the banks know I was traveling outside of the US. As soon as I crossed the border and heard lovely French, I remembered instantly, though. Canada is a very different place from USA and a beautiful and easy place to get to when you want to get away and feel like you are traveling someplace with a more European vibe.

My partner and I roamed the cobblestones streets, learning how to navigate a new city. We ate poutine which should be illegal and I am grateful it has not found its way down to Rhode Island or it could very well be my caloric demise. 

We went to the Musee national des beaux-arts du Quebec and came upon an exhibit by contemporary artists, Cozic whose description read, COZIC is a two-headed visual artist with four hands made up of Yvon Cozic and Monic Brassard. And it was there I was struck by the question of what is art anyway, and who gets to claim and define that question? 

I appreciate when art does this. When it makes you read every single description card next to it its piece on the wall. We spent three hours looking at this exhibit. Odd, unusual and at the same time, captivating. The art was, at some points, interactive clearly inviting the visitors to be more than voyeurs. Touching, smelling even, being part of their work making me consider that art is more than just staring and feeling. I hadn’t really thought about this before.

What also struck my feminist radar was the description of who they are in their work. This wife and husband team prefer to be described as one artist. It is certainly a brilliant marketing element to their work, but what I noticed is that it is the Cozic name used as the signature of the show and I kept feeling, Where is Monic? 

She gets her due because when they are both written about, she is part of the story in all of the pieces, but where is her name on the art? They have been together since the sixties and I just wanted one piece that said, Monic Brassard. This all could have been her choice from the beginning and I don’t know anything more than my first impression of an exhibit that got me to really think during and afterwards. Art is like this; it gets me thinking about life- feminism, culture, marketing, politics and identity. 

Identity. Who owns it? Who gets to claim it? How is it remembered after the artist passes- in this case after Monic passes? I began wondering who decided to use his name, Cozic, instead of her name, Brassard? In the sixties, would her name have had the success if it he had been attached to her name instead of the other? Doubtful. 

As I made my way through the museum I began counting the number of female artists represented versus the male artists. Before long, I became too distracted by this and stopped as it was deterring me from appreciating the art. If this latest wave of feminism of #Metoo did something beyond its intention, it made me hyper aware of the lack of female representation in mostly everything. It has a long way to go before I walk into a museum and start thinking about counting the number of male artists as a minority compared to female artists as a majority. 

This all means that Cozic accomplished something. Cozic made me think. Two-headed visual artist with four hands made me feel. It made me frustrated and pissed off and smile all at the same time. Mission accomplished.

We made our way out of the museum and to the market, then headed to The Old City where we went on a walking tour. As I made my way into the tourist center to pay for the tour, my debit card was declined and it was there I remembered I forgot to call the bank. Thankfully, I had my partner along to pay while I called my bank to rectify the situation when I learned that the card was on a fraud alert and I would have to call the fraud department. Highly inconvenient. The tour was about to begin and I would have to address this problem later. This is another benefit about vacation, super chilled out. I did not get all wound up, just turned my phone off and said, I will deal with this later. 

After the tour, we walked back to our temporary air b+b home. I called the fraud department where I learned that my card was not declined because I was trying to use it in Quebec, but because someone else had been using it online and the charges seemed suspect. I’d say. Capricurves, Fashionnova, Boobtape and Petco. Four mysterious charges online and in Great Britain. 

When the kind woman at fraud alert asked me if I had charged anything on the website, Boobtape, I laughed. Boobtape is one thing I, for sure, don’t need. I have boobs that are straight out wonder woman- no bra needed- these days thanks to the good old reconstruction. Whoever had decided that they needed Capricurves and boobtape on my credit card at least was considerate enough to buy some pet food for their dog at Petco too. 

I began thinking about identity and how these fraudulent charges caused me to piece together my version of the person who tried to use mine. Maybe the person was struggling with their own identity, trying to add curves and lift their boobs. Perhaps they were down and out and just needed some new clothes to feel better or to go on an interview. I don’t know. But identity and culture are part of this story for sure. 


These days it is not that hard to get misuse taken care of promptly. My card was closed immediately and even though this was highly inconvenient while I was traveling, it wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. I had planned on changing my debit card to get a more accurate handle on how many automatic charges come out of my account on a monthly basis and to get a new card to start fresh when I got home, anyway. In some ways starting a new identity. 

Art got me thinking about identity and this got me thinking about how important art is for thinking. Traveling also gets me thinking about identity. How people live, where people live, how people interact with each other and with strangers and tourists like we have been this week. 

Language, pride, patriotism are all a part of who we identify with and more importantly how we identify with each other. The Cozic exhibit was like looking into a keyhole to see what was on the other side of the door. This past week in Quebec got me to see that there is so much more on the other side of our border and I can’t wait to come back.

interacting with the Cozic exhibit.
Identity in trying to read this delicious menu at L’affoire est Ketchup, one of the best meals I have ever had in my life, no exaggeration.
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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.
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A NEW MEMORY

A NEW MEMORY

“I think you need a new bag or fix this one,” Jane said to me inspecting my blue and white evenly squared checked cotton throw bag that takes me on my travels happily and joyfully. She was looking at the straps that were coming unstitched because this bag has come with me on all of my adventures for well over ten years if not more. I quickly became defensive; I am not nor will ever be a fashion icon for anything especially a purse. For me it is what bag climbs with me, what bag has the right amount of pockets to hold just enough without being cumbersome.

“This bag was given to me by an old friend who was a traveling superchick right into her eighties. Her daughter used to make them, then they both died within a few months of each other and I keep this bag with me on all excursions to remember Joy,” I said a little churlishly. She realized my sass and quickly reminded me that she was just pointing out the stitching so I could fix the straps. In the end, it was a win win because Janey got to learn about Joy and Anne and their connection to the bag and I got to see the straps coming undone before they did, before the day before my big hike up the mountain.

I went to the front desk of my five star hotel knowing that they would likely have one of those handy sewing kits. They did and as I got into the elevator, I was already stressing out about how I was possibly going to thread the eye of the needle with these eyes. Take a breath, relax, I could almost hear my old friend Joy saying proud and happy that I was still using the bag all these years later. I got into the room and it was like Joy the angel was looking out for me, of course the seven different colors of thread would already be threaded in the seven different needles! I was relieved and so happy that Jane now would become a piece of this bag as I pulled the navy thread choice out of the package.

I have never been much of a sewer. My grandfather, my great uncle and my father owned a textile factory and all sewing was given to them to do any repairs there. My father knew how to sew, not my mother. This was odd in Fall River, Mass at the time as most moms were stay at home moms and did stay at home kind of things. Also living in a major Portuguese community, you would have thought that my mother might have picked up some of that luscious home care. But this was not my mother and though we lived in this community, our community of friends and life were Jewish. I am guessing and this is a broad generalization, that most Jewish women in my mother’s circle of stay at home moms didn’t sew either.

As I pulled the thread out, my index finger and thumb automatically looped and knotted the end of the thread so that when I pulled my first stitch through, it would stop at the knot. It was such an automatic reflex, I almost didn’t notice. But then my father appeared before me like he was standing there and I could remember him teaching me this when I started to take sewing lessons at about eleven or so at the Singer store in the Harbor Mall. I think it was a Singer store, maybe it was a material store that had Singer sewing machines, but I took lessons there on Saturdays until I made a few skirts using patterns. My father used to drop me off and then pick me up after the class. I remember the patchwork skirt I made out of left over velvet that he gave me from pieces in the factory. I loved that skirt and was so proud of my work. I may even have a picture of myself at my grandparents house for some Jewish holiday. I will have to find it when I get back home.

Memories come out of nowhere like that. An innocent comment from a dear friend who also lost her father to Esophagus cancer just a few months after my dad passed from the same illness. Our friend, Jen also part of this trip who was my cohort in this surprise, lost her father suddenly after a family vacation in this very place. Witnessing the conversation then going on the trip with me hiking only to find out that the Portuguese folk song Christina, our tour guide, belted out on the mountain was her dad’s favorite. I learned this because her mom who is also on this trip told us before we went to dinner. Everything connected. All because of a torn strap in need of repair.

Healing is like this, one stitch at a time, the wound will never be completely healed. There will always be that scar that when you glance down at can make you absently put your finger on it to feel the bumps and rough patches, it is an omnipresent guide as you remember what caused it in the first place. But then there are those tenderest of moments where one can see and hear that long deceased person like he is standing in front of me saying, Alayne, this is how you thread the needle, this is how you make the knot and these little memories that flood out of nowhere are the gifts that keep on giving.

All because of a tear in a strap and a need to repair. Our dads convened yesterday for sure as a dynamic trifecta, maybe it was the blood moon, maybe it was the connection of Portugal that my father loved like it was his homeland, maybe it was the power of five women traveling with their own baggage separately and together trying to heal their own wounds. What I do know is that there is magic among the tribe and our lives are better because we know each other.





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A FLOCK OF FORNICATION

A FLOCK OF FORNICATION

I have been an avid beach enthusiast for most of my life. It is my Pieces calm, I am drawn to the water, the sand, the waves crashing, the screaming children and their parents trying to get some rest along with keeping a watchful eye. I am drawn to people watching, reading, writing with an actual pen and paper to shake it up a little knowing that whatever I write, I am going to have to type hoping later I can read my sunscreened oiled and water dripping on the page writing.

I love having all of the proper beach accouterments with me, great beach eating food, plenty of tubes of sunscreen, a pile of books and magazines and plenty of beach towels. At the Siesta Key beach which is like my second home, there are plenty of birds too. Pelicans diving, sandpipers and of course seagulls. Black faced, grey faced squawkers making an inordinate amount of noise all grouped together like they are their own island. This past week, as usual we got to the beach super early and claimed our spot unbeknownst to us unsuspecting beach goers right in the middle of the soon to be flock who in a sweeping motion decided that where we were sitting would be there new home for the duration. They surrounded us. For the amount of beach paraphernalia we traipse to the beach we decided we would just suck it up and be part of their party. The only good point of it all was that no other beachgoers really wanted to sit next to us and so it was us and the flock.

The flock of fornicators. Yes. In all of my years of beaching it summer after summer in New England and winter after winter in sunny Florida, for the first time in my life, we somehow managed to be right in the center of their mating season.

But let me backtrack just a minute. Just a few moments before, we watched groups of people stop and stare at the seagulls temporary habitat, the fornicating hadn’t started yet. At this point, the birds were just standing there almost in a trance, making some squeaks and squawks, but it looked like almost any other day at the beach. Kids weren’t around too much yet to disrupt them so they just stood there kind of sleep standing. But there were throngs of people in an almost matching trance with the birds watching them. My partner and I couldn’t understand what they were watching so we just shrugged our shoulders and read on.

Their sounds and shrieks soon to follow got our attention, though and we couldn’t stop watching them as we tried to come up with what all of the ruckus was all about. It seemed like they were trying to pair up; I watched them peck at each other’s beaks like the male was trying to steal a kiss or wow the female with his prowess. (I presumed it was a male, there were no noticeable markings that this amateur could decipher, sorry bird watching aficionados). We both sat in amazement as we watched one seagull bring a small fish to feed maybe as a dinner bribe to a potential candidate. She ate it hungrily without a blink of an eye or a care in the world and she surely didn’t look like she was obligated to give a little nookie in return, but her potential mate kept trying. How did I know this? Because he jumped right on her back like it was a wild rodeo- his feet firmly planted and his body girating because of his wing flapping motion to maintain his odd off kiltered balance smack on the left and right side of her spine. She just stood there like if she had a nail file she may have used it to file her nails with a big yawn basically saying, alright already, get on with it.

We couldn’t believe our eyes actually. First off we never imagined seagulls screwing their brains out for all eyes to see in broad daylight. Of all the times I have been to the beach, I have never seen this happen. After we wrapped our heads around the fact that this was actually happening, we became entranced with what should have otherwise been their private moments, but it was an amazing (no pun intended) birds eye view into basic primal behavior. I couldn’t stop watching as male bird after male bird circled around each of the females trying to prove their worthiness so they could catch a break and make their literal jump.

Once the male bird found the balance he needed, the she-gull (haha) lifted her tail ready for entrance, old school style. Yes for real. The only romance was the brief fish delivery and we didn’t see this in many of the other interactions.

It was like seagull porn, totally weird I know, but we couldn’t take our eyes off the spectacle. The odd thing was now no one was stopping and watching, it was like front row seats at our own private viewing of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

The bird on bird orgy fest was in and out in less than two minutes. The sea-gal (I’m full of them, aren’t I?) was disinterested, unaffected almost in the whole she-bang, (yep another one, can’t stop) frankly. As soon as he was finished with his business he flew away leaving her to clean up whatever mess he left, baby, delivery, motherhood, it didn’t seem like he was planning on returning and helping out the little mama anytime soon, perhaps off to his next conquest. This continued for a few hours in the midst of their flock of at least one hundred seagulls, probably more, males circling, mounting, flapping, and flying away.

We finally had to move because all of their spastic sounds and movements combined with the pumping sounds of a cacophony of humans and their speaker systems blaring a variety of horrible music were getting to be noise overload. We decided to pick up and move away from them leaving the frolicking seagulls for other observers if they decided for just a moment to look up from their cell phones.

The rewards are endless when we look up and around. This day was no exception to the nature around us every minute of every day.