walking : Oh Fair New Mexico

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by Karen Fayeth

Change Gonna Come

I think, sometimes, it must be a bit odd living with me.

On Sunday afternoon, with many things troubling my mind, I went outside and took a nice walk. I also looked at my neighborhood and noticed the way the sunlight is shifting. A cool tinge to the breeze. And I noticed that college kids are starting to move back to this college town.

When I got home I was a bit tired, a little sweaty, and more centered in my mind.

“Oh!” I said, as The Good Man and I talked things over, “I brought something home.”

His eyes lit up at the prospect. What could it be? Something freshly baked from our fabulous neighborhood shop? A pound of aromatic fresh ground coffee? A small fun tchotchke from one of the many nearby gifty shops?

Nope. What I brought home to my sweetheart was this:



From a Red Maple tree

I brought my love a leaf.

More than a leaf, it was the perfect representation of how restless I was feeling. As summer begins to give way to fall. As youth gives way to middle age. As things are in motion and changing at my place of work.

I was stunned on my walk to notice that leaves are already changing. Trees are starting to turn the bright reds and yellow and oranges of fall. I’m sure our unseasonably cool late summer has been part of the reason, but I was startled to see the change. I was also comforted to know that the restless feelings inside me are in sync with nature.

It is both a green leaf and a red leaf at the same time. Both the joy of spring and the end of summer. Happy and sad. Birth and death.

Transition.

My theme song lately has been Sam Cooke, “A Change Is Gonna Come.” I just recently found this song again through the whims of Pandora’s algorithms. And as Pandora is want to do, it plays at least once a day during my work days. Occasionally, if the time is right and the office door is closed, I sing along.

It is a sad song. A lament. But also, it’s inevitable that change has to happen. Like that leaf, there has to be some core that remains and stays in place to keep you grounded. With that grounding, then other things can change.

Lest you think I have any personal big changes planned, I do not. I consider most of my life to be my rock. But things around me are changing at a rapid clip, and I am feeling that happen.

Seasons are in transition. Things at work are changing fast, and actually have been changing for some time. And the nation is changing too. This election cycle has been nothing short of the lunchroom at an insane asylum. Come November, things are changing for all of us, no matter how the voting goes. Even the world is changing. Both for the good and for the bad.

I’m not always very good with a lot of change. Some people thrive. Me, I get a little worried. It’s my way.

But on that sunny Sunday in Northern California, a pretty little leaf became the perfect metaphor for what’s going on inside of me.

And The Good Man, he understands that sometimes I need to bring home a leaf to best explain everything that’s on my mind.

___________________

Because I can, I ran my leaf photo through the Prism app, which I just adore. My favorite of the conversions was this one.

Thought I’d share it too:



Same leaf, now artified







Leaf photos ©2016, Karen Fayeth, taken with an iPhone6, the Camera+ app, and the Prism app. Subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page.




I Don’t Subscribe To This Point of View

Do you remember the Sting song “Russians” from way back in 1985? An overly somber commentary on the state of the Cold War, Sting implored “I hope the Russians love their children too.”

I have had occasion to listen to this song a few times over the past months. It keeps coming up in my consciousness. I do readily admit that in 2016 the song sounds almost quaint and old fashioned. I remember the first time I heard it in 1985 it felt deadly serious.

As a GenXer, the Cold War is certainly a part of my formative years. Growing up in New Mexico, I was acutely aware that “Oppenheimer’s deadly toy” was largely created in Los Alamos. My dad was employed by Sandia Labs and he worked on nuclear weapons. Hell, my dad was one of those guys in the 1950’s out on some Pacific island in the middle of nowhere setting off nuclear explosions just to see what would happen.

So the Cold War was a little more real to me than perhaps many of my classmates. I remember on the playground talking with some friends about this list that apparently the Soviets had. A list of the first places they would hit if the war began. We all agreed Los Alamos would be on the list and debated if Sandia was there too.

I remember saying to a friend that I’d rather be nearby if a nuke was dropped. I’d rather be vaporized than have to live with radiation poisoning. I was just a kid but I had worked out how I would get as close as possible to Kirtland Air Force Base to control my own destiny.

That was some heavy stuff for a little kid, but it was the reality of the world back then.

So when I learned in April of this year that I would be traveling to the Czech Republic, I was incredibly excited. I love international travel and Czech Republic is a really old and quite historic city. The Good Man calls it “deep Europe” and it sounded so dark and mysterious.

But I also pulled up short. Hesitatingly, I asked The Good Man, “Didn’t…uh…Czechoslovakia used to be Communist?”

Then I took a look on Google, I searched “Iron Curtain” and found this map. There it is, Czech Republic behind that heavy line.



Map found here

I had a startling realization that I was preparing to travel to a communist country. This brought up an amazing amount of fear and almost guilt. Like I was betraying my country. Like I was letting down my father and all of those people he worked with back in the day. Or that I would surely find myself taken prisoner and subjected to intense KGB scrutiny simply for being an American in the wrong place.

Of course, all of that is patently ridiculous. The Czech people had taken back their country in 1989 and Americans visit Prague all the time. One of my coworkers had just been there and she loved it.

My weirdness was not helped when the guy who heads up the property team at work dropped a letter on my desk and told me to keep it with my laptop when I traveled. The letter assured that my employer owned the machine and that I was authorized to carry it.

I said, “This is my fourth international trip for our employer. I should admit I’ve never had a letter like this before.”

He quickly replied, “That’s because you’ve never traveled to a former Communist country before.”

Oh.

Back in the day, I loved that movie “White Nights.” What more could a movie do to pander to GenXer fears around the Cold War? Plus, I had enormous teenage tingly feelings for Gregory Hines (I can confess I actually got to meet him once and he was even more handsome in person, and also a true gentleman). Mikhail Baryshnikov was not exactly hard to look at either. But I’m wandering off topic…

That scene where Baryshnikov’s character, a defector from Russia, realizes the airplane is going to make a crash landing in Siberia had a big impact on me. As he’s tearing up his passport and flushing it down the toilet, I was terrified. When the inevitable straight out of central casting KGB agents arrived to harass our hero, I just knew that was EXACTLY how it really was. This was more documentary than fiction, right? <*smirk*>

It was with all of these thoughts and fears that I boarded a plane headed for the Czech Republic. Of course what I found when I landed was a beautiful country and very kind people.

My first foray into the center of the city of Prague was to attend a formal dinner at the historic Rudolfinum. One of my coworkers who knew her way around suggested we get off the Metro a couple stops early and walk about half a mile to the venue. Well of course, I was excited at this very idea. My first real exposure to the heart and soul of Prague.

I was immediately enchanted by the lumpy cobblestone streets and the very old buildings. We soon came across an odd building with four statues over the entrance depicting what appeared to be, to my eye anyway, communist era workers. The kind of thick neck and heavy features you’d find in a Diego Rivera painting.



A very bad screen grab from Google maps because I didn’t take a photo while there

I had kind of a “holy shit, look at that” moment and kept walking. There was a remnant of Soviet era Prague right there. Right there!

As we kept walking my eyes landed on souvenir shops with colorful marionettes, crystal shops, many pubs, restaurants and even a big ol’ Burger King, and I knew that it was okay. I was not somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. I didn’t need to rip up my passport and toss it into the murky blue waters of an airplane toilet.

No, rather, I was exactly where I needed to be. Instead of fear I felt proud that my ten New Mexico bred toes felt the pulse and music and life of one of deep Europe’s most beautiful cities.

Now, in hindsight, of course I was being ridiculous. I mean, my brother has traveled right into the heart of Moscow, Americans are free to visit Cuba, and Dennis Rodman gets to visit his bestie in North Korea. It’s a different world and a different view.

At the end of the day, it turned out that the Russians did (and do) love their children too.





El Frijol

A couple days ago I mentioned that I had been in Chicago for a writer’s conference at the end of March.

I’ve been to Chicago many times (as in passing through on my way elsewhere) but I’ve never really been to Chicago. When a couple ladies from my class said they wanted to go into downtown for dinner I was totally on board.

We hopped on the L and headed from Rosemont into downtown and walked around.

The ladies were intent on seeing Cloud Gate, colloquially known as “The Bean” and I was onboard.

It just so happened that the March theme for my photography club was night photography, so I took along a camera just in case I saw something good.

The Bean is like any touristy object, it’s been photographed thousands of times. I had no idea what I could do to improve on what’s already been done, so I just had fun with this shiny reflective piece of art.

Here’s what I got:




Image Copyright © 2015 Karen Fayeth


I think the Chicago skyline is so beautiful and a bit iconic as well. I love that at certain angles, the polished surface of the Cloud Gate just disappears into the sky like liquid silver. It’s really cool!

My favorite part of the whole night was when my fellow travelers and I had found our way to Millennium Park and were a bit lost trying to find The Bean inside the park.

At one point, a bunch of kids came running and flowed around me like a stream while they pointed and shouted “El Frijol! Mira! Mira! El Frijol!” I smiled because I knew I was near. And I laughed because of course it’s called El Frijol. My New Mexican pride stool tall as I found that big shiny bean.

I love the shot, but I wasn’t sure anyone else would. Turns out this photo took second place in the voting for my photography club’s monthly challenge, and that makes me happy (missed first place by one vote!).

After The Bean, we found our way to Giordanos because hello Chicago style pizza! Can you believe I forgot to take a photo of that delicious deep dish? Oh well.

This photo of Cloud Gate brings me good memories of downtown Chicago. I look at this beautiful bean photo and I smile.

Chicago is such a great city. Really top notch. I can’t wait to go back.




Metaphors. What Are They Good For?

The other day at the ol’ place of employment, I had an early meeting at another site and then came back to my particular office building, which meant parking on the top level of the parking garage. Ugh.

Early on with this parking garage, I made myself promise that no matter where I parked, I would take the stairs to get to my car. No elevators. Just a little extra exercise in the day. So when I get here early, I have one flight of stairs. When I get here late, I have five. That’s how the ol’ cookie crumbles.

So after starting really early in the day at an off site meeting and then running like my hair was on fire in the office all day long (gigantic project brewing with very hard deadlines and a press conference to announce it coming up too!) I was pretty dead tired at the end of the day.

I stood at the bottom up the steps looking up mournfully. Five flights? After the day I had? I was determined to keep my promise to myself and I lifted heavy legs up and up and up the stairs.

Around the fourth floor I started feeling gassed. Each step felt harder than the last. It felt like gravity was actively defying me with every lift of my knees. Finally, exhausted and sucking oxygen I made it to the top floor, stumbled to my car and flopped inside.

That last flight really got to me. As I stepped, I had the kind of pondering thoughts that my brain often makes to keep me entertained. Were those last steps so difficult because my leg muscles were wearing out over the sum total of steps? Or does it become harder to slip the surly bonds of gravity with each flight? Or some combination of both?

And that struggle, that last mile difficulty, well, it started to feel like a metaphor. For my job. I am (to use yet another metaphor) rounding third base on this gigantic project and certainly headed for home plate, but this last leg of the journey is proving to be the most difficult.

Here’s another metaphor. I can see the summit of this mountain, but the last 1,000 steps are straight uphill with no room or time to rest. Each day feels a little harder. Each moment is fraught with worry.

In about two weeks I will summit this sumnabitch and I will be glad I did. In a few months I will look back and it won’t seem all that bad. But right now, looking up, knowing I am so close but knowing all that I have to endure to get to the other side, it feels daunting.

It feels like gravity actively puling me down, down, further toward the ground. Yeah, climbing five flights of steps feels like a metaphor, and not a bad metaphor at that.

But what good is the metaphor? I still have to climb the steps. I still have to complete the journey. And I have not get so focused on the pain and agony and effort of each step that I forget to remember home and the loving arms of The Good Man wait on the other side.

It’s worth climbing those steps if only because it means I’m one step closer to him. What is a difficult journey without a meaningful destination?





Image found here.




It’s Such a Small World

Over past few years of my life I have been fortunate enough to engage in some international travel. I have truly visited some of the great cities of the world.

Traveling outside of the borders of the United States has made me a better person in many ways, not the least of which is that I have come to appreciate my own country more by not being in it for a few days at a time.

I recall spending Fourth of July in England, gazing over the Thames while pondering that the Fourth of July is about so much more than hot dogs and sparklers. It really made the summer holiday mean something to me.

The other thing that international travel has done is give me a front row seat on gaining perspective of just how large this big blue marble really is. Gigantic. And how people are different and yet people are the same.

One aspect that I have experienced on each of my overseas trips has been a small moment of humanity, a connection, finding a shared place with another person even as I feel the dislocation of being in another country.

It happened in Dublin, and is such a fond memory. It also happened in Amsterdam, and I guess it’s taken a little while for the beauty of the interaction to sink in.

Let me tell the tale:

I arrived in Amsterdam on Sunday at about 7:30am. Schiphol airport was quiet and calm in the early morning hours.

My fellow passengers and I came off our flight from Newark and walked into the airport, quickly cleared customs and stood by the baggage return waiting.

And waiting.

You see, in Europe, things don’t always move on the timescale that Americans are used to. It’s just how it is.

I hadn’t slept in something like eighteen hours and I was wobbly on my pins, but resolved. Finally after the eternity of a half hour, the bags started rolling through the baggage return. Hooray!

People scurried to get their luggage and wandered off into the Amsterdam day. I kept watching bags go by that were not mine.

Finally the flow of luggage slowed to a trickle and I knew, I just knew. My bag didn’t make it.

I had a very tight transfer time in Newark, less than an hour, and I had flat out ran to get between gates and onto the plane, so I was just certain my bag didn’t make it as fast as I had.

Shoot. That was the word foremost in my mind. Only not the word with the two o’s in the middle. The other word. I just kept saying that word over and over and over.

I looked around and saw I wasn’t alone. There were about eight of us standing there with no luggage.

We all looked at each other, shrugged and walked in unison over to the United Baggage customer service desk.

I was toward the back of the line so I struck up a conversation with a dude standing in line with a guitar slung over his shoulder.

He told me that he and his wife had come from Cleveland and that they were in Amsterdam to see their son, who is in a band, play a show. They were going to follow him on a couple tour stops.

Then he pointed to his guitar and said, “I’m going to try to do a little busking while I am here. The quality of the people I’ve seen busking in Amsterdam is pretty low, so I know I can do better than that.”

I spent too many years in the company of musicians to do anything other than laugh and agree. And I said, “That’s cool. When I get some Euros, if I see you playing, I will throw some your way.” He laughed and said thanks.

About that time the United customer service person said that the baggage handlers had failed to look in the “basement” of the plane, and our bags should be along directly. Lo and behold, my stuff showed up. I whipped it off the baggage return and stumbled my way out into the beautiful Amsterdam morning.

And then I settled into my little Amsterdam life, walking the canals, eating stroopwafels, visiting the Van Gogh museum, and work. Oh yeah, this was not a vacation but a work trip, and the work meetings were two full days (day and night) and massively intense.

On Tuesday evening, I stumbled out of the offices with my brain dead and my body exhausted. We had been through an intense day and were on a short one-hour break before meeting back at the offices to go to dinner.

I strolled along the Singel, which is the center of Amsterdam. I was so tired and concentrating on not turning my ankles on the cobblestones near the flower market. My hotel was only a few blocks from there.

As I walked, feeling out of my mind and brain dead, I heard someone playing guitar and singing. I remembered the guy I had met at the airport and wondered what had become of him.

As I rounded a curve, I saw a man in shorts and a porkpie hat busking at the end of an alleyway and in front of a closed store. He was putting a lot of gusto into the song, “Santeria” and had his backed turned to me.

I walked past and looked. Sure enough, it was my fellow passenger.

I pulled out my wallet and looked to see what I had to give. I found a five Euro bill, then walked up and said, “I promised I’d give you some Euros” and dropped the bill into his guitar case.

He looked puzzled and said, “Thanks. Are you an American?”

He didn’t recognize me, so I said, “We’ve met. Remember at baggage claim in Sunday?”

His eyes went wide, “Heeey! How cool is this?” He pointed out his wife who was shopping one of the stores a bit down the path. He told me he had seen his son play the night before and that he and his wife were off to Brussels in the morning for his son’s next show.

We chatted for a few moments, then I said, “I just had to stop and I’m so sorry for interrupting your song, that is rude of me.”

“No, no! Here, let me give you something! Here, take one of our CDs.”

So I did, and I thanked him and headed off with a smile on my face and a little more bounce in my step.

I get that Amsterdam is a small city and that the flower market is a popular place to be, but that one moment of humanity made this great big gigantic overwhelming world seem just a little bit smaller.

That felt pretty good to a little tired American girl wandering the canals of Amsterdam.

With a cheers from San Francisco to the fine city of Cleveland.

Here’s the band if you are inclined to check them out:

Cats on Holiday




Copyright © 2014 Karen Fayeth

I took this photo later that same night with a couple of Dutch beers under my belt and a song in my heart. I call this one “Amsterdam Moon” for the The Mavericks song of the same name.







Photo Copyright © 2014, Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Taken with an iPhone5 and the Camera+ app. Post processed with Snapseed.




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