Monday, December 5, 2016

The Regular

It was the wave that did it. A simple, familiar wave from a man I've watched for years, an "older man" (older than me!), who mows his lawn in a circle around a central clump of bushes.

I've noticed this man and his wife for years, shoveling snow, planting annuals, vacuuming up leaves (this weekend's project). He is, for lack of a better term, a regular. One of the folks I see on my walks through Folkstone, one of the ones who (because I've never gotten to know him) is known more by the color of his shutters (green) and the method of his leaf removal (tractor) than anything else.

But it was the way it waved to me — familiar, off-handed — that made me realize that, just as I see him as a regular, so he sees me.

I'm the woman in the worn white running jacket, a little worse for the wear, slowing down as the years pass, still at it, though.

I'm "the woman who walks" (sometimes runs). A fixture of sorts, a regular.

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Friday, December 2, 2016

Power Walking

About a mile from the White House in northwest D.C., a small set of kinetic paving "stones" is harvesting the power of footfall and giving a whole new meaning to the term "power walking."

These triangular-shaped pavers are made of glass-reinforced plastic that are loose at the corners. A footstep jiggles them just enough to depress the corners and move a flywheel that generates the power to illuminate LED lights on park benches nearby.

This is amazing to me, that the footstep, one of the greatest sources of untapped energy the planet has ever known, could be transferred into power. It seems like an idea whose time has come.

Imagine the applications: treadmills and ellipticals on the grid, a home powered by people running up and down the stairs inside it, sidewalks that move you — because you move them.

There is the slight issue of cost — these little pavers are expensive — but their founder says so were Teslas, too, in the beginning. (I thought Teslas were still expensive, but hey, I'll give the guy a break.) Still, the company, Pavegen, has similar projects in London's Heathrow Airport and elsewhere around the world.

So, walkers everywhere, vote with your feet. Make your way to these springy, resilient paving stones, give us your best fast walk and light up the world!


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Leaving the Bus Behind

The sky was brightening. The day was clear. I had already been sitting too long. So when the bus stopped, I bolted.

And there was the ground again, the pavement stones, the slanting corners, the walkways littered with thin brown leaves. There was the rhythm of footfall, the comfort of moving briskly into the day.

A woman with two small dogs ambled along, coffee mug in hand. A few briefcase-toting commuters ran to cross before the light changed. Some early morning joggers zoomed by. Only these few guardians of the morning.

But mostly it was just me and the way ahead. Not a bad way to start the day.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Mall Walking

It wasn't premeditated, I swear, but when I found myself at the mall last evening with weather too dark and foggy for outdoor strolling, I thought ... why not?

I turned around in the hallway, swung by Sears and the CVS. Before I knew it I was striding past Hollister, up and down the short Macy's hall, then out again into the main space where Santa sits. I passed the Apple store, the Talbots and the Williams and Sonoma.

It wasn't exactly Fifth Avenue, but I was speeding through what passes for commerce and public space in my part of the world.

How strange to fast-walk halls so often clogged with window shoppers and pre-teens. It was empowering. I had no intention of buying anything. I was, in a strange sort of way, beating the system.

Is this what all mall walkers feel? If so, bring it on!

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Unsaid Words

Thinking today about words I wished I'd said. Phrases more pithy and promising that any that could be uttered in the moment. Where do these words live?

Do they float in the ether, always just out of grasp? Do they settle in the soul like a stone?

They aren't much help; I know that. They're not there when you want them and hang around far too long when you don't.

I need to reimagine them, to take away their power. To see them as a pleasant landscape or as old books on library shelves, friends we don't yet know but hope to meet someday.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Nutcracker, Redux

Suzanne took me to the Nutcracker at Kennedy Center yesterday, and what a Nutcracker it was! A fizzy, funny production with tumbling sprites, flying Drosselmeyer and a stunning pas de deux.  There was enough of the traditional ballet to suit purists but enough site gags (a leaning cake, two harem dancers fighting over their man and silly prancing poodles) to keep the audience guessing — and laughing.

When Suzanne and I went to the Nutcracker years ago, I would be in the audience and she would be on stage in a progression of roles — mirliton, polichinelle, party child — as her ballet skills improved.  We reminisced about those days, about personalities in the ballet studio, including the earnest Mr. Ben, husband of the studio owner, who was pressed into service each Christmas as leading man and whose lifts looked ever more shaky as the years wore on.

And there were stories behind this production, too; we just didn't know them. We were, instead, caught up in the illusion, a gasp as the curtain rises, a sigh as it descends.

(Above: The Nutcracker's original performance in 1892.)

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Stairway to Paradise

I wake early on normal days, even more so since the Asia trip. Trying to catch up with the other side of the world, giving up sleep for quiet time, plunging into a new morning that vanishes like a puddle on a hot sidewalk.

Time and place. In a long-distance flight they come together. Not in an elegant, theory-of-relativity way, but in a stuffy, jarring jumble of humanity; torn wrappers and crushed water bottles; headphones and paper slippers.

Here we are, defying time and gravity, and all we can think about are what movies are being offered and whether we'll be seated next to a crying baby.

There's a message here somewhere; I'm sure of it.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Adding and Subtracting

So what does the non-shopper do on Black Friday? It's a question I ask myself every year.

Today, there's an ironic answer. I've already spent an early hour or two tabulating final expenses from the Asia trip, trying to remember where I had dinner on November 17 and hunting down receipts for various Perrier with limes.

While this is for reimbursement purposes, it strikes me that adding up expenses might not be a bad way to spend a day devoted to shopping.

Putting on the brakes before pushing the gas pedal.

Seeing how much has gone out — before sending even more in its wake.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Domestic Details

Travel, like any other intense experience, becomes even more valuable upon reflection. For me, the reflection began on the return trip, when I settled down into Seat 44H with my journal and pen and wrote for the first hour of an (unfortunately bumpy) 13-hour flight from Seoul to Washington.

But for now, it's a return to routine, to more typical duties — writing and editing  — and to domestic ones, too — unpacking and doing laundry.

And then there's pie-baking. Luckily, the girls are taking care of this Thanksgiving. Suzanne and Appolinaire are hosting with an assist from Claire and Celia. I'm only supplying a pie. Ah, this is why we have children, isn't it?

But still, the pie must be baked, which means the ingredients must be purchased, which means the grocery store must be tackled. At least I'll understand what I'm buying and how much it costs. No more rupiah or kyat.

I can't help but think about the domestic duties and supplies of the ginger farmer I just visited, though: two barrels of water, tin plates and bowls, alfresco kitchen and bath — a simpler (though by no means easier) life.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Around the World

In many ways the Asia trip itinerary was completely crazy, packing way too many appointments into way too little time.

In one especially intense stretch, we worked a full day in the U.S., then took an evening flight to Doha, connecting to Jakarta, with a 10-hour layover there before hopping aboard a Garuda Indonesia flight to Kupang, West Timor. We had about four hours of sleep before getting up at 4 a.m. for the puddle-jumper to Waingapu and a full day of work on the island of Sumba. That was three days on 10 hours of sleep.

But in one important way the itinerary worked, because it took us around the world. Heading east, easter and eastest ... or something like that.

Twelve days, 14 flights — and a complete circumnavigation of the globe.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Yangon at Night

A nighttime trip to downtown Yangon: banana peels and melon rinds, the detritus of the day.

Impromptu teahouses on the sidewalk, tiny plastic chairs, metal teapots. Wizened old women sitting on crates, couples embracing on the pedestrian bridge. And everywhere, the half-ruined colonial buildings of long-ago Rangoon.

I had hoped to see all of this in the daylight, but an after-dark viewing was the best I could do. Still ... I saw them. And I'm so glad I did.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Kalaw Market

On a weekend trip to Shan State, I walked down the hill from the Pine Hill Resort to the Kalaw market, a multi-block extravaganza featuring everything from chili peppers to sewing machines. There were melons and limes and shiny dried beans.

I focused on the ginger, since we had interviewed a ginger trader only hours before. 

But I could just as easily have zeroed in on the fresh chicken or the fish heads or the pans of rice a child was playing with, running her hands through the grains.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Golden Pagoda

Sometimes, no words are needed. Or if you could summon some up, they would be inadequate to the task.

This is one of those times.



Even arriving at night it was unmistakably different from anything I'd seen before. A different fragrance in the air. The people taller than I thought they would be. Funnier, too.

And this morning, in the light, all the sights and sounds of a new world. Thanaka paste on women's cheeks. Longyis around men's waists. Saffron-robed monks. Tiny teahouses tucked away behind bamboo-frond curtains.

I want to be out in it ... that's where I'm headed now.

Stay tuned ...


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