Friday, October 23, 2015

Geneva 2015

At the tail end of September, Rico and I went to Geneva for a mini-reunion of Mozambique friends. Kelly and Marcos, our fellow American-Brazilian couple, have been living there for about a year, as has Helen, our badass friend who heads up land mine removal operations. Europe's geography helped out the reunion effort, as Brighton-based Jenny was able to fly down for a few days with no problem.

It was a much-needed get together. Nothing like old friends to make you feel all is right in life, and to give you objective but well-founded perspective on your current concerns and opportunities. Us girls held a Council of Elders and basically advised each other on the Major stuff: relationships, career, family, health. The boys also had boy time, which I imagine was just as satisfying. 

Amid all the talking, we managed to squeeze in some leisure. Kelly and Marcos, who hosted us, actually live just over the border in France. I neglected to take any photos, but their house is right next to some lovely agricultural fields beyond which are the Alps in the distance. I went running along tractor paths that criss-cross the fields, through corn and kale and what looked to be radishes. There were self-serve farm stands with pears and quince and apples, and signs for a co-op vineyard with local wine.

Interestingly, the farm roads I was running on actually crossed the border into Switzerland but save for a sign saying you should have an ID on you, it was an almost imperceptible passage. Borders were on my mind a lot during the trip: who can cross them, who can't, and how unfair it often seems.

We only had a short few days in Geneva, but we managed to get in some tourism. One afternoon we cruised the lake in an old paddleboat and had lunch in their chic on-board dining room. All along the perimeter of the lake there were gargantuan old world mansions with manicured grounds, which Marcos told us cost a cool 50 million Euros.

Apparently Geneva is up there as far as real estate prices are concerned, and that was definitely the feel I got being in the city: that it is a place for the well-off. With the UN headquarters there, as well as many other international development organizations, there is a bubble that brought flashbacks of Maputo. The people working to help the world's least fortunate often have a cost structure and lifestyle that is among the world's most expensive. Irony at its finest, for sure.

Anyhow, the boat was lovely as was the wander around old town that we took after lunch...

On our last night, we went out to a fancy Michelin-starred restaurant called La Ferme de l'Hospital. Innovative food, well-curated atmosphere, but also one of the biggest shocks of this trip: only the men at our table were given menus with prices. Us ladies all had menus with descriptions of the food but no prices.

The assumption about gender roles left me drop-jawed. If we had been a table of all heterosexual couples, maybe I'd have been mildly offended but let it go. What really perplexed me was that we were four ladies and two men. So were Rico and Marcos supposed to also pay for Helen and Jenny (who have boyfriends of their own back home?) What if there were a lesbian couple at the table, would the more masculine-seeming lady have received a menu with prices? Or would the men still be "expected" to pay? What if a table of all ladies came to eat?? I was incredibly shocked at this old-fashioned gender BS, but my dining companions had all seen it before and thus it was less of a thing for them...Gender issues aside, the meal was delicious and ridiculous in the way that 7-course formal dining usually is. 

The next morning we said our farewells and headed to the airport to continue our vacation. Actually in the airport I had my #2 shocking experience of the trip. We checked in to our flight and were only asked for boarding passes, no ID. We went through security, and still no ID. Boarding the plane we went through an automated gate that scanned a bar code on our boarding pass.

As an American used to US security routines, this was shocking to me. How on earth could it be possible in 2015 to board a plane all willy-nilly with just a cell phone boarding pass and no positive ID that you are actually the person traveling? I understand that within the Schengen countries there is free movement of people and goods, but it was shocking to experience it in an airport. I guess land borders seem more anti-climactic as far as unhindered passage. Also, it brought up thoughts again about who can freely move between countries and who can't. So much seems linked to money, privilege, and xenophobia. Lots to question, and lots to be grateful for.

Next stop: Croatia!


Two days ago it was time. Azul had a fabulous 14-year run, but she was old and increasingly sick and you could tell she was at the end. She went peacefully, but that doesn't mean it was any easier on us humans who love(d) her. I originally got Azul from a shelter in Albuquerque in 2002. In 2003 I took her to live in Austin. In 2005 she came to California to live with my mom while I went to Mozambique (at that point I thought I'd be in Africa for a year or two, tops). But a Mozambique adventure turned into a major chapter, and Azul became my mom's girl. Lots of geography, lots of good times together.

Monday, October 12, 2015


I turn 34 tomorrow.

I can't remember my birthday last year or what I did to celebrate it. I mean, I'm sure if I look back at my calendar or photos I can piece it together, but offhand it's a blank.

A lot of last year felt blank honestly. Well, a mix of blank and bouncing between "I feel incredible joy, my life is exactly what I've always wished for," and "I feel unbearable pain and something major in my life must change." Exhausting and deeply confusing, all these opposite feelings.

It had been creeping up on me for a while that a major life inventory was due. Then one day in August, it happened. I was no longer afraid to look inside and name my truths. This unstoppable stream of words and emotions and bravery came out of me, and I shared with the people I love.

It's so refreshing to feel like myself again, to turn on the fuck-it button (ligar o foda-se), to learn about what I want and don't want, to be humble and grateful, and to make sure I am living my life accordingly.

Tomorrow, on my birthday, I will:

- Go swimming at 6:15am at the Plunge (the pool by our house that I had been curious about for ages and finally started going to with a couple of girlfriends to swim laps).

- Find something that seems delicious as a birthday treat and go buy it.

- Have a picnic lunch on our deck with Rico, his mom (who is here and loving life in California), and my mom. Hanging out with the moms is one of my favorite things.

- Then I have therapy in Berkeley, with a woman I recently started going to and totally love. (I had been thinking about going to therapy for the last 7 years. Seven!!! I guess you go when you are ready, and I'm so glad I did.)

- In the evening I will go paint with my painting group. (My 90-year-old friend Manny hosts it at his house, and there are two other local artists who attend regularly, plus guest participation by Rico's mom every once in a while.)

Already my birthday this year has been a good one. Pre-birthday, I guess, but whatever. I feel like it's started. My dad told me the first cranes made it to New Mexico on their fall migration, so the kick-off is official.

I just had solo dance party in my gallery, which was fabulous. And I am working on the sketches for a challenging commission, a geometric ring in sterling silver. The design is two lines zig-zagging through life (around the ring band) that eventually converge and intersect at two points. Beautiful concept, but a nightmare to calculate and draw (although this is just the kind of math + pattern + aesthetics problem I love).

There is some major full-circle synchronicity to these rings, too. In the summer of 1999 I was 17 and fell in love with a boy in Brazil. Very long story short, it ended with me heartbroken and full of self-hate. Although we eventually found closure, this person and that relationship have been riding shotgun in my unconscious for the past 17 years. I just realized this is exactly half my lifetime ago!!

Again long story short, I now find myself making promise rings for him and his girlfriend. Today while sketching yet another version of the design, I had an epiphany about the reasons why this half-life relationship has continued to have such a hold on me. I had a major cry, and then lightness. What a wonderful birthday gift, this moment of self understanding.