My son, as I may have mentioned before, is I’m sure a lot like other boys his age (nearly 12) in that he likes to spend as much time as possible doing two things: playing soccer (insert sport of choice) and playing with his PS3 or computer games. Often trying to get him to do anything other than these things involves a form of very slow Chinese water torture (to be endured by me, not him). So it is with some degree of delight that this week I observed that Luc likes to get into the weightiest of topics at the strangest of times – always when we are biking in city streets, usually through challenging traffic, on the way to his soccer practice, which is at least 20 minutes each way.
On the way to practice the other day he posed the question: “Mom, what’s it like to be a woman?” which he has admittedly asked before. But after my initial glib response of “I don’t know because I’ve never been anything else,” he kept pressing for details. Now I know a window when I see one! I will certainly not ever miss the chance to help him grow into the progressive, aware, strong, and good man that I know he will become. So, this led to a discussion of what women’s place has historically been in the world and is today, in some places still.
I have to say it all came as quite a shock to him and in his lovely innocence he couldn’t begin to understand why a woman wouldn’t always have the same rights as a man, why they might get paid less for the same job, or why I have to be more careful going home at night by myself than he will ever have to as a grown man.
On the way back from practice the question was “Mom, what happens when we die?” which sparked a discussion on religion, what some people believe happens when you die, with each of us pitching our own pet theories on what awaits us all eventually, all the while dodging Italian drivers and navigating roundabouts.
I can’t quite figure out this predilection of his for heavy-duty conversations while in motion. It has happened before, sometimes in cars too, anything involving wheels apparently. But all I know is that his curiosity is alive and well and I’ll go with the probably still contrarian theory that gaming makes you smarter!
Check out these great TED talks on gaming:Gabe Zichermann – How Games Make Kids SmarterJane McGonigal: Gaming Can Make a Better World
We are in London for the holidays and the other night we went to see the spectacle of “Slava’s Snowshow” at the Royal Festival Hall. It is no wonder it has been a hit in over 80 cities around the world. It truly transports every adult in the audience to a child-like state of wonder and glee. The kids don’t need any help – they’re already there. Slava Polunin is a Russian performance artist and clown who, along with his troupe of clowns, is the genius behind several other stage spectacles, including Diabolo, coined a “comical meditation on life, death and the beauty of the universe.”
What makes Slava Snowshow such a wondrous experience in simplicity and beauty is not only the humour in each skit, but I think the audience’s experience of becoming part of the spectacle itself. There is no dialogue throughout, but each segment is accompanied by any amazing soundtrack which is comprised of some familiar yet unexpected pieces – music from the film Black Orpheus, Paolo Conti, and Carmina Burana, for example.
‘Snow’ comes down on the audience, thick, tangly spider webs are passed back by the audience from the first row to the last, gusts of wind, light and snow are blasted at us in a climactic moment of Carmina Burana fervor, and finally, ginormous, brightly colored balloon-like balls are released into the theater and batted around the audience. The culmination of which turns the theater-going experience on its head as the clowns end, sitting on the stage, bemusedly watching their audience become children again and the auditorium is transformed into a joyous free for all where no one is left sitting down.
This might not appeal to everyone, but we certainly enjoyed it and it was oh so lovely to see L, who at times I can worry myself into thinking has become jaded by video games, swept up in awe and excitement at some good old fashioned theatrical spectacle.
a Prosecco Aperol outside at La Piccola Osteria
This is one of my favorite places in Vicenza. The perfect little Enoteca, or wine bar, where I can sit and write, and be familiar yet anonymous. Italian tumbles around me. The servers and owners know me by now. I am an island with my notebook and neon-looking Prosecco Aperol, yet I greet enough people as to not feel marooned. I watch the regulars and wonder whether my observations of their characters are as spot on as I think they are. I enjoy the sweetness of the apertivo against the saltiness of the complimentary bowl of chips they give me, against my far better judgment.
The 1980’s disco tracks provide just the right slightly ironic ambiance. The ceiling is framed by wooden beams, wine bottles line the walls, along with cobbled stones. The glass case by the bar displays all the mouthwatering tapas-style bites – or spunciotteria – available to pad your alcoholic intake. The door stays open no matter the weather so people can sit or stand outside or in.
This particular evening there is the dandy man in his silk suit and nearly wing-tipped black loafers sitting next to me who, after studying his iPhone and waiting for 45 minutes for his date to arrive, moved to the bar to make his eventual exit a bit less noticeable, or so I imagine. Then there is the couple – work colleagues perhaps – safely flirtatious, sharing a drink and smoke just outside. A house painter stops by on his way home from work to have a glass of wine and small plate of fresh anchovies.
The other night I attempted to go to an English-speaking networking drinks-do at a bar in downtown Vicenza while L was at soccer practice. Apparently, my interpretation of ‘Happy Hour’ – when it was supposed to take place – needs an Italianesque revision. I showed up at what I thought was a respectable 7:15pm to find the place utterly empty. I found out today that it didn’t get started until nearly 9 and went until after midnight. Since I decided not to hang around waiting, looking like an adrift tourist, desperate to speak English, I left. My motive for the whole outing was to hopefully meet some other expats in Vicenza who either might have a lead on private Italian lessons, or even better, might have kids L’s age. But it was not meant to be last night, and I rode my bike back to the neighborhood where I stopped in at Piccola Osteria before heading home. It was of course, warm, bright, full of people and welcoming. The bartender poured me a glass of a new Montepulciano, which I savored, along with my own plate of fresh anchovies, before biking the rest of the way home.
Piccola Osteria, Via Alfonso Lamarmora, 147, 36100, Vicenza, Italy.
An ironic thing has been puzzling me lately, as I continue the struggle to find balance between all the elements in my life (parenting, working, writing, travelling, to name the most prominent at the moment). That is the seemingly necessary, yet difficult, relationship between doing creative work and then using social media, as we are directed to do, to promote that work; create a ‘platform’, gain ‘followers’, develop a ‘voice’, etc. And by 'creative work' I am referring to the old fashioned kind, as in creating something new from scratch, not launching an ad campaign. The need to draw the distinction is real, as the word 'creative' has been co-opted and morphed to refer to everything commercial, including new ways to appeal to consumers.
My forays into social media, aside from connecting with old friends on Facebook and sharing embarrassing photos from the early 1980’s, and using Twitter to promote my blog, have been less than stellar so far. It’s not that I am some kind of Luddite who disputes the value of the whole enterprise. Inarguably, people have used it for both good and bad – to start social revolutions or spark looting, to promote a book or project. It’s just that, well, maybe I’m not very good at it. When I log onto Twitter, the temple of all things uber-current, I am always overwhelmed by the detritus of insipidness that confronts me.
My pace of progress
I realize that I subtitled this blog ‘Adventures in Parenting, Traveling & Creativity’ but I have not really even begun to touch on the creativity part. It would probably come as little surprise that between traveling, parenting, working, and homeschooling I have had little time for my own creativity. This is a problem, but one I’m used to. In my laptop I have two screenplays that need major overhauling, one chapter of a young adult novel completed, and several plays that I should be sending out to try to find production. I am lucky to get two blog posts in a week though right now.
While the limits on my time are plenty, I don’t think that is ever not the case as a writer, or just a person alive today, plain and simple. Believe me, there is always something easier to do than to sit down and write! If I were on home turf my time would be equally filled with things to do. In my ongoing battle with time and procrastination, I have become somewhat of an expert on the Creative Process and reading everything I can about it in order to inspire, understand, conquer, and of course…procrastinate.
One of my favorite things to do in any foreign country is to go food shopping at a local supermarket. I thoroughly enjoy pouring over and deciphering the every day food options that I can take home and attempt to perform some sort of alchemy with. It is sometimes more successful than others. Yesterday my friend Marta took me to the Auchan to buy food for the week. Auchan is actually a French supermarket chain, which has expanded into Italy and probably far beyond.
It is as overwhelming as any American megastore chain and they sell everything from houseware products to foodstuffs from Croatia. It was also a late Saturday afternoon when we arrived and we were both quickly overwhelmed by the number of shoppers. Marta informs me that it is now considered trendy for Italian husbands to go and do the weekly shopping. They make ‘shopping dates’ with their friends and go for a coffee or apertivo after the groceries are loaded into the family car. So nice to know that progress in the world of domestic duties must come with a little back end bonus.
Hugging a Redwood at Kew Gardens
I had my little world rocked the other day on a visit to Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in London. It was not the lily pad garden, the Redwood forest, the Treetop Walkway or the 19th century Temperate House filled with rare botanical wonders that blew me away, stunning as it all was. But it was a dip into the Marianne North Gallery
tucked away along the southwest edge of the Gardens.
I had never heard of Marianne North, as I suspect many people outside of botanical circles, also have not. She was a Victorian painter of flora and fauna who circled the globe twice by herself, creating over 800 paintings that she left to Kew, which houses the only permanent solo collection of a female painter in Britain. Just to make her a little more impressive, she didn’t start painting until she was 40 years old.
She was born in Hastings, England in 1830 and died in 1890. It is astonishing that she accomplished so much and left such a legacy for a woman of her time period. Any time period, in my opinion. She was, of course, not a woman of lowly means, being the eldest daughter of a prosperous land-owning family. Her father, Frederick North, was a Justice of the Peace and a Liberal MP for Hastings. She looked after both her parents until her mother’s death, then was her father’s constant traveling companion for many years before striking out for her solo voyages around the world. She lived and painted in North America, Brazil, Japan, Tenerife, Borneo, Java, Ceylon, India, Australia, New Zealand, the Seychelles and Chile.
Her paintings are exquisitely beautiful, detailed renderings of landscapes and plant life of exotic lands so untouched and pristine by 21st century standards. Walking through her gallery, which is almost like a floor to ceiling mosaic of all her paintings, gives you a sense of what it must have been like to experience these places in that time period.
Sometimes, occasionally, I feel intrepid as a traveler, but that pales by comparison to Marianne North and the artistic legacy she bestowed upon us.
View from the top of Temperate House, Kew Gardens
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Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London
When you tell people you are going to take your child out of school, spend the next 6-12 months traveling around Europe, that you have transitioned your work online, have sold half your stuff, put the other half in storage, and boarded your cat with friends, you will get reactions ranging from admiration and envy to criticism and not so subtle hostility.
For many, the concept of extended or long-term travel is still the purview of the rich, idle or both. Far more so than the British or Europeans, for most Americans, travel abroad is still a relatively rare occurrence. Making long-term travel still a bit more out there
. Granted, not everyone has jobs they can take a sabbatical or leave of absence from without serious impact on lifestyle and well-being. Whatever your circumstances are, for those of you determined enough to orchestrate the necessary work and family arrangements, either by taking unpaid leave, getting your employer to let you telecommute, or saving money then quitting (for more useful advice on quitting your job, check out www.i-resign.co.uk
), deciding to homeschool, the following are some thoughts to keep in mind if you still find there other things holding you back: