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Monday, March 02, 2015

No Bull!

As a young girl, I once went out with my dad and uncle to my dad's land. My uncle's cattle were grazing and I was playing near by. Something spooked the cattle and they began to run... run right toward ME! Stampede!

Now, I am no cowgirl... no, indeed this Texas girl has no knowledge of how to rope or ride but here I was in a field with cows running right toward me. Obviously I took off running for safety ie. the back of the pickup truck. As I threw my leg over the back end and leapt (gracefully, I am sure) I was grateful for the years of gymnastics and vault training.

I stood in the pick up and watched the cows part like a wave and rush past the truck. Their power and their intensity was overwhelming. I was scared - I could of died! ( okay - I was a dramatic teenager but this was serious!)

Several years later I read Ernest Hemingway's account of his run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain at the Feast of San Fermin in his book The Sun Also Rises. (One of my favorite books of all time) From that moment, watching the running of the bulls in Spain was firmly placed on my "bucket list." This past summer, I checked that box.

First of all what is this whole thing? Why the running of the bulls? What is the purpose?

The run is part of a larger festival that celebrates the patron saint of the area, San Fermin. San Fermin was a Roman in the 2nd /3rd century who converted to Christianity and later was Bishop in Pamplona. He was martyred later while in France - and there are various stories around this.  The first day of the festival, the saint's statue is paraded through the town and at various stops locals pay their respects via song, dance, music etc. Our place on the parade route allowed us to enjoy the chorus of children from a neighboring town. This particular town had been sending their children for 700 years singing the same hymns each year.

The run itself is said to have originating in the regular market at the beginning of the fall when cattle were brought to market. Bullfights evolved from there. It was all so very Roman if you asked me.

You, of course, can research more about this festival. The point of my writing is to speak to what I saw in the evolution of human beings via these kinds of rituals and entertainments.

It started in Crete really, at the ruins of Knossos (the Greeks pronounce the K). The frescos restored show the pivotal importance of the bull in the ritual life of the Minoan people. The bulls are shown in a dance with youths (male and females) leaping over them playfully. I am reminded of the Hindu reverence for the great cows, And that in Egypt a Goddess fills her temples with golden cows. Indeed didn't the Hebrew people get in trouble for reverting back to worshiping a golden calf!

Cows are money in some African tribes. In the west, cattle is king. I am sure some researcher out their could do a fantastic job writing about cows much like the books Salt and Cod which inform us about these small commodities.

This was my mindset when I researched Pamplona. We watched the first run from the street level. I wedged myself near the fence, I sat on the booze soaked street. The smell of an all day party hung in the morning air. The runners bounced in excitement. They stretched and they turned to look down the filled street as hundreds of people all dressed in white with their red kerchiefs on. The bouncing intensified, the energy swelled. Some runners changed their minds and climbed to the other side of the fence.

The rocket exploded indicating the fence would be opened. The second rocket went off and the police and other officials began to yell for the runners to run, not to wait for the bulls to come... run, run!

The bulls swept past us in a blur of chaos. There was no way to make any sense of the images at that speed from the street level.

What does this say about us as beings? This kind of thing peppered the Roman Empire and indeed are our sport games any different? Each night of our travels World Cup Soccer followed us on the televisions where ever we went. These rituals filled with energy, danger, and violence speak to us deeply - but are we developing beyond them? I don't know.

But in this experience I felt that thread to those ancient people living on a rock in the Aegean Sea. The sacrificed their bulls and fed their people and their Gods. Here too the bulls would be killed and would feed the people.

What in your ritual life feeds you? What brings you into community? When did you last feel charged with energy that is larger than yourself?

Just One More Day in the Sun! - Beaches

Throughout our travels we visited some beautiful beaches. In Greece, the beaches varied from a strip of sand to rock inlets to beaches with colorful pink sand. We were on a quest to find the most romantic and beautiful beaches. As I sit snuggled in my blankets watching the snow fall outside, I long for those golden summer days on the Aegean.

Our quest began with the rental car. Having a car allows for flexibility and adventure. My partner decided he want to see the pink beach in on the western side of the island of Crete. The drive itself proved to be phenomenal. What many do not realize about Crete is that it is a big rock - and there are few roads and in some places those roads are one lane roads... generally those are in the mountains - whoa be the inexperienced driver who meets a bus! 

Our trek to the pink beach twisted through the mountains providing breathtaking vistas - if you like to drive and see beautiful scenery this is the place for you! Nestled in the mountains are villages ready for the tourists and locals to stop and take a little break. I declared an ice cream break upon seeing the first village! My partner said we had to eat real food first, so we sampled the octopus before the ice cream Sundays. After we settled in for our snack a huge bus came through the village and we wondered how it got up those twisty roads! And what would we have done upon meeting a bus?

After 3 hours of twisty turny roads, we arrived at the pink beach. Beautiful sand dunes and native grasses, flat horizon of the sea and various pools of water created a breathtaking landscape suitable for watercolorist everywhere... however, the sand was not really pink. Our trek to find a secluded spot away from the folding chairs and the sporty people on the beach ended at a stretch of beach nestled in the sand dunes, those were not pink either. We spent time relaxing and napping, then into the water! While in the water we found traces of pink ribbons of sand laced throughout the regular sand colored sand. It was lovely but... I am not sure it was worth the hype.

The following day we drove west from our humble apartment at Mike's and found a small fishing village where tourism had not yet come. The beaches were primarily rock but we drove the coast and found one of those cute  little enclaves of private beach... you know the kind honeymoon ads always picture but you can never find because when you get there there are always people on the beach? Yes, we found one of those... at first we thought we were the only ones but we quickly saw that two other couples were nestled in private areas enjoying their day in the sun. We found our spot... shooed the scorpion away! And picked through the pebbles finding some of the most lovely rocks of the trip. 

In Santorini, our next stop we played on a black beach and swam in water near a red beach. The water sang from the iron content and wild chickens perched on the ledge. Many more beaches were explored but I don't think anyone can beat the beautiful beaches of the Caribbean. After returning from Tulum recently, I realize the Americas must have appeared to be an incredible paradise to those Spaniards all those years ago.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

People Make Travel Fun

As we settled into our economic no frills hotel apartment in Crete (near Heraklion) we were ready for a week of beach and waves and sun. Little did we know that we would meet some of the most interesting people of our whole travels here.

To begin with the owner of Mike's Apartments greeted us asking where my partner was from... Colombia - little did we know that Columbia had just defeated Greece during the World Cup game! Mike pointed his finger and said "I don't like you."with his heavy Greek accept. I chimed in that I was American and surely Greece would beat us! Mike replied that he did like me. from that moment we knew we would be having some interesting encounters with Mike.

Our relationship grew with Mike over the week. He was warm and funny and very helpful. He introduced us to his daughter and girlfriend; he shared his wonderful homemade raki with us, and fed us the most delicious olives and other tasty treats. We even had the opportunity to celebrate St. John's Day with him and his daughter.

St. John's Day was a simple celebration that included taking the flowers that had been gathered on the first of May, digging a shallow hole on the beach to put the flowers in, set the flowers on fire, leap over the flames. Eat dinner. Drink raki.

Getting to know Mike and his family and the waiters at our local restaurant where we always ate or drank at (it was connected to the apartment building after all) coupled with the fact that all we did for the week was enjoy the beaches prompted us to stay an extra week thanks to the blessing of a flexible schedule.

In the second week, we rent a car to tour the island and see the sights. Our rental agent, Dimitri, was a wild eyed Greek who had an opinion about all the things we should see. But most important to him was visiting his friend Nickolas who owned a restaurant with authentic Greek food cooked on the open fire in a stone oven. His restaurant was in the mountains near a 2,000 year old tree and on the way to the birth place of Zeus... yes, that Zeus.

The twisty turny road led us up and up and up. The Fiat with the duct tape key and navigation system which did not understand the multiple ways the Greek language were translated into English (spelling really does count kids when talking to machines!) handled the curves quite nicely and was small enough to pass the large buses coming at us from the opposite direction.

Driving into the appointed town, we saw three restaurants on the square. But one of them had staff waving at us to park. So we did... we spied the wood burning oven and the well in the front (clues we received from Dimitri) and sure enough Nickolas approached us and "Did Dimitri send you?"

" Yes... yes he did."

Monday, September 08, 2014

Home of the Olympics - Athens

It will surprise no one that after two 10 hour bus trips, my traveling partner who can not sleep on buses decided the planned ferry from Athens to Crete was a no go. Upon arrival to the Athen's airport, he immediately inquired about the next flight to Crete. Lucky for me his generous nature paid for my way too!

Ahhhh but we were in Athens - how could we squeeze a little sight seeing in I wondered. Not to fear - I asked the ticket agent what we could do during our 5 hour wait and was pleasantly surprised to find out we could take a city bus to the heart of Athens and see all the sights Athens is known for. The very kind ticket agent even offered to keep our backpacks in his office! This turned out to be a huge gift that my back is still thankful for... remember I did not get the world's greatest massage and was now no longer so trusting to try again.

In short, we took the bus (very easy! and inexpensive) and were let out near the downtown area. Equipped with a map and directions, we made our way to the Olympic Stadium ( the one built for the recent Olympic games in Athens), then walked to the ruins of the first Olympic Stadium - taking time to pose in front of the great columns. But I must say our true goal was to reach the Acropolis.

This is the remains of the theater on your hike up to the top. This statue looks like it is someone very important... I don't know who. Let's imagine who it might be. A play write? A poet? A patron of the arts?

 This chair belong to the important folks who came to see the plays.

And these fellows are holding up what looks to have been the backstage area.

And here is the theater in its entirety - this is just one of the several theaters on the mountain.

 I enjoy the theatres - it is the actor/director in me. i love the thought that here was the space where the art of theatre came into being - and was elevated to such a high form. ***spoiler alert*** In Rome we ate in a resturant housed in a 2000 year old theater that was copied from the Greeks. General Pompey was inspired when we came home from his campaigns. But you have to wait for that story.***

Views from the top - Modern day Athens goes on and on!

 SCAFFOLDING!!!!ARRRGH - This is a theme throughout the trip. Much of these treasured places are being worked on or cleaned or refurbished in some way.

  Oh well.. still more to see.

 Do you see the Muses above? Zoom in on the picture if you can. Those are the lovely Muses from Greek mythology who inspire. If you go to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, you will see them there as well holding up the Museum still inspiring us all.

 With our goal accomplished, we were back on the bus and to the airport. This whirlwind tour of Athens took us a total of 4 hours. More then enough time to make our plane. Note, however, I foolishly wore flip flops not realizing how much fast walking we would be doing. My tootsies would pay for that in Crete.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Massage or decide.

Aching legs, aching backs, aching feet and sign in the hotel advertising massages. Ahhhh...relief, a mere phone call away. After checking into the hotel at the end of our Turkish tour, my partner and I sat by the pool for the better part of the afternoon. The beautiful sunshine, crystal blue water and the ocean view from the lounging area provided the perfect place to rest after seeing so much and absorbing so many stories.

After a nap and a shower, I called the front desk to order two massages as a way to thank my traveling partner for enduring the two 10 hour overnight bus rides to and from the interior of the country, and the miles of walking around ancient ruins, and for his extreme good nature through it all. We waited eagerly.

Perhaps I should have put a stop to it earlier... perhaps he should have as well. But no, neither of us made any move to stop this train wreck of a massage from happening. We didn't stop it when they went to the kitchen to get olive oil because they did not bring any of their own, we didn't stop it when the children they brought made a racket, we didn't stop it when we smelt the alcohol on their breathes, we didn't stop it when we suspected a lack of training on their part. No indeed, we can not really complain too much - the signs were there.

A husband and wife team - actually an entire family complete with four boys. FOUR BOYS! The boys entertained themselves in the room next door and delighted us with the relaxing sounds of Foosball, weight lifting, and shouts that only young brothers know how to make. The woman who was working on my partner kept going out to tell her children to be quiet.

The man who worked on me began on my legs and spent the majority of time rubbing them back to life. As he worked his way up my back, I began to get the feeling that perhaps he was not an actual massage therapist. This was confirmed when he started to lazily draw circles on my back with the copious amounts of olive oil. You know those circles ladies... the ones men make on your back early in the morning? Ah... yeah.

He continued on my front without much concern for my exposed body or the open door, or the noise from the children. As he worked his way around my breast, clearly not quite sure what to do - looking to his wife for some guidance - I decided to just relax and roll with it. I was committed after all and hopefully the woman was an actual massage therapist and my partner was getting a wonderful least this was my hope.

But my partner fared far worse! The wonderful gift I meant to give him...The gift of a relaxing moment when all his aches and pain could drift away...turned into a full fledged groping.

The smell of alcohol on her breath filled my partner's nostrils, and her strong hands reached into ever crook and crannie they could find. The bathing suit he wore meant nothing to the woman who reached under and went over in every way. Her hands pushed and pulled everything on him from his face to his groin.

Upon the table, the woman climbed and straddled my partner's head to do a full body rub from the chest to the thighs... He made the mistake of opening his eyes and spying her amble bosom in his face as she began to work her way down his body.

Neither of us moved when they left - quite frankly the man was in the middle of my shoulders; I thought  he was coming back! I was left unfinished and my partner too well done! He reported she knew how to give a real massage and did at least work on his aching areas relieving them of some pain.

Noisy children, boozie masseurs, full body groping with the kitchen's olive oil... and I got to pay for all that in American dollars. No good deed goes unpunished, so the saying goes.

Next stop Greece!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Turkey - Where the Ancient's Played

While I began my travels by flying into Copenhagen and then meeting my travel partner in Amsterdam,

 it was in Turkey where the real adventure began. A sleepless overnight flight into Istanbul, a tango marathon and four days of sightseeing left our legs aching and us exhausted! We stayed in an and met some lovely people from Chicago, Canada, Holland, and Syria.

Our adventures included shopping at the spice market, drinking lots of tea, eating fantastic food (pictured above in the clay pot on fire), seeing the sites, and tangoing. In Istanbul there are many tours you can buy that will take you into the heart of the country... and after a ten hour bus trip, we arrived at the location of the remains of an ancient Christian community who hid from its enemies in caves. Elaborate churches and many communities pepper the area revealing a thriving community of like minded souls striving to be free. This is of course the communities at Cappadocia.

We slept in a cave hotel but because these tours are so full of activity, we had only a brief rest before

The day continued with a hike through a gorgeous river valley also peppered with caves from the various hermits who went into the wilderness to find God. Ancient Thoreaus experimenting with the true needs of life.

Once this fast paced tour was finished - complete with stops at the rug store (where we bought a rug and made a friend of th esalesman - quiet a character!) and a stop at the oynx and silver shop - we  had adsorbed as much as we could in a very short amount of time. We boarded the bus again and headed to Pamukkle, the fantastic spa waters where Cleopatra and Marc Antone once bathed. I felt like a queen while wallowing in the calcium filled mud. I gave my self a very public facial with the healing muds - luckily no cameras were present to record it!

Our tour continued to the ancient city of Epheseus and the modern city of Selcec. Our tour included excellent hotels and breakfasts and lunches. But by the fourth day of touring we were exhausted.Luckily we had scheduled an extra day to lay by the pool.

After 10 days of Turkey, we were ready for a break. We took a day off to swim and sleep....
Read about my gift that turned into a nightmare on my next blog post!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Traveler's Eye

I have just returned from two and a half months backpacking through Europe." Lucky" You say? No luck..but alot of planning.You are Jealous, you say? Yes, me too - I am jealous of myself. I had longed to take a trip like this and explore this gorgeous world we live in for 10 years but circumstances made me wait. You know what they say, "all good things come to those who wait!"

So with backpack, cheap airfare, and romantic traveling partner I set forth to experience the world and emerge myself in the various subjects I have spent years teaching.

I want to say thank you to NomadicMatt for his great tips, Norwegian air  for their super great deals, to Southwest for their free flights for credit card points, and to the people I encountered who gave us hotel rooms, meals, drinks, free gifts, and great conversations.

For the next few post I will take you dear readers on a tour of the western world.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Does Anyone Even Care? The Need to Feel Significant

We can do everything in the world right but if no one notices, we can feel that there is no point. If we work and strive and all that people comment on is what we don't do well, we can feel dejected and worthless. When we strive with no reward, we will become angry and want to walk away.

Significance - feeling significant in someone else's life is one of the six human needs that must be fulfilled in order to live a life of joy.

We can and do meet this need in positive and negative ways. For children it is classic in a classroom for a child to create a system of bad behaviors to get attention. The child knows they will get attention if they poke their sibling - they will be significant -significant to the sibling and to the parent. All of a sudden the checked out, busy, distracted parent will be very present in the child's life.

In family dynamics, children find ways to be significant. Oldest children usually strive for being perfect. Youngest often seek to be the wild child - the opposite of the eldest. Children stuck in the middle seek to make peace and want to be valued as the peacemaker - in fact they begin to thrive on drama if they can then be significantly involved in it. Your birth order can have a stereotype, but we can all find ourselves into each of these categories.

And how many children who are not nurtured and never made to feel significant as children - and in fact often feel there is a favorite child in the home, develop into adults whose buttons are pushed when they are not the center of attention. Do you know anyone like this? I do - and it is not pretty to watch. In fact it is heart breaking.

For people whose number one need is significance, they must be watchful of the ease of negative patterns which may already be created. They must learn that they could be the juiciest peach in the world - but there is always someone who doesn't like peaches. They must learn to flow with those who value them and celebrate them - never worrying about those who don't. AND they must learn to take turns. Sometimes it is not your turn to be the most important person in the room - and that is okay.

How can you make your partner of children feel significant today? How can you teach your students to take turns being the most significant person in a group? How can you remember that just because your spouse compliments your friend's cooking, it is not an insult against yours? How can you keep the ugly jealousy monster at bay and know that your presence in the world is a blessing to others - therefor making you very significant?