Nome and White Alice


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I remember visiting Nome.

I remember flying in low over the breaking ice, the speckled white masses covering the vast and cold Bering Sea. Like broken glass, like a tiled mosaic… it was beautiful. The sea looked as black as the mountains beyond – the contrast against the white snow was alarming. “Welcome to Nome, Alaska”they said. “Here you’ll find gold,” they said. The dust puffed up in clouds as we drove to my new home along paved and then graveled and then paved roads. Dilapidated buildings seemed to hang on by one nail. Just one nail separating them from a livable structure and a pile of rubbish. A few beautiful homes stood out amongst the town, their intact structures and un-chipped paint like beacons for good fortune and dreams to come. A reddish-orange fox ran across a driveway. A dog barked in the distance. My new home was waiting – held together with more than one nail.

I remember visiting “White Alice.” There she stood, with her towers of four. So small from a distance, but larger than a large house. Their gray color and industrial structure looked like something out of a Cold War film. Was Big Brother watching us? Can they hear us? The ravens cawed from above, warning us to stay clear of their nesting grounds. Our bikes stood in the distance, seeming to call out to us, “don’t leave us here”… In the brown landscape of late winter, early spring blooms stuck out like hopeful signs of life. Purple, pink and white flowers seemed to grow magically from the rocky ground, so small and delicate with vibrant colors and intricate details. Like the carpeting of a fantastical fairy garden. The sun hung in the sky until the following day… until I could no longer keep my eyes open.

Dublin and The St. Patrick’s Day Parade


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I remember visiting Dublin.

I remember arriving to the airport, boarding the bus to the city center and feeling insecure on the left side of the road. The sky was gray, but not cloudy, and hung with a slightly-content melancholy over my head. As if the sky had never been blue and would not know what to do if such a bright color were introduced to its vastness. The buildings were solid and brick, flanking the streets on either side and reminding me of east coast colonial Irish towns. There were green roofs sprinkled through the city, adding a pop of color amidst the gray backdrop. The air was cold in the early springtime. It was March.

Dublin Ireland

I remember The St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Mostly an event for the tourists, the locals remained hidden in their homes or walled-up in the pubs. Some reaped the benefits from the onslaught of green-clad visitors, wanna-be leprechauns and kissing fools. The parade was mighty, thick with people and full with colors. The beer was not green, but instead dark and thick like a true Irish draught and flowed abundantly from the taps. Beer for breakfast? Of course. Beer for lunch? Why not. People hung from light posts and lamp posts and buildings and brought ladders, just to catch even a small glimpse of the festivities. It was quite a sight to behold.

Dublin St. Patrick's Parade


Holtsee and the Raps Fields


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I remember visiting Holtsee.

I remember how blue the sky was against the fresh greenery of mid-May. The trees were blossoming and the flowers were many. The roads were smooth and our small little rental glided along the Autobahn with luxurious speed. We arrived in Holtsee – a small little town in Germany’s Schleswig-Holstein province – a town where my family emigrated from not so long ago… We drove around, tracing my ancestors footsteps throughout the city. We parked along the side of the road so I could step out and smell the air. It was a fresh air, but felt chilled with memories as I sought out the family grave.

Where grandfather Sindt is buried...

I remember the Raps Fields. Acres and acres of yellow rapeseed stretched as far as the eye could see. They seemed so low to the ground – like I could step out and walk on top of them – but they reached higher into the sky than they appeared. I imagined my grandmother – young and full of life – running wildly through the yellow fields with her hair in braids and her feet bare. I imagined her gathering bunches of the yellow blooms into bouquets with her friends, added greenery and maybe a touch of colorful wildflowers. I imagined her happy smiling face, the face of innocence, against the green springtime of the German landscape. It was a lovely picture.

Acres and acres of yellow...

Amsterdam and the Red Light District


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I remember visiting Amsterdam.

I remember the rows of bikes like fallen dominoes against the railings. Wheel upon wheel and frame upon frame, they looked out over the edge and into the chilly water below. As if the bikes knew their fate, they hung limply at the sides of the canal just waiting for their turn to dive into the depths below. The roads wound around the city, following the flow of water and the mood of a late-renaissance road maker. We followed the twists and turns, in awe of the structures and in loss of location. It was a maze of great magnitude and we were merely mice hungry for cheese.

Amsterdam Bikes

I remember the Red Light District. Windows in rows, lights on in the night… We walked along in awe of the neon glow. A woman stared, her school textbook in hand. A lady waved, a telephone at her cheek. The tapping on the glass was distracting – the proper affect – and I took in the sights with a jerk of my head. The night was cold and black and the people moved silently through the displays. Some were solemn in their search for comfort, others were loud and obnoxious in their search for maturity. It was a mingling of desire in a marketplace of people. Commerce at its most basic level.

Amsterdam Red Lights

Warsaw and the Wall


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I remember visiting Warsaw.

The rebuilt town square of Warsaw.

In Poland, the cold beer was waiting next to a plate of delicate cheeses and savory meats. Such a smooth taste of barley and hops together with the spice of a smoked sausage… It was an explosion on the palate. We sat across from each other- chilled fingers wrapped around sweating mugs. The mosquitoes were biting with a vengeance in the early summer air, and the flowers blooming from the trees around us emitted a fresh scent. I toyed lazily with the clipped flower in a vase on the table. It was a peony – my favorite – and it smelled like memories. The city buzzed around us: feet on the pavement and bicycles whirring by… beautiful bricks made beautiful buildings around us. Such an ancient-looking facade for such a newly-built town square. The reconstruction was miraculous – the old town was reborn – and the people of Warsaw carried on.

The remaining portion of the Warsaw ghetto wall.

I remember the wall. That little piece of hastily-mortared bricks, tucked into a remote parking lot off of an average street. Such a small fragment: symbolizing an immense tragedy, years of destruction, and ages of sadness. To think, that wall once joined a complete barrier around the Warsaw ghetto. I thought of those who built the wall. I thought of those who climbed the wall. Those inside it and outside it and the insects burrowing deep underneath it and the birds flying high over top it… The world turning and life beginning and life ending behind and in front of the wall. Cars were parked around, waiting for their owners to return. Clothes were strung high above from the balconies of city apartments, surrendering their fabric to the wind. A beautiful tree was blooming, just across the way. I touched the wall with my clammy hands, hot from the afternoon sun, and I could feel the wall touching me back.

Helsinki and the frozen sea


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I remember visiting Helsinki.

The bite of the winter air was harsh as we came off the plane from Stockholm. I pulled my knitted scarf tighter around my neck and pulled my knitted hat lower over my ears. Over the highway and through the city streets we traveled. Toes warmed from the floor heaters in a friends’ car. Feet wriggling in my boots. Legs hopping up and down in the backseat. I took in the street signs and snow-covered cars, the vast gray of the sky and the structured buildings. Inside, so modern was the decor, so warm the heat, and so cozy the sheepskins draped lazily over chairs… We shared a bag of Finnish licorice and savored the unique sweetness. It stuck to my teeth as I worried away the chewy black morsels. Later we took the tram car into the center, nearing the harbor in our quest for the sea – the Gulf of Finland lay waiting.

I remember the frozen sea. Like a tiled ceramic floor the ice floated in perfectly-shaped pieces over the surface of the water. The sea water seemed black below the glimmering white ice chunks. Icebreaker ships stood docked in the harbor, just waiting for their turn to chop through the monstrous glaciers. We took a ferry through the sharp sea – the ice scraping at the sides as we moved quickly along. With all that ice surrounding us, I remembered the little ice-shaving machine I had as a kid for making snow cones. I imagined the front of our ferry fixed with a similar ice-shaving device – making snow cones so large they would feed the entire city of Helsinki. They would be salt-licorice flavored, of course, and one would avoid any brain freezes with a shot of good vodka.

The frozen Gulf of Finland, flowing into the Baltic Sea.

The frozen Gulf of Finland

Los Angeles and The Fashion District


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I remember visiting Los Angeles.

I slipped on my worn-in Converse and my black skinny jeans and we were off. My artist brother and I. My shirt was striped with bright teal and white, rousing memories of a colorful nineties childhood. My brother’s hat was blue and the bill flipped-up in the front towards the smog-filled sky. The jasmine was blooming. In front of fenced-in schoolyards the jasmine was in full-bloom and my senses were on high-alert. Screaming children and bouncing balls and running feet mixed with the strong smells of that little white flower and the heat from the street on my feet. Senses in overload. Memories imprinting.

Streets of LA... Fashion District lined with bolts of fabric.

I remember the Fashion District. Down into the depths of the art-lined metro, a few stops towards downtown and up into the throngs of the people. Restless people with street-stained pants lined the stairways. The paved sidewalks with their occasional beautiful detail. The old theaters left dilapidated, the striking skyscrapers with a Gotham feel… Then the fabric. The fabric! Bolts and bolts of it in magnificent colors – fading quickly in the hot Angelino sun. The foam cushions begging to be bought and sat upon. The lonely buttons just screaming for a shirt to adorn. The glittery accessories blinding me in the sunlight, just smiling as I squinted. It was an explosion of color and creativity, a blissful buffet of beauty, and I was hungrily taking my fill.

Old theatre downtown... does Superman live here?

Old theatre downtown… does Superman live here?

Machu Picchu and the Sun Gate


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I remember visiting Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu Intipunku

Who wouldn’t remember? Pitch black in the morning hours we stood waiting for the bus. We crammed into the chilly air-conditioned coach and rode up the winding mountainside. The sky turned from black to light grey in those thirty minutes or so, zig-zagging up along the cliff. The sun was creeping quickly from behind the peaks around us, but we still had time. We checked our tickets at the door and sped quickly past the throngs of people taking photos at the entrance. (Those photos could wait) We took the most direct path to the Sun Gate – where we wanted to see the sun rise.

Machu Picchu Sunrise

I remember the Sun Gate. Such a simple structure, but with a magnificent view. Inti Punku. We found a nice step to rest upon and waited. The sun crept from behind the mountains, alighting the backdrop slowly. The white clouds that hung around the mountains dissipated as the smell of the sun entered the chilly air. I cried, like I knew I would, when the sanctuary below us turned from dulled dawn colors to glorious golden hues. I knew nothing was sparkling, but it glittered in my eyes. I knew trumpets weren’t playing, but I heard them in my head. It was a most magical memory.

Paris along the Seine


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I remember visiting Paris.

I remember driving in, our slick little rental gliding along the roads and finding its way through the traffic. We were driving and driving, following the guiding voice of the GPS and searching for our hotel. I remember driving closer and closer to a giant wall, staring straight ahead at the giant stone mass in front of me, and was never instructed to turn away. Approaching nearer with less and less confidence in our navigation device, I spotted a tiny archway in through which I was supposed to drive… and I did. I closed my eyes to brace for the crunch of metal around us. With an inch allowance on each side we made it through, my knuckles white around the wheel. We made it through, and drove straight into the roundabout of hell. No turn singles, just driving constantly in a circular path, with a toot of the horn as a warning, or maybe just a “hello”. After a few rounds I swung out of the chaos, spotting the Louvre pyramid on my right and gaping in awe. Was this real?

Louvre Outside

I remember the Seine. After the chaotic car ride, a boat ride was a relaxing experience. We cruised along on that hot summer day, my thighs sticking to the bench under me. People bathed in the sun along the river, tourists walked in tight groups along the bridges, and the buildings peered out along the riverbank making their presence known. The Notre Dame Cathedral appeared along our boat tour, and I closed my eyes, picturing a Disney Quasimodo swinging from the top. I waited for Esmeralda to come running, but she never did. The Eiffel Tower stood in the distance, waiting for me just like I knew it would. I squinted my eyes an held up my fingers to pinch the top of it, just like I imagined I would. We ordered pistachio and a chocolate ice cream in a side-by-side sugar cone – very Parisian – and I wished only for a tandem bicycle with a basket of baguettes to make our memory complete.

Eiffel Tower

Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Steps


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I remember visiting Gibraltar.

I remember crossing from Spain into the British territory, in a line of cars a mile long.  So slowly the traffic moved, but the air was not tense.  With the influence of Spanish mentality and the beauty of the sky above, there were no horns honking and no displays of irritation.  It was just a time to wait.  We crept along the road, the large Rock of Gibraltar a vision on the horizon.  Crossing the airport runway, planes were landing and taking-off above, bicyclists speeding by on the side, and pedestrians walking determinedly towards the gates.  Flashing a blue passport at the border control, we were quickly waved along, and thrust into a crisscrossing chaos of mini mopeds and bicycles and tiny cars. The roads were narrow and steep, the buildings were Spanish and British influenced, and the history was seeping out of every nook and cranny.  The air was thick with memories.  It felt as if I could reach my hand out of the car window and scoop stories out of the air.

Gates to Gibraltar

I remember the Mediterranean Steps.  A small sign to a small pathway to what seemed like a small hike.  But several hours later, with my thighs burning, I was gazing from the top of the Rock of Gibraltar in awe.  The journey was hardly complete.  A zigzagging path across the entire summit, this trail was not for the faint of heart.  We paused on the strait-side of the peninsula to watch a large pod of dolphins jumping in the water below, and I was transported to a dream.  The large ships in the distance sat like small toys on a game board- everything seemed miniature, dwarfed by the vast blue sea.  I could see the outline of land in the distance- Africa in all its glory.  I closed my eyes and imagined standing on the banks of Morocco, gazing back across the Strait of Gibraltar.  Perhaps someone stood there at that very moment, staring directly back at me.

Mediterranean Steps