The Morning Ladies of Mondsee

In some parts, driving through Austria feels like driving through Ohio in January. It was foggy and grey. Farming fields dotted with lonely stationary equipment. Perhaps no drivers wanted to work on Fridays — but why? Isn’t Friday the best day to work?

I had a headache, the tricky kind. The kind that makes you think you can press it into nonexistence. Just hold your hand…here. now there. you lose. it’s still throbbing everywhere.

I closed my eyes and opened them in Mondsee. There’s a big lake surrounded by mountains, which the fog had erased. Stepping off the bus felt like stepping into a faded watercolor. Pastel-painted buildings. Trees that held white air. I made the sign of the cross in the church where Maria became a Von Trapp.

But take me back to that bakery — where the coffee cured the pain and the morning instantly cleared. I ate a square cheese danish and watched the women in the corner; it was conviviality in bright color. I bet they sat there every week.

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Dürnstein, Austria

Lionheart lived in the old jail cell. He was captured here and so he stayed in the hole in the wall, the one with the heavy iron door. The castle sits high, as a castle should, and was perilous for its time. It feels tiny up there, stacked, crammed, and cold.

Beyond the walls, though, is the where the deep breath finds you. Most of the structure has fallen and you’re left with the bare bones. I climbed to the very top — which you could, there were no signs — and stood on the jail cell’s roof. I was as tall as I’d ever been, feeling the wind swirl around me as guard.

When you’re in such places, what do you do? When your vision stretches for miles, what is it you really see? So goes the paradox, I’ve realized, since I had to climb down in order to find out.

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The Russian Pastry in Vienna

There were two ingredients on the menu: potato and cheese. It was plain, but it wasn’t simple.

See, there’s a certain kind of piroshki I’ve been searching for to match the memory. Of smaller hands, easier times, bigger dreams — and a linoleum-covered kitchen. My grandmother made these balls of dough with meat and onion, a savory mix but the taste hinted sweet. There was just enough grease to get absorbed by the dough and the top was smooth with a very faint shine. They weren’t for all days, just for special ones. There was something infinitely comforting about the first soft bite.

If I could find that bite today, I’d be there. In a blue-carpeted living room with the lime green chair, satin pillows and ornate mirrored sconces. The dollhouse frame would sit in the corner, under the curio cabinet that hid the glass animals. Would I be dancing? Probably. In stocking feet, with tights pulled up to my ribs, while the record played its crackled tune. There was a freedom that radiated in all directions then. My gooey center. A childlike wonder. Forever wedded to smells from that kitchen.

Back in Vienna, I was left hungry.

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Vienna, Austria

It was a morning when my hands really needed their pockets. The first snaps of winter look pretty but they sting the bone.

It’s the traffic I always wonder about. Those microcosms on wheels. There’s a world behind every windshield. Sometimes, I’d just like to step in.

Would the backseat feel small? Cloth cushions and the cold clang of the belt. I wouldn’t need to talk, just sway side to side as the road winds away. Looking left and right. And out. To better see what’s within.

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Honolulu, O'ahu

The ocean makes you brave. The way your toes grasp at the sand and your arms reach out into nothing to catch you. Floating. Grains get in where they shouldn’t go, like you, in the wave, feeling free.

I skinned my knees when the water retreated. The coral wasn’t soft and it sliced my thin skin. But I needed it, the reminder of the moon changing the tide. There are forces bigger than me. They could kill me.

Yet, I still find the land.

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The Chorus of Rome in the Morning

Quick clicks. Mechanized rumblings echo off stone walls, and the sunlight slithers through alley gaps; it's beginning. It's quiet. Glass breaks as it tumbles into the truck. There's sweeping and scraping. A scooter accelerates, fading into the splash of the toothed dolphin fountain nearby. Roman swear words slightly muffled. A spoon hits the side of its cup. 

Wake up; this is the first slice of the day, soon to be covered in sneakers and selfie snaps. This is her first breath, her great yawn. You'll see eternity reflected back to you when you see it through her eyes.

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On Roses

It started last fall, my thing with roses. Completely unplanned, they'd show up everywhere. In the park with a book, I'd read that line, a poke in my heart, then... roses.

The sight of them. The smell of them. 

I'd be walking in the center of town, the hills lit up with the sun's fading blue. I'd have a thought not entirely my own, then... roses.

Or when the lights dimmed in Naples, settled in to watch the ballet. The music swelled and I felt it a performance just for me. Then, in precisely that moment, a giant rose descended from above the stage.  

A rose has crept up in so many scenarios since. After so many creative inklings, feelings that rush my heart, fears that abate at the sudden discovery of one. So much so, I've taken to studying them. In particular, the wild ones.

"...a true 'wild rose' is one that nature created, not one hybridized by man." It's the most precious, the one that grows and blooms anywhere. I'd say it's the perfect definition of gift: being made from the inside first.

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On God

It's like being anchored to the sky. You're not quite sure how it works. Reverse gravity. A force that tethers you and invites the safety -- when you feel it. 

So into the ocean, you dive. Knowing you're still anchored, you can swim deeper, where the water gets cool and the light takes longer to reach. Many claim Tethered, and yet never dive. They stay on the rocks and watch their footprints fill, happy to make dimples in the shallow pools where the earth remains flat and the lungs are rhythmic, secondary, forgotten. 

But under the water, what if that's the right-side-up? Where you find the treasure. Where your gills learn to breathe. (You have gills, or didn't you know?) There's a presence you can see, feel and move through, discovering it's first moving you.

Experts say the ocean is 95% unexplored. 

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On Pain

Today I went outside and sat in the sun. The wind strummed my hair and my cheeks were tight. Tears had dried; their tracks felt sticky and painted on. I sat there for a long time. It's hard to pause when you're in pain. But that's the only way you survive it: in it.

Face forward.

"Here I am. I will sit in you until your power fades. And you will not take me down."

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