The honeymoon phase


All of this balance is going to my head.

The boys bound off to school each morning, barely pausing to acknowledge my long line of postscripts.  Are you sure you have your sweatshirt?  Don’t forget the extra snack I put in your backpack!  One last kiss? Have a great day at school!

I marvel at the fact that that they are both so well adjusted.  And it makes me squirm a little to acknowledge that they are so much better off without me, at least for a significant part of the day.  I see in myself the plight of the wavering partner who, once rejected, discovers a passion that has never burned so hot.  And so I  smother them with my sloppy sentiments every chance I get.

And then there are all of those hours.  Glorious, wide-open hours full of promise and the intimidating challenge of learning to build with a precious material that I’ve never been able to afford.

Things will change soon.  They always do.  But for now, I’m delirious.

Copy of IMG_5232


L’isola che non c’è*

This article was an inspiration to me.  It’s subject is the Greek island of Ikaria, a designated Blue Zone where the inhabitants are surprisingly long-lived.  The narrative is constructed around the sensational tale of a Greek man who, living in the United States, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  The story goes that instead of pursuing traditional treatment in the US, he chose to go back to his home on the island of Ikaria to die in peace.  Except that he didn’t die. And at the time of publication 3 years ago, was a cancer-free 97 year-old.

The article describes Ikaria as an isolated place where people live a spartan life focused on family and community, eating simple food, much of which they grow or forage themselves, getting around on foot, and routinely drinking, talking and dancing the night away.  In the subtext lies the pressing question of exactly which practice provides the magical elixir for longevity.

But the article’s impact on me was not a testament to my burning desire to live to be a healthy 100, though that would be nice.  In it’s description of Ikaria I found a clear image of the picture that I had been fumbling to illustrate.  There it was – the lifestyle that I was trying to convey with my silly blog moniker.  And not only did it exist, but it also offered what I consider to be superb proof of it’s own validity: long, healthy lives.

I realized that while so many people around me are admirably following their ambitions toward career success and economic advancement, I am aspiring to Ikaria.

I have never been to the island of Ikaria and yet I think that I know her.  Many of the images that I have of her come from our trips to other Greek islands.  But there are so many details about the Ikarian lifestyle that I think I’ve witnessed much closer to home.  Images that remind me of my paternal grandfather’s village in the Italian region of Ciocaria. Or G’s family town in Sicily.  And even, strange though it may sound, of my maternal grandparents enclave of Little Italy in Cleveland, a culture whose remnants filtered down to me growing up in the city.

It is, I suspect, what much of the Mediterranean looked like before the Industrial North conquered the globe, a cultural victory so sweeping and complete that it is impossible to imagine the world any other way.  Though Ikarians were heavily impacted by the war and the German occupation,  it’s likely that its notoriously rough waters played a decisive part in preserving it’s culture in the years that followed.

I think of her now as the Germans and Greeks skirmish over Greece’s place in the Eurozone, both justly questioning whether Greece can ever really learn to play the game nearly perfected by Europe’s economic engine.  And I sympathize deeply with her as hungry migrants, escaping the brutal chaos to the east, land on her rough shores.

And I think that I understand her as I make a batch of cheese in my tiny Bay Area kitchen, knowing that my own aspirations carry all the appeal that she engenders in her worn housecoat and woolly upper lip in the eyes of my own neighbors, bedecked in their sleek new portables and trendy messenger bags.

I know that this notion that maybe all those nonagenarians on Ikaria prove that cultivating health and social ties is the best way to move towards old-age is tinged with nostalgia.  And I can’t close my eyes to the countless ways that we all benefit from the success and prosperity of our technologically savvy neighbors every day.

Intelligent people know that sound investments and access to the latest technologies are the road to the good life.  And, if you play it right, you can vacation in Ikaria – as long as the wifi is reliable.  I understand the rules of the game.  But as I listen to the deafening sounds of the Dow going up and down in the background, I’m not entirely convinced that it’s worth playing.

*Translated from Italian.  Words and music by Edoardo Bennato

The island that isn’t

Second star to the right,
Points the way
And then head straight until morning
It’s a road that you must find for yourself
It takes you to the island that isn’t

This may sound strange to you
But perhaps reason has led you astray
And now you’re almost convinced that
there can’t really be an island that isn’t

And to think about it, what madness,
It’s a fairytale, a mere fantasy
And he who is wise, who is mature knows:
It couldn’t possibly exist in reality!

And I agree,
There can not be a place
Where there are neither heroes nor saints.
And if there are no thieves,
If there is no war,
It can only be an island that isn’t

But it’s not an invention,
Not a play on words,
To believe is enough
Then you’ll find the road yourself.

And I agree,
No thieves or police,
Then what kind of island is it?
No hate or violence
soldiers nor weapons,
Then it can only be the island
That’s isn’t.

Second star to the right,
Points the way
And then head straight until morning
You can’t make a mistake because
It takes you to the island that isn’t

And they will mock you
If you continue to look for it,
But don’t surrender
Because it’s possible that those who have already given in
And are laughing behind your back,
Are even crazier than you

The values of education

I remember listening to heated debates over public school curriculum when I was younger and failing to understand what the ruckus was all about.  Who were these people who thought that they could control what kids believe? Did anybody really think that lectures on the power of abstinence or sterile explanations of sperm meets egg forms zygote were going to have any effect on the adolescent urge to get into his classmate’s pants?  And didn’t those parent’s fighting for high quality sex ed know that the best place to learn about sex is, cough, outside the classroom? 

But now that I’ve moved from the ranks of smug teenager to concerned parent, I understand.  There is no better reflection of a person’s true values than the need to pass them on to the next generation.  Talk to anybody who is seriously searching for solutions to a human problem and they will tell you that their best hope lies in education. No less is at stake than our dreams for the future, the better world that we envision.  And this is determined entirely by how we happen to see the world in the present.

And it’s complicated.

I was a runny mess this time last year.  As g prepared to enter Kindergarten, I nourished all the usual fears.  Will he adapt?  Will he make friends?  Will they take care of him?  But there was more to it.  The memories that I have of my own education, though faded, tell conflicting stories of the joy of learning and the tyranny of institution. And yet I knew that unless I was ready to take over the job of schooling my children, I needed to support their schools.  I hoped I was up to the task.

In the end, g did just fine.  And I learned a lot about education from the perspective of the parent.  I learned that, as I had suspected, it is the community that drives the culture of the school.  And, for all it’s quirks, I have a lot of faith in my community.  When we moved into our current apartment, g was just barely crawling and yet I was immensely proud to be just down the street from this amazing place.  Last year as g’s teacher put tremendous work into introducing the kids to tough issues like race and non-conforming sexual identity, I understood what is meant by “it takes a village”.  I felt the deep comfort of knowing that I am not in this alone.

But this year, as g glides into his new first grade classroom, I feel uneasy.  I felt it just after the first drop-off, walking to my car with another mom, a recent transplant to the area.  She was talking openly about her hopes for the school year and, though she was as friendly as she was put together, her words stirred my concern.   As she pulled away in her new Mercedes SUV, I began to identify the source of my fears.

My community is changing fast.  The SF tech boom has exploded to surrounding areas. Homes only rarely sell for under 1 million dollars in my neighborhood. While discussions about these changes almost always focus on the economic aspects, I think that they are more symptom than cause.  This has truly been a place with the spirit and drive to “change the world”.   But the world, it appears, is changing it.

Values are shifting. If we are even still here in a few years, I doubt that I will have the influence to counter the shiny appeal of the new messages: technology, money, power.  I wonder who would actually listen to statements on the importance of simple living and soil stewardship  from a woman whose house is so small that she can’t even entertain playdates.  I imagine my wimpy arms giving their all in a cultural tug-of-war in the schoolyard.

And I see her, smug adolescent that she is, laughing her ass off.