Tag: Writer

Swimming in Jam

Do you ever feel like you’re swimming against the tide? Okay, maybe not against the tide but instead of flying in the current of life it’s tossing you around a bit, maybe leaving a few marks?
I’ve felt like this for a while now and I can’t put my finger on when it started. When we were evacuated from Moscow this summer, due to the smoke from the peat fires? When our stay in the States turned from 4 to 6 weeks and I was out of my routine for too long? When it hit me that life is constantly moving by whether or not I “hop on?”
It really doesn’t matter what caused this type of funk. And I feel guilty even saying it’s a funk. I enjoy life. I took myself and my laptop out into the city today to write this blog–I don’t know many people who can say they took their office out for a trip. Of course, they probably make a lot more money than I do, but that’s another blog (the I’m-not-defined-by-my-royalty-statement essay). It’s 55 degrees Fahrenheit in Moscow Russia on the 15th of November and I’m out here to enjoy it, for heaven’s sake.
Maybe when I was younger I wasn’t as aware of the fragility of life, the reality that we all get older if we’re blessed to live long enough. And getting older means saying good-bye to some youthful pursuits. Self-pity and self-centeredness top my favorite things to say “so long” to.
I must say I love the confidence and sense of knowing myself that maturation brings. It’s liberating and thrilling. The younger me would be horrified to know that indeed, my body can weigh the number of pounds it does–that my figure hasn’t stayed reed-thin and my clothes choices too often fall into the “comfortable writer” category. But the younger me had no clue as to the joys of raising children, dogs, novels, marriages (just one so far, Thank God).
The younger me didn’t notice she was swimming through jam. I was spinning my wheels too quickly to even note if I hit a speed bump.
Today I feel the speed bumps and heart palpitations. But I’m not afraid of any of it–it’s okay, it’s life, and I’m happy to be here.
And that means accepting when I’m treading in thick, syrupy jam. This too shall pass.

Warsaw, Poland April 11th-15th 2010

Relaxation, appreciation for our ancestral roots (Steve and I are both 50% Polish descent), and some great Polish cooking was what our family had in mind when we planned to spend our kid’s Spring Break in Warsaw, Poland. We could never have imagined the reality of arriving in a nation of grieving citizens.

Bookstore Memorial
Bookstore Memorial
The President and First Lady of Poland were killed, along with scores of members of the Polish government, in a disastrous flight between Warsaw and Smolensk, Russia. You can find the details in the news if you haven’t already heard them. What I want to share with you is what we witnessed and how, in the midst of such sorrow, my family was able to bring back some hope and faith with us to Moscow.

I was proud of the fact that after landing, we took the city bus from the airport to the plaza nearest our hotel. No 40 Zloty fee for us; our bus tickets were a total of 8 Zloty. We clicked along the sidewalk the three city blocks like the seasoned travelers we are. But then at exactly 12 Noon, there was a deafening silence, then cacophony of sirens, church bells, cars honking. It was an entire minute of grieving. Everyone on the street stopped. Bus drivers and cab riders beeped their horns. It was a collective cry of sorrow and pain.

Glimpse of Old Town Warsaw
Glimpse of Old Town Warsaw
We checked in, and told each hotel worker that we met that we were so sorry for their loss. Even if they only spoke Polish I had the feeling they understood our heartfelt condolences.

Chopin Museum--Closed
Chopin Museum–Closed
Our main goal of this trip quickly morphed into taking it day by day and relaxing as much as possible. Our life in Moscow is very full, for each member of our family individually and for us as a family, too. Anytime we can sleep in and have a buffet breakfast waiting for us is a huge treat. I really got used to the lounge treats at cocktail time. Because this is still considered off-season I found a great deal for us online, and we did indeed take advantage of it.

A Willow Waking Up to Spring
A Willow Waking Up to Spring
Our touring the first day seemed as normal as it could be in a nation with black ribbons on all her flags. I enjoyed the Polish National Museum and seeing the single Botticelli painting. There was a display of majolica ceramics that brought back fond memories of our life in Italy. The church artwork was breathtaking. I couldn’t believe so many of the wood sculptures were nearly 600 years old–they rivaled any modern work I’ve seen in any church, anywhere.

At night we tried to go out to dinner but were met by a procession of Poles with lit candles who were walking to the Presidential Palace to pay their respects and be together. It was awe-inspiring to see so many faces, young and old, affluent and perhaps not so much, all joined together to support one another.

And the candles! Candles were everywhere. They were like our votives but with metal lids to protect the flames.

Candle Prayers
Candle Prayers
But it wasn’t all about grief. I found joy in the Old City, which was surrounded by pieces of the original city wall. Warsaw was completely devastated by World War II and had to be rebuilt, ground up. The work that was done in the name of a battered yet proud culture is something I’ll never forget.

My biggest disappointment was finding the Chopin Museum closed for the period of mourning. Of course I understand–Chopin is Poland’s favorite son. Even his 200th birthday celebration had to pause to note his nation’s loss. It is supposed to be one of the most modern, innovative museums in all of Europe if not the world. I guess this means I’ll be back!

Warsaw Old Town Original City Wall
Warsaw Old Town Original City Wall
I left Poland with a profound respect for my heritage, and with tremendous pride in being an American and from a Democratic society. Because the other thing I witnessed was that this was a peaceful albeit unplanned, unexpected transition for a young democracy. Powerful stuff.

Moscow is for Writers

I’ve lived in Russia for over a month. An entire month–longer than most vacations, shorter than any Navy deployment I ever completed. Yet I feel the hands of the Russian culture as they beckon me to explore.

Reminders of this nation’s culture and history are everywhere. From the statues throughout the city, to the breathtaking views along the Moscow River, to the varied architecture, it’s obvious this is not a young country by any means. Moscow was founded in the middle of the 12th century. Keeps my own years in perspective–I’m still young!


What’s impressed me most is the constant flow of ideas for my writing. Whether I’m looking at a statue of Pushkin on the Old Arbat or watching folks sunbathe in Gorky park as I float down the river on a city cruise, ideas and themes abound.

I had an opportunity to visit Tolstoy’s estate, approximately 3.5 hours south of Moscow. Used to these types of bus tours, I packed appropriately. Knitting helps writing ideas come to mind, and I have a notebook with me  at all times.

The bus ride was bumpy and seemed endless at times, until we wound through the town of Tyla and then into Tolstoy’s estate grounds.

The Road to Tolstoy's EstateThe view as we started our walk is one I’ll always treasure and associate with Russia. The birch-lined road felt more like a cathedral as the sun filtered through the tallest boughs. The white bark contrasted with the lush greenery and it was clear this was a place of respite and serenity.

From the cafe-laden streets of Moscow to the majesty of one of Russia’s, and the world’s, greatest author’s home, I daresay this is a place for writers.