Notes From Italy: An Introduction

ItalyAs mentioned in my last post, my wife, son and I recently returned from a 2-week trip in Italy, a trip that defibrillated and resuscitated my inner blogger.

The first product of this resurrection will be a recurring series of posts titled Notes From Italy.

A few notes about the Notes:

  • When I tried journaling on my very first day in the country, in a café in Florence, it wasn’t pretty. The experience of traveling there, of actually being there, certainly opened up the creative floodgates, but the flood was so overwhelming that I struggled to determine where to start or what specifically to write about.
  • This partially stemmed from the fact that I’d dreamed of going to Italy since I was a kid, eating at my local pizzeria, then as a teenager learning about Italian art and music, and beyond. My brain couldn’t really comprehend that, at last, I was finally there.
  • So, I took a few days off and didn’t write anything, while little bits and pieces started floating around in my head, observations and reactions to things I was experiencing.
  • Not wanting to lose these thoughts and reflections, I decided to take a different approach and started a simple list, some items no longer than a phrase or a sentence, others a short paragraph, just enough to capture the main ideas. This was incredibly liberating, and it eventually yielded over 30 items.
  • My approach to Notes From Italy will be similar: posts in this recurring series will only be as long or short as they need to be in order to preserve and convey the essence of my observations, some edited to flesh them out a bit, others left exactly as I jotted them down by hand.
  • Read in sequence, as they appear, or later by browsing through the archived series, I believe Notes From Italy will paint an accurate picture of our great big adventure, from the highest highs to the occasional low.
  • Yeah, there’s something powerful about a list!

I’ll leave you with this teaser/spoiler, jumping to where we spent the last three days of our trip: the Amalfi Coast:

FullSizeRender(2)
Positano: a pleasant day-trip from our base in quiet, nearby Praiano. Yes, it IS that beautiful!

Ci vediamo presto!

Video Fridays: Jeff Tweedy & Stephen Colbert

tweedy-colbertAfter my depressing post this morning, I thought I’d lighten things up, WAY up, with this sweet clip from last night’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for this week’s Video Fridays installment.

I’ve been a HUGE fan of Jeff Tweedy, since his days in Uncle Tupelo, through his over 20 years in Wilco, and through his various side projects, which I’ve mentioned in multiple posts over the years here at Fish & Bicycles, and one of the many things that I like about him is that his soft, vulnerable side has been a major recurring element in his music, making him and his music eminently relatable.

Even though these are two grown men in this video clip, I couldn’t help thinking back to when I used to read stories and sing to my son, now 18-years old, at bedtime.

Having an 18-year old is a grieving process, their time living at home with you is winding down, nest departure is inevitable and nearing day by day. We may want them to stay until it’s two grown men doing bedtime together, but that’s just not the way the world works.

Happy Weekend, everyone.

Video Fridays: Mountaineering, Monty Python & My Son The Rock Climber

jclimbing2It’s been WAY too long since I wrote about My Son The Rock Climber!

That’s him six years ago, age 12, in the lede photo here, climbing on the wall we built for him in his bedroom. By the time this photo was taken, he’d been climbing for about six years, he’d joined a local youth climbing team six months earlier, and a year later he qualified for the national championships!

Well, while My Son The Rock Climber, now age 18, no longer competes, he still climbs and is AMAZING!!!, he works as a route setter at a local climbing gym, and when he climbs he looks like this:

J-SBC

In some ways, not much has changed. In other ways, EVERYTHING seems to have changed.

Anyway, last night he and I went together to the 10th Annual Reel Rock Film Festival, a collection of short films about rock climbing and mountaineering. It was inspiring for him, but it was terrifying for me.

See, while I’ve been super supportive of My Son The Rock Climber’s climbing for years, and while I know that the vast majority of climbers are hyper-safety-conscious, the Reel Rock films are chock full of some of the most intense, dangerous climbing you can imagine, and the thought of My Son The Rock Climber somewhere like, let’s say, 2,000 feet up the face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, fills me with anxiety and dread.

For now, he’s solely interested in the relatively safe form of climbing known as bouldering, consisting of difficult, technical routes typically no more than 20 feet high.

But last night he expressed an interest in ice climbing, a component of mountaineering, and the film that focused on mountaineering, A Line Across The Sky, the most terrifying of the evening, was about two climbers who climbed this:

fitz

That’s Fitz Roy in Patagonia, Argentina, and the two climbers were and thankfully still are Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold.

For Video Fridays, then, I thought I’d spread the terror around a bit by posting the trailer for A Line Across The Sky, encouraging you to seek out and see the whole film, which, beside being terrifying, is absolutely gorgeous to look at and an inspiring story of human dedication, perseverance, and achievement.

Following that, I’ll share what I turned to for relief from the anxiety at the thought of My Son The Climber ever doing anything remotely that dangerous.

At least one of the members of Monty Python had to have been a mountaineering enthusiast, because mountain climbing featured prominently in three different skits from their Flying Circus days, and the technical terms peppered throughout make it clear that they knew what they were talking about.

Here now, then, the serious and not-so-serious side of a very dangerous activity.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

To Man Bun, Or Not To Man Bun?

man-bunWhen I first heard my 17-year old son refer to some guy’s hairstyle as a “man bun”, I chuckled heartily.

Little did I know at the time just how much of a thing man buns are!

See, I’ve lived here in Bellingham, Washington for 22 years, and there has always been a visible, healthy, active, engaged hippie presence in town. Since the late 1960s, men with long hair, tied up or flowing freely, have been decidedly commonplace, and so modern hipster culture‘s embrace of long hair, and the man bun in particular, just didn’t register for me.

Well now, thanks to an article at Vox titled Man buns, explained, posted by a friend on Facebook today, I know much more about this trendy-once-again hairstyle than I thought I needed to know, including the names of some of the many man bun variants:

manbunchart

Interesting timing, all this, because I just got a haircut, my hair had reached a length that could very nearly support a man bun if I was so inclined, and yet I have a very complicated relationship with my hair, it’s a hair paradox, really.

I’m the type of person who prefers a low-maintenance appearance, partly based in an effort to avoid vanity, and partly out of simple laziness. I like to spend as little time as possible looking at myself in the mirror, fussing with clothes and hair and such. I’ve got MUCH more important things to spend my time on!

And yet, my hair is a major pain in the ass. It’s incredibly thick, curly, and dry and frizzy. It’s easiest to simply towel dry and forget about it when it is very short, but it grows so damned fast that I’d have to get a haircut every other week to keep it that easy, and yet, paradoxically, bi-weekly haircuts are not low-maintenance at all!

Conversely, if frequent haircuts are too much maintenance, you could argue that another solution is to just let the hair keep growing and eventually tie it up into a ponytail or, I don’t know, let’s say, a man bun, and forget about it.

Only, with hair like mine, the longer it gets the more work it takes to tame it: more shampoo to get it clean, more conditioner to keep if from being ridiculously frizzy, more time painfully running a brush through it to get out all of those insidious knots, cuz no offense to Rastafarians everywhere, but I ain’t doing dreadlocks.

Conclusion: Even if I was a hipster, which I’m decidedly not, and may be too old to try to be with any self-respect, (See the recent Noah Baumbach film While We’re Young), the answer to the question “To Man Bun, Or Not To Man Bun?” is clearly: Not.

Video Fridays: Marriage Equality Edition

marriage-equalityThe news this morning, that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states can no longer deny same-sex couples the right to marry is a major breakthrough for justice and civil rights.

We still have VERY far to go, so many areas where inequality — racial, gender, age, ability, economic, etc. — remains, here in the U.S. and around the globe, and yet today’s victory feels particularly poignant.

After all, as one of the catch phrases of the marriage equality movement points out:

Love is Love

I’m still one of those dreamers, though not the only one, who truly believes that All You Need Is Love, and we need LOTS more love to overcome the remaining inequality challenges, to end violence and war, to save the planet from global climate change.

Let all people love each other and make lifelong commitments to each other and tell me how that can have any other effect than to heal the world?!

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Tweet of the Day: @TheOnion

Given my recent post waxing nostalgic and all sentimental on the subject of fatherhood, including references to the common fears that seem to come with the job…

…this TOTALLY cracked me up!

Video Fridays: Father’s Day Weekend Edition

Me & Julian, Father's Day, 2013
Me & Julian, Father’s Day, 2013
Since I likely won’t be able to post anything on Father’s Day this Sunday, and since my son, Julian, is now 17-1/2 years old and his days in the nest are painfully dwindling away, I thought I would dedicate today’s Video Fridays installment to him, for I wouldn’t be a father if he hadn’t come along.

Today’s video, Ben FoldsStill Fighting It, featuring touching homemade-movie-esque footage of Ben and his son Louis, and lyrics about the experience of fatherhood, on one hand, and growing up, on the other, never fails to choke me up.

The song was released in 2001, when my son was about the same age as Louis, and as much as I’ve loved and cherished some aspect of every age Julian has attained, there was something particularly special about that age, when walking wasn’t so new and treacherous, when verbal communication was beginning to get easier thanks to a growing vocabulary, when the innocence and infinite sense of wonder of childhood was in full bloom, when playing was so much damned fun, and when simply holding hands as we strolled in public felt like I had an umbilical cord connecting me to an infinite pool of love.

Being a parent is an experience of extremes. There’s the infinite pool of love and the unbridled joy of play, but there’s also the anxiety concerning the future, the fear of terrible things happening to your child, the frustration when your child has the gall (wink) to remind you that they are an actual person, with the right to self-determination, the pain you feel when they feel pain, the excruciating guilt you feel for the mistakes you’ve made raising them, particularly when they pick up any bad habits that you have been unintentionally modeling for them, and the emptiness at the thought of them one day flying the coop.

Ben Folds captures this all so perfectly:

Everybody knows
It hurts to grow up
And everybody does
It’s so weird to be back here
Let me tell you what
The years go on and
We’re still fighting it, we’re still fighting it
And you’re so much like me
I’m sorry…

It was pain
Sunny days and rain
I knew you’d feel the same things…

You’ll try and try and one day you’ll fly
Away from me

Somebody get me a hanky, stat!

Anyway, it might seem that that list I wrote above, of the goods and the not-so-goods, suggests that the not-so-goods far outweigh the goods, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

When you love someone as deeply as you love your child, you never, EVER see it that way, you would NEVER prefer the alternative — losing your child, or not ever having had a child. You just hope that the Buddhists are right, that if we practice mindfulness awareness we can be totally present for them despite our fears, and if we practice non-attachment we can celebrate their departure when they come of age, feeling satisfied and sustained by all of the years of glorious memories, and excitement for the possibilities that life will present to them.

Happy Weekend, everyone!