Versailles in the Summertime

DSC_6820Versailles in the summertime–almost sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Visiting the Palace of King Louis the XIV and the world-famous gardens surrounding this majestic estate. In many ways, it was romantic. Strolling through the gardens that seem to stretch endlessly gives you a sense of royalty.
DSC_6792 You forget your sandals, striped sun dress and broad straw hat, and envision yourself in yards of silk with a jewel-encrusted parasol in your gloved hand. White marble statues of Greek and Roman Gods and Goddesses line the gravel paths; you are in good company. Fountains abound, each out doing the other.

But then I'm only painting half the picture; Versailles in the summertime means that you have more for company than the Gods and stately grounds–the gardens and palace are besieged and overflowing with tourists, and you are but a raindrop in the downpour of tourism, together creating a wave so thick that there is barely enough oxygen within the regal rooms of the palace to stand.

Although the garden allows for throngs of people, the palace, with its walls, closed windows and roped-off areas, despite it's grandeur and high ceilings, breeds claustrophobia. I wanted to pause and take in the beauty all around me, but I couldn't take it. Perhaps those who ride the Paris or New York subway on a regular basis could handle it better than me.

I love architecture and museums, but crowds don’t give you the space for a contemplative mind. You are all elbows, one hand holding fast to your purse or wallet, the other pulling your little one close by to protect him from being squashed. It wasn’t that bad the entire time, but some of the smaller rooms, lined with velvety wall paper, high columns bedecked with lion heads, each and every space ornately decorated, felt like collaborative tourniquets on my nature-loving mind–I just had to get out as quickly as possible. I believe that if there had only been a mere 50 people in the room instead of 150, I could have taken in all of this opulence with more grace and appreciation.
DSC_6859 wallpaper in Versailles

A Blast of Cold Air

A Blast of Cold Air.

The above link is to a blog called Dreaming in Arabic. I LOVE the way she writes. I just saw Invictus and feel completely energized by this beautiful story that recalls a remarkable time during the beginning of Nelson Mandela’s presidency and his focus on the national Rugby Team as a method of uniting a culturally and racially divided nation. In this context, it so nice to read Jolandi Stevens’ post about South Africa, the land of her birth. Her other posts, mainly about expat life in the UAE are also beautifully written.

Scheveningen, Oprah, Deepak and Ezra

Today was a day of taking other people’s suggestions to heart. This morning, I read an email that my friend Alice Tropper forwarded about a 21-day meditation organized by Oprah and Deepak Chopra. I barely read the forwarded email before I came to my conclusion; sure, why not? I could use some meditation. Click

Then I went to work for a few hours even though I’m technically still on vacation. I had heard that a handful of reservation requests had come in while we were away that had not been confirmed. Seeing as I can be a bit, um, fastidious at times, I wanted to send out confirmations and get them entered into my system so I could relax that part of my brain that would worry about it during the last few days of my vacation. I’ll just go over, spend a little time on the computer getting things in order, have a cup of coffee and then head out; low-key, mellow. I told myself.

But when I arrived, it was kinda hectic over there; a lot of volunteers were busy cleaning the church–working really hard scrubbing the luxaflex that hadn’t been cleaned all year, repainting walls, fixing things. After the third person asked me why I was there, I explained that if reservations aren’t confirmed in a timely manner, sometimes clients move on and look for another location. That shut them up from trying to protect me from myself! And then my little guy came by, looking bored. The sun was out, the sky was blue, and we were supposed to be on vacation.

“You should go to Scheveningen today,” suggested Jan, a church member from Scheveningen.
“That’s a good idea,” I responded. And so we did.

Scheveningen is a touristy beach town in the Hague that comes to life in the summer months when hundreds of strandtenten, temporary restaurants, are constructed for the season in the sand. Each strandtent (literal translation is beach tent) has its own upscale theme with music, decorations, plush cushions and quite often beach chairs further down the sand where you can lounge.

My husband was relieved to learn we were headed to the sea. He awoke at 4am with a brutal tooth ache, and since dentists also go on vacation, he wasn’t able to schedule an appointment until 4pm. His best medicine to endure the wait, besides popping ibuprofen, was time to himself. That left Ezra and I on our own. We packed our bags, caught a tram to Central Station, deftly changed to tram 1 and arrived in Scheveningen.

We hopped off the tram and walked through a passageway between tall buildings to the beachfront. Ezra was in great spirits. We dug a sandpit together, splashed in the water, played tikkertje (tag) and buried each other’s legs in the sand. Now that I was relaxed, the idea of the meditation wended its way into my thoughts. Can you imagine how many people Oprah and Deepak could pull in to meditate and how powerful that could be if hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people were all meditating each day? Perhaps they had a secret plan to bring about World Peace in 21 days. I wanted to participate as well, even if for a fleeting moment or two. While Ezra was busy sculpting reptilian shapes, I retrieved the small paper bag where I had scribbled the Deepak-Oprah 21-Day meditation centering thought for day one:

Today I am open to the presence of miracles.

I breathed in this thought along with the fresh sea air. This elixir bounced around in my mind and lungs. My lungs suddenly realized their potential and took in a deep, rather than shallow breath. Considering the vreselijke spring we had in Holland, this beautiful summer day was a sort of miracle in itself. I’ll be launching my first novel this November. What if I could channel my energy over the next 21 days into that novel being a miraculous success?

My thoughts wandered to my husband, at home and in pain. Where was the miracle in that? I tried to imagine all of his pain disappearing and the root in that one bothersome tooth experiencing instant bliss. Since I was at the beach with my little boy, I wasn’t in a position to do a 30-minute meditation, but I did keep returning to the idea of being open to the presence of miracles, over and over again, almost like a breathing meditation.

I chased my son through the shallow edges of the North Sea, splashing and being splashed, and the meditations on miraculously blissful teeth and successful novels flitted away from my thoughts. Not a bad thing at all, considering I was entirely in the moment. If I lost the thought, I would pull out the crinkled paper again and re-read it.

I was stretching, my legs thigh deep in the shallow warm water caught between the beach and a rise in the sand at the ocean’s edge. A Dutch woman walking out for a swim stopped and talked to me. We talked about the water, about swimming. Within moments she knew by my accent that I wasn’t Dutch, and began the usual rounds of questions, which led to further topics. I am originally from California; she has a sister who lives in Woodland Hills, California. While we talked, Ezra made a game of splashing me. I think he was annoyed that my attention had shifted away from him. After the woman moved on into the sea for a swim, I realized the significance of the moment; this stranger, an older Dutch woman had stopped and chatted with me and held her attention on our conversation. It was a simple, yet beautiful exchange.

Earlier, Ezra and I had waded into that same shallow water and made a game of picking up pieces of floating plastic. We didn’t see anyone else on the beach playing this game. One girl found a broken pair of sunglasses in the shallow water, laughed at how silly they looked with one plastic lens and promptly threw them back in. They ended up in our sack along with approximately 7 icecream wrappers, 5 plastic bags, 4 candy wrappers and 1 waterlogged chip bag. On our way out, we found a beer can, a beer-can’s-throw from the trash can.

I picked it up and went into drama mode. “Oh. It is so heavy. I couldn’t possibly put this in the trash can over there.” Ezra started laughing. He found half of a small plastic container that had probably held a single serving of potato salad less than a foot from the trash can and did his own one man act as he tossed it in the garbage.
“I’m sue-per lay zee!” he slowly enunciated. “And I can’t find the trash can right in front of me!” We cracked ourselves up.

When saying our simple prayer before eating dinner this evening, Ezra had the following to say:
“I wish everyone in the world was Arie Jan’s friend.” (He’s given up on calling us mom and dad.)
“Why?” I asked, completely perplexed. Did he think Arie Jan was in pain because he was sad, or that he didn’t have enough friends?
“Because if everyone was his friend,” Ezra explained, “then they would all want him to feel good and if they all thought that, his pain would go away.”
“Wow. Where did you learn that?” I asked. I hadn’t shared the world-wide meditation concept with Ezra and I don’t think we’ve talked much about the power of group prayer.
“I just have this feeling,” he said. And there it was; my miracle of the day.

Eiffel Exhilarated!

Eiffel Exhilarated!

Climbing the steps of the Eiffel Tower last week gave me a sense of accomplishment, as if the Eiffel was on a bucket list I hadn’t even written, but was somehow ingrained in my system as an American.

What does the Eiffel Tower have to do with being American? Structural engineer Gustave Eiffel also worked on the Statue of Liberty, which was given to us (the U.S.) by France as a commemoration of the alliance between France and the U.S. during the American Revolution.

But clearly, people from around the world also have it on a subliminal or active bucket list, as we heard accents from around the world as we summited the Eiffel.

I felt safe in this massive structure until I overheard a tourguide saying the Eiffel Tower receives 58 million visitors per year. Say what? That’s like 20% of the American population, or three times the population of the Netherlands. Wouldn’t the metal steps and the cables of the elevator be worn out with the coming and going of so many humans?

Yet an online search says its only 7 million per year. Seven million is no small feat; that’s about 1 visitor every 4 seconds, 24 hours per day. Perhaps she was saying 5 to 7 million. If said quickly, that could sound like 57 million.

My recommendation: a must-do. Don’t stand in the main line for the elevator that goes straight to the top, but go to the shorter line to climb the first few stories and then catch the lift to the top. Climbing the steps gives you a much more hands-on sense of the structural detail of the tower and you can watch the people on the ground turn into ants (get smaller) at a much more gradual rate.

Tip two: Unless you enjoy the sensation of being mildly squished by throngs of other sweaty tourists every step of the way, don’t go in July!

Dappled with rainwater

I subscribe to a blogger called Kristin Noelle because 1) she writes about living with trust in your life and 2) I share her name, Kristin Noelle (my first and middle name and I suspect her first and last name). My second reason is a little silly, but I think there’s something interesting about us walking around in the world with the same name, even if expressed differently.

A while ago, she sent an email entitled “Dappled Things.” If I could have a love affair with a word, this would be it. Dappled reminds me of light summer rain, of nature, of sunlight through trees, of thoughts transitioning in front of you, and of a distant poem I love about dappled rainwater.

I started writing a response to Kristin Noelle’s email, eager to share my thoughts with her, and I yarned on about an E.E. Cummings poem I loved so much that had the word “dappled” in it. I couldn’t remember the title of the poem, so I started searching through E.E. Cummings’ works, soon realizing his poems have very little to do with dappled sunshine and a lot to do with sex and his most-likely-made-up last name.

I had thrown my love affair word to the wrong poet. Then William Carlos Williams popped in my head. Oh, that’s it! I thought confidently. And I pulled up a poetry website and quickly found that beautiful poem from all those years ago. And without much further ado:

The Red Wheelbarrow
William Carlos Williams

so much depends
a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Glazed with rainwater? Not dappled with rainwater? So much for my dappled tryst; it’s not even in the poem.

This leaves me to believe, that like Robin Williams in the 1994 film The Final Cut, my brain had somehow misremembered a crucial piece of information from my past.

Perhaps crucial is a bit strong, but I feel cheated by my own memories, and I have to agree with William Carlos; glazed with rainwater works much better.

But back to my namesake. Kristin Noelle’s email, the one that caused me to expound upon the virtues and amorous nature of dappled, also made me slow down and ponder her words:

Life is a dappled thing. The contrasts are *everywhere*. And since my goal is to learn and practice a worldview of trust – that is, a softening into, rather than a constant resistance to, what is – then my invitation is to practice saying yes to these contrasts. Practice watching for the gifts in them. Practice listening for what they’re calling me to learn or remember or do…or to release and let go of.

What if the dappled things, the many startling and confusing and even horribly troubling contrasts, are a deep sort of kindness, and learning to trust is the process of waking up to that kindness? Of learning to welcome it, and soak in it, even when we can’t yet recognize its outlines? (excerpt from an email sent out by Kristin Noelle to her subscribers on Dappled Things)

And now you can see why I subscribe to her blog; these are the sort of thoughts that make us contemplate our lives and perhaps see goodness and lessons of growth in a place where we only once saw trouble.

I often think of the internet as this wonderful, horrible thing, a dappled thing; it offers up an incomprehensible amount of information, and like an expanded Wikipedia, it represents a superhuman collective of our history, thoughts, experiences and beliefs; some horrible and dark, others refreshing and insightful.

The internet is knowledge. Harkening back to a famous story of a snake, a woman and an apple, some say knowledge is evil. But I disagree–it’s what you DO with the knowledge that makes all the difference. We can handle knowledge if we have trust in our lives–trust in our own ability to reason and differentiate, and to make decisions based on our core beliefs.

How do you live with trust when betrayed by your own memory? I can fact-check the author of a poem online or in a book, but how can I fact-check that experience I had when I was nine years old when one of my best friends betrayed my trust? I can’t.

If I got back in touch with that long-ago friend and asked for her version of the experience, would she have the same story, or something completely different? Whose version would be right? Would our interpretations be based on feelings as much as facts? Can we trust our own ability to recall an event objectively and in that moment, or do we reshape our memories with layers of new experiences?

Trust is also the ability to realize you can be wrong once in a while, and to do so with grace.