There’s No Place Like Home

Bryant Park

Bryant Park

I’m just back from New York City, where Bill and I spent five days taking a break from the “same old, same old.”  It’s been a tough couple of weeks for Bill, especially. His computer crashed with the play he’d been revising for an upcoming spring staged reading here in Charlottesville and another reading in New York City in May at the Dramatist Guild.  There is, however, a new computer in the works and the techies who are transfering data to the new robotic brain believe that the script and other files of value came through without a hitch.  We’ll know for sure tomorrow.

I’ve not been to the city this close to Christmas since I was a little kid, living on Long Island.  On several occasions my dad took my brothers and me into the city to shop at Macy’s for Christmas gifts.  I remember it as lots of fun.  My brothers sat on Santa’s lap, while I checked out the latest lipstick shades, picking one I thought would look good on my mother.  We ate lots of chocolate and candy canes, while we looked for those special trinkets we’d wrap and put under the tree, emptying the piggy banks that we’d stuffed all year long with allowances.

Shop Window at Rockefeller Center

Shop Window at Rockefeller Center

After this trip I’ve promised myself I won’t return again this close to Christmas and Hanukkah.  The Streets and sidewalks were jammed with shoppers and tourists from all over the world.  New York is an international city where languages from around the world can be heard, especially at this time of year. I was overwhelmed by the walls of people heading in my direction. Listening carefully, I realized I was not alone with my panic. As we passed one vacant doorway, I overheard a man telling his wife that they would just stay put until there was a break in the crowd.  A while later, a young woman rushed by, pulling her boyfriend along, who was pleading, “Please get me out of here.  I can’t do this.”

We saw three broadway shows, two of which I thought were good, but still nothing that inspired me.  We also took in three movies, the best of which was, St. Vincent, with Bill Murray, which was delightful and whose main character I could relate to.  We also saw, Citizenfour and Whiplash. Though both are great movies and award material, their serious nature left me feeling a bit raw.

The Tree at Bryant Park

The Tree at Bryant Park

We also went to the Tenement Museum in lower Manhattan where we took a 90 minute tour of one of the buildings the museum has redone, where I got a glimpse into what living arrangements were probably like for my grandparents, who came to the States from Poland in the early 1900’s. I look forward to going back some day to do the museum’s food tasting tour which sounds quite yummy.

I was whisked away into the whirl wind of city life, but am so happy to be home again. When our train pulled into Charlottesville on our return, we both joyfully realized that going away is what one needs in order to understand that coming home to the “same old, same old,” is where we really want to be.

Chasing Ice

© 2007, Joan Z. Rough. August 15, 2007, off the coast of Greenland.

It’s November. Halloween is over. Americans spent eighty billion dollars on candy and costumes this Halloween. When it comes to money, what we have spent on the current election is unspeakable. Christmas carols will soon be echoing throughout every mall in every state of the union. The big push will be on to get the biggest and bestest gifts to put under the tree, so that we all can have more things that we want but don’t really need.

There are millions of our fellow citizens still without power, water and food after the visitation of Hurricane/Super Storm Sandy.  Many of them have lost everything and are homeless.  On Tuesday, we will all trek to the polls to vote (I sure hope YOU do), making decisions that will affect how life will unfold during the next four years and beyond.  The big decision we make together as a nation will have consequences one way or another for all of us.  We all need to rethink what we value most.

I will be seventy years old this month.  I am not as concerned about my own welfare as I am for the children of this world and this beautiful blue orb we call home.  I have grandchildren ages nine and twelve, as well as a step-granddaughter who is twenty-four.  I think about how they will fare in the upside-down, topsy-turvy world they will be inheriting from US.  Yes, from you and me.

What will it take for them to reach their seventies as easily as I have? Will our nation be continuously at war, trying to keep peace around the world, while we ignore our own citizens? Today we argue about the issues we have with the economy, unemployment and health care. What about our infrastructure?  There is much of New York City that will need to be rebuilt in order for it to survive the New Normal that Mother Nature has in store.  There are bridges all over our nation that need rebuilding. Our ancient power-grid will not last forever.  Almost every aspect of life will need to change if we are to continue living here on this planet without destroying it and ourselves.

I could write pages filled with the things we need to do in order to keep us all safe and comfortable as we move into an uncertain future.  I could climb on a wooden crate on a street corner and yell and scream about the alarming rate at which glaciers in the far north are melting and that water levels around the world are already rising.  Would you listen if I told you we are running out of fresh water?  That the air we breathe is full of toxins that will eventually bring death and suffering to all of us?

Most of us don’t like to think about those questions. Who wants to consider painful scenarios in which there seems to be little hope. Some say we have no problems. They believe that we can live just as we are. If certain plants or animals become extinct, they won’t notice or care. But fifty-eight percent of us agree that we do have some major problems.  The rest deny that anything is changing and if it is, it certainly isn’t being caused by human activity.

Every November, Charlottesville hosts the Virginia Film Festival.  This is it’s 25th season.  Yesterday, I had the privilege of seeing, Chasing Ice, a film that will be released to the general public in the near future. I urge all of you to see it, the creation of world-renowned photographer, James Balog. In 2007, he founded the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), a photographic project in which the rate of ice melt is being visually recorded in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and Montana. Using the art of photography and the known science around global warming, he presents moving, visual proof that the glaciers are melting at a rate so fast, that it is almost unimaginable.

The stunning beauty of this film will take your breath away, as well as raise questions that all of us must consider. Through recognizing the tragedy that we are all participating in, and speaking about it openly, I believe we will find ways to adapt our behaviors in a changing world.


My home sweet home

“Home is not where you have to go but where you want to go; nor is it a place where you are sullenly admitted, but rather where you are welcomed – by the people, the walls, the tiles on the floor, the followers beside the door, the play of life, the very grass.” – Scott Russell Sanders  

Last Sunday, Bill and I returned from a trip to Niagara-On-The-Lake, in Ontario, Canada.  It is one of my favorite places to sneak away to.  It’s a beautiful small town on the western shore of Lake Ontario, which  hosts the George Bernard Shaw Festival every summer, and is also home to over twenty vineyards, where you can spend your days tasting superb wines.  This was only our second trip to this outstanding community, but it’s beginning to look like it could become an annual late summer destination for us.

We spent four nights at Brockamour Manor, a sweet B & B, where I’ve always felt pampered.  Having launched my gluten-free diet on the day we arrived, Colleen and Rick, the owners, quickly made adjustments to the breakfast menu for me, providing me with gluten-free toast to go with their delicious eggy dishes. On the morning they served pancakes, Colleen made gluten-free ones for me, topped with crushed strawberries and some maple syrup.  This is the only B & B to my knowledge where you’ll get dessert for breakfast.  My favorite is a rainbow sorbet pie, with a nut crust. I plan on making  that one here at home next time we invite friends for dinner. Fresh local peaches still in season, were served other mornings in a variety of ways.

We saw four shows at the Shaw Festival. My favorite was, A Man and Some Women, by British Playwright, Githa Sowerly.  We also saw the musical, Ragtime (fantastically great), Shaw’s own, Misalliance, and Ibsen’s, Hedda Gabler.  You can read Bill’s reviews on his blog,  View in the Dark.  We also had time and space to work a bit on our own writing projects, sip wine, take naps, go on morning walks, and enjoy well prepared food.  No stress. Just relaxation. My favorite kind of vacation.  I felt very much at home there.

What is home exactly?  For me, home has always been the place where I eat my meals, sleep, work, and share space with the people I love. Having lived in at least eight different homes by the time I was thirteen, home was where ever we happened to be. I found moving extremely difficult. It meant a new school and making new friends.  It meant I had to figure out where I was and how to maneuver in a whole new world.

My favorite home of all time, is the one I am in right now, in Charlottesville, Virginia.  I’ve lived in this area since 1985, but have lived in three different houses.  Each one was always perfect for us at the time, but as the years passed our needs changed. This last move, two years ago, was to downsize and place us in town within closer proximity to entertainment, healthcare facilities, and community.

I guess I’ve never stopped moving. As adults, we’ve moved as a way to shake things up in our lives as we’ve searched for our own end of the rainbow. Perhaps when you continuously move from location to location, it simply becomes what you do. It becomes your habit.

One of the things on my life long wish list has been to “feel at home” in the world, no matter where I find myself. But I’m beginning to understand and accept that it’s a wish that I will never fulfill.  I visit New York City, several times a year, but I rarely, if ever feel at home there.  For one thing, there are too many people to share a relatively small amount of space with. It is difficult for me sharing the sidewalks on Fifth Avenue around four o’clock in the afternoon when everyone in the city is on their way home from work. There is also too much noise, and the energy level in the city is way over the top. I can comfortably stay four nights without losing myself, but after that, my nerves begin to rattle and I get anxious.  Being an introvert, arriving home to the peace and quiet of this town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is my reward for stepping out into the great big crazy world.

Big cities of any kind are not as inviting to me as places where I can connect to the natural rhythms of the earth.  I love being by the sea, watching and listening as the ocean pounds the shore.  The air smells and tastes salty. There are magnificent birds to watch as they make their living along the beach.  And walking barefoot in the sand is one of the most healing things I’ve ever experienced.  I almost always feel at home there.

Next month I will be taking my mother’s ashes, “home,” to Long Island. She was born there, and though she spent much of her youth in trauma ridden situations, it’s also where I believe she spent her happiest moments. Though as a family we moved from there to Vermont in 1960, she felt restless in New England and went back to the Island frequently to spend time with old friends and family.  When she moved here to Virginia after my father died, it was to be close to me and my family. She liked it here, but it wasn’t home for her.  Had she been healthier and younger, I know she would have moved back to Long Island in a heartbeat.

It will be a homecoming of sorts for me as well, as I was also born and raised on the Island. I’ve been back to visit once before and I love stopping to see the houses I once lived in and the schools I went to. But I love where I am right now and I consider this to be my home of choice.

What does home mean to you? Would you feel at home anywhere in the world? What do you love most about being home?