Brussels in winter is an eternal grey November. On a lightless Tuesday that flattens people and their shadow, my heart sings. I disappear down a sunken green-clad cobblestone road. I’m not going to the faeries, but close. I’m going to medieval school in the Forêt de Soignes, at the Rouge Cloître founded in the fourteenth century. Tucked away in a dell, shored up between two marshes in the woods, crumbles an old monastery. The footprint of the chapel, built in 1384 and burned in 1805, is still visible. From its image in the Bernard van Orley tapestries in the museum, it was a flamboyant gothic gem. The fountain, unearthed below three feet of soil, has sputtered back to life from its seventeenth century incarnation. The millhouse, straight out of a Thomas Kinkade Painter of Light® miniature, is my destiny home, though Alrik and the municipality haven’t been informed yet.
Elderly Bruxelloises are initiating me to bobbin lace and to correctly interpreting the ways of their culture. I spend days learning a cat’s cradle of cotton and linen thread, with wooly brusseleir words woven in. I have many bookmark ribbons so far but I won’t be producing tablecloths, even for recently married couples. I’ve had to lower my expectations. I don’t have fifteen years to consecrate to this full-time. I taught myself to knit, but this is different. It takes a lot more concentration, but overthink the movements and you’re lost. I’m making fast progress. Another thirteen years and I should be able to keep up a conversation while tossing the bobbins.
When everyone has arrived, exchanged news and kisses, unpacked and gotten to work on this medieval spell, we sigh collectively. We know we’re fortunate to be here and to do this, hidden away from the 20th century, let alone the 21st. The workshop in the garret of the coach house overlooks the stables and the steaming piles of soiled hay. The donkey brays and the Belgian Draft horses clomp their hooves as hikers start passing through, looking for a bathroom and hot coffee, which they won’t find. No potable water here. Let’s not mention HVAC.
Handmade lace is perhaps not well, but at least it’s alive in the Brussels and Flanders regions, thanks to the presence of the dentellieres working in the Bruxelles Grand Place until the 1990s, the curators who brought their passion for the topic to life in excellent exhibits, and the dedication of the Bruges lace museum. I’m taking charge of the communications program to let museums and curators know that the Rouge Cloître dentellieres are here to stay. It might be my entrée into the profession of cultural heritage in Belgium.
Secret treasures all over this big burg are waiting to be re-used for the benefit of brusselois, both long-timers and new communities of foreigners, many of which are school-aged. How can I tap into the burgeoning field of project management for historic sites? It struggles to interact with its concerned publics such as school groups, artists looking for space, inconvenienced neighbors, outdoors enthusiasts, at-risk youth, students of trades, crafts, and history. . . Ren Fairs all over North America attest that your family wants to spend a day basking in the drama and otherworldliness of the 16th century (minus the religious wars). Brussels has the real deal.
When we announced that we are settling down in Brussels, people said it was the dumbest idea ever, but at least they could expect Belgian chocolates for Christmas. This body is being reshaped by Brussels’s waffles, spice bread, abbey cheeses, marzipan, and midnight french-fries and mayonnaise. It’s not meshing with the wardrobe I rediscovered when I unpacked my boxes from NYC.
I’ve had to disappoint family in maintaining that no, we did not choose this town in order to pull my resident sister back into the fold. Nor am I trying to mend my family’s dreams. We’re here until we’re no longer here. We’re looking for work. I’m trying to figure out how to apply my skills to my passion for arts advocacy, and how to make a difference with that. In the meantime, I explore, I learn, I get back in shape, I impose on the patience of the Belgians, I speak French until I have a headache from the effort. I try to understand, What is cultural heritage, why does it matter, and whom is it for?
My eyes feast on Art Nouveau. The Horta lines curve, the gilded tiles on the façades highlight a Mucha bas-relief. They help the eye soar out of too-narrow grey streets and toward the even darker sky. Brussels keeps its bonhomie. When you visit us, don’t expect Paris. This is more secretive.
Each fold of land yields a gem: an abbey, the sharp blade of its steeple springing out of a green nest hidden amidst the high-rises. A gloomy medieval hollow road used by generations to walk between villages through the woods — burgs now become surrounding communes of Brussels. A foggy vale strings three ponds. Between them floats a monastery dating from the 1300s that now houses art studios.
We walk the Vallée de la Pede tucked in the rolling hills of Brussels’s countryside. The landscape has not changed much from the time that Bruegel painted it, 450 years ago. The same stream banks, the same watermill, the same church tower are visible on his canvases. In Belgium, I easily travel back in time. To the 1980s when I grew up here. To the 1920s, when Brussels bustled, to hear Brel describe it. To the religious wars of the 1500s. This place has a long, layered story. It’s a battleground for profit, ideas, faith, and dynasties. With and without a government, it has remained verdant, productive, and generous. It has welcomed me a second time, even more graciously than the first. There is nowhere else I could be.
Perhaps this is a dream, and I’m about to wake up still in Dallas, December 2018, with an hour to spare on the morning of our last exam before Christmas break. But I graduated a long time ago. I can never go back, even if it looks like I am doing just that. Brussels has moved on from 1986, and so have we, even if some wish it weren’t so.
Well this thesis isn’t going to write itself. I’m aching to just sit down and write it, but between the hours in the car, learning a new language each time I step out of it, scrounging for some crones or schlubbys to pay for a toilet on the road, finding dog food in yet another city, and tracking down our Airbnb host, there’s not much energy left for organizing my wayward thoughts.
After the 24 heures de Tallinn-Berlin, it’s clear that an intervention is needed. Alrik cuts through the noise. He rents me a blank room with wifi and a desk in front of a window overlooking green gardens in deserted Nancy, in the Lorraine. I have ten days to write the remaining thirty pages. I know I can do it. I’m ready, eager, and exhausted. But no more excuses.
It’s time to work, and that calls for solitary. I’m allowed a two-hour walk in the woods each morning to clear my thoughts and circulate the humors. I’m aware that boars are watching us from the shadows. Tibby smells them all around us and the woodland paths are ploughed muddy by their snouts. Idea associations bolt out of the leaves that I’m shuffling. Panting through the undergrowth, I blather the possibilities into my cell phone’s voice app while a befuddled Alrik and Tibby listen. I go home and transcribe. This thing is starting to take shape.
The thesis is about what ballet companies can change to be more welcoming to African American dancers, and how to make ballet relevant to racially diverse audiences. Ten days of reading, mapping, summarizing, editing, and one day, it’s done. I’m proud, satisfied, relieved, doubtful, and sad.
I want to celebrate with a night out for the best tarte flambée in or outside of Alsace. Place Stanislas, named after its beloved Prussian benefactor, father-in-law to Louis XV, gives Versailles a run for its money. The huge square is filled with thousands of spectators on a night of lights projected on the baroque architecture. This form of installation artertainment is gaining in popularity. We’ve seen it in the Quartier des Spectacles, Montreal, to enliven chilly winter nights; at Akshardham Temple, Delhi, to remind the faithful of their myths; and in Rome, as a stand-in for a visit of the ceiling of the overburdened Sistine Chapel. But, I’ve lost track of the days: we’re leaving tomorrow. No time for a visit to Baccarat’s crystal factory, or to the caves de Champagne. We’re due in Brussels by 3 PM.
Instead, we stop by the baguette vending machine a few times. A built-in bread oven and dispenser pushes out a smelly, delicious, warm loaf for 1 euro. It can bake up to 200 loaves a day on your street corner. Don’t you want one in your neighborhood? That’s because you don’t have a boulangerie. Half the French love it for the convenience, and half of them hate it because it threatens the local baker. Which brings me back to food as cultural heritage. I haven’t given it up. It’s my long-term plan, when I have a sense of how this cultural industry thing works. I'll be an advocate for dancers first, then I'll evangelize the cheesy gospel later.
Navigating the lands of fjord and water, get ready for ongoing sunsets and fried fish. I can’t stomach it so I eat slaw, rhubarb, and marzipan. Sweden is Rapunzel with its blue, blue sky, dark green fir stands, and puddles of light chasing one another over waves of golden fields dotted with blood red poppies.
Stockholm prepares for its Pride weekend. The beautiful people have to party without me. The imperative of the thesis flexes its muscles when I realize that my information on racial equity in dance is incomplete and out of date. My argument is already compromised because I’m skewing it toward the information I have. Thanks to a low-level anxiety sweat and nervous-eating my way through this dilemma, I get a chance to see a more prosaic Stockholm: its expensive grocery stores, assisted laundromats where washing three loads costs as much as dinner, and such kind people smitten with dogs that they’ll break out of their taciturnity to pet Tibby. We meet a nurse who volunteers to be our tour guide, we run into an occasional roommate, and a ceramicist who provides our souvenirs of Sweden: a breakfast duo of cabbage-rose–stenciled yogurt bowl and coffee mug. I can’t believe I talked Alrik into shabby chic.
We sail across the Baltic Sea on a long silver wake. We shiver on deck but can’t bring ourselves to go below to join the casino aficionados and teenyboppers at the disco. We wave to children on shore in fishing villages that can’t be reached from any road. Between the cheese supplies and the dog, the cabin smells ripe when we wake up to Tallinn, the pre-Stalin family vacation. Every five years, someone in Alrik’s family comes due for the pilgrimage to the fatherland left behind in 1944. We have a fabulous Upper-West side travel agent, Alrik’s sister Kate, who planned the entire thing. It is plush. It is beautifully timed. It is a 6-day whirlwind because that’s how much time New Yorkers get off work.
The black of the Estonian flag is for its dark nutty rye bread; the blue is for the cheese, dry and hay; the white is for my appetite. We celebrate an early Thanksgiving on an island where the kids toast marshmallows, everyone takes a turn at the grill or the dishes, and we talk until late at night, collapsing oceanic distance and a year apart. We consider moving there because the country is cold, unreachable, and who else has done this. But because we speak neither Estonian, Russian, nor Finnish, we are housed in expat overpriced apartments and left to eat tourist pizza for the rest of our days.
Then the car dealership calls. It wants our car back in Berlin, 1250 kilometers away, three days hence. That resolves our situation. We pull the plug on the Estonian strategy and shift into high gear, driving longer and planning our nights just one stop ahead. We’ve become semi-pro dreamers. Eventually, keeping level with the storks reputed to be nearing extinction, we migrate back to the Lower-Euro-48. In Latvia, we join a bevy of chanterelle foragers amidst the sepulchral silence of tall pines. We sally through rainstorms and rainbows in Lithuania.
As we cross into Poland, a pall drops. Friendly drunks make the time to fall in love with Tibby amidst the fallen splendor of Lodz. Gorgeous parks of stately oaks are filled with flirting, smoking teens ditching school. What if towns organized rainbows the way they organize fireworks?
How we left Berlin without our leased car is interesting only to those ploddingly linear minds like mine. But we did, and drifted into the enchantment that is the grassy coast of the North Sea.
The winds of the Wattenmeer rough wild. Low tides bare raggedy wooden teeth in the endless mud flats. The setting sun gleams on the slick surface for miles, casting a spell of distance and yearning. Behind the berm, trees tamp eastward to hold the Danish land down lest it dissolve into storm. On the berm, spirits fly with kites. Solid square brick towers glowing red in the evening dully gong the hours for the cows, horses, and thatch. Overly ambitious cyclists return against the wind, riding hard on even roads as if they were going uphill. This is a flat mountain that never ends while there is still breath coming off the sea.
We sleep in a fisherman’s cottage, under a skylight letting in rolling thunder but no light. This brings me back to a night in Cornwall, twenty-five years ago, talking the storm through with my sister in our cozy Mousehole.
Briefly, we breeze through Copenhagen, which I vaguely remember from a short visit when I was six years old, and to a pizzeria in the Meatpacking culinary district that I remember from a shorter visit in 2013. The pizza is even better than the one I had in Naples. Copenhagen is even more magical. However, I can’t tell Danes apart.
Unable to break the spell cast by the sea, we avoid Copenhagen a few days and wander into Dragor instead. A clutter of sea-merchants’ thatched, ochre cottages dating from the mid-1700s, hollyhocks run amok, the echo of clattering footsteps on cobblestone, fragrant rotting seaweed, and sunny skies restore summer and tame the grumpiest of boyfriends. Our hostess, fey in her enchanted hut, dates from the same era, her wispy white hair parting to reveal large, luminous eyes glinting with humor, some confusion, and well-considered views on life. She admits not caring as much for her great-grandchildren as she should. She too can’t tell Danes apart.
While jumping on the couch to swat mosquitoes in her living room, redecorated by a great-great grandfather to resemble his captain’s quarters, I uncover a long-lost treasure: a silver bangle torsaded in the Baltic manner, given to her by her father for her confirmation in 1944, last seen fifteen years ago. She wears it all over the village to proclaim its resurfacing. She grants me use of her shower, which was last renovated under Queen Ingrid, as was the lovely wall-papered and doilied bedroom stolen from attic space where the masts were stored. Even her wise little dog Sofus takes to me.
Eager to be riddled with parking tickets, we drive to the Tivoli Garden. At 176 years old, it is a thriving study in blending performing arts and entertainment. It has found a way to offer something to young, old, in between; locals, tourists; families, friends, couples. I’d work there in a second if living in Copenhagen weren’t so expensive that I’d have to commute from Poland to make the money work.
There’s the double-decker merry-go-round that I last rode when ABBA was in Casey Kasem’s Top 40. Summer, winter, rides, gardens, ponds, pavilions, ballet, and our find, the superlative vegetarian restaurant Gemyse, set in a bower. For dessert, a smoking open fire under the clematis trellis, tongues of herbed bread-dough wrapped around a long bamboo lance, and marshmallows. A savory ’smore. I’m in Hansel and Gretel’s maleficent cottage and I don’t care. Roast it.
Some people hook a bike rack onto the back of their car. We need a wine rack. We’ve collected in the Jura, in Switzerland, in Alsace, in the Rhine valley. We pass up a cuckoo clock the size of a small chapel at the shop in the Black Forest. At the absinthe distillery in the Doubs in France, the warm vapor of anise clads us. Laura, I got some absinthe whipped cream in a can. I have some winter cocktails in mind.
We stop in Stuttgart to visit an old friend Guy (vintage 1987) and his lovely family. He reminds me that my favorite band was Sacrilege, and that I once stood in front of a Lincoln Towing truck to stop them from taking my car. He’d never mentioned the Flophaus to Bettina. I should have kept my mouth shut. He’s known me so long that he knows how to press aaaall my buttons. Then his family is amazingly gracious, go figure. Seems his DNA is recessive. Even he says that only fatherhood could blunt his edges, because he doesn’t want his daughter’s social life to suffer from having a jerk for a dad. Even so, I have my Alrik humor-shield with me. I grow hoarse from laughing all afternoon in a biergarten. They put an entire day aside to catch up with us, despite not having heard from me in five years. Stuttgart goes on the list. Guy definitely belongs there, though he misses Chicago.
We’re in Berlin to get things fixed. There’s Alrik’s knee. An old ice-hockey injury in Montreal in March is acting up after a long catering assignment and a few days walking Paris. Then there’s the car we’d leased in Milan, which we’d started to understand. It was parked just east of the line in the pavement marking the former Berlin Wall when a truck backed into it.
Most sagas are boring, and this one of musical chair-car is no different. With some resuscitated high-school German language skills, we get an upgraded loaner. German tow-truck drivers have advanced degrees in hydraulics to elegantly raise up a bashed car and to make you almost happy the accident happened so that you get to watch. A crane lifts the SUV and floats it onto the flatbed. I’ve never seen a car levitate.
After so many wasted days on the phone with the police department and the rental car company, we haven’t seen much of Berlin. But the afternoon we spend with Janet having day-beers in a street-corner park, flashback to twelve years ago. With the bohemian brick storefront homes, the cast-iron art nouveau train station overhead, and people pouring out through the swinging oak doors, this could be Bucktown. I lose sense of where I am. A little uncomfortable.
Janet and I draw the figure together on a barge and at the museum. The model inspires lyrical lines and a sense of ease, that I’m in the right place doing the right thing. My hand and my brain know this craft, though it’s been years. Life modeling: still one of the noble professions. Janet tells me about all the artists we used to model for in Chicago ten, twenty years ago. Great people are gone. Passionate, gruff, gentle, genuine, exacting, caring people who taught me to be decent, to live as I am, and to stand inside my creative worldview. This was my first master’s degree. I owe these teachers so much, and I didn’t get a chance to thank them, I was so desperate to get out of the Midwest. And now in Berlin, I feel like I’m there again. Pleasantly reassuring, but much too familiar.
Last spring, there was a duck and her thirteen ducklings in Central Park’s Harlem Meer. Every few days, a duckling went missing (picked off by a hawk, crunched by a rowdy dog off leash, carried by the current down into the sewer) until by July, the duck was alone again. Observing how one more from our cohort of thirteen drifts away from Milan each day, I told this story to my remaining fellow students. They didn’t find it very funny.
Then it’s my turn. The morning after a dinner of pasta in cheese and licorice sauce (I couldn’t stop eating it, but it was weird), we pack our five suitcases, dog, and box of Italian liqueurs in a leased car, and climb into the Swiss Alps, squeezing through the Simplon Pass. New friends in Milan, who had lived on Arthur Ave in the Bronx down the street from my work at Fordham, recommended a restaurant in Sierre. Our faces get stuck in a fondue pot there. We’ll be eating zucchini bake for a week in atonement.
We move on to the French Haut Jura and its deep gorges and high meadows ringing with more cowbell. Hikers twice my age crawl out of the woods to show off their ultralight gear and taunt me with their wholesomeness and skinny thighs.
After days spent winding around perilous roads to talk to cheese producers, absinthe distillers, painters, and bakers, we sit on the balcony and watch the swallows sail at sunset, up to the Moon. In Milan, people are just now coming out, but Septmoncel is completely quiet. If you’re not out on the town square filling your water tank at the fountain by 8 AM, you’ve missed the village’s social life.
There is no agriculture up here. Only hay and cows can negotiate the long winters, steep rocky terrain, and altitude. All the ingredients for great cheese. Local fromagers make it with an earnestness that convinces me that if they stopped, the world would end. There are some things one doesn’t do, like break up with a lover over a plate of cheese. I once saw this in Montreal’s Old Port and felt bad for the bereft cheese first, then the ditched lover.
We’ve curated a collection—morbier, comté, bleu de Gex, mousseron. As is our custom, we’re rolling deep with cheese. It’s all in the car’s glove compartment because it’s time to move on again.
Back in Milan, I’m buried under my dog. She’s known throughout the Navigli as La Patatona. I’m getting to know all the commeres du quartier. When I was a kid, they frightened me. Now we walk our dogs together. They must have become nicer, or I’ve become meaner. The WWII widows all in black are gone. A lot of time has passed since I lived in Europe in the 1980s, and so do lives. They are deceased now, along with their sons, husbands, brothers.
I live in a semi-permanent state of future nebulousness. As uncomfortable as it sounds, it’s better than living with the inevitability of a hard return date to North America. I will be here next week to eat the gelato, so I don’t have to stop at every gelateria I see. I will walk the dog in the park again tomorrow and see the same people. I might as well make an effort to speak Italian. I’m here for melon season and it’s turning into apricots and cherries. Make fruit salad.
It dawns on me that I haven’t cooked a meal since July 26 2018. I realize all I’ve put on hold for the past eleven months. Sewing. Stretching. Sketching. Kvetching with friends. My sister’s wedding. Sitting outdoors just thinking. With so much reading to do and papers to write, interviews to conduct and exhibits to not miss, every hour mattered. Keep going.
By the end of the next three months, I’ll have in effect written four theses: a business plan for food as cultural heritage; a consultancy for a ballet company’s conservatory; a case study on neuroscience in museums; and a policy paper about diversity in dance. This snowjob should frighten away any employer.
I dream that I’m sitting in a transmittal meeting in Hindi, that I’m trying to plug my US computer to a Euro converter connected to a Chinese outlet that’s falling out of the wall, or that as a Canadian citizen, I’m applying for a British Columbia visa. I think my brain scrambled Vancouver and the Vatican. I still need lots of naps to sort it out.
Naps are more frequent as Italy heats up for the summer. To avoid the sun, the morning dog-walk is coming earlier; the nighttime dog-walk is falling later. Soon they’ll merge into a 3-hour middle-of-the-night walk. Time to head north to coolder weather.
Just because the Chinese ground control can, it had us sit on the tarmac four hours in Beijing. I sent a note to Amnesty International begging them to put pressure on the Chinese government to open the plane in seven days if we still haven’t shown up. Just to bury the desiccated bodies. It didn’t come to that, but we missed every connecting flight until the end of time.
I’ve had this recurring dream that I wander down endless high-rise hallways looking for a specific door. It was practice for the real thing. In Hong Kong, I searched for room 2694, which is room 94 of 100 on the 26thfloor of a 50-story hotel. I lived that dream in a hallucinatory state of fatigue, but the silver lining is that the dream has left me definitively. I ate all related and appropriate breakfasts: Indian curry and Chinese dumplings in Hong Kong, madeleines slathered in confiture and slices of Brie wrapped in croissant peel in Paris.
Stuck in a middle seat with the window blind down, I stayed in touch with the land below me because the airplane had a camera mounted to its belly. The camera’s imagery broadcast to my screen. We threaded our way over the clouds of China (between both deserts), Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, and France. When the skies cleared and the rolling green hills of northern Europe appeared, I sighed. This looks like Bavaria, like the Ardennes, like Champagne. With any luck, I am home.
I was thoroughly enjoying my body odor when I finally got to Milan, 3 days late. I’ve been in Italy two weeks and I’m still incredulous. We’re not done traveling. We retrace the steps of the 18thcentury romantics and 19thcentury nouvelle bourgeoisie to round out our education. The Grand Tour of Naples, Rome, Venice, and the Italian lakes is mythical. Centuries later, Rome still abides; Venice still spellbinds; Naples still enchants. Hills, volcano, catacombs, canals and biennales. But also heritage sites, festival organizers, art-activist friars, and ecumenical humanitarians: I am exhausted and annoyed at myself for not fitting in more.
First, I plug calories in their respective empty compartments. When we left NYC, I solemnly swore I wouldn’t eat pizza again until I reached Naples. With steely determination, I held out 11 months, until my first night in Naples, when I had the worst pizza of my life. That’ll teach me. Since then, risotto, pasta, gnocchi, pane pizza (which is neither calzone, bruschetta, nor tomato bread, but a moist, elastic pizza dough shaped as a baguette, split open with the pizza filling overflowing the center-part), burrata, nocciola, stracciatella gelato, salads, fennel, endives, broccoli rabe, melone, albicoche.
Food is my second signal that I’ve come home. It took me to an exalted state even before I realized where I was. Did I mention I’m also studying food as cultural heritage? Jin-Ya at Break Bread Break Borders in Dallas says food creates a zone of safety and comfort that is more basic than language and philosophy. It welcomes people in a new environment or in a familiar one. I was humbled to discover that for myself.
Back in 1982, our neighbor Mr Verly said that it took a decade to wrap up a deal in China. He usually didn’t expect a direct answer from his associates in Beijing. I got a glimpse of that. It’s not efficient, but it’s complex-system thinking: in a place as layered as China, all is relative. Yes and no don’t exist. I won’t earn an artist’s trust just because I flew 24 hours to get there. They’ve been doing their thing for thousands of years even with the speedbump of the Cultural Revolution, which looks horrific to me but they felt was necessary. I won’t change anything besides myself by being there, so let’s start with me.
Oops, we land at the wrong airport: Chengdu, Panda capital. After we sit 4 hours on the tarmac getting smelly in a closed plane, the skies clear enough in Beijing to finally get there. The storms have blown out the smog and we have cool blue days all week.
The city seems familiar: trees, lanes on the highway in which drivers stay, signs, sidewalks, building construction nearing completion. I step into another situation when I try to talk to people. The self-protective fear of getting involved with complicated foreigners is still there. English is rare, even and especially at the higher echelons. The voice-activated translation app on my phone is a magic wand. Suddenly, smiles and a moment of mutual recognition appear when I explain that I’m here to study arts advocacy.
To my dismay, people in Beijing don’t eat Indian food. Chinese food in Beijing is no more to my liking than the Chinese food I’ve had in the US. But there is more of it. It’s not appropriate to order a plate of food for oneself. The servings are too large. Everything is destined for the whole table. A long hunger begins. But with sweetened bubble milk tea, I stay hydrated and energized.
When our guide advises us to bring a picnic to the Great Wall because there are no lunch spots, I imagine we’ll get dropped off on the Mongolian border. How am I supposed to assemble a lunch from a grocery store where I don’t understand the labels? I pick up a package and I don’t know whether the contents are sweet, salty, vegetarian, eaten raw, boiled, or pickled, with fingers or chopsticks, and whether they need to be peeled or shredded. Instead, we pack 12 lbs of cheese popcorn, cucumber Pringles and Oreos. The Great Wall is an hour outside of Beijing. We’re now sitting on a two-week supply of junk food and we feel a little sick.
Photos of the Great Wall don't show how steep it is. I work my skirt up that thing just in time to attend the program director’s marriage proposal to his companion, in front of us kids. Sorry, those aren’t tears pouring down my face--it’s sweat. The next day, the massage therapist finds the great wall all up and down my thighs. Now I’m crying, in pain.
Cheesily, I also cry during our visit to the ballet theater. The photos of dancers taut in their expression, striving to negotiate gravity, bring me to tears. I’m homesick. Or I’ve realized that I’m still inspired by dance, even half-way around the world.
Most souvenirs look a lot like made-in-China plastic junk. But hey, I’m supporting the local economy. I get a teddy-Panda for Tibby, who will tear, gut, and dismember an iconic symbol of animal extinction. My apologies to the WWF. Belatedly, I find the Liulichang cultural district, and the stunning paintings strengthen my resolve to return one day to learn about scrolls and purchase a well-curated set. Surely, days spent staring at them will help me find inner tranquility. First, I need a home to hang all that stuff. No plan for that yet. Urgently paging Inner Tranquility.