For All of US who Turn 48 one day… It is All About Acceptance

Dedicated to ALL OF US WHO TURN 48 ONE DAY…

FLASHBACK: Working Towards Acceptance, May 12, 2016

The day before I turned 46 my husband woke up with a shooting pain down the side of his left leg. Little to say, the romantic dinner we had planned would become just dinner.  As I set the table, the phone rang. It was my mother-in-law. Havana had fever and wanted to come home. We wound up celebrating over warm milk and cookies in four on a couch made for two. The next night – with my adorable husband still immobile- we tried again. The phone rang. Andrea’s 40 something sister was feeling  sick. We left the table and the warm food that had taken me all afternoon to prepare, blew out the candles and drove over. When did we suddenly become devoted parents, loving children, ‘always there when you need us’ siblings (even when it isn’t an emergency)…  before the love birds that I once knew? I am just coming to terms with the fact that the romantic, carefree days will be more and more difficult to squeeze in. I am hoping that acceptance is on the way. 

Two years have passed since that day. And every once in a while I need to remember that it isn’t Life getting in the way sometimesmost of the times, it is us getting in the way of our life… 

FLASHBACK: Before the acceptance, May 12, 2015

I had a fight with my body this morning. It hasn’t been working up to my expectations and after months of trying to fix it, accept it, breathe myself away from frustration, I am feeling extremely angry.  A-N-G-R-Y!!!! How could it disappoint me in this way… abbandon me mid-life (or less considering that I am going to live to be over 100!)?

It wasn’t long ago that I was still able to keep up with it all – or at least I did a damn good job of making believe that I was: balancing kids, husband, work, small spaces and lots and lots of boxes; challenging, yet do-able. And then, one day I woke up with a small kink in my lower back. It all spiraled from there…

the kink became pain, the pain intensified and travelled up towards my shoulder blades, then my neck until it made its way down to the back of my legs and knees. I was broken, cracking from the inside out. What started out as a small kink was slowly spreading out in all directions like a small crack on a windshield... consuming my body and my mind, limiting my mobility, completely shattering my spirit. Holding a frying pan became my biggest challenge, along with taking a simple hike, playing with my daughters, relaxing in my favorite yoga pose.

When we listen, if we are astute enough to pay attention, our body sends us messages: to slow down, relax, change. So I started to think about how I was exercising, being a mom, a wife… how I was dealing with this rewarding, but challenging life on the road…. most of all , HOW I WANTED TO AGE. 

My once energetic body – always ready for a run, a task, someone to help- was suddenly exhausted, weak, completely out of sync. Although my mind still wanted to go, do, give, react, my body was running on empty.

But, I just couldn’t stop. I did the worst thing…. I RESISTED and I refused to accept. 

My ego and the potential size of my butt and thighs wouldn’t permit me to give in.

For the past five years I had become pretty sensational at packing and unpacking, setting up camp again and again, recreating a sense of regularity for my daughters, balancing the mood swings, working out in the oddest places, wherever, whenever, no equipment required: I couldn’t miss a beat or a day… everyone said ‘AMAZING!’

as I meditated in noisy spaces, woke up early to run, stayed up late to prepare healthy meals and ‘mamma made’ party favors for any occasion, continued with  my frequent, all night writing sessions…

as I maintained our healthy habits, remained determined to reduce waste, nuture relationships… I found myself repeatedly attempting to come back from a state of BURNOUT with just a few hours of silence and way too much coffee….

the more I resisted, the faster the burning sensation ran up my neck making my head feel too heavy to sustain. Every argument, heated discussion or moment of irritation caused the burn to run free.

7 months, then 8, 9: I was literally blocked between appointments with physical therapists, chiropractors, masseuses, manipulators, x-rays and a variety of voodoo type medicine men. I tried everything (except acceptance) The pain persisted. I was miserable and fighting not only with my body, but with my life as I always knew it. 

I resisted until finally I had no other choice but to STOP. LET GO…

Let go of my image of me the way I was, the way I wanted to be, the way I wanted to be perceived, who I thought I needed to be to everyone else: INVINCIBLE and forever young.

I started learning how to accept… 

Time has passed. My husband and are able to work in ‘us’ time and I no longer have back problems… I have learned the art of acceptance, and yet, life still gets in the way sometimes when I allow it to…

May 5, 2018:  (a week before my 48th birthday)

On good days I still imagine myself as I was: pretty, but not too pretty to be intimidating,  fit and feminine, popular, likeable… kissing one too many boys, screaming out (car windows), taking risks and having no regrets.  On the better days, I don’t feel my age, and I still feel like the girl that I was, just better. And, when I forget I have my biggest ‘fans’ backing this up:You still look like you are in your thirties“, “You look like a kid“, “I can’t believe that you are 48!“… “YOU ARE AMAZING!” I still have my husband telling me that I am the most extraordinary woman in the world.

On these days, I look in the mirror and think “not too bad“.

Then there are the other days, when lighting is everything, my hair and skin are dry, my aches and pains make me feel as if I were 90… when the photos of all my old girlfriends making them look like moviestars make me feel like the bad shot taken when least expected… and, when a slight case of constipation and too little sleep bloats absolutely everything!

Fortunately, the good days still outdo the bad ones… I still don’t need to dye my hair (when most of my friends have been natural blondes for years), I don’t have crows feet, varicose veins or a muffin top… I exercise without exaggerating, eat healthy, meditate and detox …

and, I still get an occasional look from a boy younger than 60 once in a while… 

but, in the end… even when the thought of hiding under the sheets with the numbers 4 and 8 sometimes feels tempting… there is no escaping the 5 and the 0 that will appear on my birthday card and under those same sheets before I know it.

This is when the art of acceptance comes in to save the day!

Journal Entry, May 12, 2017, ACCEPTANCE

I am still a bit envious of those women who post photos of themselves without analyzing them for an hour, that don’t have to try an outfit on 2, 3 or 10 times before wearing it to a party. Even in my 20’s, I was never that girl. But, at 47 I am a whole lot kinder and wiser… and when I am able to see clearly, I truly like myself.

May 12th, 2018 (TODAY, my 48th birthday) 

dav

A long time ago I learned that it isn’t necessary to be perfect to feel happy. I still remind myself this on a daily basis and attempt to pass this important lesson of life on to my two daughters. You can look in the mirror and see what is important… you can see what time gives instead of what time takes away.  It takes practice (let’s stop kidding ourselves… it takes a lifetime) and patience to learn the art of acceptance. It is easier to notice what is broken, defected, imperfect… to concentrate on our weaknesses and mistakes, everything that is not a compliment.

I am writing these words after 8 days of work at a festival in Rome (we sell books for those of you who don’t know). Eight days of total confusion, noise, people and artificial lighting… long hours and little sleep. I am writing these words in a state of exhaustion and yet, complete awareness…

I have lost control, held back the tears and allowed them to flow… I have raised my voice, soured my tone, I have said I am sorry to my loved ones as well as to myself… I have felt utterly breathless before finding the strength to come up for air.  As the booming of the music continues incessantly and torturously in the background, I search for silence in my head, and instead I have found a place of Kindness, a place where my Impatience has encountered my Acceptance.

When Impatience searched for perfection,  Acceptance reminded him that perfection simply doesn’t exist and that it is OK.  “You can feel happy even though you aren’t perfect. Happy Birthday Beautiful, 48 year old you!, Acceptance lovingly said… 

This post is a celebration of Life so, Happy Birthday to me and to you…

A dear friend once told me: Why wait for a birthday to celebrate Life when you can do it every morning with the rising of the sun!

At 48, this is the girl I choose to be!

oooxxx and gratitude,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: Protecting our hearts and souls in a robotized world

Did you ever hear the philosophical question:If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? It poses many questions about observation and perception, about what is real and what is artificial.

The other day I picked up the newspaper after months of abstinence. Andrea and I were away for a couple of days giving ourselves and our daughters some needed alone time  after our long trip.  The sun was shining down on me and I was pleasantly sipping an oatmilk cappuccino.  An article that began on the front page of the paper caught my eye… The caption read: Il Regista di Westworld: Noi e i robot, fermiamoci o sarà tardi (Westworld Director: Us and the robots, we better stop or it is going to be too late). The article was about our future with Artificial Intelligence.  As I turned the page to read more, my eye fell on a second article. This one  was about children and their abusive use of computers, tablets and smartphones.

Do you get the connection?

Many people may not, but for me the argument was identical and both were directly related to the philosopical question proposed above. As I read the first article and then the second, I felt a tidal wave of anxiety creep up on me. The pleasant feeling about the day began to quickly dissolve itself like the foam of my cappuccio.

Our future: Artifical Intelligence, smartphones, smart dust and microchips, vaccinations and antidepressants, videogames, social media… robots and cloning…. This is our present, this is our future: a future that promotes an intelligence that is separate from what is felt in our hearts and souls. This is what I was feeling.

The article about the future of AI didn’t teach me anything that I didn’t already know. My writer husband burns my brain off with this kind of stuff. But, as I read the article I felt as if my heart was on fire. The article was about the American science fiction western thriller Westworld. Since I don’t have a television, this to me was new.  As reported in the article, the television series portrays a futuristic theme park where human visitors (hosts) entertain themselves by interacting with androids. Everything is licit here: homicide, rape, orgies, massacres, all types of violence and torture. The androids are not human… they don’t possess a heart or a soul. Every evening their memory is completely cancelled. They remember nothing and every morning they are able to start anew. Ok, but how about the suffering they experience during the day before they are returned to their virgin state? What about the effect this type of cruelty has on the person committing the ‘playful’ act? What impact does this type of violence have on our pysche once the game is over? 

The pain is real and the elimination of this is not part of the game.

“It’s a dangerous moral ground we are walking into, making systems that are reminiscent of humanity and then treating them in a way that is inhumane,”  (Illah Nourbakhsh, professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University)

I remember seeing the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind when it came out in 2004. Fourteen years ago all of this still seemed like science fiction to me. It no longer does because it no longer is. 

I went on to read the second article, the one about the ab(use) of technology amoung children. Nothing new to me here either. According to an important study by so and so, children who spend an exaggerated amount of time* on technological devices use their brains less, interact passively with the real world, have less developed social skills, and are much less physically and mentally active.  The article correlated the use of such devices with poorer math and science grades in school.  These children are incapable of fully developing all aspects of their intelligence which includes the mind, the heart and the soul.

Sound familiar?

After putting down the paper, I thought about something else that I had read earlier that day: a new release of a 14 year old youtuber that I saw on the top 10 list of a bookstore.  The book expressed the hope, determination and enthusiasm of an average teen who became famous and was living the dream of the new generation. What I see is an average teenager who spends her days posing and posting… interacting with her monitors and her facade instead of partaking in real life.

Once again, I ask you do you see the connection?

I thought about Kenia and her enthusiasm for the app Musical.ly. I thought about the excitement in her eyes after having seen and taken a photo with one of its stars at a festival last week in Torino… an excitement that perhaps I am too reluctant to show?

Am I wrong to discourage her and Havana from filling their still innocent minds, hearts and souls with what I perceive as raw emptiness?

Am I wrong to discourage them from looking up to these teen stars as role models for their future?

Am I wrong to discourage them from being interested in all the things that already is their future?

There comes a time when the base is laid and it is time to set our children free to choose on their own.

So true.

But, at the same time, it seems crystal clear to me that this world is no longer able to provide them with a real choice… everything we interact with is so robotic and sterile – so lacking of anima – everything we consume, from the food we eat and the air we breathe to the things we watch on our screens, is so artificial and lacking of intelligence…. what choices do any of us have when little by little, all of this artificialness is becoming a natural part of our lives and our true identities, our humaneness… the use of our hearts and our souls (our own minds) is becoming less and less natural?

I used to adore Leo Buscaglia (aka Dr. Love),  an American author and motivational speaker, and a professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Southern California (deceased June 12, 1998). He used to say, “Once you have done your job, all you can do is close your eyes and cross your fingers”.

Do we really have the luxury of closing our eyes in today’s world, or do we have the obligation to keep them wide open to protect our children’s innocence from the constant artificialness that is literally stripping all of us of our real existence?

I doubt. I loose sleep. My daughters don’t go to school. They don’t have personal FB pages or Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. They don’t have their own cell phones. Their computer, tablet and smartphone time is extremely limited (I agree with the technology executives on this). We live in a non traditional way. We travel. We have seen and lived both spectrums: real poverty and real superficiality. We make them read real books and we push them outdoors to explore and feel the sun, rain and freezing cold air. We feed them organic food. I make them green smoothies and freshly pressed juices, muffins without refined sugar. And, most of the time I am confident that we are doing the right thing.

But, as I read the articles about our artificial future, about popular television series like Westworld, and see books about overly glorified teens on the top of the bestseller lists, I can’t help from thinking about how things really are… what has become normal to us… young kids behind closed doors playing homicide with androids, 8 year olds on Prozac and other legalized drugs, young adults contemplating suicide while full grown adults watch so called science fiction – horrific acts of violence – on their tv screens for a daily dose of artificial intelligence...  a young girl (only a year older than my daughter) filling her days posing and posting, counting her likes and signing her bestselling autobiography to 8,000 fans while searching for a real identity in an artificial world… people cloning their animals and someday in the not so futuristic future, being offered the possibility to clone their own children... a world that is already starting to obligate us to vaccinate our children, wear microchips, rely on androids… and coming soon to a clinic near you… the possibility of cancelling your memory and starting anew… your heart and soul wiped away right with it. 

"In the future drugs will cancel our anima. As today people are vaccinated against this or that disease, so in the future the children will be vaccinated with a substance that will make them immune from being subjected to the "madness" of spiritual life ".

Rudolf Steiner
In a conference, October, 27  1917

I doubt. I loose sleep. at times I am too anxious with my thoughts, and, when I loose my way and go too far into the not so futuristic future… I feel downright terrified!

What kind of world are we creating? What kind of world are we reinforcing? I say we, because even though I firmly believe that too many things are being decided for us, I also believe that we still have the freedom to choose what to watch, how to spend our time, what to teach our children.

My human eye can see the pain we are already immersed in, as my heart begs to feel and my soul longs to reach out to the flesh, blood and soul of an entire mankind.  Allow me to feel grateful for the real blood, the real flesh and the real tears… for as long as they last. (ANGO (aka Danni))

So, I ask you this last question:

If the heart and anima of a child, (any human being) is longing for real attention, but nobody is there to notice his pain, does it still cause suffering?

Sending all of you a huge, real live hug (hope can you feel it!),

*according to the experts this technology should be limited to a couple of hours a month. The people who invent the technology – the technology executives-  do not allow their children to use it at all until the age of 12. Most of our kids start when they are still hanging out in strollers.

What Is Different About Our Days On The Road…

What is different about our days on the road?‘, I thought to myself as I tucked myself into bed on the evening of our return home.

On the road we wake up not knowing what the day will unveil.

We have no ‘must do’ lists in our heads, no places we must be.

On the road we wake up in new places. We breathe in a new view almost every morning.

We go to sleep under a different blanket of stars.

On the road our minds aren’t clogged by a zillion thoughts. It isn’t in auto-drive. There is no routine, no usual route.

We can absorb the freshness of everything. We can think clearly.

On the road our days are longer, fuller… everything is slower.

We are not running anywhere. We can do one thing at a time. We can enjoy the NOW without thinking about the LATER.

On the road we are free of distractions.

We can stop and watch a bird, a tree, a lake… and actually observe what is in front of us… we can linger on it.

 

On the road we have time to really listen.

My daughters speak to me and I can stop and look into their eyes. They can feel that I am 100% there.

On the road we hold more hands, kiss more lips, offer more hugs...

In our camper, intimacy is found at a different level. Our family wakes up together and shuts off the lights together… we cuddle and lounge in close quarters… everything is lived so much more intensely. We have time to express our emotions. Morning, afternoon and night… we love in four.

 

On the road, we witness endless skies, glowing bodies of water, we watch the sun go down almost every day…

at home… almost never... how profoundly sad.

As I pulled the covers closer to me on that evening of our return, I wondered why we allow our lifestyles to get in the way of the newness, the slowness, the freedom, the time, the listening, the hugs, the sunsets. All of these things are available to us each and every day, whether we are on the road or at home.

Why then, are most of us not available to truly live our lives most of the time?

When I am not available, am I profoundly wrong… or is it something that I am not able to control?

When we aren’t available, is it us… or is it the way we were taught to live… the way we believe we have to live?

On the road, I don’t want to return home… (none of us do)

and even when I do… even when I miss what I don’t have on the road… the feeling doesn’t last too long.

When I return home I am reminded very quickly that the most profoundly wrong thing about me is that when I am not on the road I limit my life, I often live my life as if I don’t have a choice… I deny myself of the things that make me feel most ALIVE…

and, this is why,  the syndrome of THE  RETURN quickly hits every single time.

If you have time, watch this video… I LOVE IT! It precisely expresses my feeling of going and returning and wanting to go once again!

Hugs from home (but not for too long!),

 

 

 

THE REAL SIDE OF TRAVELLING: ROADLEARNING HOW TO BE A FAMILY

I could have avoided writing this post, have avoided writing down about the difficult times, continued posting the photos of us looking always happy and continued creating the image of life on the road as all fun and adventure… but that would have been only one side, not the entire side.

I was watching my daughters play with the waves at Praia do Carropateira in Portugal. It was one of those rare moments of clarity. One of those moments when it all falls into place; when you are able to see the world as it is and not as you are. I felt the freedom, the adventure, the beauty. I watched them in all their wild innocence… my daughters and the waves had become one… and I knew that this was our place… not the beach, not Portugal, not even the road…

Am I making any sense?

After 35 days, my family had just began to relax and little by little, let go of all that we had thought that we could simply leave behind.

Thirty-five days ago we had packed up our stuff, prepared our mobile home, and left the four walls that we had called our abode for the past year. It wasn’t the first time. By now, we were experts, or at least we thought we were. We had lots of expectations (we still didn’t know where they would lead us) and although we were travelling light it was impossible to leave the baggage of the past months behind.  It had taken over a year for us to create the tension and stress that had been accumulated… feel once again, unsettled and frustrated with a life with a fixed address… feel, once again, that something was missing… life, at least our life in that moment, was (once again) somewhere else.

How could we possibly be so naive as to expect that all our built up emotions would magically disappear as soon as we started our engine?

The first few weeks on the road were challenging. We tried. We really did. We would wake up each morning with our smiles and expectations (too many… they will sabbotage a fine chance every time), but even though the days would start out real smooth, they quickly became trying, and often our daily dose of bickering took over for most of the afternoon, until… until our fighting over absolutely nothing at all rolled around to a serene enough evening, a pleasant dinner, and a friendly game of Rummy 500 until it was time to turn off the lights. During the night, we would sleep soundly, recharge until the morning, and then wake up ready to do it all over again. The places we would visit would provide us glimpses of excitement, but our depleted emotional energy would take center field.

I cried like a baby on the streets of Barcelona (for no reason at all), the girls were nervous while visiting Pueblos Blancos (nothing had instigated it), we fought viciously in Cordoba and Cadiz and had an argument or two in the camper almost every day, over Nothing. We tried to reset, interrupt the pattern, send the baggage away. We really did! We had good intentions, (too many) expectations, and we felt badly every single time. But, this wasn’t enough. Although we were able to practice part of our belief: that it isn’t important to be right (and, it saved us from total destruction), we weren’t able to master the other part of the equation, that it is more important to be kind. Without both, the practice remained theory. And, the ‘for no reasons at all’, the ‘nothings to blame’ and the ‘nothings at all’ hung over us and volcanically lingered. 

We still couldn’t truly feel the freedom or the gratitude that I continued to write about. We were thousands of miles from home as we exploded and we comunicated, we forgave and let go, we reset and we laughed about it all… that is, until we exploded once again. Even when we were relaxed and having fun, there was a time bomb following us, ready to go BOOM! We were a thousand miles from home and yet, we had not moved a single bit. I prayed. I accepted. I decided not to beat myself up. I FORGAVE. I decided to give us time.

And then, it happened… I noticed it in small insignificant things… easy to remain unnoticed gestures… A please, a thank you, an I am sorry. Smiles that lasted ‘til lunchtime or beyond. As the weeks passed and the roadside view of vineyards transformed into fields and fields of olive trees which then transformed into the brightest color of juicy oranges… more than I ever had seen… our faces began to relax, the muscles loosened and our tones softened… we slowly shook off lots of  that stuff that we unintentionally packed… the pressure of the four walls lessened its hold… the frustration and the never-ending decisions seemed less important than what we were being offered… in our place, right NOW…

the romance of the castles and their stories of arabic princesses and dukes, the image of pottery being molded by the artfulness of ancient hands and words of wisdom and hope being composed by poets long ago… the free roaming cows and calves, pelicans on the water and stalks in their nests… all coming alive right before our very eyes. The boundless skies and endless coastlines… the glow of the morning sun on an awakening town waiting to be rediscovered, and the pink and purple shadows of a day falling asleep over a still energetic ocean.

All these blessings helping us to see things the way they actually are! We still have our fights (daily) for what really is NOTHING, but they no longer consume our days. We can help each other appreciate what we have, where we are…

we are in a camper, together 24 hours a daytotal peace is irrealistic… but we can work on working together as a unit.

When he is feeling tired from too much time behind the wheel, I can be a little bit kinder. When I am feeling closed in, they can lovingly give me 10 minutes of space. When a little sister is anxious,  a big sister can hug her. When my thirteen year old ‘can’t find a thing to wear’, I can generously lend her something ‘new’ without warning her not to ruin it. We can remind each other that when someone needs a helping hand, the hand is there because like in any other family, there will always be another bad night sleep, another bad mood, another bad hair day, another wrong turn, another spilt something… and in our case, more specifically, one too many promised hot showers turned freezing cold. 

But, this is all ok. We can let go of our biggest expectation of all: a trip that is perfect and confrontation free.

From post: MARRIAGE, KIDS and The Sacred Stick (April 23, 2016) https://freefamilyontheroad.wordpress.com/?s=sacred+sacrifice

Reading my blog it may appear as if my free family is almost always in turmoil. ‘What freedom?‘, many may think. The past weeks (or years, for that matter) I have spoken about choices, indecision, doubt and frustration… once again… what freedom? We talk too much, but we actually communicate. We fight and we do this real big… but we also make up, and fortunately we do this even bigger! We make decisions and then we doubt, we make mistakes, we say lots of sorrys and then we try to learn and correct. We do some things very right and some things quite wrong. We never, ever REGRET!

Closeness is something that is made to look easy (and funny) in movies. Real life is another thing altogether.  And, like every other evolving family, we will forever be learning as we go.

Love and a squeeze from the (sometimes bumpy) road,

FREE FAMILY GOES OFF THE BEATEN TRACK and finds the heart of a town called MARINALEDA

As we road down the main road where we were greeted by images of Che Guevara and a welcome sign that read, ‘MARINALEDA, EN LUCHA POR LA PAZ (MARINALEDA, FIGHTING FOR PEACE), we instinctively stopped to ask two guys that were speaking casually in front of a house  where we could park our camper. I am not exaggerating when I say that both of them looked at us as we were from the moon… ‘Cualquier lugar libre’ (‘Any free spot’), one of them answered with a semi-toothless smirk. ‘OF COURSE, ANYWHERE!’, we repeated like parrots (from the moon!)… we weren’t in the big city anymore. There were no parking meters, private, parking lots or blue lines anywhere!

We would soon discover that Marinaleda, a once normal, tiny town was transformed into a socialist dream by its population who occupied the land (about 1700 hectars) that belonged to a Duke (Duca de Infantado) in the early 80’s… with strong ideals which emphasized equality above everything else, it was transformed into an utopia where people can live simply and simply live. After only 15 minutes, we were literally picked up on the street by a car passing by. Pepe, the driver, asked me where I was from in a broken, but impressive English. After telling him that we were from Italy and that my husband was a writer he immediately expressed how eager he would be to show us the new, residential section of town (I think he would have been just as eager even if we were travelling salesmen). As he drove past a dozen or so blocks, he spoke about Marinaleda:

The houses in Marinaleda are self built and cost between 15 and 20 euros a month. The materials to build the homes are supplied by the local government. Over 80% of the population works for the towns’ cooperatives which produce mainly extra vergin olive oil and other agricultural produce. Everyone, no matter what their role, earns 47 euro a day; more than enough considering that the taxes and insurance costs are kept intentionally low.

At Marinaleda, the cost of food is extremely economic, and so are all services. The few, privately owned businesses are considered a service for the benefit of the entire town, and therefore not opened or run with the purpose of making a fortune for the owner. There are 2 small supermarkets and a handful of pulperia (small grocery stores), 1 pharmacy, 2 banks, a driving school, a mechanic, a hair salon, a post office, a small, health clinic, and a doctor’s office. There is an elementary, middle and high school, a beautiful park with a playground and an exercise circuit, and a large, public sports complex with pool, gym, tennis courts and a soccer field. There are more than a dozen cafes/bakeries and many restaurant/pubs where you can sit down and be served a capuccino + a crossiant, or a liter of beer for only 1 euro (about a dollar and 25 cents). In this town, you can buy a large loaf of freshly baked bread for 50 cents, and organic, extra-vergin olive oil for a mere 4 euro per liter. There is no hotel, no B&B. No souvenir shop. There are no advertisements on the road. My favorite ‘ad’  is written on a stone wall on the main road: Turn off your TV, turn on your mind’! There is no crime. There is no police. There is zero unemployment. The divorce rate is also close to zero. There are no homeless people, no beggars on the street, no traffic, no lights, no rushing, no stress.

The people who live here have modern cars and modern clothes (although there is no car dealer or clothing store in town). They also have smartphones which they use only when necessary. NO SELFIE ADDICTS HERE! Unlike in almost every other place that we have visited, people are not touching and swiping all day long. Not even the teens. People meet in the park, in the cafès and pubs, on the street, and they actually talk… they also play cards, darts, pool and other games in the many public meeting centers around town… PEOPLE HAVE TIME!

Sounds a little like heaven, doesn’t it?…

ALMOST A WEEK LATER…

Nobody seemed to notice. Nobody seemed to care. They were invisible… except to us. We had just spent 5 days at Marinaleda where justice ruled and were now smack in the center of Seville, a place that I had dreamed of visiting for years, a place people have raved to me about, a place that I have seen in travel magazines -represented by gorgeous photos of flamenco dancers, arabic-inspired squares, tapas bars filled with beautiful people having fun – over and over again… 

And yet, street after street, there they were… some with their entire lives spread out before them and others, with everything neatly packed up in a small cart or wagon. Some were alone, others with a dog or two, others still with an instrument as they strummed out their sorrows in a song. Some had signs, others just hats where you could throw your spare change. ‘Please help me raise some money to buy myself a  villa on the beach and a Ferrari, one sign spiritly read.

I approached Plaza de Spagna in complete awe. It was everything the magazines claimed it to be… simply magnificent. Like all the other tourists, I snapped one photo after another. The color, the dimension, the energy. It was travel magazine picture perfectif you didn’t bother to see themsquare after square, street after street my daughters stopped to smile, look into the eyes of the homeless and the nameless, and drop their coins.

I miss Marinaleda’, Havana said after just a half a day of roaming around the romantic, history-packed city. ‘This place is really beautiful, but there are so many poor people. At Marinaleda there wasn’t even one! Why does the city have to be so sad?’ 

She wasn’t aware of what wise thoughts her young mind held. To most, this too would have remained invisible.

How could I explain this unfair reality to a 10 year old when I, after so many years, still couldn’t explain it to myself?

Journal Entry, June 5, 2015, Newark Port Authority, 5:45am

Our flight came in after midnight. Instead of asking my parents to schlep to the airport in the middle of the night, we decided to stay there until the morning. We were headed to Ithaca and would catch a Greyhound the next day. Early morning, Andrea, I, and our daughters were at Newark Port Authority. Even though I was born and bred in NYC, where at one time nothing could have shocked me, after over 20 years abroad I was no longer prepared for what I saw once we passed through the heavy entrance doors. Lines of wooden benches with homeless people still tucked in from the night, abruptly awaken by the sticks of several cops on duty, merely doing their jobs. One by one, they packed up their ‘tents’ and went on their way, forced out of their nighttime abode to a brutally cold wind that howled fiercely from behind the high, glass windows. My family and I moved slowly towards the scene. There were drunks and disabled, old and young, black and white. Some left with dignity, others fought until the very last threat. I saw the eyes of my daughters open wide as they counted as an elderly woman loaded down 16 packets of sugar (her breakfast) before she limped off, carefully fixing her hair and buttoning up her ragged overcoat as she walked out the doors. I just sat there and quietly weeped from within. Kenia wiped a tear from my cheek. Never in all my travels – north, south, east or west – had I remembered seeing such sadness, such hopelessness, such poverty.

Why did I never see all this when I lived here? How could I be so utterly insensitive and blind?

The city is a lonely place, and the type of poverty it produces is like no other poverty in the world. My daughters just finished school in Costa Rica where they were friends with children that lived in wood sheds, that had broken shoes, very few possessions, and some even horrific family conditions, but this was entirely different. This poverty had a different name. This poverty is called Injustice and Indifference and most of all LONELINESS. Rich and poor, co-existing back to back. Men and women, children… trying to survive their poverty as they observe too much richness, and everyone else forced to become completely immune to survive the sight of too much poverty.  

So there we were, the four of us, in Seville, a city that was all that everyone said it would be, all that I had imagined, including the real sidethe poverty, certainly not its best sidethe side that the travel magazines don’t photograph and deliberately leave out.

While other tourists were grabbing their forks and smartphones, we were grabbing for the sense of it all.

I have some change’, said Kenia after our daily max had run out. ‘We can’t give to them all,’ I reluctantly answered. ‘No, but I still have the money that Nonna gave me’, she answered. ‘Look at that man over there, Dad, he only has one leg. Kenia went over and dropped 50 cents in his cup. When she came back she said,I can tell that he felt good about someone acknowleding him, especially when I said Hola and smiled.’

You know, you are completely right’,  Andrea said to her. Every little thing you do makes a difference. Remember Ernesto in the movie ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’? He couldn’t look away either.’ 

How could I not let her continue giving? Sure, our little money wouldn’t make a difference in the world. It couldn’t possibly change the existence of the man with one leg, or the woman with no arms… of the guy with the spirited sign. We weren’t in Marinaleda. Injustice is the global reality. There seems to be no cure.

All day long, as we played tourists, I couldn’t help thinking about my daughters’ words. We walked around the city for hours that day. There was the bright sun and the colorful markets and the flamenco performers. There were talented street artists and one massive piece of history after another… and then, there were the men and women that nobody sawpeople snapped photos on horse driven carriages, they sat outside of Starbucks and sipped their overpriced, gourmet drinks, they held shopping bags from Zara and Oshyo…

and, I observed the indifference, including my own, as I thoughtHow could I justify spending 3 and a half euro for soy cappuccino or almost 6 euro for 3 scoops of ice cream on a cone…10 or 15 euro for a useless souvenir that will collect dust back at home, when there are so many people that have nothing at all? It would be easier to look away, become once again immune, or would it be? Obviously, we won’t be able to change the world, but in the end, either will our indifference.

As my daughters stopped to drop the last pennies of the day, I wondered, How much is a smile worth to a person that is homeless and nameless to the entire world?  And even more, how much is the smile and the ‘Thank you’ received in exchange worth to my daughters?

Before closing my eyes that night, my thoughts went back to Marinaleda, my daughters’ impression of a place with no poverty… I thought of the words of the town’s mayor, a modest man who has been fighting for peace and justice for the past 35 years:

‘The bigger the city, the smaller the heart. The bigger the heart, the smaller our world’, he said looking intensely into my husband’s eyes when he interviewed him one afternoon.  

No one is worth more than anyone else. No one is worth less. This is what I want to teach my daughters because this, whether it makes a difference or not, is the only possible way to cure a broken,  global heart.

Sending these words to reflect on and all our love from a less beaten track,

 

 

BARCELONA… the bigger the city, the bigger the price tag! (a thought about travelling today)

We decided to visit Barcellona for our daughters.  Andrea and I had already been there 3 times together… in 1997 for work, in 2001 for a soccer game, in 2003 to visit an Italian friend who was living there at the time. We had really good memories… but 15 years have past since our last visit. It seems like an entirely different era… before the invasion of overpriced entrance fees, smartphones and coffee franchises. Much has changed. WE HAVE CHANGED…

IS IT ME SEEING THIS BEAUTIFULLY ARCHITECTED CITY WITH OVERLY CRITICAL EYES OR HAS EVERYTHING ACTUALLY BECOME ABOUT THE MONEY, THE POSING and THE EATING? DOES EVERYTHG INCLUDING CULTURE HAVE TO HAVE A PRICETAG?

After our first night spent in a rundown, pricey camping area (especially since there was no hot water in the dirty containers called bathrooms, the water hose offered to fill our RV was broken, and the WiFi went more than it came) in a convenient part of town (which means it was only 300 meters from the metro), we began our self guided tour early the next morning at Park Guell, one of my favorite places. I remembered it as a fantasyland with its ‘gingerbread’ looking houses and mosaic tiled benches. One of my favorite photos was taken in front of the multi-colored lizard in the center of the entrance’s main stairway. I was excited to relive this with our girls.

But, as I said, things changed.

The once free to enjoy park now had an entrance fee: 8,50 euros per person. Eight and a half euros to visit a park that was currently 75% under contruction taking a bit of the fantasy out of the ‘land’.  This obviously didn’t prevent the park from being flooded with tourists; many more than I remembered. There was actually a line to take a photo in front of ‘my beloved’ multi-colored lizard… as well as a wait to snap a memory in front of other selected Gaudi branded monuments…

no one other than I seemed to notice… everyone else was immersed in the absolutely insane, selfie mania!

After the park, we went on to Las Ramblas, Barcellona’s best known strip, La Sagrada Familia, Barcellona’s best known church… we visited the Gothic Quarter and the Old Port, we travelled the metro and roamed the main avenues in search of Gaudi’s other buildings which are magnificantly splashed around town (a Starbucks just strategically opened on the opposite corner of own of the most famous ones). We snacked on fried sweets and savory, spinach filled pastry and enjoyed the city’s mild, sunny weather… the girls had fun. We did also… but something didn’t feel right… underneath the fancy buildings, the edible delights, the energy of the tourists and the extremely pleasant weather… hmmm….

Take away the rose colored glasses and all I saw was that everything has actually become about spending money… eating a small order of french fries from Burger King while posing in front of the Sagrada Familia for only 3 and a half euro… 2 euro and 15 cents more than in any other ‘Home of the Whopper’… 

what I saw was that people have become zombie-like, roaming the tourist attractions with their smartphones and credit cards always on hand….

Why don’t people  visit foreign places anymore to learn, to explore, to become more worldly… more cultured? Why has travelling become all about the selfies… being able to instantenously post them on Facebook and Instragram in order show the world that they have been there, seen that… to appear more educated, worldly, cultured? Whether the snapshot is taken at the Placa de Catalunya  or in front of a Desigual storefront doesn’t really matter. They are in Barcelona…  where like any other tourist spot… purchasing their worldliness is made easy… 18 euro per person to walk up the Sagrada Familia, 55 per person for a hop on-hop off bus tour, 15 euro for a bad paella along Las Ramblas, 8 euro for a cup of Nesquik and a couple of churros served at a table facing the beach.  Everything has its price and the farther you have travelled the more you are willing to pay. When you get home you will never wear that bag with Barcelona written all over it, and you definitely won’t know where to put the plastic statue of the Triumphal Arc that you couldn’t resist buying! Even the peddlers with their colorful clothing and fortunes to tell, the musicians with their YouTube Channels, and the street artists with their sales pitches have something irresistable to  sell to you.  All the time, everybody, both tourists and natives are breathing it all in with their heads down and their monitors on… whether you are strolling around the city streets, sipping a caffè con leche in a chic spot or riding the subway. Nobody talks, nobody looks, nobody really absorbs anything. No need to speak Spanish… there is no need to make contact with anyone at all,  whether it is to learn something new or ask for directions. Why should you when Google offers all you need to know in one slight touch of the finger? Things sure have changed…

or is it only ME?

We were in Barcelona… beautiful as ever… but besides for what Gaudi has left behind it could have been any other city in the world it could have been ‘home’ where even there we are accostumed to paying for our entertainment ,  posting our last meal and waiting for someone else’s reaction... this is the consequence when the entire world becomes connected and McDonalds, Starbucks and Pull & Bear become the main attractions.. when the adventure is taken out of the travel, travel is only accessible to those of us who can pay the price, and the ultimate goal is to receive a stamp on your passport and 100 or more Likes on your page.

love and besos,

Next post… we go off the beaten track… Looking foward to telling you about Marinaleda, a  a small, independent town with a population of 3,000 located south of Cordoba in Spain… a town that cares more about social justice than economic growth! A town that will confirm that the smaller the city, the bigger the heart!

 

 

In Tom (Tom) He Doesn’t Trust!

So, we were finally on our way towards better weather, leaving France to go prematurely onto Spain. “All I want is sun”, I repeated one too many times, every time knowing that I was breaking all the rules of non attachment and gratitude. Fog, rain or shine my attitude should have been light and cheery… sunny, despite the rain… we were on our journey without a destination… an entire new adventure: him, I, our amazing daughters and our mostly, reliable home on wheels. Travelling in all types of conditions was our expertise…

as the skies turned bluer, the inside of our RV started to warm up from a brilliant sun, and the fluffy, white clouds overhead cushioned our drive, our expressions became lighter, smiles began to grow from the corners of our semi-pouts and excitement about Spain filled every worduntil he turned on the Tom Tom...

Now, let me fill you in about my husband, Andrea, for those of you who don’t know or have never read a single word about him (see my post ‘Surving Andrea’ for more detail: https://freefamilyontheroad.wordpress.com/?s=surviving+andrea). Andrea is a free spirit. Tell him to go left and he will surely go right. Tell him it is impossible and he is most likely to do it (even if he gets banged up along the way), Tell him anything and he’ll do the opposite (almost) every time. Some may call his character ‘stubborn’, but believe me, his need to be completely free is totally spontaneous and natural. A rarity these days. “Think with your own mind” is his moto. Couple up a free spirit who has always used a paper map and his fantastic sense of direction – his natural instinct – with a Tom Tom and you are bound to hit trouble. Take away his right to roll down his window and ask for directions … actually interact with a real, live person, and the situation could become desperate.

So, there we were on our way to Barcellona… sun, smiles, excitement… Kenia had accurately typed in the destination… and the electronic device was accurately doing its thing when… he started fighting with the Tom Tom, or rather the normally soothing, female voice that guides you on your way (except our soothing voice, referred to as ‘she’, was interrupted by the strilling, totally unnecessary voice of Andrea’s sister, Claudia (my brother-in-law lent us their Tom Tom). Believe me, just her voice alone could make a person go insane!

The argument went exactly like this:

I am sure it is that way, he started saying. I don’t trust it (after only 5 minutes). I don’t know where she is sending me, as he opens his 30 year old book of road maps (see the reflection in the photo) for the 3rd time in 20 minutes. Where is she sending me? I don’t know! Kenia, (who was in the back listening to her ipod) where is she sending me? (poor Kenia, is the official Tom Tom assistant)

Maybe, the roads changed from when they pubblished the book, I tried to say to calm him down, but he didn’t listen as he continued rambling on…. There used to be people. Now, there is nobody. Nobody is walking. There is nobody to ask. I HATE EUROPE!!! (wow, I thought!)… look at this… it is ridiculous (while Claudia continued to strill out her directions telling him to turn right).

He tells me to roll down my window. I obey. The red headed girl in the car next to us is distracted by loud, pop music and her texting.  She finally looks up as I continued to fiercely wave for her attention. She ‘rolls down’ her window and confirms that the Tom Tom is sending us in the right direction.

But, Andrea, wanted so badly for the female voice to be mistaken… and so he continued like this:

Maybe I have to make a right. I will make a right somewhere. You are right, he finally says to me, I don’t listen.

The voice continues: ‘300 meters – exit – keep left’.  Andrea goes right.

I totally stress myself, he says. I should have gone with the highway, arrived at 5pm, and enjoyed dinner. Instead, we are still here. We will never get to Barcellona this way!

But, then again, yesterday he complained about the highway…

I don’t feel its right, he continues. … I just don’t feel it… ya know.

He takes out his 30 year old book of maps (again!)  and says,

SEE, IT IS WRONG, completely WRONG! it is sending us to Lodeve… the opposite direction from Barcellona (was he right?, I started to think). I wanted to go right. I listened to the stupid Tom Tom… Vaffanculo!!!(I don’t think there is need for translation.)

Appropriately, Taylor Swift’s BAD BLOOD was seeking its way in from behind the blue curtain separating the cabin from the back of the camper to confirm Andrea’s feelings about his relationship with Tom:

Cause baby, now we’ve got bad blood
You know it used to be mad love
So take a look what you’ve done
’Cause baby, now we’ve got bad blood, hey!
Now we’ve got problems
And I don’t think we can solve ’em
You made a really deep cut
And baby, now we’ve got bad blood, hey!

Did you think we’d be fine?
Still got scars in my back from your knives
So don’t think it’s in the past
These kind of wounds they last and they last
Now, did you think it all through?
All these things will catch up to you
And time can heal, but this won’t
So if you come in my way
Just don’t!

Andrea continued to curse the Tom Tom for another 100 km until he finally shut it off… turned on his free spirit, opened up his 30 year old book of maps, rolled down his window, looked a few people directly in the eyes, and followed his fantastic sense of direction and natural instinct…  and got us safely to Barcellona, with a relieved smile and  before the strike of 9.

It is all about the experience… this is the journey… this is the destination… ITS ALL GOOD!

Until next time with love and gratitude from the road…

 

An adventure towards a lighter and freer lifestyle