It was a stormy day in early April, and as I walked down the hill to the boathouse I wondered what on earth I’d been thinking, attempting a row on such a forbidding day. The clouds were full and the wind was high and a drenching rain greeted me halfway down the hill.
“I’m here to erg,” I reminded myself, and trudged onward through the rain.
I ran into Dietmar along the way. Like me he had the hood of his raincoat pulled tight around his face.
“There’s no way we’re going out on the water, right?” I asked.
Shown here: Our destination—the villa where the whole family stayed the first week in Monsummano Alto. Not shown: the drive required to reach it.
We’ve just returned from spring break in Italy, which is a very German thing to do, considering how many of our children’s classmates and their families did the same. We spent the first week in Tuscany with M’s immediate family (meaning his 15 closest relatives: father, siblings, spouses, nieces and nephews), and then spent a week along the coast and in Milan on our own.
The views we enjoyed during the course of our stay were breathtaking and varied—scenes of pastoral hills terraced with olive gardens surrounding our rented villa, snow-capped mountains in the distance, foothills of the Alps; a wooden table under an arbor covered with blooming wisteria and humming with bees; small ancient towns that may not have changed a bit in centuries; uncelebrated 1,000-year-old churches; medieval walls encircling small, quaint towns; a still-standing Roman aqueduct spanning the countryside; and even the remains of an Etruscan amphitheater. And of course we took in a few obligatory yet stunning sights: the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Duomo in the heart of Florence.
A car is required to see most of these places (with the exception of Florence). We simply could not have reached our villa without one, and considering there were twenty of us, it took not just one but four cars to bring us all to the top of the far-flung hillside where we stayed.
Our adventure began and ended with cars; for me they became a dominant theme of the week, and I say this as a non-designated driver. The other themes that could be explored here include food (from the expected pasta, pizza, and gelato to the unexpected brains), family (the rich mix of adult personalities and bright-eyed children), missing Mom (this was the first family trip without her) or sickness (there were a variety of coughs, fevers, flus, and pains coursing through the family that kept us all on our toes), but for the moment I’ll set those aside and tell you about the mundane theme of cars. Continue reading →
Wood, rope, metal, recycled tires. Sand, grass, brick, cobblestones. Benches, foliage, shade. Inventive, inviting designs. Suitable for little kids, engaging for pre-teens, durable enough for adults. Whimsical. Surprising. Never boring. All over the city. No two alike.
I am aware, always, of what time it is in St. Paul. We are seven hours ahead in Berlin. I sit down to work when most of our friends are going to bed; I sometimes post blogs in the middle of their night’s sleep, and am thoroughly into my work day when they are waking up.
I see them blinking awake via chat on Facebook—I don’t mean to, but in my online grazing I can’t help but notice who rises before dawn and who the night owls are. I’m surprised to find a handful of insomniacs among them.
There was a morning last fall when I saw signs of three rowers’ wakefulness before 5 a.m., and imagined them each heading to the river, and could not avoid a sting of rejection knowing I might have joined their quad, were I not here. Continue reading →
It has happened to me on the Mississippi in a single, when a movement in the water catches my eye—a black swirl spinning away from me—and in that moment my heart seems to leap to my throat, as if some water creature might climb out of the depths to the surface. But soon I see it has a mate on the other side spinning away from my boat, and I recognize the pair as the puddles from my own stroke.
I had that feeling again yesterday, though it wasn’t my swirls that jarred me. I was in a men’s quad for this late afternoon row, and the pace was unrelenting and solid. There was a good chop on the water, most likely from the new ferryboat unveiled by the BVG this spring, and it runs on the half hour and ruins your good water for quite a spell. Irregular waves splashed up the side of the boat, ricocheting off the riggers, and the water that struck my back, arms and legs was cold, though nothing like the cold of a Minnesota snowmelt.