Posts

A natural arc of red stone in front of a sprawling vista.

Passover Reflections on Moab

I’ve been back to BostoA vista of the red rocks of Moab.n for a couple weeks but there are images from Utah that I’m carrying close through this cold and grey New England spring.  Not really images, more like colors: white snow, blue sky, and green trees…. And then there’s the red.

We took a couple of days while two of our children visited Park City and made the drive to Southeastern Utah to visit Moab and its famous geologic wonders and national parks. Its red earth reflected the sun, mesmerizing us as canyon walls turned orange at times and at others,  maroon under a passing shower. We drove past geology that twisted into spires, spun arches, and bore canyons. We hiked and scampered and climbed like little children,  the silty red dust rising on our calves and sneaking into our shoes, caking even, under my fingernails.  We shed layers of clothing in the warm sun and when it set we luxuriated under the full moon. Moab was magnificent and if we could have stayed longer, we would have.  There was so much to see, to do. And even as I felt the pull to stay, there was satisfaction in just having made the trip.  It had been a crazy idea thrown out during dinner early in the week, heralding the type of enthusiasm on a Monday I expected to fizzle very easily by Thursday.

We drove back to Park City and then Salt Lake where people boarded planes, returning to school or on business trips. When my month in Utah was complete, I returned to Boston for a writing conference and getting back in the swing of real life.  Looking forward to Passover and in preparation for our Seder, I considered the significance of Moab in the Exodus story.  I should mention giving sites biblical names is common in Utah, as Mormons see themselves akin to Jews.  Not just because they believe themselves to be descendants of Ephraim (a son of Joseph), but in that their history of persecution and long search for a promised land mirrored the Jews’ wandering in the desert for forty years. And not only is there a Great Salt Lake in Utah similar to the Dead Sea, there’s an Eden and Zion National Park, a Jordan River and a Mt Carmel, …. So what was it about Moab that was nagging at me?

Interestingly, the word “Moab” is defined as either “of the father” or a “beautiful place.” BeFamily walking through the red rocks of Moab.sides being the birthplace of Ruth (one of my biblical heroines), it is also the last bit of wilderness where the Israelites stayed before entering the Promised Land. It is where Moses’ Exodus story ended, where he died and was buried, never able to enter Canaan himself.

Our touring party of four hadn’t recalled much of Moab, Utah’s namesake before making the trip from Park City. Thinking about it in light of our Passover tradition, however, I can’t help search for meaning.  Moab was the last place we would be together before going in four separate directions. It was a place we would observe a yarzheit, a place we would experience the super moon on the vernal equinox.  We all felt the pull to drive down there, I won’t go as far as calling it magnetic, but we were certainly on a mission. And I can’t forget that red, primitive earth, harkening the name Edom, evoking the birthplace of man.

For us, it was a moment when we united and regrouped before moving on. It was a place where we were allowed to act like children before entering the adult world again. It was a place to wonder and dream and remember, and also to recognize how small we are and how short life is.  It was a place of awe.

Time Travel

Starting our walk on the Camino each morning, we were smug setting off under a pre-dawn, pale blue and pink sky, the only sound being the chirp of waking birds. But in the northwestern corner of Spain, the sun didn’t rise until 9am. My brain had a hard time reconciling the position of the sun with the time on my watch. No wonder the Spanish sleep late and eat dinner at 10pm, their internal clocks are synced with their natural world. What would happen if we all cashed it in at 4pm during the long New England winters?

After 210KM on the Camino, we went to Morocco to continue being tourists, however, we were Red Sox fans first and foremost. Having downloaded the post season MLB package for international viewing on his tablet, my husband and I were trying to participate in the fun even though we were 9 hours east of the LA start. Before game 5 of the World Series, I set my alarm for 4am, a pattern that worked on previous nights in order to take in the game’s final innings. But on that particular night, all we saw was the last pitch being thrown. The announcer exclaimed the Red Sox had clinched in three hours and fifty-eight minutes. John and I looked at each other, confused. Sure we were groggy, but then I remembered the damned King. The king of Morocco had ruled 24 hours before the clocks were supposed to change that he wished to abandon daylight savings time. Problem was our phones, watches, and alarms didn’t get the message. Note to self: old-fashioned, battery-operated travel clocks are still a good thing. Missing game 5 of the World Series paled in comparison to all the people who missed flights, trains, and business appointments. The King could do what he wanted but Apple products had minds of their own.

Timetables were in disarray and flight times had to be adjusted by an hour so that connections could be made. The citizens were up in arms about the autocratic decision and so in that confusing, passive-aggressive manner of a local protest, still three days later, waiting in line at Passport control, chaos unfolded. Screens had times that conflicted with boarding passes. Dozens of people pushed to the front and cut under ropes, worrying they were going to miss their flights. Not a pleasant ending to our wonderful journey.

When we landed in Boston, I had just enough time to lay my head on the pillow before heading to Scottsdale for an author retreat. It was one week post the Moroccan King’s decision and now it was the US’s turn to put its clocks back. Fine, except I learned Arizona is the exception. Why was I experiencing two local governments in the span of one week that felt the need to be different? Crossing multiple time zones and jet lag, caused an insecurity that I was late and never really knew what time it was. You’ve all heard of FOMO, I was experiencing FONKWTIS: Fear Of Not Knowing What Time It Is. Was this some sort of sign from the universe? Who knew traveling in October could be fraught with such complications.

Forget the world’s clocks and time zones, my body’s clock is what was really thrown off. Fatigue had caught up – being in another continent and attempting to watch the play offs and the World Series was probably a bad decision…. But all the travel west meant I had to wake up in the wee hours of the morning and fight off collapsing at the end of the day. For a weekend trip to AZ I wouldn’t bother to conform. I wrote long essays (like this weird one) in the middle of the night and was waiting for the hotel gym to open in the morning. I had lived a full day before breakfast.

I soaked in every bit of desert sun before leaving for the airport. The sun’s rays and rise and fall provided the energy and charge my brain required. Flying east, I’ll soon be home for the first time in three weeks and hopefully prepared for four months of darkness.

greenhouse

That Man in the Greenhouse, Iceland

Iceland is a pretty popular travel destination these days – primarily due to a trend toward adventure and outdoor recreation, but also thanks to great airline promotions sponsored by Icelandair.

I was in Iceland for ten days in early April to attend the Iceland Writer’s Retreat. The conference, which was held in Reykjavik and co-chaired by the First Lady, was fabulous. But April is better suited for writing than all those outdoor activities. It was rainy and cold in that way that seeps into your bones. During the four days that John and I went sightseeing before the conference began, we saw rain and snow blowing in every direction as well as waterfalls defying gravity and blowing up into the sky – more like fountains than waterfalls. (Iceland is notoriously windy.)

Nonetheless, Iceland inspired wonder and awe. First off, the geological activity is incredible. From the Mid-Atlantic ridge, the rift between the American and European tectonic plates which is basically a volcanic seam between the continents and moves about an inch per year, to the geyser (the one after which all others were named) which spews its hot water like a whale exuding water through its blow-hole like clockwork,  to all the geothermal activity creating hot soaking lagoons as well as the country’s primary energy source, to its many active volcanoes, the earth in Iceland is definitively unstable, a sense of mayhem lurking just beneath the surface.

Yet the people are the epitome of stability in a land that bubbles, steams, and foments… A guide who took us up to a glacier in his red monster truck for a day of hiking (named Thorer) was telling us about the farming his family did, describing facts in detail that went back a few generations. He even drove us past the well that marked the original family farmland (they had to move because of volcanic activity). I asked him when his family came to Iceland (such a north American concept) and he looked at me confused. Like when was his family not in Iceland..? Just look at him, tall and strong and broad chested, Thorer was basically a direct descendant of the Vikings – I mean he can literally trace his genealogy back hundreds and hundred of years. And that is not uncommon in Iceland – the government set up a database that all Icelandic people can log into to see how closely they are related to each other (helpful when deciding whom to date). Because the national population of 330,000 has been the stability in the country – never really leaving or interbreeding. And in that way the people are much like the sheep – touted for being as pure as they come, never having interbred, producing some of the silkiest, fine wool in the world.

What will this new industry of tourism bring (now almost outranking fishing as Iceland’s economic engine) besides people in awe over the glaciers and waterfalls and bubbling hot springs? Tourists visiting from other parts of the world, from places that more resemble melting pots, might unfortunately look at  Icelandic people as a curiosity… The sense of permanence in their dna even extends to the fact that Icelandic people have been valuable in medical studies because of the dependability of a control population.  I just found the mindset that must go along with these deep roots fascinating.

The other thing that was of great interest was the desolation of much of the country. Once you leave greater Reykjavik, where at least two thirds of the population resides, the landscape is expansive and unfettered. Homes and small towns (really small) are spread very far apart. That’s why I’ve been fascinated by the proprietor of Fridheimar, seemingly a modern European businessman. We spotted him dining with colleagues in the restaurant inside one of his greenhouses.

He was an attractive, middle-aged man (no doubt a descendant of the Vikings) and fashionably dressed (thanks to the Internet? Or possibly his ability to travel abroad). He operates greenhouses in Reykholt (a 2 hour drive from Reykjavik). Because there is no sunlight in Iceland for a good deal of the winter, and because of the cold climate, vegetables are grown in greenhouses, where, thanks to all the geothermal activity, the interior lights burn brightly all year long. (BTW Iceland burns minimal fossil fuels) We visited Fridheimar where 20% of Iceland’s tomato consumption is produced.

Turns out that nice looking guy was an agronomist married to a beautiful horticulturist. The poster in the restaurant said they move to Reykholt (I would call it the middle of nowhere), had five kids and have been growing tomatoes and their business for fifteen years or so (they’ve even latched onto tourism opportunities). I can’t stop thinking about that family in the greenhouse. Maybe there’s a story in there wanting to be written, or maybe it’s the vision of five kids running around the long rows of tomatoes in the dead of winter that’s got my mind working, the glow from the greenhouses the only light for miles and miles and miles.

The restaurant inside serves –you got it – a short menu of tomato related dishes including tomato soup, pasta with tomato sauce, and a flatbread pizza covered with tomatoes. They also have about half a dozen variations of the classic Bloody Mary on the menu. All delicious, delicate, refined, and sophisticated. The food in Iceland surprised me most of all – I was sort of expecting something rugged like the landscape, similar to Ireland or England where they batter and fry the fish and eat a lot of potatoes. But the food in Iceland was one of the greatest surprises of all. Delicious, pure and healthy. John and I had one of the best meals of our lives at the seaside restaurant called Fjorubordid where their simple menu revolves around langoustine (Iceland’s tiny, incredibly sweet lobsters.) Worth a trip to Iceland for that meal alone.

So despite the rain, sleet, and snow, the rainbows were spectacular, and the people and the food were terrific. But note to self: if  it weren’t for the incredible congregation of writers in April, I might prefer visiting in June…