Movement in the face of stillness

My mother taught me never to stand still. She wanted to teach me that I should always make my bed and I should never leave the house without doing all the dishes, but I failed in those lessons.

I spent much of my twenties doing exactly what I thought I was supposed to do: I embarked on a career, I bought a new car, I rented an apartment, I got married, I paid off my student loans.

In my thirties, my husband and I focused most of our energy on our daughter. My career as a journalist became more precarious. I went to work part-time as I earned a second bachelor’s in International Affairs.

By my late thirties, I started traveling with a friend. I realized maybe I didn’t want a traditional professional occupation, but I couldn’t label what I did want.

Now I’ve crossed 40. I am working on a master’s degree in world history at West Chester University. I’ve had a few small acceptances with some of my creative writing. I’m contemplating pursuing more paid freelance writing work.

And I also might take a semester off from my master’s work. My daughter is nearing 13 and I never realized how much she’d need me now.

These are the thoughts I was thinking this morning as I held my office hours as a graduate assistant in West Chester’s history department. I stumbled upon one new publication that may be a good fit for me as a journalist wanting to return to the trade and some of my more alternative leanings.

And while I sit quietly, alone, in this office, I ask what will I do with myself this winter with no schoolwork and only my tedious retail job? And I realize this time will be introspective and hopefully give me more stillness so that my true desires come into focus.

While I ponder these thoughts, which are not easy thoughts, I receive an email.

“Thank you for your revisions.” “We’ll contact you with a publication date.”

An essay I submitted to an online literary magazine a few weeks ago seems as if it has accepted my piece. The piece is about weather, Djibouti and broken bones. It’s a quirky publication too so this may be a sign…

I must keep writing.

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The iPod saga

My daughter saved her money and asked her relatives for cash for her 12th birthday in June 23. She broke her first one dropping it on the sidewalk (more than once). 

She carried it through Paris, in its brand new puppy protective case I bought her last week. She snapped photos of IM Pei’s pyramids.

Six flights. Two different airlines. Four hotel rooms. Eight days. Multiple continents.

She filmed video of trees in Russia. She recorded herself in airports making silly faces under time lapse.

She played her video games recklessly and typed notes in the Pages app and listened to music.

And as Air France flight 0054 between CDG and IAD landed, I suggested she put it away. I didn’t want her to miss touch down of the huge A380. 

In the car, halfway to DC, she gasps, “Mom, I left my iPod.”

She searches her bag. I search her bag. M searches her bag.

We email Air France’s lost and found. It bounces. We try tweeting to Air France US. “My daughter left her iPod on 0054 between CDG and IAD 8/20. Email to lost and found bounced.”


My husband then tweets her ticket info. We also get the number for Dulles.

We make the child call. The voice menu suggests using the Internet and directs her to a different number if she wants to talk to a person. She doesn’t have a pen ready so she has to call again. 

She gets the number. She calls that. It’s an answering machine. She leaves a flustered message but she can’t remember her phone number. She gives mine rattling it off so quickly I can’t understand her.

I make her repeat it.

It will be a miracle if the iPod returns. But perhaps some good soul will find it. Perhaps someone will restore some of my faith in the human race. 

We found our Moscow joint

M and I are infamously cheap. We went for our morning constitutional and the weather was warmer then we anticipated. By the second mile, the need for water piqued. Last night we had a delightful dinner of shawarma at a street food vendor near our subway stop, Kunestky Moct. The meal of chicken c0st us about $7 American for all three of us and we were stuffed full.

Best part: A liter of water cost 50 rubles.

The man who served us was very patient with each of us depicting what we wanted on our “sandwiches.” Even scraping off cabbage from child’s sandwich and making sure every stitch was gone. He must have children.

So when we wanted water today in one of the pedestrian tunnels, and they wanted 80 rubles for a 16.9 ounce bottle of water, I said no. And we walked an extra mile for water.

The current exchange rate is 64 rubles per U.S. dollar.

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“Our Man” by Kunestky Moct

My daughter, magnificent traveler

In all fairness, my daughter may be a kid and an American but she is an amazing traveler. So here is a list of ways my daughter has impressed me:

  1. She has lived for a week out of a very small carry-on suitcase and her school backpack.
  2. She has dragged that baggage through airports, train stations, subway tunnels in two continents when she had never even been in an airport before.
  3. She has kept up with two active adults, walking 8 to 10 miles a day. Often dragging the suitcases.
  4. She has tried really really hard to eat new things and not react poorly to them.
  5. She has been so open-minded and suddenly understands that the world is small, the media is not always accurate, and that cultural difference can be lovely.
  6. She started the trip shy towards other language speakers and she’s opening up. She’s repeating phrases and trying to communicate. And I think she might be motivated to learn another language.
  7. She has not complained. Even when exhausted and hungry.IMG_4337.JPG

 

My daughter, the American

I am keenly aware of my quirks as an American. I can be giddy and boisterous. I am erratic and move too quickly. My table manners can be clumsy. My American accent is thick and my language skills, though I try, a jumble of words. Luckily, I’m cute. That rescues me on occasion.

Traveling with my 12-year-old daughter in Moscow has shown me the depth of my  daughter’s Americanisms. 

Some of these things are simply “kid-isms,” I suppose.

1. She has no concept of how loud she is. Ever.

2. Even when she tries, she still stabs her food, can’t properly use a knife and often talks with her mouth full.

3. She talks to strangers even when she doesn’t speak the language. Last night she tried to tell the Russian hostess in a Turkish restaurant in English that her dress was pretty. Poor woman thought we had a problem with the restaurant’s service. We eventually relayed the compliment.

4. My daughter has never dealt with real food. Now my daughter is a duck-in-orange-sauce, fancy meal girl. Not chicken nuggets and French fries. So imagine my surprise when she didn’t have the patience to pull the meat off a real fish or slice around the fat on a healthy portion of duck. Think about that: my daughter, raised as a foodie, has never dealt with real food. Bonus- she now adores fresh juice and real croissant.

5. She does not have the patience to remain at the table for a leisurely meal. She fidgets. She asks for hugs. She tried to put her head down. 

6. She points and screams “LOOK.”

7. In fear of making a mistake, she began this trip reluctant to engage with speakers of other languages and wouldn’t repeat phrases in foreign tongues.

8. She has classic American overconfidence. In our third and final airport of the trip, in Kazan, she tells me adamantly that she can meet us at the gate because she can read her boarding pass. Never mind that we are in a foreign country where she can neither read nor speak the language. Never mind that she is so adept at reading her ticket that she can’t figure out her row and seat on the plane.

9. Space. She’s not too bad with people in her space or how much space she occupies, but man oh man is she a disaster when it comes to realizing where her backpack is in relation to others and where her suitcase rolls behind her. And how to navigate on planes and trains without being a major disruption.

10. Math. She wanted slippers. First she read the wrong tag. Thought it was 800 rubles. It was 2500. I reminded her that the ATM was out of service (really, that isn’t mom code for “I am not your personal back”) and that I had 1100 rubles. So I told her to do the math. I know she has American money with her. And we keep explaining the exchange rate. And pointing out the sign outside the bank that lists the rate for the euro and the U.S. dollar.

I tell her if she wants to calculate the price in dollars she could give me dollars and I would get her rubles. She couldn’t determine the algebraic equation to calculate the cost. I told her to use 70 rubles for ease.
She wanted to divide 70 by 100. I told her that would allow her to figure out the pennies versus rubles rate. She wanted to then multiple that by 2500. I pointed out she was making this too complicated and suggested dividing 250 by 7. 

She didn’t get it. The logic. She could do the math, but not the thinking.

11. Ten minutes into dinner last night, she tried to sneak a game of Minecraft on her iPod under the table. That resulted in confiscation of the iPod (with us as camera and potential language assistant) and a stern, “I did not fly you 6,000 miles from home to sit on a Russian street and play Minecraft.”

“It was two seconds,” the child says.

“Because I caught you,” I retort. “The iPod is for pictures and in the hotel.”

Calm Beauty in Kazan

Kazan has proven gorgeous, calm, and the perfect blend of urban and small town. The mix of religious cultures is not “in your face,” but the orthodox Christian church and the mosque are side by side. I have seen women with beautiful headscarves covering their heads with color and style. (In general, the women are impeccably dressed and very sweet looking.)

English is rare to find, but we have been handed a few English menus. The mosque was lovely, and a good learning experience for my daughter.

I also smoked some hookah for the first time.

We visited the museum of Islamic history and the mosque. It may have been the first time my daughter saw items about 1,000 years old other than a dusty old mummy. I found a lot of the material interesting, various religious texts, holy books in Arabic and Armenian, photos from the 1917 Muslim Women’s Conference, and a chest with a dowry.

When we stopped for a hookah and coffee, and I got my daughter a ham sandwich and myself something with bacon, pineapple and blue cheese. It ended up being a Russian BLT. A delightful and flavorful thing.

Thank Heaven for Russian Grandmothers

This morning we slept until almost nine which is odd for all of us. We had breakfast in the main restaurant of Peter I. I wanted to get a pedicure (2,000 rubles) but there wasn’t enough time. We walked the child around town until it was time to head out to the subway.

And we not only found the subway but navigated it back to the train station.

We bought our tickets and headed back to the airport where I pointed randomly to some exotic juice for the child and what appeared as a latte with sesame seeds on it. It turned out to be a PEANUT BUTTER LATTE. Why they put sesame seeds on it, I don’t know. BUT DID YOU HEAR THAT, HUSBAND??? Peanut butter latte! PEANUT BUTTER LATTE. I had tried again to give the child 500 rubles spending money and this time she bought the cutest little baby nesting doll key chain for 280 rubles.

And I drank a delicious peanut butter latte.

Did I mention the peanut butter latte?

We flew to Kazan via Aeroflot. The only “event” of our flight was the fact that we all refused to eat the salmon and pickle sandwich on pumperknickel. Okay, so child ate some of it.

We  managed to find the airport express train into Kazan, a bargain at only 120 rubles for the three of us. (The Moscow airport train costs 470 rubles for one of us.) The girl at the ticket counter assured us it was only a five to ten minute walk from the station to our hotel, Courtyard Marriott at the Kremlin.

Except we had no clue how to get out of the train station, let alone find our hotel.

Luckily, a Russian grandmotherly type who spoke no English looked at our map, escorted us out and found us a taxi.

Kazan has some amazing architecture but I’ll get into that in the morning. We decided to go to a kebab place for dinner, writing down the Russian street names. We couldn’t find it. Ended up at a decent place with various foods… but here’s the great part, our waitress spoke English!

The city at night is amazing with its colors and domes against the night sky. More about that tomorrow.