Tuesday, August 13, 2019


A magpie has come to explore the palm tree in front of me.
He’s a handsome fellow. I don’t know if I’ve ever been this close to one before. It seems we’ve been playing peek-a-boo for the last few minutes. He ducks behind a fan-shaped leaf, then comes out, looks at me, tilts his head, I tilt mine, then he ducks away again. A few minutes later, we start this process anew.
I'm sitting outside the house that has been my home for the last 12 days. Inside, my hostess makes me some coffee. I'll go to a new place today in town, but there's a gap between check-out here and check-in there, and my hostess needs to clean my apartment for the new guests arriving today. I can stay on the porch as long as I need to, though. She offers me coffee, pulls a chair and even a little table out onto a secondary porch where there's more of a breeze. It's hot today—11:30am and it's already 87 degrees. According to Google, it feels like 93. According to my arm pits it feels like 110.

Bike path along the sea.

Rovinj from the north, on a very hot day.

Anyway, I like savoring this little slice of neighborhood life in a foreign country. I wouldn't get this in the lobby of a hotel.
This magpie seems almost as curious about me as I am about him—we don't have magpies where I live. I think he'd come sit on my little coffee table for a chat if not for Ozzie sitting close by.

Ozzie is my hostess's cat, named after the man of Crazy Train fame, Mr. Osborne. She and her husband are big Hard Rock fans. She's shown me photos of concerts they've attended all over Europe, groups whose names I've heard, but whose music is unfamiliar.
I do know who Slash is, though. Sort of. There's a giant photo portrait of him in the hallway with his giant hair and giant hat, wielding a guitar with a giant sound, no doubt. Everything giant. Everything loud. I'm glad I least knew who he was, and the band (Guns and Roses . . . uh, right?)—though the only song I can name is Paradise City. I know who Axl is, too, I tell her proudly. But I lose all cred when she shows me a photo of herself with Duff, and I draw a blank (with her accent, I'm hearing "Doff", which only confuses me further). But who am I kidding? I didn't forget his name. I never knew it in the first place. What do you want? I'm from Jersey, not LA. Wanna talk Springsteen, I'm right there with you. They won't even let you cross the border into the state unless you know at least 70% of the lyrics to Rosalita. It’s the law.

Anyway. What was I talking about?
Nothing, really.
And everything.
Everything is right here, sitting on this porch in this neighborhood where ordinary life is happening every day. I can have this at home, too, sure. But sometimes familiarity makes it’s harder to really see and hear accurately, with presence. Newness has a way of awakening the senses.

Adriatic, along the bike path in Rovinj.
For sure, my senses are on full alert here in Rovinj. On the bike each day, I feel the power of my body, the heat of the sun, see the blue skies and blue sea, so much blue everywhere, coupled with the varied greens of pines and olive trees. I hear the owls in the evening, the laughter of kids splashing and playing, the soft percussion of waves rolling to the shore.


And the smells, my god the smells. Puffs of rosemary, pine, and lavender are everywhere along the path. I ride through the campgrounds in the evenings around sunset when everyone is cooking outside. I pass through perfumed clouds of garlic, of ham, of peppers. My mouth waters. Different scents at every site, and families and friends relaxed with card games and conversation, enjoying the simplest and greatest pleasures, together. This makes a cloud of sorts, too--I ride through these dense zones of satisfaction, of joy, of peacefulness, while shards of sunset color float on the sea. I can feel their contentment down to my bones, and it becomes my own. I want to circle back and ride through again and again. And I do. Every day.

Resting under the trees in Park šuma Zlatni Rt, Rovinj

Water hedgehogs?

Pines and stars at night.

In keeping with this sensuous atmosphere, In Rovinj center, on the night of San Lorenzo, there was music everywhere. Different kinds in different squares and on different streets. The lamps that normally light up the main square, on this night, are replaced with torches and candles and a light show reflected on the main buildings. I heard traditional Klapa music, indie pop, a rock group that sounded like medieval Croatian Prog, and another that . . . well, I don’t know what to call it. It resembled traditional Klapa, but was a little different. It had guitar, and layers of beautiful harmonies, but many of the songs were lively and happy (I find Klapa always seems a bit sad), and many were sung in Italian. Maybe it was still Klapa? I don’t know.


In any case, I had been walking up one of the main roads in the historic center and passed a little courtyard I had passed many times before, but it was always locked. I’d always been intrigued as I peered through the bars of the gate. It looked very old, with a giant stone well with carved family crest in the center and a seemingly ancient, giant fig tree providing shade. Now there was applause coming from the courtyard and it was open, lit with candles everywhere. The voices and their harmonies made the space vibrate with sound, vibrate with joy as others in the audience, young and old, joined and sang with them, clearly proud of their traditions.

I was very moved. Tearful, to be honest. The whole atmosphere was enchanting in the truest sense of that word. I was thinking as I sat there, “Do not let yourself be fooled by the news from home, by the voices of despair. There is still beauty in the world. You mustn’t forget.”

Music always has a way of rescuing me at just the right moment, throwing a lifeline.
Even now, right here in this chair by the palm tree with my coffee, music finds me.
Yes, that’s right. We’re back here in front of the apartment where I’m waiting before moving on.

A few houses away, someone is practicing the trumpet. It's close enough to hear, but far enough to be pleasing, even though it's just scales. I remember that effort, that discipline, the mix of frustration and satisfaction, though for me it was piano. They start slowly, then speed it up. They're getting better and better.
This is life. Happening all around. The big and small things.
This is life.
Practice, stumble.
Practice, smooth the rough parts.
Practice, get better. And still better.
Remember the beauty you are charged with making.
Note by note, step by step, in every moment, we sound our scale, then a symphony, and a life is made.

A little coffee, a chair, a blue sky, a palm tree. Ozzie and the magpies.
Hey I like that--great band name, Ozzie and the Magpies. I’ll put it together. I know of a trumpet player who’s getting really good.
As moments go, I like this one. Simple and sweet.
I have everything I need. Here and now.
This music, this rest between the notes, saves me again, shows me life.

Cocktails at Valentino Bar, with blue sea and moonlight. Not bad.

Main square, lit by candles and torches.

Rovinj's Harbor by night

Rovinj, just after sunset, from the marina.

Night street in the historic center, Rovinj.

A man and his dog . . . and his accordion, and his bike.

Procession with torches and dancers, to begin the Night of San Lorenzo festivities.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018


Fiume Mingardo, San Severino di Centola, Italia

The trouble with open-hearted travel is you fall in love every week, every day, every hour.

I'm so in love with these olive trees in my yard, shaken up by a storm off the sea two days ago, which I also fell in love with (despite driving through her torrents of rain and punishing winds thoroughly convinced she was trying to kill me—and indeed, she killed eleven people in this country). She made the normally serene Gulf of Policastro look like the Atlantic ocean as a hurricane approaches. All the way from my perch between Scario and San Giovanni a Piro I could see the waves sweeping in . That howling music of her gusts shaking everything on this hill, her unabashed display of her power—how could I not be impressed, how could I not be moved? 

Gulf of Policastro after the storm, gradations of blue mixed with river run-off.

The day before, when the winds first arrived, I watched a group of crows for a good hour as they dove and tumbled together, like it was a game. I'm convinced they were playing. They had no purpose other than this. It brought tears to my eyes, and laughter, and gratitude to be a witness to what must have been sheer joy in Being, the contagious rapture of flight. And yes, I fell in love with them, too. This land is making me polyamorous, for sure. 

My feet land in this Cilento and immediately want to sprout roots. Any of my long-time friends and my family will tell you it's quite an achievement for any locale to turn my thoughts and my heart to staying in one place, to make me use words like "home". Back in the days of handwritten address books (remember those?) the rule was always: write Jen's address in pencil; nothing permanent. 

Home, of course, is never merely coordinates on a map. It's also voices and faces. There are faces here I've come to adore. Voices, too, even as I continue to ask them to deliver the music of their language more slowly.

Moon over Gulf of Policastro

Clouds and olives trees from my drievway.

It's frustrating to not yet have all the vocabulary for love in this new tongue. I'm forced to keep my expressions small and simple, like a folk song composed of three chords. 
This has its charm.
But it falls a little short when there's a full opera fervently coursing through my heart. 
When words fail, there are tears of joy to fall back upon. And I often do, silently awestruck at my good fortune, wishing the same for everyone, everywhere. 

Oasi WWF Grotte del Bussento, Morgerati, Italia
Oasi WWF Grotte del Bussento, Morgerati, Italia
But those roots I mentioned, sprouting from my soles and my soul, they must be elastic. They must stretch to accommodate other loves, because my heart swells, too, at the thought of Rovinj (Rovigno), Croatia, and her pines along my favorite bike path next to her bliss-inducing blue Adriatic. I arrive there in spring to trees heavy with cherries; others with pomegranate flowers preparing for the sweet jewels that will arrive in the Autumn. 

Pomegranate flowers, Rovinj, Croatia

At sunset there, I listen attentively for my old friend, the Scops owl, whom I have only ever heard in this place. He's the soundtrack of the Istrian night for me. He brings me such a complete peace, of body and soul. Even if I awaken in the middle of the night, when I hear my tiny, feathered Romeo through the window, I want to stay up and just listen with a stupid smile plastered across face. It might be the purest form of love I know. I listen and there is no longer any separation between the human and natural worlds. He restores that for me with a simple sound, my Romeo. 

There are Croatian faces and voices, too—my other adopted family, that feeds me and plies me with homemade liqueurs on each trip, despite my protests and reminders that I am the lightest of light-weights when it comes to alcohol, and they'll have to carry me upstairs to my bed if they're not careful.  

Don't let the innocent smiles fool you. They want to get you *wasted*
There is my partner in bubble-blowing, Petar, who had not yet arrived on planet Earth when I first encountered Rovinj. I return each season to a different boy; first one who crawls, then one who walks, and now, one who calls me "teta" (aunt). I try to learn Croatian for his sake. We can't connect through bubble-blowing forever, at least not exclusively.

Rovinj street by night

Rovinj, old port

The roots must stretch further still, though. Because as travel opens the heart ever wider and sets it ablaze, I know that Sevilla, Spain, could also be Home—as long as air conditioning exists. Maybe it could be a winter home? This is conditional love, I know, but stop there for a visit in August, *then* judge me. 

Walk out the door in Sevilla and prepare to be gobsmacked by beauty around every corner. Every sense on high alert, if you're wise. 
You'll be enveloped by clouds redolent of orange blossom. Kitchen scents to make you ravenous and ecstatic from every tapas bar you pass. 

Paella on the Alameda de Hercules

Along the Alameda de Hercules, Sevilla, Spain
You'll see Islamic-influenced architecture, brightly colored parrots in palm trees, and at a certain time of year, the unearthly beauty of the people of Sevilla dressed in their finery, on the way to the spring feria celebrations—polka-dot dresses, trajes cortos, and cordobes abound. Yes, I've fallen in love with hundreds of Sevillanos. I do nothing but sigh in that city.

Cathedral of Sevilla
The hook, though, the thing that said, "Here, Señora. This is the place. This is your place" was the music and the dance. The flamenco duende that grabs you by the heart and shakes you to your soul. The sound that erupts spontaneously on a street and makes Sevillanas forget the tapas on their plates and rise out of their chairs and dance together, clapping, as their friends urge them on with ¡Ale!  It is not a performance, though you can find those, too. It's a spontaneous expression of Life, an exquisite mix of joy and pain. It is love.

And it, too, feels like home.

Then there are countless other places that have winked at me and said, "Hey . . . Hey, girl. Come check me out. I've got blue seas, too. I've got trees to make you weak in the knees. I've got so many stories to tell you, castles to show you. Let me cook for you all the beautiful things my land puts forth . . . My name is Salento (or Padua, or Bologna, or Slovenia, or Lausanne, etc. You get the idea).

Ancient olive trees, Miggiano, Il Salento, Puglia, Italia

Specchia, Il Salento, Puglia, Italia

Chiesa Maria S.s Addolorata, Lecce, Puglia, Italia

Otranto, Il Salento, Puglia, Italia

Otranto, Il Salento, Puglia, Italia

So what's a gal to do? 
I have a home, in the traditional sense. An address. A place I know well, with people I also know and love well. My Love is there, and he gives me an anchor on the occasions when he doesn't hoist it up and join me. 

But I feel there is something different about a home you have by default—because your metaphorical spaceship crash-landed there when you arrived on this planet—and a home you have sought out, pursued, with all your senses awakened until your soul erupted and said, "Here! This is the place."

I wonder what the Gypsy word for Home is, and if it's literal roots give some hint at how to navigate this dilemma of Home being everywhere and anywhere you pitch your tent or park your caravan.
They are wise, I think. They bring their music and their loved ones with them, to make a complete home anywhere.

Any place where there is love—love you can experience with all the senses—that's home.

We have a saying in English that "home is where the heart is."
I like it better stated as "The heart is where home is."

You take it with you, everywhere you go.
Open it wide, wider, wider, and you're never far from home.

Monte Bulgheria, Il Cilento, Italia

A new kind of harvest, Bosco di San Giovanni, Italy

Sun sets behind the hills in Morgerati

Spiaggia Acquafredda

Oasi WWF Grotte del Bussento, Moregerati, Italia
"Fonte Miracolosa di Pietrasanta" San Giovanni a Prio.

Gifts left for the Virgin Mary

View from Il Rifugio del Contadino, Bosco di S Giovanni, Italy

Dusk at Il Rifugio del Contadino, Bosco di S Giovanni

Night falls over the Gulf of Policastro, Il Cilento

Sevilla, Spain

Plaza de España, Sevilla, Spain

Sunset near the old town, Rovinj, Croatia

Rovinj, Croatia, seaside bike path

Rovinj, Croatia

Adriatic Sea from bike path, Rovinj, Croatia