Monday, October 26, 2009

Fog and furrows

Furrows of sprouting winter wheat
So here I am back in my beloved high country, greeted by fall changing to winter with snow sticking to the ground on my trip north from Denver. Having arrived in late evening, I spent the night at a hotel near DIA, then caught a shuttle to Cheyenne where my good friend, Roxanne, was on hand to greet me and take me to a hole-in-the-wall purveyor of absolutely delicious Mexican food. It is good to have this comfort food of home, familiar aromas and spices. Their green chili compares favorable with the best I've eaten at the Lariat and Su Casa in Rawlins.
It is good getting reacquainted with my dog boys, Fargo and Rebel. Rox did some great training with them, so our first long walk around the wheat fields was even more enjoyable. After a month of little physical labor, it feels right to spend several hours raking leaves and hauling dead branches to Rox's growing compost pile. I like this opportunitiy to get in the work zone and have time to think some about the last several days.
While waiting for the shuttle at DIA, the thick fog made it impossible to have any sense of direction. I couldn't see the mountains; there was no sunrise--all very disorienting to me. After the last month following a travel itinerary with planes and trains to catch and classes to attend, the fog seems a fitting metaphor for the upcoming month or so. I have some notions of what I'll be doing, but the day to day, hour by hour is not so clear right now. Catching up on the Bible reading I missed while in transit, the familiar verse from Matthew 11 grabs my attention: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." This time away has been restful. I'm aware that my face and carriage feel different: more relaxed, happy, rested. Oh, what a grace that is. But I am also very glad that I have some additional time before returning to Laramie and St. Matthew's and getting back in the traces again.
Back to my habit of early morning walks with the dogs, I can't help but notice the difference in the wheat fields. When I was last here near Carpenter, the wheat harvest was just finishing up. Those fields are now stubble, resting in fallow. And the fields which were fallow then are now sprouting green with shoots of winter wheat, row upon row stretching to the horizon.
Roger Nash, author of the short story, "The Camera and the Cobra," writes about how the landscape shapes us, saying, "It seems, sometimes, as though they (landscapes) do their thinking through us. A landscape can awaken understandings, in us, that, at the time, we'd mistake as entirely our own, supposing we're in complete control of having them. Later, we realize that, but for being in that place, we'd never have arrived at those ideas...As nature speaks to us, awakening new mind-sets, we become more fully and richly ourselves...We fully come home only as the fuller selves we can become: otherwise, an undiscovered, unexplored part of us is left wandering."
So much of life is cyclical. Birth, death, rebirth; labor and rest; sorrow and gladness, disoriented and lacking direction and moving on with a goal in mind. A friend recently wrote me with the observation that following this time away I will be different, having seen, tasted, experienced and explored the world in new ways. She said that those who remained at home, living life in a familiar context would be different, too, having experienced things without me--music, worship, forums, crises.
I'm not sure what these differences are or what they will mean. It is like the disorienting fog, but as the way becomes clear, I'm sure that once again we will see that to change is to grow. And so the cycle of life will continue in the vineyard of the Lord where we live and move and have our being. Perhaps new varieties of grapes planted where old vines flourished will yield a fine, nuanced and complex varietal that pleases the palate, tickles the nose and delights those invited to taste and see that the Lord is good.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sisters on sabbatical

A photo of Joan and me before leaving Greece

Just try one bite--guest blog of Joanie Martino

Joanie making Kafedetes

The kitchen at Eddy's Greek Cooking School near Aliki on Paros

With lots of encouragement from my family, I was able to join with my sister, Marilyn, on the last segment of her "Taste and See Sabbatical."

When all the hurdles to leave my husband and kids were left behind, I soon began to taste the Wyoming freedom of being in charge of only me and began to savor 8 days stirring the pots that make me who I am.

Leaving everyone gave me a smorgasbord of feelings: I shouldn't indulge myself while they're all at home; I can't wait to pack only my clothes; what will the family do without my presence and ability to get everyone to the desired location at the right time with all the appropriate equipment and clothes; realizing that I will be able to watch the entire on-flight movie without interruption; and wondering what if Bob does better than I do and the kids don't miss me. Finally, time to spend with my sister whom I never get enough of due to proximity, jobs and obligations. Such a spread of thoughts and feelings went into the decision to meet Marilyn and then actually take the steps and actually go to meet her in Greece.

The time in Greece continued to be filled with tastes and sights. Tastes of exotic foods that at times required a push from within to go ahead, step out in faith and try it. Tastes of new music, smells that were unusual to my nose and finally the taste of time that it was time only for the sisters or the Cowgirls as Bob refers to us. Each taste made the time in Greece an experience I wanted to share with others and yet savoring them and knowing it was tasting time for only the two of us. I knew my presence would change the flavor for Marilyn's time, but I hoped my being with her for just the last part would bring a difference and companionship that had been missing--someone else to "taste" her experience. Time at a table where two or more are gathered enriches the time. Slowly bringing Mare's solo time to an end and then back to her family and finally to her church family.

The taste of Greece is deep, layered spices in slow cooking, layered culture with influences of myth and other cultures in their history and layered with tourists from all over the world. Greece is an explosion in taste of all ways.

In "sight" my time with Mare in Greece was unique also. First, just the physical appearance of place, people and things. Noticing the differences, then searching for commonalities--they resemble someone I know, this place looks like the Red Desert of Wyoming, another place looks as it has a past older than I can comprehend. Seeing and spending time with my sister, I always feel like my eyes are drinking her in--her presence in mine, her eyes dancing and laughing as we share this experience.

How does God figure into this? I guess first with trust that he can guide us and others to help while we are in Greece. Next, in love that he wants us to be together with others to share his world--new friends, old friends and family. Last, his blessings that the world he made for us is great and eternal from the Olympians of ancient times, to the chefs today to the skill of the pilots on this flight home. He puts others in our lives at all times so we taste and see that He is good.

Monday, October 19, 2009

From the oracle at Delphi

Aloura (So in Italy), Vale (okay in Spain) Now Greece and how can one say the submissive gesture that says "don't worry?"

I did get to Paros despite a cancelled flight and knew I'd leave there eventually despite another cancelled flight. And in the inbetween time spent at Maria's Village in Aliki--a nice new cottage just 100 yards from the Sea, then time at Eddy's cooking school on the nearby mountain, who knew how much fun and learning would go on?

My sister, Joanie, was waiting to greet me when the plane landed on Paros. It didn't take long to get settled in and walk "into town" to enjoy a really find Greek meal of Tsatiki and sausage. Walking on the beach and through the small town (think Riverside or Encampment), and just enjoying being together; later enjoying a bottle of the local red wine and supper of boiled sting ray, grilled swordfish, pork steak and the usual Greek salad.

After breakfast on Friday morning we were met by Eddy, the chef/teacher of our Greek cooking experience. In the environs of a 250 year old (barely renovated) farm house, we learned cooking from a Dutch computer engineer, who believes he has a Greek heart. Specializing in how "they" did it in the old days when the farm was new, he is transforming the house and barns and teaching everyone (even Greeks) how life was lived.

So it was that cooking on small marble slabs heated by very low heat on gas burners, he simulates the ovens of old bakeries. We made 11 different recipes to make a full lunch for 5 and a dinner for 9 during our 12 hours with Eddy. We split the timebetween active chopping, slicing, mixing, sniffing and tasting with tours of his ouzo distillery, the nearby monastery, the goat farm and with rest on the patio sipping wine, listening to Greek music and relaxing.

And when it was all over for the day we had made Tzatziki, Scordalia, Keftedes Courgettes, Briam, Papousakia, Keftedes, Stifado, Marouli, Rice and Horta. It was a wonderful non-stressful time following Eddy's method of Greek cooking in which there can be no panic. It's all fun and enjoyable. I'm still amazed at what we accomplished on less than 2 square feet of counter space with 3 frying pans, 1 dutch oven, 1 sauce pan and 3 marble slabs on a primitive gas stove. Joanie compared it to cooking in a sheep wagon.

The following morning we caught the ferry to Athens as our flight had been cancelled with no provision for our return. The 4 hours on the top deck, soaking up the Greek sun was most relaxing. So who can worry?

In Athens we quickly checked into our hotel before heading to the new Museum of the Acropolis. It's built over ancient ruins and in places, one walks on glass floors in order to look below at some of the seven layers of the excavated city. Unfortunately, the Acropolis was closed for the night so we weren't able to "summit" it.

We joined a tour group Saturday to tour the Pelopynesian Penisula. Our guide was an amazing teacher who easily kept our interes as he introduced us to Greece from the Bronze Age on. Myths, legends, history all came alive as we went from place to place. I particularly enjoyed his insights about how to "read" a frieze and how sculpture changed through the ages.

Spending one morning in ancient Olympia was a real treat. It is amazing that the ancient games were held for nearly 1000 years beginning in 776 BC; during that time only 22 cheaters broke the stringent rules for competition. Their punishment included having their names, the names of their fathers, the cities they represented and the nature of their infringement etched on marble and placed near the entrance to the stadium. Their shame was so great most committed suicide. A big difference from now with some of our heroic athletes.

While there we watched the rehearsal for the lighting of the Olympic Torch which takes places next week in preparation for the Winter Games in Calgary. Runners will carry the torch to Athens where it will be flown to eastern Canada where runners chosen by lot will carry it across the continent in the following weeks.

Touring with a group has been loads of un as we conversed on the bus and shared meals together in the evening. I thought my trip was significant until visiting with several who have been "on the road" from 7 weeks to 8 months. Those Aussies really know how to travel.

This morning we spent touring the ancient site of the Temples of Athena and Apollo where the oracle of Delphi is located. It is an amazing site where mountains, rivers, groves and the sea all converge. It is easy to see why it has been considered a holy spot since antiquity. Consulting the oracle leads me to believe that this will be my last post on this side of the Atlantic. We fly back tomorrow morning. Since I am unable to upload photos at this place, I will try to blog soon with some photos of the some of the amazing things we tasted and saw.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's Greek to Me: a travel glitch

Bread and wine above and San Marcos below

Struck by the words of Psalm 5 in the Daily Office, "In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation," I sipped my cappacino and set forth my hopes for the day. In the quiet corner of the boarding area of the Venice airpot, I gave thanks for my wonderful sojourn in Italy and looked forward to meeting my sister, Joanie, in Athens. We planned to travel together to Paros for the last of my cooking adventures.

The stay in Venice had given me several great memoires and insights. I was elated to finally see this infamous city and enjoyed being windblown as I stood in the back of the water taxi on my way down the Grand Canal, dodging slower water buses and emerging gondolas as they came from small channels just waiting to be explored. Venice is nothing short of romantic. Dueling little orchestras playing danceable oldies on the huge San Marcos Plaza, lovers cuddled together for private gondola rides, quiet canal-side eateries everywhere you turn.

Sitting alone at one such place I was aware that I longed for a dinner companion. (companion from com=with; and pan=bread, thus someone to break bread with). The first cooking schools featured preparing meals to eat together. Loads of fun exploring new tastes and textures, then talking about them together. The school in Florence was much more about professional preparation of food for guests and not so much about sharing the good food together. Eating there was more of a stand up affair in the kitchen before rushing off to something else. Then several days eating alone. So I found myself on more than one occasion in Venice mentally fast forwarding to being with Joanie and to making plans for my return home.

The bascilica of San Marcos is an amazing edifice, an imposing building the dominates the busy plaze that must be the size of several football fields, filled with music, crowds, hawkers of souvenirs and children feeding and chasing pigeons and the occasional out-of-place gull. The inside tour of the church is not to be missed. Even in the dim lighting, the gold mosaics of holy events and people take your breath away. Unfortunately, the mosaics are only lighted on Sunday and Sunday the place had been closed for a private event. So I contented myself with the view at hand. Seeing the plaza below from my perch on the outdoor gallery gave me a new perspective on the bells which are struck by ancient robots, on the size and busyness of the plaza , on the layout of the Grand Canal. And yet for all these good things, I was ready to move on to the next thing.

The flights to Rome and Athens were right on time and then things began to go awry. The afternoon flight to Paros had been cancelled. Apparently Joanie had received word in the States and made connections for an earlier flight. But there I was stuck in Athens and the alternative ferry was not running due to high seas.
Frustrated, teary, tired and aggravated, I struggled to keep my composure and go with the flow. Hadn't I begun with the idea that travel is an adventure? Stilll, having to go to 4 different places and get 3 different forms to locate my luggage and then taking 45 minutes on a bus trip to the hotel was not anywhere in the plans I had prayed in the morning.

It's amazing how a shower, lunch on a balcony overlooking the sea, an email from Joanie and a call to Paros began to let my perspective change. I really had no control over these events and I might as well quit pouting and find something good here. The sunset was every bit as golden as the Greek travel brochures promised; the cocktail with a friendly French couple on holiday was relaxing, despite the challenge of their limited English and my even more limited French; and the buffet of Greek delectables was comfort food of a whole new kind.

But perhaps the best was running into the executive chef in the hallway after dinner. When I complimented him on the wonderful menu, he stopped his errand and just stood to visit for a time. He spoke of his joy and the hard work in this vocation, of his love of Mediteranean cuisine, how God had blessed this area with oranges--round like the world; with olives and grapes in abundance; the sight and smell of the best vegetables. He wondered how with all these beautiful things that Jews, Christians and Muslims could fight. Why not just eat?

When I asked how he began to cook, he blamed it all on his grandmother. Despite protests of the family, she insisted that they all go to Church every Sunday. Afterward the whole family gathered at her home for dinner for what she pointed out was their second union with God: first at church, then with family. He had spent his lifetime trying to re-create for others the ambience and the delectable flavors and aromas of his grandma's kitchen.

And maybe that is what I most needed to hear/learn. That this whole cooking adventure is based on my deep longing that people everywhere would all have time to enjoy union with God and with one another with bread to break, wine to pour and an abundance of food to be shared; that we all may taste and see that the Lord is good, even when our best laid plans are put on hold for a time. God willing I'll be in Paros in time today to enjoy lunch with Joanie and to see the sights of another wonderful part of this world.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I once was lost....

Torta della Nonna (with pears)
A view of the Duomo from San Domenico, Siena

Yesterday, after finishing my last class at Scuola di Arte Culinaria--Cordon Bleu, (with Rabbit Cacciatora, Bucatini all' Amatriciana, Spaghetti alla Puttaresca, Finocchi al Parmigiana and Torta della Nonna) and thus earning a certificate and an apron (no chef's jacket yet), I came to Siena. Checked into Hotel Italia, grabbed a map and took off to see this historic, scenic town on my own. I had a private tour arranged for the next day (today), but wanted to see it myself first. After the hustle of Florence with 460,000 residents and countless tourists, Siena (pop= 60,000) was paradise. Still lots of tourists, but on a whole different scale.

Soon I was in prayer at San Domenico, the church home of Catherine of Siena, a doctor of the Church and I think the only woman so honored. Illiterate and yet a lay sister of amazing intellectual stature and persuasive charisma, a healer and worker of miracles, she is the patron saint of Siena, Italy and Europe (according to my tour guide) Her head and thumb are on display as relics.

Siena, a city set on a hill, was once a rival to Florence. The first ever bank was founded here in 1472. The bubonic plague wiped out much of the population; the Florentines took over after some battles and Siena became a back water town.

The amazing and fun thing for me to learn was about the 17 contrades. They are benevolent and social groups, once based on trades and geographical boundaries, but now are furiously competive in many arenas, but particularly in the 2 Palio events in July and August. The Palio is a bareback horse race in which 10 contrades are chosen by lot to enter their horse in a 3 circuit race around the city "square." From a film I watched and the explanation of my guide, it sounds like something crossed with Mardi Gras, Kentucky Derby, Cheyenne Frontier Days and a Shriner's Convention. Flag twirlers and drummers compete in addition to the horses.

But all bragging rights go to the contrade whose horse crosses the finish line first (with or without a jockey) and the whole shebang is really based on which contrade captain can "buy" or influence the other jockeys to lose, fall off, or truly win. So it is both skill on some levels and on chance on others.

People are born into contrades and have immense loyalty to their particular group and an affinity to their groups' allies. Groups are Elephant, Ostrich, Porcupine, Dolphibn, Ram, Unicorn, Dragon, Snail, Caterpillar, Turtle, Duck and a few others I can't remember) By pre-nup agreements, "mixed families" determine which contrade their offspring will be initiated into.

So, after checking out the Duomo and the Campo, I realized I'd lost my map. Darkness was just moments away; I didn't know the address of the hotel; rain was beginning to come down in earnest. I am so grateful that several views had been particularly memorable to me, including a tree seen from a brick lined, building bound, narrow street with a shop with smiling cat purses. Once I saw that tree I knew I could find "home."

But as I trudged along (even before sighting the tree), I started chuckling to myself. How absolutely funny (and fun) it was to be in a new place, lost and yet assured that soon I would find myself or be found.

Lost in Toulouse, mixed up in the French countryside, misplaced in Aix, misguided in Florence and, come to think of it, at some point lost in nearly every other place I've been. (And I consider myself a competent map reader with a good sense of direction. Just don't trust me as I am probably on my way to being found!!!)

Certainly an unexpected grace of this sabbatical is having the freedom, time and space to experience events and then reflect on them--not just record them on film or put them into a journal with the hopes of one day considering what it all meant. Trying to get a handle on how the landscape shapes me in the here and now.

We all get lost in many ways at many times in life's journey, but the good news is that, like the Prodigal, who "came to his senses," we find a view that reminds us how to return home again. For a moment, home may be a hotel in a strange, new city; or it may be the repair of a broken relationship; or it may be simply sitting down to supper with family or friends you left in the morning before going to work. It may be coming home to God, realizing we are found, forgiven, loved and named.

Having received word of many tragic deaths and sad events in Laramie, I am grateful that the saints who are there "at home" understand and undertake their ministries with such competence, grace and faith.

Caio! Blessings!

P.S. On this rainy night I regret leaving my Gore-tex jacket in Spain. It too was lost and now is found and it on its way back to Laramie. I'm glad for souvenir shops which sell umbrellas, too. And now out to find food and find my way back home.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Photos to go with following post

Noah "taking a nap" after enjoying some wine--from the Campenille at the Duomo
Chocolate Wine Cake

Ossibuchi being prepared

Aromas of herbs and spices

On this penultimiate day in Florence, I am on the piazza of Hotel Monna Lisa, enjoying a second pot of coffee and the cool morning, sure it will be in the high 70's later. This week at Cordon Bleu has been like total emulsion/immersion in Italian. Chefs Gianna and Christina use 99.9% Italian and Gabriella uses 95% when she occassionally drops in to translate. Most of the students are enrolled in 2-4 month courses, training to be professional chefs. In nearly every way I am out of my comfort zone; other than I do know what a stove is. I thought I knew how to use a whisk, but was quickly corrected. It is really loads of fun and I am learning much by observation, osmosis and from a couple of American students who answer my questions during the occasional breaks.

For the gentle "foodie" readers I will treat you with our recent learnings. Day 1, Techniques, we made Spinach/Swiss chard piel, Ossibuchi, Risotto ala Milanese, and Panna Cotta. Day 2, Pastry, was Torta Mimosa, Pasta Genovese, Zuccotto Toscano and Chocolate Wine Cake. Yesterday was all about sauces: Maionese, Hollandaise, Bechamel, Bernaise, Bordolese, Aeloli, all with variations. We finished up with mustard infused apple sauce and a sweet and sour sauce. At the very conclusion about 30 different fresh herbs were distributed to the 12 of us to touch, taste and smell while Gianna described their uses.

Perhaps it was only coincidental that my morning study included "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing." (2Cor 2:14-15)

As a sauce reached its proper stage of reduction, Gianna would draw us close to sniff how it should be--even before tasting. it intriques me what "fragrance" we, as Christians, infuse the world. Somehow I believe it is the aroma of peace/shalom/well being rather than anger, hunger, war; it is empathy, forgiveness, generosity and concern the needy, rather than misunderstanding, intolerance, greed and getting even.

As part of my Italian time I have read about St. Francis and the Franciscan vocation. Susan Pitchford, a 3rd Order Franciscan writes, "We'll know we've discovered our proper job when we find that task to which we cannot bear to give anything short of our best. When no sacrifice is too great, no detail to trivial, and we're prepared to lavish the last of our resources on it, then we've found our vocation.

I see this sense of vocation in the folks training to be chefs as they sacrifice to much to participate in this course. As one whose vocation is to be the aroma of Christ, I am thinking about the sacrifices, details and generous spirit that this calls forth. I join in this prayer attributed to St. Francis in The Absorbeat, "May the power of your love, Lord Christ, fiery and sweet as honey, wean my heart from all that is under heaven, so that I may die for love of your love, who were so good as to die for love of my love. Amen."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Doors and greetings

Some recent photos

Abre la puerta--open the door

I just tried to post and lost it, but will try again hurriedly to wish all a happy St. Francis Day and to say thanks for the greetings and birthday wishes to me, too. I'm happily ensconced at Monna Lisa Hotel in Florence. The management sent me a complimentary bottle of sparkling wine, aptly named Monna Lisa Chardonnay. Yea!

I hit the streets as soon as I could and found a favorite ristorante on Piazza San Marco where I enjoyed Aristos, a pork loin chop with pureed fennel. Yum. Then just traipsed around enjoying the sights and sounds of folks enjoying a warm fall afternoon, eating gellato, drinking those dinky, but strong cups of coffee, walking their dogs and enjoying friends. I touristed some in a church I'd never gone to before it was lovely.

So here I am starting my 60th year. In the last 6 months or so I've been thinking a lot about doors. I think it all began when I heard a CD of Clarissa Pinkola Estes reading her poem, Abre La Puerto, which translates, "open the door." She repeatedly invites/commands the reader to open the door because behind or within every door is God. She insists that opening the door to children, the homeless, your partner, your hurts, and the hurts of the whole creation will lead you to encounter God, because God is there in them and with them.

Doors suggest new beginnings bkut also limitations. Doors open, but they also close. They can keep you in or out depending on which side you are on. Or they can keep others close at hand or at bay, as well.

On my first visit abroad, a friend and I arrived on a very late flight into Bergen, Norway. We knew there were no available rooms because of the Grieg festival, but by gum, we had our plane reservations and we were bound and determined to use them. The airport manager agreed to let us spend the rainy night in the airport, but he insisted on locking us in, but said he would return in the morning to free us. (at least that is how we interpreted it) That event reminds me that some times we feel trapped by our own volition and need for security and sometimes we feel trapped by the wants and needs of others. This event also has served as a kind of metaphor for me. When I have the opportunity to open a door and discover "Norway" will I do it or will I stay in relative safety, just looking out the door, wondering what Norway has to offer and where God is beckoning me onward.

I sometimes wonder what doors I have slammed shut and kept others out or when I've opened them wide and welcomed them in, even aware that they will track in mud with all their issues, problems and stuff, but also almost always had a message of God working in and through them, if I only have ears to hear and a heart to understand. Sometimes I've chosen one way, sometimes another.

The threshold of every door is a liminal space; a momentary place in time between entering and leaving. For just that bit of time, one is going out, coming in, coming out, going in. It will never be the same again, even when it is the same door.

And so tomorrow it is on to Cordon Bleu of Florence--4 days of opening new spices, learning new techniques, tasting and seeing that the Lord is good. Open your mouth, open your eyes, open the door. Abre La Puerta.