Well, at the end of my last post I stated that my month in the U.S.A. would go by quickly, and how incredibly quickly the time passed. I had a fabulous month, and couldn’t have been more pleased. In fact, I could have used an additional week in the states. The traveling to the states and back again was totally uneventful, which is good. Everything ran like clock-work, and except when I watched a very good movie entitled, “Midnight in Paris”, I studied Spanish all the way to Chicago. From that point on I was wired for every moment of time, and had no time for Spanish studies or blogging. I consider long flight travel days as my Zombie Days, just something to get through.
The weather in Chicago has been much like Cuenca’s this summer as far as lots of cloudiness and rain. The Indiana corn was truly as high as an elephant’s eye due to all the rain. Occasionally, some beautiful weather days appeared as well. I am so glad in hindsight that my residency was delayed. I originally had planned to return home in August, which would have been during a time of great heat and humidity. The days in September, which ranged from the 50’s to the low 80’s were generally quite pleasant.
It was great to spend time with all the family and with friends. I must admit it was an eating marathon for the entire month. It was like I ate in every ethnic restaurant imaginable that I cannot find in Cuenca. I was astonished that I only gained six pounds during the month. I had a dinner with former colleagues of mine before I retired last January that you can’t find in Cuenca--authentic Chinese food. We had an enjoyable evening of conversation, and I look forward to seeing them again on my next trip back to the states. With my brother, Leo and his wife Carla, we made our way to our favorite Thai and Indian restaurants; not to mention a new Scottish restaurant as well where the young lovelies who composed the wait-staff wore very short kilts and bare midriffs. It took many deliberate efforts while I was seated to look beyond our waitress’ bejeweled navel and find my way up to her eyes. I never ate in a Scottish restaurant before. The shepherd’s pie was all right, but this was a place which was more a feast for the eyes rather than its gastronomical offerings.
I enjoyed visiting with my niece, Jennifer, and her husband, Dominic, as we ate Italian at a restaurant in Naperville, Illinois. It was also great seeing my nephew Brian, his wife, Christie, and their precocious not yet two year old son, Joshua. My grand nephew will be inviting a new sibling into the family by next April.
We were blessed with two absolutely beautiful days while in the city proper of Chicago. The first day was utterly beautiful, sunny with temperatures in the 70’s, and not a cloud in the sky. The city never looked better. Everything was so green and clean-looking from all the rain,which left me surprised when I first arrived that there had not yet been any sign of autumn appearing. One corner building with a restaurant and outside sidewalk café had out did itself in the plants and blossoming flowers that it had on display. The two corner sides of the building and the entire partitions separating the outdoor patio from the public sidewalk were spectacularly arrayed in hanging flowers and plants from top to bottom. It was one time I was disappointed that I did not have my camera with me. We had dinner at my friend’s sister’s daughter’s home, which was a lovely loft-condo overlooking the Chicago River on the second floor of the former Montgomery Ward warehouse building. This reconstruction of the building into condos is just one example of how much Chicago has changed tremendously for the better over the last twenty years, at least in appearance if not in politics.
Our second visit to Chicago brought some of my family members and friends together to visit the Art Institute, which had added another wing a couple of years ago for all of its modern art collection, but which none of us had previously visited. As an adult, the Art Institute became my favorite museum in Chicago, with the finest Impressionistic art collection found outside of France. However, Chicago is no Cuenca. After spending $28.00 for parking, we each then had to pay $18.00 to enter the museum. We then ate at the Russian Tea Room, where meals averaged in the $20.00 range just for the main entrée. Needless to say, I had to smile when I think of friends in Cuenca who consider it an expensive night out kept only for special occasions when the entire dinner minus drinks may run ten to fifteen dollars.
Everything is expensive in the states. While I have seen prices creeping upwards in Cuenca, expats who have not recently been back to the states need to keep in mind that everything has been going up in the states as well. In fact, restaurant and grocery prices had already increased sharply at the beginning of this year before I had even left for Cuenca in March. If the weather in Chicago was as beautiful everyday as it was the two days we spent in the city, and if everything was not so ridiculously expensive, it would be difficult to move from a city which has so much to offer culturally, and in the beauty of its lake and the shoreline, the park system, the Chicago river and its walkways, the prolific growth of outside eateries along the river and along Michigan Avenue south of the river, and of course, the city’s spectacular architecture. However, once one factors the ludicrous cost of renting or buying property in Chicago and what little you get for the cost compared to what property has to offer in Cuenca. Once one factors the luxury of not having to own a car in Cuenca, and the very low cost of public transportation with the great savings that allows for investment or spending on other amenities; Cuenca is a no brainer for a retiree.
My brother, Ron, and my mother filled me up at steak and beef restaurants, which was about the only time I did not eat ethnic. I drove my mother to Wisconsin Dells, her home town, as we visited with relatives. It’s always a pleasure when we go to the Dells. My fondest memories as a child were the times I spent with my grandparents and my cousins in Wisconsin. My mother, who is eighty-nine, really enjoyed the chance to visit with surviving family members. Unfortunately, we did not have sufficient time to travel to Dubuque, Iowa, so we could visit with her other surviving brother and his wife and family. I hate to see my mother’s generation pass away, or to be reminded how old I and all my cousins are becoming as well. Sooner or later, one generation always has to make way for the next—such is life.
Upon my return from the Dells, I was next off with friends to Mishawaka, Indiana to visit with a dear friend of ours. Sister Barbara Anne Hallman, a retired nun of the Franciscan order. Sister had recently had a book published, which is entitled “Hands that Hold Hearts”. With the help of a Franciscan brother by the name of Kevin, who helped with the layout and art work. Sister had used illustrations of the hands of various elderly nuns as a way of presenting daily reflections for meditation.
Sister Barbara Anne is a cancer survivor and has been blessed with a special mission of service in reaching out to other cancer survivors as well. One such survivor has been a recent Boston College graduate football player by the name of Mark Herzlich, who survived cancer and has been drafted by the New York Giants. He will be featured on Sunday, October 30th. on one of “60 Minutes” segments. I don’t know if we get “60 Minutes” in Cuenca, but if not, I hope someone back in the states will make a copy and send it to me. Not all of sister’s prayers have always resulted in healing. I believe Barbara Anne has the makings for a second book. Not so much about prayer or healing, but primarily about the human dimensions shared between her and those with whom she came to care and their families.
Needless to say, while visiting with sister, who is very witty and always has a million stories to share, we kept with tradition and went to our favorite Italian restaurant in Mishawaka, "Papa Vino's". Since our last visit, a two million dollar renovation had taken place over the summer, and the decor was breath-taking. Extremely beautiful Venetian glassware of contemporary design was hanging on the walls over-lapping frosted glass partitions. Each Venetian design was unique. There was also among many of "Papa Vino's" art displays a very elegant, colorful contemporary design of metal work on the wall that I would have taken in a heart-beat to have hanging on the wall in my condo here in Cuenca.
To Vickie whose blog is "Smile Away", and who is currently visiting in the states. I know you intend to see "II Volo", the teen Italian tenors during your travels. You will not believe that I learned they were appearing at the Chicago Theater last Wednesday, the day before I was to leave for Baltimore. If I had known, when I was in Cuenca, I would have bought tickets. I can't wait to hear about your experience in hearing live this fabulous group of young talent. Missing this concert was the only disappointment during my entire trip.
Before I knew it, after a few more days in the Chicago area, it was time to travel to southern Maryland and spend an extended weekend with my eldest son, Marc. We had a spectacular time of visiting, eating, and touring. Marc really outdid himself in his dining selections: from eating at "Hank's Oyster Bar", in Dupont Center outside of Washington, D.C. proper; to feasting on Lebanese food in Baltimore at Lebanese Severna; which was a suave restaurant with fine service and food. and dining on Afghanistani cuisine at a restaurant called “Maiwand Kabob”, My son also took me to a place called “Wawa”, where we used a computer to build our own monster sandwiches. "Wawa is a store/deli combination with nowhere to sit and eat, so we went next door to McDonald’s, bought our drinks, and ate there. Marc was in disbelief that I was not impressed with “Five Guys” hamburgers, which only recently made their way into the Mid-west. My second time around left me quite impressed. How I only gained six pounds is beyond my understanding? Mind you, I’m not complaining. I am just so relieved that the damage was not greater.
Life is made up of so many precious moments, and it’s all so fleeting. Life is very much like a steady stream of consciousness. The past is memory, the future is anticipation, and the present is fleeting. I have moved to so many places during my life, and I have as an educator held positions in so many schools and systems, that I sometimes wonder where home is for me. Certainly home is with my family and friends, which is where the heart is, and I have been truly blessed with a wonderful family whom I love and appreciate more than they can know; but home is also wherever I am at that moment, and the moment for me now is Cuenca.
Next: My Day in Washington, D.C.