A walk about near the new digs

A couple weeks ago, I told you we were moving. And so we did! We moved from a couple kilometers outside the center of Milan to the very heart of it. We vacated the place on the left and landed in the place on the right. With the help of Italians and Romanians and Albanians, painting and heaving and plastering and packing. Always arriving in little Italian trucks, and driving off again in little Italian trucks

FROM TOAnd from this new vantage point, we’re like children let loose on summer vacation in a foreign land. Every day we walk and walk, peering into the unknown nooks and crannies of our next chapter. (I have actually lived here before, but it was years ago, and as you know, cities don’t sit still. They change as if their lives depend on it.) Today we stomped around Corso di Porta Ticinese and the Ripa di Porta Ticinese, which runs next to one of Milan’s old canals. Once upon a time, it looked like this:


Now, it looks like what you see below. Not changed in significant ways, but dressed up in others. A modern, loose-handed and spirited creativity, slathered generously over the bricks and mortar of hundreds of years ago. A slow moving, secret-keeping water which ties it all together under bridges that prove just how diminutive it all is. (A couple bounds and you’re up. A couple paces and you’re over. A jump or two and you’re down on the other side.) Floating restaurants, bars and boutiques. And every few paces another one-of-a-kind art gallery,  clothing store, antique store or eatery. You want Italian? Good. It’s there. But if you want Greek fusion or Brazilian sushi, they’re serving as well.

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The yummy and unusual Ponte Rosso. Click on the image to see the related post.

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And before we arrived back home again, a sighting of the kind of character that makes me so happy to be here. A Japanese woman peddling home, dressed as if she just stepped out of the Japanese countryside, groceries swinging and a garden installed in her bike-back crate. There can never be too many expressions of who we are…Out of frame, an allium, its big blue ball of a flower bouncing over her head like the flag of her very own domain.

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If this post were to be accompanied by music, it would undoubtedly be Michael Franti’s “Stay Human (All The Freaky People)” As he says, “Every flower got a right to be bloomin’.” Today we saw so many. And therein lies the beauty.




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Blooming belfry.

A little more than a year ago, I posted about the Spring colors of last year, featuring a piece of art, a “Flowerhead,” by Olaf Hajek. This year, as if Hajek’s fantastical visions were coming true, real flowerheads were recently spotted in a nearby shop window.


A man. And a woman. Their brains in full bloom. I have to admit, after the move I feel as if my own head is bursting with weeds. I had anticipated upheaval, but I hadn’t anticipated just how “upheaved” I would feel. So picture my head an explosion of dandelions, with little fluffy bits flying into thin air.


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Let’s talk about the weather.

On a lighter note, a little Italian humor. Or maybe it’s just common sense. The climate may be nuts, but you can never go wrong interpreting it like this:



Dry cord:
nice weather.

Wet cord:

Stiff cord:

Invisible cord:
fog (or, drink less).

Moving cord:

No cord:
someone stole it.

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Here we go!

See you on the other side.



The Earth Moves

Oh, ha ha ha. A couple posts ago, I was writing about mis-en-place as if I lived and breathed it. Now I’m wondering what happened to the organization I used to consider my middle name. It’s been replaced with something…well…else. And I’m reminded of a line one of my writing partners, Janet, wisely squeezed into a script for a TV spot Nike (unwisely) never approved: “Life is messy.” Jeez, is it ever.


We’re moving. I said that the last time I posted. Forgive me if I repeat myself, because that’s what you do when you move. You go a bit nuts for a while. Everything is upside down. Not just the books and boxes and memories and sentimental objects that all of a sudden just seem like something else to get rid of. But also the emotions. I am happy then I’m sad. Giddy then exhausted. Negative than positive. Whatever’s happening, I’m being moved by it. I’m being heaved up by a big tidal wave I invited into my life. You get what you ask for.


And what we asked for starts tomorrow. Tomorrow! Yikes! So, everything feels off. Everything is in flux. And despite all my best-laid mis-en-place plans (yes, I’ve drawn diagrams and floor plans and closet plans and you-name-it plans), I have this funny feeling that things will land a bit differently than I think they will. It’s all very funky.


And in the process of it all, we have revisited every moment of our own lives. Every choice. Every person we knew. Every shred of evidence or shame or glory. Every scrap of paper has been looked at and categorized, sometimes as “Trash,” sometimes as something to be newly enshrined. Every thing, every object has been reassessed. Our life has passed before our eyes, if not in a minute, then in a month of getting ready. The sense of an end is palpable.


But it’s just the end of a chapter. And without ending one chapter, you can’t start another. And that’s what it’s all about. A new, thrilling, different start. As much as I like might like to experience life as someone else, I’ll still be me with flaws and strengths, my quirks and insecurities…but I’ll be seeing the world from a different place. And this will be a new life for me. For us. I’m so excited about that.


We may do everything exactly as we do now. But then again, we may not. I don’t really think we will. A place can have huge impact on how you live, can’t it? Where we have noise now, we will have quiet. Where we have open space, we will have dedicated spaces. Where we now have lots and lots, we will be living with less. Much less. Where we now see cityscape, we will see vines. While we now commute to the center of the city, we will now be in it. A different set of contradictions. A different set of realities.

I don’t know that we will really “get anything right”…I just have faith that it will be. I’ll let you know.

What was the most traumatic move in your life? What move has changed you the most? Where would you move next?

I hope you have a beautiful day.

Posted in IN THE HOUSE | 8 Comments

The Smile

I haven’t been here in a long time, and I’ve really missed it. I’ve missed you all!

I’ve been in a vortex – tunnel – tidal wave – whatever you wanna call it of selling, buying and moving houses. And along with it, a long drawn out process of weeding out things we no longer need. The accumulated stuff. The boxes that got moved last time and have almost never been opened. The detritus. The evidence of stuff that no longer matters, and may already be forgotten. I’ve run across everything in my own past. All my old letters. All my old relationships. Friendships. Old writings. Ideas. Thoughts. Journals. Too much. Too much. Too much!

I’ve managed to eliminate a lot. Because I realize that the people aren’t in those things. They are in me. And so I’ve let a lot of paper evidence go. To lighten the load. And to allow my heart and mind to do the work of remembering, instead of leaving that precious task to a dusty box. Yes, much I’ve shredded, tossed and sent packing. Much I’ve kept.


I’ve found things I’d forgotten. This was one of them. I painted this for an early draft of a book I made with Janet Champ, Ripe. It made me happy to see this again. It felt like amessage that had been sent forward from the past.

At 52 I am far happier than I was when I painted this. Happier in my skin. More content. And I am grateful to be able to use that word full of soft-landings and second chances. I hope time is giving all of you that same gift.

The wind is howling outside. Spring turbulence. Things never sit still, do they?

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Mise-en-place: a way of life

It’s no secret. I’m not very good at blogging while I’m working. I’m a freelancer, and the work I do requires full-on attention when I get it. Usually I’ll have three days or a week or three weeks (if I’m lucky), and in that time I (and my partners, if I’m working in a team) have to crack it. You can’t miss. You can’t screw up. This is payday; you have to earn and deserve. That’s it. So taking the time to blog is something I can’t really do, even though I miss it. Today I have a tiny break.

Ironically, as the project was just heating up, I had a post in mind for you. It had to do with the way we work. I heard this story on NPR over the Christmas holidays, and it’s been playing in my head ever since. “For a More Ordered Life, Organize Like a Chef.” At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I do try to work like this. It seems, actually, the only way, often, to get everything done.

Since I’ve had children, I’ve heard myself mutter in self-conscious advice mode more times than I’d like to remember, “The key is organization.” But I think it really is. Everything goes smoother, every one is happier, everything is just a wee bit saner, when it’s all well organized. But that doesn’t come close, not really, to the philosophy explained and espoused by the chefs in this NPR story. It’s all about mis-en-place, the organizational method/mindset used by chefs in the kitchen.


If you don’t have time or desire to hear the story, the basics are as follows (this includes some chefs’ individual interpretations):

1. Start with a list.
2. Become one with your list.
3. Adopt the preparation mindset—everything ready and at hand.
4. Account for every minute and every movement
5. Work clean—clear your workspace, clear your mind
6. Clean as you go
7. Slow down to speed up, or, as we say in the ad/design world: do it right the first time.

Underlying all this is, in my mind, an eloquent and beautiful way of seeing the world. One of the chef’s expressed it like this: “Time is precious, resources are precious, space is precious, your self-respect and your respect of others are precious.” Amen, a million times.



Many, many years ago, and some of my closest friends will already know this about me, I used to quote Mary Randolph’s Virginia Housewife, also entitled Methodical Cook, published in 1860. She starts the book like this, before getting into curing herrings and roasting snipes. I’ve put my favorite part in bold. It cracks me up:

The grand arcanum of management lies in three simple rules:–“Let every thing be done at a proper time, keep every thing in its proper place, and put every thing to its proper use.” If the mistress of a family, will every morning examine minutely the different departments of her household, she must detect errors in their infant state, when they can be corrected with ease; but a few days’ growth gives them gigantic strength: and disorder, with all her attendant evils, are introduced. Early rising is also essential to the good government of a family. A late breakfast deranges the whole business of the day, and throws a portion of it on the next, which opens the door for confusion to enter.

And so that confusion will not enter, I will close this blog post for the day and put my shoulder back to the grindstone. My freelance work continues tomorrow, so we may not hear from each other for a few days. Until then, work well, work clean, and enjoy yourself.

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Welcome to my city

Thank you, New York Times, for showing it off so beautifully.

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“Je suis Charlie”

Everywhere you look today, “I am Charlie”/”Je suis Charlie” in honor of those who lost their lives in Paris yesterday and to stand strong against those who would have us live in fear. There are no other words.

My daughter asked me why there were so many shootings. I started to explain, but in explaining, I realized that there really is no explanation. To try to make any of it have sense is an absurd exercise. I was at a loss for how to tell her.


Red Shoes R Us

Just before Christmas, the Milan shop windows were full shoes. Red shoes. These oxfords caught my eye. They wanted to dance, or at least attend a very chic New Year’s Eve party.


I love red shoes, but even as I type that, I realize I don’t currently have a pair in my closet. There is something wrong with that. I probably need to remedy the situation.

If you own a pair of red shoes, you own a story. There’s always one. You put them on and something unexpected happens. Or something unexpected comes out of your mouth. Red shoes give you courage. Their attitude travels from the bottom up.

I have had several pairs of red high-heeled pumps. They were very good friends of mine. And like good friends, they are not divulging any secrets. Around 1983 I saw a pair of red, vintage, satin heels I craved so badly, I couldn’t bear for anyone else to have them. I bought them. I wore an 8-1/2. They were 6’s.


My daughter went to see a new pediatrician in her favorite pair of red Mary Janes. The doctor, a woman, said, “Hello there. I love your shoes. Did you know, I only wear red shoes?” We both looked down at her feet which were clad in red loafers. She and my daughter have been great friends ever since. When she was three, my brother gave her a pair of red cowboy boots. She wore them with purpose. She did them proud. And she has never parted with them, even though she’s long since outgrown them.


I remember as if it were this morning, seeing a pair of red, pointy-toed velvet Moroccan slippers at an import store in Milan in Piazza Sant’Eustorgio. I wanted them. I didn’t buy them. I regret that. I just know that they would have unleashed unexplored sides of my personality, even if I never left the comfort of my home.


I believe that red shoes have accompanied us through more first steps, more first days of school, more power lunches and more successful dates than any other fashion accessory in history. They tend to get things started, even if it’s just our own sluggish motors. I know you have a red shoe story to tell. Will you share it?


[If you liked this post, you might also enjoy Memphis Stiletto Blues.]

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