Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Shows you how much doctors know.  Jane Brody in The New York Times Science Section today says that caffeine is good for you.

Studies show that people that drink coffee live longer, blah blah blah.  Read the article and find out.

I knew it!

Any comments?

YOU TUBE VIDEO: Take a look

If you want to see what I look like or what I sound like, click on the link.

What do you think?

Sunday, June 24, 2012


What a difference a week makes!  Last Sunday morning I was lying in the cardio obs waiting for my breakfast (apparently they forgot I was there) and wishing to be let free.  Hadn't slept much with all the noise and lights and interruptions every hour to take my blood pressure or check my temperature or give some pill.  Exhausted and hungry I waited for the verdict until, finally, after a few complaints they brought me scrambled eggs with potatoes and fruit and yogurt and herb tea.  I ate the food and the fruit and drank water.  Coffee?  No coffee.  Eventually two cardiologists came, listened to my heart and whatnot, and pronounced me "ready to go home,"  "no need for more tests."  Yipee! 

Today I sit on my deck reading the Sunday Times and drinking coffee (yes, half a cup diluted with hot water and some milk) (my internist said it's ok to drink one cup a day: "everything in moderation" is his motto).  I eat berries with cereal and cottage cheese later and unpack a few boxes from the massive packing David had to do while I was away in Europe.  Everything was put away.  I mean everything from the living-room/dining-room/kitchen.  Now, with beautifully blonde floors we put stuff back.  But we downsize.  We've come to enjoy the minimalist look.  Few pictures on the mantel.  Few posters on the walls.  Virtually no knick-knacks anywhere.  Clean and spacious. 

At first I was opposed to storing all those dear photos of grandchildren, grandmothers, weddings, travels.  I wanted my tiny bottles and tiny cups collections from around the world.  Now, however, I've come to enjoy the quiet of empty walls and shelves and windowsills.  Blank spaces where I can rest my eyes and my mind, where I can daydream and not be assaulted by colors and images.  Burnham was right: "Less is more."  (Did he say that?  I think so). (Or was it Mies?).  (Someone inform me please.) 

I am enjoying the new emptiness.  An emptiness that allows for mindful pondering.  A tabula rasa ready for new ideas and projects.  And I am enjoying being at home, feeling well, ready to write and read and organize.  What will I write next Sunday? 

Oh yeah! I'll be at The Clearing in Elison Bay, Wisconsin.  There should be lots of things to write about.  As long as I'm healthy...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

LIFE AFTER CAFFEINE: What the doctor ordered

How many cups of coffee do you drink a day?

Not many, 3 or 4.

That's a lot, the cardiologist pronounces.  As a matter of fact, I just published an article about coffee and the heart.  That's my research area.

Oh shit!  With all the cardiologists in the world I have to fall into the hands of the one who researches coffee's impact on the heart...? 

But that's not that many, I venture timidly.

Try going without coffee for a while and see what happens.

I agree reluctantly and then make the mistake of telling my husband what the doctor said.  Next morning the new cardiologist on the floor - a young woman - repeats the advice.  She only drinks decaf.  This time David is present.

When did you find out coffee gave you palpitations? he asks her.

After my first Starbucks cup.

She suggests I drink decaf.  It has some caffeine too but you can try that.

Yeah, I guess so.  I like the taste actually. So decaf will be ok.

I read that coffee is good for you, I'm trying hard to get permission from her. For Alzheimer's prevention or something.

Well, that's different. 

And so Monday morning comes and all I have is orange juice, even though the coffeemaker is staring at me, half filled with freshly brewed coffee.  I smell it.  What the hell I think and pour a quarter mug, then fill it with hot water and top it off with milk.  David is playing tennis.

A few tentative sips later I feel a fluttering.  I dump the coffee in the sink resignedly.  Tuesday morning I drink orange juice.  No cheating today.  I don't have withdrawal headaches.  I'm not climbing the walls.  I guess I don't really need it.  It was always mostly a habit, something to do when waking up, something to hold when writing, a crutch?  After all, I've been drinking coffee since I was a child.  In Argentina we drink cafe con leche every morning.  Granted, it's mostly leche with a little cafe.  But coffee drinking goes way back in my family.  My ancestors all drank coffee every day.  They come from one of the lands where coffee is produced.  How can I not drink it anymore?  It's in my blood.  Probably makes up part of my blood: dark as coffee.

Everything in moderation, the doctor said Sunday. Like wine.  One glass is good.  More...not so much.

I'll try one cup in a few days or weeks.  Or maybe half a cup with lots of hot water and milk.  Diluted enough so it shouldn't affect me.  Or maybe I'll give it up altogether.  Like smoking.  I don't know...I just don't know. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

FROM BARABOO TO THE E.R.: Not what I wanted to do this weekend

It turns out heart palpitations are benign.  Glad to know.  I found that out yesterday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.  They do scare you though. At least they scare me.  That's why we left Baraboo earlier than anticipated and came home to go to the E.R. and find out what the heck is going on with my heart.

After 24 hours at the cardio obs I find out I'm ok.  But it took a while.  And sleeping in a hospital is the hardest thing to do.  Lights everywhere, sounds: beeping machines, revving up machines, doors slamming, computers flashing.  How are patients supposed to get well if they can't get a good night's sleep?

This was my first time staying overnight at a hospital.  Next time I'll be sure to take my ear plugs, face mask, toothbrush, and maybe some food.  Although I hope there is no next time.  On my back for 24 hours brought me a headache as well.  But, again, I'm ok they said.  I hope they know what they're doing.

I wasn't thrilled about being in Baraboo but I surely would have preferred to stay there than to rush to the E.R. saturday morning with my heart pounding.  Again.  The weekend is almost over.  After three weeks in Europe, a few days in Baraboo, a day at the hospital: I'm waiting for my life to go back to normal.  I'll never complain again about being at home, healthy and happy.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

FROM VIENNA TO BARABOO: The circus is in town

Transitions are not easy for me.  Change disconcerts me.  It takes me a while to settle in the new place.  Strange, isn't it?  For someone who gets bored easily, who craves travel and new places, you would think I can accomodate to whatever life brings my way.  But then - I never said I am not a walking contradiction.  Those are life's paradoxes.

A week ago today I was in Athens, Greece, Europe.  Today I am in Baraboo, Wisconsin, the United States.  (Baraboo?  What is a baraboo?)  It's the circus capital of the USA, the headquarters of the Circus Museum.  We have come with David for the Circus Historical Society Annual Convention, hoping to sell some vintage posters, to find new conservation customers, to network with circus posters collectors from around the world.  There are talks about all things circus, a banquet, a circus performance. 

Two weeks ago today I was in Vienna, Austria, Europe.  Today I am in Baraboo at a circus convention populated by, mostly, white old men.  As I sit in the back of the room while the archivist speaks about his catalog system in the museum's library a sea of bald or white haired heads confronts me.  A few women, a few young men insure the continuity of the organization. 

I am still somewhat jet-lagged and fall asleep early.  Thankfully the bed-and-breakfast where we're staying is in the middle of a huge farm, in the middle of pine trees and red-winged blackbirds: a quiet place under the blue sky.  We are the only guests.  I sleep well; in the morning I walk outside where the sun shines at 7 a.m. and sit to read for a while before breakfast at 8:30.  I can hear the robins above my head, I can see the red flash of the red-winged blackbirds and the swifts' fast flights from the corner of my eye as I read on my Kindle.  David brings me a mug of coffee.  This is nice.  I must say.  It is not Vienna but it is nice.  Calming.  Relaxing.  Soon I will be myself again. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012





                                                    AT THE MUSEUMPLATZ

                                                    ON THE DANUBE

Friday, June 8, 2012


Jet-lag is a bitch!  I am so out of it when I get home on Thursday, I can't even eat anything even though I'm very hungry.  It's been a long return trip.  I go to sleep around 4 in the afternoon and wake up the next day.  To make matters more disconcerting, my house has changed.  Floors have been sanded, televisions have been replaced, furniture is out of place, I can't find anything.

Where is the sugar bowl? I ask Friday morning at 5 a.m.  I've missed David's coffee. And The New York Times.  David tries to teach me how to use the new remote control.  My brain is not on yet.  But slowly I regain my composure and get things done.  Find things.  Now I need another nap.

When I close my eyes I hear Greek: my mother's voice calling my name, my cousin's comments about America,  my friends', the neighbors.  My head swims in the past three weeks but finally I manage to fall asleep.  Jet-lag is a bitch indeed!

It's 3 pm on Friday.  I have to take a nap.  More later...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


What do they say about us in America?
How do you find Greece?
Could you live here?

If I heard these questions once, I heard them a million times.  What do I say?  The truth?  What do I know about they say in America?  Watch the news.  You know how Greece is: you live here.  I confess: I don't suffer fools.  I am sorry but I don't.

The farewells to relatives and neighbors drive me insane too.  My mother insists I must call or see every single person she knows.  Preferably, I have to go out to dinner with them or at least have a glass of wine.

When are you going to retire?
How much are you going to get?
Would you like to live here?

It seems that most people can't wait to retire so they can sit and sip coffee at  the cafeteria all day.  No.  I exaggerate.  Ok, ok.  Not everyone but certainly a large portion of men and women spend a considerable amount of time sitting at cafes sipping coffee and smoking.  To each his own I guess.

Tomorrow I fly home.  This has been a very informative trip.  I've learned several things that I don't want to share with the world at the moment.  Suffice it to say that I am better for it.  Even though it has been difficult at times while it was happening.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Performing a bank transaction in Athens gives new meaning to the word "patience." Or "insanity", depending on your view of the glass being half full or half empty.

We walk to the bank this morning with mom so she can collect her social security and pay her rent. (First question mark: pay her rent in the bank?) There is a line outside the door waiting to get in. Is the bank that crowded we have to wait outside? Not. You have to go up to the door and press a red button. When the red becomes green you can open the door. Close that door and press another red button that turns green in a few seconds. In the meantime, if there are two people (like in our case) you are stuck in this tiny enclosure. (Second question: what is that about?)

Walk in and there must be about 50 people waiting. What the heck is going on? Most of them are old. They have come to collect their social security. We take a number: 387. I look up at the counter on the wall to see what number is being waited on right now: 299. What?! (Third question: why do they have to come here and wait?) Answer: because their money is not delivered by the postman anymore (what? the mailman or woman brought you cash?). Yes, because they used to be robbed. So now, you have to go to the bank and wait for two or three hours to collect your pension money.

I look at the faces of the women waiting: tired, wrinkled, hopeless, they stare out into space and/or look at me and/or look at the counter. When we walk in a man who is leaving gives my mom his number: 360. Ok, that's something. Only 59 numbers to go.

In the meantime mom goes up to a desk where a woman she knows is working and introduces me. Mom's passbook is old and she must get a new one. (What number question is this? Anyway, passbook? I haven't seen one of those in 30 years.) We sit down and after half an hour mom has a new passbook and the clerk's signature on her number so she can now go to the teller ahead of the others and get her money and pay her rent. I always say: it pays to know people. In this case, it saves us an hour wait, at least.

To get out of the bank we must go through the same procedure as when we walked in. One door first. Close that door. Stand in the glass enclosure. Open the other door. The line to get in has grown longer by now. Good luck folks! Did you bring something to read? Your lunch? Some candy at least or a crossword puzzle?

In the evening we go to Key Bar where Katerina is djing. Cute place! Samantha comes and we chat a while. Two other people join us later, friends of Katerina's. Chris is creating a paper for the homeless. Like our Street Wise in Chicago. He's a journalist who has devoted his life now to creating the paper, organizing the vendors, finding funding, etc. etc. Born and raised in Australia he lives in Athens. For now. We talk about homelessness, economic crises, education, the "madness" of life in Greece. I enjoy talking to him and his friend, finding kindred spirits. I am glad I met them. Perhaps there is still hope...

REPORT FROM THE TRENCHES: ATHENS: Day ... day...what day is it?

Traveling from the Greek islands by ferry boat should qualify as an extreme sport.  I think Ulysses had an easier time making his way to Ithaca.  There are probably about 1500 people on the Blue Star Ferry this afternoon returning to Piraeus, the port of Athens.  It arrives an hour late from some other island (Rhodes? Cos?) and the throngs of passengers accumulate outside the gates.  Motorcycles must be let by.  They roll noisily up the plank.  We are careful not to be run over. Cars must be let by too.  We make our slow ascent on foot.

We have suitcases to roll and Irma (the dog) to watch plus laptops, sleeping bag, whatnot.  After I make my way up the stairs, I have to find my seat.  Thankfully I have an assigned seat.  But finding it is another story.  This is a huge boat.  There are air seat areas that look like an airplane, cafes where people sprawl, and chairs that passengers grab and set wherever they feel comfortable, inside and out.  There are also cabins and luxury cabins.  That's what I want!  But - alas! - I don't have one.  My seat is good though.  Maria on the other hand has to stay outside because of Irma. 

After settling down with my baggage, I embark on a search for Maria.  Up and down the ship I go, in and out. Finally I find her on the upper deck which is in the open, sitting at a big table with a couple of guys and Irma at her side.  There is a Pakistani young man and a Bulgarian drinking gin and coke, smoking.  Besides her, against a wall, there is a group of gypsies on the floor, adults and children.  This is Maria's milieu: she works with refugees, immigrants, and especially gypsies.  They like Irma and offer her treats. 

The voyage is almost four hours long.  I spend some time in my seat daydreaming and then find the "a la carte" restaurant where I indulge on spaghetti bolognese and white wine.  Night has fallen.  The full moon astonishes us as we sit on the deck with Maria and Irma and, of course, a whole lot of other people.  When the annoucement is made that soon we will be arriving to the port the majority of the 1500 people start to walk towards the doors and a crowd forms.  A crowd always forms when passengers must disembark in one of these ferries.  They can't wait to get out of there and the competition to be first is fierce. 

We wait.  What's the point?  It will take a while, a long while, before everyone has to be off.  By the time I make it to the bottom of the stairs a crowd pushing to get in greets me.  Wait a minute! Let me off first!  Where are these people going?  It's 11 pm.  It turns out the boat leaves in a half hour for Rhodes.  A trip that will last 11, yes eleven, hours.  Holy mackerel!  I push with suitcase and bag in hand making sure not to lose sight of Maria. 

And we are off the boat, on the ground, in the port.  Taxis, buses, cars, motorcycles, all around us.  We find our ride - Maria's boyfriend - and are able to leave the port fairly quickly.  When I get home I am so exhausted I can't even talk.  Tired of traveling I long for my home.  My bed.  My husband. 

Traveling sounds better than it is, I think sometimes.  Imagining the journey always trumps the reality of it.  Or almost always.  I like to plan the voyage and imagine where I'll go and what I'll see.  I enjoy reliving the voyage when I return and telling friends about it, recalling incidents and episodes.  But actually experiencing it is another thing altogether.  Why do I do it?  To write about it, of course.

It offers me words filled with sounds and colors and tastes and smells.  The voyage lives better in the mind.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Morning at the Asteria Cafe on the shore: I cannot swim so I am relegated to getting my feet wet on the rocks.  Everyone swims here.  And they count how many times they go in the water.  It's an obsession and almost a competition.  How many "bania" did you do so far? they ask each other.  Clearly a people for whom the sea is part of life, ineluctably joined to its fortunes.  The Aegean is like oil today they say to mean the water is calm.  Undoubtedly a country of sailors. 

After lunch at the cafe we head up for home and a nap.  In the afternoon we stroll down to the center for a bottle of wine to take to dinner and stop for a lemonade (or in my case for a sour cherryade) before heading uphill to Thalia's house.  She's Maria's friend whose boyfriend is a fisherman and goes out a few times a week to catch all manner of seafood.  Today we're having spaghetti with lobster.  Andreas was a sponge diver earlier in life and now lives in Syros where he fishes (for fun) and works with seashells and marble.  It is a good life. 

Tomorrow we sail back to Athens in the late afternoon.  Oh no! the chaos and noise of Athens again after the quiet of Syros, the full moon reflecting on the Aegean at night, the marble streets and steps, the delight of the simple life.  Why do people live in Athens? we ask each other at the supper table.  Why indeed?


The hydrofoil rides on the waters of the Aegean at 7:30 am and brings me to Syros, one of the Cycladic Islands.  Maria is waiting at the harbor where I disembark with many others carrying suitcases and babies.  We take the free bus and arrive at her house right in front of the sea.

Charming two flat: I have my own studio apartment: bedroom with balcony on the water, bathroom, kitchen.  This is heaven!  Or close to it.

Ermoupolis is the capital of Syros as well as the capital of Cyclades.  Quaint buildings from the neoclassical period stand next to Venetian looking buildings.  The history of the island goes back to the Phoenicians and it was occupied by Franks, Venetians, Turks, everyone passed by here.

In the evening we walk down to the center teeming with children on skateboards, parents pushing strollers, boys with soccer balls, young men and women sitting in cafes smoking.  A myriad shops attract my attention with beautifully colorful bracelets and earrings, ceramic cups and plates, a bookstore or two, everything is here.  The ground we walk on everywhere is marble.  So much marble!  Makes for a cool walk in the summer heat I'm sure albeit a bit slippery. 

We have a sangria in one of the many harbor cafes and walk back through the town square where a free movie of the Neo-Fascist movement in Italy is being shown.  We sit on the steps of the city hall and watch with awe and sadness.  Next week there is an antifascist festival on the square.  Intriguing, isn't it?  After the film, we walk to the restaurant Oneiron (Dream) where we sit in the garden among eucalyptus and pine trees for a delicious supper and a glass of white wine.  It is absolutely peaceful and enchanting to sit under the stars and enjoy a good meal with a good friend.  Outside young men are chanting and singing because their team won the basketball championship.  The opposing team fans are not so happy however.  But in the back yard of the Dream all is well.

The walk back is slow and somewhat uphill with the full moon keeping us company.  I walk out on my tiny balcony to see the lighted houses and boats across the way, the moon shimmering on the Aegean, the sky dark above my head.  I could stay here for days on end.  I could...

Friday, June 1, 2012


Samantha's story is a bit like mine.  Born and reared in Australia from Greek parents, she came to live here at the same age I went to live in the United States.  We are Southerners.  We meet in Syntagma Square this morning to watch the changing of the guard and then head on to the cafe behind the Numismatic Museum.  She didn't know about it. 

We talk about our lives for a couple of hours.  She's a fashion designer and, believe it or not, makes a living that way.  Creative people have to be creative in many ways.  She wants to write poetry she says.  I give her a few pointers, suggest Writing Down the Bones, offer her my help. 

After she goes her way I walk around downtown for a little while but the sun, the people, the cars, the motorcycles, all drive me mad.  I think I'm beginning to understand why everyone here is consumed with the travel fever.  It's one of the major topics of conversation: where are you going next,  where have you been.  It seems they all want to get away.  I assume it's from Athens and its chaos.  They rapsodize about running away, visiting far away places, or simply escaping to the islands.  I don't blame them.

When I return home it's nap time and that's sacred.  Later I go for a walk to the Square by myself and sit at Syllabi Cafe to read Andre Aciman's book and jot down notes, quotes, thoughts, ideas.  The cafe is in a narrow alleyway with no cars; therefore, quieter than most other cafes on the sidewalks.  I enjoy my solitude, my French coffee, the passersby. 

I must go home now and pack for tomorrow's journey to Syros.  The hydrofoil departs early at 7:25 a.m.  I've never taken a hydrofoil.  There is always a first time for everything.  And I've never been to Syros.  More later from the island.