Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What to do, what to do...

If you're suffering from cabin fever in this insane cold and don't mind taking the EL downtown I have a suggestion: go to the Winter Garden of the Harold Washington Library.

Spacious and blue, with real trees and a huge skylight, peaceful, mostly empty, save for the stray tourist who finds her way up to the 9th floor of the library.  There are a few tables and chairs where you can sit and write and read or gaze up to the sky.  Sometimes you'll hear clicking heels or a muted voice.  If you don't know what to read, the entire collection of the library - 1 million books - is at your disposal in one of the lower floors.  

A few years ago I read some of Borges's poetry in the Garden during a celebration honoring him.  My voice echoed throughout and flew out the glass roof all the way to Buenos Aires, to Borges's house in Palermo.  Beautiful places can transport you to a different world, a different time.  

As a Chicago Greeter I always took visitors to the Winter Garden passing through the ground floor Rotunda, the labyrinthine escalators, the elevators, all the way to the top.  Visitors marveled at the vast space, the still beauty, the joy that simplicity brings to our lives.  

A good book, a quiet place: what else do you need?  

Monday, January 21, 2013

CHANGE: a writing guide

Change makes you anew, keeps you going.  When I lived in a studio apartment with a few pieces of furniture I used to change them around the one room every six months or so.  It was like moving to a new home.  This morning I moved the table and desk in my studio and now the computer sits in front of the double glass doors facing rooftops, skyline, and L tracks.  A whole new view!  A new place to write and read.  

Change your writing place every now and then.  Go out to a cafe and sit by the window and look out.  And write.  If weather permits, go to a park and sit on a bench or on the grass and look around, smell the leaves and flowers, listen to the birds or the children running or the dogs barking.  And write.  The new sensory input will stimulate your imagination.  It will give new impetus to your creativity.  Rearrange the furniture in your writing room to look at different vistas.

Nothing stays the same.  Change is everything.  And everything changes, whether we like it or not.    Sometimes it's difficult to accept it.  Sometimes we want everything to stay the same.  But that's impossible.  Accept change, embrace it, use it.  Write about it.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Sunny morning again.  And I have to go back to the cold, the insane cold, I'm staying put, that's it. 

Lincoln Road was loads of fun yesterday.  Love to sit at one of the restaurants and just watch humanity go by.  Such a different humanity down here!  Lots of tall women, blonde women, handsome men, and everything in between.  Lots of dogs too, mostly small dogs.  Lots of very high heels.  Maybe that's why the women looked tall...

This morning I sip my coffee out on the front terrace and let the sun kiss me warmly, hoping to take some of it with me to Chicago.  Later we'll have breakfast at Georgios and then the airport.  I certainly hope there are no delays like on the way here.

I'll miss Betty and Jon and the ocean and the cooing doves outside my door.  I'll miss the walks on the Broadwalk and the sand between my toes.  This was a much needed break from real life.  Will be back next year Hollywood!  See you then!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

THE OTHER HOLLYWOOD: Penultimate day

Betty, Jon, David and I like the ponies.  A few times a year we go to the races.  In Chicago we visit Arlington Park; here, we go to Gulfstream but yesterday we spent a few hours in Hialeah Park - a historical racetrack in the heart of the Cuban neighborhood.  Not as fancy as Gulfstream but down to earth, Hialeah offered us the shortest races I've ever seen.  Before the horses started running they were done.  I lost a few times, then stopped betting.  The other three did well although nobody got rich. 

Going to the races is one of our traditions.  I enjoy seeing the faces of people when I tell them we like to go to the racetrack.  For some reason they don't quite see us as horse betters.  We also go to Calle Ocho where Jon and David buy cigars and we all drink cortaditos.  And we go to Coconut Grove.  Last night we had a fabulous dinner at Le Bouchon - duck confit for me, beef bourgignon (sp.) for David, entrecote for Betty and rack of lamb for Jon.  Good food but very crowded restaurant.  Before that we spent sometime at a wine bar across the street.

Another tradition is going to South Beach and Lincoln Road where last year we saw an almost naked man walking a bicycle in the midst of the crowds.  All he wore was a tiny thong the same color as his bronzed skin.  On Saturday mornings we go to Eurobread for croissants (although this morning I slept in).

It's good to have traditions, rituals.  Makes life predictable yet exciting.  Gives me a sense of history, of belonging.  Tomorrow we fly back to cold Chicago.  Other rituals await me there.

Friday, January 18, 2013


Snippets of conversations heard on the Broadwalk:

...oh my God...
...when I get home I'll take my medication so it starts to work on...
...she seemed aware of her surroundings...
...Hi there...
...I do have a little scoliosis...
...Door County, that's it...
...looking at the honeymoon pictures...
...people put...
...flowers and plants and lights...
...what are you talking about...
...ok I'm going to see that...

I thought while jotting down: these could serve as prompts for writing exercises.  
Feel free to use them.

Because our unit is next to the sidewalk we can hear all manner of sounds while in bed or in the living-room.  The most interesting one though is brushing my teeth in the bathroom and watching pedestrians walk by right on the other side or the workmen across the street hammer and drill.  I've never lived so close to the street.  It jarrs me, it could be scary but isn't.  Not here where we tend to leave our doors open and walk out barefoot in my nightgown.  A different life.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Rain last night and today on and off.  Good thing I went to the beach the previous days.  I took my first walk on the Broadwalk this morning.  By the time I walked back it started to drizzle; I saw a lot of people on the beach and wondered why they were still on the sand.  A second later a mass exodus took place.  I had to run not to get wet. 

What to do when it rains?  Went to see a movie: "Zero Dark Thirty."  Not bad.  Provocative.  I have lots of questions now that I'd like to research on the internet but I'm afraid to enter some words or names, lest they come for me.  You never know who is reading what you write or listening to your phone conversations.

It is cool tonight.  Supper at a huge seafood place.  And I think one of the fun pleasures of being in Florida is watching WGN News and the temperature in Chicago.  It is actually kind of surrealistic to watch Chicago news and weather and whatnot.  Why would anyone watch WGN if they don't live in Chicago? 


Have I mentioned the noise across the street?  Starts about 7:30 in the morning and goes on and off all day.  They're retiling the patio in the building on the other side of Hayes St., a few feet away from our bedroom window.  It's loud, sharp, painful to the ears.  But not as bad as the noise next door from the apartment we stayed in once in Buenos Aires.  They were ripping the walls with hammers.  It sounded like it was right inside our own kitchen, inside my own head.  A nightmare!  We complained and they took a few days off but then returned.  Noises seem to follow me around.  At home the Metropolitan Water District is installing new pipes.  They drill endlessly, they pound.  I hope they're finished by the time we return home.

I like mangrove swamps.  We took two walks today at the Ann Kolbe Nature Center looking for birds.  Where did they go?  The trees were empty of birds, the waterways, the sky.  Saw a couple of ibises, a great blue heron, an egret.  Some warblers.  In other words, no birds to speak of.  But the ambling among mangrove trees brought some kind of peace to my spirit.  But the best part of the day - so far - was the beach.  The warm sun on my skin, the waves, sand between my toes.  That's why I came.  The ocean, the sea, even a big lake are my favorites. 

We play Qwirkle and Scrabble in the late afternoon in the courtyard, have pastries and cocktails.  Soon we'll go to dinner.  I think of the cold in Chicago and want to stay here.  But life awaits me.  Teaching and writing and tennis and friends in Chicago

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


On the Broadwalk John Ricci sings Italian love songs while couples dance.  David doesn't want to dance so we listen to the songs for a few minutes and then keep strolling.  It is about 9 o'clock in the evening.  The weather is still warm enough for walking despite the breeze. 

Even though the morning is cloudy I sit on the beach.  Very few people on the sand, one or two brave ones in the water: I work on the New York Times crossword puzzle, take photos of the ring-billed seagulls, stare at the furious ocean.  I want to take the rhythm of the waves breaking and crashing with me, to use when I need to escape reality, to scare away anxiety. 

In the afternoon all four of us drive to Las Olas Boulevard in Ft. Lauderdale to lunch at the Riverside Cafe.  I like Las Olas because I like the shops.  Betty and I browse through Chico's and buy a few colorful shirts.  In the meantime Jon and David take a long walk and find a townhouse they like.  Let's see how much it is they say and David walks over to the real estate agency to find out while Jon is looking in his phone.  Are you serious? I ask.  Let's go please.  Nature is calling.

Back home we play Scrabble (I come in second in a photo finish, David wins); then we have cocktails and supper in the courtyard.  Leftovers from last night are abundant because we went to an Argentine restaurant and ordered so much, we had enough for a week.  Jon and I shared a parrillada for two.  That's a lot of sweetbreads, sausages, and just plain meat.  I ate more than I should have and had a problem sleeping.  Besides I've been a bit anxious the last couple of days.  Why?  I don't know.  The trip? Mom? My heart?  But I feel better tonight.  As they say: "wherever you go, there you are."  You can't escape yourself.  You might try but, ultimately, you carry your baggage with you.  That's why I stare at the waves to take their calming rhythm with me.  That's why I count backwards.  And that's why I write. 

Monday, January 14, 2013


My friend Betty says she likes Hollywood (Florida) because there are people from everywhere here.  "Just like Rogers Park," I say.  And the waterfront is near too.  We arrived yesterday after a long, delayed flight and a bit of "lost in transit" because David refused to look at a map or ask for directions.  At last! we made it to the Atlantic Sands Suites, less than half a block from the ocean, the sand, the broadwalk, and all the French Canadians who ramble up and down at all times.

This is our fourth time in this part of the world and the third at the Atlantic Sands.  It's almost like home here.  We know the neighborhood and our neighbors - Betty and Jon, we know the oceanfront and downtown Hollywood, we like the weather (who wouldn't? it's in the high70s-lower 80s).  I love to sit in the courtyard and read while people walk by or sit and chat. 

In the morning we go over Jon's suite for coffee and croissants while Betty exercises at Curves; later I sit on the beach and snooze until a crow disturbs my peace, cawing, cawing.  The ocean is angry; the flags are red and purple, meaning undertow and sea life.  After lunch we play Scrabble (I lose, Betty wins) and then David and I drive to downtown Hollywood and stroll on the Boulevard.  We've been here many times before and compare notes on new shops, gone shops.  Plenty of Argentine restaurants to feast on meat and empanadas. 

Chocolada looks like a good place for a coffee this afternoon.  I have an iced cappuccino while David sips a Romanian beer (and smiles at the young, pretty waitress).  Before leaving we purchase pastries for tomorrow's breakfast.  It'll be our turn to host our friends for breakfast.  Back home we enjoy drinks before heading out for dinner.   

The first full day is gone already.  Tomorrow?  More sun, more ocean, more good food, and perhaps some birding, some rambling on the broadwalk, more reading and writing. 

Gotta go: Jon is here for his drink.  Til tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013



When she can’t fall asleep she

counts backwards from one hundred

ninety-nine  ninety-eight  ninety-

seven  When her heart races and

pounds she counts backwards ninety-

six  ninety-five  When anxiety threatens

her with fainting she counts backwards ninety-

four ninety-three Sometimes the numbers

get lost in the shuffle of so many thoughts

creeping unwelcomed and she has to start

over again from one hundred  ninety-nine 

ninety-eight  ninety-seven Counting backwards

is hard work.  It requires concentration.  It demands

fortitude and patience ninety-six ninety-

five ninety-four  Counting backwards

serves many purposes   ninety-three  ninety-two

And it’s portable ninety-one ninety   She counts

while riding the bus to work in the morning, sitting

in the café at noon, walking home or simply

waiting eighty-nine eighty-eight  Numbers

appear behind her eyes eighty-seven  Fingers type them

up in air eighty-six  eighty-five  Heart slows

down.  Lips draw a smile eighty-four eighty-three

eighty-two eighty-one eighty seventy-nine