Tag Archives: education
August 15, 2010

CHILDISHNESS . . . A FRESH PERSPECTIVE

Adora Svitak on TED

As schools start gearing up, school supplies are organzied and arranged, and shiny new books line the shelves, take a moment to hear about the inspiration of childishness, from child prodigy Adora Svitak.  This 12 year old is on to something — reciprocal teaching and the power of childish inspiration.  Enjoy!

May 10, 2010

Finding Our Juju in Italy

It’s probably the gelato.  Or the romantic language.  Or perhaps it’s simply the sheer silliness of the national stubbornness, particularly when it makes the least sense.  Somehow, we believe we might have been Italian in another life.  Never mind the freckles, fair skin and red hair.  It just feels like we belong here.  Not at first, of course.  Home isn’t always home right away.  But it happens.   It’s Italian we keep defaulting to, forgetting it’s not the language of Croatia, or Greece, or Turkey, or that we really don’t know Italian in the first place.NAPLES ITALY

We flex our vagabonding muscles in Italy. It’s where we exhale, eat well, devour gelato, and kick back.  We revel in the confusion.  We laugh at ourselves and the awkwardness of global travel.  We find our spirit, our juju, alive and well and looking for adventure.

When befuddled shipmates almost stumbled onto a train bound to Pisa instead of Rome, Dundee jumped in, gently guiding them to the correct platform.  When a wheelchair-bound passenger had trouble making it across the tracks, it was Sacagawea and Dundee who nudged fellow passengers to help the guy hoist his chair (and himself) into the train as the heavy doors clanked closed.   I watch and learn, sheepishly recalling how many times I’ve stood silent in similar moments.

Making our way from Naples to Pompei by train and bus,  it’s clear we’re being followed.   A heavy-set Hispanic kid — early 20’s in baggy jeans, t-shirt and hip white sneakers, new and expensive — kept a steady pace, far enough back to not engage, but always just there, all the same.  We got off the bus at the wrong stop, so did he.  We crossed the street unnecessarily – and crossed back – so did he. I checked my money belt, confirming it was secure, and pulled the kids a bit closer.

We asked directions, and he stopped, loitering aimlessly until we moved on..  He shuffled when he walked, head down, as though trying to hide, be absorbed by the sidewalk.  His soulful brown eyes darted away, but always kept us in sight.

“Excuse me,” I said, suddenly turning to face him.  He jumped back, surprised.  “Do you know the best way to get to the train station for Pompeii?”

“No,” he replied sheepishly, staring at his shuffling feet.  I let the silence hang, staring at him.   “It’s my first time here and I don’t know how to get there.  I only have a few hours before I have to be back onboard, and want to see it, Pompeii.  I’m following you, hoping you’ll lead the way.”

POMPEII SCAVIAt least I got part of it right.   Hispanic, from Guatemala.   A shy kid, determined to see the world.   We reminded him of his family back home,  he said.  Thought he’d just tag along.  My money belt, quite safe, seemed we’d picked up another kid for the day.  A global “play date” of sorts, a new buddy for Dundee (and the rest of us.)  And together, we found Pompeii.

May 7, 2010

HALF A WORLD AWAY — LOST IN VENICE

“Let yourself get lost in Venice,” everyone suggests.  “Walk. Wander. Discover.” Sailing past St. Marks and up the Giudecca by cruise ship is like taking a hot air balloon ride over the city.  It unfolds from above,  the Grand Canal giving way to back canals teeming with gondolas, vaparettos, and water taxis.; grand decaying palaces, small markets, church towers rising from the water.  Like falling down the rabbit hole with Alice, it’s a step back in time.

Columbus was right there, on cue, waiting on the pier as planned.   I know it’s the 21st century and all, but I still find it rather amazing – and terribly romantic – to rendezvous half a word from home, on a tiny sliver of dock.   Us on the ship’s high observation deck, him waving from the guard post at the dock, very cool indeed.

Sacagawea and Dundee were thrilled to show him the ropes, introducing him to our many new sailing buddies and sharing stories of our adventures.  Alan and Noemi, the delightful couple who make marital bickering a conversational art form (think Archie & Edith); Colleen, who’s been homeschooling her kids for 25 years, and her mom, Betty, who clearly planted the adventurous seed years ago; Don, the WWII vet who saw action around the globe – the guy Tom Brokaw wrote about in The Greatest Generation – and now holds a crowd with that mischievous  twinkle in his eye.  Tom, the ship’s destination guru, who’d spent the past 72 hours patiently repeating directions to Piazzale de Roma to worried and confused travelers (forget about the Doge’s Palace, St. Marks, or Peggy Geggenheim’s collection; it’s all about the luggage.)   And so many more…all our new posse from our trek across the sea.  Thanks to the great crew aboard our ship, Columbus got to spend the last night with us onboard, docked in Venice, just a quick glance at the world we’d called home for the past three weeks.

VENICE ITALYBack on terra firma and away from the ship, we settled into the Venetian beat.  From the tiny terrace of our creaky old hotel room , strategically located halfway between St. Marks and the Rialto Bridge, we watched gondolas glide and jostle through the canal sliver below.  Diners lingered over wine in the flower bedecked terraces of the trattoria across the canal, while visitors jammed the footbridges to capture photos of the magic. It’s just as we imagined, yet nothing like we expected.

Chatting up gondoliers until we found just the right one – seasoned (not too old and not too young), promising song, history, and stories – we became part of the scene.  He delivered brilliantly, gliding us under impossibly low bridges at high tide, telling tales of Casanova, Marco Polo and old Venetian families.  Down the Grand Canal at sunset, this old, creaky, smelly decaying city – no bigger than New York’s Central Park – simply shimmered as it’s done for hundreds of years.  The stories from its past — Carnivals of yesteryear, wealthy shipping magnates and scandalous explorers, Peggy Guggenheim and her dogs, Ezra Pound, his wife, mistress and the whole lot – all seem to whisper secrets from the waters lapping the boat’s edge.

We joined the Venetian scene, sidling up to the bar with the locals in a crowded osteria, ordering cichettia and prosecco  as the throngs of day-tourists give way to locals and die-hards here for the night.   We scored that flower bedecked table in the trattoria window, savoring our over-priced pasta and waving to the gondoliers as they glided by.

By day, we discovered the secrets of Doge’s Palace, wandering behind the locked doors and gilded halls into the prisons and torture chambers of another era.  We ducked down to pass through the tiny doorways into Casanova’s cell, peered through the windows high above the canal, and walked the path across the Bridge of Sighs.  Having walked the prisoners’ death path above, we carefully navigated around the two pillars in the Square, heeding the Venetian belief that it’s bad luck to walk between them, the spot of so many executions long ago.  (Ironic, we thought, that it’s between those pillars that the most entrepreneurial souvenir vendors choose to hawk their wares.)

Half a world away, a magical, decaying, delightful place.  It spoke to me, one of those spots a notch above all the other magical, wonderful places we’re lucky enough to visit.   In a crazy, chaotic world – one currently struggling with bomb plots in Times Square, volcanic ash spreading across Europe, and economic collapse around the globe – Venice holds fast.  Carnival masks, Murano’s blown glass, gondolier families, secrets from the past all woven together in a tiny little city confidently shimmering in its own demise.   Perhaps they know something we don’t.

April 28, 2010

ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME

TREVI FOUNTAIN

Sacagawea strikes a pose at the Trevi Fountain in 2008.

TREVI FOUNTAIN

. . . and again, striking a pose in 2010.

Civitavecchia, Rome’s port, is one of those sprawling port cities that conjure images of seafarers, trade routes, and debauchery.  For most, it’s a place you pass through, headed to the bigger draw.   Memories flooded back of our last visit here, two years ago, when we had lunch under the olive trees in a backyard trattoria near Rome’s catacombs.  To this day,  the best meal we’ve ever had.   That time, we had a driver for the day and stormed Rome with a vengeance.  This time, we’re on a different budget, and a different mission, exploring by foot and by train.  From tourists to travelers perhaps?

In St. Peters Square, we joined the throngs for the weekly papal address.  A sunny spring morning, the sun glistening off the imposing architecture, designed by Bernini to intimidate.  It still works, hundreds of years later.   It was one of those moments – and as a homeschool traveling parent skipping the traditional route for a road less traveled, I live for these moments — when it all comes together.  Like a gentle tap on the shoulder, “oh yeah, this is why we’re doing this.” This choice, this lifestyle, it’s working.

Rome inspires.  It’s just one of those cities.  We love the chaos, the sprawl, the old amidst the new, tourists, travelers, and locals all jostling for space.  Wandering the Vatican with Agnes, our RomeWalks guide for the morning, we learned of Papal intrigue and holy discord, along with a good dose of history, art appreciation and local culture.   Sacagawea hung right with her, particularly amused by the story of Michelangelo’s debate with the church to  “clothe or not to clothe” the minor players in the magnificent mural of the Sistine Chapel.  Seems that one of the Pope’s advisors held a strong anti-nudity view, and lobbied the Pope mercilessly, much to Michelangelo’s irritation.  (Remember, he didn’t really want to do this job in the first place.)  The master prevailed, of course, and to forever remind the Pope’s advisor of his failing, painted him into the crowd being tossed to the jaws of hell – naked, of course – with a serpent wrapped around him, jaws aimed towards a particularly delicate region.  (Ouch.  Moral of the story:  Don’t argue with the master.)

As the day drew to a close, we found our way to the Trevi Fountain, a personal tradition of coin tossing and gelato.  Sacagawea and Dundee were determined, and took off to find that favorite photo spot, and that gelato joint.  They remembered is perfectly and led the way.   We tossed our coins and jockeyed for position to snap the family photo – same spot, two years later.  A new family tradition, it seems.  And one that’s likely to be honored again and again.