I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to London

The story goes that my great, great grandfather had to leave England in a hurry due to a penchant for drinking, some shady business practices and too many bad gambling debts, and he took with him his oldest daughter – my great grandmother Marge – to tend house until he could bring the rest of the family to the Pennsylvania coal mines where he finally landed.  Eventually he did manage to haul the rest of them over, but to my knowledge, he never went back to the Mother Country and none from our family have visited since.  As great, great grand pappy’s debtors are probably, hopefully, long since dead, I think it’s time one of us took the chance.

Being half English and half Irish on my mother’s side, the British Isles have long been on my radar.  Thatched cottages and fluffy sheep seem to steep in our family blood, bad food seems natural on our plates, and visions of Wadsworth’s daffodils still float in my addled brain despite a 34-year gap since taking freshman lit.  It’s as if it’s in our DNA, so much so that my 17-year-old daughter already dreams of living her life in Dublin married to an Irish native and raising her future adopted Chinese children, Ling and Ping O’Reilly upon her rolling green hills.  My mother and her sister talk endlessly of finally visitingEngland, and my uncle longs to lose golf ball after golf ball inScotland.  As for me, I can’t stop dreaming of London’s tiny, twisting streets.  In short, we’re Anglo-Saxon through and through and we have the pasty pale skin, translucent hair and freckles to back it up.

So a visit to the UK, and London in particular, is definitely on my to-do list, because who doesn’t want to parade around her cobblestoned streets, imagining a long-dead great, great grand pappy getting tossed on his ass out of this bar and that before jumping ship to the States?  These are my people, even if it’s been over a hundred years since any of my ancestors sowed any wild oats in her back alleys.  Family traditions die hard, and it’s high time one of us resurrect a few.  So, in no particular order, here are some of my plans when I finally do make it back to the mother ship.

1)   Buy some bed knobs and broomsticks at a London flea market.

Flea markets appeal to me like beer on a Friday night and, I truly enjoy tromping around the occasional one in my neighboring Hoosier hills on a slow Saturday afternoon.  But I can’t imagine how much more exciting a flea market must be in a community as old, as vibrant, as urban as London.  Poking through piles of musty books and bobbles and antiques is only part of the fun, for in London, one can also imagine the castle or cottage or row house those antiques may have come from or the history they may have survived.  In Indiana, our flea market finds most likely come from a ranch brick house built in the 1970s and which barely remembers Watergate.  In London, however, it’s possible to find unique goodies that may be older than my hometown.

2)   Green up my thumb at Kew Garden

As an avid gardener since a very young age, I knew who Gertrude Jekyll was before I knew Mick Jagger.  Pulling weeds makes me happy, and my fingernails are usually home to more dirt than most entertainment “news” shows.  Thus a visit to Kew Gardens is a requirement.  I have to stroll all 300 of her manicured acres and when I break a sweat in the steamy Palm House, it will be due to the proximity of so many lovely plants rather than the heat.  I LIVE for plant life, so much so, that I feel almost guilty eating vegetables.  Whereas so many Europeans are passionate about their soccer, I drool over delphiniums.    

3)   Channel my inner thespian at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

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The Globe Theatre

All the world’s a stage, but in England, what a stage!  Yeah, I know, it’s a reconstruction, but the site remains THE site for English theater and as someone who trod the boards – albeit in high school – I want to stand in the shadow of the great playwright if for no other reason than just to BE there, standing there, in silent awe, taking it all in.  It’s as simple as that.

4)   Discover the ghosts of the Christmas Carol at the Charles Dickens’s Museum

My two favorite authors – Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway – are light years apart in terms of writing style, yet my love of their works runs so deep, they remain for me united to this day as the only two writers who’s footsteps I feel compelled to follow.  So a day of visiting Dickens’s old haunts must start with a thorough and informative visit to the museum dedicated to his life and works.  And, should I run into the Ghost of Christmas Past in the process, I’ll pinch myself and post it on Facebook.

5)   Discover something good to eat that’s actually British

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Blood pudding - yum!

During a recent shopping trip to Jungle Jim’s – billed as the world’s largest grocery store, conveniently located an hour away in Cincinnati – I pushed my treasure laden grocery cart to “Sherwood Forest,” home to edibles of UK origin.  Given that I had to work my way through the pleasures of the Orient section first, it was a bit of a let down.  It seemed the Sherwood Forest gimmick was the only way to enliven that section of the store, for the food of the British Isles proved to be less of a big draw and featured such lovely items as haggis in a can and potted meat.  Surely, real food on real British soil is better than this, right?  It can’t merely be about bad meat cooked in horrible ways, can it?  Right?  Yes?  Hello?  Is that an echo I hear out there? 

Ok, so it may be a long shot and tantamount to finding Nessie in her cold, deep lock up north, but I do plan to look for that elusive myth of the good English meal.  And, God willing, I’ll find her.  After all, there’s always fish and chips.

While a short stay of a week or too is hopefully on the not-too-distant horizon, I do want to someday spend some serious quality time in London, perhaps upon retirement by renting an Oh-London apartment for a few months.  I want to commit to the old girl and get to know her like the boy next door.  I don’t want her to be like some great aunt propped up in the nursing home who only gets visited on the holidays.  I want to know her, really know her, and hear the stories and feel the history and understand what makes her tick.  I want to know that in someway, it’s all connected to me and my family and our lives.  It’s our history, and it’s time to go.

For more information on Go with Oh or for a chance to win four fantastic prizes, check out their link at:

http://www.gowithoh.com/Image

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Views From My Garden Life

Some days, it’s best not to write, but to look.  I spend a lot of time looking. 

Eden climbing roses

As I look through my gardens and walk through the fields and stroll the gravel paths, these are some of the lovely things I’m treated to.  Every day is different, whether it be a newly formed cloud, a newly opened bud, a newly sprouted weed, a newly ripened grape.  So many treasures, so little time. 

Surrounded by so much beauty, I try to capture it on canvas, but my efforts always fall short.  How can I possibly attain such colors, such rampant beauty that only God and Mother Nature combined can create?  Where to begin?  How to begin?  H’mmm… maybe the answer is to not begin at all.  I think I’ll just stand here and look.

Queen Anne's Lace growing by the roadside.

After I put my children on the bus, I have a good hour before I need to sit down at my desk and work.  Where I use to spend that hour driving  to work, I now telecommute, so that hour in the morning and that hour in the

The commute to the home office

evening are mine, all mine.  If I’m not out riding my bike, I walk, walk, walk.  At lunch time, I do the same.  And after dinner, more walks, more rides, more strolls.  Many of the pictures are from those blessed hours. 

Life is too short.  Enjoy.

The garden shed

I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Venice

One hot stormy afternoon in the 1970s when my siblings and I were being difficult little brats, my mother caved and uncharacteristically turned on the TV in the middle of the day if for no other reason than to get us out of her over-permed hair for at least a half hour.  But when the little black and white TV hummed into life and the picture finally came into focus, she stopped dead in her tracks, dropped her basket of laundry and plunked down on the footstool behind her.  And, for the next 45 minutes, my workaholic mother didn’t move.

We were stunned.  The only time that woman EVER sat down was for dinner and mass, so to see her immobile on a midday afternoon was shocking at best.  And what, pray tell, drew her attention away from chores and children?  It was the site of Katherine Hepburn strolling the moldering alleyways of Venice, with Rossano Brassi in tow, in that classic movie, Summer Time.

The movie was already half over when we stumbled upon it that day, but even as a child, I took in enough to realize that Venice was the central character.  Whether it was the canals or Rossano that held my mother’s attention I’ll never know for she still won’t tell, but as a lover of all things nautical, I was hooked.  The fact that a city of canals actually existed ignited my boat-obsessed imagination like never before and I vowed then and there to visit her someday, preferably sans annoying siblings.

But now I’m the mother of chores and children myself, and Venice remains as elusive to me as a pair of size four jeans and a single chin somewhat resembling a right angle.  I still hold out hope that I’ll get there before she sinks forever into the ocean and when I do, I’ll make the most of it by:

1)   Becoming a temporary permanent fixture in Piazza San Marco.

As tourists, we Americans seem to prefer quantity over quality, rushing headlong from one landmark to the next, fanny packs a swinging, barely taking in all that each has to offer.  But Venice is worth lingering over, and linger I shall, preferably in the Piazza San Marco.  Getting there well before sunrise, I’ll stake out the perfect table, order a café late and sit.  For to sit is to see, and to see is to be enthralled as the everyday life of Venice unfolds like a multi-tiered wedding cake tipped over by a drunken groom.  Pigeons will be fed and locals will be observed and tourists will be spotted.  Books will be read, bell towers will be sketched, pictures will be taken, and I will sit and I will breathe and I will enjoy and I will wear Depends.  *Sigh*

2)   Dressing like it means something

Standing in line one Friday night at our local Wal-Mart, behind what I can only guess were three generations of one family all clad in flannel PJs, I felt decidedly overdressed in my blue jeans, turtleneck and brown leather boots.  One can only hope they were of Scottish heritage and overly proud of the family plaid.  But I’m thinking no.  In short, a fashion Mecca Indiana is not.  Rather, ours is a blue jean and t-shirt kind of comfortable world, but oh, not so in Venice. 

In Venice, one dresses for the occasion that is life, for to be Venetian means to embrace the spectacle that good clothing paired with the right accessories has to offer.  For in Venice the theatricality of its food, fashion and atmosphere enable her inhabitants to glide beautifully over the ugly realities of life, whether it be poverty, taxes, earthquakes or war.  So I will wear a flowing floral dress as I shop her cobblestoned streets for handmade sandals, and my jaunty Jackie O sunglasses will beg the question, who’s behind those gleaming dark lenses?  A silk scarf will frame my face – hiding the stubborn gray, mind you – and no one will look at me and assume for an instant that I own a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase, “Who’s Your Mama” or that I live in stretchy but forgiving polyester yoga pants the better part of the year. 

3)   Becoming one with the peach bellinis at Harry’s Bar

As a Hemingway fanatic, hitting Harry’s Bar for a peach bellini is a given, no matter how much of an overblown touristy ritual that may be.  Yes, I’ll admit it.  I want to sit at the bar and drink them by the pitcher full, but not so much so that the toilet smells like a fruit salad afterwards.  No, I only want to get just tipsy enough so that when I close my eyes, I can realistically pretend, if even for a moment, that it’s the 1920s and I’m a colorful ex-patriot writer starving my way across Europe on the Grand Tour.

4)   Making like Mario Batalli and whip up a seafood feast

As a seaport city,Venice is dripping with creepy crawlies fresh from the ocean, just waiting to be devoured with splash of wine and a squirt of lemon.  And traveling with “Go With Oh” means the potential for stellar access to a kitchen – a tempting combo calling to my inner chef – hence I will make like Mario and cook, cook, cook!  Much as I love having someone else clean up the mess, experimenting in the kitchen is one of the few everyday rituals I don’t consider to be a chore.  Thus, inVenice, I will hit the markets for every conceivable slimy crustacean imaginable and experiment.  And then I will sit on my balcony, pop open a bottle of pinot and make like an American and pig out.  And, for that, I may even break out my yoga pants.

5)   Kayaking my way up the canals

While I will definitely wile away at least one afternoon in a gondola – singing Oh Solo Mio as off key as the next tourist – paddling my own rented kayak on a guided tour is an even better option.  With kayaks come a certain level of freedom not obtained in a pole driven gondola and, what I lose in the attractive Italian gondolier, I gain in the ability to paddle close and really observe.  There are sights to be seen in Venice that one can only appreciate from the water, and paddling my own craft, I can compose the perfect photo op that will forever capture my version of Venice.

It’s said that before filming the Summer Time scene where she walks backwards off of the pier into the canal, Katherine Hepburn plugged up every hole in her body to avoid infection from Venice’s dirty waters, going so far as to fill her ears and nose with waxy plugs, doing God knows what down below, and clamping her lips ever so tight at the last moment before taking that fateful plunge.  But she forgot about her eyes and is said to have picked up an infection that stayed with her for weeks. 

While I too wish to bring home ample memories of Venice, a lingering infection isn’t high on the list, though for this floating vision of heaven, I’m willing to risk it.  Whether it be handmade shoes, Murano glass or an imported bacterial bug, I’ll take it, because to bring home a little of that magnificent city is to keep her in your heart all year long.

For more information on Go with Oh or for a chance to win four fantastic prizes, check out their link at:

http://www.gowithoh.com/

By Robin Fritz, writer, artist, photographer and owner of bad American clothes.

I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Paris

It was the lime green pleather jumpsuit with a hot-pink plastic zipper down the front that told the tale.  This was no ordinary Parisan woman strolling past my table at 6 a.m. as I dipped my croissant in coffee near the Gare de l ’Est rail station.  Rather, this vibrantly clad neon woman was a “poole,” a street walker, a hooker, a whore, a what have you – she was a prostitute, don’t you know – and as a 16-year-old virginal Midwestern Catholic school girl freshly flown in as a foreign exchange student in 1980, I was thrilled! 

Surrounded by Indiana cornfields, we don’t get a lot of polyester-clad prostitutes strolling past the breakfast table fresh from stimulating the economy.  It’s a somewhat tamer atmosphere.  Given the lack of adventure, I often find myself wanting more.  And that, my friends, is why I travel.

It’s been 32 years since I last set foot in Paris and my bucket list for adventure has grown.  In that time, I’ve managed to wet my way down the ice toboggan at the winter festival in Quebec City, catch a tiny crab with my inner ear while diving off Key Largo, and chase big city rats for a photo op in Central Park, but now it’s time to go back to the grande dame that is Paris, pen in hand, and cross off a few items.  The lime green jumpsuit I imagine is long since gone, though I doubt it’s deteriorated much in the landfill, and as for the hooker – well, who knows?  But the city is still there as are the croissants and the coffee and the people, and when I do get back, here’s what I hope to accomplish:

1)   Eat my way through a moveable feast.

As clichéd as Hemingway’s Paris may sound to the well heeled and better traveled than I, it’s still my go-to dream when the laundry’s piled high and my teenagers’ socks smell like runny French cheese.  Having devoured that book more than once, it’s time to walk in Ernie and Hadley’s footsteps no matter how many decades separate us.  Much like them, I desire a decent meal at a good café on the Place St.-Michel when a bitter wind blows the rain sodden leaves from the trees in Place de la Contrescarpe.  And I too will wile away a windy day wrapped in the musty warmth of the Shakespeare and Company bookstore where I’m sure I can find a less tattered version of this Hemingway classic.

2)   Strike the mountain pose at sunrise in the Square Jean XXIII

They say yoga is a great stress reliever, but when I strike a pose my husband sticks a frying pan in my outstretched arms and balances a package of bacon on my head.  Not so in the Square Jean XXIII – it’s refreshingly oven free.  Butting up against the flying buttresses of Notre-Dame (perfect inspiration for a day of downward-facing-dog) this peaceful oasis alongside the river offers up gardens, trees, immense manicured walkways and a gurgling fountain, all within the shadow of this classic cathedral.  Accessed by St.Stephen’s door within Notre Dame, it is a sea of sunrise calm and a great way to kick off a day filled with plans of completing item No. 3.

 3)   Partake in a mini communion marathon at church after church after church…

As Catholics go, I’m far from devote, but exploring unknown churches – the more cathedral like the better – leaves me drooling like an old priest over a new alter boy.  Everything about ancient cathedrals leaves me breathless – from the smell of burning beeswax and incense, to the smooth feel of the well worn stone floors underfoot, to the broken multi-colored light streaming through brittle stained glass – it’s sigh inducing on so many levels.  And in Paris, one can trip over an ancient church like a Starbucks in Seattle– they’re everywhere – which necessitates a plan.

For me, it’s not enough to just visit these timeless treasures.  No, my desire is to become a part of their active history and ancient ritual by taking in a quick half-hour mass with communion to follow in as many churches as I can stumble into before the communion wine sinks me like the Titanic.  Thus distant is a factor, leading me to start off with the queen of all churches – Notre Dame (hence the a.m. yoga session) – followed by her adorable kid sister, Sainte-Chapelle of the glowing Rose window fame.  After a hearty chug of communion wine, it’s time to sprint four blocks northeast to the hulking queen that is St.-Eustache where I can recover in her quiet Gothic beauty before hailing a cab to the Latin Quarter where St.-Severin will treat me to one of the finest examples of medieval architecture in the city.

And if four masses and communion don’t get me off the hook for that priest joke, perhaps I can cage absolution with a quickie confession at St.-Paul-St.-Louis, built in 1641 for Cardinal Richeleu.  On second thought, maybe not.

4)   Burn a hole in my Batobus pass

Given my family’s Navy roots and sailing background, I can’t visit any water-wealthy locale and not set foot on a boat.  Fortunately, Paris accommodates in that regard with its hop on, hop off Batobus, the floating equivalent of a city bus which navigates the Seine hitting all of its high points, both Left Bank and Right.  Boats run on a generous schedule with departures happening every 17 to 35 minutes – the difference, I imagine, being a function of traveling upstream or down and whether any bodies are floating by – one of the seedy habitual uses of the river by pissed off Parisians since ancient times.

5)   Channel my inner gypsy at Bistrot d’ Eustache

Much as I love exploring churches and riding on boats, they pale in comparison to my first real love – eating good food – and in Paris, one can eat some seriously good food.  But who doesn’t appreciate dinner and a show, especially when that show includes local musicians playing some seriously hot gypsy jazz?  Get there early on a Thursday night when this tiny little handkerchief of a restaurant features live musicians, chain yourself to a table, order up the house specialty and prepare to be entertained.

And next – wait, what?  We’re limited to five?  But how can one limit a city like Paris to a bucket list of five?  Who doesn’t also want to discover some unknown starving artist?  Or snag an invite to an autumn house party on Ile St. Louis?  Or swing by No. 51 Rue de Montmorency and see if Nicholas Flamel left behind any useful anti-aging tips?

Well, five it is, and it’s a start and from there more items for the list will most definitely come.  Because a bucket list is never EVER really finished, is it?  Much like a grocery list, there’s always one more item to add.

So, what’s on yours?

Go with OhFor more information on Go with Oh or for a chance to win four fantastic prizes through their Facebook contest, check out their link at:

http://www.gowithoh.com/

by Robin Fritz