France — encore!

In October, I spoke and climbed in several parts of France. While there, I also got to visit some of my (French) friends, and re-visit some of my favorite places on the planet.

Have you been to France? Not just Paris, but France?? One always eats well all over France, and drinks exceptionally well! For example, at my friends’ home in Brittany (north-western France), a traditional meal is crêpes (which originated here) with hard cider (du cidre):

And of course, no matter whose home you go to, chances are good they’ll have ‘une cave’, or a wine cellar:

In Paris, I was invited to speak to the American Club of Paris, an organization founded by Benjamin Franklin, the first American ambassador to France when our country was new. 

Last season my son & his family spent a month bouldering (climbing without ropes) in Fontainebleau, an extensive forest filled with boulders just south of Paris. Serendipitously, during my trip I also got to spend some time there, exploring the boulders and the trails among them:

The town just next to Fontainebleau, Moret-sur-Loing, is dazzling — centuries old, beautiful architecture, friendly, just lovely! Many of the Impressionist painters used to come here for inspiration:

An important part of this trip was waiting for me down south in the French Alps — in legendary Chamonix, surrounded by iconic glaciers and peaks, where I got to experience some Alpine climbing…

…and in Albertville, the host of Le Salon du Livre, an international book & documentary fair / convention. White tents took over the whole main street of the center of Albertville. Like Chamonix, just upriver about 40K, Albertville nestles along a narrow river alley surrounded by towering peaks

And of course, no visit to France is complete without some exploring of what I think is the most beautiful monumental city in the world, Paris. A few glimpses:

La fameuse Tour Eiffel:

L’Hôtel de Ville de Paris, or City Hall:

Notre Dame without its steeple, scheduled to be repaired by 2024.

Spain (3)

Spain…seems like years ago! Only a few months, but in those months I spent 5 weeks in France, and put about 2,000 more miles on my car visiting family in Cal & Nevada. The American west is just TOO big!! 

While traveling to all my speaking gigs all over Spain, I also got to climb some outstanding, beautiful rocks…

to visit some vestiges of the Roman empire…

to explore some castles…

to wander through many historic cities (not American-type historic; we go back a few hundred years, here; these go back thousands!). 

In between working as a speaker or a climber…

I fit in lots of fun discovering some of the wonderful foods — tapas! tortillas! (not the American type, these are more like a Spanish version of a quiche).

I was delightfully surprised to discover Spanish vermouth everywhere, and some mighty fine wines. 

My experience of Spain was so different from my last one almost 50 years ago!…and I look forward to my next trip for even more wonderful surprises. 

Spain (2)

The last time I was in Spain, I was a brand-new teacher in NYC, 40 or so years ago. I taught high school French, Spanish and Italian, so going to Europe was always essential for my professional development. 

And I’m European/American — all my grandparents emigrated from Poland — so going to Europe always fills a void in my life. The first time I ever glimpsed Europe from an airplane, at 19, I felt as if I were going home. Hard to explain, even to myself, but I’ll never forget that moment: as I looked down and saw Paris, I suddenly felt as if something deep inside me had finally been completed. I was home. 

This time was a bit different. I was invited to speak at several locations around Spain — but I hadn’t used Spanish in day-to-day conversation for decades. I needed practice! — so my first week in Spain got me acclimated, linguistically, and here are some of the beautiful places we got to visit:

La Plaza Mayor, Madrid

The Monastery of El Escorial, Madrid

And of course, some climbing here & there…

… followed by my first speaking gig, at a climbing gym in Madrid. I spoke to a whole gym-ful of motivated young women, all striving to be better, at climbing and a host of other endeavors:

Then my friend & I headed north, towards the Bay of Biscay (northern coast of Spain), for my 2d speaking gig. This is the lovely city of Burgos, site of a Spanish Gothic cathedral (very different from the Gothic style in the rest of Europe), which is a Unesco World Heritage site. 

And of course, en route, some climbing….

You just can’t keep good climbers on the ground!

So much more!… Stay tuned here for Spain 3, coming soon….

Spain & NYC (1)

Back to Europe!

The last time I was in Spain, I was in my 20s (almost 50 years ago!). There was no World Wide Web, no one had personal computers, cell phones hadn’t been invented yet…. Only spies or very important people had passwords. And to plan a trip like mine, you had to go to a travel agency.

This time, I did it all myself, with lots of help from friends and technology. 

I was invited to speak in Madrid and various regions around Spain, and my friend who lives near Madrid offered to take me climbing. The perfect trip — I got to talk to enthusiastic audiences all around the country (sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in English), sign lots of books, and experience lots of different climbing areas. (Rocks are different everywhere you go.)

But first, I got to spend a few days re-charging my batteries in the city that never sleeps. Walking around NYC is fascinating! When I was in school, I really loved being able to see so many different jobs happening all around me as I walked down the street! (How can a kid decide what to be in life without ever having seen what people do at their different jobs?) People everywhere, doing so any different kinds of jobs behind plate glass windows, on the sidewalk, at counters, behind wooden construction fences, in cellars beneath the sidewalk whose big metal doors become part of the sidewalk when they’re closed. 

Manhattan is so full of life! That’s what I always loved about living there. Just walking down the street, or taking the subway, offers glimpses of an infinite number of kinds of people, foods, cultures, languages, music, jobs — of life! 

Of course, Manhattan is only a tiny part of NYC, the smallest of the 5 boroughs — but on this trip, I didn’t have enough time to get out into the other boroughs. I started life, so many years ago, in Manhattan, just down 43rd Street from Times Square. My brother went to this school for a couple years… 

…but by the time I was almost 6 and big enough for school (no pre-school or kindergarten for most of us, back then), we had moved to Queens. 

While I was a student, sometimes I worked summer jobs in the city (Manhattan), and on my lunch hour I’d go into Central Park with my lunch, walk miles, or occasionally sit and listen to some of the ubiquitous impromptu music. That’s where I came to love the sound of the Caribbean steel drums…which I got to enjoy this trip in the subway (I love the unexpected subway concerts!):

Some subway shenanigans — steel drums, & some unexpected break-dancing. Riding the subway is an adventure; you never know what to expect! )

So, just a few memories of my 3 days in NYC, before we move on to exploring Spain together….

My favorite boat ride of all time – the Staten Island Ferry, which takes you past Lady Liberty, Ellis Island…

…and out into one of the busiest ports in the world, with unequaled views of Lower Manhattan:

NY’s main P.O. is a gorgeous classical gem.
Fraunce’s Tavern, where George Washington & his colleagues used to hang out and hoist a few. So much history in NY, going back 500 years in some places! Next, on to Spain. . . . .

Speaking through Europe (part 3, Greece)

In the fall of 2022, I had the unique experience of speaking at international climbing festivals in 3 countries of Europe. You can read about my events in Italy (in the Dolomites) and in Switzerland (the Italian-speaking part, in the Alps) in my 2 previous blogs. Today I’d like to share my adventures in Greece.

The small city of Leonidio, where the climbing festival took place, is in the Peloponnese region of Greece, in the Municipality of South Kynouria, about a 4-hour drive west of Athens. Behind it rise the “Red Rocks of Leonidio” —

After Covid, getting back together for a real, face-to-face festival was wonderful, especially among the beautiful Kokkino Vrachos (Red Rocks) of Leonidio. We are back!

Perfect place to hang out w/climbing buddies

My friends / climbing partners & I stayed in a delightful boutique hotel, a former private mansion, the Archontiko Chioti

Nestled at the foot of the Red Rocks

Stone walls, flowers everywhere, unimaginably sumptuous breakfasts, and friendly, helpful staff made our stay memorable in so many ways! So many details stand out, like the rocks in the indoor walls or our rooms, the delicious liqueur made there from geranium leaves, the lovely sitting areas… I don’t usually get so excited by lodgings, but the Chioti was exceptional and I look forward to going back someday.

Leading a climb, gazing at the blue-green Aegean.

The whole region is studded with beautiful golden limestone rocks, cliffs, bluffs, mountains…a climber’s paradise. Here are some glimpses of our adventure —

So many beautiful places to climb, within a short drive from Leonidio! Always a view of the green-blue Aegean Sea, always the golden glow of sun on the rocks…

I did all my leads gazing at the Aegean. 🙂
Leading a 5C felt…legendary, in that setting!

The night I spoke at the Festival, the town put on a wonderful traditional dance show for us.

And sometimes, we just got to hang out with friends. This plateia (plaza) is filled with the local men playing chess & just talking…and me & some climbing friends.

If my favorite café (red building) was too crowded, I just carried my cappuccino across the street and settled in with friends.
And so many favorite restaurants! I’ve always loved places where life happens outdoors. 🙂

Climbing & speaking in Leonidio was an experience I’ll always cherish…for the new friends, like Thomi…

who organized and shuffled and made things happen…

And Aris, and Kirios Kavas and his amazing store and restaurant…

and Panagiota, and all those who made it an outstanding experience…

Adio, Ellada!…Au revoir, Greece — until the next time.

Speaking through Europe (part 2, Switzerland)

When my train chugged out of the Dolomites (see previous blog) heading for Switzerland, I had no idea what awaited me. I would be speaking at several places, but beyond that, I knew only the name of my host, Giulia.

She put me up in her home and arranged my speaking gigs as well as my climbing expeditions into the valleys of the Alps of  Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. She and her family live in Bignasco, a tiny village in a narrow, deep valley. For the next 10 days, I’d get to know the people, the valleys, the rocks (for climbing)…and the goats.

Me on the wall, Giulia belaying, 5 min’s walk from her house.
Climbing in the rain…under a massive roof.

The goats… and what they produced. So good! The local cheeses and wines were all memorable!

I spoke several times, to big groups and small, and got to be ‘godmother’ at a regional youth climbing competition (I handed out the awards).

Most of the high Alpine valleys have dams (for electricity, which doesn’t exist in all of the valleys), like this one, the Verzasca Dam.

The day we went there, they were setting up for an international climbing competition, and climbers were testing the routes. I just happened to be there when Sasha DiGiulian, renowned American climber, popped up over the top!

One of the high-pasture hikes we took.

Once is not going to be enough; I’ll be back someday, to both the Dolomites and to Ticino. I owe it to myself. And I hope you get to experience them someday, too. 

Speaking through Europe (part 1, Italy)

In the fall of 2022, I had the unique experience of speaking at international climbing festivals in 3 countries of Europe. 

As I planned the trip, I knew the 3 locations would offer very different experiences. But my imagination fell far short! Here, I’ll just share a glimpse of each one, so you can share in the some of the joy of the trip.

Oltre le Vette (Beyond the Peaks) was the first festival. I had always wanted to see the Dolomites, the mountain region in northeastern Italy famous for its impressive vistas as well as for its sports — skiing, mountaineering, hiking and climbing. As a teacher of Italian many decades ago, I taught the geography of the country, but my own experience of it was very limited. This year, I finally remedied some more of that.

I arrived in the town of Belluno in the evening, after about 20 hours of travel, and the next morning I got to check off one of my lifelong dreams — they took me climbing in the Dolomites! 

Our first stop:

 The first wall we climbed, just one pitch (up & down):

The wall we climbed was on this rock formation, called le Cinque Torri (5 Towers), for the crenelation-like formations on the top:

The day after I spoke at the Festival, we drove up to one of the high passes and started climbing this:

It was a multi-pitch, meaning that instead of going up & then back down, we went up a pitch (one rope length, about 200ft), then up again, and again…. Total of 6 pitches. 

At the top, a rugged little Madonna was waiting for us. Under her feet, in a tiny drawer, we found the register, where climbers can sign in for posterity. Proof that you made it!

And from the top, incredible panoramas in 360 degrees, including this view of Cortina d’Ampezzo, former site of the winter Olympics:

General view of one little corner of the Dolomite region. It’s so extensive, it’d take a lifetime to climb all the routes!

Then we had to get back down! That turned out to be harder & more strenuous than the climbing! But we made it by (a very late) dinner-time. 🙂 

I hated to leave the Dolomites, but more speaking events were waiting for me in Switzerland. Stay tuned for the next installment….

Success!

Encouragement is important. At any age. I always kind of knew that, the way we ‘know’ everything we assume we know. But it took becoming an athlete for me to realize just how deeply that need runs through all of us, no matter how old we are. And along with the encouragement, that comes from others, we need a healthy dose of stubbornness in order to succeed.

This week, I was the Keynote Speaker at a conference in San Diego called The Presentation Summit (for people who do lots of presentations for work); the title of my talk was “How to Succeed at Anything”.

Sounds…ambitious! Smacks of hubris, even. But as a relatively new athlete (I started long-distance running at 55, and rock climbing at 59), I’ve learned things that I probably never would have learned otherwise, about how essential those two elements are. In order to accomplish what we want to, we need to be stubborn — or tenacious — and we need just a bit of encouragement (modern pundits call it positive feedback). 

That resonates with a lot of folks who dream of accomplishing something  — as evidenced by the standing ovation in San Diego after I spoke! Success comes from accomplishing your dream — like Thomas Edison (inventor of the light bulb, who tried and failed 10,000 times), or Tommy Caldwell (c.f. the movie “The Dawn Wall”), who worked on the Dawn Wall for 7 years. 

Tenacity, a bit of encouragement…and there’s one more element that’s an essential key for success. Stay tuned for more on that. . . .

First, I’m off to Europe, to speak on that topic and sign books at climbing festivals in Italy, Switzerland and Greece. Lots to get ready..!

Rats!

I’m sitting at my supper table, eating a tasty, almost-vegetarian home-cooked meal, and reading a book. A big book. One that’s making me think.

And I’m thinking that this isn’t what I’d really like to be reading. I’d love to be deep into a novel, something that takes place in a location I’d love to learn more about, with a bit of romance, maybe a bit of mystery, some great characterization…. 

But no. I’m actually ploughing through three books (at each meal I choose one), and all of them are non-fiction. What I would have called ‘heavy’ reading, when I was in school.

One is about rats. Yep, rats. The rodent. In New York City. Actually it’s a fascinating exploration of the animal, the city, and our psyche. I would never have picked it up if my son hadn’t pushed it across the table at me and said I needed to read it. He was right.

One is about money. Actually, about economics. So not me! Money is a necessary evil, something we need but don’t want to need. How did money start? Did we always have it? (No.) What is its role in our society? When Alex told me about that one, I replied, “Who cares? Give me a good novel!” But like the rat book, it’s turning out to be fascinating. It’s making me think. And think. Not necessarily what I’d like to do over supper, but still, I’m going places, mentally, where I’d never go otherwise. Which is always a good thing.

The third one that I’m shuffling over supper-times is about climbing. I always enjoy those. Chris’ book (see below for book info) is part technical, part philosophy, and really delves into the head part of climbing, which is the part of climbing that stymies me the most. 

But still, with a good meal, a novel just….

Well, I haven’t read a novel in a long, long time, and I’m not missing it. I do look forward to getting back to that; but the books that were recommended to me by my kids are taking me places I never would have thought of going myself. Isn’t that the definition of adventure?

At my daughter’s suggestion, I’m reading poetry. When I was in high school, Robert Frost was one of my favorite writers. He still is, I’ve learned, but it took being pushed into it to re-discover that. Thanks, Stasia!

So my recommendation to you: Ask your friends what they’re reading. Ask your kids. Ask your kids’ friends. It just might open doors for you that you’d never even realized were closed.

What I’m having fun reading right now (but wouldn’t have been, if left to my own devices):

Rats, by Robert Sullivan. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2004.

Sacred Economics, by Charles Eisenstein. Evolver Editions, North Atlantic Books, 2011.

Why We Climb, by Chris Noble. Falcon Publishers, 2017.

Have you read a good book lately??

Go Visit your Mother

or, Painting the Past

I ran into an old friend a few weeks ago, for the first time in many years. While we chatted, catching up, he mentioned a painting that hangs in his living room. I painted it, back in another lifetime, and gave it to him as a wedding present in 1979.

That time of my life was turbulent, stressful and completely overwhelming. I had no recollection either of the painting or the wedding. Not his fault; memories from that time in my life were eclipsed by my new marriage, new home, moving to a new part of the country, a new job, new family… then a new country. The whole decade (or more) is a blur. 

Since I keep an archive of my work, but didn’t have that one, he  sent me a photo of it. Here it is:

If you’ve been to Yosemite, you recognize Half Dome, one of the national park’s iconic rocks. That year, 1979, my husband took me there for the first time. It was one of my his favorite places. 

Clearly, it made an indelible impression on me then, and still does, each time I drive into Yosemite Valley. My husband passed away in 2004, and just a few years later I began learning to climb rocks. Not quite like my son Alex; no one will ever give me awards for the kind of climbing I do! But the first year that  I began going outdoors to climb real rocks (as opposed to just climbing in a gym), I climbed Half Dome with my son. It terrified me, exhilarated me — and it took me until this high (the third pitch) to muster the courage to turn around and check out the view:

But once you’ve hung on the side of a wall of those dimensions, fingered each hand-hold (of which there aren’t many, on that smooth slab of rock!), dug in with your toes to keep from succumbing to gravity, it becomes something much more. The day we climbed it, Alex and I, was an education. I learned to dig deep to find resources I didn’t know I had, and to ignore the fear that clamored for my attention. Well, maybe not “learned,” exactly, but at least, started to learn. First steps. Baby steps.

When I did that painting for my friend, I didn’t know Half Dome. It was just a pretty rock that looms over Yosemite Valley — as it is, I suppose, for most people. Worthy of the brush strokes I granted it, impressive for sure, but just… pretty. 

We are so much more than we often give ourselves credit for! So much more than we allow ourselves to be! 

So here’s your rallying cry:  

Feel alive! — Go visit your mother, Nature! She knows what you need, like any loving mother. Turn off the screens, the devices, and go visit, even if it’s just a little green park in your neighborhood. Nature holds the key to your well-being, wherever you seek Her out. 

Let Her take care of you. You deserve it. And She’ll teach you  things about yourself that you need to learn.