Happiness Runs…

She’s baaaaack!  My Scottish-born friend Meg Philp

…who lives Down Under

…made a quick trip Up Over last week.

After presenting at a conference and performing in Victoria, Meg came to Seattle for a quick visit.  She’s always up for anything.  Meg has a storytelling blog, and was glad to see what she could learn during a photo walk in the Edmonds Marsh, with Diana Scheel of Cat in the Moon Photography.

At the waterfront we posed for a group portrait.

Diana left to collect first prize in a photo contest in Shoreline (Yay, Diana!) while Meg and I snapped shots…

…near…

…and far.

 

On previous trips, we’d been proper tourists.  This time we enjoyed simple pleasures near home.

We picked ripe raspberries for breakfast each morning, and the occasional blueberry.

We went out to play with our friends….

…and had a picnic of fish ‘n’ chips while watching the sunset from Brackett’s Landing.

We walked around Green Lake…

…where we saw flora…

…fauna…

…and some big water toys.

We hosted an evening of storytelling, with a potluck and a “crack,” as Meg says–good talk and fun between friends.

Meg treated us to a set of stories that had us all laughing and left us wanting more.

Good thing there was an open mic. Patty Zeitlin kicked off with the story of The Watts Towers in LA, and the song she wrote about it, Castle in My City.  I felt honored that she chose to celebrate her 80th birthday with us that night!

My brother Lewis had the audience in stitches with “The Twilight Phone.” Lenore Jackson told a funny and touching personal story, drawing a parallel between her Texas childhood and Sleeping Beauty’s briar patch.  When I told my story of childhood in Detroit, a guest recognized the street names and we discovered that she’d lived only blocks away.  She and I attended the same elementary school on the other side of the country!   What are the chances?

Meg and I also taught each other some new songs: it’s what we do.

We sang a camp song based on a Donovan song, a lovely round that goes like this:

Happiness runs in a circular motion…

Life is like a little boat upon the sea…

Everyone is a part of everything anyway…

You can be a part if you let yourself be.

We had a five day run of happiness, and before we knew it, it was time for Meg to pack for the trip home.

We had a parting glass…

 

…and went to the train station.

Instead of a caboose, the last car of the train was a locomotive, identical to the one in front that pulled the train forward, except that this one faced backwards, which makes return trips much easier.  I took it as a good sign.

Safe travels, Meg!

All words and images ©2016 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of the Weekly Travel Theme: Harmony.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Opposites.

Survival Stories

 

While exploring Etruscan tombs in Tuscany, my sister Constance and I stumbled upon the ancient hilltop town of Pitigliano.

 

We saw many other lovely towns…

…and picturesque villages.

But I loved this place like nowhere else in Italy.  Its story was the key to my heart.  Pitigliano had provided a rare refuge for Jews driven from Spain during the Inquisition. After the Pope and the Medicis forced Pitigliano’s Jews into the ghetto in 1600, they still accounted for twenty percent of the population.  After the war and the Holocaust, a small handful returned to care for the synagogue and to tell the story.

How small?” I asked a local. She shrugged. “Maybe five.”

The Jewish bakery was closed for the Sabbath, and the synagogue was closed because there weren’t enough Jews for a minyan.

But a shop sold matzoh and a confection called Sfratto, the Italian word for eviction.  Sfratto has a filling of honey, walnuts, and oranges, baked into a smooth-crusted loaf shaped like a police baton.   It was invented by the Jews of Pitigliano to commemorate their eviction from their homes and into the ghetto by officers using sticks to beat on their doors.  Four hundred years later, they’re still telling the story, and we’re still eating it up.

In a narrow alley across from the synagogue, I shivered to hear the haunting strains of a lone Klezmer violin drifting down from a second story window.  At first I thought it was a recording, until the music trailed off.  It had to have been played by human, or perhaps ghostly hands.

 

 

Nearby was a doorstep decked with flowers as colorful as the town’s history.  Two cats curled up in a big flowerpot, one cat a black and white mix, the other all black, but I was an English major, and I saw them as symbols of the concrete world of black and white, living in harmony with the fluid world of shadow and story.  The scene was framed by dark medieval walls backlit by the sunny valley, while the valley was alive with vineyards and olive trees…

…yet riddled with ancient tombs.


The paradox seemed to capture the essence of Pitigliano, and of all Italy.  But before I could capture it on film, the cats bolted, and I lost the moment.  Or so I thought.  That night in our apartment in Orvieto, Constance painted…

…while I wrote about Pitigliano.  I loved it for its unique history, for providing refuge when so few others would, for its tiny but stalwart population of Jews determined to protect a precious legacy, for the stories and ghosts that linger in every back alley.

Then Constance showed me her painting.  Alive with color, it conjured the fragrance of honey and walnut, the haunting strains of a lone violin. And there were my cats, just as I remembered them, a perfect balance of black and white, and shadow.

It was reassuring.  In arts or in letters, by word of mouth, or in the guise of a Jewish confection, so long as there is someone left to tell it and someone willing to listen, the story will survive.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck