Forum Holitorium

Month: February, 2016

Marking Time in Maribor

The clement weather on Saturday was perfect for our first jaunt abroad this spring. Maribor is an hour away from Graz, just over the border in Slovenia. With its large pedestrian zone in the center as well as footpaths along the banks of the Drava River, it is a wonderful place to stroll and stretch your legs. The town became an important strategic point in the Middle Ages when a fortress was built to protect the river valley from marauding Hungarians. Close to the Alps and a site of viticulture since Roman times, its economy was based on trade in timber and wine. The over four hundred year old Stara Vrta, or Old Vine, grows along a south facing wall right by the river. Its grapes are still used to make wine highly coveted by the rich and famous. What interested me more was the sundial on a nearby building.

Maribor was one of the first places I visited after moving to Graz, and my main association with the city is of an avian nature: a large swan population makes its home on the Drava. Since my second grade teacher read us E.B.White’s The Trumpet of the Swan, I have had a thing for swans, but it wasn’t until I came to Europe that I remember seeing any in the wild. There are lots of cities in Europe where you can sight swans – Zurich comes to mind – but Graz is not one of them. Maybe they fascinate me because of the incredibly fluid way they move their necks. I wish I had as much strength and little tension in my neck as the average swan. There is such a grace and quiet pride in the way they arch their wings.

My favorite square is the sunny Slomskov Trg around the cathedral. It’s sleepy, crossed by two old men chatting, a gaggle of teenage boys jostling each other and competing to be the loudest in town, a woman yacking away on a cell phone. TC and I sat on a low stone wall and watched the busybody pigeons strut about. All of a sudden, as if on cue, every single pigeon flew off together in a rush of flapping wings. Well rested, we followed their suit at a more leisurely tempo, standing up and continuing our stroll.

Happy birdwatching and stretching your legs!

Driving Away the Winter in Me

Impatient precipitation is falling. Though snow rests on the ground, bushes, and roofs, I see raindrops disturb the puddles that have formed on the patio and hear the plop of drops from the awning, the snow already melting. The flakes were eager to turn to water as the air warmed. My surprise and joy upon opening the blinds is slowly giving way to the anticipation of a wet walk into town and the day’s activities.

At some point in the last two weeks, I turned the corner on winter. Maybe it was the Chinese New Year party I threw to ring in the Year of the Monkey. Six of us sat around together for hours, eating too many noodles and dumplings, drinking ginger tea from TC’s samovar and swapping travelers’ tales from recent journeys to points afar. It was the first time I entertained this year, coming out of my hibernation.

Maybe it was Mardi Gras and the start of Lent. Lent has a twofold purpose. First, it gives me the chance to focus on changing a behavior or two. This Lententide I am not eating any animal products except honey and am forgoing alcohol to see how it makes me feel. I have read a lot about the benefits of eliminating dairy and eggs and want to feel if it makes a difference or not. I eat cheese once or twice a month when going out to eat and whatever dairy makes it into baked goods. But now I am being strict. Second, Lent is a temporal bridge to spring. Trusting Phil the groundhog and my senses, I think spring will be here by the time Easter rolls around. Inspiration struck and made me realize how to use up grey yarn from the German island of Rügen: a winter lap blanket to warm my knees as I read. I knit six rows a day, and at this rate the yarn will be used up and the blanket finished by Easter.

Or maybe it’s simply a question of the light. The days are getting longer; that sudden surge of energy from within has come. I find myself diving into projects that have never quite gotten off the ground, one notable one being improving my Italian language skills. A free online course is providing me the framework I needed in which to get started again. The irregular forms of the passato remoto tense necessary to read Italian books are finally clear, and my vocabulary is growing every day. I dream of spring and summer trips to Italy, of making it through an entire book in Italian. Though there are other projects on the needles, Sunday it became clear what shape a sand colored cardigan with blue details should take, so I cast on. Maybe I will truly see an end to all those skeins of yarn in my stash AND the bottom of my wardrobe in 2016.

For our Chinese New Year’s party, TC and I bought red peppers and a package of hot chilis. Their color is such a welcome jolt this time of year – exactly like the fiery kick chilis add to a dish. Last night I added some to my ultimate comfort food – fried potatoes and onions.

Hope you find a way to drive away the winter in you – spring is on the way!

Living at the Sunrise

Funny how quickly I find myself addicted to watching the sun rise. The interplay of colors and clouds is never the same, will never repeat itself. Since no photograph will ever do it justice, it’s best to get up in time and experience it through your own eyes. My favorite this week started with an introduction that included all the colors of the rainbow.

It’s also funny how often I resolve to do something I enjoy involving a reasonable investment of time and resources and then find myself doing something completely different. Despite getting off to a good start reading Don Quixote and making a thin scarf, I channeled my energy this week into knitting a bunch of small projects to use up a motley assortment of leftover balls of yarn and finishing Time and Tide in Acadia. It’s the sunrise that distracted me, you see. Look at the colors of the felted bowls and especially the salmon entrelac squares on the zippered bag.

The book touched upon sunrises too. A passionate observer of the landscape and wildlife on Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine, author Christopher Camuto practices “being indigenous,” as he puts it, walking its trails, exploring its shoreline by kayak and canoe, noting its rich variety of birds and animals, trying to appreciate “the eventfulness of every step you take.” The island was first inhabited by the Abenaki, whose name means “those living at the sunrise.” From the way he writes about his relationship to the island, I can’t imagine that Camuto feels any less connected to the place than its original population did. You do not need to be born in a specific location to become native to it. And you may be born and live in a place where you never feel like a native. And you can live in a place for many years and never feel native. And you can yearn to return to a place where you feel native. The world offers you many options.

The last chapter starts out with the sentence, “We travel to islands to be partly at sea.” It dawned on me that most of the places I would like to visit are islands. Perhaps the cotton bag above will accompany me to an island this summer.

Enjoy the colors and clouds in the sky wherever you are!