Why I ride

Teardrop Metric Century, Sept. 17, 2016

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Bike Sadness

All of us in the Athens cycling community are thinking about the cyclist killed Monday night and the other one critically injured. It could have been any of us. This one involved a 31-year old woman driving a truck under the influence of drugs with a young child in the car with her. There was a cell phone involved and she crossed the center lane and ran into cyclists going in the other directions. People get killed in cars like this all the time too.

This is the third local death while cycling this summer, each story a little different. This morning, I think of how many of us are affected by this recent news.  We may or may not know the cyclists personally but we all can put ourselves into their places too easily. We’ve ridden those roads. It could be us dead or critically injured. It could be our families and close friends in shock and grieving. Here in the Athens cycling community we know it’s only two degrees of separation between ourselves and those cyclists run down yesterday.

My reaction runs to deep sadness rather than the anger that arises in others I know. We all react differently. I think about Ashley and how she spent her last day yesterday. She was 25, the same age as Anne.  A second year graduate student, she probably had a Monday class. The weather was a little cooler, a better night to go out on the Monday night Hub ride. I look at her Facebook site to know her better and see photos of her camping this summer. Smiling, having fun. Her parents got a call last night that changed their lives forever.

I don’t know what to do. I do an Amazon search for some high visibility nylon fabric and find some orange and green that I order; it will be here in two days. I will make some more ribbons, like the ones that Bob has given me over the years. My orange ribbons fell off my helmet some wIMG_0133.jpghere in the Adirondacks last summer. I will put them on my helmet and wear them on Saturday’s Teardrop ride. I want to be with my cycling community doing something good like raising a bit of money for the homeless. Mostly I just want to be with them.  The ribbons wouldn’t have protected me last night. But maybe the drivers like the one who ran into Len one Saturday morning in July will see me from further off in the distance and then wait to lean over to get something off the dashboard until after they pass me.

The woman driving the car last night is at fault. She’s been charged with first degree homicide and serious injury by vehicle, a DUI high on drugs, driving with a minor while DUI, reckless driving, and improper use of cell phone while driving. There’s no bond on the DUI charges because she’s a repeat offender. I should be angry with her but she just makes me deeply sad as well. She’s from Hull, and I imagine her as a student of mine sitting in class at Athens Tech. How do you become someone with a young child, a history of DUIs, and then find yourself driving once again high on a Monday evening around dinner time, the sun still shining in the sky. I find her address on the jail listing and search the address on Google maps. There’s her house in front of me. I’m imagining she lives with her parents since the house is well landscaped, the driveway newly blown off, and two cars and an RV parked by its carport. This is not the house of an always-high 30-year old.

This all makes me sad. I think I’ll go do chores around the house and just be in this sadness for a bit. There’s not much else I can do and the feelings won’t go away for awhile.

Update: Update on Mitchell Enfinger, the cyclist who was hospitalized in Monday’s cycling tragedy. Raa, his good friend and a Nitty Gritty rider, reported, “He’s expecting a full recovery. He did fracture his T1 but the doctors say it’s negligible.” Wonderful news.

Athens Banner Herald article at http://onlineathens.com/breaking-news/2016-09-13/athens-bicyclist-killed-two-more-injured-dui-suspect

From current list of inmates, Athens Clarke County Jail: http://api.athensclarkecounty.com/sheriff/jail/details.asp?id=90086&pg=1

 

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Less

Sometimes my head gets so, so busy that I know I am over stimulating it and need to calm it down. In the long run, I think this is fine. It only happens because there is too much going on. I like the fact that there are so many things I like to do and am interested in learning more about or trying out and that for me the world is full of strangers who are opportunities to connect with and experience. I need a good dose of that to keep happy but sometimes my head gets too turned on and needs to relax.

At work, this would happen because there was too much to do, too much I was responsible, or too much that was stressful, too many situations and people to navigate. I would know I needed to close my door and just work and get things done and calm down. I didn’t need to talk it out. That would just get my head moving too fast again, my emotions lit on fire. Sometimes I would need to just straighten my office up to feel a little bit in more control.

Since leaving my career job, there’s less pressure– no classes, term schedules of classes, meetings, policies, work power politics that I have to manage. But my head still gets spinning too quickly sometimes, too full. At those times, like now, I have to say to myself, “less.” Don’t go into that store for one more chore; don’t reach out to someone for a cup of coffee; drink less coffee, in fact; don’t check social media; let someone else respond to that email;  resist starting a conversation while on a group bike ride. Be quiet. Take care of what you’re doing now. You are getting too stretched out.

The goal is not for a life of “less.” I like the full life. “Less” is a strategy for coping and calming my mind a bit so I can less frenetically navigate the week. So that when I go to bed, I fall asleep and when I wake up after a full eight hours of sleep, I have that nice morning feeling of rest. Fortunately with age, I’m now better at observing what my body and mind need, so when I start waking up after only six hours and my head goes directly into awake mode, I know I need to say “less”.

I’m not sure that this really happens to everyone else, and I have no complaints really. It’s the flip side of feeling very much alive. Just something I have to manage.

And I didn’t really know it would happen when I was “retired,” but it does. And so I sit in my chair and read a book and drink a cup of camomile tea.

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Summer of Daughters 

I am back again. It is the start of September.

2015 was the summer of the bike trip. 2016 has been the summer of daughters and family. Both have been significant life event periods and brought transitions of their own kind for me, the mother, as well as the daughters.

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On their way to SF City Hall, July 6, 2016

In early July we traveled to San Francisco where we spent a week in Berkeley, meeting Alessandro’s Canadian-Italian family for the first time. We had family outings to pools and parks and ferry rides across the bay and shared meals, all to build bonds and connections between the two families. After five days together, a ceremony at the SF City Hall where Clare and Alessandro were married was followed an intimate, elegant and very special reception at the Berkeley City Club.

Anne who had travelled to SF a week earlier than us from Fez, Morocco, returned to Athens with us and helped tremendously with chores in preparation for our end-of-August celebration for the newlyweds here at our house. She helped replace a carpet floor with bamboo, emptied more boxes out of the basement, and sorted through her own boxes, throwing out and sending piles to Good Will and Habitat. Throughout that time, we got to know her sweetheart Abdelletif back in Fez, through the texts and photos they shared daily and video chats that we occasionally were part of. We had already met home in March in Morocco. Richard tackled the outdoor jungle around our house; he and Len, a hired helped, spent two weeks in 100 degree weather clearing out brush that had grown up around our house to amazing heights along with the wall of brush that had grown up over the last few years blocking our view of the river with the exception of a small window through which we could see the shoals out back. The house was undergoing a transformation just as we were.

While Richard worked in the heat, Anne and I road tripped up to NY spending one night camping on the Blue Ridge parkway before descending northeast to the NY metropolitan area and a visit with my mom on the south shore of Long Island, about a 20 minute drive from JFK. Anne only had 6 days before her flight back to Morocco on July 31. We relaxed some but we also had good visits with an old family friend Carmen, Anne’s Peace Corp best friend Anya, my cousin Clare, and then with my brother Charlie, his wife Julianna, and their three 10-16 years old kids, Ella, Hagen and Ford. That week also included a hyper state induced by prednisone I was taking for poison ivy and the non-stop watching of the Democratic convention on the days before Charlie arrived on Thursday night. Charlie’s eldest, Ella, who has Down syndrome, stayed up late with me watching the whole of Hillary’s acceptance speech.

After another emotional goodbye, sending Anne back across an ocean to Morocco to a beloved boyfriend and a new full-time job, I had a few days of calm with my mother, helping around the house, cleaning floors, weeding her garden, and watching TV together at night. Packed in there was more visiting with close friends and family, and then a drive to Buffalo via a visit to my cousin Nancy and Peter to pick up Richard at the airport there to drive up and attend the Colavecchio’s Italian family celebration of the marriage, a special event on the short of Lake Ontario, 125 people and endless delicious Italian food. The next day after lunch with the family, Richard and I drove down to Niagara Falls where I spent part of my birthday for a second year in a row. Two important summers had led me to those falls I had never before seen.

The following day on our way home driving south of Erie PA, Anne called and Abdellatif got on the phone and asked for Anne’s hand in. Yes, it will be an intercultural marriage, but their love for each other is very strong and something I have no doubt at all. Life is a struggle, marriage is a challenge, hopefully their love for each other will sustain them. We gave them our blessing. My head is spinning. My life last year took a huge turn retiring form Athens Tech. It takes another huge turn this summer with Clare and Anne pairing their lives with another. Fortunately for both Italians and Moroccans, family is more than important. They honor family in a way that goes deeper than for those of us with northern European roots. Luckily too for Clare and Anne, spending time with family is a priority, despite their not having any Mediterranean heritage.

For two and a half weeks after returning to Georgia, Richard and I worked at warp speed preparing our home for one more celebration. To be honest, we used the occasion as a motivation to get a lot of things done — basement closest and window wall built, lounge redone, new sofa bought, carport cleaned of mildew, driveway pressure washed of dirt and algae, overgrown bushes manicured, kitchen floor removed of layers of deep dirt that had become its new color, etc. Many people can relate to the effect of a deadline on home maintenance projects. Clare and Alessandro joined us a week early and helped out; we fit in two games of Settlers of Cataan and a few episodes of Orange is the New Black. Alessandro’s parents joined us from Canada for Clare and Alesaandro’s third marriage celebration as well as Texas cousins, a few old friends from out of town, and an array of Athens friends dear to our family. The party and family/friend reunion weekend were all that we wanted — some exhaustion but more happiness and eating and talking and building new memories than anything else.

Clare left on Wednesday to fly back to SF to pursue her French visa for her research position in Paris. Alessandro stayed until today, Saturday. This evening they will rendezvous in New York and visit with my mother for a week. They have more transitions to go through this fall, a new city to make into their home, a new apartment to find and set up, and for Clare a new laboratory university and colleagues to adapt to as she pursues understanding the nature of the expanding universe. And a marriage to grow and navigate — perhaps just as daunting a task as understanding supernovae and dark energy.

And here I will be, a year and two summers away from retirement and at a much more solid place to move forward from than last September when I came off the high of the cross country ride to the reality of creating a life post retirement, confused by my loss of identify and structure, full of ideas of what to do but at a bit of a loss knowing how to shape this new life. The shape is not exactly there yet, but that’s okay and there’s a whole lot less anxiety about it all. Meanwhile life keeps coming full blast at me.

 

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A year retired

This week my Iphone 6 Plus slipped off the stove top on to the throw carpet on top of the kitchen floor. I was in the middle of a phone call and picked it up. It looked like someone had taken an ice pick and jammed it into the the home button.  I spent the afternoon researching replacing the glass and ended up paying $140 to do so.

It is grey outside this week, wet and cooler than expected. My writing on my bike trip manuscript isn’t going as well as it was. I’m still sitting down everyday and writing but the enthusiasm isn’t as strong as when I started. The floors keep getting dirty and needing to be vacuumed and swept. The desk table gets cluttered up again and again.

It’s been a year since I retired. I do not miss the feeling of working against a wall that makes its so hard to do what needs to be done. I don’t miss the power politics. I do miss the everyday routine. The pleasure of having a cup of coffee and saying my good mornings and then getting to work, the rhythm of the day with a cast of characters, some friendlier than others. I do miss my closest colleagues whose offices I could pop into for a quick chat. I do miss the array of students whose questions I could answers and whose problems I could often easily fix. I do miss the purpose that my work gave me.

There is not lack of things to do, but there isn’t that overarching main idea that my work and raising children gave me.

I do not regret retiring but I am still working on this new part of my life.

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Perspective Shifts

When I went and looked for the $150 wad of cash that Bob had paid me back with, it wasn’t on the sideboard in the dining room. He had flagged me down at the end of the Athens Savannah Double Century ride on Sunday as I was leaving the Jittery Joe’s Roster parking lot back in Athens on my way to return the borrowed First Presbyterian van. He handed me a pile of $20s and a receipt for the Wadley Inn so we could get Richard’s lodging reimbursement and told me not to lose it. I had already lost the $150 check he had sent me back in January. I had transferred my Ath-Sav registration to him after deciding not to do the ride this year.

It was Tuesday morning when I discovered the missing money. I searched the house thoroughly, recreating my steps on returning to the house Sunday. I followed every step in the house, every chair I had sat in. I tripled checked the pockets of anything I’d worn in the last two days. I searched in every nook and cranny that I could have absentmindedly stashed the cash, including refrigerator drawers and pantry shelves. I recreated my climb up on the back deck to see if the cash had fallen out of pocket when I went up there to try to get into the locked house. I had given my key to Leannah, our dog sitter, and so didn’t have one when returning to the house sooner than Richard. Tuesday afternoon, I drove back to the First Presbyterian Church where I had returned the van on Monday. No luck. I found my brown vest still in the van, a water bottle rolled to the back, and my dollar store reading glasses but no wad of cash.

By then, my mood had blackened. I was already feeling sorry for myself that I hadn’t received the adrenaline rush of the 200-mile bike ride. I felt disconnected from the biking community because I had become their servant for the weekend. There were certain stresses associated with rooming with both my husband and sister at the same time. And now there was more proof that I was losing my focus. Where had that cash gone too? My mind ruminated on the negative, spiraling down in a way I would rather avoid.

Then this afternoon after having a rather dark morning, I started pulling together the receipts for reimbursement for our expenses accrued while helping support the ride this weekend. I looked down at one of the receipts and realized that I did indeed have the receipt Bob had given me with the pile of cash. If his name was on the Wadley Inn receipt, then maybe I had put the money in my wallet. I had gotten $200 from SunTrust at the the start of the ride on Friday and I barely had that much now. But then my memory started working better and I realized that I had given Richard half the bank withdrawal money so that meant I should only have $100 minus any cash I had used over the weekend. I had more than that. Bob had only given me $120 since the money back from the Wadley Inn reimbursement would cover the other money he owed he.  That meant I should have about $200 in my wallet. I had $199. That meant I had had Bob’s cash in my wallet the whole time — the whole entire time I was getting more and more frustrated with myself and everything else in my life, the money was right there.

What does this mean? The metaphor becomes so obvious. We sometimes have in our hands just what we need but events, perspective and our mood keep us from seeing it.  We want more than we have, we want to go back and redo things, we think if only so and so, then I wouldn’t be in this situation. We dig ourselves into bad spots.

Sometimes the money isn’t there, in the pocket or the wallet. It is gone, or it was never there. But we want it so bad that it keeps us from accepting and loving what we do have. These lessons are so darn hard to learn.  I guess that’s why there’s a new sermon each Sunday.

Afterthought: Perspective shifts are easier for some to achieve than others. For people with severe depression, finding a set of lost keys or a missing wad of cash doesn’t do it.

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Homage to Bike Community

I cannot exaggerate how much biking adds to my life and a gigantic part of that is my bike community.

Let me first clarify that I thrive on time alone as much as I do on time with others. I am the person who chose to ride alone cross country last summer. I asked Carmen who is riding across the country in a month, but with a large group, if she is a person who needs alone time. She looked at me funny for a moment; she didn’t seem to know what I meant. People who need alone time know what I mean right away. People think of me as a social person but I need my space. Many cyclists have no interest in doing a long bike ride alone as I did last year. If they had company, maybe they would consider it. I had fears related to being alone on my bike ride last year, but they had to do with safety. I was not fearful of being lonely and without sufficient company.

And the same goes for now as well. I love not being with other people all the time.

But I love having my bike community so much. Cycling and my bike buddies are bright colored threads running through the fabric of my life. This past week was full of the richness of those colors.

On Sundays, I started a slower and more social ride back in January. Richard and I needed to get in shape for our bike ride in Sicily. These rides are continuing post-Sicily trip. At 12-15 mph, they are easier than some of the other Nitty Gritty Bike Band rides these days, and so are perfect for those looking for something slower that encourages us all to socialize while we ride. These “slocial” rides, a term Diane created, have been delightful. Last Sunday after the ride, a bunch of us went for a beer and some food afterwards at the Blind Pig Tavern. It had been a while since we had done something like that and so spontaneously.  This Sunday we rode out to Watson Mill Bridge park, where we hung out on the park office deck for quite awhile in the middle of the 30-mile ride . On Monday nights, Diane and I are volunteering at Bike Athens learning to fix up bikes that are then given to those in need. We started in November, and though we are very far from being master mechanics, we are enjoying the camaraderie of Don and Scott who provide the expertise needed for us to do anything.

On Wednesday, we gather at 6 in Winterville or at Whit Davis for an evening ride  . As I did for years, many come from work. This year the Wednesday ride has started out faster than it has in years past, but for me, keeping up with my bike buddies is fun. I feel myself getting faster again. We end the evening chatting by our cars before the fading evening light chases us home. Thursday night Richard and I hosted Warm Showers bike travelers, young Steffan and Annika from the Netherlands; they started in Miami on their 6-month bike adventure and are heading to the Blue Ridge Parkway. After that, they aren’t sure. I advocated for riding out west. We gave them clean sheets and a tasty meal; they gave us their youthful ease and openness and showed us photos of their wedding six months ago.

Saturday was the AL Pless Ride, a charity ride to raise money for the Athens Land Trust. Al was a cyclist about my age who died too early a few years ago from brain cancer. The Land Trust is an impressive local organization that does more good things than its name implies; they help preserve land but they also help with affordable housing and community garden projects. It was an organization that Al supported. The day’s weather was perfect, starting in the high 60s and then up into the 70s. The magic came, though, from my fellow cyclists on their shiny bikes and in their colorful outfits. There were about 75 of us, some riding 18 miles, some 38, and some 60. How much fun to be in our thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies and even OC in his eighties, spending the day riding bikes — starting out fresh, winding up and down along the Greenway and then out Peter Street and through the new bypass underpass, and then the little climb out Olympic Dr. We push ourselves, we anticipate the day, we climb and descend, we smile and chat and introduce ourselves to someone new; we move at our own pace or push ourselves beyond. On some days, you might end up riding mostly alone; on others you are with a group all day long. For me, Saturday ended up being a social ride as I cycled much of the 60 miles among a group of 6-8.

All of these bike relationships enrich our lives. In the photos I take, we all look happy out there. And in fact, we pretty much are when we’re out there. That’s what is amazing. None of us don’t have our problems. We have stressful jobs, challenging relationships, depressed moments or days, friends and family we worry about, bodies and minds that don’t function like we’d like them to, lives that we struggle to make meaning of or that disappoint us. We are imperfect humans courageously trying to move forward.

But we are so, so lucky, because we’ve found cycling, and with all the good it does for our bodies and all the fun and outdoor adventures it provides, it gives us each other too. How lucky we are to have our bike community, our church on two wheels. We don’t solve each other’s problems, though sometimes we do listen. The act of doing something so pleasurable together, the shared challenges of a long ride, the small conversations, it all bonds us together in a way that makes our lives better. Sometimes it seems like a small thing; other times it seems like it’s what really matters and makes all the difference.

An April week of bike community (click on the first photo and you can scroll through them all, that is, if you’re interested in looking more closely)

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At home again, putting routine into unstructured time

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

I have been back in the US for a week now and in Georgia for five days, the transition to live back home is almost complete. This year since I retired last May has been full of transitions aIMG_3927nd change. There isn’t the anchor of work tying me to a schedule and a place and people so there’s been much more movement than there had been. I’m not yet at ease with this new pace but much more relaxed with it than I was last September when I came back from my cross country bike trip. It helps that I’ve returned to springtime here, a season that reminds me of summer when I was growing up, the days longer, the weather teIMG_3937mperate. Summer here in Georgia is something to endure. The heat forces you to pace your days so that outdoor time is early in the morning or around a pool. Evening bike rides are taken in 90 degree or higher weather.

 

Today and yesterday we have been washing cars, ridding them of a thick layers of pollen. Today as I finished my van, I pulled off all the college stickers, starting with Athens Tech and the girls’ colleges, another layer of the old life. For the time being, I see that there are seasons to this retired life like there were while I was working and teaching but they are ones I create all on my own and that seem to be driven by life events and travel either to visit family or the world. Right now the timeline reaches to theMissed the daffodils but not the dogwoods. summer when Clare and Alessandro will get married and then move to Paris. They are planning a very, very small civil marriage ceremony in early July at the San Francisco City Hall with immediate family and a few local friends. August, they will split between Alessandro’s family in Toronto and Clare’s in NY and mostly Athens.

 

And so we have three months until the start of Clare and Alessandro’s big summer, marked by the wedding in SF and then a party here in Athens. (For them, there will be a big celebration in Toronto as well.) These are the events that frame the next five months.I continue with my bike life, both riding and writing about it. After encouragement by others and some self-reflection, I am trying to turn my trip and blog into a book. Perhaps it will be just there for the family history; perhaps something will happen with it. Either way, it’s a good exercise, and I think I’m ready to reflect on and write about it; I already have pages of the blog as material to shape into chapters. In the fall, I was in shock from coming home and finding the obvious, that I was really retired. Now, though, I am ready to look back and figure out how to make the transition from a blog to a book. I’ve written about 3500 words since I came home last week. If I keep up with this writing pace, I should have a good draft by sometime in the summer.

Today’s fantasy is that I will write for three hours a day and work out for on average another two. Retirement has coincided with menopause, later than for many, and it’s clear that I need a concerted effort to keep from puffing out. I’ve had a book titled Ride Your Way Lean for several years but have never really followed through with its advice. If you’re a cyclist and want to get leaner, the trick is to vary your workouts much more than one does if you just go a couple of rides a week with your bike buddies. Intervals are what are needed, where you go out for an hour or two and add in 2-8 minute stretches where you are going faster than you usually would, at what I’m called race pace or all-out pace.

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My first ride, solo, back in Georgia, all tension from endless travel gone.

More simply put, they tend to be at the fastest pace you can keep up with for the specified time with recovery periods after each where you are going at the I-could-ride-all-day pace. Then there is what is called hill work to add into the mix, where you might be going at a slower pace but against the resistance of the hill, and regular weight work at the gym 2-3 times a week. Fortunately, I live on the Eastside of Athens where I can be free of traffic lights in less than ten minutes and have a bunch of hills to climb about 20 minutes away, and the Omni, my gym, is less than five minutes by car.

Reasons for making the effort to keep in better shape:

  • Be trim and find my body pleasing.
  • Keep up with the crowd I bike ride with or at least with myself at my strongest.
  • Keep in shape for my Adventure Cycling tour assistant job in Colorado this August.
  • Help keep my blood pressure lower and reduce my need for BP medicine.
  • Get my cholesterol levels slightly lower so my doctor doesn’t bother me about my creeping numbers.
  • Enjoy the clear mental health benefits of all that exercise.
  • Keep my brain healthy.
  • Keep bones stronger.
  • Make my clothes feel loser.
  • Improve my chances of aging well.
  • Keep strong so that I can better care for others and keep active longer.

It is so obvious that my health should be a priority but it actually takes more effort to do that than it does to write. What does that say. Perhaps only that overcoming the inertia of the whole body is more difficult than doing so for the figures alone. That is not a joke.

Obvious insight: I like some structure in my life.

Question for my own pondering: Will publicly stating that I will write a book and get fitter make it all happen?

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Back on a group ride with my good bike friends, striving to keep up.

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Going to the hammam

March 17      This morning Anne and I went to the hammam together. It was her first time ever and my second. Several years ago when leading a trip to Paris, I took some time to myself and went to the hammam by the big mosque in Paris. 
Hammams are basically public baths, separated of course by men and women. Some hammams are just for women, some just for men, and some, like the one in Paris, have different hours for men and for women. When I went in Paris, I knew nothing, and I basically knew nothing again this time so Anne and I were novices together. For the Moroccan women, going to the hammam is not a unique experience; it’s just part of life, something you do once a week or so to really get clean and to relax perhaps. 

I will explain the process for you but upfront, let me say that there are two aspects of the hammam that would make an outsider like us uncomfortable. First, there is a whole bathing process and different rooms and we literally did not know what to do. Second, you get totally naked. In fact, you start with a pair of panties on but eventually they seem to come off as well. Ironically or perhaps just interestingly, Moroccan women are so modest in their clothing when in public, many women wearing a scarf around their heads and even a veil across their face, but in the hammam it is we westerners, more so even for we Americans, who are modest with being naked together. Anne and I had not really been completely naked together since she was a little girl. 

So, let me explain how the hammam worked. From the street, we entered a doorway in which there was a man to pay (inside there were just women, of course). Anne tried her best to bargain with him, but did not succeed in getting him to switch from a tourist rate to anywhere near a Fez Moroccan rate. We ended up getting the hammam with a rub down and massage for two of us for about 200 dirham; that’s $20. I’m betting that for a local the price for the two of us would have been less than $5. We entered down a short hallway where we started communicating with the hammam manager, a woman who only speaks Darija, the Moroccan form of Arabic. Many people speak some French, but not all by any means. Anne can speak some Darija now, enough to impress me, but in this strange situation, she was more silent than usual. 

Once down the short hallway, about 12 feet, there was a tiled room to the right where you undress. It had benches all around it, all done in ceramic tile, and a place to store one’s clothing. Fortunately there was a women dressing who I asked some questions to in my limited French. We didn’t even know what to do with our towels. Imagine someone coming from a world in which all foods were bought in an open air market, and they had to shop in a supermarket. All that we take for granted would be strange and exotic to them. 

At the back of the changing area, we entered the hammam itself. The main room was about 13 by 20 feet with faucets every couple of feet along two walls at about 18 inches about the tile floor. The hammam manager women came in with us to instruct us a little but mostly because we had paid extra for the scrub down. Most of the other women were doing the scrub downs to themselves or each other. Along the wall were lots of buckets, 5 and 10 gallon ones, that women filled up with the just-right hot water that came from the faucets, and used large measuring cups to take the water and pour upon their bodies. The room itself was filled with warm steam. There were two other smaller rooms attached to this one with hotter steam coming from their pipes. 

There were little stools to sit upon and so Anne and I went to work pouring water over our heads. But before long, our hamam manager indicated that I should lie upon some plastic mats. From that point on, I just followed her instructions, starting with lying on my stomach. Mostly, though, she did the work. She had a scrubbing mitt, with a course surface to it, that she used to scrub my whole back with from top to bottom. This was not gentle scrubbing but a good solid scrub that you might use to get a pot clean. After the back was done, she indicated with her hands for me to turn over and started on the front of me, again from top to bottom. She also had me lean against her and scrubbed and massaged my face and then did my arms as well. And then she indicated for me to go into the hotter steam room and she moved on to me. Afterwards, I returned for her to wash my hair; this included using a hard bristle brush that massaged my scalp. While we did all this, the local women washed and scrubbed the self. This was not a rush job. Many of the women who were in the hammam when we got their were still in there when we left. 

If you don’t like being touched, then the hammam is not for you. And if you don’t like the idea of being in a room with a lot of naked, wet women, than the hammam is not for you either. But I loved it. Just like when I went to the hammam in Paris, I really appreciated what a little lack of modesty allows for women. We are living in a world that is filled with models and actresses and and endless images of women whose bodies are so removed from the ones most of have and whose bodies are forever firm and young and splendidly beautiful. In the hammam, women see reality and become relaxed with it. There are bellies with rolls and folds and breasts of all sizes and smooth and wrinkled skin of different shades and with imperfections. In the hammam today there was a little girl of six who had not yet learned to not smile at strangers;later a women in kaftan and a head scarf came in and handed her baby to someone else to bathe. There were older women with breasts hanging down to almost their hips who were perfectly relaxed in their naked state and then dried off and dressed beside us in their pants and blouses and then covered up again with their jellaba and head scarfs.

I am so glad for our hammam visit, a chance for Anne and me to enter the world of Moroccan women for just a bit. Plus my skin feels so clean and fresh. 

Anne and me after the hammam

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Life in the medina 

March 16, 2016

Life in the medina in Fez is very different than the life I come from. The medina is a physical environment so different than anything I know. It is one thing to describe it but another to be in it. It is an endless maze of alleys filled with either markets at your elbows or mysterious doors that lead into people’s private worlds. There is no privacy outside but inside it is an oasis from that public sphere. There are no green spaces in the medina, only occasional intersections of alleys that create very small squares of commerce. Here on the roof of Anne’s riad (house) there is privacy and the open space of the rooftops around me, the blue sky above, and mountains to the east.

I rest and read and write for a bit up here while Anne has gone off to teach classes and Richard is getting a shave and beard trim somewhere in the medina with Abduliteff. In a moment, I will descend the long stairwell and freshen up. Richard and I will take a petit taxi to the new city where Anne teaches and be the guest speakers for her students at 6 pm.

Our visit here is different than our visit to Sicily. It is a visit to see Anne and her life here and to meet Abduliteff as well. We are like the other tourists we see in the medina but different. Being here with Anne and for Anne makes our immersion in this different world more intense.

   

 

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