Because The Universe Still Speaks in Whispers

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A year later…in Lisbon, with a typical Portuguese man.

It is one of those days when I wonder what I’m doing here. And how I got here. How this “happened” to me.

Nothing particularly bad has happened. Nothing particularly good either.

It is cold. And I am tired.

My bedroom feels small. My lesson today on gratitude felt flimsy and flat. The mother of one of my students is once again making unreasonable demands.

It is the week of Thanksgiving and I am an ocean-plus away from “home” – which I loosely translate as somewhere in the United States, most likely Chicago.

I am talking to a friend who is going through a divorce, telling her everything that I know about divorce. And I admit that at least part of the reason I am here and not in Chicago is financial – that I wasn’t earning enough and couldn’t seem to find my way to more money.

I feel like a failure.

I am riding the train home and I look at my phone. Facebook, tells me I have memories with Nikki Nigl today. It is my blog from a year ago today — Artist Date 94: Do Something(s).

I click on the link and begin reading.

“A month has passed since I returned home from my solo sojourn to Italy.  It feels like forever ago.

Life comes on — quickly, strong, demanding — and I struggle to hold on to the peace and freedom I felt abroad.  The joy in getting lost, not knowing the answer — or sometimes even the question, in being alone.  My face looks pinched — the wrinkle between my eyebrows, smoothed by Umbria, has returned.”

I laugh. My face has look pinched for weeks, possibly months. And the wrinkle between my brow has deepened into what appears to be a permanent groove.

“The decisions I made, the desires of my heart — to live overseas, to publish a book (or more to the point, to be published) — begin to slip into the category of ‘all talk.’ “

To live overseas?! I live overseas!

“I recently read that most people would prefer to fail by not trying than fail by trying.  I get it.  I understand.  I wish I didn’t.”

But I am trying.

“…Sitting at the computer, doing nothing but waiting for something to happen, I mutter, ‘Do something.  Anything.’

I write an email and send it off.  (Two somethings.  Write — one.  Send — two.)  A few lines to the sister of a friend of a friend who just returned from Spain, where she taught English for several years.  I ask if she might meet me for coffee and share her experiences — how she got there, what it was like.”

I remember that coffee. It led to dinner. And then lunch. And then another dinner. Where I gathered not only information, but a new friend too.

 “…meeting with my rabbi …we talk about … my desires and deciphering the will and whim of the universe.  Especially when it seems to only speak in whispers.

It feels like a game of telephone and I constantly wonder if I’m hearing it right.

Until I get to the parking lot, into my car and check Facebook.

‘Anyone want a job in Portugal NOW?’

Scrolling down, I am tagged.  ‘Lesley Pearl, could it be you?’

My heart swells, leaps.  Not because I believe I will get the job and move to Portugal (although I might), but because the universe seems to be speaking loudly, clearly — the message undeniable, ‘Yes, Lesley, it is possible.’ “

Yes, it is. Because I am here now. And because I was in Lisbon just a few weeks ago.

And somehow I feel like less of a failure. Facebook has actually made me feel better — by reminding me of where I was, and allowing me to reflect on where I am. Helping me to see that this was all part of the plan…even if I still don’t quite understand it. Because the universe still speaks in whispers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What I Didn’t Write — October and November — or Act, Don’t React

For what feels like the longest time, I’ve barely been able to blog. “I’ve been ‘in the day,’ ” I tell myself – which is true – but I’ve also felt “stuck” by all that wasn’t said. For some reason, perhaps it is the over-explainer in me, I’ve felt the need to bring everything and everyone “up to date.”

I compiled two blogs. One — Facebook posts from my arrival in Madrid on July 29 through August — settling in, finding my way, being a student, and being enchanted by seemingly everything and everyone. And Two — Facebook posts from September – my past bumping up to my present, visits from friends and High Holy Day celebrations.

The third and final compilation follows – October and November — travel, celebrations, and interactions with Madrilenos, my “real life” in Madrid…officially “up to date.”

October 2

Just got paid for the first time since late July…in euros, straight into my Spanish bank account. Definitely one of those moments when I realize, “Oh, I’m not just *here* in Spain. I work here. I live here.” Some days, that amazing truth is still a surprise to me.

October 5

In the elevator of my apartment building…4-year-old girl with a cat’s face on her t-shirt is looking at me while speaking to her father. Father, who knows I speak only a little Spanish, translates, “My daughter thinks girls should not have such short hair.” If I were anywhere but Spain, I would think this man an ass — or at the very least, oblivious.

But he speaks these words with such a kind voice and a genuine smile…as if he is trying to connect with me. As if he is telling me she likes unicorns and chocolate ice cream. Merely speaking the truth. I smile at them both and nod, “Si, el pelo corto…”

October 9

Bound for Valencia! Early birthday gift to myself… beach, bike, big ol’ bathtub and cooked breakfast waiting at the Airbnb.

Last year I celebrated with breakfast in Rome and dinner in Paris…and with the acute awareness that my charmed holiday would end the next day. This year, my jaunt is accompanied with the amazing sensation of “Oh, I’m just zipping off to Valencia for the weekend..” followed by “Holy crap, this is my life!”

October 9

Riding through Valencia in my Fly London wedges, pencil skirt and Jackie O sunglasses (and a helmet, of course)…a new pair of Flys in the basket and a couple of dresses I have no business buying in a pink bag over my shoulder…smiling at the palm trees, the flavor of turrone gelato fresh on my lips. Life is good. Thanks for getting me on the bike all those years ago, Lee. I do it a little differently these days…but still love being in the saddle.

October 10

Persimmons, pulpo, pimienton and PAELLA!

My Airbnb host told me I couldn’t get paella for one. Not fresh, at least. Only a racion from a big pan cooked earlier in the day. And then the universe swooped in. Correction, Laura swooped in.

We’d only known one another through our mutual friend Carrie and Facebook. When she saw I was in Valencia, her home for the past 30 years, she sent me a note and we made a date. She asked if there was anything I’d been hankering for. Well, as a matter of fact…

Mmm, with chicken and rabbit and burnt crunchy bits on the bottom.

Full with delicious food and beautiful new friendships.

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October 11

Made it to the beach…

Massage on the beach…quite possibly the best 20 euros I’ve ever spent. Seconded only by the lounge chair I am lying on while writing this. My body is very, very happy. As is my spirit.

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October 14

Hallelujah! I found chard. I’ve been on the hunt for kale, but this will more than do. A little garlic, some olive oil… And delightfully, persimmons — or what my friend Sara affectionately calls “tree candy” — abound.

October 18

As is my usual ritual, I woke up this morning, opened my window, then padded off to the kitchen to make coffee. When I returned, the bedroom was awash in pink light. I peeked out the window to see the sun making its way down the walls of the inner courtyard, then bouncing off of someone’s washing. Mundane. Magical.

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October 18

Madrid mornings have been chilly. High 30s, low 40s. Today my friend Alexis arrived from Chicago — with my wool coat. Nikki had been keeping it since I left. She packed it up along with my meditation pillow, threw in some vitamin D, Airborne, Clear Care contact solution and a roll of Weight Watchers Bravos, one of my cashmere sweaters and two pieces of fabric, one from India (thank you Paul), and one from my trip to Rwanda. Strangely, I was going to ask her to send the pieces of cloth to me, but she seemed to intuitively know.

Alexis added two bags of walnuts and a bag of almonds from Whole Foods — which would have cost about 20 euros each here — and a bar of olive oil soap from her summer trip to Greece.

I got teary unpacking these humble pieces of my life…held and delivered with such care and love. Quite possibly the best birthday gift ever…topped off with tapas at Mercado San Miguel and a walk with my friend through this magical city I now call home.

October 20

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my beautiful, talented and well-traveled sister Lesley Pearl. Being overseas on your birthday would be tough for some but knowing you, I am sure that they are lining up to celebrate with you!”

October 20

Cake before noon? Well sure…it IS my birthday. And we didn’t finish it. Thanks Maria for making 46 in Madrid so special!

October 21

Humbled and delighted by the bounty of well wishes on my birthday. Phone calls, Skypes, texts, cards, Facebook messages literally from around the world. And even a few regalos…a violet plant from my landlady and roommate, a mug from my lunchtime students reminding me to begin the day with joy, earrings (lovely enough that I took out my signature star and stud) and a wooly forever scarf from my forever friend Maria. I am blessed…

October 22

Pulled on my wool coat, the one Nikki held on to and had Alexis bring to me here in Madrid. Slipped my hands into the pockets and felt paper. “What the hell did I leave in here?” Turns out…nothing. I pulled out my hands, and in them, a few love notes from my dear, dear friend. Wonderful surprise. Wonderful reminder. Everybody needs a Nikki in their life.

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October 23

Lisbon, Portugal…November 6-9.

October 24

Some of my most favorite moments in Madrid involve me tripping over my Spanish while the Spaniard before me trips over his or her English. The two of us apologizing and laughing and smiling, celebrating one another’s victories in finding the right word, delighted in being understood, to be somehow communicating. I always walk away feeling surprisingly connected…and happy.

October 25

And why wouldn’t there be a parade of women drummers in skirts reminiscent of turkeys and heavy black boots at lunchtime in Lavapies? We all couldn’t help but follow them down the street.

Afternoon in Lavapies. Stuffed with butter chicken and besan ladoo.

drummers in lavapies

October 26

Wise tea bag…easier said than done.

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October 30

I love when Chicago arrives in Madrid (seemingly unexpectedly)…and feeling like I am meeting a long-lost cousin for the very first time. How magical and strange that we are only now meeting, and on this side of the Atlantic. I suppose it was time…

Nov 2

Segovia. Magical…

 

me in segovia

November 6

Weekend forecast is 60s, 70s and sunny. On my way…

Sometimes I am in awe of the power of intention. I mentioned to a friend this morning that I really needed some touch … And that I hoped to get a massage this weekend. I’m out the door in Lisbon not 20 minutes and I stumble onto a beautiful spa. They have an appointment available in 30 minutes…

Note: This is pretty much the story of how I met my ex-husband.

November 6

Lisbon…I’ve got a big, fat crush on you. Hills and cobblestone and a big orange bridge. Trolley cars, fresh seafood and chesnut gelato. And perhaps one of the most profound massages of my life…not even sure why, it just was.

Oh, but the people! The old man at the tobacco kiosk who took me — took me! Not pointed me– to a shop where I could save 1 euro on my trolley ticket. And the one who spoke not a lick of English but understood “Ramiro” when I asked and did pointed me to it…then literally chased me down the street a few minutes later when I passed by the restaurant and walked me back, dropping me at the door…talking in Portuguese the entire time, even though I told him I didn’t understand any of it. Yep, big fat crush!

 

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November 8

Another reason I’ve fallen for Lisbon…music and dance “just happens.”

November 9

I continue to be surprised and delighted when, at an airport or train station in Europe, my espresso comes in a china demitasse and I am given a proper plate and flatware for my meal. However, this morning, running short on time, I took my food to go. I feel like the consummate American eating it at the gate…it seems it is “just not done.”

November 9

Madrid Jazz Festival. This Friday at 8. Conde Duque. Marc Ribot and the Young Philadelphians. Who’s in?

November 13

Not that I ever doubted you, Lauren but ooohhhh…what a trip to El Corte Ingles can do for North American soul. Eyebrow wax and tint at the Benefit Brow Bar ( Pamela, I feel a little bit like I cheated on you…but I think Sarai did a pretty awesome job.) And FAT-FREE Greek yogurt. I haven’t had either in nearly 4 months. Feeling just a little bit more like myself.

November 14

Standing with the Mayor and people of Madrid in 5 minutes of silence…prayers for the people of Paris, and for people everywhere.

November 14

Vision Board. Once again, time to create the roadmap of my subconscious. (I cannot believe I found Mod Podge!)

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Everything I Didn’t Write – September

A few days ago, noticing I had hardly written since arriving in Spain but acutely aware of my many Wandering Jewess experiences, I pulled together my Facebook posts from my first month in Madrid in a blog post. What follows is a Facebook accounting of how life unfolded in that second month – no longer a TEFL student living in Airbnb digs, but suddenly an English teacher with a permanent address.

September 2

Churros and chocolate with dear friends from the United States, Melinda and Craig. In these moments the world feels both vast and intimate.

September 4

So much to celebrate! New work! New home! A friendship that cuts across oceans. And yes, without question, the most fun meal I have ever eaten. Three Michelin Stars. Entiendo.

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September 8

Esta noche…first “official” Artist Date in Madrid.

September 12

When Seattle descends upon Madrid…Salpicon, Burrata and Churros, oh my! Were your ears burning Pamela and Molly?

September 13

A Rosh Hashanah Story or This Is What Happens When You Say Yes…

A couple of years ago, someone (you can’t remember who) invites to you to join an online group of women writers — thousands of them. A few of them live in Madrid. And one of them is Jewish and from Miami. She invites you to a Rosh Hashanah service and seder put on by a newly formed Reform chavurah.

You have never met her in person, and you feel uncomfortable as hell, but you go anyway. You are asked to light the candles during the service — which is all in Spanish and Hebrew, of which you speak only a little of each.

You have dinner with a professional flamenco dancer from New York, a makeup artist from New Zealand, and a Spanish window maker, his lovely wife and daughter. An engineer from Colombia and a woman from Buenos Aires (who might as well have “Friend” tatooed on her forehead…instead she has Shalom on her ankle) ask for your number — they want English classes.

You eat apples and honey, challah, pomegranates and dates. There is a fish head in the center of the table to represent moving forward…”away from the tail.” (This must be a Sephardic tradition.) All of it happens in a mish-mash of broken Spanish and English. Remarkably, you feel a part of…even the parts you don’t understand.

There are hugs and kisses and What’sApp exchanges. You walk home through Plaza Mayor. There is a chill in the air. Tomorrow you begin teaching. It is a New Year.

Thinking of you this Rosh Hashanah, Brant, Mary Jo, Matt and Pamela. Besos!

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September 15

It was suggested I try reading in Spanish. Suggestions from Jesus at La Buena Vida. Feeling excited and intimidated. I think it is going to be a slow read…

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September 17

I just received a refund from the Oficina de Correos. Seems they gave me the wrong post box in July and any and all mail sent to me now resides in the Bermuda Triangle of correspondence. While somewhat unbelievable… what is equally unbelievable is that I received this refund less than a week after the error was discovered. That and the fact that I don’t speak Spanish and no one at the office speaks English. (Thank goodness for my friend David who just happened to be there last Friday and served as translator.) Oh..and the refund came with a handwritten receipt. Ping me privately if you need my mailing address.

September 19

Read 5 pages of a Lorrie Moore short story today — in Spanish. Something about 6 months after a divorce not yet taking off one’s wedding ring. Cut off the finger? Cut off the hand? Slow going…but I’m amazed at my perseverance — looking up every fourth or fifth word — and how much I did understand.

And grateful that when my marriage was over, I could take off the ring.

September 21

Man on Metro with thick New York accent: Your hair looks fantastic. I love it.

Me: How did you know that I was American?
Man on Metro with thick New York accent: Are you kidding? No Spanish woman would ever wear her hair like that. Or British woman for that matter…

September 22

On this eve of Yom Kippur, as I head out the door to go to High Holiday services in Spanish and Hebrew, I am reminded of where I was at this time last year…on the precipice of something big, although I did not know it. Flu-ish and packing for three-weeks in Italy. Near the end of that trip, riding the light rail to a dinner party in Rome with a fist full of flowers, I thought, “It’s like I live here…I can do this.” Nearly one year later, I am doing “this.” This is grace.

September 23

Just completed my first private Spanish lesson. I walked in nervous … nowhere to hide. Sixty minutes later I feel inspired and, dare I say, empowered … like maybe, just maybe, I can learn to really speak this language. Up until now I have only shared my students’: experience of humility … now I know their joy!

Considering twice weekly classes …

September 26

Up late with Marissa and The Cabbage Ministry (at The Tempo Club).

September 27

Learning Spanish through food and song, at a former slaughterhouse. We didn’t plan it. It just turned out that way…

 

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It’s hard to believe I left the United States just two months ago today. Feels like I have been here so much longer…

September 30

Seems a fitting Facebook memory for today (“My first memoir piece in print.”)… on the heels of Tim posting that my profile picture screams “book jacket” and a meeting with friend and fellow writer Nicola in an effort to get “writing accountable.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything I Didn’t Write — July and August 2015

I love words.

This should hardly be a surprise as I call myself a writer. Used to make a living as one. As the words “Left” and “Write” are tattooed on my wrists.

And yet, since leaving the United States on July 28 with a one-way ticket to Spain, I’ve written little.

Little about what it is to live in a country where I hardly speak the language. Little about the heartbreak of leaving a deep and unexpected love. Little about the humbling that accompanies beginning yet another career at the age of 45. And little about what it is to turn 46 in this place I now call home.

I’ve written little about my private victories. About being asked for directions and being able to give them – albeit in English. About when Spanish words tumble out of my mouth without my thinking – simple phrases like, “Para llevar for ella, para aqui para mi” – and having them understood. About getting paid in euros. Jumping through hoops of securing a Spanish ID card. And fulfilling a dream I’ve had for as long as I can remember – to live overseas.  A dream so faint, so distant, so seemingly unattainable that I forget it was my dream and that I am actually doing it.

I’ve written little about my work teaching English, about my friendships with fellow wanderers and about my travels since arriving. Except on Facebook, where I have posted short, pithy, true-in-the-moment whispers of my life in Madrid, and many, many photographs.

What follows is a chronicle of my first 30-plus days here in Madrid – as they appeared on Facebook.

July 30

I have a Spanish phone number. (Message me and I will give it to you.) Most challenging interaction I’ve had so far, but I got it done. People are amazingly kind and helpful — like Jose, another customer at the post office who offered to help translate. (I will be going back tomorrow to get a box to receive “real mail” now that I can provide a local number.) He said my Spanish is good. I do not agree, but I think I am maneuvering well having been here less than 36 hours. Off shortly to an intercambio at J+J Books to meet Facebook friend Robert. Thanks for the connection, Jessica.

July 31

Third time IS the charm. Third day at the post office. Finally had everything in order to get a box. Here are the keys!

I wanted to take a photograph of the women who greeted me there these three days in a row, who were so patient and who were able to finally hook me up. They couldn’t imagine why. “Ayuda me.” (I meant to say “You helped me”…I was close, and they understood.) “It is my job,” replied one, in English. “It is my job.” Amazing.

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August 3

First day of school.

August 4

How much do I love my girls in Chicago? How much do they love me? Thanks for lifting me up. XOXO

nikki and melissa

August 4

(Meme from aforementioned great love – posted to my page)

“Hmmm.

We can skip the wine.”

dirk meme

August 5

It begins to feel like home when I run into people I know on the street. I remember when it happened in San Francisco and Chicago. Now Madrid.

August 9

Falling head over heels over head for this city.

Magical skies. The energy of its people spilling into the streets after dark. A surprise misting by the evening sprinklers in Retiro Park.

Lunches with new friends — yesterday at Botin, the world’s oldest restaurant, today on Plaza de la Independencia — running into others on the streets.

Hard to believe I arrived less than two weeks ago. I feel so present, so here…

August 15

Officially overwhelmed…

August 16

Sunday morning in Retiro Park. Why yes, I should be doing homework. But first — sun, stillness and a shot at serenity. Refueling following a Saturday of letting go…and filling up for the week ahead.

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August 17

Trust. Just got my hair cut by someone named Pepe. He does not speak English. I hardly speak Spanish. I think we did okay.

August 25

Woo hoo!! Student of the week. Not bad for the oldest student in the class…

Tomorrow is the BIG grammar and phonics exam, as well as my final observed teaching. All good juju welcomed.

The past four weeks have been humbling, exhilarating and, at times, overwhelming. In the home stretch…looking forward to what comes next.

August 28

DONE! When they handed out the certificates, they dubbed me Lesley~I will conquer Spain~Pearl. Your collective mouth to God’s ear.

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August 29

I am walking to pick up the keys to my new apartment. At the corner of my street and Calle Mayor I see this banner. I look at the door and know it like I know my name. Every hair on my body stands up and I begin to weep.

My first night in Madrid, 16 years ago with my then husband …our waiter speaks perfect English. I ask him about it and he tells me he learned it on a kibbutz in Israel. I mention I’m Jewish and that my grandmother did not like visiting Spain because there weren’t any Jews here. After dinner, he sends me across the street … to where I am standing now, to this place with the beautiful doors.

How is it I am living here 16 years later…literally here? With the Jews? With the vintage camera shop? The bookstore? And the bakery? With a landlord and roommate named Maite, a former UN translator just five years my mother’s senior … in an apartment with an unheard of eat-in kitchen, a balcony overlooking a plaza, a piano, and lots and lots of original art. A home I didn’t even have to look for it…it literally came to me. (Thanks Kylie.)

I’m not quite sure what to think … Moving is hard. And it is magic. And I am definitely, definitely supposed to be here.

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August 29

(In response to Facebook memory “On This Day…”)

On this day in 2012, moving back to Chicago. With John and Karin on the exact same day one year prior.moving from Chicago to Seattle. Today I picked up the keys to my new digs here in Madrid. Something about August 29 and big movement in my life. Only thing missing is John and Karin…

August 30

Home. Fully unpacked for the first time in more than a month. (Including Ganesh. Thank you, Clover. And a hand-spun wool bowl made by Deb.) Also for the first time, I moved in a cab. Two suitcases. Two backpacks. A couple of shopping bags. Many thanks to Nikki who packed me the first time. (This time was easier but not nearly as much fun.) And to Jennifer who helped get me from Salamanca to Opera. As I write this, I am reminded that I don’t do any of this alone.

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