A Successful Launch in Utah

I was a pretty independent teenager. When I graduated college, I moved away from home — to Delaware, Maine and Pennsylvania. Never all that far away, but out of New Jersey. As a parent, my hopes for my boys meant “launching” them, about making sure they had the skills and mindset to move ably through a world by turns big and small. I always want to be connected to them, but my desire was that they be able to make a home for themselves wherever their lives took them.

So it’s with relief and gratitude that Virginia and I returned on Monday from a trip to see our younger son Kelly in Utah. Kelly, 24, moved to Salt Lake City about nine months ago after a period of time spent adventuring (cross-country trips, Appalachian Trail) and discerning where he wanted to stay for a bit.

We went out last week, picked up him and his girlfriend, Gabby, whom he met in Utah, and headed four hours southeast for a few days of hiking through the nearby parks (Arches, Canyonlands, Dead Horse). A few of Kelly’s friends joined us. We spent three long, fruitful days hiking, cooked up a second Thanksgiving at our Airbnb, got to know each other and generally had a blast. Virginia and I came home feeling that Kelly had found a home — a girlfriend who got him, work that engaged and frustrated him (which is pretty par for the course), and a community that supported and knew him.

He’s 24, there’s a long way to go, and it seems he’s launched. It was a nice, early Christmas gift.

Our Trip to Italy in Pictures

We decided on our family trip to Italy more than a year, and have been actively planning it for 6 months, so it was kinda surprising just how surprising the trip was. We weren’t prepared for just how much we’d find in Rome, the Cinque Terra, Venice, Tuscany and Florence. Here’s what we saw, with tons of photos.

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Rome

We landed in Rome on Friday morning and took a bus into Termini station, and eventually found our way to the AirBnB apartment, on the west side of town, at Valle Aurelia, near the Vatican—but first, the bus just happened past the Roman Coliseum (above).

After that, we napped—then we started to work through Rome: Forum, Vatican, Palatine Hill, Capitoline Hill, the biggest, baddest equestrian statue of emperor Marcus Aurelius that made me want to watch Gladiator in the Capitoline museum, the Diocletian baths, the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon.

 

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Pompeii

I knew Pompeii’s story but the thing I had to see to understand is just how much of Mount Vesuvius is missing—how much higher it must have been until it blew its top in 79 AD and dropped 10 meters of ash across the countryside, burying this city for a millennium and moving the Bay of Naples back half a mile. Virginia really enjoyed our tour, and wished she had a lot more time there.

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This “vertical city” literally falls down the mountain to the Mediterranean Sea. It was gorgeous and one of Virginia’s few regrets on the trip was not buying any clothing there.

Cinque Terra

These “five towns” are a couple hours north of Rome, past Pisa, and totally picturesque. We stayed in Vernazza, which is a one-street town that sorta pours down a mountain to the sea, with an adorable, tiny harbor. Our AirBnB was on the second floor and our bedroom was extremely pink (you’ll know it immediately below). We ate by the harbor on the first night and in a restaurant perched 100 feet up on the second. We also hiked from Vernazza to Monterossa, which is one of the most glorious, beautiful walks you could ever take in your life.

Venice

One of those places where East and West meet. St. Mark’s Basilica was strange and beautiful. I loved how different it was than St. Peter’s in Rome. No gondola ride for us.

Tuscany (Artimino)

This was our “time off,” aided by our friend Kris, who directed us here. We relaxed by the pool, hiked around the town of Artimino, checked out the Medici family hunting lodge, ate like kings (and queen), and were treated to a great wine tasting by Cristina.

Florence

Florence was our final stop and, in some ways, I wish it had been our first. It had so much to offer, but we were starting to get fatigued. One of my favorite times in our trip was a late afternoon stop at the Piazelle Michaelangelo (it’s his hometown), enjoying a refreshment and looking over the city.

From Florence, we caught the train to Rome and the airport and headed home—well, Pete, Virginia and I did. Kelly booked a flight to Paris and went there on the way to Amsterdam. He comes home Wednesday.

It was great to visit Italy. Even better was the chance to spend uninterrupted time with the boys, which is difficult now that Pete works and Kelly has school and his job as a counselor at summer camp in upstate New York.

Some thoughts

  • We did AirBnB everywhere but Artimino and it was for the most very good. Locations were good, and most of the master bedroom beds were good. The boys’ beds, not so much, though they were good sports. The best place we had was in Rome, with a great terrace. The worst was Florence—centrally located, but right on a small, but busy, road and apparently sitting directly in front of a sewage tank that needs to be pumped out on Wednesday mornings. Yuck! We’d do it again.
  • Speaking of “gig economy” companies, we used Uber, once, in Rome, to get back home from a dinner in Trastaverte. Guy pulled up in a very sweet Mercedes sedan. Uber wasn’t available outside Rome.
  • One bit of curiosity fallout: I am completely intrigued by Michaelangelo. He is simply a transcendent genius. Listening to The Agony and the Ecstasy but I’m thinking there’s a better book to read. What is it, people?
  • Time with the boys was great—and when Kelly left us at 3:30 am on the last day, to catch a flight to Paris, I felt both sad he was leaving and buoyant that he was brave enough to strike out on his own. That he texted us later in the day that he’d befriended his hostel roommate (a 20-something copper miner from the Yukon Territory—you can’t make this stuff up) and was rapturous about the city was icing on the cake. Virginia and I have always wanted to hold our sons close and launch them as adults. This trip felt like confirmation that we could do both. And that was a great feeling for the trip home.

 

 

Pete and Grandma in Vegas

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About 5 years ago, my mom made the offhand comment to Pete that she would take him to Las Vegas for his 21st birthday.

Five years later, she was good to her word. This is the two of them in the lounge of the hotel/resort/casino Aria.

The two of them spent four nights in Vegas before she headed home and he headed to San Francisco to visit his friend Zack Moore.

Pete told me he didn’t have much money to his name after working a minimum wage internship this summer, but somehow he managed to find enough money to play table games. From his Twitter account it sounds as if it started badly.

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before a late rally.

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My retirement plans hope he’s right.

Oh, here’s his photo from the Marin Highlands looking back through the Golden gate to San Francisco (with a little photo editing by me).

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My 17 Favorite Photos from Haiti

I completed a weeklong service trip to Haiti on Saturday, and my head is still trying to make sense of all I saw and heard. Someday, I’ll try to turn the experience into a cogent post (or 10), but for now, I’m just going to share 17 photos and explain them as best I can. (The one above was taken from the van on our return to Port-au-Prince. Two of the things I noticed about Haiti was the fact that everyone walks along the country’s roads, and so much of the urban country is behind walls.)

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We arrived at Port-au-Prince originally, then traveled 2 1/2 hours northeast to the Central Plateau, near the town of Hinche, where we were hosted by the Mouvman Peyizan Papay (the People’s Peasant Movement), led by Jean-Baptiste Chavannes. That’s him in the black shirt, showing us the gardens at the MPP compound.

Chavannes is an agronomist by training who grew into a social justice leader. MPP’s vision, among other things, is to build self-sustaining eco-villages, and to lure back people who moved to Port-au-Prince over the past two decades. That, in short, is “repeasantization.”

The tour ended with an amazingly candid talk about his—and Haiti’s—past, including his views on former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (Chavannes said Aristide at one time called him brother but later was corrupted by power), the thought behind his movement, and his sometime difficult dealings with the government, including periods of exile and hiding and one time when he had 12 guns aimed at his head.

It was an extraordinary afternoon.

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I took this at our work site, where we were helping lay the foundation for 10 homes that will make up eco-village #5. I was taking a break in the shade of a storage building when I noticed the sideview mirror on a motorbike gave me a view on to the worksite.

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I went to Haiti thinking I would go and try to meet people as much as possible as person-to-person. But that is just naive; there is no escaping the imbalances of wealth and privilege that bedevil an American visiting Haiti. This was less true when we were with MPP, as we created relationships that could supercede this sort of “default” framing. Just about every interaction we had outside of our MPP bubble ended up influenced by the fact of our American affluence. Traveling in the van was often another version of “the bubble,” largely because there was no relationship between those inside and those outside—but occasionally not, as when this gentleman popped up looking for a 5-spot for his painting on canvass.

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The busy streets outside the market late on an afternoon in Hinche, in the Central Plateau.
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You can find fresh fruits and veggies at the market. In the countryside, there was a fair amount of fresh food.

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Kelly and his new friend David both were fixated on getting machetes while in Haiti—in fact, they came up with a list of more than 100 things one can do with a machete (from harvesting papayas to shaving, they had it covered). Their collective wish was fulfilled in the Hinche market. For inquiring minds, the going rate for machetes—at least those sold to American suburban teens—is $5. These had very dull edges, so there was little danger of injury. Thankfully, there were no questions in customs.

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The Catholic cathedral in Hinche. Pretty building, though the gates were locked on a weekday afternoon. About 80% of Haitians identify as Catholics.

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We visited a young farmer who is also a member of MPP. That’s him, sitting to the left, front row. His name was Maccenje. He worked very hard, had more than three dozen tires he used as improvisational raised gardens (an MPP staple), and had planted trees throughout his property. Trees are a big issue in Haiti, as the land has been thoroughly denuded and the need for wood to cook far outstrips conservation and planting efforts. I sent this photo to Maccenje so he could post it on his Facebook page. I kid you not.
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There was wifi at one end of the compound, and there were ritual checkins throughout the day. This photo makes me wish I was a better photographer, to get the lighting a bit better. But you get the idea.

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These are tire gardens in eco-village #1, which we visited on our last full day in Haiti. I loved how green EV-1 was, with trees that afforded shade and an abundance of papayas. But the green-ness wasn’t the whole story. When we met with the 10 families that live there, they were interested in having more services nearby—especially health and education—and said the farming life was very hard.

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The work sites were a lot of work, but folks had fun, too—dancing, singing, and fooling around. Here, two of our youth dance with team co-leader Mike Carpenter, of Main Line Unitarian Church.
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Sometimes the fun spilled outside the work site. I took this photo in Hinche, and the guy in the middle is minister Evan Keely, doing his best Caribbean island strong man imitation, complete with machete-wielding body guards. A little irreverence was a good tonic from time to time.

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The boys dancing with their machetes in a Hinche bar. They were largely alone on the dance floor, thankfully.

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These are the children of EV-1, who coveted our plastic water bottles as toys. They have sufficient water from a nearby well.

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Some more of the children. There are 32 of them in EV-1, among 10 families, and there were quite a few newborns. When we asked why one would choose to live in the eco-villages rather than in Port-au-Prince, the moms said it was safer in the countryside. They feared their kids being caught in a crossfire or assaulted back in P-au-P.

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We were walking through EV-1 when I looked down and saw a small toy Santa Claus that looked a lot like our team leader, Mike Carpenter. “Mike, they’ve got a doll of you here in Haiti!” Tell me I was wrong?

That’s a start on my trip. More to come.