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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sunglasses, magnolia blossoms, and poetry: Day I

The last few days I have been practicing playful presence. A very close friend of mine, Ahava Shira, was doing a month-long silent retreat at Spirit Rock which ended this past Saturday. I had promised her that I would be there to pick her up and whisk her away for a few days together before she headed home to British Columbia. So on Saturday morning I set off for Spirit Rock, winding my way through picturesque towns up into lush hills dotted with professional cyclists pumping their way up steep inclines at speeds that I shall only ever dream of. As the road leveled out slightly, I saw a driveway to my right, and a sign for Spirit Rock Meditation Centre, so I swung my car into the driveway, and headed off to find Ahava. Ahava and I met on Prince Edward Island at a conference on Poetics. You know those "random" meetings that happen to be far more than "random"? Well meeting Ahava was one such encounter for me. I met her at a time when things in my life were starting to shift, and I was ready for some major life changes. Since then I have moved to California and started writing for myself, and Ahava has completed her P.h.D., launched a poetry CD, and started her own business leading retreats and writing workshops for women.

The parking lot at Spirit Rock was full of cars, but there were no people around. I decided to head up a hill towards the dining hall in the hope of locating my friend. I had barely started up the incline when a sprightly figure with long, full, bouncing honeyed curls came bounding down the hill at me. I had to smile. Ahava has a way of filling my chest with laughter, and seeing her racing towards me over the lush green hills of northern California made me laugh out loud.

I have never been the first person to come into contact with someone who has not spoken for a month, so I was not quite sure what to expect. As it turned out, Ahava's re-integration into life outside Spirit Rock was a joyful one, filled with a steady stream of exclamations. I had been thinking of ways to help Ahava integrate back into the fast-paced life of California gradually, for days, and had relocated a lovely little spa in San Anselmo that a friend had taken me years earlier that I had loved. Us being of like mind, my suggestion of going to relax in a hot tub in our very own little Japanese garden was one that Ahava approved of immensely, so we set off in search of Shibui Gardens Hot Tub Spa, and before long were immersed in warm water, surrounded by greenery. It slightly more run down than the last time I had visited, but still exceptionally relaxing and rejuvenating. I listened while Ahava started sharing about her retreat while we enjoyed the steam and warmth of the water.

From San Anselmo, Ahava and I headed across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. Ahava cracked out her camera, rolled down the window, and snapped shots of the powerful cables, the geometric shapes of sky between steel beams, the bay below us, and other tourists exploring the bridge. As I navigated the city traffic, she delighted herself with shooting photos of colourful fruit stands, people, shop windows, side-streets, reflections and street signs (while giving me kind and reassuring support that I could, in fact, stop on an intimidatingly steep hill and start up again without causing an accident or stalling). We arrived in San Francisco and stopped briefly at the MOMA before heading across the street to Samovar Tea Lounge. A relaxing evening of tea-sipping and catching up had been the reason for this trip into the city. I had figured heading out into the city proper or trying to go gallery hopping might be a bit much with the crowds. So tea it was. We wandered through Yerba Buena Garden on our way to Samovar, enjoying the blossoming magnolia trees. It seems to be the season for these spectacular trees. With the rain showers of the previous days, some of the petals had fallen to the grass below, carpeting it in pink petals. Ahava and I stood under one tree in particular, studying the blossoms and attempting to photograph them despite the rain that had begun to fall on the city.

The back side of Yerba Buena Gardens has an amazing waterfall memorial to the civil rights movement, with a series of glass panels displaying Martin Luther King quotes in many different languages. There were many beautiful quotes, but I was still surprised to see Greek among the languages represented:

Ahava and I finally made it into Samovar, where we settled into cozy chairs and ordered an Indian-inspired meal of tofu curry and rice, with cucumber yogurt, that was accompanied by hot mugs of their masala chai, which is to die for. For desert we had a delicious sweet that I have written about before, and that is just as good the second time around as it was the first: rose-infused Greek yoghurt with dates, toasted walnuts, fresh mint, pieces of sliced apple, and coconut syrup. While we ate and drank, and enjoyed the complex, rich flavours, we also talked, shared our dreams, thoughts and struggles over the last year and a half. It was a sublimely relaxing evening, and we were reluctant to leave....

...so we were still there three hours later when the tea lounge shut, emerging into the rain for a slow walk back to the car, faces upturned to feel the shower against our cheeks, enjoying the sound of the fountains bubbling and water falling and sliding over stone, and the reflection of lights against the wet city streets.

We made the drive up out of the Bay area with the windshield wipers going steady, Ahava's bare feet tapping on the dashboard, both of us singing to David Francey's fantastic tunes (which, if you are not already familiar with them, I highly recommend you have a listen to here).

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