Greek Memories

The Greek flag might be the prettiest of all the flags, especially flying on an island that is blue and white forever

Greek Flags

I loved the street art in Athens, particularly.

Athens street art

But I found this beautiful piece on a Heraklion building at the ocean’s edge right across from the bus station, immortalizing Icarus for all time.

Mykonos street art - Icarus

These little shrines are everywhere

Greek orthodox shrine

made of every possible material and containing icons, candles and occasionally statuary. They’re sometimes quite big and grand

Greek Orthodox Shrine

I saw so many different shrines along our road in Crete and wanted Corey to stop at every one so I could take pictures but we all know I wouldn’t have lived to write this post had I done that…

And speaking of driving, can we talk about the parking?

Greek parking

I mean, do whatever you want. Shade is the best. Obviously.

There aren’t enough words for Greece’s beautiful beaches

Falasarna beach

Or their Greek salads.

Greek salad

Americans could learn a thing or two about that cheese – > veggie ratio. And Corey was rapturous about the oregano.

Greece you’re lovely in every way. I can’t wait to see you again.

Mykonos

Roadside Attractions in Northern AZ

My favorite road trip website of all time is Roadside America, which likely started with a couple of guys driving down Route 66 taking pictures of whales and teepees, visiting folk artists in their mad castles  and wondering why there are so many Paul Bunyon statues in America.

I totally made that history up but it seems completely reasonable.

I do know that Roadside America is now a repository for the picturesque and bizarre including Muffler Men locations, UFO museums and the world’s tiniest churches. And it’s all crowd sourced. If you see something weird you can take a picture of it, email them and they’ll post it on their site. There’s SO MUCH on that website that no matter where you are in America, I guarantee there’s something strange very near you.

On my epic road trip in 2011 I created most of my daily routes by visiting at least one Roadside America attraction and then trying to find a Bikram yoga studio. Believe me, that’s a full day of research right there.

Since all I’ve done today is drive, I present you with some interesting tidbits I’ve seen from the road over the last couple of days:

Roadside shrine in Miami AZ

The roadside shrine, a common sight in the Southwest, but this one is particularly large, lovely and well kept. It’s right outside Miami AZ and full of pictures of people who aren’t with us any more. I hope they’re now being looked after by mother Mary.

Top of the World Trading Post

Top-of-the-World is an actual settlement in Arizona with a couple hundred people living in a 6 mile area. First, I love the name and second I love that this trading post sells tires and fresh brewed coffee. Sadly it wasn’t open when I came by or I might have gotten some coffee.

However, there’s trouble in paradise because planned expansion of the highway could further divide Top of the World

Save Top of the World

I don’t completely understand the situation but it seems dire and there were lots of signs. I wish them well and I hope the trading post is open the next time I’m on highway 60.

Shoe Tree on Highway 188

If you looked at that picture and said to yourself, “what in the world…” then perhaps (like me) you need to turn your car around, drive back and get out so you can get closer.

Shoe Tree on highway 188

That’s a tree with a lot of shoes in it. And a flamingo. My friend Jason thinks this is the result of a “Wizard of Oz style tornado,” which is as good a guess as any.

Personally, I’m confounded by the flamingo. Did someone have a plastic lawn ornament in their car and then they were all “hey there’s a tree full of shoes and we have this flamingo…”? There’s no explanation so feel free to make up your own. There are a lot of shoe trees in America but this one is not documented on Roadside America so I just might send it in.

Sedona

I did blaze through Sedona on my way north and it was predictably stunning with all that red rock and greenery.

But frankly, I’m more intrigued by the shoe tree :)

Nevada tomorrow.

Waterfalls and Banos

Banos Ecuador is a charming little town tucked in a valley next to the volcano Tungurahua

Ecuador

This was our last stop in Ecuador and we chose to stay at La Casa Verde

Banos, Ecuador

An ecohostal run by Doug and Rebecca, two extremely conscientious and accommodating hosts dedicated to living green and providing food and furnishings that come from local vendors.

The hostal sits just outside the city limits and we had views of the mountainside right out our window.

Banos, Ecuador

While Banos is known for all manner of outdoor activities (canyoning, white water rafting, hiking, climbing), the waterfalls are the main attractions. Travelers can walk, ride or drive the “ruta la cascadas,” ride a tarabita (cable car) near the Manto de la Novia

Manto de la Novia, Banos

And climb up into the Pailon del Diablo where the “trail” turns into a crawl space

Banos. Ecuador

And ends under a rock overhang with the millions of gallons of water falling all around and the most incredible views

Banos, Ecuador

The Pailon del Diablo translates as Devil’s Cauldron, so named because of the shape of the pool where the water falls and also because of the devil’s face in the rock. Can you see it?

Banos, Ecuador

The waterfalls coming off the volcano help heat the thermal baths in the center of town that supposedly have healing properties

Banos, Ecuador

Banos, Ecuador

Called Termas la Virgin because of a Virgin Mary sighting in the vicinity.

Banos, Ecuador

The other big landmark in town is the church, dedicated to the Virgin de Agua Santa

Banos, Ecuador

I loved Banos. It has a laid back vibe and there’s a lot to do in an around the city. I could have stayed for a week but unfortunately, we only had a few days here before heading back to Quito.

Tomorrow, Posada del Arte, the other notable place we ate in Banos

When you see the road, don’t sit looking at it. Walk.

California got all complicated today when I tried to treat it like the rest of the nation. Like Texas, California likes to make up it’s own rules and ordinary solutions don’t apply here. Sorry CA, I know you hate any comparison to a place with hats measured in gallons and the words “yee-haw!,” but it’s true and you know it.

In any other state (except Texas), “near” means “easily drivable within the space of a morning.” In California, geographical nearness and length of time necessary to traverse that geographical space require California Math and a Xanax. Yes, it’s 15 miles. Yes, the speed limit is 60 mph. Yes, in another state you would get there in 30 minutes. Yes, your (non-Californian) google maps program says “45 minutes with traffic.” And yes, you will get there an hour and a half later. Don’t try to reason it out, just do like the rest of the state: get a medical marijuana card and go surfing instead. Oooh, sorta kidding! C’mon Californians, don’t be mad! (road rage is so unattractive…)

Weirdly, Texas has the opposite problem where it seems like it can’t really be as far as it looks and you should get there sooner, when it fact it’s further and takes longer. But I digress.

Forgetting all my previous driving experience in CA and the rules so trenchantly impressed upon me, I made plans to have breakfast in Laguna Beach, go see my aunt and spend time with her in Trabuco Canyon, drive back to Laguna Beach for a late afternoon yoga class and then to my aunt’s house in Rancho Santa Margarita for dinner. All in one day. Californians everywhere are laughing themselves silly. This series of trips encompasses about 50 miles and in California time it means 2 solid days of driving.

Fortunately, I realized this before I got in the car and amended everything. I made plans to see my friend tomorrow. I had a frighteningly expensive but very photogenic omelette near my hotel at Rosa’s Sugar Shack:

 I stopped in at the San Juan Capistrano Mission:

Beautiful. Museum-esque. Well trampled. Full of people.

I’ve had a shrine heavy trip and my friend, Eric, asked if I thought I was in spiritual crisis. I said my spiritual crises are perpetual (an answer part facetious and part true, percentages unknown) but I love seeing artistic evidence of other people’s faith and I enjoy any opportunity to light candles, pray, make wishes and think. Shrines create a peaceful void that gives my mind a chance to wind down. I breathe a little deeper (much needed with the current lack of yoga) and take in some of the stillness. San Juan Capistrano isn’t the best example of this stillness; but I got a better chance that afternoon in Trabuco Canyon at the Ramakrishna Monastery walking around the grounds with my aunt and her kids, stopping at all the multi-faith shrines:

 If I lived near this monastery, I like to think I’d take this walk often.

It’s beautiful and thought provoking and full of things to look at.

Hills full of greenery:

Lakes:

 Untrampled, untamed, wild California:

I’m going to have to drive into LA tomorrow but tonight I’m still thinking about the canyon.

Reasons #3-100 to love the golden state.

My aunt made dinner, we took a walk around the lake afterwards and talked nonstop for hours. No yoga. But that’s ok. I’ll be in Washington for a month after this trip and can actually do an uninterrupted 30 day Bikram challenge and drag my sister along for part or all of it. I’ve got a couple friends to see tomorrow and still try to make it up the coast a ways before midnight. Let’s see how that goes. I’ll try to refrain from yelling about the traffic, but no promises.

Doesn’t that make you want to come back? I know. Come back anyway. If I’m yelling, it’s funny. And who doesn’t love that?

See you then.

I like nonsense. It wakes up the brain cells.

Started here this morning:

Ended here tonight:

I have about 1000 pictures of the Pacific ocean from the California coast. It’s such a difficult thing to photograph and no picture ever captures what it’s like to sit on the beach watching the surf pound on the shore as the sun sets with sailboats silhouetted against the horizon. Magical.

Mostly drove today. Started listening to The Help on audiotape and LOVE it already. I’m very curious how the written version reads. I find the auditory version delectable for the character voices, accents and personalities. Those are hard things to convey in written form.

Notable today: an inventive use of trash at Tio’s Tacos in Riverside:

The beer bottle chapel:

It all feels so familiar, doesn’t it? The creative recycling, the all consuming love of concrete, the folk art and religious shrines. I could ask why (and would have, had the artist, Martin Sanchez, been around) but I’m finding that my questions for these artists go deeper than an hour long conversation about inspiration. I want to delve back and find that first point where they picked up a beer bottle, watched the light shine through it and pictured a wall; or saw a stuffed monkey and decided to make a jungle:

At what point did they need to purchase land to house their collections?

Who was the first person they ignored who said “creating a figure out of bottle caps is ridiculous!”

How many legal permits did they obtain to build their wonderlands? Are there ever enough admirers to make it worthwhile or is the act of creation enough?

After some wondering and picture taking and shaking my head, I kept driving until I ran out of road in San Clemente and then ate delicious ceviche at La Siesta:

And watched the sun set on the beach.

2 reasons to love California.

You have a full week of beach pictures coming at you! Aren’t you excited?

All right, keep it down. The neighbors will talk.

More tomorrow. See you then

The life you could have while other people watch TV

Ross Ward said he built Tinker Town while other people were watching TV. Yesterday I saw the results of another man’s life work and I’m pretty sure he didn’t watch any TV either.

That’s the DeGrazia Mission in the Sun in northern Tucson. Built by an artist named Ted Degrazia in honor of the Virgin Guadalupe

Painted inside:

With an open roof to let the prayers of the people find their way to God.

Ted DeGrazia lived in Arizona during the 20th century (1909-1982), trained at the University of Arizona, worked with painters like Diego Rivera and became internationally famous when UNICEF reproduced one of his paintings on their cards. His work pervades the Southwest and I never cared for his style, thinking it was all these big eyed kids that look like a Southwest version of Precious Moments.

But several years ago a friend of mine got married in this chapel and I remembered it being beautiful so I wanted to revisit it. I didn’t know about the Gallery of the Sun next door.

I didn’t know he did work like this:

Or this:

Or that he designed and built this gallery, the chapel, and several houses with his hands and hand tools, framing it with an axe and a hammer and applying adobe by hand. I didn’t realize that he filled the gallery with 15,000 original pieces of artwork.

15,000!!!

That’s just a fraction of his actual work since he sold many of his paintings and stacked a 100 others on the back of a mule and dragged them into the mountains and set them on fire in 1976 in protest of tax laws. How can one man get so much done?

I loved this recreation of his studio:

And the way each portion of the gallery flows into the next, taking you on a journey of his artistic process.

In addition to everything else (he was also a musician and published his own music, you know, in his spare time…) he built a little gallery for his friends on his land and now a group of his artist contemporaries take turns using the studio and selling their work to visiting DeGrazia fans. El Cruz Armendariz is the guest artist of the week and he sang me a song and told me stories about working with DeGrazia and his close relationship with the Native Americans in the area.

Even though I’m not a fan of DeGrazia’s most popular work, I think this gallery is the perfect representation of Southwestern art and anyone who visits Tucson should make a trip north and check it out.
And speaking of things I never knew existed, how about this Wishing Shrine called El Tiradito in South Tucson’s Barrio Viejo?

El Tiradito means Castaway, Fallen One or Outcast and this sacred spot was dedicated to sinners way back in the 19th century.

The residents of Barrio Viejo fought to keep the city from tearing down the shrine in 1971 and as a result, some historic buildings in this area were saved and can still be seen, like this little nearby museum dedicated to the area.

Many stories about the origins of El Tiradito float around but each story has a common thread of murder and betrayal, some with romantic Romeo and Juliet overtones and some violent and bloody, more like Macbeth.

People visit El Tiradito to light candles and pray for the wayward sinners they know or to make wishes.

Legend has it that if you light a candle and make a wish and the candle stays lit all night, your wish will come true. Here’s mine:

I haven’t yet gone back to check and see if it’s still lit. I think I’d rather not know.

After an afternoon spent wandering through historic Tucson and soaking up Southwest flavor, I showed up early for my Bikram class, pretty excited to be there. Did it go well? No. Do I know why? No. Does that lead to my Bikram thoughts of the day? Yes.
Bikram lesson of the day: The Practice is a practice.
My yogi friend Joe says “we work with the bodies we have today.” And my body that day was not having it. Class was SO HARD. Jules and I had talked about how Bikram can push you around, press you to the furthest reaches of your ability, break things open inside you and make you cry. I’ve never had that experience with any other kind of yoga. Is it the heat? The sameness of the classes? The extreme body bends one way and then the other? I don’t know.
I do know that it’s the first physical activity I’ve done where I’ve gotten benefits right from the very beginning. Bikram says no one is too old or too sick or too broken to do Bikram yoga. Do what you can. Stay in the room. Do a little more tomorrow. Or, in my case, do a lot less than you did yesterday. I had less of everything except my will. My will was stronger and I had so much less to work with that in some postures all I had was effort. I just plain couldn’t do them. Couldn’t keep my balance, couldn’t get off the floor, couldn’t do it. And it took all my will just to try.
And then I cried during the final savasana. Why? Opening up, letting go, trying. All these things are hard and cause pain and sometimes tears. Just is what it is. I know the room was hot and I hadn’t eaten enough or drunk enough water. But sometimes I just cry. Fortunately, in Bikram is looks like sweat so no one knows and it all has the same benefit: Release. They say the cure for everything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea. I’m only lacking the sea.

After that rough class, I recovered with dinner:

And drinks:

And friends:

Thanks for coming by. More Tucson tomorrow.
See you then.

Bikram St. Louis, the Black Madonna and Stubby Stonehenge

I almost didn’t get to yoga today. No good reason, I just wanted to sit around this morning instead of sweating and stretching. But at the last minute I drove over to Bikram Yoga St Louis for the 9:30 class where I started by talking with the teacher Katherine about my road trip and the various studios in which I’ve practiced. She was highly interested in my trip and it turns out she’s a relatively new teacher. She ran a great class and was excited to have me there. The studio isn’t my favorite – perhaps the carpet needs to be replaced after all the years of sweating into it?? – but I liked Katherine’s energy and style. She’s the kind of teacher I like because she’s strict and focused but accessible.

She had warned me that the class might be more strict than I was used to but I found it to be perfect. The students were focused, the class wasn’t too crowded and Katherine gave me some great corrections on my poses. Why is triangle pose SO HARD??? It’s consistently the pose where I work the hardest and feel the least confident. I’ve also gotten some contradictory corrections so I’m never sure if I’m doing it correctly. My confidence wasn’t helped much by Katherine announcing to the class that I was taking this trip and visiting other studios as I then felt like the students might be watching me (horrors!) and expecting me to be an example (yeah, don’t do that. Seriously.)

But then all this self consciousness led me to my yoga thought of the day: I need to let go of my vanity.

At the end of class, Katherine said “Remember why you are here and then come back.” I’m in Bikram classes to improve both my life and my yoga practice. I’m not here to admire my poses in the mirror or to hope that someone saw me do something spectacular. That’s a waste of my time. Even if I focus solely on my practice for 100 years, I will still have room for improvement. These poses are hard. People devote their lives to yoga perfection. When I come to the yoga mat and wonder what someone else thinks of my practice, I’m allowing my ego and vanity to run my practice. My ego and my vanity are bottomless pits of need. Neither will ever be satisfied and both will keep me from improvement since they are concerned with superficial constructs. The important stuff happens deep in me and it only comes out when I focus on the practice and I let go of my ego. One of the reasons I like Bikram is the sameness of the classes. When I come to class and do the same 26 poses and it’s different every day, I know the difference is me.

After class and a great conversation with Katherine, I left Joplin around noon and headed south. In a remote location but not that hard to find, I stopped at:

I’d read about this shrine built by one Franciscan monk in the mid 20th century but I didn’t know what to expect. I surely didn’t expect this:

Or this

Or this:

In 1937, Brother Bronislaus began to build this shrine to Our Lady of Czestochowa, called the Black Madonna because of her dark skin. Sister Francis, a lovely lady who showed me around the shrine, said that Mary herself posed for the original painting of the Black Madonna, which was painted by the Apostle Luke on the surface of a table in the house she shared with Jesus.  After a long active history of passing from one hand to another over the succeeding centuries, the original painting now lives in the private chapel of the Pope. The Polish people venerate her and Brother Bronislaus grew up watching pilgrims pass through his village on the way to her shrine. When he immigrated to America in the early 20th century, he joined the Franciscan order and began to build a shrine for her here in Missouri.

He began by building an open air chapel on top of the hill and then worked his way down the hill, clearing all of it using only hand tools. He mixed the concrete himself by driving a truck up the hill to a stream of water to fill giant drums because the chapel had no running water. He made stained glass by setting bottles into the concrete so the sun would shine through them onto the statues:

He incorporated every extra piece that came his way, like this light fixture that he “planted” in a vase and made into flowers:

And sea shells, pieces of coral, petrified wood and stone given to him by visitors or sent by other missions that heard about his work:

And then 30 years later, while  working on one of the shrines after he had recovered from the flu, he suffered heat stroke, dragged himself to the foot Mary’s statue and his brothers found him there, dead.

Can you believe that story?? I walked around the shrine and it looked like the work of 50 men with advanced tools! The precision of his designs, the way he decorated even the smallest surfaces, the care he took in the architecture, even pulling pieces down and starting over when they didn’t suit him. It’s awe inspiring to see that kind of persistence and discipline. I had so many questions about his character. Was he obsessive? Was he well liked? Did his fellow brothers think he was inspired or insane?

While I took pictures and wondered, a car pulled up behind me and this sweet old man asked if I was “the lady with the New York plates on her car.” That’s how I met Brother Bernardo (who says not to think badly of him because he forgot his halo):

Brother Bernardo is an Italian from New York City who served in WWII. He doesn’t look that old, does he? He joined the Franciscan Brotherhood after his discharge and saw a little ad in the Jesuit Monthly asking for monks to come to Missouri. He shook his head when he told me about this and said “I don’t know why I was called out here. And I can’t believe I’ve been here for 65 years! But you know what? I’ve never had an unhappy day here.” Who of us can say that??

Bernardo joined this monastery at the height of Brother Bronislaus’ building spree and said the Master of Novices would pile all the young monks in a truck and send them out to get stone for Bronilaus to use for the shrine. Bernardo says “He’d take us out in the middle of the field and say ‘dig!’ and I would say ‘dig for what? It’s all grass!’ and the master would smile and say ‘there’s stone underneath. Find it.’” The novices filled up giant barrels of stone and lugged them down to the grotto where Brother Bronislaus and his helper – a freakishly strong but mildly retarded man – were mixing concrete, making forms and building this shrine.

I asked about Bronislaus’ character and Bernardo just smiled and said “He was a most humble man. Very devoted to the Black Madonna.” Apparently Bronislaus was so well loved that when he died, the monastery put everyone to finishing the shrine he hadn’t completed and rebuilding the chapel after arsonists burnt it to the ground. They’ve put a lot of time and energy into maintaining the site and keeping alive his memory and his devotion. It’s all very touching and artistically inspiring. I’m amazed at what one person can complete in 30 years when they put their mind to it. Eventually, Bernardo had to go put his robes on and go to a funeral but as he left he put his hand out and said “God bless you, honey. Pray for us. We need it.” I said “I will. Pray for me!” And he nodded and left.

When I walked into the gift shop, Sister Francis said “I saw you talking to Brother Bernardo and wondered what it was about and then I saw the plates on your car. He loves talking to anyone from New York!” We talked about my trip and Chicago and I told her I’d seen Our Lady of the Salt Stain. She was instantly intrigued and said she hadn’t heard about it. I told her I had pictures so I went to get my camera, a little curious about a nun’s reaction to this phenomenon. I found the pictures and showed her the first one, prepared to say “You can see her face here… it’s not the greatest picture but you can kind of see what they are looking at… maybe if you turn it like this… I think I have a better shot…” I don’t know what I was thinking. The second she looked at it she just gasped and said “oh my goodness, it’s Mary! Oh, I need to show this to Mike. This is incredible! Can I borrow your camera??” And then she dashed away to show the pictures to a monk across the way.

And I thought, well, I guess if you work with someone your whole life, you’re bound to recognize them, right? These people have spent their lives looking at representations of Mary so when she shows up in Chicago, they know it’s her. Sister Francis even found a shadow of another visage of Mary in the picture I had and I can actually see what she’s talking about. She didn’t seem spiritually overwhelmed, which might have seemed a bit disingenuous, but more pleased that Mary had made an appearance and that people were maintaining her shrine. It felt like she was seeing a picture of someone she really liked and she was happy that other people had seen her too. Curious. Intriguing. I was glad I had the pictures and thought to show them to her.

After this thought provoking hour, I headed further south for something completely different. The so called “Stubby Stonehenge:

Much more modern, much more scientific and much less charming than “Foamhenge,” though I laugh at anything with “stubby” in the title (so called because it’s a half sized replica). They say it’s built accurately enough to use for a clock, and here you can see an “analemma,” a sort of sun dial-ish calendar:

It’s on a Science college campus, so no surprise there, with a bunch of explanatory panels on each pillar and windows through which you can apparently see the north star, Polaris.

That would be worth seeing but not if I have to stay in Missouri to do it.

Makes you wonder what the American obsession is with Stonehenge. Maybe it’s a lack of our own ancient culture, given that so few of us are Native Americans. Hard telling. On that note, I’m in the much less ancient city of Joplin, MO for the night and today I passed up the chance to visit the Vacuum Museum and “America’s Sistine Chapel” created out of Precious Moments figurines. I can’t tell yet if I regret those decisions.

Oh, but as my final final note, I’ve found a lot of these sites through a website called Roadside America. But as it happens, I found two things that weren’t on their list so I submitted them and now I’m a part of their website! You can read those pieces here and here.

Let’s hope there’s something equally as interesting on route 66 to Dallas tomorrow.

See you then.

Bikram in the ‘burbs, Virgin Mary salt stain and The Wormhole Coffee

I drove out to the suburbs last night to have dinner with my friend Lisa. I didn’t realize I was going to be on a toll road until I was on it with no cash money and no exit and no options. Nothing says city driving like pulling over to the side of the road and dumping your purse on the seat trying to scrounge $.80 while you wonder what happens if you don’t find it. I envisioned driving up to the toll booth operator (how people do that job without a high powered rifle is beyond me. I salute them.)  and saying “I don’t have 80 cents.” What happens next? Do I get a free pass? Do I have to back up through rush hour traffic on a Friday night and exit? Can I make a break for it and bust right through, 80 cents be damned? Fortunately, I found hidden stash of change so it wasn’t a problem but my curious mind still wonders.

Lisa and I had dinner at Bien Trucha, a Mexican restaurant serving food that Frontera Grill only dreams about. All their food is served tapas style, perfect little plates for sharing, and they specialize in tacos. We ordered the Bien Trucha tacos, skirt steak and chorizo served with chiahuahua cheese and roasted tomatillo salsa (so good you want to lick the plate) and Barriga del Puerco: Roasted pork belly, salsa verde and queso fresco.

They also create a new guacamole and a new ceviche every day:

You like that guacamole spot light? I think the avocados were feeling especially dramatic tonight because of the addition of pineapple in the guacamole.

I had a spicy sparkly sour michelada to wash it all down.

We scarfed down most of the food we ordered and if we hadn’t been talking so much, I think we would have ordered more. We got there late because Bien Trucha is tiny, the wait is long, they don’t take reservations and it’s shoulder to shoulder crowded with people eating, waiting to eat, thinking about eating and drinking in anticipation of eating. However, like so many other small places with great food, it’s worth every minute of the wait. Do like we did and put your name on the wait list and then go have a drink at any of the surrounding bars. They’re used to serving Bien Trucha’s waiting customers so go ahead and throw some money their way and then everyone benefits. Bien Trucha will call you when they have a table open and if you go in a month, you can sit on the patio. Tacos, micheladas and warm weather? Deliciosa!

The next morning we got up and did yoga in Glen Ellyn at 26 Hot. Lisa practices there regularly and this marks the first time I’ve gotten a chance to do Bikram with someone that I know. I loved it. Lisa and I have known each other a long time and we did theatre training together in college, training that incorporated a lot of body work inclusive of yoga. Doing Bikram with her felt like we were back in college and I felt myself drawing on her energy and giving back to her when she needed it. Lovely. Bikram is hard and it’s beneficial to do it with people that you know and love. I’ve learned so much from so many teachers on the road but I would relish any chance I had to do yoga with my friends.

Our teacher Chris had a brusque manner but said such insightful things about the poses that I think of him as the drill instructor Buddha. He also vocalized something I’ve been thinking about for the past couple of classes, namely the importance of where my eyes go when I go into a pose.

My yoga meditation of the day is: set your intent by putting your eyes there first.

It’s no mistake that the first direction in a pose is “look up” and then “go up.” Where my eyes go, my body follows. I find that my eyes are never going as far up or back as they can go. It’s a challenge to look that far. It’s a challenge to think of how much further I could be going and how limited I feel with the body I have today. The challenge is always to go further but I can’t go further without looking further first. I like the term “far sighted.” It implies looking beyond what’s evident, peeling back the top layer and looking inside. I want to be far sighted so I can get to places that I can’t even verbalize or fathom right now. I’m learning to look up so I can go up.

Drove back to the city at midday through horrific stop-go traffic (at 2pm! On a Saturday!!), again scrounging change from the bottom of my purse for a bunch of random tolls. I’m down to pennies now so I’m in real trouble if I run into something unexpected tomorrow before I get to a bank.

I had an early dinner with my friend Cassie at Old Town Social, which is a butcher pub, or whatever the term might be for a place that specializes in both meat and beer. We had incredible frites with aioli, mac and cheese where the mac was long curly noodles and the cheese was legion, flat bread with lamb sausage and goat cheese and a selection of charcuterie, pickles and cheeses that were worth the whole price of the check. The atmosphere runs heavily to big, dark, masculine and wood oriented making it the perfect location to drink a dark beer and eat every cured meat imaginable. Go do it.

Since this is my last post in Chicago, I’m leaving you with two Chicago curiosities. The first is something I stumbled across at The Wormhole Coffee:

Recognize this license plate?

That’s a DeLorean built to replicate the one from Back to the Future. The shop owner – an 80’s child with a movie obsession – bought the car without the engine and assembled it in the store, adding all the Back to the Future specialty pieces like a “flux capacitor.”

As well as a heap of 80’s movie toys, posters and shmada, including a model of the movie car.

He’s also quite serious about coffee and they even serve espresso over cocoa puffs for their trademark “Mocha Puffs.” If only you could watch the Smurfs while you eat it. I think TVs showing classic 80’s movies and cartoons should be his next addition in this coffee shop, don’t you?

On a completely different note, my last gift to you is pictures of the apparition of the Virgin Mary on the wall of the Kennedy Expressway. She appeared in 2005 and since then a small shrine has grown up around her. I call her Our Lady of the Salt Stain:

They’ve covered her with Plexiglas after numerous vandals defaced her:

Her face:

I find myself touched by this show of faith and the human need to see God revealed in a physical way. Was the Virgin Mary here and did she leave her mark on this wall? Does it matter? I don’t think it needs to be a miracle. I think people come to light candles to remember what they believe and to pray to someone they think will hear them. Sometimes it’s easier to find God on the highway than in a church. And as long as people light candles here in the underpass, those people driving through will have a moment to see this shrine and perhaps to think about whatever it is that they believe in.

Goodbye Chicago. And goodnight.

Tomorrow: Missouri.