Lourdes basilica

Sometimes I think, Wait:  what if I get home and home seems just the slightest bit . . . pedestrian?  You know what I mean?  No 14th century basilicas, no street markets a few blocks away, no vibrant flamenco dresses crowding the racks of the local thrift store.

Then I think, Wait.  Interesting things abound at home.  Yes, in the past, I usually had to drive a ways in order to check them out.  But they’re there.  I started thinking about a beautiful old church in Monterey, California, and how, when you walked in, the smell of votive wax was exactly like the smell of every church here on the continent, whether in Hungary, Austria, Bavaria, Netherlands, France, or Spain.  I thought about how much I love Russian Hill, in San Francisco:  the truly amazing antiques shops, the street vendors selling antique jewelry, the circa 1930’s mother-of-pearl button bracelet I scored one afternoon, just before the vendor was packing up to call it a day.  I thought of the time the Eleven O’Clock Dad and I drove to Los Angeles to see what turned out to be some truly gorgeous flamenco, both the guitarists and the dancers so immersed in their craft, so drenched in sweat by the end of the evening, I wondered how they could give that much every time they performed.

My problem is, at home, I sometimes forget to keep seeing.

So my goal when I get back:  find the basilicas in the Seemingly Ordinary.  You know what I mean, right?–bring all my willingness to be interested right back home with me, so that when An Opportunity To Be Delighted comes into view, I can see it for what it is.

Want to try it along with me?

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Millay in Granada_0202

Back in the day: that is, back in my day, if I’d wanted to make my own hair accessories . . . I’m not sure that would have flown. But today, in contrast, a girl can a) find an old piece of lace at a street market, b) make a bow out of it, c) fasten her new “prenda” in her hair, and d) feel lovely for a whole day.

That. Is. Brilliant.

The ascendancy of vintage means that a girl can style herself almost any way she wants, especially if she has a bit of imagination and a pair of clever hands. So much more room for authentic self-definition.

And that. Is especially. Brilliant.

(Miss Zinnia’s bow courtesy of Miss Zinnia, naturally.)

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Tessa and Millay dancing two_2391

Would you like to dance?

Why, that would be grand!

Shall we, then?

Tessa and Millay dancing three_2397


Tess and Millie on the beach_2432

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Super Hero Laura_9345

Señora Laura, Camera Rescuer and Super Hero Extraordinaire

This last Saturday, the Eleven O’Clock Dad and I stepped out for a few hours to take some pictures.  Among the many novelties in our day, here were the big two:  a) our camera was stolen, and b) our camera was quite miraculously returned to us.

But we might not be so lucky next time.

First, the story.  In the Born district, we stopped to grab some food.  When we finally found a place to sit, my husband unwound his camera from his wrist, where it lives when we’re out and about.  He set it down between us, and as we began unwrapping our food, a young man approached me.  At first I thought he was preparing to ask for a euro or two, but he couldn’t seem to get the words out, which really disturbed me.  I wondered if he had a speech impediment.  But all he needed was a few seconds to distract us, which allowed his partner to do what he had intended:  reach in from behind, grab the camera, and bolt.

Instantly, my husband was on his feet, lunging for the boy with the camera.  Suddenly there were other bodies, then a scuffle, but I couldn’t tell who was who.  I saw my husband lose his balance, fall, then pop back up, then disappear around the corner after the thief, along with another man who had jumped into the fray.

As I stood there and tried to process the absolute knowledge that the camera was gone–because how could it not be?–a woman approached me and held something out to me.  I just stared at her, then at the object dangling from her hand.  Finally it dawned on me:  the thief didn’t have the camera; she did.  As I reached out and took it from her, out of my mouth came the words, “Tú eres un angel!”  (“You are an angel!”)  I must have said it three or four times, my emphasis building as I realized how true this felt.

So the woman, whose name is Laura, told me what this had looked like from her perspective.  Two young men had been following us, she said.  She and her husband had left the small market around the corner, and they noticed us, then noticed the two young men.  They had remarked to each other how suspicious the pair looked, and they knew from living in a big city that thieves target foreigners.  Although they had two little girls with them, Laura and her husband decided to observe for a few minutes, and sure enough, what they suspected might happen, did happen.

And here’s where Laura becomes a Super Hero.  No, serious.  Here’s where this probably thirty-something mom-of-two turns into Señora Increíble.  As the drama heats up and the guy with the camera starts to bolt, Laura’s husband trips him, a ploy which succeeds, slowing the thief down enough so that Laura can reach out, grab the camera strap, and rip the camera out of his hands.  Shall I replay this?  My new friend Laura grabs the camera away from the punk who is about to disappear with it forever, which stalls his getaway just enough that he must have had to decide either to stay and fight for it (at which point several men would have descended on him) or just run.  So he runs.  And my husband runs after him, not having the slightest idea that a real-life angel has already secured the camera and returned it to me.

You probably know what happened next.  The chase was like something from a movie, where two good guys (one of the witnesses had taken off with my husband to help him try to apprehend the thief) try to outrun a punk who knows the narrow streets and alleyways like the back of his hand.  They followed him down the street, around a corner, down another street, around another corner, and within a few minutes, he was just gone. When my husband returned about ten minutes later, sweaty, murderous, and defeated in equal proportions, he had the great surprise of learning that, while the kid had gotten away, he hadn’t escaped with our camera.

I still can’t get over the fact that this woman did what she did.  That she just jumped in, grabbed something she knew was about to escape for good, and returned said item to the couple to whom it rightly belonged. Gracias, Laura.  Te agradezco y te quiero!

Lessons We Learned

One.  This isn’t the first time someone has tried to get at the Eleven O’Clock Dad’s stuff.  A few weeks after we got here, we were in the metro one day, on our way to transfer to another line, and Miss Lavender noticed a suspicious-looking guy standing behind her dad, close enough that it seemed weird to her.  She also noticed that the small pocket on her dad’s backpack had been unzipped.  Being Miss Lavender, she gave him a fearless I’m-onto-you glare, and eventually he backed off and went to find someone else to steal from.  The take-away:  if you’re carrying a backpack, keep the money pocket zipped tight and fastened with a carabiner.  Huge deterrent to thieves attempting to ferret their way into the pocket in which most people keep their money, passports, and other valuables.

Two.  If someone approaches you with a crazy story, take it for what it is–a crazy story no doubt designed to throw you off guard, distract you, and set you up to be robbed.  When Eleven O’Clock Dad was approached just outside a metro station at Christmastime by a guy with a crazy story, he didn’t buy it, but he came home a mess.  What happened was this.  A guy told my husband that a bird had nailed him (if you know what I mean), and that he’d help him get cleaned up but that he’d have to take his jacket off.  He was insistent.  When my husband looked down at his jacket, it did indeed look like a bird with an unhappy stomach had targeted him.  He was annoyed, but he was also running late and the metros were about to stop running for the night.  The guy insisted:  “Take your jacket off!”  But doing that would have meant taking his camera backpack off first.  And you can guess the rest.  If someone’s got a story that seems too wild to be true, it is.  Walk away.  Now.  Otherwise you become vulnerable to theft, and your valuables may be lost before you can even process what happened.  By the way, it wasn’t a bird that got my husband; it was the would-be thief himself–with dark liquid make-up he managed to squirt on my husband’s jacket when he wasn’t aware of it.  Had my husband taken off his backpack in order to take his jacket off, as this character suggested, the backpack could have disappeared just that fast, along with the camera inside it.

Three.  If you’re carrying a camera and you plan to sit down outside, keep your camera firmly attached to you.  My husband decided that, to be smarter, he should have slipped his leg through his camera strap and slid it up around his thigh, which would have allowed him to keep the camera next to him but still sit comfortably, with his arms free to hold his food.  Even if your camera is right next to you . . . if it’s loose . . . it’s gone.

FourBe aware of who’s around you.  The fact that we remained blissfully unaware that two young men with bad intentions were tailing us was eye opening for me.  From now on, wherever we go, I plan to make myself continually aware of who’s around us–especially behind us.  An essential precaution.

Afterthought.  Some folks believe in angels.  I am one of them.  My angel’s name is Laura.  She is the mother of two little girls named Berta and Blanca.  And she’s got guts!

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Scoop of pistachio_9460

I wandered into Gocce di Latte’s little store in the Plaza de Palau the way I walk into every gelateria: eager to see which flavors I’ll find, since they always differ a little from place to place. Would they have Crema Catalunya? Llet Merengada? A good limon? Gelato aficionados know that a visit to a new place is a little bit like Christmas. (Or Reyes, if you’re here in Catalunya!) That is, you could be about to wake up to something really special.

More scoops in the gelato_9365

So it was with considerable enthusiasm that I first tried the Stracciatella–just a straight cream flavor, with bits of dark chocolate folded in. Moment of silence, please, as I remember the experience with the reverence it deserves.

Scoops in the gelato_9362

Rita and Matteo, the owners of Gocce di Latte, take great pride in making everything right on the premises of their small shop. Novios as well as impresarios, they love each other as much as they love the gelato; maybe that explains the vibe in their place.

Rita and Mateo_9457

Each of them from a different city along the Mediterranean coast of Italy, these two have food in their blood. When they decided to open a gelateria together in Barcelona–a city they wanted very much to move to–they knew they had to pull out all the stops. After all, gelaterias abound in the Born district, where their two stores are located.

Mateo making gelato_9428

New batch of chocolate_9451

They needn’t have worried. The authentically artisanal processes they use, combined with their exclusive recipes, result in a treat so rich and fresh and truly fantastic, you can understand how people might fritter away their paychecks, returning again and again for the Pistachio (out of this world), the banana chocolate, or just the Stracciatella, a flavor for which I now have an irrationally crazy passion. Even the way Rita prepares a scoop of gelato is inspiring: she digs out a ball, massages it carefully for a few seconds with her paddle, then finally loads it onto a cone or into a cup.

spreading the chocolate_9454

Yesterday marked the first anniversary of Gocce di Latte. I’m not kidding when I say I wanted to throw a party, which would of course have given me an excuse to go after an additional serving or two–you know, to show my devotion to the couple and their enterprise.

The Gocce di Latte sign_9408

I mean, that’s what true aficionados do, isn’t it?–practice the art of fandom? How am I to become a devotee of the first order if I don’t–you know–continue to sample away? . . .

Find their main shop at Plaza de Palau 4, or their gluten-free shop on Espaseria, 14.   I’ll meet you there.

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Standing together by arch_1099

Once upon a time I wrote a little note to Danny and Mara of A Blog About Love, thanking them for talking about love, its forms, its reach. I also wrote a blog entry about how one of their posts had affected Miss Lavender, prompting her to want to practice love the way you practice doing anything you want to get good at:  through repetition.

Teva Tessa agan with sun in arm_1072

One of Miss Lavender’s goals was to strengthen her relationship with her younger sister–Miss Zinnia, exactly three years her junior.

Teva Millay by arch looking away_1122

Different in so many ways, the petals occasionally reach an impasse, and then they have to find a way to move forward. But especially when they’re out together like they were here, in Teba, Spain, they often end up being each other’s best company.  So cool, that traveling together ended up being their mortar.

Teva girls in field_0959

Teva girls running through field_0958

Remember the old tradition of the Sunday drive?–where the family hops in the car and heads out to see what the afternoon looks like an hour down the road? Well, we’ve been doing that off and on for months–and not just on Sundays, obviously. I’ve got to say: sometimes the middle of nowhere turns into a Big Somewhere when transfigured by a pair of sisters at ease with each other and with themselves.

Teva Tessa kissing Millay_1137

Once again, thanks Danny and Mara. All these months later, the seeds of your Words Of Love are still yielding fruit.

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Halloween, Yes, But Let’s Talk Kokua

by Becky on October 31, 2012

in Uncategorized


Costumes aside for a moment, can we talk about feet? And about the grave importance for girlfolk of having access to shoes that make our feet (and our eyes, and our mood) happy? Handmade here in Barcelona(!), Kokua shoes just make the Eleven O’Clock girls want to sing.

Move over, Dorothy. Your ruby slippers are so last century.


Who needs a costume when you can dress up for real??

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Go See Vienna! And Take Your Kids!

by Becky on August 25, 2012 · 1 comment

in Uncategorized

When we dock in Vienna, we each have a few things we really, really want to do.  My son the Mozart lover, he’s about the music.  And the architecture.  I love watching his face each time we enter a cathedral.  My younger daughter and I want cake (my daily ritual).  My older daughter, the vintage queen, wants to do some thrifting, if there’s any thrifting to be done.  And my youngest–well, he’s the disappearing act.  I finally have to turn off my “quiet box” (the radio/head phone set that dials me in to our group’s historian-slash-tour guide) because I can’t manage to listen to her and keep track of my eight-year-old at the same time.  I mean, every monument in the city is begging to be climbed, and he has no compunction about dashing off to the nearest one, even if it means getting himself lost.

Notice the look of awe.   One of the best things about the trip is watching the kids react to beauty.

And watching them react to each other. 

Tucked into the tower of St. Matthias church, Vienna.  Better than playing in a fort . . . 

All smiles.  Does she know there’s a piece of cake somewhere in her day?  Below:  the “Che” beret that called out to her from the shelves of Little Joe’s Gang, a vintage clothing store in Vienna.

  • Vienna - Thrift Shop Vienna - Thrift Shop Outside thrift shop in Vienna
  • Vienna - Vintage Glasses 1 Vienna - Vintage Glasses 1 Compilation of vintage glasses at a thrift store in Vienna - photo 1
  • Vienna - Vintage Glasses 2 Vienna - Vintage Glasses 2 Compilation of vintage glasses at a thrift store in Vienna - photo 2
  • Vienna - Vintage Glasses 3 Vienna - Vintage Glasses 3 Compilation of vintage glasses at a thrift store in Vienna - photo 3
  • Vienna - Vintage Glasses 4 Vienna - Vintage Glasses 4 Compilation of vintage glasses at a thrift store in Vienna - photo 4
  • Vienna - Vintage Glasses 5 Vienna - Vintage Glasses 5 Compilation of vintage glasses at a thrift store in Vienna - photo 5
  • Vienna - Vintage Glasses 6 Vienna - Vintage Glasses 6 Compilation of vintage glasses at a thrift store in Vienna - photo 6

 The vintage queen selects a pair of glasses.  Who cares that they’re not prescription?  Take them back to the states, ship them off somewhere to be retrofitted with prescription lenses . . . and you’re good, right?  But which pair to choose?  Which PAIR?


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