We need to talk about Captain America.
First, here’s a summary for those of you who aren’t Marvel fans: Captain America has been a comic book superhero since the nineteen-forties. He’s a patriotic supersoldier who fought villains associated with the Axis powers in World War II. He wears red white and blue, and carries a vibranium shield emblazoned with a star. In the Avengers movies, he’s played by Chris Evans.
Captain America’s real name is Steve Rogers. Out of uniform, Steve is boyish, charming, and kind. In uniform, he is brave, selfless, and strong. To four generations of fans, Steve Rogers/Captain America has represented the best of America.
After all, he’s a uniquely American hero.
The train from Athens to Kalambaka was slow, thank goodness.
A five-hour journey was almost enough time to drink in the lush Greek landscape. There were deep valleys and tall jagged mountains, blanketed thickly in green. Herds of sheep flowed down the hillsides like milk poured from a jug. When the trees weren’t green, they were purple. When the grasses weren’t green, they glittered.
Images flashed past us, one after another. A valley. A mountain. A field. A farmer’s hut. A patchwork quilt of countryside. The stone tunnels dipped us into darkness, never for long, but long enough to frame each view like a shutter on an old-fashioned camera. We were low along the ground. We were up high, looking down as if we were in an airplane. I think Greece might be heaven, I remember thinking. Did I fall asleep and dream this place?
I snapped so many photos, but they seemed lifeless compared to what was in front of my eyes. I don’t want you to look at my photos! Instead I want you to take the slow train to Kalambaka, and see this place with your own eyes. How much beauty can one human heart bear? As soon as I thought those words, I was flush with gratitude.
Gratitude not only for this trip, but for everything.
For my entire life.
We hesitated when booking our flight to Athens.
According to reviews online, Athens doesn’t feel safe. I read statements like these:
This (centrally located) hotel is in a sketchy area.
I wouldn’t walk around here at night.
Women should be very cautious here.
In fact, when you look up ‘dangerous areas’ in Athens, half the city center lights upon the map. What were we supposed to make of that?
From the southern coast of Spain, we flew to Rome. We left Spain reluctantly, and gratefully. Italy would be a whole new adventure! I didn’t speak a lick of the language, and everything I knew about Rome I’d learned by watching an episode of Archer.
We arrived at Termini station in the early afternoon and walked to our AirBnB. After our host left, we tossed our luggage on the bed, changed out of our sweaty clothes, and went downstairs for a quick lunch at the cafe. I had lasagna. And a cappuccino, of course. Both were excellent.
Rome’s coffee game is on point.
While we ate, I tried to relax. The airport had been stressful. Taxi drivers stepped directly in front of us as we walked through the airport, one after another, aggressively seeking a fare. We ducked and dodged until we found the biglietto (ticket) machine for our train, but while we punched the buttons to buy our tickets we were hassled, still. Why would you ride the train? Didn’t you know you can’t see anything from the train? You should ride with us instead. The train is too expensive. We’re only one euro more! Per person.
In the late nineties I worked as a headhunter for a “boutique” search firm.
LinkedIn didn’t exist yet, and neither did Facebook, so we’d dial for dollars all day long, looking for a candidate to shop around. The resume of a software engineer could be exchanged for a fat commission check, and during the days of the tech boom, companies would pay almost anything.
Hiring Manager: What do you charge?
Me: Thirty-five percent of the first year’s salary.
Hiring Manager: We’ve never paid more than thirty…
Me: (reluctantly) I guess we could do thirty…
Later that day:
Me: I got thirty percent!
The Boss: That’s good, but next time don’t cave so fast. He could tell you got one over on him, and now he doesn’t like us very much.
Cold calling wasn’t fun, but it prepared me for the business world. Getting yelled at and hung up on helps you develop a thicker skin, and a shark-like amusement towards those who would tear you down. I remember this one guy who responded to my call by getting indignant and saying that I “had a lot of audacity” to do what I did for a living.
When I decided to leave my job behind in order to travel and play, I had a lot of worries about how things would turn out. Was I making a mistake? Would I regret it?
These books will not tell you if you are making poor life choices.
In order to address those concerns, I traveled back in time to have a conversation with myself. What follows is a transcript of that interview.
After two weeks in Madrid, we’ve gotten a feel for the place.
We know where the best grocery store is, and that “para llevar” means you’d like your coffee to go, and that you need correct change at the laundromat. We’re no longer surprised to see that the fruit store next door is closed when the sign says they opened an hour ago, because signs are merely guidelines, and Spaniards are too tranquilo to get wound up about it. As one American living in a nearby village told us, the culture of Spain is one of patience.
If right now doesn’t work, hay no problema, you can try again later.
I love the way that pedestrians rule the side streets here, turning the narrow cobblestone roads into impromptu sidewalks whenever cars are not present. We’re occasionally confounded by the design of the city; streets fan outwards from Puerta del Sol in jagged diagonals, like shards of glass surrounding a bullet hole.
“What do those people expect to accomplish?”
Have you ever asked that question, when protesters take to the streets? I have. I’ll admit that it wasn’t so much a question as it was a complaint. Why are those angry people clogging up the streets? Don’t they have jobs? What a waste of energy!
If you think marches are pointless, I can’t judge you because I’ve been there too. But if you’re genuinely curious about why people march and what these events are supposed to do, I’ll tell you.
Because I marched with my husband and a million strangers at the Women’s March on Washington. And here I am, on the other side that experience, seeing the world with new eyes.
I’m glad I went. Let’s begin with that.
I loved the movie Up in the Air.
In it, the main character (ably portrayed by George Clooney) has built a life with few emotional or material attachments. He views his carry-on suitcase as a metaphor for a happy life. Belongings, houses, children, relationships… they all weigh you down. Be free! His certainty is rocked by three women. His coworker, a new lover, and his sister each in turn force him to re-examine his choices. And he begins to wonder: what if he’d been living wrong all this time?
What I love most about the story is that it doesn’t pick sides. Instead, it invites us to ask ourselves: What does it mean to live a good life?
That’s the big question, isn’t it?
Ah, 2016. I’m so ready to let you go! Before I can do that, however, I’ve got some work to do.
Here are my projects, professional and personal, for the month of December.