Hot, Hot Siena

Hot. Scorching. Blazing. Sizzling. Sweltering. Boiling.

Realizing you’re drenched in sweat. Your hair, every strand, completely soaked under your hat. Trickles of sweat rolling from your neck, down your back, into your waistband. Sunglasses slowly sliding down the bridge of your nose. Sitting in the shade for relief, crossing your legs, and having them slip off of each other.

I know that this is normal for many people. It was normal for me growing up. One hundred degree days, with humidity so high you wilted when you walked outside, were the norm during summers in North Carolina. But that hasn’t been the norm for the twenty or so summers I’ve lived in San Francisco. Summer to me means boots, a light jacket, and a scarf on particularly cool nights.

We duck into stores that have air conditioning. We plan our route to our next destination based on which streets and alleys have shade. We relish the first moments of returning home, the discrepancy between the outdoor heat and the indoor air conditioning so welcome. In the afternoon we nap, exhausted from the heat. We drink bottles and bottles of water. We shower, and shower again.

And in and amongst the heat, the sweat, and the consumption of water, we explore Siena. We marvel at the Cathedral of Siena, its black and white stripes standing out against the pale blue sky. We enter its cool sanctuary and marvel anew at the mosaics on the floor, the endless columns, and the stunning stained glass windows. The interior of the dome, with hundreds of gold stars, each in its own square of perfectly blue background, is my favorite. I stare upwards until my neck cricks and I start to lose my balance.

The library astounds us with its vibrant jewel colors, still intact after hundreds of years. It’s a small room, but everything about it is marvelous. The ceiling is awash in bright reds, golds, blues, violets, and greens. The walls greet us with frescoes of Pope Pius II, and along the walls we see manuscripts with fancy script and intricate drawings. I gently tread over the crescent moons on the floor that form stars and wonder who created such a masterpiece.

We visit churches and museums til the heat beats us down, then we retreat home, not venturing out again until evening, when there is some relief from the heat. We dine al fresco, eating caprese salads and pici with wild boar, grateful when a breeze blows through. And then, gelato. The icy sweetness makes the heat almost bearable. Almost.


Ups and Downs

Yesterday was a day filled with devastation and joy.

I awoke to the news of the earthquake in Nepal, one of my favorite countries. Nepal was the first country where Room to Read had projects. During my tenure there, I visited Nepal several times, and each time I stepped off the plane in Kathmandu, I felt magic in the air. When I think of Nepal, I think of hospitality, generosity, and overwhelming kindness. As I read stories of the earthquake throughout the morning, I wondered if my former colleagues and friends and their families were safe; but I also mourned for the hundreds, and then thousands, of people reported dead. I mourned the devastation and destruction of a beautiful, resilient country.

Yet, it was also a day of great joy. Two incredibly dear friends were married. The wedding was in Petaluma, on a farm, in the middle of the countryside. We were surrounded by rolling hills, friends, and love. Every moment of the evening was filled with delight: lovely vows, a ferris wheel, raucous laughter, delicious food, great music, never ending dancing, quiet laughter, and hugs.

Unexpectedly, throughout the day, the one constant was gratitude. I’m thankful that I know the beauty of Nepal, and the kindness of her people. I’m thankful for every colleague and friend I hear from in Nepal, letting us know they are safe. I’m thankful for the relief efforts that are already commencing in Nepal. But most of all, I’m thankful for the long-standing friendships and the people in my life that I love unconditionally, with whom I can share both the devastation and the joy.


Hiking Mombacho

When I saw there were volcanoes near Granada, I knew I wanted to hike one. It would be my inaugural hike after the spectacular fall in September of last year that resulted in torn ankle ligaments, surgery, and a cast for a couple of months.

Our first stop on the guided hike of Mombacho was through a “tunnel” – two rock faces fairly close together that opened up to a breathtaking view of Granada and the coastline. Up and down, up and down through the forest with beautiful flowers, dense foliage, monkey and sloth sightings, and stunning views. And, best of all – no falls or injuries!



We asked a hotel owner where we should eat. Without hesitation, he said, “Oh, Espressonista. It’s the best restaurant in the city.”

We arrived to a beautiful old building on the outskirts of the tourist area, across from a magnificent old church in front of a plaza with bougainvillea vines lazily hanging from a pergola. We walked in to a large room (perhaps a former ballroom) with dizzyingly high ceilings adorned by decorative tin panels. The tables were far enough away from each other that each party could enjoy an intimate dinner with dining companions, and couldn’t overhear others’ conversations or be heard. Our table had a huge open window at our backs (ah, the breeze) and had a view of the open kitchen at the other end of the building.

Andreas, the owner, brought tiny chalkboards with lovely handwriting to our table. First, he invited us to choose a drink – local German crafted beer, a French wine, or freshly brewed minty Lady Grey tea. Next, he shared the three appetizer selections and four mains. We started with baby asparagus with Hollandaise sauce and herbed goat cheese, a chilled soup made from ground almonds, garlic, and watermelon chunks (amazingly delicious and complex), and a local cheese plate with fresh baked breads. For our mains we had vegetable “lasagna” (sans noodles) and a fish soup with vermicelli noodles. Each bite was exquisite. Andreas shared several dessert choices with us, but the only one I remember (and we chose) was rum raisin ice cream, with a splash of Flor de Caña rum over top. Heaven!

Throughout the evening, Andreas regularly stopped by our table to chat with us about where the ingredients were sourced, how the dish was prepared, where he finds inspiration. We left, feeling as though we had dined in a friend’s lovely home rather than in a restaurant.


Things that I Love about Granada

  • brightly colored buildings along every street – blues, greens, yellows, oranges, pinks – a rainbow for your eyes
  • views of volcanoes forming the backdrop for the city
  • ancient churches, some dilapidated, others perfectly restored
  • courtyards! So many courtyards!
  • palm trees and bougainvillea
  • grand old dames of buildings with high ceilings and larger than life carved wooden doors
  • life in the Parque Central – vendors, musicians, people strolling
  • shade trees grown so big the sidewalk has cracked