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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What I Learned from a Cockroach

Like most people, I find cockroaches disgusting and repulsive, but one cockroach taught me a lesson just at the time I needed it.

I'm afraid of bugs...always have been. I remember them knocking and buzzing at the screen as I tried to sleep on a hot "unairconditioned" night in Chicago when I was a young girl. 

It was the mid '90s on a sultry afternoon in New Orleans. I just left our company's partner conference. I was in turmoil about whether to leave the company that was faltering; it was just a matter of time before it would go belly up. Layoffs were underway, and the high-tech giant was floundering.

I was burned out; and as the workers left, the rest of us shouldered more of the load. I had reached a fork in the road--stay or go before the end. I was offered a corporate position, but it was really too late for a turnaround. If I left, I had no idea what I would do next. I felt "stuck" by my responsibilities and could not see a way out.

On the way back to the hotel, I discovered an art glass studio where students were shaping lava-like, molten glass into beautiful, decorative vases and bowls.

I love art glass, so I couldn't pass up the chance to watch the amazing process of golden, liquid glass being fired. It was an old warehouse with a tall, arched glass skylight, a dramatic rooftop for the fiery ovens below where the glass was given its final form.

Suddenly a storm blew in, the sky blackened, and lightening streaked above the skylight putting nature's fireworks on display, a theatrical production of fire and rain clashing as the glass was creatively brought to life by the glassblowers.  It was a dramatic moment of blazing fire, pounding water and lashing wind.

A deluge struck the building and we were caught on foot in a flash flood. The street quickly filled up with rushing water. We took off our shoes, rolled up our slacks, and waded into thigh-high murky water, feeling the pavement under our feet, but unable to see what was beneath the quickening current.

We sought higher ground and saw an historic townhome nearby with a dozen steps up to its landing.  We climbed as quickly as we could to safety as the water continued to rise.

We were not the only ones seeking dry ground. Below us, we watched a giant roach instinctivelyly inch its way up each concrete step to avoid being swept away.

Once again I felt that familiar revulsion, but I was stuck in place.

As I observed the roach work its way to safety, I became fascinated by its behavior. It knew what to do and how to survive.

I realized in the storm that the roach moved forward to live. That was the sign I needed.

I, too, had to move on and flee the corporate storm that was destroying my spirit and future.

I still am squeamish when I see a cockroach but am grateful for the lesson it taught me that day when I needed to escape the murky turmoil around me and regain my footing on solid ground.

Sometimes life lessons come from the last place we would look for them.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2011 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

power of nature by nespresso
steps1 by vasantdave

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Perfect Day in Tuscany

Every now and then, I experience a perfect day...where everything seems just right. I had such a glorious day last fall in the magical city of Lucca, northern Tuscany, Italy.

Lucca dates back to 180 BC as a Roman colony.

Today it is a charming, hillside town fortified with double thick, massive red-brick walls built from 1504-1645 that provided centuries of protection and defense to its citizens from invaders who sought the wealth of the thriving silk merchant families.

Lucca managed to keep the marauders at bay and then had the good fortune to be protected and ruled by Elisa, Napoleon's sister, so its beauty was enhanced and its history preserved.

Even now there are portals with massive gates for entering the town where pedestrians, mopeds and small cars wind their way around shops, cafes, open markets, piazzas, and gelato stands in the gentle bustle of the town.

The wall, wide enough to be a two lane road, towers above the city as a 3-mile park circling Lucca and  offering views of the medieval look-out towers and exquisitely landscaped gardens of the villas it rings and embraces. Outside the wall at ground level lies the newer city and the surrounding countryside abundant with vineyards of olives and grapes.

On top of  the wall, families stroll with their children, lovers walk hand-in-hand, cyclists stop for a picnic lunch, and runners jog under the shade trees.

My perfect Lucca day started with a stop at a small grocer's inside the walled community where Gina, my traveling companion and guide from, and I selected the ingredients for a fresh sandwich plus fruit and cheese for our bike ride and picnic atop the wall.

Next we rented our bikes at the foot of the wall and began our climb onto the multi-story high walls and ramparts to enjoy the ambiance and the magnificent vista on our bike ride.

The weather was just right, sunny, comfortable and clear, so we could see for miles. A garden show and exhibit hugged the wall's banks where local flowers and plants were artfully displayed to the pleasure of passersby.

We could have been in Central Park with people leisurely enjoying the day on the promenade along the tree-lined wall. Midway we paused at a grassy spot to eat our delicious lunch of prosciutto, tomatoes, pecorino (sheep-milk cheese) and fresh, juicy peaches.

Gina shared a legendary story of the great jazz musician Stan Getz being incarcerated in Lucca for a month for smoking pot. The locals sat outside the jail and listened to him play from his cell every night as if they were at a concert.

After our relaxing ride, we entered Lucca through one of its portals and stopped at a famous cafe where Puccini and other creative artists of his day sipped their coffee.

We wandered through the city's narrow lanes, still intact in their ancient Roman street plan, to the piazza where a bronze of Puccini, legs crossed, sits and looks out at the square. We watched children climb on top of his lap while adoring parents took their photos with the composer.

The shops nearby displayed the latest fashions of stylized, supple leather and haute couture from Milan and Rome's finest designers.

For dinner we ate at a small cafe that was recommended by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book, Eat, Pray, Love; like her, we had the risotto with wild mushrooms and a fine red wine.

The most magical part of the day was yet to come. We went to the cathedral, where Puccini was once the organist, to hear aspiring opera students, accompanied by a grand piano, sing Puccini's famous arias.

A small audience, seated in folding chairs, listened in rapt appreciation. The night was balmy and the music enchanting. Some of us were moved to tears.

It was the perfect ending to a perfect day in Tuscany. Bellissimo!

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2010-2011 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Autumn in Lucca by Jscarreiro
Pusseggiata delle Mura by Tango 7174
toscana2 photo by Gabriella Pataky