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Posts Tagged ‘Friends’

A friend and I met for a catch up lunch a month or two ago.  As she arrived at the table, she complimented me on my outfit.  I was having a bad hair/face/body day, and so – perhaps typically as a woman – I protested.

“No!” she declared.  “You can’t do that!”  And she proceeded to lecture me on taking a compliment when it was offered.  She wouldn’t have said I was looking good if I wasn’t, she said indignantly.  She wouldn’t have said anything.

She had a point, and so I thanked her.  She then told me that this was one of her resolutions for 2014 – to be honest, and to tell people what they needed to hear (nicely, of course).  She had already advised other friends

1)      to do something if they really wanted to, if there was no good reason not to do so, and

2)      to ask for help if they needed it, and not to struggle on alone.

All good advice.  I loved this idea for a resolution, because it is so simple, and yet so very kind.  Because these are the types of things we often cannot see ourselves.  So I am going to try to do this too, for at least one other person in the next year.

And as an afterthought, I don’t know if she had seen this, but it appeared on my FB feed not long after.  Clearly I am not the only one to be awkward, dare I say ungracious, in the face of a compliment.

 

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We have been away from home now for over three months.  And in that three months I have learned many things.  I have learned that Italians like to correct your grammar, that they text and drive, that a mixed seafood antipasto is really all you need for dinner, that my husband is a patient man (okay I knew that), that I really should do a photography course, and that sunflowers are at their best in late July.  I’ve also learned that my friends are crap correspondents.

I’ve always known that I tend to find it easier to email or write than others do.  I don’t know if that is a reflection of how needy I am (talk to me! read me! remember me!), or if it is a reflection of my wish to keep connections alive, or simply that I find it easy to sit down and chat with my fingers, when others don’t.  On this trip I’ve blogged and face-booked.  I know that people are reading the blog, but the comments are usually from other bloggers, rather than friends or family.  One friend (who will be reading this) has given herself a temporary reprieve from inclusion in the CCF category (Crap Correspondent Friend/Family) after a couple of decent messages, telling me of a completely new job weeks after she started.  (Hmmm, maybe she shouldn’t get that reprieve!).  My younger sister has generally responded to an email or two, and we’ve skyped or texted. (My older sister gets a reprieve for other reasons.)  And one sister-in-law has kept in touch, enjoying the fact that for once we are both in the same (or similar) time zone.  But other than that, there has been a deathly silence.  Lots of “likes” on FB.  But frequently, nary a word there, my blog, or in my empty email inbox.

I guess it seems from my blog that I’m so busy running around having an exciting time I don’t need to hear from my friends and family.  I hope that they don’t feel that their daily lives aren’t as exciting as mine right now (they shouldn’t), and that’s why they are silent.  Or of course, maybe they’re just busy.  The thing is, after almost four months away, I’ve had a total of half a day with friends in Slovenia, about four days in Qatar with family, and just recently a visit from a friend for four days.  Eight and a half days out of 103 where we’ve had someone to talk to other than each other.  Because let’s face it, waiters and landladies and even Italian teachers don’t really count.  These conversations are superficial.  Temporary.  They provide light relief, grammar tips, but no real connection.  That’s why friends and family are so important.  And I miss them.  But, as much as I love them, I do have to say that they are – by and large – crap correspondents.

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Today

The hills on the other side of the narrow harbour channel were lush and green. The ranges, ever decreasing in height, dipped down to the deep blue, cold, but sparkling, sea, which reached across to the small bay where we sat, enjoying lunch with good friends. The sun shone brightly, and – for Wellington – there was no wind to speak of. It grew warm, and I shed my jacket. This late in the season, I was relaxed – no need to worry about sunburn now. The mushrooms and tomatoes were delicious, the coffee – only my second in the last month – was welcome. We talked and laughed and enjoyed our reunion, we hope one of many now that W is back from her four-year stint in Geneva.

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I like planning. Half of the fun of any trip or other event is the anticipation, and being involved in the planning means you can take full advantage of the anticipation. There’s nothing quite like the excitement of finding the perfect solution and then the exquisite torture of having to wait to enjoy it. So I will frequently say to people “we should do that!”

But the delights of solitude don’t only consist of dreaming. Next in enjoyment, I think, comes planning.

On a smaller scale this isn’t a problem. For example, at lunch on Sunday with good friends, we decided we should cook a dinner together – mainly so C can use some tiny teacups I helped her select at the Weekend Market in Bangkok, and because the summer so far has been set on destroying our plans of barbecues on our decks.

After years (decades?) of suggesting we explore somewhere exotic together, my sister-in-law /friend and I finally managed to get a few days in France and Belgium together back in 2006. And when I’ve passed through the UK, I’ve managed to catch up with some friends I met on the internet. And I’ve had a couple of adventures with my friend in Geneva. But that’s about all I’ve managed.

On a larger scale though, it is harder to accomplish. I have two friends who want to go to New York with me if I ever get there, and if my husband doesn’t get too upset that he can’t come too. The thing is, I can’t imagine us ever doing it – managing to match our commitments, budgets, timing etc. But it’s fun dreaming.

My sister and her husband, and my husband and I have a shared love of good wine, and we’ve often drooled over the prospect of a week in the Barossa and Clare Valleys of South Australia together. But Charlie is only 3. Too young to put up with drunk parents, too young to be our designated driver. We’re either going to have to do that alone, or wait a few more years.

I also have another friend – one I haven’t seen since Bangkok airport in March 1981 – who I’ve discovered (thanks to Facebook) loves tennis too, and so we want to go to the Australian Open together. I’ve even investigated how to get tickets. I love watching tennis, and my husband doesn’t, so that might be easier to organise. Melbourne’s easy to get to from here. But Becky would have to fly from California. And we’d have to cope with Melbourne’s 40* degree heat – though tonight, when Rafa and Federer are due to play in the semi-final, temperatures are much cooler (around 23 degrees according to the Aus Open website). But I just know we’d have fun!

And again as a result of Facebook, I’m in contact with so many of those friends I farewelled at the Bangkok airport in March 1981. A number of them now get together annually for the Thai New Year celebrations at a wat (temple) in Washington DC. DC is one of my favourite cities. I would love to meet up with them there. I plan to. Someday. Becky is going this year. I’m a bit jealous.

My blogging friends and I have talked about meeting up somewhere exotic. Latest plans are to kidnap George Clooney and/or Colin Firth in Italy. Sounds bellissimo to me! Italy actually would be a perfect location for a first time meeting – if we hated each other, we’d at least have Italy. (We won’t hate each other, I know). But in order to actually manage a meeting, I suspect it’s more likely to be in Parts West in Vermont, or Canada on the Danforth, or at Duckfat in Portland, Maine. That’s OK – New England has always been on our list of places to visit one autumn, so I’m confident I can get there sometime. The problem will be whether our St Louis friends will be able to get there at the same time. Still, I’m reluctant to abandon Italy. Or France. I just know they’d love the villages of the Ardeche or Dordogne.

Of course, there’s always room here in NZ for them all. But it’s so far …

Making plans is fun. I know, I watched my mother plan to build her new house for much of my childhood, and saw how excited she was. But after a while, if the plans aren’t fulfilled, they are of necessity benched in a dusty, unused part of the brain, and I don’t want that. So seriously, Mali! You’re not getting any younger. If you’re ever going to achieve any of these then you have to actually make the effort and organise something.

So I’ll start. Italy 2014 anyone? 2015?

Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.

Peter F. Drucker

* Temperatures in Celsius of course. 40 C = about 104F

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I think I’ve written before about meeting internet friends. About the strangeness of knowing the most intimate details of a person’s thoughts and experiences, but not what they look like. About discovering that people in real life are usually exactly like their internet personas. About knowing that internet friends are as real as the friends I have at home, and that we might be in touch as often as those who live a few suburbs away. I blogged about many of them in my x365. Too many to mention.

So over the next couple of days, I’ll be catching up with people I first met on the internet. We’ll be having dinner, lunch, and afternoon tea at Claridges. Beverages derived from grapes will be consumed. There will be much laughter I am sure. Internet friends become real life friends, friends-in-crisis become long-term friends-in-good-times-too. This internet thingy. It has brought me such joy.

But first I must take my much-loved, gorgeous and smart niece to the pub. She’s putting me up, after all. It’s the least her old, eccentric aunt can do.

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Three years ago a friend and I were walking in the hills behind Portofino. I blogged about it on Mali’s Travelalphablog.

It was a steep climb behind Portofino, and the path, or more accurately the stairway, wound behind many houses. … At the top of the climb the landscape flattened, and we enjoyed magnificent views north along the Italian Riviera, and south to La Spezia. We walked through ancient olive trees, and saw some equally ancient Italian locals gathering the olives that had fallen from the trees, as they and their ancestors had done, no doubt, for hundreds of years.

For generations, families and communities have come together in the harvest. Working communally shares the load, completes a long task more quickly, and makes a laborious task more enjoyable. Living in a city, we don’t see this in the same way these days now, but as a child I remember neighbours and relatives joining together to help with the wheat harvest, or in working with the sheep. I remember the feeling of being part of something bigger, the laughter as we ate together, the relief when the job was done.

Last weekend, we responded to the call of Peony and Mr Peony, and along with members of her family, workmates, friends, and soccer team-mates, we converged on their property in Martinborough. Not too many years ago this area was full of sheep and dairy farms. Now the fields are filled with grapevines, producing extraordinary pinot noir, and sauvignon. And smaller plots are covered with olives. Which is why we made the trip over the hill – to help with their olive harvest. It was a social event, meeting new people as four or five of us at a time worked on a single tree. We stripped the tree of its olives, poured them into the bins, and moved on to a different tree, with different people.

The weather was perfect for the job at hand. Clouds hung low, but the rain stayed away, there was no wind, and the temperature was neither too hot nor too cold. At about 2 pm the gong sounded and lunch was served. We sat outside around a long table, resting gratefully in camping chairs and on the deck steps. After a busy morning filled with activity, lunch was welcome. We enjoyed lunch without guilt – untraditionally eating chili and rice and sangria (our hosts/slave-drivers had recently returned from Mexico) – and ate heartily. And I thought of those wizened old villagers and their forebears enjoying their lunches in the hills of Liguria after the olive harvest, now, three years ago, thirty years ago, three hundred years ago. Times change, but then again, not so much.

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I’ve been thinking a bit recently about the quality of connections in our lives. I’ve always been a relatively early – or if not early, at least, enthusiastic – adopter of technology. That’s self evident. I have a blog, I volunteer for a charity via email and internet, I Skype and email and use Facebook. (Twitter leaves me cold for some reason though).

Facebook thrilled me when I first reconnected with my American friends from Thailand 30 years ago. The fact that I can hear what they’re doing, have a brief joke with them, or commiserate over a bad day, is a real thrill – that immediacy of contact, the day-to-day nature of it, is really special after such a long break.
I’ve also linked up with my three, adult nieces in their 20s (eek, one has just turned 30!). We all live such different lives, and in different locations, that we hadn’t been in regular contact. But with Facebook, we have a more normal relationship, and I feel closer and more connected with them too.

Of course, some of my blogging friends are also Facebook friends, but as I felt that we were already connecting regularly, as a small community, through our blogs and comments, Facebook isn’t that different. Well, except for Craig’s informative and often hilarious links keep me informed of commentary on US politics.

But Facebook also brought a change in the nature of the connection I had with others. I have very carefully added a few select friends I had met online in a support group. As someone once said, we met each other inside out. Our initial interactions, back in 2002 and 2003, were raw and grief-stricken and filled with fear. But they were also filled with compassion and kindness and an incredible level of honesty and intimacy. I have shared things with these women I have never shared with anyone else. Eight years on, we’re all doing well, and don’t use the support group anymore. So the fact we’ve linked through Facebook is lovely. Except that I miss the intimacy of our relationships, of our one-on-one discussions, of the real heart-felt connections we had.

And I started thinking. Technology means that we are in touch more often than ever before. In many ways that is a good thing. But technology doesn’t encourage a high quality of relationships. I’m ashamed to admit that I find I think I am in touch with friends, perhaps because I can see that they had a weekend away, or that they have a headache, or that they’re going to Duck. But I find that I forget how long it has been since we’ve actually really talked. That we don’t communicate in any meaningful way. That our relationships are more superficial. And as I was thinking this, and contemplating the change in those relationships, a friend from the EPT emailed me and said “I miss our chats on the support group.” Me too.

So now I’m making an April Resolution:

  • That I will email friends and actually “talk” to them more regularly, rather than just clicking “Like” or leaving a brief comment.
  • That I won’t let my relationships become superficial, based on a few lines and a goldfish attention span.
  • That I will remember that the people in my life and on my Facebook page matter to me, and deserve more regular attention. Real attention.

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