Without intention, here in Jerusalem

So much about our personal journeys are about revealing truth, to understand, to find light, to connect to ‘source’ – so too in walking a labyrinth.

I was alone at mid-morning in 1995 in San Francisco’s breathtakingly chartres from abovebeautiful Grace Cathedral the first time I walked a labyrinth. In 2001 I traveled to Chartres (1220 AD) to visit the cathedral and walk its original 13th century labyrinth. 15 years later I can still feel the scope of mysticism, the pure intentions, meditations and powerful energy of tens of thousands who have come before me resonating through my own footfalls from the smoothly worn stones and soaring up to the buttresses and the heavens to the Almighty like a silent, but mighty choir.

As a result of the Crusades in the Levant a pilgrimage to Jerusalem during the Middle Ages was an extremely dangerous undertaking so the Roman Catholic Church designated that seven European cathedrals, mainly in France, become “Jerusalem” for pilgrims.  Both the layout and architecture of Chartres and its labyrinth were made to fit the demands of sacred geometry which include representations for the length of time, essence and substance of creation, the wholeness of God represented through the Trinity and the cycle of a week representing the completeness of God’s creation. At the time of its construction people believed they were creating the most Divine thing on earth to the glory of God.

“God made the world in measure, number and weight: and ignorance of number prevents us from understanding things that are set down in Scripture in a figurative and mystical way.” ~ St. Augustine

So I find myself, quite without intention, here in Jerusalem. Consciously, I am not making a pilgrimage but experiencing. I follow no guidebook or map, what unfolds is (mostly) magical and sometimes mildly corrosive but with everything there is darkness and light – a delicate balance of all that our universe represents. Yesterday, against a post Sirocco-driven rain storm a perfect blue sky day filled with light and kindnesses in Jerusalem, and yes, three ‘darknesses’.

I did not (intellectually) know that the labyrinths I have walked previously 20160109_150835-2were created with the intention of mirroring Jerusalem until this morning. For those who have visited, busy with their guidebooks and itineraries, if you had started at New Gate and walked to the right passing through the Armenian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, and the Christian Quarter eventually you will circuit the entire walled Old City. My total footsteps ultimately equaled 4.55 kilometers of ascents, stairs, flat walks and descents – a meditation on all things held holy and how (if we let it) the secular collides with (our) quietude.

My first ‘stop’ was at Couvent Armenien St. Jacques. Old stones speak a language all their own. Your touch joins 1300 years of the same, the oils found on our hands making the stone feel as soft as silk velvet. 20160109_132410-2.jpgKhatchkars (Armenian carved crosses) adorn the wall above your hand. Your head bows in supplication, a silent Our Father recited, a prayer for peace, protection and Divine intervention for our planet. The attendant returns and hands me a Host cradled in a white napkin, 9 January being the Saint’s Day of Polyeuctus, martyred in 259 AD. He tells me that I may take pictures, despite the sign indicating otherwise, he ushers me further into the complex to stand beneath 1300 year old stone arches, the orange, red and blue of the Armenian flag snaps in the wind against that crystalline blue sky. Rolls a poster documenting the Genocide and gifts it to me. As I take my leave he blesses me and then kisses me on both cheeks, outside the midday sun glints through ancient trees standing sentinel over the cemetery. I continue on my labyrinth walk. The next ‘sign’ (in both 20160109_134044senses) are old tiles pointing the way to the Western Wall but first I must pass Zion Gate and navigate the walkways around the Greek Orthodox Church, then the Jewish Quarter. The panoramic view of the Wall nestled at the base of one of Jerusalem’s natural amphitheatres, at this distance I take a 20 second video.

It would be apex of arrogance to visit the Western Wall and not be respectful of the sacredness of this place to Judaism, so before entering I pulled my shawl up over my hair (my clothing already very conservative). Despite having a Rabbi for an uncle and all of my 1st cousins being Jewish their religious practices never brushed up against my life; I  only understood the general rule of ‘no use of machinery or of working’ for the Shabbat. I had forgotten to write a prayer to place in the crevices of the Wall prior to coming, so before approaching via gender segregated ramp I found a flat surface, took out my fountain pen and tore a small piece of paper off of a folded sheet in my purse to write to God. It took no time at all for an Orthodox Jewish woman to yell at me for my violations, perhaps I could be forgiven actually writing to God and not being a Jew? I feigned ignorance of her English language. Mea culpa. Do I reconcile myself in the Divine presence of the Wall by walking backwards away?

The Muslim Quarter was a thrum of everyday life. The Muezzins voices ring out, at the fountain built by the order of Sultan Suleiman the 20160109_143948~2Magnificent a man does his ablutions, while a short distance away two men play backgammon. Spice and confectionary shops spill out into the streets filling the air with heady scents of Turkish delight, dried figs, pineapple, papaya and kiwi, mountains of rich Halvah.  I purchase a mixture of fruit tea and spices for making Bedouin and Moroccan rice, Jordan and regular almonds, the total takes my breath away – my second darkness. When I question it I know that I am being sucker-punched for being an American. It’s my own fault for not speaking Arabic (despite his English) or understanding the nuances of this culture related to negotiation because despite our lengthy conversation (and making his eyes fill with tears) I don’t feel like saying “put it all back” and haggling. The day has been too perfect, I bury my resentment; this is somehow the admittance price of being here so I give it over to God. I know that I have let this man feel he won a victory. Further along a spice pyramid crowned 20160109_171951~2by a crystal and gilt miniature Dome of the Rock, and then  God makes me an instrument of His will again. I duck into a small jewelry shop asking that two small silver links be added to my pearl bracelet so that the Roman glass charm can safely be held. I am poorer but wiser – when the price starts at 80 shekls I explain that I can wait until my Buddhist jeweler in the States can do this small thing for me for less than $5. Ultimately the work done for (the last) 25 shekls I possess. He needs to share his life story and in being kind I discover that his son nearby is (very) hungry but there is no money. A mere twenty minutes before I walked in he had told his son, God will answer. My purchase feeds the boy. An antique rose gold, handmade 19” chain is thrust upon me. No bill of sale, no expected date of payment or even a price. “When you can, pay me what you think it is worth.”

A text tells me that I need to get going to meet my friend for a ride back to her home, six hours have passed in the blink of my tear filled eyes.  I walk out of the Old City through the Damascus Gate, head up hill to the New Gate, too early by 45 minutes I sit on a park bench and am immediately accosted by a twenty-something man pan-handling. The only money that remains in my wallet are a handful of Croatian, American and Israeli coins – in total about $3 USD in value. He wants whatever I have and I find it’s easy to give up the coin than to stay exposed to his dark energy.

All day, “…yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace.” 1 Corinthians 15:10

If you enjoy my blog please consider sending me the “price of a cup of tea” in your currency via PayPal to livelikeadog@gmail.com and do share it with your friends on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter – I am @TeresaFritschiTo order my book, please click on the cover art of my book below, thank you! 

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Where we’ve been, where we’re going

I am not the same woman I was on this day a year ago as I set forth in a 20150106_101627-2.jpglittle red car from the Dalmatian coast near Trogir to drive to Zadar and then onto Velika Plana in the Velebit mountains of Croatia. I have spent more time outside of the United States than within it these last 12 months. I have given up worldly possessions, my things currently residing in a 10x10x10 storage unit. As a result of studied consideration I am without an address while not a refugee, though some might argue that point, rather a wanderer as I wanted to take what little time remains on this planet for me and to live even more fully than I ever have previously. I have created a new (virtual) communications consultancy with my dear friend Ken, and together we generated more than 28million impressions on various social media platforms for the Istrian Tourist Board. I have now visited Israel, a country never on my bucket list unlike the genuine longing I feel for Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal. On my first morning here I was welcomed in my friend’s garden 20151230_132038-2by the sound of the Muezzin’s voice as it rang out over this mixed neighbourhood in Jerusalem. After gently quelling Christians (pushing, shoving and being rude in their frenzy to kneel before God) in the Basilica and Grotto of the Nativity I spent Christmas Day eating Arabic street food in Bethlehem. I now wear an (energetically powerful) deep turquoise 2000 year old piece of Roman glass as a result of being here – the silver palm leaf as emblematic of my journey as the blue glass which mirrors the Adriatic Sea I have been engaged in protecting this last year. 

Numbers are the Universal language offered by the deity to humans as confirmation of the truth. ~  St. Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354–430)

Today is 02 01 2016. My birthday is 16 02 2016. I know nothing (substantial) about numerology but I like the synergy of those numbers. I like to consider that they represent within this infinitely tiny window of human history (45 days, or 4+5 = 9) something amazing and inspiring which is about to happen in my life, perhaps even for the world, that will fundamentally alter e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

After writing the above sentence I did a Google search of “numerology + 02162016” and the following came up as a result – posted by someone using the Avatar of Santa Mann on October 28, 2014 at 9:07 pm

The date is Feb.16th 2016 …
0216 = 9
2016 = 9 ….
02162016 = 18 = 9
9+9+9=27 = 9
If my calculations are correct this is a major date may even disrupt
elections for 2016

I will settle for something a bit less dramatic as I think the ripe New Year is full of promise and because how much more can we take of natural and man-made disasters as well as the wearying hate and destruction wrought by those whose lives are grounded in fear.

The New Year had has this ‘affect’ on me for a very long time – probably even longer than the loss I suffered thirteen years ago yesterday (where once again on New Year’s Day I was hit hard). Since childhood I have not made resolutions. I am reflective about the past and then it is time to move on. I have always believed that my journey was meant to be a singular activity and while that might sound a bit egotistical, aren’t all of our journeys singular? There are people who I hold in my heart more dearly than they can possibly know, but there is something about me (as my friend Kirstie points to my 7th House as the culprit) lacks ‘stickiness when it comes to relationships’ – all relationships, but in particular those forming romantic connections with men.

This morning 7575 miles away from where she and I sat at our respective computers, me at a rough hewn table with Narcissus picked from the 20160102_130834-2garden this morning their heady fragrance as much a balm as the cup of tea I was drinking, my childhood friend Mary dropped me a note on Facebook “…more comes from this time in your life than any other, be Faithful to yourself and know that all comes when least expected! I send love and Light my friend and embrace you across the miles…Namaste”.

Recently two very different men from two different cultures shared prophetic words with me. Both, whether they realised it or not, provided me with substantial gifts in doing so.  The first man, whose voice I have yet to hear, told me that I might be the woman he has searched for his whole life. Okay, whether I am or not if you are single isn’t it nice to think that ‘someplace out there’ there is one person who is keen on finding you?? Yet there are astonishing, and highly unlikely from a statistical perspective, synchronicities between his life and my own which would point to some reason for our (eventual) meeting including his having an important ‘life moment’ on my birthday last year.  The second man stood before me telling me that he had a message from God for me. Now before you pshaw that idea let’s recall that there is a long list of historic figures that the Almighty has spoken to, and plenty of contemporary false prophets spewing ugliness in His name from podiums tied to the politics of virtually every nation.  But I think Muneer is tied into something ‘older’ and somehow more authentic to our collective human condition.  There is love.jpgno way to explain, given the pure randomness of the way we met, how in posing his statements, subsequent questions and of his words (from God) he could be quite so accurate as to foster resonance in my heart chakra to the degree that my eyes filled (and spilled) with tears. The image at right PERFECTLY synopsis’s Muneer’s message.

I have been reflecting on all these words expressed to me, turning them over in my head and heart, recognizing the truth found and opening myself up to the path to set forth upon with their accompaniment. These words give me something to ponder and have renewed my hope in possibilities just as the clean slate of the New Year always seems to promise.

My friend Mary says that as I walk fully in Faith I inspire her to do the same. I had never considered that my actions inspired others but perhaps that is what love is. We are loved because we are God’s light carried within our souls, not separate, but ‘at-one-ment’.

We are loved. We are love. Happy New Year.

If you enjoy my blog please consider sending me the “price of a cup of tea” in your currency via PayPal to livelikeadog@gmail.com and do share it with your friends on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter – I am @TeresaFritschiTo order my book, please click on the cover art of my book below, thank you! 

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What light will be found?

better humanIt’s been a horrible three weeks for humanity starting with the Médecins Sans Frontières bombing in Kunduz, followed by the terrors unleashed in Beirut, Paris, and Baghdad. Senseless death. Lives destroyed. Borders closed. Hearts closed.

My business partner took the scope of ‘this’ and thoughtfully addressed being sensitive on social media in the face of tragedy on his weekly radio show this last week. I invite you to listen to the podcast for some very practical advice on being a better human being in our ever connected world. Starting at the 5:00 time-stamp mark and proceeding through the 20:00 mark Ken offers a list of seven to-do’s 1) pull the plug on automated posting 2) go silent 3) briefly acknowledge what has happened with compassion 4) share links to most credible relief organisations 5) gradual re-engagement 6) avoid perception of opportunism and finally 7) do not hijack a tragedy based hashtag for commercial gain.

My words will take a different focus, the same focus offered by Antoine Leiris, the same focus of four best friends from around the world whose #LoveOverFear efforts in the Montreal Metro made me weep. I sit here writing while listening to 50 of the most beautiful Adagios ever composed. I haven’t written since 7 November, a shockingly long being humantime for my fingers to be idle of creative energy. While talking heads have cast aspersions and spewed hateful rhetoric, the respect I have for all who have been lost demanded my silence. I took time to offer ‘light’ in the minute tasks of daily life. I recognize that I didn’t bleed. I still live. While my heart shatters in ever smaller pieces I am reminded:

French-boy“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” ~ Leonard Cohen

As is often the case, God has been used as an excuse. You know what? God isn’t on the side of evil. “God” would never have us kill in His/Her name. God is Unitarian. God is Agnostic. God doesn’t have a denomination of preference. God is neither yours exclusively, nor mine. Whatever you believe God does not condone your taking a life – any life.

I am simultaneously embarrassed and disgusted by fear-mongering politicians (I am not alone) who are systematically destroying any chance to provide child-sleeping-on-rocknormalcy for terrified children and their families who have lost everything that they know and understand – right down to the pillows under their small heads. We are segmented by artificial differences and it makes me sick.

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

Candles. Flowers. Vigils. Borders opened. Hearts flung open.

Eiffel tower“When you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life.” – Eckhart Tolle

Unless of course you are viewed with contempt for the simple reason that the colour of skin is less white, whose God – though the same – has a different Prophet than those making decisions. Those whose own paranoid fears incite hateful behaviours in others are the grand manipulators of our society and those suffering from mental illness are perfectly sane in contrast.

Exactly 700 years ago, England’s King John, younger brother of Richard the Lionhearted, exacted a wholesale slaughter of the citizens of his realm. (It should sound strikingly familiar against what is happening in Syria.) Innocents caught in the machinations of massive debt, madness and ineptitude, which paved the way for the occupation of England in what was nearly a second Norman Conquest. Eventually light was let into this darkness in the creation of the Magna Carta.  Why have we learned absolutely nothing from history? Or perhaps the question now is what ‘light’ will come from the daily terrors our world is experiencing now?

Nostradamus certainly prophesied the chaos we are now living 500 years ago. Every single thought, every action each of us takes us closer to either catastrophic global destruction or realignment in the light.

“When one takes action for others, one’s own suffering is transformed into the energy that can keep one moving forward; a light of hope illuminating a new tomorrow for oneself and others is kindled.” ~ Daisaku Ikeda

Under normal circumstances I would close with a suggestion that if you liked my post that you send me the value of a cup of tea via PayPal – don’t do that. If this post found resonance for you please send the cost of a cup of tea to the Malala Fund. Thank you.

 

The Photographer’s Eye

Vietnam Memorial

Found on FB, but please see Ms. Pan’s portfolio here http://www.abpan.com/veterans-day-2015/

97 years ago yesterday the greatest armed (man-to-man) conflict the world has ever known ended by “a cessation of hostilities” (an armistice), the 11th minute of the 11th hour, on the 11th day of the 11th month, it is known as Remembrance Day. In the United States 11 November is known as Veterans Day. I was struck (as were many) yesterday by a breathtaking image of Maya Lin‘s masterpiece, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, by photographer Angela B. Pan. I have always thought of Lin’s highly polished black wall of granite (without the Congressional driven design-compromised bronze soldiers statue added) as something both pure and raw. The ‘wound in the earth’ as something powerfully symbolizing the emotions which every family feels when death finds them, the darkest grief of our hearts made physical.  Pan’s image is the near perfect (while nothing is ever truly perfect I think the evergreen wreaths disrupt the integrity of her image). The wet surface of the walkway and the wall itself making ribbons of colour from the reflection of trees, morning mists hanging low on a still green grass and a sky streaked with apricot, sepia, silvery blues and gold leading us by two point perspective to the Washington Monument. Her photographer’s eye has pulled light into the darkness, reflected it, distorted the pain found in the open graves and transformed such into something transcendent offered at the end of our (visual) journey.

MBW war

Photo: Margaret Bourke-White c. 1945, Polish concentration camp survivor weeping near charred corpse of a friend, in Leipzig, Germany

Just as Pan’s perspective draws us toward a metaphorical Nirvana bathed in luminescence, other photographers’ eyes (and their respective lens) open up the horrors which a handful of stupid people drive our collective humanity toward. In the case of photojournalists (long before they were given that moniker of respect) they trudged into the blood soaked and muddy battlefields, into prison camps and shattered villages, and onto shelled roads thick with dust and disease to send black and white images to magazines and newspapers documenting the displacement of women and children and the elderly. The innocents of shameful behaviours politically and physically caught between machines of the military (defense industry) and those that carried out their orders using them. The Library of Congress exhibition of Women Come to the toni frissellFront highlights (what remains are their press credentials and bios online) the work eight women accomplished in chronicling war. Toni Frissell who is better remembered in photographic circles for her fashion photography image at right is just one of tens of thousands of images of what is left behind.

We are in the midst of the greatest exodus of humanity since World War II, yet again it is the intellectuals, the elderly and the children fleeing the carnage. Yet again we are faced with uncomfortable truths realised by a pebble being thrown in the pond. The ripple effects unknown to those who cast the first stone but keenly felt by tens of millions around the world. Humanity all bleeding the same shade of red. The front lines are blurred with a photographer’s lens. Tim Hetherington understood that, and it cost him his life in Libya. He documented the brutality of war, the real costs of lives living an obscene version of ‘normal’, disrupted from community but for being born in the wrong place.

tim hetherington

Photo: Tim Hetherington

“Underpinning my work is a concern with human rights and analyzing political ideas, with thinking about history and politics. It’s also about witnessing, about telling stories. Photography to me is a way of exploring the world, creating narratives, and communicating with as many people as possible…”

~ Tim Hetherington, after he won the World Press Photo of the Year 2007

War and wars. We destroy and create history at once and we learn nothing from either. There are no victors. War wrecks men and women, civilians and military alike. Those who fought and died in senseless wars that go on longer than they should because of both greed and malevolence. Mustard gas in WWI, Monsanto’s Agent Orange in Vietnam (which continues to impact the health of those who were on the ground and the children of their children). Nixon was criminally insane as was Saddam Hussein, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush and Bashar al-Assad most certainly are, the list goes on and on.

My girlfriend Nancy said, “We build memorials and preserve battlefields.” War photographs should haunt us to guide us to not repeat the endless tragedies.  A war memorial, and the photos of it, is often the only thing beautiful to come out of a war.

If you enjoy my blog please consider ‘buying me a cup of tea’ in your currency via PayPal to livelikeadog@gmail.com and then, please do share the blog with your friends on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter – I am @TeresaFritschiTo order my book, please click on the cover art of my book below, thank you! 

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The difference (participating in) elections make

trudeau

Justin Trudeau from Rideau Hall photo: CBC.CA

All over the world ordinary people like myself are applauding the less than a week old leadership offered to Canada (and the world by example) of Justin Trudeau. His quote “Because its 2015” resounding with us regardless of our gender, race, religion, ethnic heritage or where we live. His vision boldly being implemented to undo his predecessors’ nearly decade long debauching of everything that Canadians (as my childhood neighbours of less than 1 mile) hold dear about themselves and their society.

To Canada’s south, especially in the states of Ohio and Kentucky, the United States is dealing with cries of election fraud brought about by Diebold’s electronic voting machines where software vulnerability makes hacking (or coding as some believe) easy to make the results anything the ruling party might wish them to be. And sometimes it requires the court systems to make ‘basic human rights’ that our ancient (and near history) forebears took for granted in healing and for ceremony legitimate in the face of corporate interests and the narrowmindedness of a well organized minority, or the drug cartels themselves. (For the record I support the use of marijuana for medical use and spiritual exploration but am not a user myself.)

4200 miles away from Ottawa and Columbus today is Election Day in Croatia. And like so many places around the world a great deal is at stake in the form of who is chosen by us, the masses, to represent our interests. What we as individuals, in our egocentric view, tend to forget is that we are all connected by the choices made when we cast our ballots (or fail to show up at all because ofizbori2015 indifference or resignation that nothing will be changed). Election results matter a great deal in our dynamic and interdependent and connected world. We are one. We will all be impacted by the same planet security horrors – some immediate and directly facing drought and then famine, natural and man-made disasters resulting from climate change, rising sea levels, armed conflict and outright genocide resulting from greed and insecurity, and others who fear the tidal wave of ‘others’ brought to our borders by the aforementioned and much more.

In the case of every country bordering the Adriatic and all of its citizens, tourism 11-08-15 at 11.29 AMbusinesses ranging from tourism to tuna, all will be negatively impacted if the current Croatian administration (and any combination of its collation government) are reelected. Under the misguided (or personal gain?) driven mindset of the current Minister of Economy Ivan Vrdoljak and his co-conspirators in the archaic hydrocarbon industry of Eni SpA, Medoil Plc, INA Industrija Nafte d.d., Oando Inc and Vermilion Energy propose to drill for natural gas and oil in the pristine waters of the Jadrana (the Adriatic). Almost certainly with a fault line running under and through this shallow closed sea a disaster will happen, perhaps on the epic level of the Deepwater Horizon (BP Oil) spill in the very least further decimating the natural habitat for marine life and negatively impacting the thriving tourism sector of the Croatian (and other Adriatic countries) economy.

20150910_110540-2

Personal photo of the northern Adriatic taken 10 September 2015

A year ago when I first came to Croatia I was struck by the absolute beauty of the country and especially of the Adriatic. I recognise that the floundering economy needs help but drilling for oil in this water is lunacy and wholly unnecessary when robust clean technologies based in renewables are widely available to channel Croatia’s abundant sun, wind, wave and harness biomass. Further, my business partner in Commarglo and I have a plan ready to deploy that could raise tourism in Croatia by the same 800% which he realised as a grad student for the country of Aruba. On behalf of a cross section of concerned citizens from around the world and within Croatia’s borders we implored of His Holiness Pope Francis to intervene, which sadly has not yet happened.

And so I bring you dear reader to a choice. For Croatians to get the polls today, to cast your votes first for Zivi Zid (their platform does not sanction drilling on land or in the sea) and then ORaH (which supports limited drilling for natural gas – which I personally hope they will change their position on). For the rest of us, in advance of COP21 to tweet #EarthToParis consistently and loudly to make the representatives of 190 countries attending on all of our behalf to actually cease the border bickering and ‘you go first’ arguments and rationally, methodically and immediately develop a tactical plan for implementing against the red alert level of warning we are living in related to climate change. For those that suggest it will cost too much – really? look at what climate change is already costing humanity for our negligence.

If you enjoy my blog please consider ‘buying me a cup of tea’ in your currency via PayPal to livelikeadog@gmail.com and then, do share it with your friends on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter – I am @TeresaFritschiTo order my book, please click on the cover art of my book below, thank you! 

Of olives, history and friendships that make us family.

Dining in Tuscany Tablescape

From Under The Tuscan Sun

There is a scene in Under The Tuscan Sun when the characters are bringing in the olive harvest, it is a joyous calliope of work, laughter, friendships and (bound by blood and circumstances) family which is followed by a groaning table, wine and conversation. The truth is I never expected to be in my own version of this favourite movie of mine. As with Frances saying “well, um, I can’t go back to San Francisco” I have uttered similar words this week about the United States.

I met Nicoletta late in July, when her olive fruits were young. I have been invited back to Fažana to experience the harvest and the milling of her 20151004_093124olives. I am humbled to witness the end of the season, the continuation of 3000 years of cultivation here in Istria. Istra, how those living here refer to it, and the Lombardy region of Italy are the two most northerly locations able to support olive trees and yet cycles of weather have periodically threatened and destroyed this connection to human history (most recently in the 1960s).  The oldest olive tree in Istra is on Brijuni, a remnant of a Roman settlement and it is 1700 years old. In contrast Nicoletta’s trees are young, but she knows precisely how old each is, their temperament, their yields.

By education and trade Nicoletta is a truly talented linguist. At the age of 25 her beloved father died suddenly; amongst his legacy to her was this grove. Now 500 trees. Three varieties of olives. She doing what has traditionally been a man’s work. This woman with the same minerals of Istra’s red 20151009_130235earth coursing through her veins that nourishes her olive trees honouring the history of Istra and her father. Nicoletta and her olives. Her keen intellect taking what has always been done here and doing something much more.

I wander through the grove. Taking pictures of the olives, of the trees, of the men and women gathered here who comb the ripe fruit with their fingers unto the soft mesh nets below. It is timeless. Rhythms of life. The nets will be gathered (also by hand) as fishermen would to fill green and red crates.  The crates are loaded into Nicoletta’s mom’s chartreuse green Mercedes minivan, the colour 20151005_195050of some of the olives are in sunlight. The stainless containers for the oil follow the olives, then us. The Balija olives, some of which still hung heavy on spindly branches less than fifteen minutes ago, will be pressed within the hour. I will taste this green gold fresh from their trees a half an hour later. I will weep. I will weep for the connection to history, to the land that Romans made their summer residence, for the blessing of this experience. I weep to know precisely where this olive oil came from, to see it pressed, to feel its silkiness coat my teeth and tongue and fill my mouth with Istrian sunlight. I weep to stand in the Grubić family mill in Bale amidst ancient stone wheels and a museum of rescued relics of the past which make up half of the facility and the modern cold-pressed technology that carries Nicoletta’s legacy to become assigned status Product of Designated Origin, PDO, Istrian olive oil.

So many of our larders are full of seemingly precious (by its price point) EVO and small batch Balsamic vinegars, beautiful cookware and expensive knives. None of you reading this have ever been so intimate with what comes 20151005_201246from the earth as I have been these last months, in this moment standing in the night air dense with the scents of lavender and the crush of ripe olives or tomorrow when Nicoletta will pour this bright grass green liquid gold over tomatoes fresh from the vine for our lunch.

At the end of Under the Tuscan Sun there is a line spoken by ‘Frances’ that all her wishes came true, the wedding and the family in the too big house that so often threatened to swamp her with despair. We create the life we wish, sometimes without even realising that we are doing so in the process. It’s said if you sit at someone’s table and eat with them they give you their heart. Nicoletta was emotionally and physically present at a moment of incredible sadness, stress and overwhelming aloneness for me. She has shared extraordinary cuisine with me, and she and her mom have both invited me to dine at their tables. In my heart that makes Nicoletta the truest kind of family, the one we choose and that chooses us.

If you enjoy my blog please consider ‘buying me a cup of tea’ in your currency via PayPal to livelikeadog@gmail.com and then, please do share the blog with your friends on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter – I am @TeresaFritschiTo order my book, please click on the cover art of my book below, thank you! 

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Does your hotel really deserve Four (or more) Stars?

Every hotel and resort wants to avoid a disastrous TripAdvisor review of their property. And let’s be perfectly honest these posts are often simply conveying glaring truths written by someone in a nasty, snarky tone who has far too much time on their hands. In our social media driven world theseTrip comments have far reaching impact on your business, and almost universally what prompted them could have been avoided.

How much money do you spend annually on marketing your property? Has anyone from the agency handling all those efforts for you, including and especially social media marketing, EVER set foot on-site? Spent a night or two? Eaten in your restaurants? Used your facilities?  Prior to launching any initiative which will draw attention to your business let me share some practical advice with you; ensure that your property actually exceeds the copy being written by said agency.

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In Asia your bathroom could be outside meaning rocks, insects, amphibians, heat and humidity – #wearyourslippers

Over the years I have stayed in a wide range of Relais & Châteaux, Leading Hotels of the World, bed & breakfast inns and in the last year I have actually stayed in a couple of hostels. It’s safe to say I have accumulated a fair portfolio of impressions of ‘the good, the bad and the downright horrible’ and these extremes provide an ample baseline for what makes a memorable stay.

“Service is a promise that cannot be seen, touched, or felt through any of our external senses.” ~ Jag Randhawa

Every member of your staff has an impact.  While they are paid to ‘take care of us’ believe me when I say I can tell exactly who loves their work, people and your business. Equally so there are those who I stand in front of and wonder ‘who is this person related to?’ because there is absolutely no explanation for them otherwise having a job in the hospitality industry. My business partner was a guest at a hotel where we had previously stayed a year earlier for a mere three nights. On his arrival he was greeted with “Where’s Teresa?”. Why should this bell captain (of a luxury hotel in Istra, Croatia) who meets thousands of people a year and tends to all of their various pieces of luggage remember me?  What set him apart from his colleagues in the first place was his atttitude, and in turn that was rewarded with a note in an envelope with a tip on my departure. (I also take the time to make mention of extraordinary service in writing for the benefit of career advancement.) To guests reading this, when was the last time you did either?  When20150929_142514 thoroughly impressed I will likely ask to walk into your kitchens to praise the chef and the kitchen staff (usually resulting in a hug). Your wait staff, front desk staff, the concierge and the service staff usually know who I am because I ‘engage’ with everyone you have hired (and I do mean EVERYONE). And yes, I actively share on social media the (good) things that I notice.

“In bed my real love has always been the sleep that rescued me by allowing me to dream.”

~ Luigi Pirandello

It would be a great idea if management actually spent one night a week sleeping in every single room in rotation and applied a very critical evaluation to their sleep in said room. Springs that poke you in the back are not the way to win praise from your guests, replace them. The standard height for a chair or a sofa is between 26 and 30 inches so why would you let a designer convince you that a bed lower than this is optimal? Put your beds on a handsome frame, give the mattresses proper support and make them a height that anyone can sit on the edge of comfortably.  (I will also offer that the added height eases the stress on the backs of your housekeeping staff resulting in less days off or workman’s compensation claims.)

Those narrow strips of brocade or velvet at the foot of the bed are especially silly if they don’t even match the draperies or occasional pillows in the room, save the money, whereas a nice blanket is highly appreciated. You don’t have to turn down my bed and put a chocolate on the pillow (or offer me a small tray of them with a cordial – alcoholic or non) but it is very thoughtful.  Your sheets should be the highest quality your budget allows and there should never ever be a frayed hem, stain or hole in them. Same goes for towels, err on the side of generous in size and having thick terry robes or even lovely waffle woven ones wins serious points. It should be self-speaking that no guest should ever see black mold – you’d be amazed. Caulking should be maintained and/or replaced, facets and drains should work. Single use loofah mitts are biodegradable and eliminate the need for wash clothes (which seem to be an increasingly rare appointment in hotel bathrooms anyway).

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My pillows go everywhere.

I carry my own pillows with me.  Why? Because, with the greatest of exceptions, even fine hotels stock fiberfill pillows which are miserable and hot.

If your windows have three layers of curtains designed to ensure that your guests sleep well yet they are too short and the light creeps in (early morning or late night it doesn’t matter) – that’s an immediate fail. For goodness sake insist that the decorator add three inches to the overall length of the window PLUS whatever you need to hang them from rods to make certain that they cover your windows.

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Saddest. Plant. Ever.

Honest. This palm was sitting in the hallway leading to the wellness center and spa of a 5-star hotel I stayed at! Does this convey wellness to you? How many of staff members walked past this pitiful palm and yet didn’t ‘notice’ it?

Replace your lightbulbs! This should be perfectly logical but nothing says ‘down-on-the-heel’ or we’re not paying attention faster than a lightbulb here and there that is burned out.

Wi-Fi being slow isn’t even an option anymore. Test it. Put five staff members with devices in close proximity to one another throughout your facility and have them randomly watch videos, post photos and UPLOAD huge files – all the normal things we do as your guests – and if they can’t all do what they want simultaneously BUY MORE BANDWIDTH! Industry analytics are treading that (US) travelers (business and leisure) are now for swearing posh properties for value or economy hotels because these offer free, unlimited, always available Wi-Fi and luxury hotels are charging an additional $25 per day, per device. The old expression fits here “penny wise, pound foolish”.

Maintain your property with critical attention to detail. My business partner once waited 6 hours in a steam bath of a July hotel room for his AC to be fixed. He finally gave up and got into the shower only to finish and discover a ladder blocking access into his room and a man up in his ceiling finally dealing with the HVAC. This with no forewarning such as the simple courtesy of a knock on the door or a phone call! What’s more as the filter was taken down it was so caked with dust that an industrial vacuum was required to clean up the floor from beneath the ceiling to the door. Fail. Fail. Fail.

Which accommodation actually deserves four star designation? The bed & breakfast inn with exquisite (envelope) organic teas, made-to-order fresh truffle scrambled organic eggs, densely seeded home-baked bread (and a toaster) with small batch local fruit preserves or the hotel with Lipton 20150821_080944tea bags, buffet warmer scrambled eggs, with similar bread but no toaster and plastic packaged jams? It should be noted that the same bed and breakfast inn, staffed entirely by women, insisted on hauling my 35kgs of luggage upstairs (and then back down at check out) and the luxury hotel (staffed by muscled men) didn’t have a bell captain on duty.

I once left a pair of mixed suede and leather navy high heels outside my hotel room door at the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago for polishing, sadly they were returned in the morning universally polished (destroying the suede).  Management made it right by reimbursing me for a pair at the now defunct Marshall Field’s prior to my meeting later that day but training is obviously everything in preventing such ‘missteps’.

The realities of customer retention demand training your employees to become brand ambassadors in addition to their job descriptions. Everything that is right or wrong about your hospitality business is all too visible to your guests if not to you and your staff. It’s not an excuse but it’s easy to become inured to noticing details. Pay attention and you’ll never have to worry about how to bury bad reviews ever again.

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We’d like manage your online reputation and showcase your property with resonate content that will only serve to enhance your brand, grow your audience base to drive incremental revenue and ensure that ‘your story’ is the best it can possibly be. Get in touch. Visit @Commarglo to learn more about leveraging social media for your brand.