Saturday, June 03, 2006

Late Night Food with Friends, Cycling in the Mist, Strawbaling at Sirius

Hey you,

Do people in Boston normally eat late? Is it an East Coast thing? And I don't mean a little snack, I mean a full barn-burner of a meal: delicious pasta, a salad, a glass of wine, and dessert, of course. Now Val and I love to eat and we love our friends (but we don't eat our friends--anymore). Nearly every night during our lovely week-long visit of our Bostonian friends, Hilary Rantisi and Ben Scribner and Corinna Giorgi, we ate mouth-watering meals -- at 9pm, 10pm and even 11pm!

The funny for us is that on the plane ride out to Boston we both had just finished reading the primer for starting the South Beach diet (first two weeks is no pasta, flour, fruit, sugars and bad fats). We shook hands on starting the diet and then quickly had second-thoughts as we began our late-night delicious dining.

Hilary, Corinna and Ben are amazing cooks and we'll miss them for more than their culinary skills.

Hilary is an old friend Val met in Palestine, back in 1987, upon Val's first visit to Palestine. She and Val adopted each other then, and have been sisters ever since. Except for a short, amazing, 2002 visit at a random restaurant in a random town of Wisconsin which was precisely half-way between the Teaching Drum Outdoor School (where Val was working), and a town in southern Wisconsin where Hilary and her husband Paul were visiting Paul's sister (made possible by Lauranna's amazing half-state driving), the two had not seen each other in six years! Hilary had not met Mark before, but heartily approved of her soon to be bro-in-law-outlaw (I may be going out on a limb here, but I think the "my roots lie in the soil of Palestine" shirt may have had something to do with it--Val). Hilary now heads up the Middle East Initiative at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and Paul works as an educator and consultant for Bentley and College and Northeastern University. Both do a variety of great political activism and speaking on the Middle East in and around Boston in their non-existent spare time.

We met Ben about six or seven years ago, when he was an organizer with SEIU Local 105 and more than dabbled in radical activist circles. In the Fall of 2001, Ben joined us and Beth Daoud and Nadya Waziri for an activist tour of Palestine. Moving to Boston four years ago, Ben immediately fell in love with the city and a young woman from Italy, Corinna. They're both mainstays of a group that helps send people to Palestine and Israel to learn and help out the cause. Corinna is finishing her post-doc in microbiology at Brandeis University; Ben teaches at Emerson and Harvard and volunteers his time to Raven Books, a local alternative bookstore worth looking up.

Our visits with both (individually and together) were really rejuvenating. It was so great to see our dear friends' lives and meet some of the inspiring and fascinating members of their communities. Ben gave us a walking tour of Cambridge and bike tour of Boston which deserve an entry all of their own. To discuss politics deeply and with heart, to listen to all their great stories and revisit oldies but goodies of our own, and to connect with such good people we see far too rarely was a real joy and privilege.

Yesterday, June 2nd, we had a wondrous day taking a morning communter train from Boston to Fitchburg, Mass. Next we hopped on our new folding bicycles with luggage in tow and rode 50 miles to the Sirius Community. The forecast was for heavy downpours and flash flooding -- perfect for a long ride, yes! Well, it turned out to be near perfect in many ways. From Fitchburg we rode along Rt. 2A, which is the main street through the towns of Winchester, Templeton, Gardner, Athol and Orange. Generous shouder, good pavement and rivers and hills and lush foliage to keep your eyes occupied. The last stretch of 15 miles was a real hoot: up into the hills, very lush canopy, bubbling brooks, birds and a very quiet road that felt more like a 25 foot bike path. Wispy spray of a rain (called "soft weather" in Ireland) kept us moist and the mosquitos quiet.

Sirius Community is near Shutesbury, Massachusettes (about 10 miles East of Amherst). Compared to the bio-region of Denver and the Plains, this area feels like a dense jungle of moss, rocks and endless trees. Sirius is 90-acres of fairly level land, about 25 full-time member residents and several more members that live nearby. The lot of them are mostly White with a small dose of People of Color. It's a fairly technologically savvy community with computers (I'm typing on the internet via their wi-fi hook-up), electrical grid, plumbing, etc.. They do have solar panels, a large garden and orchard, composting toilets, passive solar and alternative/local design of their buildings. They're all vegetarian or vegan and eat only organic. They share spiritual time each day, meals, and work to maintain the community. They jointly operate a conference facility and many of the members have their own business or part-time job outside of Sirius.

While it rained incessantly all day, we spent several hours joining about a dozen other members and visitors learning about strawbale building design and applying endless handfuls of a clay/straw plaster mix to the strawbale walls (see Val below). Prior to this, Val and I used our Guidestone-acquired cob-mixing skills, dancing barefoot in a pile of clay and straw and water ("You call that dancing? Dance!!" Argentinian Ernesto called out to us when we weren't mixing vigorously enough. Yes, he really is named Ernesto, and he really is from Argentina, and yeah, if you squint, he kind of does vaguely resemble Che--very sweet man--welcomed us here warmly, though he wasn't on duty when we arrived--and reminds us both a bit of our dear friend Remy). Plus we had in-house DJ-Will spinning reggae tracks as we plastered (photo below), keeping it all mellow and fun.

Great vegetarian lunches and dinners we enjoyed, along with the 45 minute morning yoga (my back thanks me profusely) and 30 minute planetary healing meditation before lunch.

More about Sirius soon. For now, enjoy the pictures.

Love to you all, Mark and Val.