Posted by: ktzefr | February 3, 2016

The Mexico I Know…

IMG_2308The old notion that you should “believe only half of what you see and none of what you hear” has been worded a number of different ways, but they all mean the same.  Personal experience is often far removed from expectations based on the words of others.  To be sure, Mexico has some serious problems and some areas of the country are dangerous to visit. But this does not hold true for the entire country and does not represent an honest view of the vast majority of its people who are warm, inviting, and a heck of a lot of fun.

Here is a glimpse (from my latest trip) of the Mexico I know…

Jarana Dancers, Merida, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Jarana Dancers,  Merida, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Mérida, the capital city of Yucatan, offers free cultural activities every night of the week.  The streets are closed and the Jarana Dancers perform in front of the Palacio Municipal on Monday night.  This dance (above) was the most colorful; the next required the most skill.  Dancers balanced a tray with a beer bottle and four glasses of beer on their heads, swirling around quickly at the end to make the beer fly out of the glasses without turning over a bottle or a single glass.

Jarana Dancers, Merida, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Jarana Dancers, Merida, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

On Sunday afternoon at Santa Lucia Plaza the whole neighborhood comes out to dance to a live band, and you can have a late lunch/early dinner afterwards at one of the sidewalk cafes on the plaza.  At dusk, after the music has stopped, parrots come to roost in the surrounding trees.

Dancing, Santa Lucia Plaza, Merida, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Dancing, Santa Lucia Plaza, Merida, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Young people get in on the dancing, too — practicing for a performance.

Practicing dance steps on the Paseo de Montejo, Merida, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Practicing dance steps on the Paseo de Montejo, Merida, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Every Sunday morning the main boulevard is closed to traffic and open to walkers and bicyclists…

Bici-Ruta, Merida, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Bici-Ruta, Merida, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

The Plaza de la Independencia (Plaza Grande) is a gathering place day and night, especially on the weekends.  From Friday night through Sunday night vendors set up around the plaza, selling everything from local food specialties to trinkets, textiles to sweet treats.  And the kids feed the pigeons.

Plaza Principal, Merida Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Plaza Grande, Merida Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

IMG_4692

When Yucatan is mentioned most people think of Cancun.  Although Cancun is located on the Yucatan Peninsula, the resort area is actually in the state of Quintana Roo.  Mérida, however, is the capital city of the state of Yucatan, and it is the repository for much of the area’s history.  Mexican tourists and other travelers interested in the history and culture of the area are drawn to this city.  A good place to begin is the Palacio de Gobierno or Governor’s Palace with its huge murals by the artist Fernando Castro Pacheco.  The paintings cover the walls, depicting the violent history of Yucatan and the struggles of the Mayan people.

Palacio de Gobierno, Merida Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Palacio de Gobierno, Merida Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

People work hard and things get started very early in the morning — millions of tortillas every day…hot off the press.

Tortilla Machine; Photo: KFawcett

Tortilla Machine; Photo: KFawcett

The market is general chaos in the aisles, but the vendors are organized and efficient.  The Lucas de Galvez mercado, Mérida’s main market, has more than 2,000 vendors and close to 100,000 customers every day. 

Fish monger at the main market, Merida Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Fishmonger at the main market, Merida Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Ahhhh…habanero!

Habanero peppers; Photo:KFawcett

Habanero peppers; Photo:KFawcett

People carry huge trays and bundles on their heads…

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

After dark one night we were standing between streetlights on Calle 55 when a motorbike went speeding by and we turned to see the rider with both hands on the handlebars and a large tray of breads balanced perfectly on his head.  I was too surprised and too slow to take a picture.

And there is art.  In the city’s many galleries it can be pretty, strange, or interesting — sometimes all three. 

Art at the MACAY, Merida, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Art at the MACAY, Merida, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

Photo:KFawcett

The Catedral de San Ildefonso is more than 400 years old.  It is considered the oldest church on the mainland in the Americas, second only to one built on Hispaniola island.  The wooden Christ on the cross is known as the Christ of Unity.  It was carved from birch on a mahogany cross by the Spanish sculpture José Ramón Lapayese del Río and is believed to be the largest cross made of wood in the Americas. It is almost 40 feet tall.

Mass is held at the cathedral four or five times a day.  In Mexican cities and towns it seems the church bells are always ringing somewhere.

Catedral de San Ildefonso, Merida Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

Catedral de San Ildefonso, Merida Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

The Yucatan is hot, but winter is a fine time to be in Mérida as the nights are cool and pleasant.  We didn’t need air conditioning and could sleep with windows open  and be awakened by the mourning doves.  And outside my window…

Lobster Claw Heliconia; Photo:KFawcett

Lobster Claw Heliconia; Photo:KFawcett

*****

More to come — Chichen Itza, Progreso, Izamal, Celestun, Dzibilchaltun, Acanceh, Tecoh, and other places across the peninsula.

 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | January 6, 2016

13 Coffee House Haiku

Haiku is hard.  I’m an amateur.  But I like the challenge of cramming an hour at the coffee shop into a mug full of words.  Here are the latest…written back when Christmas week was summery and now it’s a chilly 19 degrees!

 

Waiting

Multi-tasker blues:

She’s texting, sipping, humming…

“Waiting on the World to Change”

 

Distractions

Glasses propped on nose

He stares out the window

Book face down, unread

 

Money

Two shots espresso

A chocolate chip scone

Five dollars…gone

 

Senior Citizen

Alone at the corner table

Eyes for the lady in red

He smiles to himself

 

Christmas Candy

One chunky Santa

Five sweet, dancing elves

“Chocolates For Sale”

 

Unseasonable weather

Sixty-five degrees

Two mocha lattes, two blonde teens

Hot in shorts and tees

 

Feliz Navidad

Silver-haired ladies

Practice Spanish, wishful verbs

Bailar, cantar, amor

 

Fact or Fiction?

Boomer with laptop

Eyes focused on the screen

Who will read what he writes?

 

Old Friends Meet for Coffee

Three women talking,

Remembering the year it snowed

“We had the best time!”

 

Winter Break Laughs

Man in plaid shirt —

“Nothing works in Washington.”

Tablemate: “I do.”

 

Family Holiday Outing?

Mom reading The Martian

Boy reading a Potter book

Dad on the cellphone

 

Alone

Relics of the past:

Woman with 60s hair

Reading a letter

 

Is it winter?

Spitting rain, then sun

Coffee – hot, cold, cream or no?

Indecision

 

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | December 30, 2015

15 Wacky New Year’s Resolutions: 2016

Oaxaca lantern; Photo:KFawcett

Oaxaca lantern; Photo:KFawcett

The old year goes away:

  and the things it takes with it,

    what and what are they?

~Soin

1.  Embrace nightfall.  Rivers, lakes, seas reflecting moonlight.  Lightning bugs.  Candle flames.  Stars.

2.  Start each day with a dream, a memory, and a grateful heart.

3.  Accept that the same creek has both smooth and jagged stones, that the rush of water over time takes away the sharp edges, and that, likewise, old hurts get washed away, too.

4.  Listen.  To old music.  The wind in the trees.  Rain.  Frogs, birds, bugs.  Silence.

5.  Imagine.  A rusted bucket can hold as many roses as the fanciest crystal vase.

6.  Be aware.  A heart can shatter like glass…or sing…or keep secrets…or whisper to God.

7.  Walk.  Thoreau said, “two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see.”

8.  Admire the mango’s attributes —  a little sweet, a little tart, smooth to touch, and a very big heart.

9.  Remember: wherever you go, whatever you do, don’t leave scars.

10. Be transformed.  It may come like an electric shock, a flash of lightning, a secret or a gift.  A bluebird transforms the hay field from silence to song.  It happens on dressed-up Sundays and when honey meets toast.

11. Memories are like photos.  Tangible things.  See and hear and feel and almost…almost touch.  Write them down before they are forgotten, especially those with no photos to accompany them.

12. Recognize magic when I see it.  Sunlight.  Rain.  Eggs and bacon.

13. Tell someone the wildest story I know in the most natural voice I can muster.

14. Travel.  Paul Theroux said, “The best of travel seems to exist outside of time, as though the years of travel are not deducted from your life.”  Think young.  Go someplace and let time stand still.

15. Consider what I learned at six: The joy of biscuits, butter, and hot blackberry jam on a cold, winter morning.  No one remembers the chigger bites and alcohol and endless scratching from picking wild blackberries in the sun.

 

Maybe not so wacky after all?  What are YOU going to do this time around that you didn’t do last time? 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | December 18, 2015

Favorite Photo Friday: Tangerine Orchids

Thinking ahead…after the holidays…the orchid shows!

 

Orchids; Photo:KFawcett

Orchids; Photo:KFawcett

“There is the sudden silence of the crowd
above a player not moving on the field,
and the silence of the orchid…”
~Billy Collins, “Silence”

Posted by: ktzefr | December 17, 2015

Goo Goo Clusters for Christmas

googoo

On this rainy afternoon…a good book, a pot of tea, a box of Goo Goo Clusters.

The Goo Goo Clusters arrived this week by UPS. One dozen palm-sized mounds of yummy caramel, creamy marshmallow nougat, and fresh roasted peanuts all heavily drenched in a thick coating of real milk chocolate deliciousness. I’ve been keeping the Clusters a secret, having one a day with tea.

When I was growing up in Kentucky I ate Hershey bars and Milky Way, Clark and Baby Ruth and Three Musketeers. My parents ran a small country store with a glass showcase full of penny candy and a selection of chocolate bars. Most days, on the school bus home, I had chocolate on my mind. It was a treat at the end of the day, a reward for having to sit still and listen all those hours when I really wanted to run around and talk. But we never sold Goo Goo Clusters and I don’t recall seeing them in other stores in our town.

The first time I ate a Goo Goo Cluster I was working for an international organization in Washington, DC.  A Palestinian friend, who had been visiting a sister in Atlanta, brought back these amazing chocolates. Apparently, Southerners who pull up roots and move to other places have been known to miss these sweet treats as much as they miss, say, their great aunt Edna. My friend was pleased, thinking she was bringing me a taste of home. I didn’t let on that I wasn’t familiar with the Goo Goos. Instead, I took a bite and immediately discovered what I’d been missing.

These sweet, nutty sensations have a long history. They were first created in 1912 in a copper kettle at the Standard Candy Company in Nashville, Tennessee. This was the first time a candy bar consisted of more than just one ingredient, and they were hand dipped, sold without wrappers, and displayed in glass showcases. Today, Standard Candy in Nashville produces 20,000 Goo Goo Clusters an hour!

The recipe, according to the Goo Goo Cluster site, was a joint undertaking by Mr. Howell Campbell, Sr. and Mr. Porter Moore, the original plant supervisor back in 1912. Mr. Campbell did the blending and tasting and eventually named the candy after his newborn son’s first “words” – which happen to be the first “words” of most babies. Folks identified with the sweet treat right away. And they still do.  Goo Goos can be ordered online year around.

So…after ordering the Goo Goos and enjoying them with tea the past few days and thinking how lucky I was that they have a site online to shop, I discovered that the candy is also sold a LOT of places. When I typed in my zip code the map on the screen burst into those little red upside down teardrops to note locations. No fewer than 25! Of course, the Goo Goo people can’t guarantee that every one of these stores will have them on the shelves, but they do order the candy. I could have hopped in the car and driven less than 10 minutes and picked up a Cluster any time.

I’m not sure that’s a good thing to know.

***********

 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | December 14, 2015

5 Christmas Stories from Around the World

IMG_5810Some of my favorite finds in used bookstores have been old anthologies.  I especially like personal essays — recollections of famous writers, stories from the past, humorous sketches, and serious articles on all kinds of topics.  It’s like being a fly on the wall of the world in 1955 or 1920 or in 1942 when this particular “find” was published.  The collection includes essays from more than 70 different writers, and all of the pieces were originally published in VOGUE.  I’ve chosen excerpts from five Christmas stories.*

 

“In the villages of Holland, there were few outward signs of the impending feast-day. Yet you felt Christmas in your bones. Although the landscape may be as bleak and funereal as a wood-cut…there is expectancy in the air.

Early on Christmas morning, long before dawn, the members of the choral society have climbed the steep spiral stairway in the Medieval clock tower. Suddenly from the tower’s gallery, which is still wrapped in the gloom of night, come the swelling tones of “Silent Night, Holy Night.” The town awakens. Thousands of candles appear before the darkened panes. It is as if a fire is raging. The flames in the windows leap from house to house, jump across squares and race upstairs.”

~ Pierre Van Paassen, “I Remember Christmas in Holland”

***

“The thick pine forest was like something out of a fairytale, and the snow-covered village street led directly to the towering mountains, which seemed unbelievably near. There was a smell of stables, cattle, baking ovens, and apple strudel to bring joy to a boy’s heart. At early nightfall, we children spread straw and oats in front of the house for Santa Claus’ reindeer to eat, but there was no sign of his sleigh. To pass the time we poured lead, which we were not supposed to do until New Year’s. We melted down our broken tin soldiers in a spoon and let the molten lead drip into a glass of water. The sizzling metal plopped into strange, lovely shapes, from which we tried to guess the future.”

~Leo Lania, “I Remember Christmas in Austria”

***

“I shall always remember midnight mass in a French Alpine village not far from the Swiss frontier. There by the moonlight, I could see the black silhouettes of fir trees pointed against the sharp whiteness. Deep in a crevice stood the church, surrounded by the minute chalets of the mountaineers.

As I left my inn, I saw on the nearby slopes dancing lights which slowly converged towards the church. They were the lanterns of the mountaineers going to midnight mass, and each of those stars was followed, not by the Magi Kings, but by troupes of delighted children. At the bottom of the ravine, the little illumined church shone like a lighthouse – a port where they could find at once repose, warmth, and, above all, love. The slopes were steep, and the children fell and laughed. But the difficulty only increased the value of the expedition. Never have I heard the Christmas hymns sung with more vigour than in the little church of Verrières, covered softly with snow.”

~ André Maurois, “I Remember Christmas in France”

***

“Short days of December; the spruces powdered with hoarfrost; the watch late in the evening by the open fireplace; a distant ringing of bells…the children could stay up with their elders by the Yule log that crackled in the great open fireplace with its gleaming iron fire-dogs. Here were told tales of the long ago. Here we crunched hot chestnuts, and we drank white wine…

From every village the people headed for the sanctuary; the father, shod with straw-lined sabots, walking ahead with a pitchfork, for it was rumoured that a wolf had been heard howling at the moon. Betrothed girls walked on the arms of their gallants, following the fiddler who scraped joyous airs on his violin.

At the top of the hill, a group looked into the distance; a song rose in the night. The families stopped and watched the glowworms hastening toward the church. The father said: “Those are the people from across the river. I recognize their Christmas carol.”

~ Robert Goffin, “Christmas in Belgium”

***

In the following excerpt (from “Rather Late for Christmas”) Mary Ellen Chase remembers her grandmother who had spent much of her life at sea and talked about holidays slipping by unnoticed because of more immediate concerns – a gale off Cape Horn or a typhoon off the Chinese coast or the bitter cold of a winter storm near the treacherous cliffs of Southern Ireland. The children were full of questions for the older woman once she returned to village life.

“Didn’t you give any presents at all, grandmother? Not to the sailors or even to grandfather?”

“The sailors,” said my grandmother, “had a tot of rum all around…”

“What is a tot of rum, grandmother?”

“A tot,” answered my grandmother with great dignity, “is an indeterminate quantity.”

“Did the sailors sing Christmas carols when they had had the tot?”

“They did not. They sang songs which no child should ever know.”

“Then did you and grandfather have no presents at all?”

“Whenever we got to port, we had our presents…. We had Christmas in January or even March. Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.”

Ms. Chase’s grandmother never gave gifts at Christmas, but she sewed gloves and scarves and tablecloths and gave these gifts to family and friends all year long. She never went to anyone’s house without a gift and never let anyone leave her own home empty handed. Except at Christmas.

Sometime in January, however, after all of the excitement of the holidays had passed, and preferably on a dreary, dark afternoon, she would deliver presents – jewelry, umbrellas, books, candies, gloves (all of her own un-wanted gifts!).  The author recalls one such day in late January when the children met their grandmother on their way home from school and noticed her apron stuffed with presents.

“You’re rather late for Christmas, grandmother,” we ventured together.

“So, my dears, were the Three Wise Men!” she said.

***

Remember what Christmas (or other special holidays) looked and felt and smelled like in your childhood world?  Don’t forget to share those memories with others during the holidays. 

***

*from Vogue’s First Reader, Conde Nast Publications, 1942  (available at Amazon from a penny to $5)

 

Posted by: ktzefr | December 12, 2015

IPhone Foto Friday: Faces of San Miguel

One of my favorite things about Mexico is the spontaneity — be it the daily music and dancing in the plazas, the unexpected parades, or the fireworks and church bells that sound off at all hours and for seemingly no rhyme nor reason.  Once, back when internet cafes were popular, I was checking my email in Playa del Carmen when I heard the music and hurried down the street to catch one of the Carnival parades.  In Merida, Yucatan I heard the drums at midnight and leaned over the 7th floor balcony to watch the revelers.  Last spring, a few days before Easter in San Miguel de Allende, I was packing my suitcase to come home when I heard the music and laughter on the street outside our door.  I grabbed my phone and ran out of the house just in time to capture a few passing faces…
Parade, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Parade, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

 

Parade, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Parade, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

 

Parade, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Parade, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

 

Parade, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Parade, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

Mickey Mouse and US politicians are common sights. :)

 

Posted by: ktzefr | December 9, 2015

Mistletoe: 10 Fun Facts and A Few Memories

On a foggy morning walk I looked up and saw this…

Mistletoe in the trees; Photo:KFawcett

Mistletoe in the trees; Photo:KFawcett

 

From a distance it looked like squirrel nests.  But the “nests” were green.  They were ball-shaped with little tendrils dangling over the branches.  A nest constructed among these pencil-thin branches would fall out of the tree at the first gust of wind. But these held on; they didn’t budge in the breeze.

It was mistletoe!

I remembered going to the woods in Kentucky to search for wild mistletoe and holly at Christmas.  It was impossible to reach the mistletoe by climbing the huge hickory and oak and poplar trees that filled the mountains.  The plant often grew, as this is growing, way out on the tiniest branches.  So my brother used his rifle to shoot it loose from the tree.  Then we searched through the carpet of fallen leaves and gathered up the pieces, tied them in bundles with ribbons, and decorated the house.  

I didn’t know a thing about mistletoe in those days except the notion that, if a boy held a clump of the green stuff over your head, you had to kiss him.  In my nine-year-old world this was…well, yucky — until it wasn’t.

Years later in Costa Rica’s Tirimbina rainforest, in the cloud forest of Bosque de Paz, and along the Caribbean in Tortuguero we found wild mistletoe growing like weeds in the trees.  Here, it is nearly impossible to take a hike and not be under the mistletoe. Birds pollinate the flowers and spread the seeds.  One pretty type called Parrot Flower mistletoe has long, tube-shaped red and yellow flowers and bright blue berries.  The thin flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds and the berries are believed to be eaten by parrots and then the seeds “deposited” throughout the forest.

I like to come across wild things on my walks.  They remind me of home and of other places where I’ve felt at home in the world — the woods and cloud forests and jungle.  Likewise, when I’m traveling and I spy a clump of mistletoe clinging to a giant tree on a hot and humid day in the tropics, it gets me to thinking about Christmas and childhood, other times and other places, and the years in between.  It’s all good.

Today I went in search of mistletoe and found… 

— Mistletoe is a hemi-parasitic plant, which means that it’s not fully parasitic because it does photosynthesize and produce food, but it also draws nutrients and water from the host tree.

— The Druids considered the plant a symbol of life because it grew even during winter.  They believed it could increase fertility.

— In the Middle Ages mistletoe was cut, tied in bunches, and hung in front of cottages to scare away passing demons.  It was also hung over stable doors to protect livestock from witches.

— The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe has its roots in Celtic culture.  In Norse mythology it also stands for love and friendship.

— Hanging mistletoe at Christmas is a practice that began in Britain in the 18th century.

— Mistletoe by any other name is the same, but these don’t sound nearly as pretty — birdlime, all-heal, golden bough, drudenfuss, iscador, and devil’s fuge. 

— One of the most surprising and “greatest discoveries made in the plant world in 2010” was a new species of mistletoe found in the forests at the summit of Mount Mabu in Mozambique in East Africa.  The plant was spotted by one Colin Congdon, a renowned East African butterfly specialist. 

— Pliny the Elder (23 to 79 BC) recorded the widely held belief that whatever grew on the sacred oak tree was sent from heaven.  Thus, it was believed that the mistletoe plant was protected in some mystical sense from injury or harm and that these mystical powers could be channeled into healing powers.

— Another connection to the plant’s perceived curative powers is related to epilepsy.  Since the mistletoe was so well rooted in the trees that it never fell, some people assumed that an epileptic could take a concoction of the plant or carry it in his/her pocket, and that person would not fall, as happened during seizures.

— Many ancient cultures believed it could cure various ailments.  Actually, the plant is toxic and can cause numerous symptoms, including vomiting and stomach pain.  However, according to the National Institutes of Health, mistletoe injections are available now in clinical trials in the US (by prescription in Europe) as a treatment for cancer. 

So, who knows…

*****

For more info:

Check out this piece about other interesting Christmas traditions at The Telegraph.

An interesting and informative article about mistletoe by Professor Frank Taintor in the Department of Forest Resources at Clemson University. 

*****

TC&GLM cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Available at:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books-A-Million

Indie Bound

Posted by: ktzefr | December 3, 2015

Heliotrope: 5 Facts and a Story

This week I clipped the best of the last heliotrope flowers and brought the plant inside to weather over the winter.

Heliptrope; Photo:KFawcett

Heliptrope; Photo:KFawcett

 

A dried heliotrope flower that I keep in a crystal bowl in the dining room hutch reminds me that I didn’t make it to the top of the mountain.

We were hiking Cotacachi, the extinct volcano near Otavalo, Ecuador, when the trail took a straight-up turn.  Some of us decided to stop and enjoy the view. My son took off ahead of us with a pack of friends and later returned with one small purple heliotrope flower. They were growing everywhere, he said.  He was excited about being the first in the group to reach the top, and he handed the blossom to me with a big smile.

The little flower has been in the glass bowl on the shelf in the hutch for almost fifteen years.  It’s one of those small things that hold many memories.  The images of that day have stuck in my mind.  After the hike back down the mountain, we had a picnic above Lake Cuicocha, a crater lake that lies at the foot of Cotacachi. The lake fills the caldera of Cuicocha, a dormant volcano that last erupted about 3,000 years ago. The lake water is a rich royal blue.

In the distance, villages dot the fertile valleys along with other, mostly dormant, volcanoes with names that dance off the tongue – Mojamba, Imbabura, Cayambe. Volcanoes are devastating in the short term, but the long-term benefit of volcanic eruptions has made this one of the best agricultural regions in the Andean highlands. The local markets are full of exotic fruits and vegetables and grains.  There are, for example, more than 3,000 varieties of potatoes in the Andes.  They differ in size, shape, color, skin, pulp, texture and taste.  I had never thought of a potato as being exotic until I went to Ecuador.

On our picnic that day in the woods above Lake Cuicocha we didn’t do anything unusual, but the whole atmosphere of the place felt out of the ordinary somehow, steeped in a lovely strangeness.  We ate Nutella spread on freshly-baked bread from a local bakery in the village and ripe cherimoyas from a roadside stand. The custard apples were so ready to eat that we could break them open by hand.  The kids spat out the plump, black seeds the way we used to spit watermelon seeds at each other when I was growing up in Kentucky.

Halfway through lunch it started to rain and we had to grab everything and run from the woods.  I held onto the tiny heliotrope flower and later tucked it away in my suitcase.  It traveled with us on buses, boats, and planes from Guayaquil to the Galapagos Islands and back across the Pacific, the Caribbean, and up the Atlantic coast until we finally made it home. The little purple flower has been around.  Now, dried out and pressed flat, it has lost its beauty, but not its ability to stir up memories.

I didn’t make it to the top of Cotacachi that day, but that’s okay. My son did – and he brought me back a treasure.

This all got me to thinking about the stages of life.  In a nutshell:  when you’re young, energetic, and passionate, it’s all about getting to the top of the mountain (and getting there first is the icing on the cake).  Then, when you’ve got a few mountains under your belt, it becomes more important to stop every now and then to smell the flowers.  Eventually, the mountains get steeper, priorities change, and life’s mysteries begin to unravel and make sense.  Then, it’s all about looking back as you climb, finding a good place to stop and sit on occasion, and enjoying the view.

A Few Heliotrope Facts:

1) Heliotrope is known as the “flower of love”and was one of the favorite fragrances and colors of the Victorian Era.

2) It was discovered in 1735 in the Peruvian Andes by a French doctor and botanist named Joseph de Juissieu, who was on a scientific expedition to South America.  De Juissieu didn’t get back to Europe for 20 years, and many of his other findings were stolen or lost at sea.  Despite all his years of work in botany, the heliotrope is the only find that is widely attributed to him, although there are later references to his being the first explorer to send Erythroxylon coca (cocaine) to Europe.  The doctor ultimately went insane, perhaps because he felt he had nothing to show for all those years of research and travel. 

3) Heliotrope in Latin means “turning toward the sun” and the plant was nicknamed “cherry pie” because of its sweet fragrance.  But this luscious scent hides the fact that all parts of the plant are poisonous.

4) For more than 200 years, heliotrope has been used as the name of a pink-purple color.  It’s been used many times in literature from Tolstoy to Wilde, Joyce, and Wodehouse as a color for gowns, shirts, pajamas, and luggage.  The colored pencils on Tyrone Slothrop’s desk in Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow include the “hard-to-get heliotrope.”

5) During the 1950s and 60s Venus Paradise was a popular brand of colored pencils.  Heliotrope was one of the colors, along with other shades that had catchy names, such as Sarasota Orange, Deep Chrome Green, Arizona Topaz, Poppy Red, Peacock Blue, and Hollywood Cerise. 

*****

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | November 24, 2015

I remember Paris

DSC02327The first time I saw Paris…

I was a seventh grader in the hills of Kentucky. The new teacher, a tall, lanky Norwegian fellow who had come to Eastern Kentucky to teach languages, handed out glossy French language textbooks with a picture of the Eiffel Tower on the cover. His name was Mr. Felde and he required us to put the eraser ends of our pencils into our mouths and close our lips around them to feel exactly how we should hold our lips (with no more and no less space) in order to pronounce “tu” properly.

By the time I actually went to Paris some years later I had learned enough French to feel confident I would be able to read the menu in restaurants.   Turned out I recognized only a few items, so we mostly ordered steak and French fries. I had memorized “dialogues” in school and could introduce someone named Jean to mon ami Paul. I just had to remember to insert the names of the real people. The French talked too fast. They didn’t speak their language with an Appalachian accent. They didn’t stick to memorized dialogues. I said “hello” and “goodbye” and knew how to point and smile.

The point-and-smile method worked in most places. Candy shops, boutiques, sidewalk cafes. We took photos and then bought postcards in case the photos didn’t turn out well.  While the postcards have remained crisp, the photos have faded.  

Paris, 1972

Paris, 1972

We bought trinkets from vendors and my confidence in communicating grew. Until the day we got lost.  The local bus driver and I did not understand each other at all. The point-and-smile method was of little value. We circled the city, passing the same sites again and again. We didn’t remember the address of the place we were staying and my Appalachian pronunciation of the hotel name was not discernible to the bus driver. He looked stumped, as if he’d never heard of it – until, of course, he finally drove past it and we both yelled “STOP.” That word he understood clearly and seemed happy to be rid of us.

*****

The first time I tasted snow in the summer was in France.  We were in the Alps somewhere along the border with Italy, heading up Mont Blanc. We’d left sunny skies and temps in the 70s in the valley and had come upon falling snow.

Percy Shelley once wrote a poem about this mountain…

Far, far above, piercing the infinite sky,

Mont Blanc appears – still, snowy, and serene;

This mountain is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world with thousands of hikers and skiers making the annual trek. A few years back they helicoptered a couple of outhouses to the top to accommodate visitors. Seems a lot of foul stuff was flowing down the mountain in the spring thaw. Perhaps I wouldn’t have eaten the snow had I known this at the time.

When I was little my mom made snow cream. A cup of snow, vanilla flavoring, a few spoons of evaporated milk. We were careful to scoop new snow from clean surfaces right after it fell. But then one winter we had to stop. Grownups said the snow could have traces of nuclear fallout. We saw it on the news, read about it in the papers.

During the intense nuclear bomb testing from 1961 to 1963 the US and the Soviet Union exploded bombs that injected the same amount of fallout over the Earth as would be created by more than 7,000 Hiroshima bombs.  Hundreds of bombs were tested in the open-air by the U.S., the former Soviet Union, and other rising nuclear powers, including France, sending more than 400 million tons of TNT-equivalent into the atmosphere.

We had a fallout shelter beneath our school building back then and often played in the concrete “ditch” leading down to it. At recess we challenged each other to see who could jump across the ditch without falling in. We wondered what was inside the shelter and whether everyone in the school could fit. Was there enough food? Would there be snacks and a television inside or just healthy stuff and school books? Sometimes we fussed about these small details, but mostly we were angry at the people who had ruined the snow.

Years later, when I scooped that handful of snow on Mont Blanc, I had forgotten all those fallout warnings. I was a long way from home and the old shelter beneath my school.  I had hoped that eventually kids would not have to worry about stuff falling from the sky or the world falling apart.

*****

Paris, 2010

Paris, 2010

The first time I saw someone pee on the street was in Paris in the early 70s.  I didn’t mean to gawk, but it was impossible to walk down the street and not turn to watch men peeing in those little cubicles — in front of God and everybody!  Visible from the knees down. The old vespasienne or pissoir are gone now. Today’s pay toilets on the street offer more privacy, I understand.

I was reading about Parisian women during the 1800s and learned this:  women had a harder time peeing in Paris. Back in the 1800s, when a lady of the court needed to go, she would say “I’m going to pick a flower.” The other ladies would follow her to the garden and form a privacy circle round her while she squatted on a pot. I don’t like the idea of company in the bathroom, but what a great excuse when you gotta go — I’m going to pick a flower!  (Much prettier than the excuse men used in KY — I’m going to see a man about a dog.)

The bathrooms on French trains were a surprise, too. Years before I left Kentucky the passenger trains had stopped running. The only trains I saw coming through my small town were freight trains loaded to the max with blue gem coal. So I had never ridden a train before France. When I went to the restroom on the train traveling from Dijon to Paris I looked down at the open toilet bowl and saw the tracks flying by underneath us. I was stunned. Whatever we did in the john got strewn across the French countryside.

...beneath the tower, 2010

…beneath the tower, 2010

It was in Paris, too, that I first saw a man carrying a purse. He crossed the street in front of us, his leather shoulder bag swinging at his side. It was bigger than mine, for goodness sake. I wondered what he carried in it. What could a man possibly need besides his wallet?

Later, when my husband started handing me his stuff – sunglasses, film, notepad, pen – to cram into my bag, I had the answer. The smartest women today carry those tiny shoulder bags that double as wallets and have only enough room for a driver’s license and a credit card or two. They don’t have to keep up with anything belonging to anyone else.

*****

DSC02312

Macaron. Ladurée. Since 1862. 15,000 sold every day.

We left France on a hovercraft, crossing the English Channel, Calais to Dover.  I was excited and was looking out the window to spot the famous White Cliffs of Dover that my uncle had talked about seeing when he was leaving Europe after the war.  The same cliffs where the blinded Earl of Gloucester, in the climactic scene in King Lear, wants to throw himself off into the sea.  “There is a cliff, whose high and bending head looks fearfully in the confined deep: Bring me to the very brim of it, and I’ll repair the misery thou dost bear… ”  

The edge of England, the White Cliffs, symbolize a boundary in the play — between the known and the unknown, land and sea, England and the outside world.  But just as the cliffs provide a boundary, they also provide a link.  You can see France on the other side.

My parents’ generation used to sing a lot of the songs associated with World War 2.  They all knew Vera Lynn’s “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover.”  My favorite lines from that old song, however, are these:

“There’ll be love and laughter, and peace ever after, tomorrow, when the world is free…”

*****

...in more tranquil times

…in more tranquil times

 

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