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.



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…”

***** more tranquil times

…in more tranquil times


Posted by: ktzefr | October 23, 2015

3 Pics of Perfection on a flower…

All summer the big yellow swallowtail butterflies were hanging out at my butterfly bush.  They paid no attention to me getting close and personal with the camera.  I got a lot of good shots.

But there were no monarchs.  Their numbers dwindle every year, but I hope the new programs to plant milkweed and other attractive plants across the country will enable them to survive the seasonal migrations to/from Mexico.

About three weeks ago my husband thought he saw a monarch at the butterfly bush.  I figured he was wrong.  It was some other orange flying thing.  Then I saw it, too.  So, for the last three weeks, when these guys should be enroute to the highlands of Mexico, they have been hanging out in my yard.  At least one monarch is hanging out in my yard.  I haven’t seen two at once, so I can’t be sure.

Monarch Butterfly; Photo:KFawcett

Monarch Butterfly; Photo:KFawcett

Other critters love these purple blooms, too.  The bumble bees are moving slowly.  They pay no attention to me now.  Only the queens will live through the winter.  The others are on their last legs.  They will die at the end of the season.

Bumble bee; Photo:KFawcett

Bumble bee; Photo:KFawcett

Yellow jackets cannot tolerate the winter cold and most die by late autumn, but a few survive by finding a warm place to hibernate — wood piles, tree cavities, hollow logs, and sometimes attics.  This bee was still very active yesterday, enjoying the chrysanthemums.



Posted by: ktzefr | October 13, 2015

Coffee Shop Conversations…or The Joys of Eavesdropping

Mum's the word...

Mum’s the word…

I’ve always heard this advice: keep your eyes open and your mouth shut and your nose out of other people’s business.  Ears are not mentioned.  Oops!


Monday: Two older women. Regulars. Some days they come with a bigger group.

“She was telling me all this stuff that a boy did in school and I was getting madder by the minute. How could he treat Sophie like that? You know what a sweet girl she is…well, then she starts laughing when she sees me upset. He was some character in a book, for goodness sakes!


Wednesday: “He thought I was no more than 50. That’s what he said. Can you imagine?!”

The other woman is quiet. She’s smart enough not to express an opinion as her friend clearly hasn’t seen 50 in a long while.

“Of course, I cover the gray.” She laughs, twirls a few strands of hair. “You ought to do that. Add a little color.”

The other woman: “Why?”

Long pause. Should I turn around? Check out the facial expressions?

“Most people do,” says the fake brunette. “Cover-up the gray, that is. Well…a lot of people do.”

“Hmmm, yes,” says the other woman. “Some need to do that, I guess.”



Friday: “I don’t make fun of people who have no faith. Why do they make fun of me?”

“It’s politically correct.”


“Never mind.”

“People are hard to understand sometimes. I like dogs better.”

They both laugh, agree, start talking about their mutts – a lab and a poodle. They’ll get them together for doggie play time soon.



Three Hispanic guys sitting on bar stools by the window. Coffee in one hand, cellphone in the other. Sending texts or emails, watching You Tube videos, playing Candy Crush…who knows. They’re waiting for their friend Tonio to get off work. They come here often.

Outside the wind is blowing, a misty rain falling, a pretty blonde gets out of a BMW and crosses the parking lot hugging herself. Short sleeves. High heels.  Huge, expensive looking handbag. She slips in the door, passes the three guys at the counter on their cellphones. Three heads turn at once.

One says: “Ojalá fuera bizco para verte dos veces.” (I wish I were cross-eyed so I could see you twice.)

The two friends laugh. The girl turns away and smiles to the “audience,” buys a large caramel latte to go, and walks out looking warmer, more confident.   She recognizes a compliment when she hears it — even if she doesn’t have a clue what’s been said.



Guy at a table alone, with coffee and a bagel, backpack on the floor beside him, feet propped in the extra chair. He’s looking up at the TV on the wall. CNN with no sound. Turns to the man at the corner table who is engrossed in a book. Says…

“I can’t believe Putin.”


“Putin. The Russian.”

“Don’t think I know him.” Looks back down at his book.



Blue SUV squeezes into a parking place with the cars on both sides parked smack on the line. It’s the last spot in the small lot. Two young women in sweats, hoodies, ponytails burst through the door, letting in a gust of wind.

“I’d take it back,” says the tall one.

“Don’t know if I can. I bought it in June.”

“Oh. I’d still try. I’ve taken stuff back six months later.”

“Too much hassle. I’ll just give it to somebody for Christmas.”

Tall one: “Not to me! I hate that color.”

They buy two bottles of water. That’s it. Water sells for half the price at the store across the street where there is also a huge, half-empty parking lot.



Two elderly men talking about their ailments. Arthritis. Cataracts. GIRD. Backache. Back and forth, they compare notes, similar complaints. Each tries to outdo the other. Each provides examples as to why his condition is worse than the other. There’s a lot of “you have no idea” and “If you felt as bad as I do, you wouldn’t be…” and “my doc told me this” and “my doc told me that” and pretty soon they’re arguing about who has the best doctor.

“They’re not all created equal,” #1 says, raising his bushy eyebrows.

“You’re right about that,” says #2. “You’re absolutely right.”

Finally, they agree on something.



Two young women with children in strollers. Two in their terrible twos. A boy and a girl. Myron (or Bryan – it’s hard to tell) and Beth. Two sippy cups with cold, hot chocolate for the kids. The two women order: decaf cappuccino for Beth’s mom; high test for the mom of Myron/Bryan.

“I have to stay awake this afternoon,” she says. “He won’t nap.”

“Beth sleeps three hours every day,” says the little girl’s mom. “Like clockwork.” She gets up from the table and bounces over to the counter. The coffees are ready.    

“That’s great,” says Myron/Bryan’s mom. A bit sarcastic? Repeats in a lower voice, “just great.”

“You should read to him,” says the other woman, coming back to the table.

“I do. I read to him, rock him, walk him, sing to him. It’s the testosterone.”

“What?” the girl’s mom stops mid-sip, looks completely shocked. Over-reaction?

Myron/Bryan’s mom smiles, tosses her arms as if giving up. “Boys and girls are different.”

“I don’t believe that,” says Beth’s mom.

“Of course you don’t.” (The look on this woman’s face is fit to be photographed. Exhausted. Smug. Satisfied. All at the same time. She knows something the other doesn’t — boys and girls are different. )



A jogger and his black lab cross the street. He ties the dog to a table leg on the patio. Orders his “regular” with a big smile. The girl behind the counter in her big-rimmed glasses smiles back and hurries to brew his double shot of espresso. He picks up a local magazine off the counter and flips pages. She steals looks at him — the full-on, head-turning sorta stares.  

“Hey,” he says, glancing up from the magazine. “When do you leave work?”

She looks surprised. Huge smile. Points to the wall clock. “Forty-five minutes.”

I mentally cross fingers that she doesn’t drop the coffee on the way to the bar or spill it all over him when she gets there.

“Great,” he says. “I need to run across the street to the wine shop. Could you watch Jinx?” He motions toward the lab tied to the table on the patio.

“Uh…yeah. Sure.”

At least three other people in the shop have heard this conversation. People exchange glances. Strangers share a moment. The girl’s disappointment is palpable.



“What about Joaquin?” Barista says to man-in-suit waiting for a coffee to go and looking impatient.


“Joaquin. The storm.”

Man-in-suit turns and looks outside.

“The hurricane,” says the barista. “It’s headed our way.” He points to the TV on the wall. Big map on the screen of various possible scenarios for the direction of the coming storm. The map changes almost hourly.

“I’m jet lagged,” says man-in-suit. “Been in India for three months.”

“India? Really? Doing what?”

The man-in-suit looks slightly annoyed. “Training,” he says.

“Training to do what?” The barista is persistent if nothing else.

“Training people to explain how to fix your computer when you call tech support and think you’re talking to someone in…Boston. Newark. Milwaukee.”

“Oh.” Barista smiles. Hands man-in-suit his coffee to go. Says: “I use an IPad.”

The two elderly men at the next table who have spent the last hour talking about their physical ailments go quiet and look up at the same time.

“What’s an IPad?” says #1.

#2 shrugs, shakes his head. “Who cares.” Points to the TV overhead. “Stupid weather guys never get it right, do they?”


So…what have you (over)heard lately?

Posted by: ktzefr | October 2, 2015

Waiting for Joaquin…

on a yucky, rainy, chilly Friday. 

Watching the birds.  I’ve refilled all the feeders — the two for the hummingbirds, the two thistle feeders for the finches, and the big squirrel-proof apparatus that feeds everyone else.  The goldfinch are partway through their molting process and the bright yellow boys of summer look…well, dirty.  Their winter colors, like many other birds that completely molt in fall, are drab. 

The little hummers stay perched on the feeder for a long time, drinking as much as they can.  I suppose all this rain has washed the good stuff off the flower blossoms.  This week I’ve seen many hummer battles.  I worry about them surviving the drenching from Joaquin that is to come later this weekend.  But I suppose if these tiny critters can make it all the way across the Gulf of Mexico to their winter getaways, they can survive the coming storm.

Every year about this time I start to get antsy, too.  Yesterday, I pulled a sweater out of the “winter” closet for the first time since spring.  On the floor of that closet is a line of luggage.  Over the years we’ve gone from big, hard-sided, heavy suitcases to smaller and smaller, lighter and lighter bags.  I pull out the sweater, shiver in the cold, and think about taking out one of those small bags, stuffing it to the brim, and heading somewhere warm.

But that’s not going to happen at the moment.

So, the hurricane headed this way got me to thinking about the birds, and the birds got me to thinking about the upcoming migration south, and that got me to thinking about food.  Mexican food.  Good, authentic, the real-deal Mexican food.  For the moment, I’ll have to settle for looking at pictures of my favorites and remembering…

These amazing Sopes (chorizo, chicken, and beef) at La Bohemia on the Jardín Unión in Guanajuato City.  It’s only rain outside my window, but I can almost hear the mariachi music…

Sopes, La Bohemia, Guanajuato City, Guanajuato, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Sopes, La Bohemia, Guanajuato City, Guanajuato, Mexico; Photo:KFawcett


Check out SOPES, a good recipe to make at home.  Queso fresco and Crema Mexicana are always best, but this recipe does include ways to substitute if you cannot find real Mexican cream and cheese.  

Hmmm…wondering what I’ve got in the refrigerator on this yucky, rainy, chilly Friday.




Posted by: ktzefr | September 24, 2015

Reading and Eating: Nourishing Body and Soul

Reading and eating go together.  One nourishes the body; the other nourishes the soul.  I like to read good literature and eat good food.  The books I choose have passages I will underline and read aloud, passages that require me to take a closer or a different look at life.  I don’t want to waste precious reading time on material that doesn’t matter and won’t be memorable.   


Likewise, I eat healthy fruits and vegetables and whole grains.  But…I also like chocolate chip cookies and ice cream and pizza. And I didn’t always read only the good stuff.  As a teen I tended to read what was popular at the time. 


Summer 1966.  I was anticipating starting college in the fall.  I would lie in the sun, cover my body with baby oil (no sun screen back then), and read paperbacks from the drug store.


At the top of everyone’s list?  Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann.  Everyone had read it, was reading it, or was about to read it.  At first, I thought the “dolls” in the title likely referred to pretty Southern California girls partaking in all sorts of wild escapades — a great escape from the very not-so-wild world of Southern Appalachia.  I was wrong.  The “dolls” were sleeping pills.  The wild escapades were more tragic than exciting.  And the characters (rumored to be based on real-life celebrities) were neither likable nor memorable. 


There were, however, many books worth consuming at the time.   Even if they were sometimes difficult to consume.  I tried to grasp the story in Nabokov’s Pale Fire, but there wasn’t a story to grasp.  And yet this new way of writing a novel was intriguing.  Nabokov was a butterfly collector and provided great technical details about his specimen.  Pale Fire is also a collection of sorts.  It was like opening an old cigar box someone had stored in the attic and finding fragments of a life.  An acorn, a smooth stone, a cardinal feather, a shard of colored glass.  No story, but bits and pieces to admire for their own sake. 


Another…Heartland by Wilson Harris.  A confrontation between technology and nature, logic and magic, in the jungles of South America.  Ordinary prose devices are used to tell the story to a point, but when it comes to conveying the mysteries of the jungle and the mysteries of man’s unconscious mind, the few fragmentary poems are far more effective.  Another different way of writing a novel.


Other good stuff from the mid-sixties — Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People, Nadine Gordimer’s The Late Bourgeois World, and Muriel Spark’s The Mandelbaum Gate.  And, of course, Walker Percy’s The Last Gentleman.  The chief character in Percy’s book is a young Southerner who feels like a misfit in New York City. He chooses to view life through a telescope, which he sets up in Central Park and eavesdrops on others.  But plot is not the most important element here either.  It’s about character development and the way people speak and define themselves geographically and historically. (I could identify.  I grew up in Appalachia where folks take pride in defining themselves geographically and historically.)


For me the most fascinating aspect of good literature is often the way a book or poem or short story is written.  I like prose that is poetic.  I prefer character development over plot.  If I pick up a book and flip through and discover that ordinary prose devices are not the norm, I’ll give it a second look. 


I’m not sure how I got from reading the classics, Heidi and Huckleberry Finn in elementary school, to Valley of the Dolls as a teen.  I guess it was akin to wanting Bass Weejun loafers and Ambush perfume.  The teen years are fitting-in years, and there is a real need to be doing what everyone else is doing at the time.  Then I grew up.  Along the way, I discovered the joy of being different, and I re-discovered literature.


Since reading and eating do go together, and it’s important to nourish the body AND the soul, I always choose good books to go with my chocolate chip cookies.


Posted by: ktzefr | September 16, 2015

MexiCoke and Memories

Coca Cola Made in Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

Coca Cola Made in Mexico; Photo:KFawcett

I’m a hipster.  This, according to a recent article in Smithsonian Magazine.  I’m a hipster because I like Mexican Coke (as in Coca Cola, the sweet, brown liquid in a bottle).  The all-American soda — except it’s not.  The Coke I like is labeled “hecho en México ” (made in Mexico).

South of the border Coke is made with real cane sugar.  Here it’s made with high-fructose corn syrup.  Mexican Coke comes in glass bottles like the ones I remember from my growing-up years.  Here it mostly comes in plastic and cans.  I don’t like foodstuffs in general that come from plastic or cans.  No matter who says it’s all the same or you can’t tell the difference or one way is as good as another…in my book, it’s just not so.  Sugar is sugar.  And glass is glass.  And the Coke I remember from the 1960s is “real” Coke.

According to the aforementioned article, a French magazine back in the 30s speculated that the “beautiful Coke bottle with the contoured curves” was designed like a woman’s body.  But the Coke folks say that isn’t true; it was shaped to resemble the cocoa pod.  Either way, I prefer the old-fashioned glass bottle.

Mexican Coke is my madeleine (remember Proust and his madeleine cookie dipped in tea and how that taste and scent brought back volumes of memories?).  Well…I drink a bottle of MexiCoke and I’m a kid again in Kentucky, slipping a cold bottle from the ice box in our store in the country.  Or sitting in the front yard shade, watching the cars go by…or riding around town in my friend’s Mustang convertible with the top down…or cooling off after the Saturday night dance at Jack’s Blue Room on the Courthouse Square.

And, later, drinking Coke around the world.  I remember paying $2 for a bottle of Coke in the 70s in Venice, Italy.  We hadn’t had a Coke or anything else we were accustomed to for weeks, so we ordered a Coke from room service at our hotel in Venice.  They brought a single bottle to the room on a tray with glasses and real linen napkins.  No ice.  And the Coke was warm.  Two dollars plus tip.  We could have bought a six pack at home for less.  But we enjoyed that Coke immensely and celebrated, flinging open the thick wooden shutters to sit in the window and listen to the music wafting from the houses and sidewalks and gondolas on the canal.  Italy in the air; America in a bottle.

I take a sip of MexiCoke and I remember drinking Coke in Mexico in the 80s because I couldn’t drink the water and didn’t like beer or wine (at the time:).  Coke on the beach in Cozumel.  And, over the years, with panuchos and salbutes at sidewalk cafes in Mérida…with guacamole on the porch of an old hacienda in Chichen…with gorditas in Guanajuato…with nopales in San Miguel.  Mexican Coke.  It’s about summoning up the good stuff.  Memories.  Happy times from decades ago or just last year.  It’s about nostalgia.

And being hip, of course.  At least for some folks.

A couple of years ago I had lunch at Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City.  We’d heard amazing things about David Chang’s restaurant.  But I didn’t know they sold Mexican Coke.  At $5 a bottle!  I opted for water with the pork belly bun.  I’ll pay more for MexiCoke over the other stuff, but not that much more.

Bottom line:  I like Mexican Coke.  But I don’t care whether I’m hip or not.


Coke’s history/story is complicated.  Full of truths and half-truths and gossip.  In Mexico they tell the story of how Coke executives come down every year to bid on the vanilla crops.  (Vanilla is another story — the secretive trade and bidding wars and globetrotting adventures that revolve around a tiny white orchid are fascinating.)  In any case, back in the 1980s New Coke was introduced.  No one liked it.  So, a few months later they went back to the old formula — re-introduced and re-labelled as Classic Coke.  The story goes that the Coke folks wanted to save money by eliminating vanilla as a flavoring, since the price and availability of vanilla can fluctuate dramatically.  Coke came out with the new drink and got rid of their stockpiles of vanilla, but…no one liked New Coke.  The company was forced to then buy back the vanilla at a wildly inflated price, go back to the original recipe, and give it a new name.  And so it goes.  May be true; maybe not.

And there are other stories, other issues dealing with the sugar industry, globalization, health concerns…


Check out the Smithsonian article to read why “The Story of Mexican Coke is a Lot More Complex than Hipsters Would Like to Admit”





Posted by: ktzefr | September 11, 2015

Words that Dance


Sometimes when I’m reading a passage the words dance right off the page and into my heart.  At other times, I may read pages and pages or even entire books without having this happen at all.  When it does I’m grateful.  It’s the reason I read.  It may be a description of a place I’ve never been or a place I love.  A bit of conversation.  A few words of wisdom often passed along by the author in the guise of a wild or lovable or eccentric character.  So, my favorite books are full of dogeared pages and underlines and stars and sticky notes.  I selected a few at random from my shelves, checked out the sticky notes, and found the words that had first “danced” off the page…

The following is from the poem “Ithaka” by Constantine P. Cavafy.  Selected by the Brazilian film director Walter Salles for inclusion in the anthology, Poems That Make Grown Men Cry: 100 Men On the Words that Move Them, edited by Anthony and Ben Holden.  It’s always good to be reminded that the journey is at least as important as the destination.

“Keep Ithaka always in your mind.

Arriving there is what you are destined for.

But do not hurry the journey at all,

Better if it lasts for years,

so you are old by the time you reach the island,

wealthy with all you have gained on the way,

not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.”



These two short passages are from Euphoria by Lily King, a novel inspired by the events in the life of the anthropologist Margaret Mead.  The first quote is a lovely image from Papua New Guinea and the second is something to consider when we think we have all the answers.

“We passed through a long swath of fireflies, thousands of them flashing all around us, and it felt like soaring through stars.”


“What’s the point of anyone’s search for answers?  The truth you find will always be replaced by someone else’s.  Someday even Darwin will look like a quaint Ptolemy who saw what he could see but no more.”


The Old Gringo, a novel by Carlos Fuentes, loosely based on the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the journalist Ambrose Bierce, has been called “a dazzling novel” and “a perfect little gemstone” with the “fierce magic of a remembered dream.”  It was easy to flip through this book and find my underlines.  Here are two:

“…a journey is painful for the one who has to remain behind, but more beautiful than it can ever be for the traveler.”


“There are people whose external reality is generous because it is transparent, because you can read everything, accept everything, understand everything about them: people who carry their own sun with them.”


I pick up Billy Collins when I leave for an appointment or a trip or when I have only a few minutes for a cup of tea before I have to do some chore.  His slim collections of poetry on my bookshelf are full of colorful sticky notes to mark my favorites.  These words are from a poem titled, “A Question About Birds” in the collection, Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems.

“I am going to sit on a rock near some water

or on a slope of grass

under a high ceiling of white clouds,

and I am going to stop talking

so I can wander around in that spot…


through a forest of speckled sunlight…


and listen to the songs of birds.”


There’s a special place on my bookshelf, too, for Paulo Coelho.  When I started reading Manuscript Found in Accra I decided not to underline or draw stars or fold over corners of pages.  I would have ruined the book as there are so many little bits of wisdom scattered throughout.  Instead, I kept a notebook.  It was tough to make a decision, but here are a few…

“Scars speak more loudly than the sword that caused them.”


“Do one thing: Live the life you always wanted to live….  The angels say: Now!”


“…to those who believe that adventures are dangerous, I say, try routine; that kills you far more quickly.”


“It is the imperfect that astonishes and attracts us…. A sunset is always more beautiful when it is covered with irregularly shaped clouds because only then can it reflect the many colors out of which dreams and poetry are made.”


“Time and life have given me plenty of logical explanations for everything, but my soul feeds on mysteries.”


Every now and then I take down Cynthia Ozicks’s Metaphor and Memory, open a page — any page — and read with satisfaction.  A few days ago I read, again, “The Shock of Teapots,” a lovely essay about the nature of travel.  It’s still relevant more than two decades after publication. 

“Travel returns us in just this way to sharpness of notice…what we remember from childhood we remember forever — permanent ghosts, stamped, imprinted, eternally seen. Travelers regain this ghost-seizing brightness, eeriness, firstness.”


“Nothing shakes the heart so much as meeting — far, far away — what you last met at home…a battered old stoop or the shape of a door appears beautiful…”


I had never read José Saramago until this past weekend.  I bought this tiny book, The Tale of the Unknown Island, at a used book sale a few years back.  It’s been sitting on my shelf.  It took less than an hour to read.  José Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.  The “creative punctuation” took a bit of getting used to, but the words were clear…

“My belief was that, with sailing, there are only two true teachers, one is the sea and the other the boat, And the sky, you’re forgetting the sky, Yes, of course, the sky, The winds, The clouds, The sky, Yes, the sky.”


“If you don’t step outside yourself, you’ll never discover who you are.”


“…this is the way fate usually treats us, it’s there right behind us, it has already reached out a hand to touch us on the shoulder while we’re still muttering to ourselves, It’s all over, that’s it, who cares anyhow.”


Have a great weekend…step outside yourself, hold on to words that dance, embrace the mysteries!







Posted by: ktzefr | September 4, 2015

Favorite Friday Foto…

Hitching a ride on the Potomac…

Duck on a raft on the river; Photo:KFawcett

Duck on a raft on the river; Photo:KFawcett

Posted by: ktzefr | August 31, 2015

Around the World in a Teacup: history, legends, and lies


Tea has been around for nearly 5,000 years.  It all began in China…

According to legend, tea was discovered by the Emperor Shen Nung, a scholar and herbalist who drank boiled water for his health.  One day when he was resting beneath a wild tea tree a breeze stirred the branches and caused a few leaves to fall into his simmering water.  He found the resulting brew much more revitalizing than plain boiled water.

Japan…Sometime around A.D. 800 a Japanese monk who was studying in China returned home with tea seeds to plant on the grounds of his monastery.  Later, when he served this tea to Emperor Saga, the emperor ordered tea cultivation established in Japan.  (It just takes a cup to get hooked.)  The Japanese quickly turned tea drinking into ceremony involving a precise pattern of behavior designed to create a “quiet interlude” during the day for spiritual refreshment and attaining harmony with the universe.  Okakura Kakuzo wrote in 1906, “Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence.”  (I agree — a cup of tea, a chunk of chocolate, and a “quiet interlude” to watch the goldfinch come to the thistle feeder.)

Europe…No one knows for sure whether it was the Dutch or the Portuguese who brought the first tea ashore, but it was early in the seventeenth century.  Supplies were then re-exported to Italy, France, and Germany.  The real tea lovers, however, were the Russians and the Brits.

The first tea came to Russia as a gift from the Chinese to Tsar Alexis.  Soon, hundreds of camels were trekking to the border at Usk Kayakhta, laden with furs to exchange for tea.  The journey from Chinese grower to Russian consumer could take up to a year and a half, and by the 1800s Russians were drinking more than 6,000 camel loads of tea every year.  With the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway, however, the transport time was reduced to just over a week!

In England tea was first advertised as a cure for every known ailment.  Thomas Garraway, a merchant in London, was one of the first to offer the sell of tea by auction.  He wrote that tea “maketh the body active and lusty…it vanquisheth heavy dreams, easeth the brain and strengtheneth the memory, it overcometh superflous sleep…”  I admit that, on occasion, I have imbibed in a spot of tea to overcometh superflous sleep because I needed to keepeth going.

The British went nuts over tea and the country was soon paying exorbitant prices for it, since China had no interest in trading for cotton, the only export England had to offer.  Opium came to the rescue.  The Chinese craved it and the British East India Company started growing it in Bengal.  The Brits, via merchants in Calcutta, sold it to China for silver.  Then they used the same silver to pay the Chinese for tea.  Opium was illegal in China and there were severe penalties, but the trade continued until a Chinese official named Lin Zexu confiscated 20,000 chests of it and stacked it on the beach in Canton to let the waves wash it out to sea.  A year later, Britain declared war on China and China retaliated by placing an embargo on tea. By then, however, the Brits had found several areas in India and Ceylon where they could cultivate tea.   

Ceylon…The main crop had been coffee, but the coffee rust fungus killed the majority of plants and estate owners had to grow some other crop in order to avoid ruin.  A Scotsman named James Taylor arrived in Ceylon in the mid 1800s and was put in charge of sowing the first tea seeds.  He quickly acquired some basic knowledge of tea cultivation, used his own bungalow as the factory, and rolled the leaves by hand.  The tea was deemed delicious, and Taylor soon had a fully equipped factory. 

By the late 1800s Ceylon had become a major British tea-producing area.  The country  changed its name to Sri Lanka; the tea did not.  Today, high-grown Ceylon teas have a beautiful golden liquor and intense flavor.  (I’m lucky to have a Sri Lankan friend who brings me bags of the real deal when she goes home for holiday.  In addition to the whole leaves, a popular local drink uses tea “dust” that is made by crushing the leaves into a powder.  Tea made with dust is generally boiled the last few minutes with milk, similar to the Indian masala tea.   In general, I would never add milk to tea, but good Indian masala made with milk and cardamon is a treat.)

India… the Brahmaputra Valley is the largest black tea-producing region of the world.  It borders China, Burma, and Bangladesh and gets very high rainfall and soaring temperatures, creating an enormous natural greenhouse for producing some of the finest varieties of tea in the world (First Flush Assam, Second Flush Assam, as well as greens and blends).

My personal favorite Indian tea, however, is darjeeling.  On a clear day, at 6,000 feet above sea level, these tea pickers can see Mount Everest in the distance.  Thousands of acres of tea bushes produce the best darjeelings, often referred to as the “Champagne” of teas.  No sugar, honey, lemon, or milk with this tea.  It’s naturally infused with a wonderful floral scent.

Viet Nam…The scent of tea has always been important to tea drinkers.  During the Nguyen dynasty (mid 1800s), King Tu Duc was known for drinking lotus-scented tea.  On the day before his morning tea, he had workers row to a lotus growing lake and place a small handful of tea leaves into each lotus flower blossom and then bind the petals.  The tea would dry overnight and absorb the scent of the flowers.  The next morning it would be picked and brought to the king for his morning tea.  Nowadays, the methods for infusing tea with lotus blossoms are a bit more modern.

Africa…Several countries in Africa grow tea. Cameroon’s first bushes were planted on the slopes of an active volcano.  The Kenyan highlands produce some of the highest quality of tea in Africa.  German settlers planted the first tea in Tanzania.  And, in South Africa, locals drink 10 billion cups of tea each year.  Zulu tea from this area has become popular in Europe and the US. 

Mexico…Countries south of the border are not known for growing tea, but indigenous people served herbal tea for centuries before the Spaniards arrived.  Some varieties are purported to have medicinal benefits.  A few, however, can be toxic in large doses.  My favorite (safe to drink in any quantity) is flor de Jamaica.  Every Mexican market has these dried hibiscus flowers that make a refreshing herbal iced tea or agua fresca.  It’s deep red in color with a sweet-tart flavor, high in Vitamin C, caffeine free, and sold in many restaurants and by street vendors.  It’s best served very cold with a lot of ice.  Also, an herbal tea that I’ve enjoyed in Mexico in private homes (don’t know if it’s sold in markets) is tea brewed from the leaves of the lime trees that grow in many home gardens.

In other Latin American countries the most popular tea drink is yerba mate, an herbal variety from the mint family. 

 The U.S. —  When tea came to the colonies New York City became a tea drinker’s haven.  Quality drinking water was not always available back then, so special water pumps were installed around Manhatten.  Tea gardens became popular and tea was drunk in the same elegant fashion as in England with expensive silverware and porcelain — symbols of wealth and social status.  Families with no money, however, still drank tea as this represented breeding and good manners.  A pot was kept on the stove all day for family and visitors.  Some folks enjoyed the scented green teas from China, but the Quakers drank theirs with salt and butter!

The Boston Tea Party ended America’s teatime.  When British troops arrived and the War of Independence began, The U.S. became a coffee-drinking country.

And so it goes…





Posted by: ktzefr | August 12, 2015

Words…and the trouble they get into

Birds, Mayan Textile; Photo:KFawcett

Birds, Mayan Textile; Photo:KFawcett

I was reading poetry this morning in Spanish, side by side with the English version, and thinking about the images lost in translation.  Sometimes the translations on Facebook and other online forums are almost silly, in addition to being incorrect.  And I can imagine all sorts of misunderstandings as a result.

In any case, it’s the beauty of the Spanish language that is often lost in translation.  Even when the English is correct, i.e. the meaning is accurate, the image may not be as…pretty as it is in the original.

Consider these…

“…dentro de cada palabra existe una sonrisa”  Translated: “…inside every word there can be kindness.”

The meaning is okay, as translated, but isn’t the Spanish, “…inside every word exists a smile” prettier?


“…por los caminos olvidados de California” Translated: “…through the backroads of California.”

Of course, we call them backroads, but think of the different image for olvidados when it’s more specific — forgotten/left behind“What the heck is a forgotten road?” someone may ask, but a poet knows.  


“…de sus labios brotaban palabras melodiosas”  Translated: “…rhyming words would pour out of her mouth”

I suppose if the English version said “from her lips sprouted melodious words” it would sound a bit awkward.  But…words can be melodious without rhyming.  And sprouted?  I like it.  I image tiny seeds in the mind that become sturdy sprouts before they’re spit out. 

Oh well, when you read the English translation of a Spanish book, just remember that chances are it’s a whole lot prettier in Spanish.

So, I’m not a poet, but I like to play with…


I am a collector of words.

I pick them up from one page

and pluck them down in a new spot

to see where they take me.


Words do not sit still. They walk and run,

Skip and hop, fall and fly. They bounce.

They fling themselves from one place to the next.

They can dive and splash or soar above our heads.

They leap, but sometimes not too high.

They can be cautious, too.


Words are time travelers.

They can go from here to there,

And from there to here,

On a moment’s notice.


One word can jog a memory.


Words are not like people; they mean

What they say.


And they don’t care whether

you like them or not.


Some words are weak; some are strong.

Sometimes one is better than another.


It’s no secret that some words act like they’re alive!

They can run amok and cause great harm.

But the right word at the right time can also heal.


Words can change the world…

But only if they’ve been picked up

And plucked back down

In the right places.



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