Who am I?

Who am I? Leah Larkin. Carol Larkin. Leah Koester. Leah Kulton Koester. Leah Carol Koester. Carol Koester.

I have been all. It’s a crazy, complicated tale. Read on.


If not interested in my name saga, scroll down for photos of my neighborhood in southern France.


The press interviewing the press, Leah Koester, at my recent naturalization ceremony.

Ever since my first marriage to Dennis Larkin, ions ago, I have been Leah Larkin. No more – at least not in France where I am now a citizen and Leah Koester. I am, however, still an American citizen, and still Leah Larkin for US purposes.

At the time I married Dennis, I was embarking on my career as a journalist. My first job as a reporter was at the Louisville Courier-Journal. Up until then, I had gone by my middle name, Carol. Carol Koester (my maiden name) became Carol Larkin. My boss at the newspaper was Carol. There was another “Carol” reporter. And, I now had a sister-in-law, also called Carol Larkin. Too many Carols.

Leah Larkin, Courier-Journal reporter.

Carol Sutton, my boss at the C-J declared, “You will be Leah Larkin.” Not a bad byline. I liked it.

Once during a telephone interview, after introducing myself as “Leah Larkin,” my interview subject responded: “Give me a break, lady. Why not tell me you are Lois Lane.”

At the time of my divorce from Dennis, I asked for nothing, just his name. He was happy to oblige. When I married Bob Kulton, I did not become Leah Kulton. I remained Leah Larkin. It is the official name on my US passport, with Social Security, on all credit cards, membership cards etc.

Married Bob Kulton, but remained Leah Larkin

We moved from Germany to France 14 years ago. No name problems in Germany since all documents were through the US military. I was Leah Larkin at the newspaper Stars and Stripes where I worked, and Leah Larkin  on the initial French documents – residency permit, health insurance card etc. But then, I decided to apply for citizenship. Little did I know what lies ahead.

Lots of paperwork and patience required. I persisted,  and after several years, it worked. I got a letter – you are French. However, more time and paperwork before I could get the official documents, a French passport and ID card. That is when the Merde  hit the fan.

Stars and Stripes reporter Leah Larkin interviewing Vidal Sasson – long. long ago..

My name is Leah Larkin. I assumed I could continue to be Leah Larkin. Wrong. In France a woman is legally known by her maiden name all her life. She can have a second name, “nom d’usage,” (user name), but it cannot be any name. It must be the name of her current spouse. It is illegal to use the name of a previous spouse. Now I had a French passport and French ID card with the name “Leah Koester,” and “nom d’usage, Kulton.”

How will anyone know that Leah Larkin and Leah Koester are the same person? I was worried. This looks suspicious. I could be a spy, a terrorist.

If I go to use a credit card, or carry out a transaction at the French bank where I am still Leah Larkin, and then I show a French ID card with the name Leah Koester, problems could arise. I envisioned other scenarios where this could be a catastrophe.

Why couldn’t I get a legal document certifying that Leah Larkin and Leah Koester are one and the same, that I am not a spy, nor a terrorist? I checked with a lawyer. No way.

The only path to legally be Leah Larkin in France requires hiring a lawyer and going to court. My identity fate would be up to a judge. I envision hefty legal fees, lots and lots more paperwork, and then perhaps the judge would not rule in my favor. And, if he did, yet again  more paperwork to apply for a new passport and ID card.

Just getting this far has required  ample time and energy. I am burned out. I am happy to have dual citizenship. I will live with dual identity. Maybe it could be an advantage. Am I too old to become a spy? How about heading to Russia to get the real dirt on you know who?

Leah Carol Koester singing in the rain.

Name confusion and change started in my childhood. My mother insisted I be called “Leah Carol.” Double names were the thing back then. In the 8thgrade, a boy said I had queer name. He made fun of it. That was a different era – what boys thought was important. I went home, crying to my mother. We can fix that, she said. You can be “Carol.” Throughout high school and university and Peace Corps, I was Carol Koester. Some folks who knew me back then still call me Carol, including one of my three brothers.

Confused?  Me too.

Carol Koester, second from left, at Northwestern University with fellow members of our dorm French corridor where we were all supposed to speak French at all times. Whoever thought I would become French?

 

 

For the record, Leah Larkin and Leah Koester are one and the same. Leah Koester is proud and honored to be French. Leah Larkin would be even prouder.

Scroll down to see photos of Leah Larkin’s — no, Leah Koester’s –new neighborhood on the Riviera.

Beach at Roquebrune Cap Martin — before the tourist season.
Back in the Luberon, I photographed lavender. Here it is bougainvillea. Both are exquisite.
Bust of Le Corbusier along the seaside trail named for the architect.
Mt. view from our apartment.

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Ravishing Rajasthan

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I was draped in shimmering scarves. A colorful turban perched atop Bob’s head. We boarded an oxcart, sat regally on pillows, and set off, bumping along a dusty road, en route to “ a mesmerizing, surreal dinner.”

Soon it would be dark, but it was still light enough to admire distant mountains, lonely cows foraging for food and the occasional villager checking on his sheep. We were headed to a 16th century step well  in the hills surrounding Rawla Narlai, an ancient hunting manor turned hotel/resort deep in Rajasthan, India. 

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Kitsch? A gimmick for tourists? Of course, but it was fun

Step wells are just that – subterranean Indian architectural structures, wells accessed by a series of steps down to a pool of water.

Dinner at the edge of this ancient well was good, but it was the ambience that deserves the stars.  Magic and mystical.  Seven hundred oil lamps flickered all around the deep hole. Hypnotic sounds echoed from the eerie darkness. Costumed waiters mysteriously appeared offering us all manner of delicacies on silver trays.

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Jain temple in Narlai

OK. It is all very touristy and not the kind of experience we usually opt for during our travels. But, we were the only tourists. Just us, the waiters, and a few musicians in the midst of this wild and weird setting. When there are more participants (almost always), more entertainment accompanies the spectacle. We had it all to ourselves, and it was indeed “mesmerizing,”as promised in the literature.

Not many tourists visit Rajasthan, India’s best-loved region, in May when temperatures reach 45 C°, (113 F°) – even above. But, after attending Alok and Ankita’s April 2018 Wedding (see previous post June 21, 2018), we wanted to see more of India. It was hot, very hot, but we survived. We did all on the itinerary except the ride on the legendary Kipling Train, “only 3rdclass.” We were told the train was not running, but I suspect the tour operator felt two old geezers would likely succumb on the two-hour “rudimentary” journey in that heat. He may have been right.

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Ranakpur, a 15th century Jain temple

It was a disappointment, but we feasted on so much during our fascinating Rajasthan journey — and I do not mean food. There was plenty of that, but, for the most part, a bit too fiery for us. Palaces, temples, forts, gardens, crafts, folk art, bustling cities, varied landscape — Rajasthan has all.

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A trek to the top is a “must” for Narlai visitors.  We passed — too hot.

The idyllic “holy” village of Narlai sits at the base of an imposing rock hill topped with a colossal elephant statue. We, and an Indian family, were the only guests at Rawla, our 32-room abode that originally belonged the King of Jodhpur and served as a retreat for the royal family.

We followed a hotel employee for a guided village walk, were invited inside a few houses, and marveled at a newly reconstructed Jain temple. We witnessed the daily religious fire ceremony.

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Jainism is an ancient Indian religion which preaches non-injury to living creatures and re-incarnation. Many Jains from Narlai, as well as Hindis, have gone off to work in big cities, but own property in the village and contribute generously to its temples (300 in the village of 10,000).

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Narlai villager

For me the crème de la crème of the Indian trip waited up in the  hills – a sighting of the secretive and seldom-seen leopard. See previous post: “India’s Big Cats.”IMG_3175

Narlai may not be on the average Rajasthan itinerary for foreigners.   Our “morning walk through the pink city,” offered by the Samode Haveli in Jaipur was also off the beaten tourist track. This, like the other hotels where we stayed in Rajasthan, is a heritage hotel, a lavish palace still owned by maharajas but converted into a hotel.

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Sweeping the streets in Jaipur.

We left the hotel at 6 a.m. and followed the hotel manager to places not on the tourist circuit . Most guided tours offer nothing “out of the box,” he said, so the hotel came up with this tour to show visitors more of Jaipur than the city’s top sights, the Amber Fort and city palace museum.

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Jaipur market

We visited the market, stopped for tastings of street food specials, and we learned, about garbage collection, street sweepers, religion and more.

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Palace of the Winds, Jaipur

Hindis believe that all living things have souls and cannot be killed. As an animal lover, I am intrigued with the sacred, ubiquitous cows, stray dogs, and monkeys. The cows that wander freely everywhere usually belong to someone, he said.

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Holy cow

The owners tie up the calves and let the mothers roam, knowing they will come back to their babies. The dogs, he said, usually have homes of sort too. “Everyone makes so much food so they give leftovers to the dogs.” The dogs return and “guard the house.” Beware of monkeys. We noticed a group of the rascals on our walk. “That one is especially bad,” he said, pointing to the “dominant male…. He sends his troops out to scout houses. If the coast is clear, they return and raid the place. They know how to open refrigerators. They are very intelligent.”

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It takes know-how to wrap 15 meters of cloth around your head.

Visiting Rajasthan’s magnificent palaces and forts is impressive, awesome.   We also especially enjoyed a visit to a tiny enclave of Bishnoi, a tribe known for love of wild animals. The tribal leader, a jovial character, showed us how he wraps 15 meters of cloth around his head to form his turban. He insisted we taste Bhang, a very potent brew which “can make you crazy.” Alcohol is supposedly forbidden, but “Lord Shiva likes Bhang so much we offer it to him,” – and have a healthy shot in the process.

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Rajasthan is all about color: vibrant saris wrapped around women; towering vivid, turbans crowning men’s heads; markets bursting with colorful vegetables, fabric and jewelry. Even towns are associated with color, Jaipur, “the pink city;” and Jodhpur, “the blue town.”

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Jodhpur, the blue town, seen from the town’s Majestic Fort which has been enlarged over the years.  The original fort was built in 1459.

“A picture is worth a thousand words” Enough of my words. Scroll down for more picture highlights of Rajasthan.

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Sahelion Ki Bari, Garden of the Maid’s Honor at Udaipur

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Lakeside Udaipur
Jain temple at Ranakpur has 29 halls and 1,444 pillars all distinctly carved.
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Fateh Prakash Palace, Udaipur, now a hotel where we stayed..
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Marigolds are offered to Hindu gods.

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Pool at Samode Haveli, Jaipur

Our fascinating 11-day tour of Rajasthan was organized by Wild Frontiers.  Accommodations in the gorgeous maharaja palace hotels were fabulous. www.wildfrontiers.co.uk

By popular request following a Facebook photo, Today’s Taste features a decadent and delicious recipe. Click on photo above right for details.

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Sri Lanka: Reflections

 

The World Weeps,” I wrote last week in the aftermath of the horrific fire and destruction of Notre Dame cathedral. However, as many have pointed out, “that is just a building.” It lives. It will be restored. Most importantly, no one perished in the flames.

The Easter Sunday massacre in Sri Lanka wiped out the lives of 253 innocent victims. Families in church worshiping on this holy day. Vacationers having breakfast in hotels. All ages. All walks of life. For them, there is no tomorrow.

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Sri Lankans at a holy site.

Is the world weeping? Are we becoming somewhat numbed to these dreadful acts of terror which destroy lives and much more? Does the dramatic plunge of the burning spire of Notre Dame have a greater impact than bombs ripping through a church filled with the faithful? It seems harsh, but I have to wonder.

A British gentleman I met at a luncheon mentioned Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. The British press did not make a big deal of it, he said, as “it was a small country, far away.” So, too, is Sri Lanka.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Of course, we are shocked with the savage attacks in the country. We are saddened to learn the heartbreaking stories of the victims. In March, brutal attacks at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, claimed 50 lives. We worry.  Where will they strike next?

Terrorism, be it in the U.S, France, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, wherever, has claimed too many lives, scarred survivors, ruined the way of life for many. It is frightening to think that these attacks, as in Sri Lanka, have become part of life these days.

France’s billionaires are rescuing Notre Dame. Who will rescue Sri Lanka? I grieve for the country

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Nimal

when I think back on two enriching weeks spent there in 2017. I was impressed with the friendly, hard working people: Nimal, our guide and driver; Iran, a gifted cooking teacher; the jovial market vendors, the helpful hotel staff. Are they OK? What is their future?

Tourism has been Sri Lanka’s salvation. The country’s bloody 30-year civil war, which ended in 2009, kept visitors away. Gradually tourism revived as more and more discovered the astonishing sights of this island nation in the Indian Ocean. Not much bigger than Wales, Sri Lanka packs a lot into a small area: glorious beaches, ancient temples, hillside tea plantations, wildlife sanctuaries, rain forested peaks. Will the fear of more terror prevent tourists from discovering these treasures?

Tourists brought jobs and opportunities. Nimal, our excellent driver/guide, was building up a

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Chef Iran

clientele whom he chauffeured around the county. With Nimal’s encouragement, Iran, an excellent cook, had begun to offer cooking lessons in his home. More hotels were under construction, all promising more jobs. What now?

It is all troubling and tragic.  Yet, I was relieved to receive emails from Iran, the delightful cooking teacher, and Nimal, our Sri Lankan driver/mentor. Iran wrote: “We hope every bad has happen not to be repeat any where in this world. We all safe but tourism will badly suffer as our bookings are getting cancelled. Thank you and keep in touch. As a journalist you can help us lot.”

And from Nimal: “Its really unexpected tragedy and don’t know what to say.  Its bad luck for us. Tourism was good and world start to come and see our country,”  he wrote.  “We believe things will get settle soon and people will be able to go ahead with their normal life.”

Let us hope is is right.

Below are photos of Sri Lanka’s friendly folk:

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For more on Sri Lanka, see previous posts: Wonders of Sri Lanka; Sri Lanka:Wondrous Wildlife and Spicy Sri Lanka

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The World Weeps

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Words fail to convey the horror and sadness.  Thinking of your recent trip to Paris, I wonder if you might have more photos to share.”

I received this email today from my friend Bev in Chicago. I had not planned on posting these photos. They are not great. But, they do convey a bit of the beauty, the grandeur and majesty of this gothic treasure. Like so many around the world, I watched in disbelief as this precious edifice was engulfed in flames. It was frightening to see how fast and furiously the fire wreaked destruction on Paris’ iconic monument.

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Bob and I were fortunate to visit Notre Dame just a few weeks ago. To me, Notre Dame is Paris: old, beautiful, elegant with a rich historic past. Way back to my student days in France and my first visit to Paris, it was this cathedral which mesmerized me. I was awestruck by the astonishing gothic architecture, the mystifying ambience inside the church.

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I have been to Paris many times over the years. I always make it a point to at least walk by and around Notre Dame. When lines are not too long, I go inside where I am always overwhelmed, inspired, soothed.

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A French TV commentator said, “Notre Dame will never be the same.” Perhaps not, but fortunately the structure has survived. It will be saved. French President Emmanuel Macron has promised that Notre Dame will be rebuilt. Millions in donations are pouring in for the costly restoration.

Vive la France. Vive Notre Dame

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Celebrate Easter and Notre Dame’s survival (a miracle so much survived)   with this delicious lamb recipe (above right).  Happy Easter.

Paris Visit: Random thoughts

 

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We visited my very favorite city last week. It was basically a business trip to see an American/French lawyer on wills – very important.

The trip got off to a rocky start. I lost my iPhone. I realized the loss while still in the airport, before boarding our RER train to Paris. Panic of course. On the train I had the bright idea to call the phone. I was shocked. Someone answered – lost and found at terminal 2D. They had my phone. It would have been too time consuming and complicated to reverse course and go back to the airport. I would have to wait to recover it two days later en route back home.

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Day 1: no sun

We would have to do Paris without an iPhone, without GPS, without the phone camera. But, at least the phone lived, and I had my Olympus.

From the airport, the RER took us directly to Châtelet, very near where I had booked an airbnb apartment. Châtelet is a major transportation hub in the city. For me, it’s the dreaded metro stop where you too often need to change lines and walk for kilometers underground. Since our visit was short, just 2 ½ days, I was determined not to spend half the time in those depressing underground passages: A Paris visit without the metro. I almost succeeded. We did take the metro once to see a movie, “The Green Book,” which we loved.

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Pompidou Center

We walked and walked, the very best way to experience Paris. The first day of our visit was gray and grim, but the sun came out on day 2. At popular attractions, such as Louvre and at the Pompidou Center, there were long lines. However, there were no lines at Notre Dame, which I had not entered in years, nor at La Chapelle. Notre Dame was dark and intriguing. I tired capturing the mystical ambience with the Olympus, but I fear my limited skills were not up to the task.

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Interior Notre Dame

On the short walk to our apartment, we passed a frequent shopping stop from bygone days: E. Dehillerin. In my younger days, inspired by Julia Child, I was heavy into gourmet cooking. Over the years I spent big bucks on shiny copper pots purchased there. They graced the kitchen walls in our house, but had to go when we moved. I was very pleased that their new owner, the professional chef who purchased our house, will put them to good use.

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Some folks go to Paris to buy chic clothes.  I spent my money here on pots and pans.

The old world interior of the 19thcentury store with wooden plank floors and tall, tall open shelves filled to the brim with all manner of kitchen paraphernalia is still the same. The neighborhood, which used to be on the rundown side, is now upmarket spiffy.

But, so is much of Paris – far different than the way I remember the city on my very first visit, long, long ago as a student. That’s another story…

A more recent change: E-scooters everywhere. There are rental depots throughout the city. We felt safer on foot.

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The phone…Fortunately we allowed extra time for the rescue task on the way home. There was no lost and found in terminal 2D. We were directed to Easy Jet customer service in terminal 2D – not easy to find. They had had the phone, but since it was not claimed within 24 hours it had been sent to terminal 2A. I think we walked more in Charles de Gaulle airport than all of Paris. Once we finally reached 2A, we had to find the right place. Another challenge. But, we conquered. The iPhone is home with me.

It is good to have, of course.  But, you can survive without the phone, without GPS. Remember maps?  I used mine in Paris.

Although I was not lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young woman, I did visit. It has stayed with me.  Yes, it is a “moveable feast.”

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Lunch in Paris with former Stars and Stripes colleague Leonard Hill, right, and Claudine (not in photo, sorry Claudine)is a Paris must and always fun.

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