March for Our Lives

“Nothing can stand in the way of millions of voices calling for change” — Barack Obama’s tweet to march participants.

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Aix-en-Provence

Around the world they marched, from Washington D.C.to Berlin, from Los Angeles to New York, from Atlanta to Aix-en-Provence, France, where we marched — some 800 marches, including 10 in France.

All spearheaded by those courageous, determined students from Parkland, Fla.,  where the latest of too-many senseless gun massacres claimed 17 lives.  Since 1999, nearly 200 have died from gunfire at U.S. schools. More than 187,000 students in the U.S. have lived through school shootings since the Columbine school tragedy in Colorado in 1999.

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The slaughter is not limited to schools:  Mass shootings in churches, night clubs, concert venues, shopping centers.  Shootings in the streets, in homes.  The US has six times as many firearms homicides as Canada, and 16 times as many as Germany. Shootings are a daily occurrence in the U.S. where 20 children are shot on an average day.  In 2016, there were 38,000 deaths from gunshots.

Yet nothing changes.  Guns are easily obtained, even assault weapons.  Weak, spineless politicians are owned by the National Rifle Association whose coffers are enriched by the sale of guns.  The NRA advocates even more guns as a means of protection – truly insane.

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“Hey.  Hey.  Ho. Ho.  The NRA has got to go,” chanted marchers.

President Trump did not attend any of the rallies, including the one in Florida near his Mar-A-Largo resort where he spent the weekend, no doubt on the golf course.  His $1.3 trillion spending bill just signed took no significant new steps on gun control.

nra.17ENOUGH, say the students.  “Welcome to the Revolution.”  This time will be different.  They will not be silenced.  “Either represent the people or get out.  Stand for us or beware.  The voters are coming,”  Cameron Kasky, a student from Parkland, told the packed crowd on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.nra.12

Those of us who marched in Aix  (some 100 give or take)  were invigorated, inspired and hopeful for change thanks to  teens like Cameron.  We are not young (for the most part), yet we are concerned about this gun insanity that is tearing our country apart, that is killing our children and grandchildren.  We, too, want change.

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A speaker urged us to register to vote, to encourage others to do the same, to write our representatives.  The momentum must not die.

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We were joined by a few French citizens.  Two young people told me that they only see this on television.  “This is real.  This is from the heart.”  They were impressed.nra.15

“This is what democracy is all about,” we chanted as we marched, joining the “millions of voices calling for change.”

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Coming soon, Egypt Part I, Drifting down the Nile.  Don’t miss it.

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U.S.A. – Summer 2015

blog.32Chicago is definitely my kind of town. My visit to this dynamic city where I studied and worked for several years long ago was, for me, a highlight of our recent U.S. voyage. Husband Bob (Bicycle Bob/Vino Roberto) and I also enjoyed visits with friends and family in Virginia and New York City, attended a reunion in Maryland, shopped, ate good food — and had a grand time.

Bev in her garden.
Bev in her garden.

A former college roommate, Beverly, was my guide extraordinaire in the Windy City. Bev and I, both French majors, roomed together in the French corridor of a dorm in our senior year at Northwestern University in Evanston just north of the city. We were supposed to speak only French. (I think we broke that rule.) Bev went on to get a PhD in French, taught at Yale, but eventually moved back to Chicago. She lives in Lincoln Park, not far from where I lived when I worked in the city, and now works part time as a Chicago guide, giving tours in French. She knows – and loves – the city, and gave me an outstanding tour – in English.

So much has changed, and it’s all overwhelming, fabulous. Chicago, the third largest city in the U.S., has always been known for its bold architecture. The first skyscraper was erected in the city in 1885. Today its sky is the background for a blog.22myriad of innovative and beautiful tall buildings, including the Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower and the second tallest building in the U.S. With 105 buildings at least 500 feet (152 m) tall, Chicago is said to have the tallest skyline in the country and the third-tallest in the world. A great way to see these buildings, and learn more about the city’s architectural history, is the architecture tour by boat on the Chicago River.   As our boat wended its way past one magnificent building after another, Bev’s friend and exuberant guide Judith provided fascinating commentary.

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Bev drove me through Hyde Park and parts of south Chicago, regions of the city I had never explored. I wanted to take a photo of Obama’s house, but there is not much to see. It is hidden behind lots of trees and bushes, and there are security barricades all around, as well as guards. We stopped at Frank Lloyd blog.robieWright’s Robie House, built in his Prairie style between 1908 and 1910 and now a National Historic Landmark. We stopped at another National Historic Landmark, a Henry Moore sculpture on the University of Chicago campus marking the site of the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction on Dec. 2, 1942.blog.moore

That’s what brought Bev’s late father, Ralph Livingston, a post-doc in physical chemistry, to Chicago. I asked Bev for the details.  “The code name for the research effort of what would become the Manhattan Project was the Metallurgical Laboratory (“MetLab”) and that’s where my dad worked doing experiments on radium, uranium, etc. He was in the “loop” in that he knew that they were working on an atomic bomb; many working on the Manhattan Project did not know the true nature of this “war effort.”

“In July 1945 when the first atomic test blast took place in Nevada, a number of scientists signed a petition addressed to President Truman, NOT to use it on a civilian population.  I have a copy of this petition which has my dad’s signature. Hiroshima was bombed on Aug. 6, 1945; Nagasaki on Aug. 9.”

This explains Bev’s ties to Hyde Park, where she was born, and the University of Chicago, where she did her graduate studies.

Northwestern campus with more construction underway.
Northwestern campus with more construction underway.

She led me on another excursion to the site of our undergraduate studies — Evanston and the Northwestern campus. Progress there is also monumental, with many new buildings, many built on land that was once Lake Michigan. The campus can only expand in the direction of the lake, so more of the lake has been filled to provide needed terrain. We walked by many old buildings which brought back many memories. We found the dorm where we originally met long, long ago.

Millennium Park, a park in the city center like no other city park, is my Chicago favorite, a showcase for state of the art architecture, lush landscaping and outdoor art. It’s fun with some surprising and amazing sights. Cloud Gate,

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commonly known as “The Bean,” is an elliptical sculpture which reflects the skyline and intrigues visitors who walk underneath and all around to take photos, often reflections of themselves.blog.31 Crown Fountain is another winner. Spanish artist Jaume Plensa is the genius behind two 50-foot glass block towers at opposite ends of a reflecting pool. Gigantic faces of Chicago citizens are projected on LED screens on the towers, changing continually, with water flowing from open mouths. You can be mesmerized for hours.

BB bridge leading to the Jay Pritzer Pavilion, right corner.
BB bridge leading to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, right corner.

We walked up the BB Bridge in the park to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a venue for outdoor concerts, both cutting edge architecture designed by Frank Gehry. We had hoped to take in a free concert, but rain drove us away after the first selection. Another day we walked a section of The 606, an elevated trail for hikers and bikers similar to New York’s High Line. It was built on a section of the Bloomingdale rail line no longer in use.blog.21

When I lived in Chicago, I loved the Art Institute, the second-largest art museum in the United States after the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It has expanded, with a new wing designed by Renzo Piano. I did not have time to visit, a reason for a return to Chicago.

Time to join BB/VR in Winchester, Virginia, where he was visiting his son Rob and grandsons Samuel and Lang. I left Bev’s townhouse at 11 a.m. and did not arrive at Dulles Airport outside of Washington, D.C., until 11:30 p.m. that night. I was traveling by air – not car – although a car may have been faster. I spent most of the day in airports or in a plane that never took off. Delays due to bad weather and mechanical problems, I was told. Give me the TGV (France’s fast train) any day!

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Sam, BB and Lang

In Virginia we took the boys on a delightful but short hike in the Virginia State Arboretum, following a trail bordered by grandiose trees. We encountered few others in this peaceful wonderland of nature. It’s another place that merits a return visit.

Campfire at the reunion featuring a guitar player and Somemores
Campfire at the reunion featuring a guitar player and S’mores (roasted gooey marshmallows sandwiched with chocolate between graham crackers– an old Girl Scout favorite.)

Next stop Adamstown, Maryland, where my Peace Corps training group, Brazil 1966-68, was holding a reunion at a camp and retreat center.   Rob and the boys joined us and, when the rain stopped, had fun in the pool. I met old friends, attended some interesting lectures and presentations, including one on the Peace Corps today which, like Brazil, is not the way we knew it 49 years ago.

Mark and moi.
Mark and moi.

En route to the reunion, we made a detour to La Vale, Maryland, the home of German Life, a magazine I write for.   At long last I was able to meet the editor, Mark, in flesh.   Ours has been an email and occasional phone call relationship for at least 12 years. Mark went overboard and treated us all to lunch for making the trip. Thank you, Mark.

Marian on right.
Marian on right.

I left the reunion site for a lunch break to reunite with a high school friend, Marian, who divides her time between residences in Bethesda and Annapolis, Maryland. She filled me in on news of other classmates.

Visits to New York City

Kellie
Kellie

are always superb. There we have the good fortune to stay in step-daughter Kellie’s beautiful apartment in Soho. Kellie had a dinner party one evening so we could meet some of her friends, and see BB’s nephew Joe and his wife Hsinn,

The 9/11 Memorial was a must on our New York agenda. Names of the 2,977 victims of this horrific tragedy are emblazoned on bronze plates attached to parapets of the walls that surround two rectangular pools, one for each tower destroyed in the attack. It is a beautiful, but chilling monument. Looming above the memorial is the new One World Trade Center (Freedom Tower), the tallest building in the U.S. We passed on a visit to the Memorial Museum as the entrance waiting lines were very long.

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No lines at the new Whitney Museum of American Art, an interesting structure with intriguing outdoor spaces, and amazing art. I conquered the subways and went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So much to see, and all terrific. Must go back there, too.

Rooftop terrace at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Rooftop terrace at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

We joined Kellie and a friend for Shakespeare in the Park (Central Park) and a performance of The Tempest. I met Michaela from  Switzerland Tourism for lunch. Thanks to Michaela, I have been on many wonderful press trips to Switzerland.

A closing word on food in the U.S. We have often complained about the high costs of almost everything in France. No more. The dollar’s recent surge has, of course, made things cheaper for us here. We were shocked at some U.S. prices: $14 and up for a glass of wine in NYC; $10 for 2 cups of coffee. Restaurant prices vary, of course, but eating definitely seems cheaper on this side of the Atlantic. In the U.S., a restaurant bill is just the beginning. You need to figure another 20 percent for tip, then a percentage for tax. On the positive side, we found some clothing bargains, and BB came home with a new toy, a MACbook.

A wonderful trip, great to see family and old friends, but it’s good to be home. We just wish this heat wave would end.

For more photos of my U.S. trip, keep scrolling down.

For a super architecture tour of Chicago by boat: Chicago Cruise Line.

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Gardens in Millennium Park.
Gardens in Millennium Park.
No comment.
No comment.
BB, Lang, Sam and Rob enjoy pool at reunion site.
BB, Sam, Lang and Rob enjoy pool at reunion site.
“Through the Looking Glass” at Metropolitan Museum of Art
Kellie's dinner party
Kellie’s dinner party
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Under The Bean.
Under The Bean.
Along the Chicago River
Along the Chicago River
More Chicago
More Chicago
Climb a wall in Millennium Park.
Climb a wall in  Maggie Daley park next to Millennium Park.
Boat harbor on Lake Michigan
Boat harbor on Lake Michigan
Whitney Museum of American Art
Whitney Museum of American Art

Family Fun in the US

Husband Bob’s family (he has eight brothers and sisters) was planning a big family reunion in Ohio this past summer.  Of course, we planned to attend.  What about my family?  Why couldn’t we also have a reunion?  I planted the idea with brother Steve who lives in Boulder, Colorado, a location which seemed the best for such a gathering.

Majestic Colorado scenery

He was not overly enthusiastic, but agreed.  Of course, brother Tom from San Francisco would attend.  Then we sent out word to cousins, many of whom I had not seen since we were children some 40 – 50 years ago.   From Florida, South Dakota, and New Mexico they came, as well as a nephew and his wife from Kentucky.  Unfortunately brother David, his wife Joan and son Dan from Kentucky could not join the party, nonetheless it was a smashing success with 22 in attendance.

Everyone was in awe at the classy cocktail party cousin Sean and his partner Jerry hosted at their gorgeous home in Boulder. Another fun event was a chartered bus ride up in the mountains for dinner at the Gold Hill Inn in a funky old town by the same name.

With Steve and his wife Yoshie and son Tai, some of us visited the Eldorado Canyon outside of Boulder where we watched climbers scale sheer walls of rock – a mind boggling spectacle.  We also toured Boulder and its farmers market.  For many (the Democrats in the group), an exciting bonus was attendance at an Obama speech at the University of Colorado.  Unfortunately it meant standing in line for hours before being admitted to the venue.  My new knee was not up to the wait, so Bob and I drove back into the mountains to the Rocky Mountain National Park.

On to Ohio for another remarkable event.  But first we spent a few days in Winchester, Virginia, where stepson Rob and his two children, Sam, 8, and Lang , 6, live.  Time there for me to do my Ami shopping (everything seems so much cheaper in the U.S.)   I always leave plenty of room in the suitcase for purchases.

Together we drove to Ohio.  We stayed with Bob’s brother, John, and sister-in-law Mickey, who always provide deluxe accommodations in their spacious and beautiful home in Wadsworth.  The reunion festivities got underway with a dinner at a restaurant Friday evening, followed by a slide show of the past.

Cloudy, cool weather did not dampen the enthusiastic ambience for the main event the following day, a catered picnic at a lodge pavilion on the edge of a picturesque lake.  This was a major reunion with some 80 in attendance, many from California.  Some came with photo albums filled with memories.

Brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren, cousins – all ages.  It was amazing, and the pavilion was perfect with an adjacent playground for the kids, and plenty of space for the adults to wander around and chat with those they had not seen in years.  Thanks to diligent internet research, stepdaughter Kellie, who lives in New York City, tracked down some cousins who live in Pennsylvania.  They also came.

A visit to the family house where Bob and his brothers and sisters grew up was especially meaningful for the siblings.  Current residents were not home, but agreed that the family could walk around the property.  They toured the terrain, reminiscing about long gone chicken coops, fruit trees in the orchard, a small house still standing that Bob and his brother John had built.

We spent our last few days in the US in NYC with Kellie at her elegant apartment in Soho.  One can never tire of NYC.

It’s fun, gratifying and simply wonderful to reconnect with the past, to relive old memories, to become reacquainted with childhood companions.  Bravo for reunions!

See the photo album below for more reunion photos, and more of the US.  For a dip with a kick, see the recipe, “Spicy Peanut Dip,”  in the column at right.  If you’d like to read more of my tales and adventures, click on “Email Subscription” at top right of post.  Comments are welcome.  Click “Leave a Reply” 

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Encore America

I’ve  lived in Europe for 35 years – and I love it here. But, it’s always interesting to return to the US. This time (May), was a treat with visits to Michigan for my high school reunion, then New Orleans, New York City, Cape Cod and Boston.

Boston Town Hall

During those first few hours after arrival at the Detroit Airport, I felt I was in culture shock. Our first experience with a “native” was the woman driver of our shuttle van who drove us from the airport to the rental car agency. She helped with our heavy suitcases. She was delightful and chatty, and offered advice on rental car procedures. The woman at the car agency was equally as accommodating, going out of her way to see what discounts she could arrange for us, then giving detailed instructions on how to find our way to our destination. During our travels, we often encountered extra friendly and helpful people like these. It’s rare to find such extra “service with a smile” in Europe.

On the streets of New Orleans

Detroit is car city, so I suppose it’s not unusual to encounter super, super highways – often four lanes in each direction. It all seemed so vast and modern. The buildings along the highways appeared new and sleek. Everything is clean. Our room at a Holiday Inn was another surprise. The room was huge, with a king sized bed, a coffee maker, ironing board and iron, and of course television and Internet. Breakfast, including eggs, was included in the very reasonable price. I guess I’ve lived in Europe too long, but I was in awe of it all.

 It’s a treat to be served water in a glass with ice at restaurants and not have to pay for it. And, coffee refills at no extra charge. The coffee may not be the greatest, but you can drink as much as you want. Shopping is another plus. While in Michigan, we visited the Great Lakes Crossing Mall, Michigan’s largest outlet mall. Mind-boggling.  Twenty-five stores under one roof. I’m not into power shopping, but prices for clothes, shoes, linens and more are usually much less in the U.S. than in Europe. The only problem these days is bringing it back, but we planned ahead and left extra room in our suitcases, and carried the heavier items with us.

It’s not all paradise. Restaurants are often very loud and noisy, the atmosphere less than inviting for lingering over a delicious meal. In the states, you are not supposed to linger. Usually when dessert is served, you are presented with the check and expected to pay and leave promptly. Not pleasant.

 However, reuniting with high school friends after 50 years (I’m old) was more than pleasant. There were only 29 girls in our 1961 graduating class at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in

Class of 1961

Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Four, sadly, are deceased. Fourteen attended the reunion coming from 14 different states and me from France. We had a lovely evening supper at the home of one of my classmates, another evening cocktail party and buffet dinner at the home of one of the women’s amazing 99-year-old mother, then a cocktail party at the school followed by dinner in a restaurant. I am so glad I did not miss the festivities and meaningful visits.

My husband Bob also celebrated a reunion with some of his eight brothers sisters at the home of his sister Kathy who lives in Romeo, Michigan, about an hour from our hotel in Birmingham. Another sister and brother and their spouses drove all the way to Romeo from their homes in Wadsworth, Ohio (a 4-hour one-way trip) to see brother Bob for a day. A great testimonial to family togetherness.

 On to New Orleans – a fabulous place. Details will follow in a future blog. Then New York City where my stepdaughter Kellie lives in Soho. My stepson Rob and two step grandsons came

Rob, Lang, Kellie, Sam, Bob at Bronx Zoo

from Winchester, Va., to spend four days with us there. We took a ride on the Staten Island ferry, visited the Bronx Zoo, walked and walked, ate great burgers, cooked delicious meals in Kellie’s brand new state-of-art kitchen…New York is exhilarating.

 Last stop Cape Cod where Bob’s sister Susan and husband Brian have a beautiful home. Susan was tour guide extraordinaire, driving us all over Cape Cod and Boston. At Provincetown, we joined a whale watching cruise and spotted two whales. We were bowled over by the Cape Cod seafood – delicious lobster, scallops the size of peaches, and a wide variety of fish. Compared to Europe, the prices seemed downright cheap. We took the opportunity to visit nearby Boston where we admired the stunning architecture, followed the Freedom Trail, a walking excursion in the city past historical sites, and, for a special end-of-journey meal, dined at a classy restaurant atop the Prudential Building with spectacular views – courtesy of Brian. Indeed a “bon voyage.”