expat

fitz roy and laguna de los tres

Friday Thoughts

mount fitz roy in patagonia
Mount FitzRoy (Photo by Gaspar Massidda on Pexels.com)

Climate and the Land

Yvon Chouinard, rock climber and founder of the brand Patagonia, announced he has given away his company, worth about $3 billion. He gave it to a non-profit called Holdfast Collective that will ensure all profits (about $100 million per year) are used to combat climate change and protect undeveloped land. Patagonia will continue to exist but Chouinard will no longer own it. Patagonia has given $50 million to Holdfast Collective and plans to give $100 million more this year.

Chouinard’s best friend was Doug Tompkins. They used to go rock climbing and adventuring together and in 1968, they drove from Southern California to Patagonia together to climb Mt FitzRoy on the Chile/Argentina border. They made a film about it called Mountain of Storms.

A later film (2010) recreates their journey and highlights some of the conservation work Tompkins was doing — 180 Degrees South: Conquerors of the Useless.

Tompkins died in 2015. He was the founder of the North Face and then of Esprit. He sold them both and in 1991, he established the Foundation for Deep Ecology. He had always loved spending time in Chile and he eventually moved there and bought a rundown farm. He spent his time climbing and kayaking and considering how he might preserve the area. Over time he bought up land in Patagonia that was still wild and undeveloped. When he died he left over a million acres of land to the Chilean government to create a national park. In 2017, the president of Chile accepted the one million acres and added another 10 million to create the largest protected area in South America.

After watching these documentaries, I became enthralled with Chile. It is definitely on my list and I hope to be able to spend some time there exploring its many diverse landscapes.

By the way, Mount FitzRoy was named after the Captain Robert FitzRoy of the Beagle, Charles Darwin’s ship.

The Queen’s Queue

Not only is Queen Elizabeth II lying in state for close to a week, but there is a “queue tracker” where you can keep tabs on the long line winding its way across London. Last time I checked the wait was 9 hours but this changes constantly. People seem happy to do it. I might even do it if I was in London. After all, it’s a one-time thing (click on image it see it live).

A few parting shots

Happy Friday.

Exploring Scotland

Edinburgh 1980

I am currently planning a trip to Eastern Scotland. It reminds me of the time I went backpacking in Scotland 40 years ago. I’m sure much has changed and my experience will be different. Here is a look back.

My cousin was studying in London that summer and I managed to talk her brother into going to Scotland with me. I flew in and spent a couple of days with her before her brother arrived. We didn’t really have a plan but just jumped on the next train to Edinburgh. Across from us was a family from Santa Barbara, California. The wife was British but hadn’t been back to the U.K. in 17 years. The man seemed bored to death and kept wanting to talk but didn’t have much to say. He was a carpenter. The guy sitting next to me was from the San Fernando Valley and very serious, no personality or sense of humor. Toward the end of the trip we got lucky and a Scotsman sat down across from me. When he found that we really didn’t know where we were going he started hauling out maps and planned an entire trip for us in the western islands. He told us about good places to go and it was great!  He was a really nice guy. Half the fun of travel is the people you meet.

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness

From Edinburgh we took the train to Inverness. We couldn’t get into the youth hostel so we ended up in a bed and breakfast. The owner served us tea between 9:30 and 10 pm so we met the other person who was staying there, too. He was a teacher from Hong Kong. He spent his days taking organized tours. The following day we took the bus to Drumnadrochit and walked from there to Urquhart Castle right on the Loch Ness. There wasn’t much left of the castle because it was blown up to keep the Jacobites from staying there (long story). I did not see the Loch Ness monster. Big disappointment (haha).

Back in Inverness, we went to the Old Market Inn Pub and had a few beers. One drunk Scotsman sort of latched on to us. He mainly just wanted to talk – anybody would have done but we were willing to listen. He was interesting for a while giving us some Scottish history and his very strong opinions. After a while somebody got up with a guitar and started singing folk music, which we quite enjoyed.

From Inverness, we took the bus through the mountains past glass still lakes and beautiful forests to Fort William. The youth hostel was at the foot of the highest mountain in the U.K., Ben Nevis (4,400 ft.). A New Zealander latched onto us at the youth hostel, which was a good thing because he had dishes and silverware. We were totally unprepared. I think he was homesick. We ended up taking him into town and waving goodbye at the bus station like he was our son going off to war. Poor guy. We spent a couple of days relaxing and soaking up the beautiful countryside before heading out to the west coast.

Iona Abbey

We were lucky, it rained very little that summer. The only problem we had was on the Isle of Skye. The public transport was rather meager so we were trying to hitchhike but got nowhere and, of course, it started to rain and we got soaked. Back on the mainland, we worked our way down the west coast. We spent several days in Oban and took ferries to Mull and Iona. And finally found our way to Glasgow. I fell in love with Scotland and decided I wanted to go back and tour the upper peninsula on a motorcycle …actually on the back of a motorcycle.

Downtown Chester

On the way back to London, we stopped in the old Roman town of Chester on the Welsh border, and at Stonehenge and Salisbury. It was market day in Salisbury and there were people everywhere, crowding the streets, too many people. I was tired by then. Youth hostels are cheap but you don’t get much sleep. The woman above me had snored all night. Still, I was able to enjoy Salisbury Cathedral, finished in 1258 and an impressive Gothic building. We listened to the music at evensong. By that time, I was exhausted.

We took the boat from Great Yarmouth to the Hook of Holland and a train on to The Hague, the Netherlands. We got off at the wrong station and had to walk forever but finally managed to hook up with my parents and ended up staying in their new, empty apartment.

(excerpt from Expat Alien my global adventures)

This time the plan is to go to Dundee and Aberdeen. Any tips?

Random Friday Thoughts

It’s Friday. Another week slipped by. I found a website that is unfortunately no longer active but it is still accessible. It is called TCK Town Magazine. It has five years’ worth of TCK stories. They are well written and engaging.  And if you are a TCK you will definitely relate. 

It is hard for me to think about being in the middle of a draught when I am surrounded by 10,000 plus lakes but there you have it. We have been in a draught. And now it has rained twice this week. Everybody is very happy. I’m happy because it has cooled down a lot. 

I came across a book called The New Russian Poets 1953-68. My house is full of such things. I usually ignore them but I saw this one and I didn’t ever remember seeing it before so I picked it up just to take a look. I actually found a poem I liked by Yevgeny Vinokurov: 

And In A World 

And in a world, where all is frontier, 
All merely boundary and barrier, 
You are, fathomless infinity, 
At least a consolation. 
…There’s a gleam of blue that shines 
Through a crack in the barn wall – 
Here already is your witness: that 
Not everything is so plain and flat. 

Sitting next to it on the shelf was The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. I had never seen it before either. It looks like something I would enjoy. I’m going to put it aside for a read later. 

Shifting gears… I recently came across a postcard of a tour my family took in Tokyo. My brother told me we were in Tokyo twice and took tours each time. I dug around and found some more Tokyo photos. It is clear we were different ages. He also gave me a pin he had that the tour group gave out. I looked up the JTB company and it is still going strong.

This first group must have been from 1959.

These two photos are from 1962. You can see that it says “Pigeon Bus Tours”. Hato is “pigeon” in Japanese and stands for peace. These bus tours started in 1949, and have been very successful showing close to a million tourists around each year.

Happy Friday.

Nicollet Island Inn

The Island Sash & Door Company was constructed on Nicollet Island in 1893. Nicollet Island sits in the middle of the Mississippi river between the east and west banks of downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Island Sash & Door Company continued its operations until 1899.

Minneapolis’ flour and grain milling industry flourished at the beginning of the 20th century and the building that was the Island Sash & Door Company became headquarters to several milling companies. Then from 1913, to about 1973 it was a men’s shelter started up by the Salvation Army. The building and much of the land on Nicollet Island was sold to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation District in the late 1970’s. From there, the structure became the Nicollet Island Inn.

Architecturally it has gone through several transformations with the interior consisting of timber and beam construction and windows presenting beautiful views. The bar with original stained glass is over 150 years old and originally belonged to a drugstore in a small New Hampshire town.

Today Nicollet Island Inn is a small romantic hotel with an excellent restaurant including an intimate bar and patio seating. They serve a good Sunday Brunch with mimosas and excellent Bloody Marys.

The Trials of Air Travel

I have been reading lately about all the airline travel problems people are having. Long delays, cancellations, missed events, long lines. It looks pretty bad, but then I read an article today that compared what was happening now to pre-pandemic numbers and they aren’t far off. There have always been travel uncertainties. I was looking through some old writing of mine and found this from 1997. I was living in Moscow, Russia at the time. My two year old child and I were on home leave in Minnesota and we were flying back to Moscow via Amsterdam. Noah is my son, Nicholas my husband who was in Moscow.

“So we got on the plane and at first they said they had to offload some luggage and it would be about 15 minutes. Then they said they couldn’t start one of the engines automatically so they would have to try it manually. Then it didn’t work manually so they would have to fix that. They never knew for sure what the problem was or how long it would take. Noah fell asleep about an hour into it and slept until we got into the air. After they they fixed the engine, the computer program had to be re-entered with the new times so that took a bit longer and then finally we were off, three hours late.

Noah finally fell asleep about an hour before we landed in Amsterdam. I guess I have blocked it out because I don’t remember most of it or how I entertained him but we survived somehow and when we got off, a woman across the aisle said that my child was such a good traveler!! I didn’t know how to respond to that.

Our connecting flight was just leaving when we arrived in Amsterdam so I went to the transit desk and they told me they would have to put me on the next flight out which was the Aeroflot at 12:45 pm. I said I didn’t want to fly Aeroflot and she said she understood completely and I should go talk to the people at the ticket counter. So I went there and they told me that all the flights to Moscow that day eventually connected to Aeroflot so if I wanted to go that day, I didn’t have a choice. They told me I could refuse to go and I assume they would have put me up for the night but then I didn’t know what would happen to my luggage so I decided to just go. the 12:45 flight was fully booked in Tourist Class so they put us in Business Class and as the KLM guy was giving me my ticket he said – Well, at least it is Business Class, whatever that means…. I said I would find out. They also gave me a free three minute phone call to Moscow so I let Nicholas know when to meet us.

There was a couple with two small children also waiting for the flight to Moscow and I found out they had been on my flight out of Minneapolis. It turns out that they were just moving to Moscow and it was their first time. I thought, what an introduction for her… She won’t forget this trip for a while. I gave her my phone number and she promised to call me. The world is small.

Well, Business Class on Aeroflot is a real treat. The only difference between it and Tourist Class is that there is leg room and you get to use the First Class toilet. Tourist Class has six seats across with no leg room, Business Class has six seats across with leg room, and First Class has four seats across with leg room. All the seats are the same size. Noah slept the whole way and I slept through most of it so can’t comment on the service except the beverage choices were Sprite, Coke or mineral water. The landing reminded me of the UTA pilots in Africa. We would dive, then go up, then drop, then dive again. Noah thought it was great fun.

After we landed and arrived at the gate the announcement was made that in fairness to everybody the Tourist Class passengers would exit first and the Business Class and First Class people would remain in their seats until everybody else had exited. We sat there and watched as all the people in Tourist Class filed past us. Unbelievable.

Luckily my bags showed up right away and Nicholas was there waiting.”

I have survived many such sagas. Some worse than others. But it hasn’t stopped me so far…

Growing up Expat – Mexico

1963…..When I was seven years old, my father was sent to work in Mexico City. We were to travel by train from Rye, New York. My main travel concern at that point was my pet turtle, Tootsie. I put Tootsie in a peanut butter jar and poked holes in the top. It was summer and as we reached the border at Laredo, Texas, it must have been at least 100 degrees. The air conditioning went out just as we crossed over into Mexico and everybody was told to get off the train for customs inspection. Tootsie was in my mother’s carry-on bag under some other things and sat on top of a table in the middle of the cavernous customs house. The uniformed official walked up and down and around this table eyeing the luggage. He briefly looked as if he was going to inspect the carry-on. We all held our breath. However, at age seven I managed to successfully smuggle a live turtle across the border undetected by customs. When we reached Mexico City, I spent the entire day looking over my shoulder expecting to be nabbed for my illegal import. They never caught up with me and Tootsie lived a full turtle life.

Not too long after we got there, my father was off on a business trip and my mother and I were alone in the house with the maids. All of a sudden they became very upset and came to my mother’s room to tell her something. We did not speak Spanish yet and could not understand what they were saying. They kept saying Kennedy! Kennedy! , and then pretended to shoot a gun. We gathered that the president had been shot but we could not determine if he was dead or not. Later in the day, another expat wife was kind enough to phone my mother and fill her in that our president, John F. Kennedy, was dead.

In Mexico City, I had a choice of going to the American School that was very large and, well, American, and Greengates, the British school, which was much smaller. One of my brothers and I chose the British school, while my eldest brother went to the American School. Unfortunately because I was behind in certain areas due to the fact that I was coming from a different system, they put me in the first grade again. It was my third first grade. Before we were asked to leave Burma, I had just started first grade there. In New York, I went to public school and completed first grade. Now I was there again, feeling awful. I studied and studied and worried and studied; then halfway through the year they put me in second grade. I was so obsessed with doing well, I ended second grade at the top of my class and even received an award. I didn’t want to be the dumb foreign kid – not fitting in again. I was top of my class until the fourth grade and for a year, I woke up every morning with a stomach ache. My mother took me to all kinds of doctors but nobody knew why I had a stomach ache. Finally, they realized it was nerves and said I had the beginning of an ulcer and that I should learn to relax. I was nine years old.

Even though I was diagnosed with “nerves”, I really did like Greengates. We had to wear a uniform which was good because I never had to decide what to wear or worry about competing with anybody in that department – not that I was much interested in clothes anyway. When I was in the second grade, Prince Philip came to visit our school and speak to us at assembly. A friend of mine and I went to watch him play polo and afterward, we went up to him, shook his hand and introduced ourselves. We were very excited, giggly seven year olds, curtsying as best we could in our jeans.

After spending six months in an outer suburb in temporary housing, we moved closer to town in the neighborhood known as Las Lomas. “Lomas” translates as “hills”. Across the street from us was a “barranca” which is like a huge ditch but I guess the correct word is “ravine”. We lived in a big, fairly modern, two-story house that had four bedrooms, all with en-suite bathrooms, two living rooms, a large veranda and an interior garden as well as dining room, breakfast room, kitchen, laundry room, and servants’ quarters. This was a fairly upscale area and we had some neighbors who had estates and some were famous. Across the way was where the owner of a big Mexican brewery lived and we could see swans swimming in his little lake. The famous comedian Cantinflas lived up the street from us and I even saw him a couple of times, whizzing by in his car.

We shared a walled-in compound with our landlady who lived in an identical house. Dona Isabel, the landlady, always kept dogs – mainly for security reasons and she had a weakness for collies. Because the only thing that separated us was a hedge, the dogs spent most of their time at our house because we gave them lots of attention while she basically ignored them. The dogs were always barking their heads off if anybody approached the gates, though, so she didn’t mind if we enjoyed them as pets. My father never allowed us to have actual pets when we lived in the city. Since he had grown up on a farm, he was adamant that animals belonged outside. Except for my turtle, of course.

Our next-door neighbors, were a Mexican family with eight children. We had a chain-link fence between us covered with ivy but there was one section we could see through and we would hang out and talk through the fence. They invited me on family outings with them. The whole family were nuts for playing dominoes so I would go over to their house and play dominoes for hours.

Every summer we ran out of water. July was the dry season and we would go for a week or two where nothing came out of the water tap. We had a big tank under our stairway outside that would also run dry. This usually happened when we had people visiting from the U.S. My mother loved it because it showed them that our life wasn’t as glamorous as everyone assumed it was. Fortunately, there was a water station not too far from our house, so we could go down there with buckets and haul water to fill up the tank.

Josefina, our cook, stayed with us the entire time we lived in Mexico. She taught me how to cook quesadillas and cajeta (known now in the U.S. as dulce de leche) and she always had a fresh stack of tortillas in the refrigerator that she would heat over a gas burner and smear with butter for a snack. We would watch TV together at night when my parents were out. After she had been with us for a few years, she told my mother she had a son who was living in her village and wanted to know if he could come and visit her. My mother was taken aback. In Asia (and in Africa too) the children of the household help often lived with them on the compound. Josefina’s son Jaime came to live with us when he was seven or eight.

My mother was never very good at learning languages and she always struggled to communicate in Spanish. At one point we had an older maid, Inez, who was fresh from her village and had never lived in the city before. She laughed at my mother’s Spanish. We soon found that she could not read. So my mother sent her to school to learn to read. After a few weeks of that, she went to my mother and apologized for laughing at her. Now she knew how hard it was to learn something new.

On the weekends, if the weather was good, we would go out to the Reforma Club in the suburbs, past Satellite City. It had an Olympic size swimming pool and many clay tennis courts, squash courts and a playing field and lawn-bowling greens (very British). It also had a nice restaurant and ballroom for parties. I had learned to swim in Burma and I loved to swim and dive. I could spend the whole day in the water.

I loved going over to my best friend’s house because it was always full of chocolate and sweets. Her parents were Polish immigrants to the U.S. but she had been born in Connecticut. She was more American than the Americans. She had every board game and the very latest Barbie dolls with all the accessories. She had an Easy-bake oven that we could make real cakes in, a Creepy Crawler kit that had molds for making plastic creatures, and every Beatles album, fad and gadget. Whenever her father had to travel to the U.S., he would bring home the latest consumer items. The things they had crammed into their closets always fascinated me.

Thoughts on the TCK version of home…

Years later, I ran into her when her parents had been posted to Paris. I was in boarding school in Switzerland at the time and in love with Europe. She hated living in Paris and wanted to be back in New York. She ended up back in the States, finishing high school, living with a friend’s family. I never understood how she could give up Paris for some suburban U.S. high school. I guess having all that stuff in Mexico prepared her for better assimilation into American society. While all the American gadgets and “conveniences” were cool, they were never anything I longed for. I always found plenty to interest me in whatever culture I landed in.

One survival skill I learned as an expat child was the ability to feel like everyplace I lived was home. Even hotel rooms often were referred to as “home”. It didn’t really matter. My family talked about how, no matter where we were, or what the circumstances, everyplace was “home” as long as we were together and had a pack of cards. A good card game could get us through anything. Some of my fondest memories are of blackouts during torrential rainstorms playing cards by candlelight.

To this day, Mexico is one of my favorite places. I liked living there. I learned the language quickly and worked at getting to know people. I spent time with the maids watching their soap operas on TV. Even now, a suggested practice for leaning Spanish is to watch those ever-present “Telenovelas”.

There was a large expat community in Mexico City including business people, diplomats, scientists, scholars, retirees and all kinds of people. Many activities centered on the American School. They had Little League baseball, Girl Scouts, and big celebrations on major U.S. holidays such as 4th of July picnics. I don’t remember participating in any of those things.

The British school was small and didn’t have much in the way of facilities but we were all very resourceful and pretty adventurous and came from 27 different nationalities. We usually travelled in packs and spoke a mixture of Spanish and English. Many kids spoke a third language at home. When we spoke to each other we would use the words that first popped into our head or that were the most appropriate for their meaning, it didn’t matter which language they were. My closest friends were Italian, Mexican, Ghanaian, British and American.

Travels and Tourism in Mexico

I saw the sights of Mexico City and environs a million times or so it seemed. All our American friends and family came and visited us there. I enjoyed going to the pyramids at Teotihuacán. It was amazing to see how much that place changed over the years. When we first started going, the only pyramid uncovered was the Sun and a few smaller ones surrounding it. Then they uncovered the Moon and a few more, smaller pyramids. They discovered several galleries – the butterfly building with butterflies painted on its walls – a winding pathway with creatures’ heads sticking out from the walls – a prison cell where sacrifice victims were kept until it was their “time”. In the span of a few years, an entire city emerged before our eyes.

Every time I went there, I learned something new about the people and saw things from a different angle or height. I climbed the Sun Pyramid a couple of times but after they uncovered the Moon Pyramid, I stuck to climbing that one. Not only was it about half the size of the Sun Pyramid, but the Sun Pyramid gave me the creeps because when I was on top of it, I would always imagine the priests ripping the hearts out of young virgins as the sun came up over the horizon to ensure another sunrise.

Popo and Ixta

We traveled extensively around Mexico. We picnicked at the base camp of Popocatepetl and waved goodbye to the people on their way up to the top. Popo was one of the snow-capped volcanoes that you could sometimes see from Mexico City and still erupted from time to time. There was another mountain nearby called Ixtaccihuatl, which means White Lady.

There was an Aztec legend about these volcanoes that had many variations. The gist of the story was that Popo and Ixta fell in love, but she was a princess and he was a commoner. Her father said the only way they could get married was if he went to war and came back victorious. Off he went. One of his enemies reported back to Ixta that Popo had died in battle and she died of sorrow. When Popo returned victorious to find her dead, he carried her into the mountains and laid her to rest where he watches over her to this day.

Taxco was a small tourist city built on the side of a mountain. Besides having a few interesting churches, it was mainly known for its silver and had shop after shop of silver jewelry. We would go there for a weekend and walk the steep, narrow streets. The hotel we stayed in had a back patio where cockfights took place after dark. The cocks screamed in anger and pain as they killed each other or maybe it was just the crowd I heard screaming. I thought the whole thing was disgusting. My brother, Tom, loved it. He would spend hours on the patio, cheering the victorious rooster.

On Sunday afternoons we would drive over the mountains to Cuernavaca which was at a lower altitude and thus, often hot and sunny. We would stop at the Benedictine Monastery to see what they had for sale and then head for Las Mañanitas. Las Mañanitas was a quintessential Mexican hotel and restaurant. At the back there was a lawn with chairs and tables set up where people had drinks and appetizers while looking at the menus presented on chalkboards. Peacocks and parrots wandered freely around the yard. There was a small fountain at one side.

The only food I remember having was a fancy chopped beef thing that was the closest I could get to a hamburger. But I remember going with a friend of ours one time who actually ordered and ate eels. I sat there shocked and amazed while watching him devour shiny eels with their eyes staring out at me. We always had a small glass of crème de cacao with a layer of cream on top for dessert. It was their trademark. I remember we used to practice balancing the cream on top of the liqueur at home. Not an easy task.

One year we took a trip to Veracruz and Fortin de las Flores. We stopped on the beach at Veracruz for a lunch of fresh fish and I went for a swim. I was happily swimming away enjoying myself when some guy way out in the water started to swim in yelling “tiburón! tiburón!”. I knew to immediately get out of the water! Sharks are no fun.

In Fortin we stayed at a hotel that filled the swimming pool every morning with fresh gardenias. They really perfumed the swimming area but they were obstacles that got in the way of my vigorous swimming. On the way back to Mexico City, we stopped in a resort that had the biggest swimming pool I had ever seen. Hacienda Vista Hermosa had first opened to the public in 1947 and was reconstructed from an old hacienda that had been destroyed during the revolution. The pool had fountains and arches.

My brother, Tom, decided to go to college in Tucson, Arizona. After we dropped him off there we took a trip down the west coast of Mexico stopping in Mazatlan and Guymas. At that time Mazatlan was just a big fishing village. Now it is a popular tourist resort. There was nothing there but a large, pristine beach. In Guymas we stopped at a restaurant and in the bathroom the floor was covered wall to wall with crickets. From then on we had a cricket in the car with us and listened to him all the way back home.

One winter we were invited out to a hacienda in the Mexican countryside. We had a tour of the farm and afterwards we were invited to have lunch with the family (the mid-day meal is always the largest in Mexico). The owner’s son was a friend of my father’s and that made my father the guest of honor so he sat to the right of the head of the household, Don Alvaro. I think my father’s friend was the only one who spoke English and I have no idea who all the people were at the table but there were a lot of them.

The main thing I remember eating that day was ‘cabrito’ for the first time. Cabrito is baby goat meat and it is delicious. I think we must have had soup first and then they brought out the main course. A woman came out and placed a plate in front of my father. Because he was the guest of honor he received the goat’s head – skull with eyes and brains in it. I just sat there and watched, wondering what he would do.

He sat in silence for a few minutes looking at the thing and then he turned to Don Alvaro and said “I thank you very much for this honor but I am sure that you would appreciate this delicacy more than I” and handed over the plate. Of course Don Alvaro was thrilled and devoured the whole thing with gusto. I was amazed, but that’s the kind of guy my dad was. Always able to cope with any situation with grace and style.

One of the down sides to living in Mexico City was the frequent earthquakes. It seemed like the temblores usually came at night or in the morning. I would wake up suddenly to see the ceiling light swaying. People came to visit and did not know what to do. Usually people would sit in bed trying to decide if they should get up and stand in the doorway or get under something, but by the time they had decided, the earthquake was over.

We had one big earthquake when we were in Mexico. I was sitting at the breakfast table and the room started to shake. My father immediately got up and ran out into the yard. My mother was climbing the stairs and didn’t feel a thing. I sat mesmerized by the water in my glass swaying back and forth. Like monsoons, blizzards and other natural extremes, one does become blasé about such things when they are ever present. I think it is probably the only way one can live in a place where they happen so often they are normal, not unusual.

Mexico City was originally built on top of a lake. Many of the older buildings frequently sank into the soft soil. One such building was the Palacio de las Bellas Artes. It was a fabulous Art Deco building that sank about 13 feet. It housed famous murals and had a big theater. It was the home of the Mexican Ballet Folklorico, which celebrated the diverse Mexican culture through dance. If we got there early we could see the Tiffany glass curtain that portrayed the two volcanoes Popo and Ixta. The whole time I lived in Mexico I took ballet lessons and every year the Russian Bolshoi Ballet would come to town and perform at the Bellas Artes Theater. I was lucky enough to go more than once. When I lived in Moscow many years later, it was a very special experience to go to the actual Bolshoi Theater.

While we were living in Mexico, the National Museum of Anthropology opened. It was a huge deal. My mother took me, my friends’ mothers took me, my school took me, and visiting houseguests took me. I have to admit it was a very cool museum. I saw the real Aztec calendar and learned all kinds of things about the history of the area. It was a large museum and required many visits to see it all.

(This is an excerpt from my book, Expat Alien My Global Adventures)

Expat Alien is Back…

I had a bit of an hiatus. I got hacked and then I got frustrated so I’m back on WordPress having resurrected the remnants. In the meantime my domain expired so now I’m using expatalien.blog. Such is life. I started a new blog over at postcardbuzz.com featuring my large postcard collection.

My last trip was in January to Egypt. What a fabulous place that is. I recommend it if you haven’t been. Here are a few tidbits.

One comment. The Sphinx was smaller than I had imagined. But otherwise my expectations were met.

Fifty years ago my father visited Egypt and went to Giza and rode a camel. My son went with me on this trip and my father told him he should ride a camel. We tried to re-create the scene.

Cairo had really bad smog. A city of over 20 million people. Big noisy smoggy dirty. But not as dirty as I expected. Actually, pretty clean. No open sewers, no piles of trash, no stench. Quite nice, really. In the evening I met up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in ages. He has lived in Cairo for 40 years and loves it. I have to admit, I’m a bit jealous. If you haven’t been there, I highly recommend it. I think I need to go back sometime…

That morning on our way to Giza, we stopped in a parking lot across from the Pyramids to rendez-vous with a physician. He diligently swabbed all of us and went off to do our Covid tests. This was required for us to re-enter the USA. Later that afternoon I received an email with my official document, photo and all, proclaiming I did not have Covid. That was a relief. On the way out of Egypt, the airlines did check to see I had the document but on returning to the homeland, nobody even mentioned it. All they looked at was my passport.

The Cairo Tower in the smog

Adventurous Women

I recently read ‘Too Close to the Sun’ about Denys Finch Hatton and it reminded me of the amazing women through the ages who chose to spend their lives in foreign lands. Here area few of my favorites.

Karen Blixen and her brother

Karen Blixen and her brother

Karen Blixen was Danish.  She married Baron Bror von Blixen and moved to Kenya in 1914.  Unfortunately he gave her syphilis and she returned to Denmark after only one year for arsenic treatment.  She lived through it, however, and returned to live in Kenya for another 16 years. She ran a coffee farm for a while but always struggled with it and eventually was forced to sell the land.  Her lover, Denys Finch Hatton, was a big game hunter who died in a plane crash just as she was dealing with the loss of her farm.  She returned to Denmark and lived there for the rest of her life.  She wrote under the name Isak Dineson as well as a few others and a couple of her more famous books are:

Out of Africa  (1937); Anecdotes of Destiny  (1958) – includes Babette’s Feast which was made into a movie; Letters from Africa 1914-1931  (1981 – posthumous)

 

 

Beryl Markham

Beryl Markham

Beryl Markam was English.  Her family moved to Kenya when she was 4 years old in 1906.   She became friends with Karen Blixen even though there was an 18 year gap in age.  Beryl also had an affair with Denys Finch Hatton and was due to fly with him the day he crashed.  She had some kind of premonition and did not go.  However she did go on to fly extensively in the African bush and was the first women to fly across the Atlantic from East to West.  She briefly lived in California married to an avocado farmer but eventually retuned to Kenya and became a well known horse trainer.  There is a new book out about her life called “Circling the Sun”.

Her memoir (a very good read) is: West with the Night  (1942, re-released in 1983)

 

 

Alexandra David Neel

Alexandra David Neel

Alexandra David-Neel was French.  She became an explorer at a young age running away from home at the age of 18 to ride her bicycle to Spain and back.  In 1904 at the age of 36 she was traveling in Tunis and married a railway engineer.  That didn’t last long since she immediately had itchy feet and set off for India.  She told her husband she would be back in 18 months but did not return for 14 years.  Her goal was Sikkim in the northern mountains.  She spent years studying with the hermits and monks of the region and eventually, dressed as a man, snuck into the forbidden city of Lhasa.

Her account of her trip to Lhasa is a fascinating read: My Journey to Lhasa (1927)

 

 

 

Gertrude Stein by Picasso

Gertrude Stein by Picasso

Gertrude Stein was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in California, attended Radcliff and Johns Hopkins University, discovered her sexual awakening while in Baltimore and fell in love with another woman. She moved to Paris in 1904 where she collected art and held “Salons” promoting modern unknown artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Cezanne.  During World War I she learned to drive and drove a supply truck for the American Fund for French Wounded. Her writing was revolutionary and influenced many modern writers including Hemmingway.  She was a strong, opinionated woman and a copious writer with a great sense of humor.  Her lifelong companion, Alice B. Toklas cooked and ran the household. Two of my favorite books by Stein are:

The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas  (1933); Ida, A Novel (1941)

 

 

James Joyce and Sylvia Beach

James Joyce and Sylvia Beach

Sylvia Beach was a contemporary of Gertrude Stein and also lived in Paris.  She was born in Baltimore, Maryland.  Her father was a minister and she grew up in Europe.  She owned the bookstore Shakespeare and Company and published James Joyce’s Ulysses when nobody else would touch it, even though she had no money herself.  She lived in Paris most of her adult life.

Her memoir is: Shakespeare & Company (1959)

 

Catherine II by Johann Baptist von Lampi

Catherine II by Johann Baptist von Lampi

And just for fun… Catherine the Great.  She was born in Stettin, Prussia (now Szczecin, Poland), and traveled to Russia in 1744.  In 1745, at age 16, she married Grand Duke Peter of Russia and became the Russian empress in 1762.  She did not get on well with her husband and managed to “convince” him to abdicate so she could take the throne.  Soon afterwards he was mysteriously killed.  She continued to rule Russia until her death at age 67.  I visited her palace outside St Petersburg a couple of times when I was living in Russia.  One room I particularly liked was the Amber Room.  The walls are covered in amber and other precious jewels.

A good book about her life is: Catherine the Great by Robert K Massie (2011)

 

Who are your favorites??

 

Victory Day Moscow

May 8th, Victory Day or VE Day, marks the end of World War II in Europe.  Due to the time changes, the Russians celebrate this occasion on May 9th.  They have military parades on Red Square, civilian parades down city streets, run old war movies all day on TV, and they gather with family and friends to eat and make many toasts. The USSR suffered the most casualties of any country during World War II, estimated at 27 million.  China comes in a distant second with 10 million. Indeed they have reason to celebrate.

I was in Moscow in 1995 when Boris Yeltsin pulled out all the stops to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this day. Celebrities from all over the world attended including US President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister John Major, French President Francois Mitterrand, and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

We were living in an apartment on the 5th floor right on Tverskaya, one of the main streets downtown that led right into Red Square and on the parade route.

One night we were shaken out of bed in the middle of the night. I thought it was an earthquake, but it kept going and going and after a while I thought we were being invaded because it sounded like large trucks. I looked out the window and there were huge tanks rolling down the middle of our street in the middle of the night. What was going on? Turns out they were practicing for the big military parades on Victory day. This went on for several weeks.

On May 8th, we were glued to the BBC watching the celebrations in the UK including the church service at St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace with the Queen and the Queen Mum. From there BBC took us to Paris and we saw the parade around the Arc de Triumph and down the Champs Elysees.

We took the video camera and went down to Red Square and saw the big banners and the stage set up. The Hare Krishnas placed a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier (very surreal). We ran into some high school students from Wisconsin who said they were part of a marching band. We figured they were just on some school trip.

On May 9th we didn’t have to leave our apartment. First we watched the parade on Red Square on TV. Then the Communists paraded down our street so we watched them from the balcony and later in the day those tanks came rolling down in formation.

The last parade of the day was the marching bands. And in the middle of all the marching bands was the McFarland High School Band from Wisconsin playing “On Wisconsin”.

Unbelievable.

 

The 70th Anniversary celebrations last week were the largest in Russian history but President Obama and the EU leaders chose not to attend this time.

Any gathering in Russia starts with Zakuski.  These are the warm ups, the small plates, the appetizers.  They can include beet salads, potato salads, cabbage salads, pickled mushrooms, pickled herring, dried fish, caviar, or any other thing you can think of.  Just so there is lots of it.  For the toasts, vodka is the staple, followed by cognac for desert.  Sometimes champagne precedes the vodka.

Here are a couple of my favorite Zakuski (they are easy to make):

Julienne (Mushrooms in Sour Cream)

1 lb mushrooms

3 Tbsp butter

1 ½ Tbsp flour

1 cup sour cream

½ tsp lemon juice

salt and pepper

Slice the mushrooms.  Sauté in butter for 10 minutes.  Sprinkle in the flour and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, stirring.  Add sour cream and lemon juice.  Keep the heat low and cook for 15 minutes more.  If the sauce seems too thin, sprinkle in a little flour or if too thick add water.  The sauce should be like thick cream.  Season with salt and pepper.This can be served in individual cups or all together in a large dish.

Cucumbers in Smetana (Sour cream)

2 large cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced

3 Tbsps chopped fresh parsley

2 Tbsps chopped fresh dill

1 ½ cups sour cream

2-3 Tbsps fresh lemon juice

1 Tbsp olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, pressed

½ tsp black pepper (or to taste)

¾ tsp salt (or to taste)

Toss and chill

 

From DC to Rangoon, 1952

Fourteen hours from New York to London. Things have change a bit since then. But they did travel in class….

 

Sunday, Oct 26, 1952

Dear Folks,

Our time in Washington is rapidly slipping away. I hope you got my telegram saying we were cleared and would be leaving soon. They have asked for our plane reservations to leave on Wednesday the 29th. Seems like there are lots of last minute preparations to take care of. 

The following is the schedule we have asked for but won’t know about reservations until Tuesday morning.

Leave Washington      1/29    12:24 pm

Arr New York             10/29  2:15 pm

Leave New York         10/29  4:00 pm

Arr London                 10/30  11:00 am (London time)

Leave London              10/31  5:55 pm

Arrive Beirut               11/1    5:40 am (Beirut time)

Leave Beirut                11/4    4:35 am

Arrive Calcutta           11/4    11:40 pm (Calcutta time)

Leave Calcutta            11/6    6:30 am

Arr Rangoon               11/6    10:55 am

Will go from here to Calcutta on Pan American Airways and from Calcutta to Rangoon on India National Airways.

With the rest stops in London, Beirut and Calcutta it should break up the trip and make it more enjoyable. In Beirut, especially, we will have a chance to see a few things.

I think the least expensive and fastest mail service for you to write us will be on the airmail sheets such as I’ve enclosed. They go for 10 cents and come with the stamp on them. You can buy them only at the post office.

We are sitting on the banks of the Potomac doing our letter writing today while the boys run and play. It’s a nice sunny day just a little on the chilly side.

On Friday evening we took the boys to Bob Wilson’s to watch TV while went to a reception at the Burmese Embassy. We thought it was to be a small reception for a delegation of Burmese who have been here about three weeks and are now returning. It turned out to be this but in addition a most delicious buffet supper. Lots of prominent people there as well as those of small importance such as us. We did have an enjoyable time and I had met most of this delegation at the Dept. of Agriculture so didn’t feel too much out of place. It gave Virginia a chance to meet several of the Burmese people with whom I’ll be working in Rangoon.

 

…  I assume there was more to this letter but that is the end of what I have.

Here is an interesting film promo from 1950 for Pan American Airways.