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??


Trailing: A Memoir







There has been much discussion lately about the term “trailing spouse” and whether it is appropriate or even polite. It projects a sense of “other” rather than something that makes up a whole. I usually conger up a vision of a dog’s tail. Other terms being used are “accompanying partner”, “expat wife”, “support partner”. Expat Lingo says she had been called a ‘stakeholder at home’. I have used the term ‘world juggler’ before.

But in the end, whatever you call it, the trailing spouse is usually the support system, the glue that holds it all together. Sometimes the glue falls apart and life can be rough.

In Trailing: A Memoir by Kristin Louise Duncombe, things fall apart.  Kristin grew up all over the world so when she met her Argentine husband, the thought of moving overseas didn’t seem so strange. Although she did have her reservations about putting her career on hold, she didn’t have a passion about what she did and had not clearly defined what she wanted to do. Her husband, a doctor with Doctors Without Borders was passionate about what he did and had no questions about what he was going to do. She was in love. She married him and went to Kenya.

Being a TCK (Third Culture Kid) myself, I also thought following my husband overseas would be no problem. Even though you have lived in many places around the world, the child TCK and the Adult TCK have different experiences and challenges. I had no support system behind me as we just up and moved. Kristin had a small “family” of doctors but it did not help much since most of them were single and always on the road. Her husband was gone much of the time.

On the other hand, I think she showed remarkable resilience. She found herself some work at a Nairobi hospital helping teens and eventually found a position with USAID at the US Embassy. Unfortunately the Embassy was bombed and she lost her job but by that time her husband had taken a position in Uganda. After having a baby, she finds a job in a small village outside Kampala. She never sees her husband and the marriage starts to unravel.

I found myself identifying with this book on several levels. I had a difficult adjustment when I moved to Russia. My husband was a freelancer. There were no benefits or perks. As soon as I landed I was expected to find a job and help with financial support. If found jobs mainly doing clerical administrative work but I also fell into a writing position for the American Women’s Club and was able to improve my writing skills and help other expat women at the same time. I edited and produced a newsletter that helped to build a community.

Everybody has a different experience when they live overseas. I knew couples who were both professionals in their own right. I knew women who moved around the globe on their own and met their husband along the way. One woman was a very successful diplomat and her husband did his own thing in another country but was able to work remotely. Some people take the time to write books. There is always something to do. I found my way and started writing and wrote a memoir.

The current challenge for international organizations is to find the balance and provide options for accompanying partners. With today’s technology, there are much more possibilities available.

Kristin’s happy ending was her husband accepted a position in Paris and she managed to set up a successful counseling practice working with expat families who are trying to cope with life overseas. After having gone through the worst of it, she now had all the tools necessary to help others in similar situations.Trailing: A Memoir is well written and engaging. It makes me want to know more about her. It is available on



Expat Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein-996e11046cc60620a5e89c3a4491d5222249be35-s6-c30






I discovered Gertrude Stein my senior year in high school when I was taking an Art History class. I was told to write a paper on something to do with art and I couldn’t think of anything so my teacher gave me a book called “Matisse, Picasso and Gertrude Stein with Two Shorter Stories” by Gertrude Stein. I think I wrote my paper on Picasso but what grabbed my interest was Gertrude. I was hooked. I had never read anything like it. I asked my teacher why they didn’t tell us about her in English class. I was informed not everybody appreciated Gertrude.


Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1906, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. When someone commented that Stein didn’t look like her portrait, Picasso replied, “She will.” Stein wrote “If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso” in response to the painting.

Gertrude was born 140 years ago on February 3, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Her father and her uncle owned a textile business with stores in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, Maryland. The brothers did not get along so in 1875 her father took the family to live in Vienna, Austria. Thus began Gertrude’s travels. Three years later they moved to Paris and lived there for five years. They spent 1879 with relatives in Baltimore where Gertrude learned English after speaking first German and then French.

The family moved to Oakland, California in 1880. Gertrude’s mother, Amelia died eight years later of cancer. Gertrude was 14. Two years later her father died and she returned to Baltimore to live with an aunt. She went on to study philosophy and English at Radcliff College and ended up back in Baltimore studying medicine at Johns Hopkins. She spent her summers traveling around Europe with her brother, Leo. By 1903, she was failing her classes and her scandalous lesbian love affair ended badly. She moved to Paris and did not return to America for 30 years.

Gertrude and Leo collected art and became friends with many artists of the day. Leo started to paint and Gertrude wrote. They held Saturday night salons in their home to meet and promote artists and writers. In 1906 Picasso painted her portrait and gave it to her. Her portrait of Picasso was published about twenty years later.


She wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in 1933. This was her first “mainstream” piece and it was a bestseller. She was fifty-nine years old. Enjoying her new-found fame, she embarked on a lecture series across America, her first time back since moving to France.

“When I was in America for the first time travelled pretty much all the time in an airplane and when I looked at the earth I saw all the lines of cubism made at a time when not any painter had ever gone up in an airplane. I saw there on the earth the mingling lines of Picasso, coming and going, developing and destroying themselves. I saw the simple solution of Braque, I saw the wandering lines of Masson, yes I saw and once more I knew that a creator is contemporary, he understands what is contemporary when the contemporaries do not yet know it…” –Picasso

I admit it can be difficult to read some of her work. She writes long sentences without any punctuation and repeats herself endlessly. In Lectures in America she writes:

I began to get enormously interested in hearing how everybody said the same thing over and over again with infinite variations but over and over again until finally if you listened with great intensity you could hear it rise and fall and tell all that there was inside them, not so much by the actual words they said or the thoughts they had but the movement of their thoughts and words endlessly the same and endlessly different.  – Lectures in America

She returned to France and moved to the country during World War II living a low profile simple life. In 1946 she was diagnosed with colon cancer and died on the operating table. She left her writings to Yale University, her Picasso portrait to the New York Metropolitan Museum, and everything else to her lifelong companion, Alice B Toklas. She was buried at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris with a tombstone designed by Francis Rose. Her birthplace was misspelled “Allfghany” and her date of death was two days off.

I think her writings are wonderful pieces of art and I enjoy reading them albeit in short bursts. She had a wonderful sense of humor, said what she thought and lived life to the fullest.


In an essay for Life Magazine in 1945 she wrote:

When General Osborne came to see me just after the victory, he asked me what I thought should be done to educate the Germans. I said there is only one thing to be done and that is to teach them disobedience, as long as they are obedient so long sooner or later they will be ordered about by a bad man and there will be trouble. Teach them disobedience, I said, make every German child know that it is its duty at least once a day to do its good deed and not believe something its father or its teacher tells them, confuse their minds, get their minds confused and perhaps then they will be disobedient and the world will be at peace. The obedient peoples go to war, disobedient people like peace, that is the reason that Italy did not really become a good Axis, the people were not obedient enough, …

General Osborn shook his head sadly, you’ll never make the heads of an army understand that.

– Off We All Went to See Germany

You can listen to Gertrude Stein reading from her work online.


– Original post at: Baltimore Post Examiner

My Vacation in Holland and Paris

May 1982

Arrived in the Hague. Went to the Keukenhof Flowerfields at the end of the tulip season so a lot of them were leaning and fully open, still very beautiful. Drove to Haarlam and had lunch at the Napoli.


Tuesday morning we boarded the TEE for Paris. The weather was much warmer in Paris. We walked down to the Trocadero and the Palais de Chaillot that sits on top of it and then across to the Eiffel Tower in the afternoon.

Millions of people and lots of traffic. Paris was so romantic, I don’t know what it was but it breathed romance. It wasn’t as beautiful as I remembered it but it was good to be there.


Eiffel Tower

We went out to dinner and I ordered pork with mustard sauce. It was like a sausage with thin meat rolled inside. I didn’t know what part of the pig t was and it’s probably for the best. As I thought back, it seemed I had it before someplace. The meat in Europe can be strange.

After dinner I watched a Henry Fonda movie in French.

A lot of women wearing mini-skirts but mostly young girls. People were wearing absolutely everything. I always thought it would be fun to live in Paris.

Next day we must have walked about 20 miles. Walked all the way down the Champs Elysees, over to the Madeline and up to the Opera. Lunched at the Café de la Paix and walked from there to the Louvre. We saw the Mona Lisa again but this time it was encased in glass and the glass was reflecting everything in the room so you could hardly see it. I decided I wasn’t going back there.

In the evening we saw the Kirov Ballet perform some modern dances along with some classical pieces. Beautiful. The men just lingered in the air. Our seats were good, right in front. At intermission people came around the audience selling ice cream.

The next morning we strolled through the Jeu de Paume to soak up the Impressionists and then headed over to Gallerie Lafayette for some shopping. It was one of the biggest department stores I had ever seen jam packed from wall to wall. I bought a scarf.


Pompidou Center

Next stop was the new George Pompidou museum. It was an ugly structure with its guts hanging out. People congregated outside on the stone plaza to see fire eaters, magicians, musicians and weirdos. We spent three hours going through the museum. It seemed to have almost everything imaginable in it.

We managed to hit Notre Dame just as they were having mass so all the lights were on and the candles were lit and you could hardly move there were so many people. The rosettes were still there. They were still impressive.

The metro cost two francs anywhere in the zone.

The day we arrived back in the Hague it was a holiday. We went to the Gemeente Museum and saw a doll house, lots of Eschers, Van Goghs, and Mondrians. They had a musical instrument section with Asian drums, gongs and mandolins.

Downtown there was a small museum called Prince Willem V Gallery. It was crowded with the paintings the royal family owned but didn’t want to keep in their house. Some true masterpieces were on exhibit.

I took a trip to Marken. It used to be an island and was often flooded. They built their houses on piles in case of flooding. The island was isolated for many years which resulted in inbreeding which made it an interesting place for ethnographers and physical anthropologists. One old woman opened her house to visitors. It was cluttered and small.


It’s a dyke!

Another day we drove to the Ijsselmeer, a man made lake with a sixteen mile long dyke at one end. We drove across it and it was impossible to tell you were on a dyke. We stopped at Sneek for lunch and then at Enkhuizen to watch all the big sailboats.

A trip to the museum


The Washington Monument is now draped in scaffolding. We had an earthquake several months ago and the monument was damaged. It looks like and interesting art object.


On my way to the museum I passed by a street filled with food vendors.  They were selling kabob, falafel, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, Italian sandwiches, frozen yogurt, ice cream. People were spread out on the lawn picnicking.















I went to see “Edvard Munch: A 150th Anniversary Tribute” at the National Gallery of Art. It was one room of drawings and etchings. It took me 15 minutes to see it all. The only one I really liked was the Madonna.


I wandered around a bit after that and stumbled upon “Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music”. It was a large exhibit with costumes, set designs, and film. I am a big fan of ballet and I was easily sucked in.

I discovered Sergei Diaghilev was an expat. He was born into nobility. His family owned an estate outside of Perm, Russia, and had the monopoly on distilling vodka in the region. He grew up and was edcuated in St. Petersburg. When he was 18 his father went bankrupt and Sergei was forced to earn his living. He was heavily involved in the arts and put on an exhibit of paintings and portraits in 1905, sponsored by Tsar Nicholas II.  In 1907 he took an exhibit of Russian art to Paris and in 1908 he introduced Paris to several Russian operas. He was invited to return the following year and added ballet to the performances. When in 1909 the Tsar withdrew his financial support, Diaghilev carried on but dropped the operas. Ballet was much cheaper. Things were heating up in Russia and the future was uncertain. By 1911 Diaghilev had formed his own dance company drawing from dancers in exile. He returned to Russia briefly in 1914 but it was the last time he set foot in his homeland. Paris was his new home.

In Paris he formed the Ballet Russes.  It was to become the most influnial ballet company in the West. He gathered around him the most talented and avant garde artists he could find. His set designers included Picasso and Matisse.  Picasso married one of the Ballet Russe dancers, Olga Khokhlova.

His choreographers started with Vaslav Nijinsky and ended with George Balanchine.  Diaghilev was in love with Nijinsky and they were involved until Nijinsky shocked everybody by getting married while on tour in South America. Diaghilev was very hurt and fired him on the spot. Nijinsky was later diagnosed with schitzophrenia thus ending his career.  Balanchine was working at the Marinsky Theater in 1924 when he defected while on a tour of Germany with the Soviet State Dancers. Diaghilev invited him to join the Ballet Russes as a choreographer. He later became one the greatest American choreographers.

Igor Stravinsky was hired to compose music for the ballets.  He composed the music for The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Right of Spring.  In the last one the rhythm was revolutionary and it caused a riotous reaction from the audience when it was first performed in Paris in 1913.











In 1924, Coco Chanel desgined the clothes for the ballet “Blue Train”, which was all about frolicking on the French Riviera. The backdrop on the set was Picasso’s painting of two voluptuous women running, creating a contrast to the adrogenous women dancing in Chanel outfits.

Diaghilev’s life was cut short by diabetes.  He died at the age of 57 in Venice. The Paris, London, and New York ballet companies all emerged from the Ballet Russe dancers and choreographers. Some believe these ballet companies never would have existed if it weren’t for Diaghilev.

Most of the items in the exhibit live at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London but can be seen in Washington, DC until September 2.

School’s out for summer

School’s out for summer.

When I was 16, Alice Cooper blared out over the stereo.

School’s out forever.



Well… not forever.  But for the summer.  My parents flew up from Lagos, Nigeria to pick me up at boarding school in Switzerland.  We met up with my cousins and aunt and uncle and hopped a train to Genoa, Italy.  From there we made our way past Monte Carlo to San Rafael.  I bought my first bikini and found my patch of sand on the French Riviera.  How could life be any better than that?


Unfortunately we couldn’t stay there forever.  We spent time in Paris, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysee, the Palace of Versailles.  It was hot.  It was crowded.  It made me crabby.  Touring Europe with family.  How droll.  I was way beyond that.  I was 16, after all.












From Paris we split off and my cousins went to London and my parents and I went to Madrid.  I ran into some old friends at the Museo Del Prado.  I saw Las Meninas by Velazquez, one of the most famous paintings in the West.  I remember there was a mirror placed opposite so you could view the painting in its reflection.  The king and queen are painted in a mirror on the wall of the room.  It is a mirror within a mirror.  Anyway, it is a complex painting and I don’t remember all the details but I do remember what struck me the most about it was how apparent the inbreeding was.

We ate tapas, we watched Flamenco, we dined out.  We boarded a train to Portugal and traveled across the plains where the bulls were bred.  After a couple of days by the pool in Lisbon we headed to the beach at a resort north of town.  It was not the French Riviera as I recall, it was below par and possibly raining.  Also the end of the tour.



PanAm non stop to New York City.  From there my mind goes blank.


Book Excerpt: PART ONE: BURMA

It is not very practical to fill up a book with photos but on a blog I can do that.  Here is an excerpt from my book with additional photos, although they are not in the best of shape.  Enjoy!

1.  Pyinmana

I was born in Rangoon, Burma in 1956 while my parents were living in Pyinmana.  My father’s memory of this:

“We made our first road trip by car to Rangoon in May, on narrow, broken up blacktop.  Whenever we met another car, truck or animal drawn vehicle, we had to get off the road.  There were no possible toilet stops so we just chose a clump of bamboo or some shrubs.  We carried extra tires, gasoline, and of course took our own food and water.  The trip was bumpy and we averaged about 25 mph, and made the trip in 10 hours (about 250 miles). We went for Virginia to have a checkup with the doctor at the Seventh Day Adventist hospital (where she would go for the birth of the baby).  This was the best hospital in Burma and the doctor she was seeing, Dr. Dunn, had been born and raised in Nebraska City, Nebraska, just 30 miles from my home in Shenandoah, Iowa.  Dr. Dunn found Virginia to be in good health and anticipated no problems so we returned to Pyinmana to stay until about the first of July.

In early July, Virginia, Tim and Tom accompanied the Ford Foundation Representative and Assistant, John Everton and John Eddison, to Rangoon where she and the boys moved in with the Methodist Minister and his wife, George and Mary Hollister.  She would stay with them for about a month before the baby was due. 

Virginia went into the hospital on August 5 and Kathleen was born on August 7.  We also gave her a Burmese name, Ma Sein Hla (Pretty Diamond), fitting the day of the week on which she was born (Tuesday).  It took two days for me to receive the telegram from Rangoon, but Virginia’s parents in Iowa got theirs the same day announcing the new arrival.”

I spent the first three years of my life in Pyinmana speaking Hindi, Tamil, Karen (a Burmese dialect), Burmese and English.  We had a cook, who spoke Hindi and Tamil, my nanny, Naw Paw who was Karen, the “mali” or “houseboy” who spoke Hindi, and the driver Mg Thein Mg who was Burmese. We lived upstairs in a huge old brick house on the campus of the Agricultural Institute. The downstairs had been used as a pigpen and there was still a sow there about to have a litter of pigs when my parents moved in.  The house had two bedrooms, two bathroom, two large storerooms, a roomy kitchen, dining room, living room and a nice large veranda all the way around the house.  The refrigerator and stove ran on kerosene, as there was no electricity.  There was an outhouse out back and a well with a hand pump. At night we slept under mosquito nets even though my parents hired a carpenter to install screens on the windows.  The house looked out over rice fields to a range of wooded mountains that provided us with cool breezes.

Our house in Pynmina

There were still insurgents in the area and we would hear the occasional gun fight off in the distance.  My brother Tom delighted in this.   “Are those REAL bullets?”  , he would ask excitedly.

At 7 months, I embarked on my first international trip.  On March 6, 1957, we headed out from Rangoon to Beirut, Lebanon.  Because of the different electric voltages around the world, my parents carried a 110 electric hot plate as well as a 220 one, a pan in which to sterilize bottles for my milk and all my food for the trip.  I did okay except for a loud crying session in first class after the Vice Chairman of the Board of the Ford Foundation boarded in Karachi and sat down next to us.  We stayed a few days in Beirut and my brothers went and saw the ruins at Baalbek.  I guess I was too young to appreciate them.

From Beirut, we flew to Rome on a Viscount Turbo Prop plane, Middle East Airline.  We stayed at the Excelsior Hotel on the main avenue in the middle of the shopping area and I was taken for many walks in my stroller.

Where’s Waldo?



Our next stop was Zurich, Switzerland.  The Hotel Spugenschlos had been recommended and it turned out to be very nice near the lake.  We took the train and funicular up Mt Rigi and watched the skiers.  From there we took the funicular down the other side of the mountain, a boat across Lake Lucerne, and a train back to Zurich.

Mt Rigi, I believe

From Zurich to New York we had a four-hour stopover in Paris.  My Father recalls:

“We found the French sales clerks in the airport shops were not very nice to children, so we were glad to move on.  From Paris to New York we had our first flight on a Pan Am double deck Stratocruiser with a 4-course dinner, 4 stewardess in first class and an almost empty plane.  We each had a sleeping berth but Kathy and Virginia spent most of the night catnapping in the lower deck bar (they were not drinking) with a dog in a cage.  It was a 14 hour flight.”

After a few days in New York, we boarded a train to Wisconsin with a change in Chicago arriving on March 21.  Luckily we had a long home leave.

On July 10, we made the return journey.  We took the train to Chicago and a taxi to O’Hare Airport.  We had 14 bags plus hand luggage and had to pay for excess baggage.  My father remembers this leg of the trip:

“We left about noon and arrived in Frankfurt the following day, after stops in Shannon and London.  It was our first ever stop in Germany, which was still suffering shortages after the war.  The Customs Officer found it hard to believe that with 14 bags we had nothing to declare.  With the amount of luggage we had, we always had to take 2 taxis from the airports to our hotels.”












We spent three days in Frankfurt and then took an SAS plane to Athens.  We went to the Parthenon and other sites, and even went to the beach our last day there.


From Athens, we flew to Bombay on a TWA Constellation and arrived in the monsoon rain.  We stayed at the Taj Mahal Hotel and could see the famous Gateway to India from our hotel room.

After some sightseeing we flew to Madras and took the train to southern India – the Kodai Station.  My father registered Tom (9) and Tim (11) and we left them at Kodaikanal School. I always thought that was very young to be sent off to boarding school but I have since learned that there were many children at that very school as young as 6 or 7.

I arrived back in Pyinmana at the age of 11 months, my first grand tour completed.

You can learn more in my book Expat Alien.


An Afternoon in Paris



In 1973 I went to boarding school in Switzerland, my parents had moved to Nigeria and the school options were limited.  A friend of mine from grade school days was living in Paris so when our first long weekend break came up I headed to Paris.  It was my first trip to Paris.  It was November and snowed lightly the whole time I was there.  My friend was in school and her mother insisted I take a bus tour of the city to get an overview.  After that I was on my own.  I was 16.  There were two things I wanted to see, one was Notre Dame and the other was the Louvre.  I found Notre Dame with no problem.  I walked in to an empty building.  It was dark and took me a while to get my eyes used to it.  It was quite and peaceful.  I made my way down towards the apse and as I reached it,  light flooded in.  I looked up and saw the most beautiful rosette stained glass windows I had ever seen.  I sat down and meditated on them.

From there I headed to the Louvre.  It took me a while to find it and the entrance didn’t seem to be very clearly marked but I did manage to buy a ticket and start my tour.  I didn’t have much time so I decided to just see three things and then leave.  I found the Winged Victory and the Venus de Milo right away but I could not find the Mona Lisa.  I walked up and down an entire wing of paintings.  I saw painters set up with their easels copying the famous artworks, something I had never seen before in a museum.  Lots of great art, but no Mona Lisa.   I wandered into a room that was full of old jewelry.  No Mona Lisa there.  I was just about to give up and leave when I happened upon a small room off to the side that had a lot of paintings all hung up together on one of the walls.  I was looking at these various, random paintings when right in the middle of them, the Mona Lisa jumped out at me.  I couldn’t believe it.  I stood there transfixed.

It was a magical day.  I have been back to Paris many times but Notre Dame has always been very crowded and stifling.  The Louvre now has a grand entrance and signs all over the place directing you to the Mona Lisa which has such a big protective case that you can barely see it. I was very lucky.