tck

Thoughts Random Friday – Queens and Tatas

Balmoral Castle (Stuart Yeates from Oxford, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Well, the world is ending. It is starting. The beginning of the end. Europe is in an energy and economic crisis. Queen Elizabeth died. China is still in lockdown. California is burning up. Canadians are stabbing each other. And they still haven’t arrested the Big D (Delusional) trump (I live in hope). More random crazy shootings. I had a brief happy moment when I saw that Bannon was indicted (apparently he raised money to build a wall?…. and there was no wall?….  seems like a such a small thing…  smile). And that was just Thursday… 

Queen Elizabeth. End of an era. Seventy years on the throne. It is going to be quite a transition. Is King Charles up to the job? I guess we will see. (As you will remember Charles I was beheaded and Charles II lived in exile for a while so not great precidents.) Elizabeth II has been there my whole life. I went to British school when I was little and met Prince Phillip on the polo field when I was a giggly second grader. He was very gracious and shook my hand while I tried to curtsey in my blue jeans. In 1993, I went to work for the British Embassy in Moscow. Soon after I started, I attended a reception and met Princess Anne and her husband Commander Lawrence. She was surprised to come across an American and even laughed at my jokes. In 1994, Queen Elizabeth was the first ruling Monarch to ever set foot in Russia. She and Boris Yeltsin attended a performance of Giselle at the Bolshoi. I was also in the audience. She wore a green flowered outfit and a tiara. It was quite a night. Pro or anti monarchy, you have to admit she was a force.

Michelle Obama (GALLERY HENOCH)

On a lighter note… I thought the painting of Michelle Obama unveiled at the White House this week was exceptional. Very well done. Artist: Sharon Sprung.

So, last week I went in for my annual mammogram. All very routine. A few days later I got a call to make an appointment for additional screening. This morning I went into a breast cancer center for my appointment. That was scary enough but the waiting room was a stark sterile large room that made me want to bolt for the hills.

I then went in for another mammogram. From there I sat in a smaller version of the bleak waiting room. And then it was on to the ultrasound machine where I spent about an hour being probed by several people and waiting by my myself in a very uncomfortable position. The doctor came and went twice. He sent me back for another mammogram. By the time I saw the doctor for the final time I had been probed for about two hours. He told me he just wanted to be sure. He certainly was thorough, I’ll give him that. The verdict? Come back in six months. Haha… Good thing I’m not the worrying kind… Actually it is fine.

And now the weekend beings. I might have a glass or two of wine!

Cheers!

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.

Birthday Week

Looks like six??

I usually post something on Sundays but yesterday was my birthday so I took the day off. I had a nice lunch with my father and then just lounged around. I took my car in for an oil change this morning and walking home it felt like fall. Crisp and cool. Strange weather for August. I’m sure it will change again. Climate change is very strange.

So my toilet stopped working. Well, it runs constantly which is not good. But whoever designed my bathroom was pretty much nuts. They put this counter top right over the toilet so you can’t access the tank. Plus they put in this pressurized mechanism that is all encased in plastic so you really can’t access it. Not to mention the fact that it is a hideous green color. I’ve had to get somebody to take out the counter top and install a new sink and toilet. So I ordered a new sink and it was too small for the cabinet I have so I am going to have a new cabinet as well. It is kind of snowballing. I tried to find a contractor but I ended up with the building maintenance guy because the contractor I talked to who sounded so positive and gave me so much hope, totally disappeared on me. Why are contractors such elusive characters?

I am completely obsessed and overcome with my upcoming retirement. I am constantly planning what I am going to do “once I retire”. Somehow don’t think it is too healthy. Be here now …. and all that. But there you have it. I’m constantly planning and replanning and rearranging all the trips I want to take. And all the projects I have. “Oh, I can do that once I retire”. “I will have time to clean out that closet once I retire”. Totally nuts. So what do I do instead of cleaning out that closet? I let dust accumulate on everything and lie on my couch watching “Brokenwood Mysteries” on Acorn.

Of course I do have to go to work in the meantime…

Anyway, have a good week! Maybe something cool and interesting will happen. (My constant dream.)

Week in Review

Hastings, MN

Did you see it now costs $200 per day above and beyond the regular expenses of accommodation, transportation, guides to visit Bhutan? Will make for a pricey trip. Although I guess you no longer have to go with a guided tour. It is on my bucket list. Have you been there?

I heard a song on the radio the other day that I really liked. It was by Orville Peck. I think he sounds like a cross between Roy Orbison and Jonny Cash. But some say he is reminiscent of Elvis. Anyway, I bought his second album, Bronco. He has kind of a cowboy theme. Orville Peck is an alias/persona for Daniel Pitout. He is South African but left when he was 15 and moved to London and then to Canada. His voice is amazing. 

My internet is out. I love the way you have to go onto the internet to find out if the internet is out. Luckily my cell service was working so I could go on the internet on my phone to my internet service provider’s website for it to tell me the internet is out. Now I have to wait for them to text me to let me know it is working again. I wonder if I will really actually get a text. (I did!) Life is full of surprises. Actually life was much simpler before the internet. It was one less thing to worry about. When it first appeared, I wondered what anybody would do with it. Why would people need something that just looked things up? I suppose it is like any new thing. Once you get used to it you wonder how you ever lived without it. I look things up every five minutes now. 

A young TCK (third culture kid) has written a book about the trials and tribulations of being a TCT (Third Culture Teen), something she apparently coined. I listened to a podcast of her being interviewed. She is Korean and lived in China and other places and went to college in the USA. Interesting that she mostly went to American Schools when she was growing up and identified with Americans and thought she knew about American culture even though she never lived there but when she actually got to the USA, she was clueless. It sounds like a pretty common problem to me, whether you are Korean or American (TCK). Anyway her book is called The Third Culture Teen, In Between Cultures, In Between Life Stages by Jiwon Lee (on Amazon).

Buh-bye to Boris (Johnson). I will miss his hairdo….

Speaking of music… I watched a good documentary on Amazon Prime about Los Tigres Del Norte. Four brothers left their home in Sinaloa, Mexico after their father was shot in the spine. They could not afford an operation so they needed to earn money for the family. They were playing in restaurants wherever they could and in Mexicali they ran into a man who took them to San Jose, California and introduced them to a record distributor. They seemed to have very good luck as well as being talented. Their style is “norteño” music and their lyrics are about the immigrant, the workers, the down trodden. Later they also wrote about the drug traffickers and the movers of contraband. Their concerts could last for six hours or more. They have released 50 albums and received five Grammy awards. They are still going strong and plan to keep going as long as they are able. They are all naturalized US citizens now.

When I went to San Francisco in May, we walked all through Chinatown and I bought some gifts for my great niece and nephew. I went over to their house last night for dinner and to give them their presents. I was greeted by the four year old boy who was very excited about an episode of the dragon cartoon they were watching. So I enjoyed a couple of episodes of dragon adventures. When I was getting ready to leave he told me he wanted to draw me a picture. This is now displayed on my refrigerator. I think it is quite beautiful.

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…

First World Problems

South Sudan, Photo by Moussa Idrissi on Pexels.com

I have a friend who complains about her life and all its frustrations and then ends with “It’s a first world problem”.

My dermatologist told me to buy a specific type of sunscreen. I had to go to three stores and finally found something that was on the list. A lot of shelves needed re-stocking. It’s a first world problem.

My TV stopped working and I had to do all kinds of research on the internet to find one that had the best reviews. And then it was out of stock. First world problem.

People in the USA take so much for granted. Women fought for a long time to get the freedoms they had and then they became complacent. Or did they? I recently read an article by Mary Pipher – “How I Build a Good Day When I’m Full of Despair at the World”. She is a clinical psychologist and author. In the article she states: As we are pummeled with daily traumatic information, more and more of us shut down emotionally. I can hear the flatness in the newscasters’ voices, see the stress in my friends’ faces and sense it in the tension of the workers at my sister’s nursing home. We are not apathetic; we are overwhelmed. Our symptoms resemble those of combat fatigue.

I know what she means. We are overloaded with information we can’t process. We can’t do anything about. We volunteer, we donate money, we despair. But I never feel like I really accomplish anything or make any kind of significant impact. My despair is for others. My life is ok. I have what I need. I can turn off the news. I can have drinks with friends. I can visit my state parks. I can easily shut it all out.

But it seeps in. They overturn Roe v. Wade. An earthquake in Afghanistan kills 1,000 people. The war in Ukraine rages on. Eighteen people found dead in a truck after being smuggled across the border in Texas. Guns guns guns. The only good thing that happened this week was Cassidy Hutchinson.

The worst thing I saw was a newscast about the famine in Southern Sudan. The people are starving because they are not getting their usual grain from Ukraine. My father always told me there were no food shortages in the world, only politics. He would know since he spent his whole life trying to feed people. So even though Southern Sudan is not part of the “first world”, it really is a first world problem. Or it should be. Why is Ukraine their only source of food? Why should they starve to death because Putin is an idiot?

I always hope that recent events will motivate people to care about what is happening in the world but there are always those who see things differently. Those who do not think women should have a voice. Those who think guns are good for all. Those who don’t want people of color anywhere near them. Is it political too? Lack of education? Greed? Hopelessness?

There a plenty of days when all I do is quote Gertrude….

There ain’t no answer.
There ain’t going to be an answer.
There never has been an answer.
That’s the answer.
Gertrude Stein

And there are days when I hope she is wrong…

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)

Lindbergh and other things in Little Falls

I am currently reading The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin. It is about Charles Lindbergh, written from his wife, Anne’s point of view. A few years back I took a trip to Little Falls, Minnesota, where Charles Lindbergh grew up. Charles lived in Little Falls until he went to the University of Wisconsin in 1920. The original house was a three-story mansion built by the river just outside of town. It burned to the ground and was replaced with the more modest two-story building we see today. Charles lived with his mother since his parents were not on the best of terms, his father had a place in town. In 1931 the 110 acres and the house were donated to the State of Minnesota and the Minnesota Historical Society took over the house and 17 acres. The remaining 93 acres are now the Charles A. Lindbergh State Park.

Lindbergh House

In 1927, Lindbergh was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. In December of that same year he met Ann Morrow in Mexico City and married her two years later. She was the daughter of the US Ambassador to Mexico. Their first-born child, Charles A. Lindbergh Jr. was kidnapped and killed in 1932. Lindbergh ended up having 13 children, many were illegitimate. Apparently he was not the greatest guy in the world. Not only did he carry on several simultaneous relationships but also was a Nazi sympathizer.

He did know a lot about airplanes, though. In later years he was a consultant to Pan American Airways and helped design the Boeing 747. He did some writing and in 1953, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his book about his transatlantic flight. In the late 1960’s, he campaigned for the protection of endangered species and became concerned about what the effects of supersonic transport planes might have on the atmosphere. At the end of his life he lived on Maui in Hawaii and died of cancer in 1974.

We visited a small museum on the grounds of his former home in Little Falls. It was full of newspaper clippings, news reels, and artifacts pertaining to Lindbergh’s life. The plane he flew across the Atlantic, the Spirit of St Louis, is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

Down the road from the Lindbergh house, there was a small county museum, the Charles A Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum. Frederick Weyerhaeuser was a German immigrant who started a lumber business in Rock Island, Illinois in 1858. From there he moved to St Paul, Minnesota where he ended up in a joint venture with James J Hill, owner of the Great Northern Railway Company who expanded the railway out to the Pacific Ocean. The Weyerhaeuser Timber Company was incorporated in Tacoma, Washington in 1900.

John, Frederick’s oldest son, followed him to become president of the company. In 1935, John’s 8 year old son George, was kidnapped but luckily it ended happily with the child being returned unharmed, and the kidnappers apprehended, unlike the Lindbergh affair. George grew up to be the president of the company. Today Weyerhaeuser is an international public company and per its website is “one of the largest sustainable forest products companies in the world.”

Charles was another son of Frederick’s who was also in the lumber business. He headed the Pine Tree Lumber Company in Little Falls, Minnesota with his business partner Richard Drew Musser. It quickly became the second largest mill in the Northwest. In 1920 the mill closed and all the timber was gone. Charles moved to St Paul and died in 1930. His mansion in Little Falls is now open to the public. The county museum named in his honor does genealogy research.

However, because of Charles and his lumber company, in the 1930’s, the federal and state governments surveyed the area full of his stumps. New regulations were implemented restricting cutting and demanding re-planting. Most of the trees in Northern Minnesota are now back but the white pine is rare today.

Jessica Lange, the actor, also lived in Little Falls when she was about eight years old. You could drive by her school and house if you were so inclined.

At some point, the Dakota peoples were pushed out of the area by the Ojibwe, and then they were pushed out by the Europeans who settled in the area in the early 1800’s. The town was named for a series of rapids on the Mississippi that ran through the middle of town. Today a dam converts the rapids into a powerful waterfall.

About a ten mile drive north of Little Falls is Camp Ripley, a National Guard, 53,000-acre training center. It is named for Fort Ripley, a frontier Army post occupied from 1849-1877 that once sat on the property. The new training site opened in 1931.

We visited the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley. We drove through big solid gates and showed our ID’s at the gatehouse in order to enter. The museum was very well done and quite extensive, I recommend it to anybody interested in history. There were also exhibits on the grounds surrounding the museum and smaller buildings that housed jeeps and other military vehicles. Part of it was interactive. I tried on a couple of helmets (they are heavy).

On the way back to Little Falls we decided to make a circle and swing by the Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. We figured we would just jump out of the car, take a quick walk, take some pictures and be on our way. The Refuge was established in 1992 to preserve a large natural wetland. It is basically a marshland that is home to many species of birds including the Sandhill Cranes.

Our idea had one small flaw. Mosquitoes. Of course there would be mosquitoes in a marshland and we did know that but we had no idea just how many mosquitoes there would be. Within two minutes we were under full attack and had to run for cover. I was still swatting them in the car when we got back to town.

We consoled ourselves with pizza and beer at Charlie’s Pizza in Little Falls.