A second glance, a closer look –

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I continue to be amazed by the human urge to explore and create, and by the depths of empathy, love, and service to others that we often exhibit.  No matter how things change in our world, some creations and accomplishments will always be worth a second glance, a closer look.

This blog is my humble thank you to all those who spread joy and laughter, love their neighbors, and strive to make a positive contribution.   It is also my daily prayer for those fighting against ignorance and oppression.

Black Lives and the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793

The sustained, nationwide demonstrations in response to the horrific murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police last month briefly knocked the COVID-19 pandemic from top spot in our daily headlines. The raw malevolence of the killing, seen over and over again on video, and the exploding outrage are shaking the foundations of US society.

Millions of people worldwide have marched peacefully in protest, many wearing face masks. The massive gatherings make a statement that ending four hundred years of systemic racism in the United States (which has caused so many deaths already) is a greater priority for the protestors than protecting their own health by avoiding large crowds.

The peaceful demonstrators are demanding that our institutions and government start conforming to our claims of being a truly just and democratic society. How can I not think of people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, the children who integrated the southern schools, the voting rights activists, the young people who sat in at segregated lunch counters and endured the blasts of high-pressure water from fire hoses? Sixty years later and Floyd’s death shows us that the problem of racism is still profound.

I would like to share the story of another moment in time when there was also an intersection of a public health crisis and race relations. The heroism of ordinary people, black and white, will always be relevant, and the event, over two hundred years ago, gives us much to think about today.

Absolom Jones, elder of the Free African Society, and the cover page of his defense against the libelous account of Mathew Carey

The gruesome conditions of the yellow fever epidemic in 1793, when Philadelphia was our capital and George Washington was president, brought the country to the verge of a constitutional crisis. Panic predominated, government officials left town, and the city was a cesspool of filth and disease. All of the work required to restore order and livability—nursing, housing, food distribution, burials, care for orphans—was assumed by volunteers.

The critical role of the Free African Society, a mutual aid society for blacks, most of whom were former slaves, spotlights the compassion and social consciousness of its members as they helped everyone, even while facing their own daily struggles of racism in the new “democracy” built on slavery.

There is much to think about in this story, so many lessons. Let’s celebrate these people who felt guided to serve in the name of Christian compassion even though they were brought to this country against their will. And let us remember that today’s members of Black Lives Matter are part of a four-hundred-year-long heroic effort urging the United States to meet the ideals of our Declaration of Independence.

Yellow Fever & Urban Life 1793

As an elementary school teacher, I came across an award-winning book for young people about this historic health crisis:  An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, by Jim Murphy, Scholastic Inc. This wonderful book was optional reading for fifth graders, and it is just the thing for adults who want something condensed and super readable, as well as scholarly. Order through your bookstore or online.

Yellow fever comes from a virus transmitted by mosquitoes, which thrive and multiply in stagnant pools of water. Philadelphia’s hot, humid weather in the summer was the perfect breeding ground for these insects, but scientists wouldn’t know about their role in spreading disease until the early 1900s.

In 1793 people thought yellow fever was contagious—transmitted from person to person. The grisly symptoms cause understandable fear and panic. The skin turns yellow as red blood cells are destroyed, and patients experience spasms of diarrhea and vomit black blood. People who could afford it fled the city, while others were left to die alone, lying in their own blood and excrement. Other towns barricaded roads from Philadelphia, and travelers were sometimes attacked. It truly must have seemed a page from Revelations.  Continue reading “Black Lives and the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793”

First Responders and Unexpected Heroes

Amy at work – always a smile

My older daughter is a checker for a large supermarket chain. Just a few weeks ago, in early March, she called to vent a little about how stressful and exhausting work had become. Even though this wasn’t a holiday season, she and others had started working ten-hour shifts with only 30-minute lunch breaks. Shoppers seemed tense and weren’t exchanging pleasantries like they used to. There was a run on bottled water and paper towels as people started stocking up on items useful in a crisis.

Since February the media had been brimming with stories of the extreme measures being used to combat the new, highly contagious virus, COVID-19, that was spreading around the world. Millions of people had been quarantined in Wuhan, China, where the virus first appeared, and over three thousand people on a cruise ship were confined for weeks when an outbreak was discovered. The virus showed up in the state of Washington, carried there by a traveler and resulting in the death of several people.

As I did my best to offer sympathy, it finally hit me—Amy and her coworkers were now on the front lines of a growing world crisis. The public was anxious, even though the federal government downplayed the threat. The quarantine of a world city like Milan left everyone shaken. Americans who had seen the pictures of empty store shelves in Italy were preparing for a possible health crisis here.

People felt the danger, I told her, and the normalcy of the grocery market experience, with cashiers and courtesy clerks who remained professional and even cheerful, was reassuring.

My view of Amy and others as heroes only deepened as the week went by. Now there was a serious run on toilet paper and cleaning products. I was thrilled to score two containers of the few remaining anti-bacterial wipes—one for Amy and one for Natalie who has a new baby.

No time to restock the egg shelves. The sign says “Only 3 items per customer.

When the National Basketball Association canceled its season on March 11, followed by a postponement of hockey, soccer, and baseball games, panic buying appeared in full force.  Shelves were quickly emptied of almost everything—milk, eggs, soup, canned tomatoes, bread, pasta, flour. The Los Angeles Unified School District didn’t hesitate long before closing all campuses, with no plan for alternative education. Flights from Europe to the US were abruptly restricted, causing considerable fear and difficulty for Americans trying to get home. The complete closure of Disneyland removed all doubt about the global threat from Covid-19.

Amy came for dinner one night after a long shift—too tired to shop for food that she needed. The anxiety of the customers was “heightened” she said, their behavior like a “megaphone” for their feelings.

When I repeated my assessment that she and her coworkers, more than ever, were serving as first responders in a crisis, she replied that one person actually said, “Thank you for your service,” and she had to fight back tears. Another checker told me that she received similar expressions of gratitude. Continue reading “First Responders and Unexpected Heroes”

Croke Park Stadium – Dublin

Entrance to the GAA museum underneath the stadium.

For me, the most moving experience of my first visit to Dublin was our tour of a site that is considered sacred ground by the Irish.  This is the 82,300-seat stadium known as Croke Park, which is owned by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and dedicated to the preservation of traditional Irish games – Hurling and Gaelic Football, and the women’s sports of Camogie and Ladies Gaelic Football.

Irish reverence and esteem for Croke Park are highlighted by the fact that Frank and I were the only foreigners on this tour!  Everyone else – parents, grandparents, children – were from somewhere in Ireland.  Our tour guide queried us during his introduction, and you could see his satisfaction when he heard, “County Cork,” “County Clare,” “County Kerry,” etc.  The treasurer from one of the North Ireland GAA clubs was also part of our tour group.

Croke Park, home of traditional Irish sports, is almost as big as the Pasadena Rose Bowl.

The history and current influence of the GAA is profound.  Established in 1884, the organization was part of the reassertion of Irish culture and language after centuries of English domination.  In 1913 the GAA acquired land that would become the headquarters and principal venue for Irish sports.  The arena was named for Archbishop Thomas Croke, one of the association’s early supporters, and it played a role in the struggle for independence from England.

The size of Croke Park signifies its importance.  This little country, the Republic of Ireland (population 4.9 million), has the third largest stadium in Europe after Barcelona in Spain and Wembly in London!

Residential neighborhood surrounding Croke Park.

Frank and I stumbled across this monumental symbol of Irish history and culture on the north side of town when we decided to walk down a different street on our way to the Liffey River.  It was a busy street, a thoroughfare for cars, bordering a working/middle class neighborhood.  Looming over the two- and three-story brick houses were the steel struts and supports of what we first thought was a soccer stadium.

The sounds of traffic waned as we turned down a side street searching for a front gate and marquee.  Clearly, there was no game that day.  We crossed a canal and passed a well-used but vacant building that said Croke Park Hotel.  Further on were modest row houses whose residents may have been at work.  Few people passed us, on foot or by car.

Turning right at the next street we finally found the main gate on the north side of the stadium with signs inviting us to visit the museum and tour the stadium.  The short museum film by itself was an eye-opening experience!

Students on a field trip getting their picture taken.

Rick Steves devotes two pages to the GAA and Croke Park, but he put the stadium at the bottom (Number 22) of his handy list of things to see in Dublin.  Rick Steves is mistaken!  Croke Park should be ranked near the top.  It reveals the essence of Ireland on so many levels.

The GAA is a daily part of life for many Irish residents, even in the smallest towns, because of the widespread participation by boys and girls, men and women, in traditional Irish sports.  The stadium itself is an iconic site in the long struggle for Irish independence.

In 1920, after several years of unrest, the British Black and Tans entered Croke Park during a Gaelic football match and fired indiscriminately into the crowd, killing 13 spectators and one player from Tipperary.  The outrage over the Bloody Sunday Massacre influenced Britain’s acceptance of the Irish Free State a year later.

All-Amateur Competitions

County Clare vs. Cork during the All-Ireland senior hurling final replay at Croke park. Photo by John Kelly.
Ladies camogie, like hurling, looks like baseball on the run – only both teams have bats!  ©iLivephotos

The stadium’s two biggest annual events are amateur competitions – the all-Irish Championships in hurling and Gaelic football.  Even at the highest levels, the players all have day jobs!  They play for their county, for community pride.  After a game both teams, winners and losers, are joined by their families in the clubhouse for a celebratory meal!  Are there any high school or college teams who do that here?

Continue reading “Croke Park Stadium – Dublin”

Boyle Heights and Evergreen Cemetery

Evergreen Cemetery, looking west toward downtown LA skyline. From LA Conservancy files

My roots are in a small ethnic community back east that doesn’t think twice about putting a new housing development on a vacant field next to a cemetery.  Graveyards, like churches and beer gardens, are a part of life there.

Early California cities seemed to think otherwise—that cemeteries were bad for business.  In 1900 San Francisco voted to stop burials within city limits.  Most bodies that were already interred in the city’s thirty-some cemeteries were removed for relocation.  The work was often sloppy, not to mention disrespectful, with broken tombstones and misplaced remains.

Remembering our service men and women.

In 1877 Los Angeles established a non-denominational cemetery, Evergreen, in the hills far to the east of Downtown, across the LA River.  There weren’t many residents at that time in the area we now know as Boyle Heights.

Today, our sprawling megalopolis has grown tight around Evergreen Cemetery.  A dense neighborhood of bungalows, apartments, and small businesses surrounds this historic site that continues serving the spiritual needs of today’s families.  New interments occur often and families continue to visit and decorate the graves of their departed.

Hollenbeck family grave site.

In the center of Evergreen’s 67 acres are the huge markers commissioned by the families of LA’s early Anglo leaders who gave their names to streets and cities (Van Nuys, Lankershim, Temple, Hollenbeck, Bixby).  The past is always present when you visit Evergreen.

The early diversity of Los Angeles is also reflected here, even though interments were initially segregated by ethnicity—African Americans, Mexicans, Armenians, Japanese, and whites.  Shamefully, the Chinese were only allowed to bury their relatives in the section for the indigent known as Potter’s Field, and unlike others, they had to pay $10 extra.  The city was very happy to hear about a new Chinese cemetery established in 1922.  Potter’s Field was becoming full.  But the city only offered $2 per grave to relocate the remains.

Kay at the grave site of family members with friend Yolanda.

I first visited Evergreen with my friend Yolanda five years ago on a cold winter day.  We are among those who like to explore, and we were not deterred by the weather.

To our surprise, an elderly friend, Kay, had family members at Evergreen and she had not been able to visit them for many years.  We happily escorted her on a warmer day.  Continue reading “Boyle Heights and Evergreen Cemetery”

César E. Chávez National Monument

I had never realized until this year that my husband and César E. Chávez, union organizer for the farm workers and civil rights activist, share the same day of birth, March 31.  California government offices and many school districts close in tribute to César Chávez each year.  The astrology sign for this day identifies personal strengths of courage, confidence, determination,  and honesty, and adds that the person likes taking a leadership position.

Chávez remains a defining eminence of my youth—an inspiring labor organizer who spotlighted the immoral and dehumanizing working conditions of migrant farm workers.

Chavez accepting a piece of bread from Robert Kennedy at the end of his hunger strike protesting low wages & working conditions of the farm workers.

His vision, non-violent tactics, and personal integrity garnered wide public support and revealed him to be more than just a union leader—he was a symbol of hope for those who believed we could build a more equitable society.

For young people like myself, who learned in school about child labor laws, the New Deal, and civil rights court cases, it was shocking to realize that much of this did not seem to benefit the people harvesting our food.

Chávez, like Martin Luther King, Jr., broadened our conception of civil rights.  Is there any meaning to the word “freedom” if people are forced to labor for pennies and sleep in shacks with no plumbing?  Are people free when they are deprived of dignity?

Frank and I both observed the boycott of non-union grapes, which grew to international proportions at that time.  Even now, every time we drive north on Hwy 99 and pass Delano, I recall the march to Sacramento by Latino and Filipino farm workers in 1966.  It took them 25 days, trudging along the side of the highway for more than 300 miles, in their quest for union recognition by the growers.  Over 10,000 people were waiting to greet them.

The Mountain Home of the César E. Chávez National Monument

Pres. Obama and Helen Chavez, at the dedication of the monument.

Last year I learned something else about Chávez which was a wonderful surprise.  In 2012 President Obama dedicated the César E. Chávez National Monument in the historic locale of Tehachapi, California.   It’s two hours north of Los Angeles, a must-see tribute to an important leader during turbulent times, and a great destination for a getaway weekend.  Continue reading “César E. Chávez National Monument”

Co-ops, Communes, and Love in Venice

Venice at an earlier time – peeling paint on the wood and stucco buildings and the old wooden bridge.

I met my husband in a community whose core is no longer what it once was—a haven for the poor, a second chance for the out-of-sorts, space for the disaffected. It was a fabled community, in the same way as Greenwich Village or Haight-Ashbury, only it sat along the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Elderly men and women found shelter in cheap hotel rooms by the beach and sunned themselves on benches along the boardwalk. Young people came looking for answers, exploring alternatives, finding themselves. It was the antithesis of the high-end homes and glitz that are its hallmark today—Venice, California.

A younger Frank.

It was serendipity that Frank and I both stumbled into Venice, a year apart, unaware that it was already a mecca for questing youth of our generation. Venice, with its algae-clogged canals, cheap housing, and clean beaches, was a center of counterculture—tie-dyes, candles, long hair, homemade bread. We were both pretty straight, but there was room to be different, and all were welcome.

Originally built in 1905 as a planned resort for the wealthy, Venice had gone to seed long before World War II. By 1970 the neighborhood was being reshaped by the transforming cultural wave of the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the coming of age of the baby boomers.

In one way the community was sort of a hippie heaven—dazzling wide beaches, available dope, and various places to crash at night. But it was also a place of intense political discussion about changing the status quo to end the oppression of women, minorities, and people in third world countries.

The living room of my converted garage. My father found a discarded sectional and reupholstered it with fabric pattern that was popular. I sewed the window curtains myself.

Everything was on the table. Were large institutions like B of A working against humanity? What was the best way to fight Jim Crow–the politics of the Black Panthers or the principles of Dr. Martin Luther King? Was it vigilantism if women went out in groups at night, looking for would-be rapists? Did you need a male doctor to take charge of your own gynecological health? Sad to say, the problems that prompted these questions are still with us.

Neither Frank nor I knew any of this about Venice (its politics or its hippiedom) when we moved to the neighborhood in search of affordable housing.  As a new graduate student in astronomy at UCLA, Frank had arrived from Boston with his wife. I was single, also enrolled at UCLA, trying to get my life back on track after a failed marriage. (No, I was never the “other woman.”)

My Place

I inhabited a converted garage that was connected to a traditional 3-bedroom home built in the 1950’s. My rental was definitely spacious, if a little funky, with eleven-foot ceilings, a kitchen and bathroom created in what once must have been a breeze way, and a long, skinny bedroom added along one side. It looks like someone still inhabits it today. I deeply regret that I have only one Instamatic picture of the place.        Continue reading “Co-ops, Communes, and Love in Venice”

A Gift From Julian

Kaleb Alexander Roberts starring in “Invincible Boy”

For local film-maker Julian Park, the season for giving is every month of the year, not just December.  He doesn’t wrap his presents in shiny paper or bind them with jaunty bows.  He tells stories through film.  Some are fictional, some are documentaries.  You can see them all on the internet for free.

L-R Director Julian Park with cast members from “Invincible Boy”, Nathan Kim, Anna Garcia, Kaleb Alexander Roberts

His body of work reflects themes of optimism, kindness, and following one’s passion, and I urge people to watch his films this Christmas season.  Not only will the stories lift your spirits, your added “clicks” to the “number of views” are a way of way of saying Thank You to Julian for believing in and celebrating human virtue.

Julian’s self-described high school hobby of making movies has become his passion.  He poured a lot of sweat equity into making his earlier films.

“I want to tell meaningful stories,” he says.  For this latest one, Invincible Boy (Video), he hired a professional crew and actors, financing it through his day job as a web designer.

He wrote, directed, and edited this 20-minute story about two young boys wanting to make a difference in the world.  The young protagonists, Vincent and Barney, played by Kaleb Alexander Robert and Nathan Kim, are perfectly cast.

A rewrite was required after Julian first approached city officials for a permit in his hometown of Downey.  They told him that he couldn’t block off the streets.

Filming “Invincible Boy” in Downey

“My initial ideas were too expansive,” he says.   Filming in Downey, where he grew up, was an advantage for the rewrite.  “I know it [the city] so well, that at least when I wrote the sequences, I knew where it would take place in my mind.”

He managed to convey a dynamic chase scene even without blocking any streets, and the city refunded most of his deposit when he finished the five-day shoot.  Local streets are recognizable for those who live in Downey, and the multinational cast reflects the neighborhood.  I even recognized some of the “extras” in the bus scene as my friends and neighbors.

Road Trip

Julian’s mother must be a lovely lady to have raised such a thoughtful, reflective son with empathy for others.  But I would think that his generous heart must make her anxious over the risks he takes for some of his films.  In 2009, after studying creative writing in college, he left home with a backpack and Handycam, only telling his mother that he was going on a road trip.

“I wanted to find adventure,” he says in the film.  “I wanted to see America.  I wanted to witness kindness.”  The result is a 53-minute personal and compelling documentary about the people he encountered in his travels across the United States,  Only Kindness Matters – hitchhiking across the USA (Video) 

Documentary in Kenya

Scene from the documentary “Standard 8” shot in Kenya.

In 2010 Julian filmed a 30-minute documentary Standard 8 (Video)   that would make any professional proud (even the likes of Steven Spielberg or Ron Howard).   A high school friend, Eddo Kim, had started a non-profit, The Supply, to serve children in African who have little or no access to education.  The organization’s particular focus at that time was assisting a public elementary school in the slum of Lenana, Nairobi, Kenya.

At Eddo’s invitation, Julian flew to Nairobi to help publicize this educational effort.  He and an associate spent a week filming students and their teachers.  The documentary is titled after the exam the students must pass.   Continue reading “A Gift From Julian”

An American Hero in Paris

American Ambassador to France, Elihu Washburne, who was known for his direct manner, frugality, hard work, and bravery during the Franco-Prussian War.

Hats off to the lush production values in many of the new Netflix and Amazon series, such as The Crown, Peeky Blinders, and Marco Polo.  I use the Pause button often, pausing in places to study clothes and settings for authenticity.   I would bet money that real Mongolian musicians were used for a festival scene in Marco Polo.

Recently I came across another perfect subject for a series based on actual events – the heroic service of American Ambassador Elihu Washburne (and his family) during the siege of Paris by Prussia (1870-1871) followed soon after by the gruesome insurrection of the Paris Commune.  Washburne’s exploits during these ten months read like a romance novel.  It’s hard to believe the story is not made up

Guided by a personal sense of integrity and service, Washburne was the only diplomat from a major neutral country who chose to remain in the fabled city as it faced starvation, artillery shelling, and roving mobs of insurrectionists.  His courage made a difference for thousands of foreign nationals, even those from other countries, caught behind city walls.

19th Century Paris.

Washburne in Paris is an ideal TV series because there is no end to the number of subplots and episodes.  There are lovely ladies in distress, people reduced to eating rats, the capture of Emperor Napoleon III, and the escape of his Empress Eugenie to London, escorted only by a famed American dentist and his colleague.  Who could ignore this compelling story of bravery and honor in beautiful Paree?

Even more, Washburne is the perfect foil to the gay Parisiennes.  He was a straight-arrow known for his direct manner, frugality, hard work, and integrity.   He didn’t smoke, drink hard liquor, or gamble – virtues which are not always assets in politics.  Even though he spoke French, there were many who thought he was “coarse, uncultivated” – unsuited for the position.

I came across the Washburne story in David McCullough’s book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, about the artists, scientists, and businessmen traveling to Paris after the country had recovered from the French Revolution.  Washburne’s adventure is so epic that McCullough gives it two long chapters.  Much of the rich detail comes from Washburne’s daily journal.  Don’t be afraid to pick up McCullough’s book.  It reads like a novel.  This is a social history about Paris and its allure.

Washburne’s Roots

Washburne’s backstory is like Abraham Lincoln’s, only with a happier ending.  He was the third of eleven children, born in 1816 to a struggling farmer in Maine.   At the age of twelve he was “hired out” as a farmhand and two years later went to work as a printer’s apprentice.  Making use of public libraries, Washburne got what education he could and was admitted to Harvard Law School in 1839.  A year later he sought his fortune in the wild west of Illinois and was soon earning enough as a lawyer to send money back home.

The Washburne home in Galena, Illinois, before the family went to France. It is now a historic site.

He was friends with both Grant and Lincoln and was elected to Congress in 1853 as a Republican opposed to slavery.  His stature during the Civil War was such that he was with Grant when Lee surrendered at Appomattox.  When Grant was elected President in 1868, he appointed Washburne as ambassador to France in the following year.  (Washburne’s family actually spoke French as a second language because his wife Adele had been educated by French nuns in St. Louis.)  Continue reading “An American Hero in Paris”

Aretha Franklin & “Classical Music”

Classic – of acknowledged excellence, having enduring worth,

             Representing an exemplary standard,

     Traditional and long-established in form and style

Aretha on the cover of Time Magazine in June 1968. She was 26.
Aretha Franklin

The most eloquent, and accurate, assessment of Aretha Franklin’s impact on American life and music was written by a man who was born a generation after her – President Barack Obama.  In a Tweet he wrote, “Aretha helped define the American experience.  In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade – our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect.”

Aretha, who had her first smash hit in 1967, “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Loved You),” followed in the beats and sounds of earlier rock ‘n roll/R&B performers such as Fats Domino, Sam Cooke, Tina Turner, Smokey Robinson,  etc.   Her overall musicality, in writing and arranging as well as performing, made her a prodigy, but she earned the title “Queen of Soul” because of the way she could touch our hearts with her marvelous voice – we feel our history, our darkness and our light.

Video: Aretha at the Kennedy Center singing for Obama

At the Kennedy Center Awards 2015

Other singers have described listening to Aretha as going to church, and I nod in agreement for so many reasons.  Her singing evokes feelings ranging from profound personal joy, beautiful memories, to regret and deep sorrow.  People feel her.  Every performance is a moment of high art.  And it is not only Americans who love Aretha.  She is revered around the world.

Influence of American Music Worldwide

I’m a rock ‘n roll girl to my core – I grew up with a transistor radio tuned to Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Richie Valens, The Shirelles, Little Richard, etc.  As a teenager, I never would have guessed that this popular music I enjoyed would grow to have the world-wide impact that it does.    Iconic performers from other countries, such as the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, all studied this music, made it their own, and gave something unique back to the world.

Korean boy-band BTS on sold-out tour in United States.

The popularity and influence of American music is not limited to western countries.  Fans abound throughout Asia as well.  I was amazed by a video of a Jason Mraz concert in Thailand – his throngs of fans knew all of the words and were singing along in English!  Korean popular music, K-Pop for short, grew from the exploration of American genres – R&B, hip-hop, emo, etc.  The upcoming Korean boy band BTS is now on a sold-out North American tour that includes Staples Center and Citi Stadium in New York.

Not only does the soundtrack of the groundbreaking movie Crazy Rich Asians feature covers of well-known American pop songs – the lyrics are often in Chinese.   The movie closes with a sizzling cover of Barrett Strong’s 1959 hit   Money (That’s What I Want) by Cheryl K with Awkwafina Lyrics

American Music in the Land of Mozart

I had my own personal experience with the ubiquity of 20th century American music in obscure places around the globe, and it left me with much to think about.  Let me set the stage.

Our train to the spa town of Marianski Lazne. No other tourists arrived this way.

During the scorching summer of 2006, Frank and I traveled by train from Germany to Prague in the Czech Republic, with a two-night stay on the way at the fabled spa town of Marianski Lazne.   This locale was once favored by European royalty and celebrities for its mineral water.  Guidebooks told me that it was still a tourist attraction with many international visitors.

I started having second thoughts about this plan after we crossed the border at Cheb and transferred to a Czech train.  The number of passengers kept dwindling.   Most of our fellow travelers were just local commuters, coming home from work or school, visiting family or friends.  By the time we reached Marianski it was clear that we were the only tourists arriving this way – dragging our suitcases across blacktop that could fry bacon and trudging up stairs to enter the station.   What were the guidebooks not telling us?

The Singing Fountain in Marianski Lazne which is reported to have been the inspiration for the Belagio fountains in Las Vegas.

Things got worse when we didn’t see any obvious taxi service outside the station – few vehicles of any kind were on the street.  Our dismay grew with the language gap.  Only Czech was spoken – not even French or Spanish which had worked so well elsewhere.  We felt we had lost connection to the modern world.

At last an older black car with a Taxi sign in its window pulled up to park ACROSS the street.  After the 15 minutes of near panic, no sound could have been more unexpected than what we heard when the driver started the car and turned on the radio.

Here, in this remote Bohemian town, so hard to get to from the United States, we recognized the Beach Boys singing “Help me Rhonda, help, help me, Rhonda.”  In this country known for its rich tradition of “classical’ music with violins and cellos, the first music we heard was a 40-year-old song from Brian Wilson!         Continue reading “Aretha Franklin & “Classical Music””

Sailing, Seafood, and the State of Maine

Frank’s boat for 5 days – the 130-yr-old Grace Bailey, home port Camden, Maine.

If you live in the west and you’re looking for an exotic vacation, forget Tahiti – consider the coast of New England.  For now, the state of Maine is everything that Southern California is not – lush, wooded, a sailor’s playground with its myriad coves and islands, and a source for some of the most delicious seafood on the planet.

Harbor of Camden, Maine.

I ate fresh bay scallops (huge) and lobster every day of our trip this summer.  Some days I bought scallops at the supermarket and prepared them myself.  Locals told me that it was the cold water of the northern Atlantic that accounted for this plethora of succulent seafood.

My husband grew up in New England and learned to sail on its lakes and rivers.  This summer he signed up for something he always wanted to do – cruise Penobscot Bay, Maine, on an authentic wooden schooner.   His boat was the historic, 85-ft. Grace Bailey, 130 years old, and for five days he crewed to his heart’s content – hoisting the sails, weighing anchor, and taking the helm.

Galley of the Grace Bailey. All meals for 30 people were cooked on the wood-burning stove.

It was a glorious experience, but a little bit primitive for my tastes – you had to pump something and pull a lever at the same time to flush the toilet.  On the other hand, the 24 passengers were pampered in a way that you would never experience on a Carnival Cruise. Frank said the cook rose at 4:30 AM to prepare three phenomenal meals from scratch every day on a wood-burning stove!  You can imagine the heady effect of the smell and taste of fresh-baked muffins mixed with salt air.

Frank and First Mate in the common area just off his cabin. Notice the piano. This used to be the family quarters for the captain.

Penobscot Bay is huge, extending 35 miles inland, with no end of islands and inlets to explore.  Captain Chris promised the passengers they would enjoy a lobster bake one evening.  Otherwise, there was no fixed itinerary.  Their voyage would be guided only by whim.   Frank is ready to do this again.

Frank at the helm.

Video – Weighing Anchor

Video – Anchor Finally Up

Video – Open Sea

See Frank’s Story About His Trip

While he sailed, I explored Camden and Rockport.  I absolutely was not bored and am ready to do this again as well.   Camden is small and walkable with dress shops, art galleries, and restaurants tucked into old buildings along the waterfront.  It even has two bookstores!  Its elegant public library overlooks the bay.  On the Fourth of July live bands played in the nearby park all afternoon and evening before the fireworks.  My AirBnB hosts invited me to join their “soiree” that evening.

I walked the mile into town every day for exercise, and on one return trip I saw several young men load a couple of surfboards in the back of their pickup.  One good aspect of getting older is diminishing shyness.

Paddle-boarding on Megunticook Lake.

“Excuse me!” I yelled as the driver go into his truck.  “Where do you surf around here?”

“Megunticook Lake,” he smiled back.  “Stand-up paddle-boarding.”

I drove out to the lake that afternoon and discovered a favorite recreation area.  There were small beaches in between the wooded shoreline , a boat launch, and girls in bikinis getting tan as they stood on surfboards paddling through the water.

Continue reading “Sailing, Seafood, and the State of Maine”