About Me

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Delray Beach, FL, Westport, MA, United States
Undergraduate degree, Colby College; MA in teaching, Columbia Teacher's College; former high school English teacher in three states; former owner of interior design co. with advanced degree from R.I. School of Design. Published first book in 2009 titled, MINOR LEAGUE MOM: A MOTHER'S JOURNEY THROUGH THE RED SOX FARM TEAMS. Her humorous manuscript titled ELDERLY PARENTS WITH ALL THEIR MARBLES: A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE KIDS was published in June, 2014. In 2015 A SURVIVAL GUIDE won a gold medal in the self-help category at the Florida Authors & Publishers Association conference. See website By CLICKING HERE.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Travelogue, French Basque Country, 2018

     We arrived in Biarritz, France, in June, 2018, for a trip through the Basque Country of France and Spain. Our travels would take us from Biarritz on the Atlantic through the Pyrenees to the city of San Sebastian, Spain, on the coast and down to Bilbao.
     The Basque region of France and Spain ("Pays Basque Francais" in French and "Pais Vasco" in Spanish) is a culture apart. Unrelated to any other tongue, Euskera (the Basque language) is spoken in the region bordering France and Spain and much of Navarra (the area of Spain which includes Pamplona). To an untrained ear, it sounds most like the Hungarian language. The town of "San Sebastian" in standard Castilian Spanish becomes "Donostia" in Basque, for example; "Vitoria" becomes "Gasteiz" in Basque. Road signs are in both standard Spanish and Basque.
     The origin of the Basques is a mystery, but mainstream archaeology classifies them as offspring of migrants who first populated the area 35,000 years ago. Fiercely independent, they cut deals with the Romans to respect Basque law and tradition. A long succession of monarchs followed who abided by these promises. In 1876 the Spanish crown abrogated these fueros (promises), setting off the first stirrings of Basque separatism.
     Although the Basque Country is largely self-governing under modern Spanish and European Union law, a popular political movement for full separation from Spain (and to a lesser extent France) remains. Unfortunately, Basque separatism today is best known for the terrorist acts by the group ETA, whose last major attack was the Madrid airport bombing in 2006. While we traveled through the region in June, 2018, we saw no political agitation of any kind.
     Our guide through the region was Christian Mayer, an American who married a French woman and relocated, following his heart. We first met him in Paris, when he drove us through the Normandy beaches and down across the Loire Valley. Subsequently he and his wife moved to the Dordogne region, just north of Basque Country, to raise their daughters.
     Christian picked us up at our hotel in Biarritz and we drove north along the French coast through Bayonne before heading southeast toward the town of Sare inland. In Sare a gear-wheeled train climbs thirty-five minutes up the western-most peak of the Pyrennes, affording a spectacular 360-degree view of the seven Basque provinces across the mountains and along the Atlantic. The Grotto of Sare is nearby, a large cave inhabited in prehistoric times (with hieroglyphics) and discovered at the end of the 19th Century under the exploration of Edouard-Alfred Martel.
Hieroglyphics in prehistoric cave, Sare, Fr.
   





     We stopped next in Ainhoa, a typical French Basque town in the foothills with shutters painted the red and green of the Basque flag. Names on the headstones in the cemetery were spelled in Basque. The Place du Fronton was central, featuring a large red wall against which two players hit a ball in the sport of Pelote (similar to Jai Alai). Each town we visited revolved around the fronton. Red chili peppers hung to dry on the outside of the houses.
Ainhoa, France    
Above-the-ground cemetery with inscriptions in Basque, Ainhoa, Fr.

     St. Jean Pied de Port ("St. John at the Foot of the Pass") was a lovely stop for lunch along the River Nive. The town stands at the base of the Roncevaux Pass through the Pyrennes and is the pilgrims' starting point on the French side before the arduous mountain crossing during their Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.
     The Camino de Santiago pilgrimage is a network of pilgrims' paths to the shrine of apostle Saint James, said to be buried in the Cathedral in Compostela in the northwestern-most area of Spain. The pilgrims carry a document purchased for a few euros through their church or the National St. James Organization which gives them access to inexpensive, sometimes free, accommodations marked by a seashell. The document serves as proof that the journey was accomplished according to an official route of towns along the trail. In 2017 there were 300,000 pilgrims who made the trek, following the sign of the seashell. The City Gate in St. Jean Pied de Port was added by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
St. John Pied-de-Port, Fr.
 
Street scene, St. John Pied-de-Port, Fr.
Note the seashell symbol above the door.














Outdoor restaurant above waterfall, St. John Pied-de-Port, Fr.







Street scene, St. John Pied-de-Port, Fr.




 






Pilgrims' portal now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, St. John Pied-de-Port, Fr.
     Our last stop on the French side was St. Jean de Luz, a larger bustling town with pedestrian main street, whose shopkeepers announced their professions outside in sculpture, similar to towns in Austria. The Cathedral there had typical Basque rows of balconies along two walls, Romeo and Juliet style, with gilt ornamentation, making the inside much less austere than the outside.
St. John de Luz, Fr.
Shoe store,  St. John de Luz, Fr.       
Main square, St. John de Luz, Fr.
 
Altar inside Cathedral in St. John de Luz


      From there we took the Basque Corniche along the coast toward San Sebastian, Spain.

                                                     Spanish Basque travelogue to follow.....................

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Travelogue, France and Spain, 2018

     We were staying at Le Regina Hotel, Biarritz, France, on the Atlantic. Each day we walked down the hillside from our location near the lighthouse to the beach, which lay beneath tiers of stone steps. The sand was wide and the surf cold. Wetsuits on boards dotted the waves. Elderly couples, young lovers, and skateboarders shared the wide promenade. At the far end was the casino. Around the curve we sat for wine and seafood in a marina. Needless to say, we got grimy and our clothes were limp with weather that began in misty fog in the morning and rose to mid-eighties in the afternoon.
     When we got back to the hotel after walking, I wanted to use my trusty detergent packets from my suitcase to wash our tees. Our sculptured white elliptical Bosch sink had a depth of maybe three inches total. It was so shallow at the lip we couldn't knock our toothbrushes to get the water out without the bristles hitting the side of the sink. I looked for a stopper in order to get a sink full of suds. Couldn't find one.
     I called Housekeeping and since the person on the other end spoke only French, she sent her Supervisor. The woman came slightly out of breath from her immediate trot to our room. She ran the water at full blast and pronounced, "Non problema" - a standard response in Italy, but we hadn't heard it before in France.
     With hand gestures Charley and I pushed in a downward motion at the site of the phantom stopper to show her there was no way to keep any water in the sculpture. Prongs protruded upward from the hole. As our meaning became clear, the woman made another pronouncement. "Non, c'est impossible!" Another beautiful French object that was nonfunctional, just like itsy-bitsy Parisian hotel rooms and their toilets with the flush button on the wall behind your head, which a woman can hit only if she is a contortionist. Or the "green" movement in France that prohibits bags of any kind from being distributed for purchases but crams toilet paper rolls into the dispenser so tight that scraps float like amoebas across women's stalls displaying fingernail gouges where users tried to dislodge a few sheets.
     Our Supervisor of Housekeeping motioned in sign language she would bring up a tub for our tees.Which she did.
     The plastic tub must have been used to dye something brown before we got it, because a rich chocolate color sat within the corners. Since it didn't yield to my scrubbing, I went ahead and submerged our shirts.
     After a few hours outside the room, I came back to fish out our tees. They had turned a warm, earthy brown.
Staircases leading to beach, Biarritz, France
Promenade looking toward Napoleon's Hotel deVille, Biarritz, France

Beachfront, Biarritz, France

Promendade looking toward casino, Biarritz, France
Cold Atlantic Ocean, Biarritz, France

Marina beneath Cathedral, Biarritz, France

Fish selection  in marina, Biarritz, France



*********************************************************************************


     As a security measure in France and Spain, a traveler may have to wave a plastic electronic room key in front of a digital pad on an elevator. After he does this, he must touch the floor number in order to ascend. The cage won't move until this sequence happens. However, in the Hotel Maria Cristina in San Sebastian, Spain, wide carpeted staircases wound upward right next to the elevators, open to the public without security of any type. Go figure!?

Front entrance, Hotel Maria Cristina, San Sebastian, Spain
                                                                     To be continued.........


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Cuban Travelogue, Part V

   
South coast looking toward Cienfuegos and Caribbean

Machete cutter of sugarcane climbing with ropes and hob-nailed shoes 

   
View toward Fla. Strait from former coffee plantation in the Sierra del Rosario Mts., northwest Cuba. Each seedling was planted.
     After four days eating the national cuisine of pulled or roasted pork, fricasseed or grilled chihcken, black beans and rice, some of us experimented with local specialties like ceviche or octopus. Mojitos, Cuba Libres (the national cola mixed with rum), and Pina Coladas were served liberally with ice cubes from the local water supply. As a result, several of our group began to have gastrointestinal ailments. There was a doctor on duty 24/7 in our hotel, who provided an antibiotic shot in the derriere. "Octopus is notorious for causing your problem," he told the patients. There was no charge.

    Excluding hotels, public restrooms throughout our tour had attendants standing outside with a roll of toilet paper. With the equivalent of a $.25 tip, one received several sheets before entering. There were none inside. A bucket stood next to each toilet to prevent paper from being flushed into the sewer system.
Havana skyline I

Havana skyline II
     At the end of our week-long sojourn we had the highly-anticipated ride through Havana in classic cars of the 50's. There were approximately 60,000 vintage cars throughout Cuba. Owners needed permits from the state to maintain their status, if they wanted to use the cars as vehicles for tourism. "Everyone must survive," our Cuban guide told us, "even the inspectors." Translation: the inspectors accepted bribes. "Car owners find spare parts on the internet. The engines are patched together with parts from Europe and the Soviet Union. Some owners have three old motors in reserve."

Artist Jose Fuster's casa outside Havana,  made entirely of ceramics

St. Francis Cathedral, Havana, across from the cruise ship terminal
     Our vintage car did not disappoint! Charley and I rode in a 1950 Buick with its original engine. Only one windshield wiper worked and the speedometer had died a long time ago. When it started to rain, the owner put the canvas top up. Each of us got wet through a two-inch gap, but we didn't even feel it!

A 1950 Buick for our ride through Havana



A fellow traveler took our photo in the rear view mirror
Batista's office in his Havana palace. During the Revolution he escaped through a side door and fled the country.



Cathedral o f Havana at night


Department of Tourism employees, Havana
Another Tourism Dept. employee
Park Havana

Ted doing a selfie
Ronnie and Amit in the back seat  
                                                                                                                                                                                    The End      


                                                                         

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Cuban Travelogue, Part IV

     One of our most interesting tours was the H. Upmann cigar factory in Havana. Inside a cement building five stories high, iron railings surrounded an open atrium. There was no air-conditioning. A huge photo of Fidel holding what must have been an Upmann cigar hung down the inside of the building in front of us. "Sorry, no photos above ground level," the factory guide warned us. "No stealing secrets."
Fidel and his cigar watch over the factory.
     The tobacco leaves had been cut in the fields and dried on racks in barns, where they were spritzed with a combination of water and a flavor (rum, e.g.). Because of the humidity in Cuba, the environment served as a natural humidor. Originally, field hands read Romeo and Juliet or The Count of Monte Cristo to those cutting in the fields. The cigars took their names from the books being read. Today, I wouldn't be surprised if cigars were named Fifty Shades of Gray (or 64 Shades, because there are 64 cigars in a box).
     We began by walking up cement steps to the fourth floor, where women and a couple of men sat behind glass in rows of high-top tables, removing veins from the dried leaves and sorting them by color and shade. There were three colors and eight shades of each color. One woman had her daughter sitting next to her doing homework. Both waved at us.
     We walked down the stairs to another level. On this floor, employees rolled, pressed, and cut the leaves into shape, securing the end with a rubbery natural liquid from Canada that acted as glue. Each worker had a different quota per day, depending on the shape and size of the cigar. A worker rolling and pressing Monte Cristos, for example, had a quota of 90 cigars/day. We watched through the glass as workers at long tables, both men and women, smoked cigarettes, drank beer, or watched movies on their cell phones between finished products. The jobs were highly paid and handed down through the generations, provided the applicant passed entrance qualifications. A ten-month training period was mandatory for everyone in the factory. On another level down, a paper ring slid onto the shaft of each product, which was then boxed in an adjoining room.
One of the products of H. Upmann Cigar Factory in Havana
     Back at our hotel, Geo. Lopez-Sanchez, Professor of Economics and International Relations, discussed the Cuban economy. When the U.S. OK'ed flights into the country, the total number of tourists rose from 500,000 to 1,000,000 in one week. Canada sends the highest number, with the U.S. in second place, though declining. "What infrastructure can be fixed if goods and remittances coming into our country are hidden and can't be taxed? What should the visitors' revenues be used for first?" he asked.

     The Executive Director of the Fundacion Ludwig de Cuba gave us a tour of the National Museum in Havana. "There is one work that depicts our country's recent journey," he told us, leading us to the collage titled, "Revolucion" by Alejandro Aquilera. "The word 'Motherland' is a colloquialism for us, referring to a political movement that is unfinished and constantly changing. Our allegiance after the Revolution is not to individual rights but to independence as a whole. In this collage, the artist started on the left with strong letters, which deteriorate toward the end into fragments. It is a mix of many materials and scenes, just as Cuba is a mix of peoples and beliefs. The bloody revolutionary fervor no longer sustains us, but the concept is unfinished. We are mingled in grayness."
"Revolucion" by Alejandro Aquilera, National Museum, Havana
     Confirming that point of view, our Cuban tour guide told us, "In general, Cuban people today have no specific religious beliefs. We pick and choose a little from this and a little from that. If we were born after the Revolution of 1959, we have no idea what Christmas represents. Christmas trees are only placed in tourist hotels. Our backgrounds are Spanish, African, English, Chinese. The tribes native to the island were almost completely exterminated when they were used as laborers by the Spanish."
Art from the Revolution, National Museum, Havana


 
        On a free night, Charley and I walked to Sloppy Joe's restaurant near our hotel. It was an offshoot of the bar made famous by Hemingway in Key West. Hemingway had befriended the owner there and persuaded him to open a second establishment in Havana, where Hemingway had a residence.
Hemingway's boat dry-docked on the tennis court at his Havana estate
     We both ordered cheeseburgers. They arrived an inch-and-a-half thick. "Could we have some ketchup, please?" Charley said.
     "I'll look," the waiter said in English.

   


     He came back several minutes later. "Sorry, but this is the only one I could find. We don't expect another shipment this week." He handed Charley a bottle of congealed red paste, stuck in the neck of the bottle.
     "Cuba is like a 40-watt light bulb," one of our group members quipped.



                       To be continued...

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Cuban Travelogue, Part III

     On our "People-to-People" tour of Cuba we visited a maternity home serving the province surrounding Cienfuegos on the south coast. Maternity homes provide residential care for expectant mothers from rural areas or with high risk pregnancies. There are no charges, of course. A doctor and nurse are on duty 24/7. In Cuban pediatric ICU's, there is a 97% survival rate. Eight percent of births are Cesarean, provided only if a doctor orders them. No epidurals are given. As the expectant mothers told us in the maternity home, "Cuban women are strong."
     In general, Cuban men frown on vasectomies and although prevention of births through education is the state's focus, family planning is a "nightmare," as described by our Cuban guide. With the over-sixty population around twenty percent, the state encourages babies, of course. However, young people can't rise economically (in 2017 the average Cuban salary was the equivalent of $27/month) and postpone having families. There are no more free layettes from the state and with child-support laws requiring only the equivalent of $2/month per child, divorce is high. Condoms are listed on menus at every cafe and bar. As one of our tour group quipped, "Coffee and condoms - five cents, please."
Symbol for a B&B in Trinidad, with laundry drying on the roof


`
View from our hotel in Cienfuegos on south coast

Lobby of Hotel Sevilla, Havana
      We wound our way to Havana on the northern coast and checked into Hotel Sevilla near the National Theater and Sloppy Joe's. In the terracotta courtyard combos performed day and night. Throughout the country there is music - in cafes on the street, on the sugar cane plantation we visited, in bars and nightclubs, in the ears of young people in Havana listening to play lists. The people find a way to make the best of their circumstances. We were taught Salsa moves one night on the waterfront (no photos available!).


National Theater, Havana







Even the statues play music in Havana
Star performers singing of their country and Mother's Day at their elementary school
Entertaining ourselves with music on a sugarcane train
Carmen and a local at a cafe during a rainstorm.
       
       Upon our arrival at the hotel we were served our first Mojitos, offered at every subsequent stop. There was only a whiff of something rum-flavored in our drinks. Our room was spacious with scaffolding outside our window, though no workers ever appeared. The floor tiles and toilet had large cracks (luckily we didn't fall through!); one of two elevators was cordoned off; and during torrential rains in the late afternoon two parties in our group had to mop their floor, due to leaky windows. One of us, "J," requested an envelope at the front desk. "No, no envelopes and no stationery," she heard. Instead the receptionist reached for a sheet of paper, folded it into approximate thirds, and stapled the ends. "Your envelope," she said, handing "J" her request. Two new hotels were being built near the waterfront, joint ventures between Spanish and French companies and the Cuban government.
   
     We attended a lecture by retired architect/ professor Miguel Coyula. He opened his remarks by saying, "Havana is crumbling!"
Typical apartment building, Havana

A study in contrasts.
     One-fifth of the Cuban population lives in Havana (2.8 million), while three buildings A DAY crumble to rubble in the city. A toilet costs 333% of a month's wages; a gallon of paint costs 20% of a month's wages. Residents can "own" an apartment by leasing it from the government for 20 years. They cannot sell it and have no control over anything happening outside their own four walls (there is no building administrator or board of directors). With six to ten people living in three-room apartments, conditions aren't maintained. "When the U.S. embargo is lifted, will the Cuban government be ready for the tsunami of foreign investment?" the architect asked rhetorically.
     Two billion dollars flowed into Cuba through remittances from relatives in the States during the '90's, but the funds were used for "passive personal consumption" or put into hidden accounts, thereby avoiding taxes. "A disparity is growing between the population who has no foreign source of goods/funds and those who do or who leave for foreign jobs for 1-2 years, bringing their savings back with them," said the architect.
     That evening we stopped at a bar in Old Havana named "The Small Grocery in the Middle of the Street" (La Bodeguita del Medito). A huge crowd hung out on the cobblestones, talking and drinking while a combo played inside. The city was perfectly safe at night (no guns, no crime). Hemingway frequented this bar while he lived in Havana with wife #4. We pressed against the crowd inside the open storefront to see what Hemingway had written on a piece of cardboard over the bar: "My Mojitos come from La Bodeguita. My daiquiris come from La Floridita" (another bar).
     A blond American tourist spotted Tucker, one of our group who sported a white beard and white hair combed back behind his ears. "Hemingway!" she yelled above the salsa music, pointing at Tucker.
     "Just call me Papa," he quipped.
     "Hell, no! Never happen!" she yelled, turning her back in hasty retreat to the curb. We called Tucker "Papa" for the rest of the trip.                                                           To be continued...
   
   
 

Our "Papa" Hemingway