what i did this summer…

Remember those essays we had to write the first day back to school?

How I spent my summer vacation.

I probably wrote that I played with friends and helped my mom around the house. Apart from that I went to an occasional movie with my best friend, gratis her awesome dad who’d pay the price of my admission…a quarter. Yep. A quarter. Back then…the 50’s and early 60’s…we could see a news reel, a cartoon, and a feature film for twenty-five pennies. On Maui, at least. Not sure what mainland theaters were charging.

Our family wasn’t rolling in dough so there were no trips to California, New York, or Europe. Those places weren’t even on my radar. The most I could hope for was a short trip to nearby Honolulu on a propeller plane. That’s if my older sister paid for my round trip ticket, inviting me to visit for the summer.

It shouldn’t be difficult to figure out that my world view was pretty narrow…that of an island girl out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Fortunately, that all changed when I got married.

My husband’s first job was with Pan American World Airways, so we honeymooned in Tahiti. His second job was with American Express, with whom he got a promotion which moved us to New York. A short couple of years later he joined Norwegian American Cruises…and the rest is travel history.

Our first trip to Europe was in the 80’s. This time it was on me, since I was working with TWA in New York. It included a quick 2-day glimpse of Paris. Years later when our daughter was a teen, I dreamed of returning to that glamorous city with her in tow. I knew she’d never be able to afford it on her dancer’s salary.

This summer my dream trip to Paris came true. Except that my daughter had to work. No whisking her off to Europe. So instead it became…a second honeymoon for hubby and me.

While not the romantic scenario acted out in movies by the likes of Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, hubby and I managed just fine for a middle-aged couple. We held hands. We looked lovingly into one another’s eyes. We teased and bantered, sharing intimate jokes at which only the two of us could smile and chuckle.

And yes, there were moments of frustration. When we got on each other’s last nerve.

Like when we went in search of Rodin’s Museum and Napoleon’s Tomb, and instead found ourselves wandering the streets in an isolated industrial neighborhood, while my poor aching feet screamed…”Get off of me! You’re killing me!” And when we had to go in search of the nearest “toilette,” so I could pee for the hundredth time.

Dead tired from scouring every corner of Paris we would fall into bed early. No evening soirees for us. No moonlit boat rides on the Seine . No gazing into each others’ eyes while dining on squab and chocolate souffles. We were content with a simple meal, an I Love Lucy video we’d brought from home, and finally snuggling side by side, snoring contentedly beneath a fluffy, white duvet…the nearby Eiffel Tower keeping watch over all, and lighting the skies above.

Funny what rocks your world when you’re old.

My favorite tour was wandering amidst miles and miles of tombstones at the Pere La Chaise Cemetery.

(Photo courtesy of…ohbythewayblog.blogspot.com)

Morbid? Just the opposite! It was other-worldly. Seeing row upon row of oft-times centuries-old graves. It was as though, those poor, deceased souls were sneaking glimpses of us…as we were having a peek in on them. With my cell phone I snapped photos of such notables’ tombs as Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt, Chopin, and Gertrude Stein. Even Jim Morrison of the rock group, The Doors, was interned there. I was especially delighted to see the simple graves of actors Yves Montand and wife Simone Signoret. They had been larger than life on the big screen. Now they lay like common folk beneath the hard earth.

Especially sobering were the graves of those who had suffered under Hitler’s demonic regime. I could still feel their wretched agony, pulsating beneath the stone.

 

(Photo courtesy of…cemetery explorers. blogspot.com)

I could hear my mom lecturing from her grave…”Don’t be taking pictures of the dead. They’ll haunt you. Wait and see.” Dismissing such thoughts, as best I could, I’d remark to myself…and yet loud enough so the dead could hear…”You’re a good person. I’m just honoring you, your memory.” Of course I didn’t wait for a response as I quickened my pace.

One particular tombstone stopped me dead…pardon the pun…in my tracks.

The image of a young man from the Victorian era…captured in bronze, dressed as though he’d been out and about, leather gloves and all…lay full length across his grave. He looked to be 6 feet tall. I kept staring in disbelief at the gorgeous hunk of cast stone. My eyes scoured every inch of him, hesitating where his crotch bulged…the only part not green from oxidation. Curious…

(Photo courtesy of…canvasoflight.com)

I was certain mine weren’t the only eyes bewildered by what lay before me. I’d had to wait my turn while a couple of men gazed down at what seemed a very unexpected and highly unusual tombstone. I admit I was afraid of taking a photo of the dead man’s likeness. Looking at him through the lens, I thought he’d wink…or frown…or sit up and smack me. I admit, I was a tiny bit scared. Calming my fears, I turned to the inscription and quickly snapped a shot.

That night in the comfort of our rented apartment, I looked through the photos I’d taken. I paused at the image of the young man made of bronze. He continued to fascinate me. When I moved on to the snapshot of the inscription, I held my breath. Were my eyes playing tricks on me? How could the inscription be upside down? I was positive I’d not turned my cell phone around to take the picture. That would’ve been awkward. There must have been a good explanation, although neither my husband nor I could come up with one.

I was spooked. I could not look at the picture of the inscription again, without feeling as though a ghostly urchin was having fun at my expense. I almost believed my mom’s scolding that I would pay for disrespecting the dead. Almost. I finally convinced myself that whoever had commissioned the sculpture deliberately requested that the inscription…in French…be written upside down. After all, it seemed in keeping with the provocative tomb. Perhaps it was done so the deceased could read what it said without too much effort on his part. He could just…sit up.

Aaahhh, Paris…all of its sights and smells, large and small, grandiose and humble…captures the essence of European culture. Refined and earthy all at once. Grounded in centuries of history, yet comfortable in its modernity..

I left with a deep respect for people different from me. Folks at ease in their daily lives. In fact, I marveled at how easily Parisians worked and relaxed throughout the day. They don’t seem to subscribe to our American need to work 60-hour weeks, playing only on weekends, if even that. As we toured the city, we saw, and heard, many a Parisian bicycling, and lunching, along the Seine. They sat at nearby cafe tables, sipping wine and conversing as tour buses and motorcycles whizzed by.

Yet I was glad to be home, settling back into our normal life…resuming our normal routines…comforted by our cozy, familiar surroundings.

We’re no different from Dorothy, who preferred Kansas to Oz…

…there really is…no place like home.

………hugmamma.

(Note: I will post my own photos of Paris…as soon as I figure out how to upload them from my cell phone. I couldn’t wait until then to write about it. Something I already know how to do.)

Advertisements

where were you…

…when Diana, the Princess of Wales died? I can only think of one other person for whom that question has been asked…John F. Kennedy, our President. I know I was in school when he died, because classes were suspended. Instead we all walked to church to pray for him. In Diana’s case I think I was asleep, and learned with disbelief, about her death early the next morning.

Unlike President Kennedy‘s death of which so much has been written, documented, and analyzed in books and on TV shows, Diana’s death has been treated more gingerly it seems, at least here in the U.S. Either that, or I didn’t bother to read about it in the tabloid magazines because of their tendency to sensationalize the facts to make a profit. I didn’t set out to learn about them even now, they just fell into my lap, by way of Sarah Bradford’s Diana – Finally, The Complete Story

I chose to share this with you because as in life, in death Diana’s beauty remained intact. Her serene appearance belied the inner damage that resulted from the horrific car accident.

It took almost an hour to free Diana from the wrecked car. She appeared to her rescuers to be the least injured of the four: only a slight trickle of blood from mouth and nose indicated that anything was wrong. Yet her internal injuries were life- threatening. After the initial impact the Mercedes had spun away, rotating at high speed before crashing into the tunnel wall on the right. At the first impact Dodi and Diana had been thrown violently forward against the backs of the front seats (not having worn their seat belts), then the rotation of the car had flung them around against the interior. When the Mercedes finally stopped, pointing back towards the mouth of the tunnel, Diana was slumped on the floor, against the back of Rees-Jones‘s seat, facing down the tunnel. Her legs were twisted, one under her, the other on the seat. With her eyes closed and her face undamaged apart from a cut on her forehead, she looked beautiful and as if she were asleep. But the shock of the impact and deceleration on her body had displaced her heart from the left to the right side, severing the pulmonary vein and rupturing the pericardium (the protective sac round the heart), flooding her chest cavity with blood. …

Photo of the Chapel at the Pitié-Salpêtrière H...

Image via Wikipedia

Yet to the first doctor on the scene, Frederic Mailliez, who had been driving through the tunnel in the opposite direction, she ‘looked pretty fine…I thought this woman had a chance.’ He put an oxygen mask over her face while attempting to clear her air passages. When the ambulance arrived, Dr. Jan-Marc Martino, a surgical anesthetist and resuscitation specialist, worked on Diana. Before they could transfer her to the ambulance, she suffered a heart attack. She was given cardiac massage and a respiratory tube was inserted into her mouth. Then she was lifted on to a stretcher and placed in the ambulance which crawled its way with a police escort to La Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital, stopping once on the way as Diana’s blood pressure dropped to a dangerous level. She was put on a ventilator. ‘She was unconscious and under artificial respiration. Her arterial blood pressure was very low but her heart was still beating. X-rays revealed the horrific state of her internal injuries and afterwards she suffered a second heart attack. An incision in her chest revealed that bleeding was coming through a hole in the membrane round her heart and later that her superior left pulmonary vein was torn. Adrenalin was administered and cardiac massage kept her heart going but only just; there was no independent rhythm. Diana was to all intents and purposes already beyond help. Electric-shock therapy was administered, to no effect. At 4 a.m. (3 a.m. British time) on the morning of 31 August, she was pronounced dead.

Charles, Prince of Wales outside the White Hou...

Image via Wikipedia

And while it was rumored at the time that Diana allegedly spoke a few words to Prince Charles, that was obviously not the case. “When Prince Charles and Diana’s sisters arrived in Paris, they found Diana looking serene and composed in death, wearing Lady Jay’s black cocktail dress and shoes, her hair freshly blow-dried, the rosary which Mother Teresa had given her in her hand. After Charles and her sisters had spent time alone with her, she was placed in a coffin for the return journey.” 

According to those who accompanied the hearse through the streets of Paris, there was an outpouring of support for the People’s Princess.

‘They do it differently in Paris–they applaud. With the coffin, Prince Charles, the President, millions of police by now,…and the vicar (the Rev. Martin Draper), the whole of Paris was applauding…

Sadly Diana’s body was not received with the same honor bestowed upon it by the Parisians and the British masses, when it came to rest in the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace. Good friend, and the woman thought to have been most like a mother to the princess, Lucia Flecha de Lima flew from the U.S., where she lived, to London, upon learning of Diana’s death. To her amazement the coffin lay “…in lonely state, without flowers.”

Flowers for Princess Diana's Funeral

Image by Maxwell Hamilton via Flickr

‘The first day when I arrived at the chapel there was not one single flower on her coffin. Then I said to the chaplain that if he didn’t allow flowers in, I would throw open the doors of the chapel so everyone could see her there without a single flower and all the flowers outside that people had brought. I said, “Tomorrow I’ll come back with my flowers for her.” And I came every day. And from then on I brought flowers, not only mine but from friends and people who knew her. And I went to a flower van outside the Michelin restaurant (Bibendum in the Fulham Road) and he said: “What are they for?” And I told him, and every day after that he insisted I take flowers to her for nothing…’ ‘And they (the flowers) were around her, over her coffin representing the flowers of the world, and I said to Prince Charles, “These flowers represent the people, thousands and millions of flowers all around the world that people want to give to Princess Diana.” I’ve never felt like that in my life. I have experienced personal loss…but the public’s reaction was extraordinary…’

 One other item mentioned in Bradford’s book caught my attention. While Queen Elizabeth seemingly struggled with her decision to recognize Diana’s death with the pomp and circumstance demanded by the people, personally she too had to deal with the passing of her former daughter-in-law, the mother of the queen’s beloved grand-children. Bradford wrote of Dickie Arbiter, the most experienced of royal officers who had worked for the Waleses before their divorce,

The coffin passing through one of the streets.

Image via Wikipedia

Contrary to public perception, the Queen was, Arbiter said, ‘very grief-stricken’ by Diana’s death. ‘On the day of the funeral when the Royal Family came out of Buckingham Palace as the gun carriage carrying Diana’s coffin passed, the Queen bowed. And the only other time that the Queen bows is at the Cenotaph.’

…there are the rumors…there are the myths…and then there’s…the truth…hugmamma.

Rose, Diana Princess of Wales

Image by nekonomania via Flickr

…princess diana…england’s rose…

 

Diana, Princess of Wales, at the Cannes film f...

Image via Wikipedia

 

welcome news…from across the “pond”

The Arc de Triomphe (Arch of Triumph), at the ...

Image via Wikipedia

Sometime in the 80’s my husband and I toured Paris. It amazes me to think back to how I called long distance, 2 or 3 times, and spoke with the hotel clerk, reserving a room for a couple of nights. There was no Expedia or Travelocity to compare rates and accomodation details, or even Trip Advisor to guide me through the myriad of pros and cons about an establishment. Chock it up to youth. I didn’t know better, so I plunged ahead, uncaring if the woman at the other end of the phone was rolling her eyes at my obvious lack of sophistication or inability to speak French.

Thank goodness the next time we venture back to the City of Light, the internet will pave the way. This time there’ll be 3 adults whose needs will have to be met, including one 25-year-old who’ll want to do as Cyndi Lauper wails in her song,”Girls just want to have fu-un!”

I’ll have to enlist my French blogging buddy, My English Thoughts, for some help there. Maybe she’ll drag my daughter along to some of Paris’ hot spots, after her elderly parents totter off to bed long before midnight.

I’m hoping when our family does make it back to France’s capital of haute couture and irrepressible charm, the Parisians will be as amenable to us as they were to the author of the following article. I’ve come to love Joe Queenan‘s irreverent sense of humor, which always seems to be “on point.” He publicly admits to things about which most of us probably “bite our tongues.” I guess he’s allowed to get away with it since he writes a column for the formidable Wall Street Journal.

Needless to say when I was in Paris decades ago, the French were as reserved as I’d heard they would be. They weren’t rude, but they weren’t falling all over themselves to be nice either. Being raised to be invisible, an Asian thing, my husband and I had no trouble blending into the background wherever we went . So we were most accommodating of the Parisians then-disdain for American tourists. Hopefully this time my old-age crankiness won’t get me, and the locals, into a battle of the wills, the ill-wills, that is. They’ll have no issues with my always-calm spouse and sweet-tempered off-spring. I’m both, unless I see an injustice about to happen. Then…get out of my way! This 5’2 senior will make you rue the day God gave you 2 ears to hear what spews forth like venom from a cobra!

Okay, well…now according to Queenan, I’ll have no need for any of that. I’ll just have a wonderful, heady touristy time in “gay Paree!”

French Twist: Meet Monsieur Nice Guy

 If you’re a seasoned inhospitality buff like me, the very worst has happened: The French have stopped being mean and surly.

I started to notice this two years ago when I spent two weeks in Paris, and an equally unexpected aura of congeniality was certainly evident when I visited southern France last fall. But now the restraining walls of condescension and nastiness have utterly collapsed and a wave of warmth and courtesy have flooded in. Sacre bleu.

Plaque rue mouffetard

Image via Wikipedia

During my four-day stay in Paris last month, waiters,Paris Cafe, Paris, France concierges, museum guards and even cabdrivers all treated me with jaw-dropping affability. The ticket-taker at the Pantheon did not scream at me when I asked where Emile Zola was buried. The woman in the chocolate shop did not sneer when I asked for directions to the Rue Mouffetard (it was directly around the corner.)

The garcon in the posh restaurant did not treat me like the prototypical Ugly American when I asked what a “cocotte” was. The clerk at my two-star hotel asked if I would like to use her computer to print out my boarding pass, and went out of her way to get the broken elevator fixed so that I wouldn’t have to climb three flights of stairs on my gimpy legs.

The Eiffel tower at sunrise, taken from the Pl...

Image via Wikipedia

Wherever I went–the Louvre and Orangerie, the Comedie Francaise, Honore de Balzac’s house, even the Eiffel Tower–everyone went our of their way to be charming and helpful. For a minute there I thought I was at Epcot.

What happened? What triggered this explosion of courtesy and warmth? Well, for starters, the recession, which would motivate even the most chauvinistic French to tone it down a notch when dealing with tourists. But France has had recessions before, and that never took the edge off those legendary brusque, haughty people.

No, my suspicion is that much of the coarseness and incivility toward foreigners–and particularly toward Americans–stemmed from embarrassment about having collaborated with the Nazis. Anti-americanism was practically an official state policy under Charles de Gaulle, but now the war is no longer an issue. Most of the World War II generation has died out and been replaced by young people who do not have a chip on their shoulder.

Street market in nearby Rue Mouffetard

Image via Wikipedia

Friendly young people. Helpful young people. I know this will come as a shock to those who have not visited France for a while, but the French are now friendlier than the Italians, than the Irish, than the girls who greet you at Hooters. This unanticipated onslaught of goodwill totally floored me.

As a globe-trotting malingerer, I have always enjoyed returning from a jaunt abroad with fresh support for popular American stereotypes about foreigners. Yes, Belgium really is boring. Yes, the Swedes really are laconic. Yes, the Scots really do like a dram or two.

But now these stereotypes are collapsing like wisps of straw. Though most Americans still associate England with bad food–fish and chips, bangers and mash–the truth is that dining out in London is now an absolute joy, with top-flight restaurants everywhere. You can get a good meal even in the provinces, which was certainly not the case before Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair dragged the U.K. into the modern world. So there goes another beloved, hoary stereotype.

As a world-class spoilsport and curmudgeon, I now have less and less anecdotal material to fall back on when I want to blast another society. Luckily, when last I checked, the Germans were still arrogant, the Italians were still incompetent, and the Canadians were still reliably unexciting.

Still, if I go to Berlin this fall and find out that the Germans are no longer bossy and overbearing, I’m going to throw in the towel and turn into an American who doesn’t overeat, overspend or take the first five minutes of every conversation trying to figure out how much everybody else in the room paid for their house. I’m warning you frogs, you Teutons, you Russkies: Two can play this game. Columnist's name

the guy makes me laugh…even though much of what he says is not meant to be funny…hugmamma.

foreign country, home?

HGTV is one of my “go to” stations when I’m surfing the channels looking for somewhere to land. One of my favorite segments, which my husband also enjoys watching, is “House Hunters International.” Being “niele” (Hawaiian for “curious”, my family says I’m “nosey”) by nature, I want to see how other people live, especially in  foreign countries. What are their houses like? Do they reflect a totally different lifestyle, or one not unlike mine? What are prices like? Do they seem in line with what the homes offer in basics, as well as in amenities? I’ve seen HGTV shows filmed in cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong, Honolulu, Paris, Edinburgh and countries like Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Italy, England, Argentina, Costa Rica, and islands like Aruba, Jamaica, the Caymans.

Most of the locations HGTV visits seem to appeal to my exotic side. Of course viewing places I’ve not been as a traveler is like being in a candy shop, face pressed against glass cases, eyes bugging out over the contents. My latest refrain which seems ongoing is “We should retire there.” To which my husband’s reply is always “Yeah?” or “I don’t think so.” I’ve decided he has no exotic side, only a very practical one which keeps me fully grounded. If it weren’t for him, I’d have been airborne a zillion times, never landing for a breather. Of course I’m glad he never takes me seriously for then I’d have to “put my money where my mouth is.” And I’ve no “kala,” (Hawaiian for money, lots of it) to support a lifestyle of the “rich and famous.” Besides, we’re not of that class, being pretty simple in our wants and likes. I’d like a vacation home in Hawaii, and a Volkswagen bug, blue or yellow. See, pretty basic. Well, at least half my wants is…the Hawaiian home…with an ocean view.

While I’m caught up in the moment watching non-natives weighing the pros and cons of various houses in foreign locales, I’m amazed at their decision to live beyond their comfort zones. Some even retiring, lock, stock and barrel, to supposed final homes of their “golden years.” Besides needing a tremendously flexible attitude toward their adopted place of abode and its citizenry, these new residents must be prepared to live within the explicit, and implicit, laws of the land. They might find themselves adrift without a” life jacket” in a face-off with the ruling government where they’d taken up residence. Trying to cloak themselves in the American flag as U.S. citizens might be like moving a mountain, which might prove easier to do in the long-term.

Of note is the ongoing case of Amanda Knox, a University of Washington student who, while studying abroad for a semester in Luca, Italy was accused of murdering her British roommate. The rural town peopled by folk who have probably lived their entire lives in that village have little, if any, experience with foreign visitors except what is stereotypically represented. So it seems in Knox’s case being an American teenager may have prematurely cast her in the widely viewed role of “wild child.” Even I, sitting in the comfort and safety of my home in the U.S., can’t be absolutely certain if she is innocent or guilty. But while her case is on appeal and her parents wage an all-out-war, sacrificing much in time, energy and money, their daughter is serving out a 20+ year sentence.

Being a professed worrier, although I’m getting better, the rampant killings by drug cartels in Mexico City and other parts of Mexico, has me wondering about the safety of retirees who have moved south for the “good life.” In her attempts to assuage my concerns a friend, herself a regular visitor to Puerto Vallarta and whose friends’ family lives on the outskirts of the resort, assures me that Americans are safe. The resorts at which they are guests, are heavily guarded. I’ve also been told by the Mexican woman who works at the dry cleaner we frequent, that the sleepy village where she is from and where her family still resides, is untouched by the violence.

I am not as mystified about Europeans residing in countries other their own. It would be like my having moved from Hawaii to the east coast to New England to where I am now in the Pacific Northwest. The difference, of course, being that European countries are sovereignties. Furthermore the ability for Europeans to travel easily across borders, proposes a certain level of comfort. That ease and inherent comfort are not an intrinsic part of  moving from the U.S. to a country in Europe, Asia, or South America. And then there’s the language. Europeans tend to know more than their native tongue; we, on the other hand, rely heavily upon others knowing English.

It would seem that at least 2 categories of Americans make their homes abroad, those who take their identity with them insisting that their surroundings adjust; or those who are chameleons adjusting to whatever their environs require. Dear friends of ours, a gay married couple, recently bought a home in the Spanish countryside. Imagine my disbelief when my husband told me of their purchase?!?. “How could they just up and decide to move to Spain? Do they know anyone? Are they leaving for good?” But then I let the news sink in. I thought of the 2 men, their effervescent personalities, their annual social gatherings, their love of travel to places like Vietnam and the Galapagos Isles, and their talent for bringing friends together as family. Such reflection left me with no residual qualms, about these 2 fabulous men taking up residence in a foreign country. Perhaps,… I’m even a little envious of their hutzpah.

Having been raised on Maui, I often blame my islander roots as reason for not traveling farther afield with more frequency, or seriously contemplating a permanent home abroad. I use the same excuse for choosing to drive through residential neighborhoods or back roads, rather than speeding down freeways at 60 miles an hour trying to keep up with everyonelse. Call it an island mentality or fear of the unknown, I will never be Marco Polo or Magellan. Perhaps because of my dysfunctional childhood, I find that being with my husband and daughter is more important to me than traveling the globe in search of what I’m already blessed with here at home. But while my search is complete my daughter is confident she’d be fine working, and living, in Europe, if that’s where her career took her. And she goes with our blessing to live the life she envisions for herself, here or abroad. That won’t prohibit me from continuing to give advice, however, that she “drive carefully and be safe.”

is it youth that gives us wings, which when “clipped” in older age keeps some of us closer to the nest?…hugmamma.