Monday, September 29, 2008

French twist:Part One

Vacationing in France during an economic downturn is probably not a wise thing to do. But we did and enjoyed every minute, every euro that we spent. What encouraged us to take this trip was our age. Our age. We're not going to be healthier or richer than we are now; and who knows what will happen to the dollar? Those were our thoughts when we booked this trip with the assistance of April S. at the Eugene AAA travel agency. April researched and booked all the details, including transfers to and from airports. Great job, April.

The minute we arrived in Paris, and we met the Trafalgar representative, our vacation started.

Our day started with a bus trip around the city. It was still early in the day and the tour guide explained that half of the tour group was still missing and it was too early to check into the hotel. After we had checked in at the Marriott Courtyard, in a beautiful section of Paris, he gathered us for introductions and a welcome drink. The introductions revealed that most of the group was from Canada and Australia. The Americans were in the minority. He couldn't get us the welcome drink, he explained,because of the timing and the fact that the hotel was not quite ready for us. Something about an Arabian princess and her entourage staying at the hotel at the same time was complicating all the arrangements.

By late afternoon we were shuffled back into the bus to visit Notre Dame and have our first meal together at a cafe across the river from the cathedral. The view was typical Parisian, outdoor seating, strolling couples beautifully dressed in Merino wool or cashmere sweaters with scarfs and mantles smartly adorning their necks, and numerous tourists clutching maps, and wearing sensible shoes.

We stopped at the Eiffel Tower, all illuminated with starts ( for ten minutes each hour) to celebrate the occasion of France becoming the head of the European Union. Even the Arc du Triomphe had new items, two flags, the French and the European Union, to celebrate the new status. In the two days we spent in Paris, we traversed the Arc a few times and each time, though the traffic was horrendous, we all looked up and admired the flags.

Some people stopped to shop at the glamorous places on the Champs Elisees. Most of us got back to the hotel and collapsed, happy to discover that CNN was covering the world affairs for us in English. Come to think of it, with our guide and the rest of the passengers all speaking English, with the hotel staff speaking English, we were not going to have much of a challenge communicating. Even at dinner, as we ordered in French, the waiters eagerly answered in English, proud and eager to practice with us.

The only challenge on this first day was figuring out how to flush the toilets in the different places. No standard flushing equipment here. Everywhere, a new and enchanting twist to get rid of waste.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

New York Moments: Part Three

Two weeks after our first visit, we stopped again in New York, to rest, visit and take in another show. This time, I was not going to be intimidated. The super shuttle had clear directions and we were not getting off at the wrong place. Except, this time we were at a different place.

Two passengers in the bus began an animated conversation that drowned everybody else. The older woman would stop just long enough to question the driver on his choices of streets. He calmly explained how he had to navigate and drop each of us off but certain circuitous moves were necessary because many streets were blocked.

And it didn't take us long to figure out that with the United Nations holding conferences that week, and numerous diplomats zipping with their entourages brought the city to a halt, we were in for numerous delays. Two and a half hours later we were deposited on 42nd Street at the Hilton Times Square. Good thing that the driver actually knew the place was a hotel. It had no apparent sign that I could see. It is built above a multiplex theater, from the 23rd story up. A kind doorman guided us through to the right elevator.

Later,we left the hotel to find food and were smack in Times Square with its walls of illuminated billboards blaring above us. Feeling like Alice in Wonderland, lost in Television Space, we stared at the billboards, catching the bits of news, rotating bits of English reminding us that we were in a bubble world where fantasy and artifice mix and thrive. People all around us seemed happy to be pushed along, part of the throb and the blood of the city.

We ate at the Hard Rock Cafe having our picture taken in that hallow place as first timers to Disneyland. The evening ended at "Mamma Mia" where we joined the packed theater singing along to ABBA's music. New York is both "cheesy" and "pushy".

You can't observe and digest what you see. You are force fed, stuffed like a sausage and swept in the city's fast pace.

The next morning, we took a taxi to Central Park and visited the Metropolitan Museum, a true restful, thoughtful pace for weary feet and jambled nerves. Then , we visited the Park appreciating the trees and the water and the calming atmosphere of children and nannies enjoying a perfect day. We were tempted to row a boat at the boathouse, rent a bike, take a carriage ride. But we walked slowly, sat down often, admired the many seating places, the clean paths, the manicured lawns, the constant presence of a helpful police force constantly assisting tourists make sense of the city.

Walking miles and miles toward Times Square, we could spot the entourage of diplomats going to lunch, cars, police, streets suddenly unavailable to other motorists, dozens of security on the street. New York is always ready, I thought. Ready for the pace to get quicker and tougher.

We left the hotel at three, got to the airport at seven, with minutes to get through baggage check and ticketing. The trip this time was aggravated by closed streets, an accident that our driver did not cause but was involved in, lively discussions with the police who took the report and gave him a ticket, a frustrated driver who kept making one mistake after another, trying to save time. After all that, the plane was delayed for another two hours due to changing weather patterns and rerouting.

By the time the winds and floods hit the East Coast, we were safe back in Portland.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

New York Moments: Part Two

A couple of days in New York is enough to soak in the atmosphere,enough to feel the beat of the town. The town felt safe even though the movement of people on Broadway in the Theater district where we landed was curb-to-curb people moving at a quick pace, crossing the streets anticipating the lights to change a minute ahead, darting between cars, taxis and all sorts of carts, bikes, and transport.

Everywhere, a curteous police force walked the streets, engaged with the citizens.

We walked to Rockefeller Center for a prearranged walking tour. The guide met us in the candy shop of NBC Center, and though he had four different language groups among the visitors he promptly ignored their needs for translation. It was a walking tour, around the block, examining the art and the history of Rockefeller Center. The visitors were confused and annoyed. A few of them left before the tour was over. I too was tempted.

The city is very accessible. Everything you want is right around the corner, including MacDonalds with music and videos blaring loudly a la Hard Rock Cafe.

We walked to see Jersey Boys, right down the street. And when we walked back home late in the evening, the city had not slowed down at all. Disneyland is a walk in the park compared to the pace of New York City.

People don't need to go to the gym to stay in shape. And they don't need to drive either. Subway, buses, taxis, bike taxis and horse carriages are all around, right where you need them.

On this first round visiting the city, I never looked up, too busy holding on to my balance and my wits, realizing that I was being bumped and pulled in a river of people that was constantly moving. Young and old, rich and poor, clean and dirty, tourists and residents were all pinballs in a giant game of darting and bumping and avoiding and keeping a lazer beam focus on their destinations.

I can see how people are pulled to this place that throbs with vitality and energy day and night.

New York moments

These last few weeks my husband and I travelled to France, stopping in New York both ways to rest and visit a city I had never visited.First admission, I'm terrified of traffic and crowds, though I spent most of my adult life on the L. A. freeways.

New York is a new category. It is an experiment in assault of the senses. Our first experience was catching the super shuttle to the hotel in mid=city Manhattan. The trip from the airport to the hotel should have taken forty minutes, max. First, the driver of the super shuttle managed to do his own arranging, selecting his passengers rather than follow the number system that the people at the information desk had arranged. When we complained, and another driver was found for us, we spent inordinate amount of time circling the city, to drop people off and to avoid traffic, according to the driver. Some passenger who knew the city knew better and kept arguing with him. He kept following his own beat.

He dropped us off at the wrong Sheraton, across the street, as it turned out,giving us a chance to cross a busy street in the middle of the night with suitcases in tow, tired, disoriented and pushed along to cross streets with traffic coming at us in all directions. Fortunately, the porters at the Sheraton rescued us right away and we were swiftly checked in and into our room that was big enough to contain our bed and our luggage without much room to turn around. Out the window, we were so high that we couldn't see the street below.

Hungry and tired, we managed to get out to have a bite at a lovely diner with singing waiters. Really good entertainers working in a diner, charming the tourists and keeping us from collapsing. New York at its best and its worst, on the same street, in the same evening.

The next morning, we walked to a deli for breakfast, enough food to feed an army. I ordered a corned beef sandwich that had enough meat to feed an entire family for a week.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


I've prepared for my upcoming trip to France by following French television on satellite, listening and absorbing, testing myself by translating for my hubby who speaks no other language but his mother tongue, WesterEnglish, English redux, all affirmations, negations and abbreviations.

The Europeans' handling of political discourse, pitting the history of Western Thought against Thought-redux of modern media personalities, utilizes history in all its complexities to understand present dilemmas. The palaces and the castles of yesteryear right outside their windows must help them maintain a sense of proportion every time they come up with a new thought.

"What would Descartes make of this?"

In America, we tend to retreat to the Maverick myth, the lone cowboy on the frozen Rockies, heading for cover.

But, we are no longer lone cowboys. We no longer hunt Moose to survive. Our guns and rifles are not necessary tools. We communicate across the globe; smog and tinted products affect us all equally. To have modern cultural literacy, we cannot pretend the world doesn't exist, don our rifles and disappear in the Rockies or the Cascades for weeks of hunting and camping.

Once, America didn't have to shout, "WE are the Greatest Country on Earth." Its actions and can do spirit were valued and imitated across the Globe. Once, we were the standard bearers for leadership, vigor, and integrity.

What we need is to travel again, see the world, follow other routes to enlightenement, discover the complexities of the world we share and must preserve.

We'll experience museums, palaces and vinyards. We'll stop in libraries, concert halls and restaurants where sights, sounds and tastes will make us appreciate the achievement of civilizations before us.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

WE're off to see the Wizard...

People who collect facts and keep informed, people who attend their council meetings and school meetings, people who vote for people who represents their values and their aspirations have learned the lessons in The Wizard of Oz.

Yet, every time we vote, the experience feels like a trip to Oz, a land of promises and magic convolutions, information fit into a tight script, symbols chosen to create a mood and a reaction.

All the facts and information we accumulated before going to Oz is forgotten. We are now scared children in search of magic beans.

We look for courage to face the unknown, brains to differentiate the good witch from the bad, and a heart that beats in concert with our loves and aspirations. We look for a Wizard to solve all of our problems with a quick magic trick, forgetting that he is just an illusion.

In the story, the Wizard is a regular man, a man who waves flags, magic wands and anything else, media savvy and technology rich, coining words and projecting himself bigger than life.

The story teaches us that we don't need Magicians, Mavericks, or Heroes. We need to pull together to fight evil, roll up our sleeves and provide a safe and healthy community for our children. And when we choose our leaders, we select men or women who are willing to do the same, helping us connect to our courage, our brains and our hearts. We choose people who have shown in their lives a willingness to be men or women connected with ordinary problems, at ordinary times, someone who, like us had the same challenges and the same obstacles to overcome.

Auntie Emm would be proud of us!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sarah, Michelle, Cindy and Hillary

It's a good day for women. A good year, actually. We are meeting strong, intelligent, accomplished women in both parties. We are parading them and comparing and setting them up on stage like novelty items, new Barbies to admire.

And they have history and substance and style to boot.

What we are forgetting is that the choices we have made already, the real candidates who have been vetted for the last eighteen months are Barack Obama and John McCain. Regardless of the women they are associated with, or choose to have around at this time, a convenient time, indeed to have women lend substance in some way or other, not just for decoration or trophy, I might add, but to draw out a whole bunch of votes, regardles, these men are our candidates and will run the country for us.

We only get to choose once every four years. For Most of my life time, people with money and prestige have had access to power. For a miniscule state race here in Southern Oregon it would cost upwards of ten thousand dollars for starters. Who has that much money? Or who has that much influence and popularity already that he doesn't need people with money to support them? Whom are we kidding? Money is the currency and will always be the currency.

This time, though, it is different. We have a candidate in Barack Obama who has no connection to money or Washington lobbyists, someone who knows how to organize an entire country, millions and millions of people to donate what they can to elect a candidate who is free to be the people's choice, not the oil industry's, not Wall Street's, not the insurances'. not the Military complexes'. We have never done it before. And we will never be able to do it again.

We have a candidate who has the concerns of small towns, families, the economy and the environment. The Republicans can talk all they want; but they blew it big time, under McCain's watch. The environment, the economy, the lack of responsible government, the lack of appropriate response to people's plight and emergencies. And they lied to us all. They duped us into a war to fatten the wallets of their cronies, who were given contracts without bidding, who are running shameless and lawless operations in Iraq . And let's not forget the DEFICIT, THE SQUANDER OF RESOURCES.

No wonder they are parading with new flags and new chants. They are the sane people. Let's have change we can believe in.