Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Dancing for Joy: Women Will Drive in Saudi Arabia

(Women have been driving in Saudi Arabia for years. Brothers, fathers, take the women into the desert and teach them so that in an emergency they will have the skills. Saudi women drive outside the kingdom. Now, they will – legally – be allowed to drive in their own country. Hallejujia!

What an irony, that women are gaining rights under repressive regimes, and losing rights in the USA under our current regime)

Saudi government says it will allow women to drive

Saudi Arabia plans to lift ban on women driving
 
The change aligns Saudi Arabia with virtually every other country in the world, including other conservative monarchies in the Persian Gulf. (The Washington Post)
September 26 at 7:37 PM
Women in Saudi Arabia will be permitted to drive in the kingdom for the first time, according to a royal decree issued in Riyadh on Tuesday that overturned one of the most widely criticized restrictions on human rights.

The change may be the most visible sign yet of a modernizing Saudi Arabia, with reforms implemented by the heir apparent to the Saudi throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Signed by his father, King Salman, and broadcast on state television, the decree said that the “majority of senior scholars” had deemed the change legitimate under Islamic law and ordered the government ministries concerned to make whatever legal adjustments are required to implement it by June 24.

For much of the rest of the world, the prohibition on women driving has long symbolized the many restrictions on individual freedoms in Saudi Arabia, particularly those applying to women.

The Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Khaled bin Salman, who spoke at a news conference in Washington, hailed the development as a “historic, big day in our kingdom.” He said that female drivers would not need to travel with male “guardians” or seek permission to obtain driver’s licenses, and that women’s li­censes from other countries in the region would be recognized.

The change aligns Saudi Arabia with other conservative monarchies in the Persian Gulf that have long allowed women to drive. It was unclear whether the lifting of requirements that male relatives accompany women or give permission for them to leave their homes, still implemented in much of the country, would apply to activities other than driving.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud speaks at a ceremony on Sept. 20, 2017. (Bandar Al-Jaloud/AFP/Getty Images)

The Saudi government, which has long endured negative publicity over its restrictive domestic policies, was eager to broadcast the change. In addition to the news conference at the embassy in Washington, the Foreign Ministry contacted reporters offering to arrange calls with selected Saudi women to comment on the policy.

The ambassador said the decision was not based on religion but on social and economic considerations, and was part of the modernization reforms being implemented by the crown prince.

“There is no wrong time to do the right thing,” the ebullient ambassador said. With more women entering the workplace, “they need to drive themselves to work.” He said the implementation delay was needed to ensure that the legal and logistical environment was prepared for the change. “We have to make sure our streets are ready” for a potential doubling in traffic, he said.

Advertisements

September 27, 2017 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Women's Issues | 4 Comments

Wake of the Vikings: A Wonderful Welcome in Saguenay, Quebec

 

We awaken to a beautiful morning on the Saguenay river. As I am fixing my hair, there are dolphins – or porpoises (is there a difference?) playing just outside the open window, and whale spouts and tails from time to time. It is a glorious morning, and AdventureMan is feeling better, but not better enough to take the Zodiac ride in the park which we had scheduled.

It doesn’t matter. It is a glorious day, we have some fog as we pass along the river, but the day is beautiful. Blue skies and whales! AdventureMan snoozes after breakfast, building up energy, and I leave him alone so he can recuperate.

 

 

 

We have to go very slowly; Canadian Maritime law is humane, and protects the migrating whales.

 

 

Around noon, we dock in Saguenay:

This boat is not us, it is one of the French Soleal line. Only one boat can dock, so this time they have to use the tenders.

 

 

AdventureMan and I exit the boat to walk through Saguenay and find a bite of non-ship food to eat. Viking Ocean cruises has a lot of nice food, and most of it is lightly seasoned so as not to offend anyone. They do a great job of taking care of a lot of people, but sometimes there are slips. We ate mussels one night, and they were delicious – but served tepid! Almost cool!

We are blown away by the Saguenay welcome. We have been told these are all volunteers, they dress in old time costumes and greet the arriving passengers with welcomes, photos, flags, free little blueberry juices, free blueberry pie, a small musical group playing local music – oh, it is a total party on the dock! Many of them don’t speak English, but they understand my French and I feel terrific. They understand my French! I’ve lost so much because I so rarely get an opportunity to use it, but the fluency comes back and I feel exhilarated.

Here is the man handing out Saguenay flags to all arrivals. AdventureMan tells me that the green signifies forestry and wildlife, the yellow is for agriculture which is a mainstay of their economy and he can’t remember what the silver stands for; you would think it is white, but it is really silver and as it is the cross, he believes it has to do with faith.

These people are so much fun, and are having such a great time. So are we!

 

They get one of the passengers to try the saw – it’s harder than it looks!

This man was flipping his son all around, and they were both really having fun with this local greeting party.

Yes! Yes! a “bluet” is a blueberry! I have a new word in my French vocabulary!

They are making natural maple sugar candy here, on a bed of ice, and giving it out. I get to show our grandson this; we were reading that American children’s classic, “Little House on the Prairie” and the author, Laura Ingalls Wilder described perfectly how this is done.

You know what I love about this? This is pure generosity of spirit. There really isn’t that much going on in Saguenay that would make it a draw, but these good people with their slices of blueberry pie, their costumes, their music, and their warm welcome, have created something worth traveling to see. They have their heritage. They are proud of it, and they are happy to share it with visitors. It’s just all win-win.

I love the juxtaposition here, the First Nation representatives against the background of the Viking invaders 😉

 

We asked one of the guides if they could recommend a good restaurant and they recommended one I had seen on TripAdvisor, just a short walk down the bicycle path. And Big Bravo for AdventureMan, the person I asked didn’t speak English, and we were trying to find the bicycle path and AdventureMan remembered “piste” from when we lived in Tunisia, and as soon as he said it, the person’s face lit up and he pointed us in the right direction.

 

It’s a perfect day. I am in short sleeves; temperatures are in the 70’s F. and the local young folk are in short shorts, halter tops and summer dresses. It is probably a wonderful late summer day to them. We dine outside at La Grange aux Hiboux.


 

 

It reminds us of places we used to eat lunch when we would get up early early on cold mornings to go to the big flea market in Metz.

We took the long way back to the ship, and passed this church.

I have to tell you something funny. Or at least it strikes me funny; I guess there are times when I am still silly and seven years old in my heart. The bay that Saguenay is situated along is called the Bay of Ha! Ha! There is a hop-on hop-off bus for cruise passengers, called, the Ho Ho. The HoHo is right next to the Bay of Ha! Ha!

Well, I think it is funny.

What I love, too, about Viking is their willingness to accommodate religious observances. (Did I already say this?) Tonight they are having a special dinner for those celebrating Rosh Hoshhana. How cool is that?

September 21, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Character, Civility, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Geography / Maps, Heritage, Humor, Marketing, Restaurant, Travel | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wake of the Vikings: The Saint Lawrence River and New Friends

AdventureMan went to bed as soon as we got back from the spa; he had been chilled and had warmed up in the hot pool and sauna, but he was tired – and sick.

The night before he had been fine. We had gone to dinner with a couple we met at breakfast in Oslo, the day we were all traveling to Bergen. Within three minutes we had a lot in common – as happens in Expat world. They have been to many wonderful places overseas in their academic careers, and especially loved their time in Beirut, Damascus and a wonderful wedding in Amman, Jordan.

How often do you come across people like that? How do you find out so quickly those shared points of enthusiasm?

At dinner, it was more of the same; there are some people that no matter how many topics come up, you know there are still so many to cover.

And they remind me very much of a couple we met last year on Empires of the Mediterranean, outside the Archaeology Museum in Zadar. None of us could believe that there was NO mention of this fabulous museum in the Port Talk or in the City Tours. One thing led to another, but you know me – all roads lead to books. We are still in touch with this couple; she and I are active in book clubs and avid in our e-mails about our latest finds. They are coming to visit us next month!

It’s the same with our new friends from Las Cruces, they are widely read and have a wide range of interests. We laugh a lot. We can’t stop talking.

But the next morning, as we went into L’Anse Aux Meadows, Adventureman said he was tired, and he was coughing a lot, and he had a headache. He slept and slept, only getting up for a little soup at dinner, then going right back to bed.

Today is a day at sea, and started out a little bleak.

I went upstairs to the Explorer Lounge, my favorite quiet place, and had my oatmeal with blueberries and raspberries. Around nine, I went down to the spa pool, and, for a while, had it all to myself. I came back to the room to spend some time with AdventureMan, but when he is sick all my suggestions (“do you think you might want to see the doctor? Can I make you some mint tea?”) just annoy him, so I am quiet until we go to lunch. After lunch, I go back upstairs to read and to leave him in peace, coming back to the room for a couple hours, then heading out for a lecture on the Bayeux Tapestry. The weather has greatly improved, and way way off in the distance, we can even see land.

 

On our way to Saguenay on the Saint Lawrence River:

Look at this beautiful weather! It hit 70 degrees F. today, first time we have seen a temperature like that since leaving Pensacola. I am taking it as an omen that AdventureMan is about to make a rapid and full recovery so he can enjoy the end of the trip with me.

At the lecture about the Bayeux Tapestry, our Las Cruces friend asked if I had written about them in my blog, and said he was trying to find it. Aargh. You know, I don’t talk about the blog, in Pensacola maybe one person other that AdventureMan and our son even know about it. I have my faithful friends from Doha and Kuwait who keep up with me here, but honestly, who else really cares? There are so many blogs about exciting things like politics and sex and fashion and they get millions of visitors. I am just trying to remember places I have been and events and experiences, sometimes I am just thinking out loud, or venting therapeutically, and some of you are kind enough to come along for the ride. I am humbled, and thankful, that you are still there.

I miss AdventureMan.

Tomorrow, Saguenay.

 

September 20, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Blogging, Character, Circle of Life and Death, Community, ExPat Life, Interconnected, Pensacola, Privacy, Relationships, Travel | , | 3 Comments

Wake of the Vikings: “We Call it ‘Geiser’

We are on our way, from Thingviller to our next location, through an area dramatic with waterfalls, lava flows and fascinating sights, when our guide explains how things are named in Iceland.

“We are simple folk,” she said, “straightforward, and plain spoken. We have wonderful Icelandic words, and we can add them together to give a name to a place.” She gave us an example, which I cannot repeat here, which means something like when the rural postman comes to a structure something something. This is to explain that the next place we are going is called “Geiser.” It is pretty much the same in English – Geyser.

There are actually hot springs everywhere in Iceland, because of that tectonic plate thing, because of all the volcanic activity, because the surface is lava, and permeable, and erupting geysers and hot springs and volcano eruptions are just an accepted part of Icelandic life. These clever, hardy people have harnessed the geothermal energy to heat their houses, provide their electricity and even, in some places to heat the roads and keep them clear of ice and snow.

It took me a while to get a good shot. Fortunately this geyser called ‘geyser’ goes off frequently. The first time, I was too close, the second, not prepared, so just got the steam, and then at the end, finally, success.

One of those glaciers I was telling you about:

From Geyser, we went to waterfall, and then to lunch. Lunch was in Gulffoss, and before you could get to lunch, you went through room after room of highly priced souvenirs. Some of them were a really nice quality; the prices were beyond high.

What do you expect when you are sitting down to lunch for 250 and everyone is getting the same lunch?

We keep our expectations low. We were in group number one, and our table was seated first. At each table of six, a huge cauldron of soup was brought, to be shared, family style. One man in the middle assumed the serving chore and – our eyes opened in surprise! This tomato soup was delicious. There are tomato soups and tomato soups, this soup had taste! If nothing else, we had a good soup for lunch!

Then came the salmon, again, on a large platter, with six huge slices of salmon, beautifully cooked. It was served with long grain white rice (I don’t really care about rice so I can’t tell you how it tasted) and lemon slices. The salmon was moist, and juicy, and perfectly cooked. We were all round eyed with surprise. Even people who don’t eat fish said they had enjoyed their meal. It was a great success.

 

 

 

 

 

We saw a lot of horses in Iceland, and sheep, oh sheep of so many varieties, all covered with thick wool out in the cold.

This is a church in the first capitol of Iceland; inland. We are told that the early Icelandic settlers were primarily farmers, working the land, not fishing, so the focus was more inland where arable land was more available. The Icelandic people know this because from the very earliest Icelandic civilizations, they have written records.

Below are two volcanos, both of which have erupted and rumbled in recent times.

In this river, at this point, glacier water, at the top, meets run-off water, at the bottom and you can see the different sources from the color and clarity.

You see steam vents everywhere. Some places they are harnessed; some are just out and exposed:

I imagine how terrifying this land must have seemed to its earliest settlers, a land that rumbled and trembled, from which scalding water might erupt with little or no warning, or a volcano might spew lava and throw hot rocks and ash for miles. What courage they had to make a living there, and to learn how to turn the apparent disadvantages to their advantage.

 

Next stop, a state of the art geothermal energy plant (with a really good gift shop with great kids books and unique items.)

Back in Reykjavik, view from La Perla; a dome covering several old water storage tanks.

Statues in front of La Perla:

The Reykjavik cultural center:

We are back on the ship just before we are due to sail, and we can see the foul weather blowing in:

Today we are at sea, the waves are high, and they have closed the spa pool, my favorite place, as it may be dangerous when floors are wet and the boat is tossing passengers around. I would be disappointed, but that would be selfish. There is a lot for people to do, lot of activities, lectures, dancing lessons – today is the waltz, there are scrabble games and trivia games and bridge games, and even still those quiet places where internet reception is better and it is quiet enough to read a book. It is Italian day in the World Cafe; AdventureMan had the Tuscan Bean soup and I had the grilled vegetables to honor Italy 🙂

September 15, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Character, Cultural, ExPat Life, Food, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Travel | , | Leave a comment

Wake of the Vikings: Vikings in the Faroe Islands

We can’t say enough good things about the Viking business model, and we are critical travelers. We headed out on a tour this morning, we who are not good at touring in groups, and had to give our admiration to the facility with which Viking gets large numbers of people on the ground and going out and learning something. When you book a cruise, there are always “included” tours, included means you don’t pay extra. The included tours are usually overviews, often panoramic, i.e. you get in a bus and drive and stop now and then for a photo. Everyone who wants a tour gets a tour.

Having lived overseas most of our married life, we know that it is so much easier to stay comfortable than to go out and see something and learn something. About 10% of people will make it happen for themselves, another 80% will go if it is made easy enough, and 10% will never go. In the Embassies, that 10% will hang out at the American Club or the Marine Bar, and if military, shop almost exclusively at the PX (BX, Navy Exchange) and commissary.

Viking makes it easy. The night before we reach a port, there is a Port Talk, where the local currency is explained, a few good phrases (usually like “good morning” and “thank you”) taught, and photos and videos (all very full of sunshine) are shown to give you an idea what to expect. The daily newsletter always tells you how to say “Please take me back to my ship” in the appropriate language. Buses show up on time. There are enough guides for all the passengers. The guides have the patience of Job.

Our guide for Vistas, Vikings, and Village Woodturner was very very good. I don’t really know that I learned a lot about Vikings. Really, Vikings raided a little, intermarried a little, and are just a part of the history of the Faroes, the way Angles and Picts and the Norse are a part of the English. We had a very good guide, a funny man who often broke into song, and who has probably attended to more tourists than is good for him.

 

There were sheep everywhere, including sleeping alongside the road. Drivers are all very careful, because if you hurt a sheep, you pay the owner like $500. for his loss. The sheep were every color from white to brown, and black, and spotted white and brown and black. If I lived in the Faeroe Islands I would learn to sheer and card sheep wool, and spend evenings spinning the raw wool into threads for weaving into cloth and yarns. I’ve always wanted to learn to spin. LOL, too late to be a spinster 😉


What do I think is a good guide? This man told us a lot about life on the Faroes, about choices people make. Do they want to be a part of Denmark or not? It would require an election, and people can figure about half want one thing and half want another, and no matter who won, it would be narrow and cause turmoil, so why spend all that money on an election, just leave things as they are.

 

We head to the village of Kvivik to see the Viking longboat remains, or where they once were, and then to Leynar to visit the Village Woodman.

Below are stone built salmon jumps, old technology, but with devices which keep count of each salmon who climbed the steps, new technology. Can you see how green and lovely everything is, evan as fall approaches?


Drama Drama Drama! Who could be bored when the weather changes every minute with such verve and gusto?

We are always interested in how people choose to live. Our guide explains that houses often contain three generations, the grandmother, the mother, and the daughter. Isn’t that an interesting way to describe it? We tend to think in male-ownership terms, but these houses are communal based on matrilineal lines.

I wonder where daughters-in-law fit in?

 

Look closely here, a man is up on his turf roof, trimming things down for the winter.

Viking longboat site

They teach their children three important rules. 1. Be kind. 2. Be kind. 3. When one and two fail, be kind.

He told us how houses are built, and how people help one another get their houses built. They are taught “better that many are not poor than that a few are rich.” We did not see a single dump any where in our journey took us; everything was clean and well-kept. People are fined heavily for dropping trash. There are only two policemen in the Faroes, and there is no prison, there is so little crime. “Where would you run? Where would you hide?” he asks. “Everyone would know you, so you don’t do it.”

He told us that many of the families of the Faroes were started by Norsemen who found local girls and were afraid to go home and face their wives, who were waiting for them with big sticks. He made us laugh, and laughter always helps us understand.

He took us into a beautiful little church, beautiful finished wood on the inside (see below) and he sang to us a familiar hymn, in Faraoese, Nearer My God to Thee. It was so sweet, and so beautiful, my eyes teared. He told us he waited 30 years to get married, and was the first one to wed once the Danish stopped insisting on state churches. (The church is now Lutheran.)

The Faero Islands reminds me of where I grew up, in Alaska, where neighbors held that same kind of concern for one another and for the communal life. We lived on an island full of Scandinavian immigrant families, along with the native Haida, Aleut, Tlingket, and occasional Inuit. It never mattered that we differed, when someone needed help, we helped. A neighbor didn’t go hungry, their children didn’t go unclothed. I remember the delight when our neighbor passed along her daughter’s lightly used clothing they had outgrown, and we could wear it. I remember one skirt in particular, a grey and yellow plaid Pendleton skirt which I wore for years, and maybe fifteen years later my old neighbor saw me wear it and said “I used to have a skirt just like that!” and I laughed and said “This is your skirt!” When you have a Pendleton skirt, you can wear it for the rest of your life; they wear so well. We were frugal people, and we never wanted for anything. We shared what we had.

 

I got the impression that actually the guide doesn’t much like Americans. It didn’t matter, he was kind, he was professional, and I believe he gave a great value for the money. He shared the truth of his culture as he lives it and was fair to us. That’s good enough.

I can’t give you a lot of information about the photos, only that I took what I thought would give you an idea of what life on the Faroe Islands might look like. For me, this was a great day, very little rain, even some sunshine, and I learned about a culture I really like. I like that they teach their children: Be Kind. Be Kind. Be Kind.

September 12, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Alaska, Arts & Handicrafts, Character, Civility, Community, Crime, Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Family Issues, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Quality of Life Issues, Travel, Values | , , , | Leave a comment

Wake of the Vikings: Bergenbahn from Oslo

Seven hours of the most beautiful train ride in the world!

The Bergenbahn is very comfortable, and we have nice seats. We are given vouchers so we can eat what we choose from the train restaurant, and AdventureMan braves the line and brings back a lovely smoked salmon salad, which exactly hits the spot.

AdventureMan slept. I took photos. Lucky you, I’ve edited out most of them. The following thousand or so photos (LOL) is the ones I chose to share with you.

The trip starts off rural, with lots of white houses and red barns, lots of fat wooly sheep and green pastures, and then gives way to mountain scenery. In seven short hours (the scenery is not unlike crossing the mountains in Washington State except for the lack of these deep red barns, every single barn is the same shade of red. How do they know what to paint their barns? Is there a rule? We are told Norway has a lot of rules for the good of the community, but I didn’t think to ask about the barn color.

The train car

 

Norwegian Wood 🙂

(I once had a girl, or should I say she once had me . . . . )

This is the traditional type of tiles used on the roofs, reminiscent of fish scales

A local train stop; most of them were this mustard color, but some were the red-brick color

“Norwegians love quiet, and to be alone, ” the guide said. AdventureMan started looking at me oddly, and as people who have been married a long, long time do, I knew what he was thinking. He thinks I am Norwegian.

 

 

It might be hard to see, but the house in the center of the photo has a traditional roof with grass growing on it. I’ve seen this in Seattle; all things old become new again 🙂

 

 

 

Before leaving us in Bergen, our guide, Kathryn, donned her own precious traditional garb to show us. Everyone loved her for it, and took many many photos. With her intelligent commentary, and faithfulness in sharing all kinds of insights and lore, she was a great ambassador for her country.

September 11, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Character, Cultural, Customer Service, Living Conditions, Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

Wake of the Vikings: Oslo City Tour – Vigeland Park

In the last post, I told you AdventureMan and I are not very good about staying on track with a tour. Sometimes there is too much information, and too much time at a location about which I care little. VIgeland Park was just the opposite, for both AdventureMan and I. Vigeland Park was so extraordinary it made us want to come back to Oslo and to walk the streets and visit all the public art we can, and spend a lot more time with these lovely, terrifying, amazing sculptures.

This gutsy sculptor told the city of Oslo that he would do a series of sculptures for free if the city would pay for materials, provide a location, and provide help for the project. After lengthy debate, astonishingly, the city agreed. Vigeland created the statues, the park was completed and Oslo had a cultural treasure.

Vigeland’s sculptures deal with mankind, in all glory and in all despair, in all conditions. I will show you one of my favorites, because I am one of three sisters, and what I read into this statue is sisterhood:

 

Can you see why I like this statue? You can read so much into his statuary. If I were teaching high school art, I would put out a series of photos of his sculptures and ask each student to choose one and to write about what he or she sees in the sculpture.

There are mothers and fathers with their children:

 

What do you see? Some saw a man, overwhelmed, careless as he handled his children. I saw a metaphorical balancing act, and don’t children alway find their fathers the most fun because of the risks they take?

 

Some saw joy in this mother racing with her child.  What do you see?

 

 

 

This column centers the exhibit. It is full of people and children, surrounded by people, men and women, all nude, all naked spiritually and open for our observation and interpretation:

 

 

This park is incredibly popular. I would love to go back when there aren’t a lot of people. This is a park where you can spend a lot of time speculating.

This is a separate pavilion with depictions of the stages of a life, and the transitions back and forth from the “other world” to this world.

I struggle with this series below – I’ve only shown two. It is a woman with a dragon – or is it a demon? Is she fighting with it, or dancing with it? And in the last picture, is he embracing her? Is he devouring her?

 

These sculptures are like a good book, you can think about them for a long time, and at different times in your life you may come to understand them in different ways.

September 11, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Character, Circle of Life and Death, Cultural, Interconnected, Mating Behavior, Parenting, Public Art, Random Musings, Relationships, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Dramatic Beginning to The Wake of the Vikings

It’s not that I am THAT compulsive, but I do like to plan ahead, and things that happen at the last minute that require attention can disturb my sleep.

This is a trip we’ve had planned for over a year and a half. We didn’t plan for Hurricane Harvey, and we are flying out of Houston. We didn’t plan on Hurricane Irma, another all-time historical hurricane, headed toward Florida, and possibly into the Gulf. Possibly into Pensacola.

 

We have a wonderful couple who take care of our house and our cats while we are gone. She called the day before we were leaving to ask if we had any plans for the hurricane she needed to know about. Hmmmm. No, I didn’t. I planned not to worry about it. And . . . at the same time, all around me, people are stocking up on propane, and Sam’s has run out of water, and . . . . some people are preparing to hunker down and some to leave home, heading north.

We got moving. I had an hour before my last meeting, and spent that hour figuring out what really mattered to me (photo albums) and putting photo albums up high and in cupboards, and fragile things, like the crystal candelabra AdventureMan gave me for our first anniversary in the safest place I could think of.

Law and Order Man (our son) said he would take Ragnar and Uhtred, our very young cats, to a safe place, if needed.

AdventureMan braced the garage doors with huge specially made steel beams that bolt into place, and we called our contractor who said if it looked like Irma was heading our way, he would put up all the ballistic window and door covers.

It’s not everything, but it’s something. We all felt a lot better.

And thanks to the ‘net, we know that Houston is up and running, and our flights into Houston and out of Houston will fly.

Around eleven, we hear the front door opening (? ! ? ! ? !)  and it is the couple who are coming to stay with the house and cats; they thought we were leaving at night, not the next morning. We all laughed, got them settled, and went to sleep peacefully.

 

The flight into Houston was the best kind, uneventful. We love uneventful flights. You can still see a lot of standing water, and water damage, but the greatest part of the upswell of waters appears to have subsided.

 

 

“Today is the first day that the airport is 100% up and running,” a Houstonian tells us. We are good listeners, and he tells us that the worst part of all this drama is that the death count continues to mount as rescue-workers go into places where people thought they could shelter in safety. The mold is also hitting hard and fast, and emergency facilities are strapped. They are functioning, and they are prepared, and some things are beginning to run out.

The best, he followed up with, is that “you know how divided we have all been? Once the storm hit, it didn’t matter if you were black or white or Mexican or Confederate, we were all just people, and we helped our neighbors, we helped each other. In that way, it was one of the best things that has ever happened in Houston.”

Who would have thought? Houston-strong!

September 6, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Character, Community, Cultural, Family Issues, Florida, Health Issues, Hurricanes, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Relationships, Social Issues, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

Hate Groups: California #1, Florida #2

This map is from the Southern Poverty Law Center Showing the Distribution of over 971 Hate Groups in America.

This is from Fox News:

HATE CRIME

California is No. 1 haven for hate groups, report says

Perry Chiaramonte

The states with the highest number of hate groups may not be the areas of the country that many people would assume.

California ranks highest among the 50 states, with nearly 80 different hate groups calling the Golden State home, says a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Most of the groups are concentrated in Southern California, the San Francisco Bay area and the Sacramento region, the report says.

Data show the western half of the U.S. has significantly fewer hate groups than the East Coast, the report says, but California — the nation’s most populous state — easily has the highest number of hate groups operating within its borders.

The “Hate Map” report shows 917 hate groups operating across the country. It includes data not only on white supremacists, but Black Separatist organizations and anti-LGBT groups as well.

The report also cites numbers from 2016 that show 130 Ku Klux Klan groups and 193 Black Separatist groups active across the county. The SPLC also notes there has been a nearly 200  percent increase in anti-Muslim groups since 2015.

In 2011, the total number hit its peak with over 1,000 groups operating. That number dropped to 784 just three years later, but there has been a steady increase since then. The SPLC also says in its report that the country has seen an unprecedented rise in hate groups since the turn of the century. In 1999 when there were only 457 documented groups in the country.

Florida ranks No. 2 with 63 hate groups, and is No. 1 on the East Coast.

Ranking third is New York state, home to 47 hate groups. Pennsylvania is not far behind, with 40 groups.

States with the lowest numbers of hate groups lie mostly in the Midwest and West. Iowa has only four groups in operation, while Wyoming and New Mexico have two apiece and North Dakota and Vermont have one each.

Data for the “Hate Map” list was compiled using hate group publications and websites, citizen and law-enforcement reports, sources from the field and news reports, the SPLC says.

Perry Chiaramonte is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @perrych

August 16, 2017 Posted by | Character, Civility, Community, Counter-terrorism, Cultural, Leadership, Pensacola, Political Issues, Social Issues | , | Leave a comment

Sweet Land of Liberty: Religious Rights and Jury Duty

 

Every now and then, God, in his infinite mercy, sends an abundance of blessings, covers us with blessings. In a time in which I have found myself uncharacteristically  depressed and anxious about the path our country is taking, for one brief moment, the last few days, all depression has lifted and all anxieties have calmed.

One source of anxiety has been a personal matter, a family matter, and that has resolved itself graciously, happily, with a great feeling of relief and gratitude.

For Sunday, July 2nd, our priest had prepared us for a new set of studies, kicked off by an examination of Democracy and Religion. There were rules – 1) Be nice (that’s what they say in the South for ‘be civil’) and 2) Try to see the issue through the eyes of someone with whom you disagree.

The church hall was set up with twenty-four chairs. A half hour before he was due to start, people started pouring in, and we started pulling out more chairs, and more chairs and more chairs. He actually started off early with a reflection on our Old Testament reading, the story of Abraham and the almost-sacrifice of Isaac. (My Moslem friends correct me; they tell me it was Isaac. Let’s just agree that it was Abraham and a son, and perhaps the details will come clear on the other side of the great divide.) More people arrived, more chairs put out until we were out of chairs. Toward the end of the discussion on Religious rights and Democracy, I did a quick count of chairs and people standing and figured we had over ninety people – and one of the best Sunday School classes ever.

Our priest took a Socratic approach, asking questions, bringing in current topics. In these times of divided opinions, there was, surprisingly, a lot of laughter. My favorite moment was when we were discussing limits on religious freedoms, and things that there are laws against – live animal sacrifices, bigamy, sale of alcohol on Sunday before 11 a.m. – then one of the lawyers added “How about serving liquor to minors without checking IDs every Sunday?” That got a big laugh. It’s what we do; we use real wine in the communion cup, it’s Anglican / Episcopalian tradition. And yep, even young children get to take a sip. Oops.

As divided as we are, as it turns out, we have a lot in common. It takes a lot of courage to open up such a topic to the congregation. We all behaved. I think we all came away thinking we need more of this.

The very next day, yesterday, I was at the County Courthouse for my first ever call to jury duty. Well, this was my first ever call where I actually was living in the United States and able to show up. While we lived overseas, I would have to get on my VOIP late at night when the Clerk’s office opened and tell them I was living in (Germany. Kuwait. Qatar. Saudi Arabia. Jordan. Tunis. Take your pick.)

Jury duty is an exercise in tedium. At one point when the large selection pool left a courtroom, one of the potential jurors was going “Baaaa baaaaa baaaaa; we are all like sheep.” You park in one place and get on a trolley to the courthouse, you line up to enter the courthouse, you gather in a room and you wait to be called. You get instructions, you watch instructive videos, you get pep talks on your civic duty.

I had my eyes opened in a lot of ways. First, that I would guess more than two hundred people showed up, and this was a Monday between the weekend and the Fourth of July holiday. Many had to take time off from work to show up. We were supposed to be in “business’ dress, but this is Florida, and I guess ‘business dress’ is a matter of interpretation.

Groups would be called to go before judges for jury selection. There were many cases, so almost all of us were a part of one group or another. From my group, juries were being chosen for three trials, so they asked a lot of questions up front that would pertain to all three trials, then the lawyers for the prosecution and the lawyers for the defense would ask questions.

The questions surprised me. They named the witnesses, and the defendants were there in the courtroom; they asked if anyone knew the defendant or any of the witnesses. They asked about our prejudices for or against law enforcement officials, and could we overcome our prejudice to listen to the evidence fairly. They asked about our own court experiences, and they asked about our convictions for drug use, and other things. Many of my pool had served many times on juries and knew how things went. Many were reluctant, yet, there they were. Serving. Doing their duty.

Here is what really surprised me – at least in Florida, the defendant, who is sitting there through all the questioning, gets a say in who will be on his jury. I had no idea! We don’t see a lot of jury selection on TV (although the lady sitting next to me said I need to watch a show called Bull, where jury selection is what the show is about.)

None of the defendants wanted me, and I can understand why. They want people on the juries to truly be as close to their peers as possible, people who can identify with being arrested, maybe even convicted of a crime. They want people who might give them the benefit of the reasonable doubt.

How often have you been arrested? My son, who has been a part of the system, once told me that there are Americans who never have a brush with The Law, other than maybe a traffic ticket or a DWI. Now and then, I ask my friends. None has ever been inside a jail, but these days, a friend or two has a child who has become involved with heavy drug use, and has spent some heart-breaking time in the system.

It was a long day, full of tedium. I thought about the judge, and the lawyers, who go through this day after day, asking the same questions, looking out at groups full of people who maybe don’t even want to be there, going through the process to insure that our system is as fair as possible, day after day, month after month. I had no idea that the wheel of justice ground so finely, so relentlessly, on and on. I had no idea what stoic determination it takes to be a part of that system, and trying to make sure that while the state makes the case, the defendants rights are protected.

I’ve lived, as you know, in countries where justice prevails – occasionally. I remember living in one country, which was peaceful, and thinking to myself that they were educating a lot of people for positions they will never be able to fill, because they are not in the elite.

We have all seen, in every country, that those with the money to buy the best legal protection can often escape the consequences of their crime, but there is hope, for me,  even in making them stand trial.

I had no idea how proud I would feel at the end of the day, being a part of this huge effort, seeing how many of my fellow citizens, at great sacrifice to themselves, showed up. I had no idea what an education it would be for me. I had no idea how often those who least want to serve are those chosen to serve – and they persist. They show up.

I was in a room with maybe two hundred people from all walks of life. We were really just numbers, there to fill a systemic need. Some may even be, like me, a little cynical about how much justice our system really delivers . . . and we show up.

One of the defense lawyers yesterday asked us “Do you know what we are here about today?” and while we were all thinking about the charges, she answered “we are here about this man’s liberty. We’ll be deciding where he will spend his time in the next weeks, and months and years. We’ll be deciding his liberty.”

I’m glad I showed up.

Happy Fourth of July 🙂

 

July 4, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Stranger in a Strange Land, Transparency | , , , , | Leave a comment