Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Pensacola Smashes Record Corona Virus Rate

Pensacola has had a full week of record breaking cases of Corona Virus, way up from where it was when we all began to shelter in place.

With news that the leadership has decided that testing is the problem, and that the government is beginning to withdraw support for testing, the cars are lining up at the local drive-through testing station, concerned people trying to get tested before testing goes away.

So what looks worse for re-election? Dealing with the problem, or pretending the problem doesn’t exist, not dealing the the problem, and pulling funding from studying the problem?

June 26, 2020 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Community, Health Issues, Leadership, Political Issues, Social Issues | , | Leave a comment

Hidden Gems: Restaurants We Love in Pensacola

People are flocking to Pensacola, or, actually, to the white sugar sands of Pensacola Beach, where you can breathe Covid-free air, paddle around in the Gulf and maintain distance between your less-than-ten group and the next.

Those flocking are always looking for good places to eat at the end of a long day in the sun. As people who love good places to eat, we are going to share some of the lesser known but delightful places in Pensacola where we eat often. We arrived here ten years ago, and were blown away that this old Southern town had such a variety of restaurants full of different tastes.

If you are not from the South, this is for you:  Any time you see the words “with a Southern twist” it is code for loaded with fat and sugar. You can’t beat the sweets – think beignets, Southern cakes, think sweet tea. I believe the South does some of the very best desserts in the United States of America.

That Southern twist, however, is one of the reasons that the most obese states in the USA are also in the South. You will find sugar and fat where you least expect it – one time, at a noted Pensacola restaurant where people go to see and be seen, I ordered a side of greens, trying to avoid sugar. When I tasted the greens, I gagged. Whoda thunk that collard greens would be cooked with sugar?

These are places local foodies go:

Blue Dot BBQ310 N De Villiers St

I’m starting with Blue Dot because it is one of the quirkiest places in Pensacola. In the first place, sometimes they are open, and sometimes they are not. Sometimes when they are open they will answer the phone, and sometimes they will not. Their answering machine gives out a message that says something like “we might be busy or we might be closed, so don’t call again.” Sometimes they have ribs as well as hamburgers, and sometimes they do not. And always, they are packed with people picking up orders. The guy taking the orders keeps them all in his head, and we haven’t seen him mess up a single order.

I had lived here for ten years before I tasted my first Blue Dot hamburger. People here say these are the best hamburgers in the world, pure and simple. I fully enjoyed mine, and I can’t say why. The meat was really good, and the bun was really good, but I can’t put my finger on what made it all so good. It is simple, and it is simply good. Doesn’t come with anything. Doesn’t cost much. And if you’ve lived in Pensacola a long time, Blue Dot is the best kept secret.

New Yorker Deli, 3001 E Cervantes St

I should put a disclaimer on the New Yorker, saying we eat there regularly, like once a week, but the truth is, most of these places I am sharing with you are places we eat regularly, and we don’t get any kickback for saying good things about them. We say good things because they serve good food.

The New Yorker is a deli and restaurant frequented mostly by locals, but get there early. They serve at least eight different home made soups every single day, and a huge variety of salads. They also boast “Pensacola’s best Reuben,” which I can attest to being pretty awesome, and a French Dip Sandwich with some of the best dipping broth I have found. We took a visitor there, they only person I know who could get excited over a liverwurst sandwich, but he is from New York and this was his favorite place in Pensacola. Tuesday they serve Crawfish Etoufee, and if you want to dine in, you had better get there early. Friday, they often have their famous Broccoli Salad.

If you’re looking for dinner on a Friday night, get there early. Yes, they serve wine and beer.

They also have pastas and pizzas. They also have a spectacular selection of desserts. They also have friendly, personal service. We feel so blessed to have a place nearby serving food of this quality.

Gulf Coast Seafood Market and Restaurant, 2250 W 9 Mile Rd

This restaurant is not near-by, and it is high enough on our list that we make the effort to go there often. As part of the renowned Patti family seafood and restaurant empire, it serves some of the best and freshest seafood in the area. The Alaska girl in me gets a craving for some salmon and I give my husband the look that says “take me to (Jonathan’s) for some salmon!” While most of the customers are ordering their baskets or platters with fabulous fried oysters, crab cakes, grouper, catfish or shrimp, we love it that GCSMR will also grill or blacken. This little hidden gem serves what I consider the best salmon in Pensacola, hush puppies to die for, and excellent baked beans. They use sugar where you would expect it – hush puppies, baked beans and sweets – but they also serve steamed broccoli, no sugar.

Shoreline Deli, 1180 W Main St

Just down the street from the famous Joe Patti’s, at the corner of Main and E is the Shoreline Deli and grocery. Not only do we order out, fabulous fresh made sandwiches and salads with a Greek flair, but we also buy our olive oil there, by the gallon, LOL (you think I am kidding, but I am not). While waiting for my order, I buy many of my spices there, fresher than in the supermarkets, think za’atar, sumac, poppy seeds, cardamon, cinnamon sticks, clove, all packaged in small packages (or large, if you need large).  They have Mediterranean relishes, sweets, condiments, nuts, specialties of all kinds, and a very large selection of Zapp’s potato chips and other local specialties.

Near the cashier, where you get a military discount if you show your ID, is a stand laden with irresistible sweets – think baklava, big chewy cookies, and for my husband, some of the best peanut brittle anywhere.

Taste of Jerusalem, 707 N Pace Blvd Suite B

Ray, the owner, is working on a new location on Cervantes, so check Taste of Jerusalem.com before you head there. The current location is tiny, but well patronized because the food is just SO GOOD. I tell AdventureMan “this is better than some of the Middle Eastern food we used to eat in the Middle East.” Ray is constantly expanding his menu, and there is something for everyone. My vegetarian friends love the two huge Vegetarian Platters, with selections from hummus, baba ghannoush, stuffed grape leaves, Jerusalem salad, felafel, tzatziki, etc. His grill platters and sandwiches are chock full of grilled flavor; lamb, beef, chicken, kebabs, gyros, and shrimp. He also has grilled chickens and platters of biryani and mensaf. His trout is excellent. Join the stream of loyal patrons who marvel that Pensacola has a world class Mediterranean restaurant of this calibre.

Taco Rock 29, 5454 Pensacola Blvd

This is the original Taco Rock, and we love it because the food is so well prepared and so tasty. It is not fancy, and sometimes the air conditioning does not work. It doesn’t deter us. My husband is addicted to their fresh, home-made tamales (pork) and I am a big fan of the Burrito Loco. The food is fresh, hot, comes with a mild or hot salsa. You have your choice of meats in the tacos, tostadas, burritos, etc. The chips are thin and crisp. They have a loyal clientele, and many delivery customers, so sometimes you have to wait. It’s worth it. We love this place.

Seafoods Station, 4796 N. 9th Ave.

My Hawaiian friend introduced me to Poke’ bowls, which I’ve tried at different places every since, but I have found none that I love the way I love the Ahi Tuna Poke’ or the Salmon Poke’ at Seafoods Stations. Lucky for me, my husband has several dishes he loves – the clam platter, the mussels platter, the Cajun Shrimp platter, the Shrimp Stir-Fried noodles. Actually, the menu is so large and varied that everyone we have taken there has found something to love. It is quirky, to us to combine seafood, Vietnamese and Cajun foods, but with the local history of Vietnamese immigrants settling in Louisiana and becoming major players in the shrimp and fish industry, it all makes sense, and the flavors are beautifully combined at Seafoods Station.

Siam Thai, 6403 N 9th Ave

When we first moved to Pensacola and started taking our then-baby grandson out with us, he cut his teeth on foods from Siam Thai. They were always so patient with us, and so kind to our little grandson. Now, we order out from Siam Thai regularly because their food is so well prepared, fresh and full of flavor. In truth, I like some foods spicy, and they make it spicy enough for me.

We love their Spring Rolls, uncooked with shrimp and vermicelli noodles, and a rich peanut sauce to dip in. I love their Grilled Chicken Salad (that’s a full meal right there), and we love their Northern Style Noodles Soup (another full meal, rich in chicken and vegetables in a tasty red chli base). We love their Chicken Cashew Nuts and OMG their Rama Chicken. There are dishes we haven’t tried yet. We mean to, but we go to order and can’t resist those we have had and found to be so delicious. We intend to keep trying 🙂 and we will enjoy every bite 🙂

Taqueria Al Asador, 7955 N Davis Hwy

Once solely a food truck, Al Asador has some picnic-style outdoor seating, and now it is even covered. Listed as one of the best food-trucks in the USA, the food at Al Asador is worth every second of the wait in the line to order, and the wait to pick up. Service is speedy, and they have to-go down to a science, with pre-packaged Salvadoran sauces to spice your tacos and tostadas and burritos. One of our favorites is the Chicken Platter (Platillo de Pollo), so much food and we can both eat for under $20. The meat is grilled and smoked on huge grills behind the truck, so the aromas while you wait are sheer heaven.

Do not, we learned from experience, go on a Saturday. The line is very long.

You have to know what you are looking for. Al Asador is co-located with a Shell gas station, north of I-10. Drive north on Davis, do a U-turn at Olive Road and get in the right hand lane to exit soon, when you see the Shell Station. There is additional parking over in front of a warehouse on the right hand side of Blackwell Road. Al Asador is worth the trouble.

Ozone Pizza Pub, 1010 N 12th Ave #111

We think Ozone has the best pizzas in town, and the best thin crusts. I love that the pizzas are really Italian in style – not too much red sauce, not too much cheese, not too much crust, and fresh ingredients with a lot of flavor. I love the Pesto Vecchio and the La Bianco, my husband loves the Nutty Idea, our grandchildren love the Carnivore, my daughter in law loves the Root Down Salad and we love the Greek salad – one is enough to share, when also eating pizza.

I will admit, I also love that it is in a re-purposed old building, once a hospital, now housing two restaurants and several businesses. Ozone has loyal and fervent customers, passionate and ready to defend Ozone as the best Pizza in town (and one of the best bar scenes).

Joe Patti’s Seafoods, 524 South B Street

Just off Main, you can’t miss the huge sign or the flag, Joe Patti’s is a Pensacola landmark and institution. It is not a restaurant – well, maybe you can eat some sushi in the back – but there is a Joey Patti’s restaurant nearby serving a lot of heavily fried delicious fresh seafood.

I mention Joe Patti’s because I would dare to say that everyone in Pensacola shops there – some occasionally and some more frequently. Joe Patti’s has all the variety of fresh seafood you can imagine. It also has specialty food items you can’t find any where else.

For us, we are addicted to Joe Patti’s gumbo, although once I ordered clam chowder by accident and it was every bit as good, it is just, frankly, I can make chowder that good, but I cannot equal Joe Patti’s gumbo. We order it by the quart and grab a baguette of his delicious sourdough bread to go with it. Sometimes I can’t resist one of their specialty cheeses, even though I know it is bad for me, Joe Patti carries some really delicious cheeses. Oh. And ice cream and cakes. A whole display case of them. And a variety of seafood salads. Anything you could want for an elegant picnic, including wines, you can find at Joe Patti’s.

Do not go on Christmas Eve day; even early in the morning, there is a line a couple blocks long when it opens. If you MUST go on Christmas Eve, be sure you have ordered your oysters at least a week in advance.

* * * * * * *

Above are some of our very favorite, most frequented places. I will remind you that I have lived in countries designated by our fearless leader as “$#*!holes” and I am willing to overlook things more dainty women might object to. Most of these places are not elegant. You don’t even have to take off your shorts and sandals – they are Florida casual. Of course, right now, in the age of COVID, we are not eating out, but we are very religiously taking out; we want to support our hard working friends in the restaurant business.

Having said that, now and then you want to dress a little and celebrate. I will share four of the more known restaurants we like, and why.

Flounders Chowder House, 800 Quietwater Beach Road

Well, just kidding, take those pearls back off and get back into shorts and sandals, Flounders is casual, but more expensive, and part of a chain, but a local chain we really like because we find their food excellent.

The first thing we love at Flounders Chowder House is . . . the chowder. It is exceptional. It is full of seafood, not the least bit skimpy. My husband orders the grilled grouper sandwich, which comes with the most sinfully delicious fries ever. I am not supposed to eat fries. They are really bad for me. If I am going to eat fries, I eat a couple or five or so off my husband’s plate. They are so crisp and so tasty, must be all that fat and salt. I usually order the Baja Fish Tacos, fried and served with abundant pico de gallo, yes, fried, but so GOOD. If I am better behaved, I order the grilled shrimp salad or the Caeser with grilled shrimp.

The food is excellent, every time. You can also get good drinks and good wine there (we see it flowing like water, and many a well-oiled customer), often live mellow music, and always a fresh Gulf Breeze, even on the days with the heaviest humidity. Flounders is a treat.

McGuires Irish Pub Pensacola, 600 E Gregory St

I am pretty sure McGuires and Flounders are owned by the same company. Every now and then, AdventureMan and I get a craving for a good steak. We know what we want, just a little filet with a heavy crushed pepper crust. We know where to go – McGuire’s.

McGuires is not a hidden gem; it is well publicized and well known. There are lines outside to get in. We usually go in winter, or on a parade day when everyone is somewhere else. It is very pubby – dark wood interior, Irish music, live Irish singers, tables close together, large crowds of people calling out to one another, it is noisy. There are dollar bills tacked to the ceiling, everywhere. You really don’t have to dress, although some do, some are coming from events, but many are still in their beach clothes, it’s that kind of mixture.

The food is relentlessly good. I admire that McGuires can provide continuously good food, across the menu, from drinks to desserts, and maintain a high standard of excellence. Our steaks are perfect, every single time.

Fisherman’s Corner, 13486 Perdido Key Dr

We are getting up to my two all time favorite Pensacola restaurants here, and we drive for 45 minutes to get to Fisherman’s Corner. We take our house guests there. It is that good.

Every thing we have tried at Fisherman’s Corner, we love. We always start with their hand-dipped peppered onion rings. If your group is hungry, order two or more; they are gone in a heartbeat. My favorite entree is the Creole Linguine, which I cannot eat because it is too rich, so my beloved AdventureMan will order it (well, he loves it, too) and give me a couple bites. I adore the Cioppino, honestly one of the best I have ever eaten, anywhere, but it is not often available at lunch and sometimes not at dinner.

Fisherman’s Corner is like that. They don’t keep a huge freezer full of frozen stuff, their food is fresh and if it is not available fresh, then it won’t be available. You learn to live with that small inconvenience because holy smokes, the food is so incredibly good. Their smoked tuna – when available – is awesome. Their grilled tuna or grilled tuna salad – when available – is awesome.

We were first taken there by a member of one of Pensacola’s first families. We would never have found it if she hadn’t taken us there because you have to leave the road off to the right just before you cross the Theodore Baars bridge to Perdito Key, Drive down that road and you come to Fisherman’s Corner and it kind of looks like a bait shop, except for all the cars in front, and maybe even people waiting outside to get in. If you are able, better to make a reservation.

Their bread pudding dessert and their Key Lime Pie are also very good, and they serve some excellent wines. AdventureMan takes me there for events, like anniversaries or maybe because it’s Saturday. A few people dress. Most put on clean shorts and a clean shirt at the very least. It’s a nice place, but still Florida, where people are going to wear what they want to wear.

 

The Grand Marlin Pensacola Beach, 400 Pensacola Beach Blvd., Pensacola Beach

Every now and then, you just need a night at The Grand Marlin. When you need everything – good food, great service, lovely surrounding, you need to be at The Grand Marlin.

No matter where you eat, you have a view of Escambia Bay. No matter when you go, you know that the wait staff here are the best the area has to offer, and they really like working at the Grand Marlin.

I am absolutely crazy about their TGM BBQ Shrimp. It is an appetizer, only six shrimp, but six very large shrimp in an exquisite sauce, with an excellent garlic bread. It is a savory BBQ sauce; I think they must use a couple sticks of butter in it but they say it’s the beer that makes it so good. We discovered with COVID that we could take it home, warm it up and serve it over angel hair pasta and it was exquisitely satisfying. The grilled salmon BLT is divine. Both of those are available from Curbside service.

For the times when we can dine in, we have never had a bad meal. I love the Cioppino, I love the Crab Cakes, I love the grilled salmon. Most of all, I just love being there, I love the totality of the experience with good food, good wines and a nice atmosphere combining with a lovely drive across two bridges and maybe even a sunset. The Grand Marlin is an experience, not just a meal.

If you find a place you love, or try one of the above and like it, please share below the name of the restaurant and what you ate that impressed you. I love it when one of these entries becomes useful to a lot of people. You can help make that happen.

June 20, 2020 Posted by | Community, Cooking, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Entertainment, Food, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Restaurant | Leave a comment

IR8

You’ve known me now almost 15 years – imagine. Do you think of me as an angry person? A hostile person?

Do you think words matter?

Saturday, I received a new license plate. For some reason, the state of Florida believes ten years with one license plate is enough, and you are required to get a new one. When I opened it, I had an immediate reaction – horror. It started with IR8.

You know how it is in traffic – you look at bumper stickers, you look at license plates. People can be amazingly clever putting together personalized plates that can surprise and delight a laugh out of you while stuck in traffic. AdventureMan marvels at how I can figure out most of them, although a few totally flummox me.

It’s a small thing, I kept telling myself, and a lot of people won’t even notice. IR8.

But it bothered me. I had to ask if I wanted to live for ten years with a license plate that gave people the impression I might be angry. Hostile. Irate. It matters to me.

It bothered me so much that last night I packed up that new license plate and registration with my swimming gear, and immediately after my morning swim, I headed over to the tax office, where licenses and titles and all those things that require bureaucratic validation are done. I was in a safe-distancing queue and I kept getting messages that there were only “x” many people in front of me and it would be between “11 and 27 minutes.” As the hours stretched on, I heard the gate keeper explain to people that the automatic messages were deceiving, and the wait was really longer.

I did not become IR8. There were people in wheel chairs. There were women seeking Gold Star Mother plates; I nearly wept. There were service people, just arriving from other states, needing new licenses, and rosy cheeked teens, applying for their first licenses. My need was not the most urgent.

I thought about things. I prayed for people who need prayer. I prayed for myself, that I might find ways I can’t even imagine to be part of the great Creator’s purpose for my life. With the storm just blowing over, it wasn’t horribly hot and there was shade and a nice breeze in the outdoor court where we waited. And waited. and waited . . .

One of the things that has made me most uncomfortable in other iterations of my life is living in countries where I was “special,” countries where I was walked past hundreds of people waiting in line to the front. I suspect special fees were paid by the company for that privilege, and my job was to just go where I was told and do what I was told to do (sign here, sign there, give blood here, have photo taken down there, all in a language which I only spoke socially). Sitting a couple hours today waiting with all the other people was a kind of karmic turn of the wheel.

Just as lunch was approaching, I was allowed in the building to another waiting area. I kept getting those deceptive messages, only this time they were telling me I had lost my place in line (!) Others reassured me to just wait, that my name would be called.

(At the top of this post is a photo of the old vault – I am thinking the tax collectors office used to be an old bank, because look at that vault – is it not a wondrous work?)

When I was called to the window, I felt sheepish explaining I really could not live with the license I had been randomly issued. I would like to trade it in. The gentle clerk just laughed. “I hear it every day,” she said. “Can you believe they are still sending people licenses with 666 on them? It’s a random thing. There are ethnic groups that don’t like certain numbers on their plates, and other groups who don’t like what the numbers add up to. It’s a very common thing.”

And, like magic, she typed a few letters, swished out and back, and voila, I had a new license plate, no charge. She was even really nice about it.

In our family, we have a word for these problems; first world problems. We have enough. We have a roof and food to eat, we have friends to love and activities to share. We have everything we need. AND I am so so so so grateful I don’t have to live with IR8.

June 8, 2020 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, Florida, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues | 2 Comments

Maskmaker, Maskmaker, Make Me a Mask

When I headed to the YMCA on Wednesday, it was with a heavy heart. I have loved the reservation only swimming; I have actually felt fairly safe with so few people, and the respect for protecting one another through keeping safe boundaries. Already rumors are abounding that the Governor is about to move rapidly forward with his “evidence based phase-in” headed toward the new normal, and will open gyms.

The same day, I received my word that my sister, who was very sick this winter and was told over and over by her doctor that it was only severe bronchitis, has tested positive for the corona virus antibodies. She had it all along. She kept asking. They told her no.

That, along with my mother’s death from the virus, makes me cautious. We come from long-lived people. We are no match for this virus.

So I headed into the Y knowing that once the gym gets back into full swing, I may have to withdraw until I am certain the virus has diminished in our area, and that the “evidence” is supported by full transparency of the medical examiner’s reports (currently being censored / withheld by executive decision of the very governor who is telling us we will go forward making decisions on these unavailable statistics, nationally reported to be underreported in the state of Florida.)

Excuse me, but WTF??

So I wear my mask into the Y, but I take it off to swim, all that chlorine and I feel safe enough. One of the lifeguards gasps and says “I LOVE your mask! Did you make it?” and I told her I did, that I had made about 150 and given them all away.

“Would you make me one just like it?” she asked.

The mask is made from some fabric I found in the souks in Tunis, when we lived there forty years ago. It is a deep sea blue, and purple, with some black and white for drama, with Berber jewelry motifs, triangles with five pendants, crescents, hands of Fatima. I bought ten yards of the fabric when I saw it, and have used it through the years in projects and quilts, a little here and a little there. I loved it that she had the same immediate emotional response to the fabric that I had.

“I don’t know if I have any of that fabric cut for masks,” I told her honestly, “but I will look.”

I swam my mile and headed home, feeling lighter. I had my tasks outlined for the day, but I am nearing a point where I can’t go further – I’ve already packed items we need, like that spare tube of toothpaste, and my vitamin C serum. I got a little carried away with the packing . . .

So I scurried the rest of the morning, full of energy, and in the afternoon I rewarded myself by allowing myself to go back to mask-making, a place I haven’t been for nearly a month. Masks aren’t hard; I figured out a way I like to do them, and I really like to do them, I like the process, and I love working with the fabrics. Even better, my young friend asking me to make her a mask just like mine breathed new life and hope into my spirit; I was able to finish about fifteen masks and offer them to other staff members and life guards when I went in this morning. As I was working with them, I found just one piece of the fabric she loved, that I love, and it was enough to make her a mask, just like mine.

People around here are more reluctant to wear masks than people in places like Seattle. When I walked in with a selection of masks in lovely fabrics, people were delighted to be able to choose something that pleased them. One lady, when I offered, didn’t hesitate, she said “Oh, I know exactly what I want, I can see it!” and chose a dark blue batik with turquoise stars. Another woman chose a Florentine style ivory print with cranberry and green, and gilt highlights. It was fun for me to see them choose, and I can only hope they will like them well enough to wear them as we work to protect one another from this lurking virus.

May 15, 2020 Posted by | Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Circle of Life and Death, color, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Moving, Quality of Life Issues, Tunisia, YMCA | Leave a comment

New Normal at the YMCA

“You think it’s safe?” my good friend asked me, not hiding her concern. “It’s not too soon?”

“It might be,” I replied, “And I really NEED to swim.”

There is a new system for the new normal, I discovered as I arrived a little early for my reservation. Yes, reservations open two days in advance for a 45 minute swim in the lap pool. Today, when I walked in, past the blue lines marked on the floor to keep us six feet apart, there was a man waiting at the door with a little thermal gun-like object which he pressed close to my forehead (I was holding my mask in my hand, LOL), before I could get through to the membership card kiosk. Chatted briefly with a friend who recently lost her husband (old age, not Covid) and then headed for the main desk, to check in for my reservation.

She pointed out the new entry for the pool, a door I had never seen anyone use before, and when I got into the pool area, I was greeted with more information on the new way things were being done. I dropped my bag, marked my lane with my equipment, and showered.

Even though I arrived early, there were two swimmers there before me, and it was still fifteen minutes before the reserved time – no one waited. We all went right to swimming.

 

I felt so blessed. This morning, as I opened my shades, the huge Flower Moon was setting over toward the west, the sky was clear and it was glorious. Now, in my favorite lane, as I swam toward the far end of the pool I swam into shimmering sunlight, and then back into the darker area, back and forth. My first lap was a little rocky, I lost my breath. It’s been two months since I last swam. With the extra 15 minutes, I might come close to my mile, a goal I had reached earlier this year only after months of build-up.

Slowly, the rhythm returned, and I was going back and forth, in and out of the sunlight, and building speed. Around eight, an old swimming comrade arrived and signaled to ask if it was OK if we share a lane. He is always considerate, and sensitive to boundaries, and I was happy to be sharing with him.

Six swimmers in four lanes, and two women exercising in the nearby exercise pool – eight people total, sharing this wonderful, clean, sunny space. What luxury. I felt safe.

I came so close! I came within one lap of completing my mile. It was 8:45 and while no one was pushing me out, everyone else was leaving, so good little lamb that I am, I left too, so the crew can do whatever it is they need to do before the next swimmers arrive, for the 9:00 slot. I didn’t go into the changing room, just dried as best I could and wrapped a Zambian kikoy around me for the drive home, using my towel to protect the seat of the car.

This is not me, this is a photo I found online to show how kikoy can be worn to get one quickly and modestly home rather than having to dry off and change.

I thought I would be tired, exercising hard after two months of no swimming, but no! I had energy! I tackled the linen closet, organized medical kit, linens, boxes of supplies for the upcoming move, and boxed up excess for people who might need them.

May 8, 2020 Posted by | Africa, Civility, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, Exercise, Fitness / FitBit, Health Issues, Hygiene, Living Conditions, Moving, Quality of Life Issues, Safety, Social Issues, Survival, YMCA | , | Leave a comment

Amazing Women Visiting Pensacola

When I first came to Pensacola, a woman at our church who is very welcoming and kind to newcomers told me she “wanted to find just the right place for me to plug in.” A couple of her suggestions were not exactly what I wanted, but then she introduced me to Jena Melancon, the founder and director of the Gulf Coast Citizens Diplomacy Council, and I found my niche.

Jena is an amazing woman. She has created this organization. She has a data base of resources that allow her to tailor visits for foreign delegates so that they can meet the needs of their missions – Election Transparency, Entrepreneurship, Environmental Protection, Leading an NGO, Military and Civilian Community Cooperation, Domestic Violence, Creating Fair Policies, Programs for Enriching Disadvantaged Children – you name it, Jena can create a program that will enrich their understanding from an American perspective.

At the same time, Pensacolians who come into contact with the delegates sent by the Department of State find that their lives are also enriched. Many times they, too, learn something new and unexpected. Both groups benefit.

Jena also has a group in GCCDC that studies Great Decisions, and creates events throughout the year for membership participation. Members of the Gulf Coast Citizens Diplomacy Council can volunteer in Jena’s office, can host dinners for delegates and have some one-on-one time learning about customs in another part of the world, can sponsor a Pensacola child in an international exchange, can host teenagers here on an international exchange, or attend the famous Mint Julep party in Spring. Many in the GCCDC are also resources; the exchange of ideas bringing inspiration to both sides.

This week, I was honored to be able to work with a group of Women in Leadership, women from Chad, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Sudan. Each and every one of the women was a hero in her own right, making life better in their communities by stepping into leadership roles. Rehab, above, from the Sudan, works to empower women and to make the laws show greater equality in the treatment of men and women.

 

CPT Aseel is a police chief in Iraq.

Maki, from Chad, works to prohibit child marriages and female genital mutilation.

Mariam, from Saudi Arabia, is a high level journalist in the Saudi media industry, accepting honorary citizenship from the City of Pensacola city council chair Sherri Myers.

Wasfiya is a minister of parliament in Iraq.

Ola is the delegate from Jordan.

I was honored to spend three days of my life with these women, and with Jena, and with other inspirational women of Pensacola at the Women in Leadership conference at UWF.

Here is most of the group with Judy Bense, President Emeritus of UWF, at the closing of the Women in Leadership conference, 2020. Life can be amazing when so many women of talent and confidence gather together to inspire one another.

March 3, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Character, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Leadership, Political Issues, Social Issues, Women's Issues | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Domme: One of the Best Days in the Dordogne

That title is misleading. We had so many best days, but later in this post you will learn why this one sticks out in my memories. Some days of the trip are cloudy, like “which day did we do this?” Other memories come out crystal clear.

(I just spent an hour of my life learning about Google’s Activity record – holy smokes! – and how, if I had had my location tracker turned on, I might have been able to provide you with the hilariously indirect routes we ended up on getting from place to place in the Dordogne. I am tempted. I don’t live a life with anything I need to hide. And yet, the thought of being TRACKED and a record being kept makes me uneasy.)

 

So arriving in Dome is kind of Wizard-of-Oz-y.  It’s a very old city, built on a high hill, and streets are old and narrow. It’s sort of like those labyrinth puzzles you used to do as a kid when you needed to get from here to there. In this case, we totally depended on the Google lady, who said “turn right here” or “go 100 feet, turn left and then immediately right at the next street.” Getting from the entry gate, at the bottom of the hill, to L’Esplanade, at the top of the hill, was an exercise in indirection and circularity.

We got to the top.  We could see our hotel.  We  had read about the parking, that there was no parking at the hotel and if you were very lucky, there might be parking on the street. There was not a single parking spot on the street. Even this late in the season, there were many tourists, and tourist buses, and some had drivers parked in no-parking places, with the engine on, ready to go and circle the city if the police came.

We decided to park in the pay lot, which had a lot of spaces. The night before, we had prepared our carry-bags with enough clothes for dinner and the next day, so we didn’t have to carry in our bags. It took us about 15 minutes to figure out the instructions. We put in the maximum in coins – I think 5 Euro, and that would take us to seven PM, when if we saw a parking space, we would move the car, and if we didn’t, we would put more money into the machine.

When we walked in, we received a very cordial and friendly greeting; the receptionist was Dutch and spoke English wonderfully. She told us that at seven, the parking machines are no longer monitored, and we are safe until ten the next morning, so that was a relief. She showed us to our room. You can see our room in the photo of L’Esplanade from the path, above; it is the corner room, one story up, and has a balcony.

The room was gorgeous. Maybe not quite so spacious as our room(s) at Domaine de la Vitrolle, but very spacious for France, and beautiful. And just wait until you see the view. My heart sang. I wanted to stay on that balcony and just soak in that view.

 

 

 

 

We can see all the way to La Roque-Gageac!

Beautiful Perigord farmlands . . .

Day is fleeting, and AdventureMan wants to explore, and rightly so. We are only in Domme for this one night. It was hard for me to leave that balcony; the view just sang to my heart.

Domme is walkable, and beautiful. There is something else about Domme – there are cats, lots of cats, and there are dishes out, hidden under benches, or visible on a step up to a house, or at the side of a doorway into a church. I imagine the cats keep the rats away, but it is lovely to see them repaid so generously and lovingly. The cats all looked very well fed.

Here is another church built in the same style as that of the church we saw in Audrix. I’m going to have to find out about this architecture. Domme is an old Templar town; I am wondering if this style is an indication of a Templar population?

 

 

Look at this barrel roof! Is that not beautiful?

 

A view of the church from the market square. We attended the market the next morning, but it was very small, and there is only so much hand-made soap I can buy!

The above photo was taken from in front of a very cool bookstore, which even had a large English section. They had thousands of books in all genres, all languages, and new and used books all together. It was a little bit of heaven, right there on the main square.

 

 

 

Actually, I lost my husband. He went into the bookstore, I took photos. I went into the bookstore, he wasn’t there! I tried to call him, and it did not go through. I knew if I went back to the hotel, we would eventually fine one another, but I kept looking, and we were both on the main square, just in different places. I too this photo in front of the wonderful book store.

 

 

Beautiful city coat-of-arms, no?

This was a wonderful place for us. We found this building, with these arched windows (which I love) and my husband found a plaque telling us it was the former mint, the man who struck the coinage for the area. As we went around the corner, looking in the window, AdventureMan said (very brave man!) “I think we need to go in there.” I had not been paying a lot of attention, I was looking in a window where the you could see the jeweler’s studio, with works in progress, which was fascinating. My husband was right, there were some beautiful pieces. I tend to buy jewelry in places just like this, where you can find original pieces, and, well, jewelry and silk scarves transport well. 😉

Inside, we met the jeweler’s son. As I picked out some pieces, my husband and him started a conversation, and as it got more interesting, I joined in. He talked about his family coming to Domme to seek new opportunities and new markets, and how wonderfully it had worked out for them.

I found the lovely chain-mail inspired neck;ace below in the tip of my stocking on Christmas morning 🙂

We talked about all kinds of social issues in France, and economic issues. We were all very cordial. At one point, Julien paused and then asked us, very haltingly, “You seem to be such nice people. How could you have elected a President like Trump?” We grimaced; it is a question Europeans ask us a lot. How could a country with the values we claim to share elect a man with no moral compass? He was horrified at what is happening in our country, and sad at our descent into corruption.

It was a hard conversation, and we all hung in there. At the end, we all hugged, and hoped for a better, more peaceful, less greedy world in the months and years to come. Sometimes the hardest conversations are those most worth having.

 

Meanwhile, back at L’Esplanade, we were eager to see what dinner would have to offer. L’Esplanade is well known for excellent cuisine, and we had reserved for dinner back when we made our hotel reservation. The dining room is lovely.

 

We think the settings are beautiful. There is a room where you can go have cocktails if the dining room is crowded and you have to wait, but tonight we only share the dining room with four other parties.

We order from the fixed menus. Our first course comes, a celery veloute’. It is a cream of celery soup, you can see it in the center of that great big black plate with a little recess in the center for the soup.

 

This was my main course, a little trout steak, decorated with a . . .potato chip. The little cubes of sweet potato were delicious.

AdventureMan had duck, again, decorated with a potato chip. He said the taste of the duck was exquisite.

His dessert was “Fig Three Ways” or maybe five, we couldn’t figure it out.

I loved my dessert, the raspberry sorbet part. It was decorated with passion fruit.

At the end of the meal, we were served this perfect little cookies.

This was another very quiet, very dark night of great sleep.

The next morning, we had breakfast in what I would call the garden room, and the owner’s family were all there, too, eating breakfast on their way to school, work, etc. It was really fun just being able to see them all eat, converse, be a normal family eating their breakfast together in the hotel. I loved it.

January 3, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Communication, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, Food, France, Geography / Maps, History, Interconnected, Political Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel, Values | , | Leave a comment

Bordeaux to Limeuil: “And We are Still Married”

The morning after the race, the major streets in Bordeaux are deserted. AdventureMan and I discovered an ATM just around the corner, and we don’t know how it’s going to work. You’d think we would be jaded by now – we know how to use ATMs in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Germany, etc. but we have also learned NEVER to take anything for granted. We give ourselves plenty of time. Going slowly and carefully, following the instructions to the letter, we get the funds we need. We’ve also learned never to count on using a credit card, and always to have back up cash.

Just because we love mustard, especially French mustard.

Just down the street, St. Andrews Cathedral.

Again, just because I love this mosaic tile in our hotel, it’s kind of a WOW for me.

Another thrill, I discover that I can make phone calls with my iPhone. I had checked, and was told I could. I know I was able to in Germany last year at the Christmas markets, but again, I never take anything for granted, things change, different countries have different systems, and for me, when I get technology to work, it is something like magic to me. YOU may think it is rational and normal, but I see a million varying factors that can cause the rational to go off track. I danced for joy when I was able to schedule a pick-up by the same limo service that dropped us off.

It was a bit extravagant, but we hate what we call “the bag drag.” The limo picked us up, put our luggage in the trunk and took us directly to Gare Sainte Jean, where he let us off at the front entrance. This is where you catch the train to Paris, or, in our case, where you pick up your rental car.

“So where is Hertz?” my husband asks me, since I made the reservation and double checked to be sure we would have a car just days before we left.

“Ummm . .. here. Here, in the Gare Ste. Jean,” I responded. We are standing there, with our roly bags and our carry bags, and there are no car rental sites in sight. Worse, there are no signs. I ask a couple people, and they don’t know.

We see a sign saying something about “voitures” and head in that direction. As we pass a McDonalds, AdventureMan goes in to ask, and a sweet, delightful little 16 year old comes out to help us. She is truly an angel, practicing her careful English, and so happy to be able to help us. “You are American?” she asks, and when we say “yes” she is all smiles.

“It is in Halle 3,” she tells us. You follow this corridor until you get to Halle 3, then you go downstairs, it is downstairs in Halle 3.”

Halle 3 feels like a mile away. It is a colossal bag drag. The walk goes on and on. Grumble grumble, if I had known, I would have had the driver let us off at Halle 3, and I grumble because it’s my fault. I’m the one who sets these things up, I’m the one who didn’t check where the car rentals might be, grumble grumble, yes, I am hard on myself as I drag my bag.

We have some good luck when we get to the rental place, the man in front of us is finishing up and heading for his car and we are next. It’s going to be more bag drag; we have to go from Halle 3 out these doors, down this sidewalk to the parking garage, then up to the 6th floor. Grumble grumble.

We get there and we love the car, a little silver SUV and not unlike our Rav4s, much of the operating system is analagous. There are a few little things . . . but we take our time, try to figure things out before we leave.

Every marriage has its pressure points. For us, here is where the rubber hits the road. We have to get out on the road. My husband, who does not speak much French, has to get us from the garage to the road. I am navigator, reading my phone and road maps, my job is to help him make the right turns.

It is a disaster. We miss the right exits and have to go back, just to get out of Bordeaux. We end up going the wrong way on the right road, and it takes us miles (kilometres) before we can turn around and go the right way.

We lose about an hour, but it is no big deal because our drive for the day is only about two and a half hours, and we plan to stop here and there and wander, as we do.

Within about twenty minutes, AdventureMan says “isn’t there is smaller road we can take? This isn’t very interesting,” and I agree, we like smaller, more picturesque roads. So i set a course for Eymet, where there is a Sunday market we’d heard about, and follow Google instructions.

One thing catches me by surprise. It is Sunday morning, and there are large groups of bikers. Not the motorcycle kind, these are bicyclists, all in fashionable athletic wear and expensive shoes on sporty bikes, and the groups look like clubs, out for a Sunday ride. I’ve never seen that before, and I love it.

Sigh. Google takes us on some weird paths. Sometimes I am not so sure Google understands French. We are on some very rural roads, not that interesting. It takes us more than two hours to get to Monsegur, where we decide to stop because we are really hungry, and I love the name Monsegur.

 

This is not the exact route we took. Google kept telling us to take some really small roads. Monsegur (means “safe hill”) is along the route before Eymet.

We turn off to Monsegur to find a place to eat. It is old, very old, and quiet. My husband is tired, and hungry. I am feeling responsible, because we are sort of lost, and not making good time.

 

We walk around the market square, and we see a couple places that do not look inviting. Then we see two elderly women, well dressed, heading to a place around the corner. We follow them. They head directly into Auberge La Piece de Boeuf.

They slow just enough for me to ask them “Is this a good place to eat?” They are more than polite, they are cordial and gracious, and tell me, slowly so I can understand clearly, that this is the only place in town with really good food, and we must try it.

We are not really meat eaters, although we are not not-meat-eaters, but . . . when in France. There are other things on the menu, but everyone in the restaurant is eating beef, and when you are in a restaurant whose name is A Piece of Beef, it is probably a good idea to eat the specialty of the house. We play by different rules in different cultures.

We are charmed by the interior. And we are delighted when they have a place for us, in a back corner where we can see almost the whole restaurant, what everyone is eating. Within ten minutes, the last table is taken, and we are glad we got there when we did, as we watch people being turned away.

The owner is very gracious. He helps AdventureMan find something he wants to eat. The entree, or starter, is a salad with a very tasty, salty beef. I totally loved it, and actually, it was enough for an entire meal for me. It was really delicious.

 

And then came my main course – beef. It was a lovely little filet, wrapped in bacon, and I was able to eat about a third of it. I couldn’t eat the potatoes, but I think there were green beans I ate before taking the photo. The meat was fork-tender.

AdventureMan had a different cut of steak, and he ate about half. It was just too much food for us. You are going to have a hard time believing this, because it is unthinkable, but . . . we couldn’t even eat dessert, even though it was included. The meat, the meal, was so rich and so filling, we couldn’t. Also, we were drinking some very fine local wine, a Graves, and we knew we had miles to go before settling in.

I saw the little French ladies who had advised us to eat there as I headed to the ladies room. They greeted me, and I asked them, “can you eat all this food?” because they were eating the same menu we were. They said “yes” but that if you can’t eat it, you can ask for a “boîte” (box) which shocked me; I have never seen French people take home uneaten food, it was once considered uncultured. But now, these refined ladies were telling me I could take it home, and that it would be a pity to waste such fine beef.

 

 

They are so proud of their locally sourced beef that they keep a large poster of the farmer and his cows in the restaurant. When I was a child, almost all food in France was local, but now France is as modernized as other countries, and “locally-sourced” is a marketing tool.

 

We needed to walk off a little of our meal and wine before we started driving again, and Monsegur was a really great place, very quiet, to walk. This is the market square – you will see a lot of market squares in my photos; you’ve already seen Libourne.

I think the above church is Notre Dame de Monsegur, but some of the churches and their interiors start to blur. Some are distinct in my mind, some are less so.

 

 

 

There is another Monsegur, I think farther south, which was an old Cathar stronghold, and where the Cathars were cruelly wiped out as France claimed the southern regions of France for the crown.

 

This is Rue de Soleil, street of the sun, which I thought funny because it is barely three feet wide and would get very little sun if you wanted to grow a little rose bush or something. It also struck me that my friends with the last name Soule’ may actually be Soleils.

So we finally left Monsegur, and in very short time found Eymat.


 

This is the old city square in Eymat; I can just imagine people riding up on their horses and letting them drink from the communal fountain, hitching them to posts around the square. Probably on market day, there were carts and peddlers.

 

I suspect these old timbered houses are sort of fire-traps, but they do give atmosphere to the old villages.

 

There was a beautiful old mill, a working mill, on the river in Eymat.

 

 

An old (castle?) enclosure in Eymat, with a Donjon – Dungeon!

 

 

 

 

Love this door, which is only maybe five feet high. But I love that now I know those nail studs are there to destroy the axe that tries to destroy the door.

I’ve apologized to my husband that what was supposed to be a sort, easy drive has turned out to be longer and more complicated, and he laughed. He put his arm around me and said “And we’re still married.”  LOL, I suppose there is something to be said for surviving challenges for all these years together.

January 1, 2020 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Beauty, Civility, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Family Issues, Fitness / FitBit, Food, France, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Christmas Interlude

Starting to post my trip through the Bordeaux and Dordogne was ambitious, overly ambitious. Usually, I say I’m going to do something, and I do it. This time, no matter how well intentioned I was, life just got in the way. I knew I could continue to blog the trip, and do a half-good job, or I could devote the time and attention my real life needed.

We had a truly lovely Christmas, and for that, it takes care and attention. There are things that are not so necessary, but help to set the stage – decorating the house, preparing special meals, buying presents and wrapping packages, and then, best of all, spending time with the family you love.

 

The angels – I think they are Rosenthal – are from an earlier life in Germany. I don’t bring them out every year, I sort of rotate things so they don’t get stale.

The Christmas plates came from the old East Germany. Good friends took us to “the other side” in Berlin, as Christmas neared and I found these in a market. We only use them for Christmas breakfast, and we hand wash them, as I don’t know for sure how sturdy or dishwasher proof they might be.

 

This Christmas tree made of cinnamon rolls is always a big hit, and so easy. I use the little cans that make croissants, just use the dough, put in candied cherries and cinnamon sugar and melted butter and roll it up, cut into slices, and bake as you see above. More candied cherries for decoration, icing made of powdered sugar, milk and food coloring. It looks complicated, but it is easy.

 

I used to use thousands of lights in my house at Christmas, and now I use none, thanks to two wire-chewing cats who have turned my rational life upside down.

 

Thanks be to God for the great gift of caffein, in the form of coffee, which powers me through it all.

 

 

And the highlight of our Christmas – the Christmas pageant at Christ Church, Pensacola, as the children tell, and act out the story of Christmas, and we sing songs to punctuate the different movements – Away in a Manger, We Three Kings, Hark the Heralds – and more. It is both light, often funny, and enormously moving.

Happy Christmas to all!

December 27, 2019 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Biography, Blogging, Christmas, Community, Cooking, ExPat Life, Faith, Family Issues, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Spiritual, Values | Leave a comment

Seven Years In A French Village

 

Sometimes I tease my husband about going on and on about a series he watches. He watches a lot of programs and movies via the internet. I tend to read books. I mentor a class requiring a lot of reading, and I run a book club. OK. I’m “bookish.” I always have been. I own it.

 

He went on and on about A French Village, until he had to skip Season 3 because he couldn’t access it, and went on to Season 4 and had problems understanding what was going on because significant events had happened in Season 3.

 

As I was trying to find a way to work around it, or find the most economical way to watch it – for him – I started watching the first episode. AdventureMan joined me. The beginning is full of events, it moves fast and – did I mention it is entirely in French with English subtitles?

 

I speak French. Well, I used to be fluent, now I am slow, and have forgotten a lot of little grammatical details. I can still speak, I can still understand, when people will speak more slowly. A French Village was so French it took my ear a long time to regain all that I have lost; I had an idea what they were saying but was not really tracking with accuracy. I needed the subtitles.

 

The first year, the first episode starts off with a normal day in the village; the population knows the Germans are miles away, approaching Villenueve, a fictional village in the Jura, close to the Swiss border. No one seems very concerned until all of a sudden, the Germans are there, in the village, and all hell breaks lose. We meet our main characters, Dr. Larcher (who becomes, by default, the village mayor) and his wife, Hortense, Lucienne, a school teacher, Raymond Swartz, his wife, Jeannine, and his lover, Marie, and several more characters.

 

People are herded into the church, where Dr. Larcher tends to the wounded under chaotic conditions, and during which he also agrees, without enthusiasm, to become mayor and to try to create some way to protect the people of the village from the demands of the Germans.

 

It is confusing – a lot like it would be in real life. At the beginning, it is a struggle to figure out who all the people are, but . . . you have seasons and seasons and episodes and episodes to figure it all out.

We started watching on Amazon Prime, for seasons 1 – 4, then subscribe to Mhz ($7.99/mo) for season 5 and six, but for season 7, we had to pay Amazon Prime $14.99 for these final episodes. Mhz was a good find for us; it has several foreign mystery and dramatic series – and movies – and is right up our alley. The Amazon payment was annoying, but we figured was the cost of lunch for one person, not such a large sum for seven episodes.

 

There are SEVEN seasons of A French Village. The first five years have 12 one hour episodes each. Seasons 6 and 7 are shorter, and deal with tying up loose ends.

 

What we love about this series (as well as the sheer French-ness of it all) is that the characters are allowed to be textured and layered. No one is all good, or all bad. They make mistakes. They have human failings and weaknesses. They have some moments of heroic goodness. They are very real people. Well, maybe very real French people; there are a lot of complicated love interests throughout the series, some of which are inexplicable and to me improbable, but I just shrug my shoulders and say “It’s a French production,” and guess that their ways are not our ways.

 

It’s a quick education to the experience of WWII, The German blitz of France, of Belgium, of the Netherlands, Poland, and the dread among German officers of serving on the eastern front. It’s horrifying to watch the passive response among the French to the round-up and eviction of the Jews (read a little of our own history before you go getting all judge-y), the petty competition for foods in the black market, the role of “renunciation” and anonymous letters accusing friends and neighbors of dark deeds, and the endless bickering which went into the cooperative operations for the French resistance.

 

 

Who collaborates? Almost everyone at one point or another; the consequences of standing on your principles are often fatal.

 

It is a little uncomfortable seeing Americans through the eyes of the French. They are not so impressed with our efforts in North Africa, they are not so happy to have Americans in their town. One episode of rape in Villeneuve involves American soldiers and a French girl.

 

We cannot wait for evening, when we can watch two or three or four episodes. We are slowing down a little in Season Seven, not wanting to series to end. It has been a wonderful excursion into a whole new and different world. At the end of which, I am understanding the French-spoken-at-normal-speed much more easily, and even spotting a small flaw or two in the translations.

 

There are two episodes I love. One involves a parade on November 11th. The other involves the execution of two Villeneuve inhabitants, one an unscrupulous and despicable mayor and the other a heroic leader of the Resistance. I know, I know, you’ll have to watch it yourselves to see what I mean.

October 10, 2019 Posted by | Community, Counter-terrorism, Cross Cultural, Entertainment, France, Interconnected, Social Issues, Survival | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment