Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Doris Duke’s Shangri-La

Months in advance, my friend said “You’ll really want to see Shangri-La,” and I had never heard of it, but I looked online, and it looked beautiful. Doris Duke, one of the richest women ever to live, could buy anything she wanted. She had a good eye for art, good timing, and she bought much of what is in Shangri-La and her other residences at bargain prices after WWII. The value of her art holdings increased dramatically, and she ended up with an even bigger fortune than that with which she started.

How do I know? I am in the middle of my third book, reading about Doris Duke. The books are pretty bad. Each author seems to have an axe to grind, and one author took very little information and used it to speculate endlessly, full of gossip and mean-spirit. Altogether, Duke does not come off as a very kind person, but who can say which version of this very private person is the “real” Doris Duke?

To visit Shangri-La, you must go through the Honolulu Museum of Art. They have an online reservation system – the next two weeks are already fully booked. My friend booked months in advance so that we could attend. We got to the Museum, found a good parking place, entered the museum, receiving a lapel sticker and a wristband which later allowed us to visit the museum for as long as we liked.

We boarded a bus and watched a very romanticized movie about the life of Doris Duke, and then we were there! We were warned we could take no photos inside. What a pity! The interiors are magnificent, all marble, and tiles, gorgeous woodwork, and all kinds of Islamic Art that looks like it would go well in the Qatar Museum of Islamic Art. I couldn’t help but wonder if the newly rich aren’t trying to buy some of their cultural objects back?

 

 

HonoluluMuseumOfArt

 

Our guide ushered us into a beautiful entry, with meshribiyya and tiles and beautiful light fixtures inside. I wish I could show you.

EntranceShangri-La

 

About half way through the tour, we had a break on a terrace from which we had this spectacular view. I read in one of the books that Duke built this rock harbor without asking permission from the Hawaii government, just did it. It is lovely. The terrace also has gorgeous Persian tiles, the interior tiles are Persian and Iznik.

 

ShangriLaViewtoFront

 

After visiting the Damascus Room and the Syrian Room and the Mogul Room, we visited Doris Duke’s bedroom, bare but for a couple couches. Then, out to the gardens.

DDGarden

 

We were allowed to take photos in the gardens:-)

 

DDGarden2

 

This is a tree at the entry to the house; the tree sends down those shoots that form new roots and new trees. It is magnificent!

 

DDTreeEntrance

 

After our visit to Shangri-La, we returned to the Honolulu Museum of Art, and had lunch. This is the market salad with salmon – Yumm.

MarketSaladWSalmon

 

As we lunched, a character went around taking selfies. I think this is a performance artist, and I think it may have been a guy.

PerformanceArt

 

Being three very independent kind of folk, we split up to see what we wanted to see at the museum. There was a special temporary exhibit on Japanese street fashion which I found fascinating. I loved some of these street fashions, which strike me as very imaginative. When I got to the Lolita section, however, little girl dresses for grown women, I found it too creepy and strange to photograph.

JapaneseFashion

 

JapaneseFashion2

 

JapaneseFashion3

 

JFashion4

 

There is a section on Islamic Art with beautiful tiles and examples of several genres of art objects.

IslamicTiles

 

Out on one of the patios, I found this screen which reminded me of a very modern sort of tree-of-life.

TreeOfLife

 

Altogether, a grand day. My friend was right – we really enjoyed seeing this.

March 16, 2016 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Books, Character, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Education, Entertainment, ExPat Life, Gardens, Living Conditions, Privacy, Quality of Life Issues | , , | 1 Comment

For the Letter Kills, but the Spirit Brings Life

In one of my Baptist-oriented bible study classes, one of my classmates once said “You don’t make converts by running after people and hitting them over the head with a bible!” As People of the Book, we struggle to find ways to carry the message without bludgeoning our intended recipient with it.

Have you ever been on the receiving end? I lived for so many years in the Middle East, where my truly believing Moslem friends would tell me about the Prophet Mohammed and all the good he did, and would look at me expectantly, hoping I would have that blinding flash that Paul experienced on the road to Damascus, and come over from the dark side to the one true religion. It made a believer out of me, not a Moslem, but a believer in the goodness and sincerity of all who are holy, and of the near impossibility of convincing anyone with words.

So this morning, the reading in the Lectionary from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians sings to my soul:

2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6

14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. 15For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many;* but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.

3Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? 2You yourselves are our letter, written on our* hearts, to be known and read by all; 3and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ towards God. 5Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, 6who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

We carry the Spirit, and our lives are the message.

March 16, 2016 Posted by | Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Interconnected, Lectionary Readings, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Spiritual | | Leave a comment

10 Science Proven Ways to be Happier

Happy – or happier – Saturday. Doesn’t everyone want to be happy? Happier? As it turns out, the science of being happy is studied, and there are ways proven to improve your feelings of happiness.  I found this on a website called Motto, through AOL News:

10 Science-Proven Ways to Be Happier

March 4, 2016

Science continues to find ever more specific and idiosyncratic ways we can bring just a bit more of happiness into our lives

 

We never get tired of thinking about happiness, do we? Life is so much nicer when you’re able to couple it with joy and gratitude.

We’ve published posts before about simple ways to be happy and retraining your brain for more gratitude, and Buffer’s CEO Joel has even shared his own daily to-do list for happiness. (There’s also our popular list of things to stop doing to be happier.)

Meanwhile, science continues to study happiness, finding ever more specific and idiosyncratic ways we can bring just a bit more of this elusive quality into our lives.

I love keeping an eye on these studies, and thought I would share the latest batch with you here to see if any of them might resonate with you and make you just a bit happier.

Here are 10 truly unique ways to be happier that you can start today!

1. Do cultural activities
Need a boost of joy? Trying seeing a play or heading to a museum.

A study that collected data on the activities, mood and health of 50,000 adults in Norway found that people who participated in more cultural activities reported higher happiness levels and lower anxiety and depression.

“Participation in receptive and creative cultural activities was significantly associated with good health, good satisfaction with life, low anxiety and depression scores in both genders,” the researchers write.

Curiously, men saw stronger benefits from receptive, or passive, cultural activities (like visiting museums, art exhibitions, concerts or theaters) while women more enjoyed active participation events (like club meetings, singing, outdoor activities and dance).

2. Keep a diary: Rereading it brings joy
To learn to find more gratitude and joy in every day—not just special occasions, the boring days, too—try keeping a diary and re-reading it from time to time.

Researchers who did a variety of experiments involving keeping a journal discovered that “ordinary events came to be perceived as more extraordinary over time” as participants rediscovered them through their older writings.

In other words, simply writing down our ordinary, regular-day experiences is a way of banking up some happiness down the line, when the activities we describe could bring us unexpected joy.

3. Make small talk with a stranger
Chatting up your barista or cashier? Good for your health!

Behavioral scientists gave a group of Chicago train commuters a $5 Starbucks gift card in exchange for striking up a conversation with a stranger during their ride. (While another group kept to themselves.)

Those who started conversations reported a more positive experience than those who had stayed quiet—even though they had predicted they would feel happier being solitary.

Another study saw similar results from giving Starbucks visitors a $5 gift card in exchange for having a “genuine interaction with the cashier.”

It seems that connecting with another person—no matter how briefly—increases our happiness.

4. But have meaningful conversations, too
While positive small talk is great, more substantial conversations could up our happiness quotient even higher.

study that tracked the conversations of 80 people for 4 days found that, in keeping with the small-talk study, higher well-being is associated with spending less time alone and more time talking to others.

But researchers also discovered that even higher well-being was associated with having less small talk and more substantive conversations.

“Together, the findings demonstrate that the happy life is social rather than solitary and conversationally deep rather than superficial,” the researchers write.

So dive deep in your conversations with friends and loved ones—it’s great for you.

5. Live in the suburbs and get involved
This one seems to apply to the U.S. A. only, but I still found it quite interesting.

I would have guessed that city dwellers might be the most satisfied with where they live, but in a poll of 1,600 U.S. adults, the highest rate of happiness was found in the suburbs.

84 percent of suburbanites rated the communities where they live as overall excellent or good, compared to 75 percent of urban dwellers and 78 percent of rural residents.

Another study on city happiness found that residents are happier if they feel connected to their cities and neighborhoods and feel positively about the state of city services.

So wherever you live, make sure to get involved in your community for maximum happiness.

6. Listen to sad songs: They provide emotional release
How could sad songs make us happy? And why do we seek them out?

That’s the question researchers wanted to answer with a survey of 722 people from around the world.

They discovered that there are 4 main reasons we take comfort in melancholy songs:

  • They allow us to drift off into imagination
  • They might provide us catharsis (emotion regulation)
  • They allow us to relate to a common emotion (empathy), and
  • They’re divorced from our actual problems (no “real-life” implications)

Researchers determined that “listening to sad music can lead to beneficial emotional effects such as regulation of negative emotion and mood as well as consolation.”

7. Spend money on experiences, not items
Here’s one that’s easy to understand but might be tougher to fix.

We know that spending money on life experiences will make us happier than spending money on material things (and it does!) but we can’t seem to stop ourselves from choosing the wrong option.

That’s what a study in The Journal of Positive Psychology found as they surveyed people before and after they made purchases.

The series of studies concluded that we’re more likely to spend on items than experiences because we can quantify them more easily and we want to see the best value for our dollars.

However, they found that the study subjects reported that after they spent, experiences brought them greater well-being and they considered them to be a better use of money.

So if we can keep that in mind, it’s possible to have our cake and eat it, too—definitely something to be happy about!

8. Set tiny, attainable goals: Make someone smile
It might be cliché, but making someone happy will make you happy, too.

And science says the more specific you can be with your goal, the better.

University of Houston professor Melanie Rudd found that a group of people who were told to make someone smile felt both happier and more confident that they’d actually achieved their goal than a similar group who’d been told simply to make someone else happy.

Even more interesting: In a separate experiment, people wrongly predicted that going for the bigger goal would make them happier.

“If you can meet or exceed your expectations of achieving a goal, you will be happier than if you fall short of your expectations,” Rudd explained.

9. Look at beautiful things: Design makes us happy
Could looking at a beautiful object make you feel happier?

The smartphone company HTC conducted a study that says yes.

In a series of laboratory and online experiments, volunteers looked at and interacted with objects that fell into 3 categories: beautiful, functional, or both beautiful and functional.

Their reactions uncovered some interesting findings, like:

  • Well-designed objects that are both beautiful and functional trigger positive emotions like calmness and contentment, reducing negative feelings like anger and annoyance by almost a third.
  • Purely beautiful objects (not functional) reduce negative emotions by 29%, increasing a sense of calmness and ease.

Objects that were both beautiful and functional created an especially high level of emotional arousal:

In general, people feel happier looking at and using beautiful objects that work well.

10. Eat more fruits and veggies
We know being healthier makes us happy, but can carrots give you purpose?

I have to admit I didn’t expect such a direct link between happiness and eating a lot of fruits and vegetables as researchers in New Zealand report.

Their 13-day study of 405 people who kept food diaries showed that people who ate more fruits and vegetables reported higher than average levels of curiosity, creativity, and positive emotions, as well as engagement, meaning, and purpose.

Even more interestingly, participants often scored higher on all of those scales on days when they ate more fruits and vegetables.

“These findings suggest that fruit and vegetable intake is related to other aspects of human flourishing, beyond just feeling happy,” writes the research team.

March 5, 2016 Posted by | Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Diet / Weight Loss, Experiment, Health Issues, Interconnected, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships | 1 Comment

Beryl Markham and the EPIC Book Club

When the EPIC Book Club met this month, we were discussing Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun.  Several of us had enjoyed her book about Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Wife, and had thought this one, about the famous early aviator, would be another great book. I was so impressed with The Paris Wife that I immediately read Hemingway’s The Movable Feast, his novel about the same period of time, and loved the way the books “danced together”. I think good historical fiction needs to stick to known facts.

It was a lively discussion; Beryl Markham was an unusual woman in an unusual culture in a time of transition. She grew up in Kenya as the British were beginning to colonize just after the first world war. Her mother abandoned the family, taking her frailer younger brother and leaving her, with no explanation. Some other woman moved in with her father; Beryl greatly raised herself with the indigenous people. Her father loved her, but was distant. He was first and foremost a horse breeder, and Beryl worked closely with him in breeding and training the horses.

She made a disastrous first marriage, leaving it to pursue a certificate – the first ever for a woman – as a horse trainer. She was spectacularly good at it, and worse (when it comes to the opinion of other women) she looked terrific in riding breeches. Men liked her. She liked men. She was not particular about boundaries, like marriage to other people or being the consort of her good friend, Karen Blixen. Later, she set records as one of the earliest female aviators.

It was also a time when women had few options, and most of the options required a man to take care of her. Beryl Markham had skills, and had more options.

So as we are discussing her behavior, which could be self-defeating and self-destructive, we discussed it in the context of Kenyan colonial society. Then one of the EPIC members mentioned that the same behaviors in the very church where we meet have been the spice of Pensacola gossip for more than a couple centuries; that people don’t change much. We were laughing, and another member mentioned being forbidden to read Peyton Place, many years ago when it was a banned book, and his wrestling coach told him “All the world is Peyton Place.”

I think of all the places I’ve lived and I am inclined to agree.

 

January 10, 2016 Posted by | Africa, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, EPIC Book Club, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Humor, Interconnected, Kenya, Living Conditions, Mating Behavior, Pensacola, Relationships, Social Issues, Values, Women's Issues | Leave a comment

Bodega Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain

As soon as our guide finished talking, we quickly walked to the Bodega Mesquita and were greeted and seated within seconds:-) The menu was huge, but it also had photos to help us along. When we return to Seville from Cordoba, we are boarding our ship. We expect to stop in Cadiz, and have another opportunity for a dinner out, but eating in a country, in our experience, is a meaningful part of the whole experience, one we don’t want to miss!

 

BodegasMezquita

 

They bottle their own brand of oil and vinegar:

 

P1110094

When we got there, there were only a few people, but within minutes every seat was taken. This is the interior:

InteriorBodegaMezquita

 

We wanted to try real Spanish gazpacho; it was really good. AdventureMan says mine is better, but I think the taste was close. I like mine, too, but I was happy to taste REAL gazpacho and to find mine was not far off. We also had a mixed salad.

BodegaMezquitaGazpachoAndSalad

Then we had a pork steak of the region. Things came one by one, there were also some meatballs, but somehow we didn’t get a photo of those.

BodegaMezquitaSteak

By the time this little tuna steak arrived, we were stuffed. We had split the dishes, and thought it would be about right, but we ordered too much, and we also ran out of time. AdventureMan had to pay the bill while I used the (very clean) restroom, and we raced to try to find silver filigree jewelry in our ten minutes before the meeting up time, which was a hopeless thing to do. Oh well, I do have enough jewelry:-)

BodegaMezquitaTuna

December 25, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Restaurant, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Cordoba, The Mezquita, and Sharing Sacred Spaces

(Yes, it is Christmas Eve, and my part of the preparations are all done. AdventureMan is cooking a duck for the family dinner tonight, the Gulf Coast jumbo shrimp is all cooked and shelled and de-veined, the Rotkohl spicing up the kitchen, the salads and side dishes ready to go.:-)  I have time, oh, the great luxury of time, to write . . . )

When we lived in Amman, we often went to Syria. I went once with an archaeological group, visiting several sites in the bleak cold of the Syrian winter. One site I didn’t see a lot of hope for, the site of St. Simon the Stylite, a hermit who sat atop a pillar and was considered holy. In truth . . . I scoffed.

I scoffed until I reached that isolated hilltop, and saw the giant pillar, and felt how very cold it was as the icy wind blew. We were there two or three hours. I had to confront my unwillingness to believe and the fact that with every zinging atom in my body, I could feel that this was a sacred place. Saint Simon chose a weird sort of sacrificial life, but in God’s eyes, I suspect it mattered. I know visiting that site changed me, and changed my ideas about sacred spaces.

Today, I get to write about a visit to another sacred space, a space you can feel resonating from the moment you enter, the Mezquita.

*        *             *              *                *                   *                       *                    *                     *

It’s early breakfast for the Smithsonian group, and then we check our whisper guides and board our bus en route to Cordoba.

Traveling with a group is a novelty for us. It means using an alarm clock to be at scheduled breakfast and getting on a bus for a 2 hour drive. On our own, we wake when we wish – usually early, but not so early as with this group. We are not usually at a breakfast with a lot of people looking for food at the same time. We are not used to coffee makers that make one cup of coffee at a time while a 100 people line up for coffee. These are things that are not normal in our experience. We might find a local small store, pick up some water and some small snacks, and hit the road, stopping here and there to take a photo or just savor a view, have some water, soak in the fresh air. On the other hand, these bus drivers know where to go and there is no getting lost trying to find the right route out of town.

 

En route to Cordoba, most of the jet lagged Smithsonian group slept. Wide awake, I watched as acres and acres of olive groves and wind farms passed by. We saw an ancient fortification on the side of a hill that had a view to die for – 270 degrees plus of visibility.

It is raining once again as we arrive in Cordoba, but almost immediately it stops, and by the time our group has walked up the hill by the Mezquita, the sun is out and the day shows great promise. Cordoba is beautiful. Everywhere you look is some exquisite detail. Cordoba is a treat for the eyes.

 

Even the police are polite and helpful, directing tourists to where they need to go:

PoliceGiveDirectionsAtThe Mezquita

Art Nouveau bench:

CordobaArtNouveauBench

 

Flower pots on the stucco walls:

 

CordobaFlowerPots

 

Tourists coming up to The Mezquita:

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Masques in a local art shop:

 

CordobaMasks

 

Finely wrought silver filigree jewelry:

CordobaSilverJeweler

At one point, we had a choice: Do we go shopping or do we have lunch in a highly rated local place? I bet we could do both, and we opted for lunch – more on that to come. At the end of lunch, we had only ten minutes to shop and not enough time to get back to this wonderful shop. I won’t call it a regret; lunch was a wonderful experience . . . and I do love filigree, and this artisan had beautiful silver filigree . . .

CordobaSilverFiligreeEarrings

 

Ben Maimonaides, a Jewish scholar and ethicist, with wide influence. This was a continuing theme on the entire trip, that the interaction between Jew, Christian and Moslem in this period led to a great leap in ideas and artistry. The interaction was like pollination; science and the arts and mathematics and medicine bloomed.

I wonder if this is happening today, as Moslems, Jews and Christians study together in universities, to they interact and inspire one another? Is it possible that in spite of dire political headlines, under the radar, people are learning to cooperate and collaborate in the interest of a better world?

(Wikipedia: Aside from being revered by Jewish historians, Maimonides also figures very prominently in the history of Islamic and Arab sciences and is mentioned extensively in studies. Influenced by Avicenna (c. 980 – 1037), Averroes (1126–1198) and Al-Farabi (ca. 872–950/951), he in his turn influenced other prominent Arab and Muslim philosophers and scientists. He became a prominent philosopher and polymath in both the Jewish and Islamic worlds.

CordobaBenMaimonaides

Bulls everywhere, LOL

CordobaBull

An artistic courtyard

CordobaCourtyard

 

Love the little blue pots, and love the people who take care of them!

CordobaBluePot

After our walking tour of Cordoba central, we gather in the gardens while our guide goes to pick up our tickets to take us inside the Mezquita, built as a mosque, becoming a cathedral after 1492.

Did I mention we learned two major dates on this trip: 711, when Tariq crosses into Spain (Jebal Tariq . . . Gibraltar) and 1492? Americans know 1492 as the year “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred ninety two, but 1492 is the year that the Moslems were driven out of Spain, weeping at the loss of Andalusia, Al-Andalus.

When the Moslems were driven out of Cordoba, the huge, beautiful mosque, Al Mesquite, was not destroyed, but recycled, repurposed, space holy to one faith became holy to another. I love it that the original mosque, with its spectacular soaring arches and inspirational proportions, was recognized, and re-utilized. Holy space is holy space. We worship the same God. We saw the shrine to John the Baptist in the Grand Ummayad Mosque in Damascus; why should we not share holy spaces?

 

CordobaChurch

Cathedral Cordoba

This is what you see immediately upon entering the Mezquita – a gorgeous kind of meshrabiyya covering the windows, patterning the light as it enters, keeping the harsh heat out and shrinking light in star like patterns across the floor.

CordobaMezquiteMeshrabiyya

 

The interior of this mosque/cathedral takes my breath away. It was crowded with tourists, but it just swallowed them up and maintained its sacred integrity. We could wander off and still hear our guide, thanks to this whisper-technology, where we all had headphones and our guide could broadcast. This was a place where I needed to wander off and experience it on my own, but felt some responsibility not to get too far afield from the group. I didn’t want to be a pain in the neck for the guide. And I also didn’t want to be a part of the group within this structure. It’s a problem.

Just look at these spaces:

CordobaMezquiteInterior

I’ve always had a thing about light fixtures, LOL, I probably should own a lamp show except I would only stock what I like and I would have a hard time selling anything in the shop. Guess it’s just a good thing for me to admire light fixtures and not to have to manage them.

CordobaMezquiteLightFixture

The beautiful Mihrab (points you in the direction of worship in a mosque) from the original mosque:

CordobaMezquiteMihrab

The Christian altar built in a structure added to the original mosque:

CordobaAltar

With a piece depicting King Ferdinand holding a globe:

CordobaMezquiteFerdinand

CordobaMezquiteTower

 

As the tour ended, our tour guide warned us that we had only an hour and a half for lunch, so not to go to a restaurant, just find something quick, or shop, and BE BACK ON THE MEETING PLACE AT TWO!

We had seen a restaurant we wanted to try, so raced to it. We hate being rushed, and part of the fun of traveling is trying new kinds of food in new places!

 

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SanRafael

 

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December 24, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Blogging, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Faith, Family Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Survival, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

HOME by Somali poet Warsan Shire

An old friend from high school posted this on FaceBook today, and I found it so moving and so true that I had to repost it here:

HOME
Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

“HOME,” by Somali poet Warsan Shire

November 21, 2015 Posted by | Africa, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Community, Counter-terrorism, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues | , , | 3 Comments

Arrival in Sevilla, Spain

Except for that moment on our way to the airport, everything was smooth as glass. That moment? As we are in the taxi on the way to the airport, I am thinking how wonderfully lightly I am traveling and suddenly, by the grace of God, remember my carry-on bag, carefully packed, sitting in my room. We quickly turn the taxi around, go back and pick up my bag, and from there on, all goes smoothly.

Connecting in Charles de Gualle airport used to be a lot of fun. So many shops, so much time. Not now. There may be shops, but customs and security are a nightmare, and the new airport configuration boggles the mind. There was one bored, tired, annoyed looking Frenchman for lines of travelers as we arrived, and while we were close to the front of the line, it took forever.

Our trip back was worse; we had a tight connection. Entry was worse, lines and lines of desperate travelers, too few processors. Then we had to try to find E: M 32. It was a maze. I am normally pretty good with navigation, but CDG isn’t any fun, there is no logic, there is no assistance, no explanatory signage. We got to E, then had to find M, then had to get on a shuttle bus to somewhere else; it is purely horrible.

And I suppose it is the price you pay to fly Air France, which we love. Flying Air France is like a step back in time, where flight attendants were plentiful and gracious. We had slide-down-flat seats, great for sleeping, and good meals. We had hot washcloths and good coffee. It was worth every penny.

Our arrival in Malaga was our real introduction to group travel. Meeting us were Maria and Antonio, two consummate professionals who were greeting all the people coming in for this cruise/trip. First, we learned that there were several groups on board, in fact, just about everyone arriving was a member of some group or another. We were with Smithsonian, but others were with alumni groups, or affiliated in other ways. Once everyone on their list was checked off, we strolled to the bus, which required that the heavily laden would need the elevators. They led the group to one elevator, but AdventureMan and I spotted another elevator on the other side, and took that one.

The drive to Seville was 2 and a half hours. Many slept. It was a sunny day with some clouds, so mostly I watched the olive tree groves and the bull signs drift by, happy to be traveling in Spain.

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We were so impressed with the process at the hotel when we arrived; there were envelopes with the names of arriving passengers and their keys. It was all done for us, no registering, just straight to our rooms. We were happy to see we had a room in the rear of the hotel. Good firm beds and very quiet. Our our bathroom window, we had a view of a nearby church steeple, and the full moon:-)

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The bar at the Fernando III was a lively place, and a gathering place for locals and hotel patrons:

FernandoBar

The breakfast hall had a large buffet but only two one-cup-at-a-time coffeemakers, which was a real bottleneck. If I were not traveling with a group and were staying in this hotel, I would not be happy, as most of the tables had signs on them designating different groups. There were not many for independent travelers, but then again, most of us in the group had early start dates as our tour groups gathered, and the independent travelers could eat at a more leisurely time:

FernandoBreakfastHall

The very best part of this hotel, as you can see in the screen shot above, is that it had a great location. We could walk anywhere, and we did. We walked and walked.

Our first night we were not very hungry, but we knew we would be (in the middle of the night) and that we needed to eat something to get our tummies on local schedule. We found a nearby restaurant, El Cordobes, and while the service was surly and a couple of the dishes mediocre, our main courses were delicious. I had wanted to try the spinach and garbonzos; they were all right. But when the shrimp, sizzling in garlic sauce arrived, oh WOW. AdventureMan had the paella, which was also very very good. We were sitting at a table on a sidewalk in Seville, watching a rugby game for which other tables were cheering and hollaring, drinking good beer, listening to the church bells and life is sweet.

ElCordobaRestView

GarbanzosSpinach

Paella

On the way back to the hotel we take a walk in the Santa Cruz barrio and get totally lost, wandering on the narrow little streets, full of flowers, shops, tiny grocery stores, restaurants, bars and tapas bars, stores with flamenco dresses, stores with spices, stores for the locals and stores for the tourists. By the time we were back at the hotel, we were ready for bed, and I had my first no-effort day with more than 10,000 steps. I didn’t even have to try, woooo hoo!

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November 13, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Character, Cross Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Experiment, Hotels, Paris, Restaurant, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

To Have Diplomatic Immunity, You Actually Need Diplomatic Credentials

Not only did Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad al Thani rent this house before he fled the USA fearing arrest for reckless driving, but now Saudi Prince Majed Abdelaziz Al-Saud rents the same house and is arrested after forcing some young woman to have oral sex. She was seen escaping the house and crawling over the wall to get away. Sorry guys. You may get away with these things in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, but not in the USA. And it’s just embarrassing to claim diplomatic immunity when it’s so easy to prove you have none. We have to play by your rules when we live in your country. It’s called being a good guest. Please pay us the same courtesy. It’s our country.

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From today’s AOL News/Fox News:

A Saudi prince was arrested Wednesday at a compound near Beverly Hills in connection with an alleged sex crime after a bleeding woman was seen trying to flee the grounds.

Majed Abdulaziz Al-Saud, 28, was arrested on suspicion of forced oral copulation of an adult, according to the Los Angeles Times. Police were called to the gated compound after a caretaker at the home reported the disturbance. The Times, citing jail records, reports Al-Saud was freed on $300,000 bail Thursday afternoon. LAPD officer Drake Madison told the newspaper the suspect was booked after 4 p.m.

Capt. Tina Nieto said the police department has a consul liaison that checks with foreign nations’ consulates regarding a certain person’s diplomatic immunity. Nieto said Al-Saud doesn’t have immunity in this case.

Tennyson Collins, a neighbor, told the Times he saw a bleeding woman trying to scale the property’s 8-foot wall on Wednesday. When Collins returned home from work, police followed his car through the gates and then onto the property. He said officers escorted about 20 people out of the compound, most of them staff members.

Police said Al-Saud was renting the home, which Zillow values at $37 million. Collins said different foreign nationals have been renting out the home for weeks at a time over the past year.

Earlier this month, a Qatari prince, Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad al Thani, was videotaped racing a yellow Ferrari through Beverly Hills at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour, blowing through stop signs and frightening residents. Al Thani later denied driving recklessly and claimed he had diplomatic immunity, Beverly Hills police said. Authorities consulted with the State Department and the Qatar consulate and determined he did not have diplomatic immunity, police Chief Dominick Rivetti said during a Sept. 17 news conference.

Al Thani reportedly flew back to Qatar before he could be arrested.

September 25, 2015 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Crime, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Humor, Interconnected, Law and Order, Leadership, Lies, Living Conditions, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Qatar Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al-Thani Flouts US Law, Forced to Flee Country

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Sorry, Sheikh Khalid, you do not have diplomatic immunity and you are not above the law. This is from AOL AutoBlog:

A prominent Qatari national has reportedly fled the United States after a video ostensibly showing his Ferrari racing through the streets of Beverly Hills went viral. Although the exact identity of the driver remains unclear, it is believed that the yellow LaFerrari was owned by Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al-Thani, a member of the ruling family of Qatar, the country’s former interior minister and a well-known racing enthusiast.

The video below, which has already attracted some 1.5 million views (but contains language that may not be safe for the workplace), shows the yellow hybrid hypercar racing with reckless abandon against a white Porsche 991 GT3 through the swanky Los Angeles neighborhood. The Ferrari is shown scraping its chin spoiler on the road before pulling back into the driveway (alongside a black Bugatti Veyron) with smoke billowing out its engine bay. Neither of the European exotics appear to show much regard for traffic laws, running stop signs as they speed through a residential area. The Ferrari appears to be wearing Qatari plates, while the Porsche does not appear to be carrying plates at all – just some racing decals on the doors and hood.

According to reports, the Ferrari belongs to Sheikh Khalid, but the identities of the drivers behind the wheel of either car has not been ascertained. The Al-Thanis are known for their supercar collection, which is shipped around the world for the enjoyment of royal family members. Their signature teal and black exotics are a regular site around London.

The Beverly Hills Police Department confirmed that, when approach by officials, the driver claimed diplomatic immunity – which the driver may not actually have. “It is against a federal law for someone to claim diplomatic immunity when they don’t have it,” said police chief Dominick Rivetti. The Ferrari was not, according to reports, registered with the State Department as belonging to a credentialed diplomat. Al-Thani has since reportedly fled the country, and taken his cars with him.

September 22, 2015 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Crime, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Law and Order, Leadership, Living Conditions, Qatar | , , | 1 Comment

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