Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Mockingjay

 

I saw a set of movies a couple years ago, about a post apocalyptic America, where there is a capitol full of fabulously rich, fabulously well-dressed, ornately made-up rulers who entertained themselves with a yearly survival ordeal, the Hunger Games, fueled by “tributes” who were chosen from each of 12 districts to compete to the death, to the last one standing. One woman and one man were chosen from each district to compete.

Upon the inauguration of our current regime, I had to find ways to fight my despair and outrage; I had to find ways to join with others of similar feelings and counter moves which I consider to be against the best interest of my country, and who I have always believed us to be – people who believe in liberty, equality and brotherhood, people who have all arrived here from elsewhere (Immigrated), and people who believe in giving others a fair chance at the American Dream.

My best friend forever (we met in college) and I challenged one another; she added Planned Parenthood to her charitable donations, and I added the ACLU.

I had always thought the ACLU a little nutty, but when the first immigration ban went into effect, and the ACLU had the skill, imagination and resources to mobilize and to man tables offering legal help – FREE – at the airports to stunned arrivals being turned back,  I was proud I had supported their efforts.

I live in a conservative area, and because I don’t want my car damaged, or any sort of ugly confrontations in parking lots, I don’t put bumper stickers on my car. There is one I have seen that I love:

I would never dare put this on my car, living where I live.

I did, however, buy a mockingjay  pin which I found on Amazon, amazing Amazon. I can safely wear it, knowing it signifies rebellion, and no one here has a clue.

Wear it in Seattle, I learned, and everything changes. My best friend forever and I went to dinner, and I was wearing that pin. The waitress peered, and peered again, and asked “Is that what I think it is?”

I said it was a mockinjay, and a metaphor. She took our order, left, and within seconds another waitress appeared, and then a waiter. Each treated me like royalty, giving salutes, blessing me with “may the odds be ever in your favor.” They asked me questions I couldn’t answer; I kept explaining that it was my metaphor for finding ways to counter a corrupt regime, and I particularly loved it because it connects us all, young and old.

I had seen the movies, but now I am deep into reading the Hunger Games trilogy, so that I can wear the pin again, with deeper knowledge when I run into the people who really know all the lore.

May the odds be ever in your favor 🙂

August 9, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Birds, Blogging, Books, Civility, Communication, Community, Counter-terrorism, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Generational, Humor, Interconnected, Leadership, Pensacola, Political Issues, Seattle | , | Leave a comment

The Upgrade from Hell

Somehow, I have officially become a “million miler” although I have never kept track, and if I did, the total would probably be closer to three or four million, considering our trans-oceanic travels started when I was young, and were especially frequent in my college years.

Every now and then I really screw up. Does that surprise you? It surprises me; I tend to be careful about travel reservations to the point that you could accuse me of being meticulous, but this time, I had been looking and looking and finally I found something that was great! Super! Almost too good to be true!

When something seems too good to be true (my prejudice) you’d better watch out. When something is too good to be true, there is probably a flaw somewhere.

I thought I had booked a 10:30 departure, arriving in Pensacola at 8:57 the same day.  About a week after I had paid for it, and printed out the itinerary for AdventureMan, I saw, to my utter horror, I was departing at 10:30 AT NIGHT and arriving at 8:57 the following morning.

I hate Red-Eye flights.

When I was an undergrad in Seattle, my routine was to pack up as I studied for my finals, and after the last final (or after my sister’s last final when she joined me at university) we would head for the airport and sign up for space available to Philadelphia. We always got the red-eye out, arriving in Philly early in the morning, usually awake all night. We’d catch the military transport to McGuire, where military, state, and government dependents were gathering from all over the country to fly home to where our parents are.

(Let the wild rumpus begin!)

At McGuire AFB, it might be days before we would get out. We’d have to check in, get on the stand-by list, and show up for all possible flights. There were endless bridge games, guitar playing, partying in the airport, and, if we had enough time between flight calls, we could go to the pool. We’d see friends from high school, friends from other assignments, meet new friends and exchange addresses for “if you’re coming through” meet-ups.

Travel isn’t so much fun, now.

So I heard my name called as I was waiting to board, and they had given me an upgrade to “comfort” class.

AdventureMan and I have a rule – if a flight is longer than five hours, we book first or business class. I never book comfort class; it’s the same three-seat-across configuration, shoulder to shoulder and sharing armrests, for a couple more irrelevant inches in front of me, on a flight where I intend to be sleeping. But oh well, I take the new seat assignment.

When I get aboard, my heart sinks. My seat is right across from the lavatory. For the four hours to Atlanta, the door opens and closes and opens and closes. I am jostled. The smell of the disinfectants makes me sneeze. I manage to sleep through some of it, maybe an hour. It was purely the worst, and I regretted having accepted it. I think of it as the upgrade from Hell.

In Atlanta, I have a favorite coffee shop, out of the way, quiet, with fresh-made croissants and really good coffee, and a book store. I pass some time, then go to my gate, which is (a first in Atlanta) close by. Another upgrade. I’m almost afraid to take it, but these are small planes and I think I’ll be safe. This time, I have a whole very quiet row to myself, and I snooze all the way to Pensacola 🙂

You’d have to see the Pensacola Airport to know why I love it. It’s so small that Pensacolians can actually wait outside to pick up their arriving passengers, as long as they don’t leave their cars. AdventureMan actually parks (it’s nearby) and he and our grandson are waiting for me. It is a joyful reunion, and once home, I nap for a couple hours before unpacking and catching up.

It’s been a constant annoyance that some people started calling it Pensacola International Airport, so pretentious. Not a single international flight lands here, except one that one time landed here by accident. Now, I noted, the airport is called the Reubin O’Donovan Askew Airport, after one of the best governors of Florida. It just feels right. I wonder how that happened?

August 9, 2017 Posted by | Aging, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Survival, Travel | | 2 Comments

No Trips To Damascus This Week

AdventureMan and I are currently on an austerity program.

When we say that, we laugh. God blesses us abundantly. We have food to eat, we have a good roof over our head, “two cats in the yard” to quote Neil Young, life is good. We’ve had a full season of unexpected and thoroughly normal repairs, however, including replacing an air conditioning system (expensive) and replacing an irrigation system (expensive) and in our other house, replacing a roof and it’s supports in our other house (expensive.) We have “enough.” We are blessed.

We’ve always had a policy of living below our means, supporting the church, investing and saving, and it has served us well. Even in retirement, we are loathe to touch our savings, even though the savings are for our retirement. We don’t know how long we’re going to live, or what kind of health care system we are going to have, so we keep all those little nuts in case winter is coming :-).

Meanwhile, I wanted to go to Mobile for lunch to day at 7 Spices Mediterranean Grill, one of the most delicious places in this part of the world to eat, and when AdventureMan and I counted out our money, we found that we could – just. AdventureMan looked at me and said “How about we go in August, and I’ll take you over to the beach to eat today” and I said “OK” and he said “No Trips to Damascus this week.”

When we lived in Amman, Jordan, our favorite trip was up to Damascus. It was only about 3 1/2 hours, longer if there was a line at the border, or is someone wanted to screw with us, as they sometimes liked to do with embassy people. We had friends in Damascus; we stayed with them, they knew all the best restaurants, and all the best places in the souks. Damascus was still very French, so I could do just fine there, and it was also Arabic, so AdventureMan could also do just fine.

We were young, we didn’t have a lot of money, but Iranians were fleeing Iran, stopping in Damascus to sell their carpets, and carpet buying was our avid hobby. For all of us, we all loved the beauty of the carpets, and their stories. We learned quickly to buy the carpet, not the story. The carpet sellers knew us all by name, and the foreign population was so small that they took our checks and those checks would go over the border to Lebanon and were cashed quicker than our checks cashed at the embassy. The carpet souks, the gold souks, and the copper souks all welcomed us, and shopping was a leisurely thing, you’d sit and drink a little tea, the shopkeeper would tell you how business was going, and you’d swap stories as you haggled over whatever it was you were purchasing.

Or not. One of my friends, a very funny woman, took a carpet home on approval – it was done all the time. Every time I would visit her, the carpet vendor would remind her she needed to pay for it or bring it back, and they would negotiate. She was a shrewd woman, a devilish bargainer, and the vendor wouldn’t meet her price. At the end of her two year tour, after having the carpet in her house almost the entire time, she returned it because they couldn’t agree on a price! She was a legend in the embassy community.

The 7 Spices restaurant has food that seems very Syrian, and has tapestries with scenes from Damascus on the walls. Sigh. No trips to Damascus this week.

(The photos are from our last trip to Damascus in 2007. Sigh. Ten years ago. Yes, I am feeling nostalgic.)

July 16, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Shed, Ocean Springs, Mississippi

 

It’s nearly three in the afternoon when we reach exit 57 into Gautier, Mississippi, but the odor of fresh-cooked beignets is driving us crazy, and making us hungry, so we stop at The Shed. The website says The Shed is in Ocean Springs, but I always think of it as Gautier because it is just off I-10, that major drug running and human trafficking route running across our southernmost United States.

We’ve stopped before at The Shed, with the grandchildren, but it was always so crowded and backed up that we found someplace else. This time, we are in luck.

As we order, we see on the menu that Seniors can order kids meals. We are not big hungry, and we know we have a dinner party in just a few hours, so we order kids portions. Good thing.

The ceiling inside The Shed:

The interior, and where I believe live music often plays:

My “child’s portion” of ribs:

AdventureMan’s “child portion” pulled pork sandwich:

So delighted we could get these “smaller portions.” I hate to imagine what an adult portion would look like!

June 24, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Food, Pensacola, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

New Orleans Beignet and Coffee Company, New Orleans

What did we do before Google?

We have finished at the World War II Museum and are about to head back to Pensacola. We have a big party to attend tonight, and I promised I would bring beignets. I need a LOT of beignets. While AdventureMan is pursuing his bliss at the museum, I see if I can find a source of beignets nearby.

I love Google. I find the New Orleans Beignet and Coffee Factory close by, and in a place I am really comfortable with, on Saint Charles, and very near to the Creole Creamery, with it’s truly divine ice cream. All I have to do is plug in the address and Google Maps takes us there, follow the little blue dot.

Sometimes, when we are entering a new city, and I am navigating, things can get a little tense. You know like “Oops, we were supposed to turn left there,” that sort of thing. I have discovered I can turn on the voice, and the voice can guide AdventureMan, and if she screws up, oh well, not MY fault. We both get a good laugh at that.

Having said that, the one we are going to at 4141 Saint Charles is not exactly on Saint Charles, but AdventureMan is wise to the ways of New Orleans, and when I look in despair at where the New Orleans Beignet and Coffee Company is supposed to be – and isn’t – he suggests it might be just around the corner, and I breathe with relief, there it is. Even better, there is a parking lot! Parking for a shop on Saint Charles street! There is a free parking space!

Inside, we know we are home free. I order beaucoup beignets, a lot, and it is going to take a while, so we order a small order for ourselves, with coffee, and as it drizzles outside, we are safe and warm inside, smelling wondrous smells, drinking coffee, eating beignets. You have to grab these small perfect moments and treasure them.

Moments like this, we wish we were living in New Orleans.

When the beignets are finished, they are huge, and pillow-y, about 4 inches by 6 inches, the biggest, softest beignets I have ever seen. They are boxed so perfectly that when we get to the party, they are still warm. We drive all the way from New Orleans to Pensacola with the smell of freshly cooked beignet in the car; the smell is mouth watering, even though we have just eaten fresh beignets. The New Orleans Beignet and Coffee Company gave me two huge glasses full of powdered sugar to insure that everyone had a huge splash of sugar on each beignet. They were still warm! I can hardly believe it.

June 24, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Customer Service, Eating Out, Food, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth, Hot drinks, Living Conditions, New Orleans, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Travel | , | Leave a comment

World War II Museum Re-Visit

Ah! What a difference a day makes! We do not have the museum all to ourselves, but we have room to breathe. The lines are short, there is no huge din of voices in the cavernous spaces. We are so glad to be here!

There is something very special about this museum, something we are finding in our visits around the United States, and that is the vision of the volunteers. There is something so lovely and so meaningful about how these generous souls are leaving the workplace, and then working, free, because they believe in something. The World War II Museum couldn’t function without it’s cadre of volunteers, and these volunteers are treasure troves of first hand knowledge about the displays and equipment. Bravo! Brava! to all the Valiant Volunteers at the World War II Museum!

See all those people? This is nothing compared to the day before!

 

We hurried to the Nazi Propaganda display. It was terrifying. A “Strong Man” takes over using simple, strong phrases, telling the voters that only he can solve the problems, and blaming foreigners and “the other” for the nation’s problems. He wins, and chaos ensues.

Oh? Pardon me, my politics are showing.

 

 

 

 

AdventureMan has a ball. I poke around, but WWII is not my era, and I have some reading I really want to get done. I find a bench in the ship displays, and have a quiet couple of hours to read while AdventureMan pursues his bliss. Hey, it works for us.

June 24, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Counter-terrorism, Cultural, Customer Service, Education, Generational, New Orleans, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Road Trips, Values | , , | Leave a comment

Two Chicks Restaurant, New Orleans

Google “best breakfast in New Orleans” and you will come up with some delightful possibilities, one of which is Two Chicks.

First, Two Chicks is not as easy to find as you would think. The address is 901 Convention Center Boulevard, but as it turns out, there is a sort of square OFF the boulevard, with other shops and restaurants around a kind of square, and, close to the Mexican consulate, is a small mall, in which is 2 Chicks.

Life is irrational. I love this place. I had a Cafe breakfast, like eggs and sausage, with fruit, and I didn’t eat a croissant; I wish I had.  The food was delicious, fresh and well put together. From the minute I walked in I had an immediate emotional response:  Edith Piaf was belting out “Je Ne Regrette Rien,” and the waitress, who knew all the words, was singing right along with her as she folded cutlery into napkins. I was beside myself with quiet joy.

The wall paper is French. The music is French, and from all eras. The coffee is really good. The food is French in that it is lovingly and thoughtfully prepared. Have I mentioned lately how much I miss France?

You have to have a key to use the restroom in the little mall, but what a surprise the ladies room is – 15 foot ceiling with marble walls, and gorgeous tiles. Who puts this kind of attention and lovely finishes in a restroom? The whole experience was irrational and lovely.

Service was attentive and efficient and we have eaten well and are out the door just in time to find a parking place at the Museum and be among the first inside.

June 24, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Cooking, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, Food, France, Hot drinks, New Orleans, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Road Trips, Travel | , | Leave a comment

The Saint Hotel, New Orleans

What you see is the trips we take.

What you don’t see is the planning and the occasional agony of trying to find just the right place to stay, which restaurant to try. We live in an age of information, sometimes too much information, sometimes false information. You can read reviews, and you have to filter through what they like to glean nuggets pertaining to what you like.

I was looking for a hotel in New Orleans. There are a lot of hotels in New Orleans. We stay frequently at the Westin, at the foot of Canal, for one reason. It is perfect with the grandchildren – the room is spacious, there is parking close by, the kids LOVE the elevator on the outside of the hotel, we can walk to restaurants in the French Quarter, it is close to Magazine street, and a short drive to the Zoo, and it is right next to the Aquarium. (It is also right next to the Algiers Point Ferry I just told you about.)

We have another hotel, the French Market Inn, which we love, but it is noisy, and the rooms we love are actually the noisiest. Others are dark, and smaller.

I found a special offer on a new hotel in the Marriott chain, which is a chain I love because of their customer service training. It looked . . . intriguing. Not like any place we have stayed before. So I booked at The Saint. I liked the location; I liked the novelty.

 

And, as it turned out, I totally loved the hotel.

The entry to the hotel is at least two floors high, with long flowing panels breaking up the space. The lines are clean, the colors soothing – and bold.

For some reason, I think of the room as cobalt blue, when in reality, as I see the photo, the walls were white, with just a small portion of cobalt, and the rug was cobalt. There where long flowing white sheers, and the combination of the cobalt and the white was serene.

The receptionist was welcoming, and efficient, and gave us a couple good ideas for dinner. Meanwhile, it had started raining, and we loved the room so much we took a nap. Even overlooking Canal Street, the room was quiet and . . . serene. The bed was lovely, the bathroom was spacious and sparkling clean with a clear bowl sink – we just loved the room.

 

This was the door to our room – every door was different:

The hallway had blue lights.

It was pouring rain when we went out to eat, and it didn’t matter. We were near so many good restaurants, and we had this lovely room to come back to.

June 24, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Building, Customer Service, Hotels, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , | Leave a comment

The Algiers Point Ferry

I have a friend that is in and out of New Orleans frequently, and knows we also go. He said we really needed to take the ferry at the end of canal street. ‘It’s a short ride,” he said, “and you can see New Orleans from the water and it’s free.”

Well friend, it is not free. It now costs $2. unless you are over 60, and then it is $1. each way. You must get off the ferry. You must have the exact amount you will need, each way, because if you give the money-taker a $5 bill, you don’t get any change back.

The ferry is small, but it takes a large number of people over to Point Algiers. We had lots of shoppers with their bags from the Riverfront Outlet Malls, and lots of people with bikes. Maybe a few others were like us, just curious, but we had the impression that most of the people were local.

The ride takes like two minutes. You think I am exaggerating, but I am not. You wait longer in line and you wait longer to get off than the ride takes. The terminals are filthy. Oh well. None of that matters, it’s New Orleans. And it is a great, if brief, getaway.

It is really fun seeing New Orleans from the river, and there is a wonderful breeze, important on these summer days when New Orleans both sizzles and drips with humidity. We stood in the bow of the ferry and just relished the breeze. We also discovered that while the upper level of the ferry is open, the lower area has some air-conditioning. There is no bathroom, not on the ferry, not in the New Orleans terminal, not in the Point Algiers terminal. No bathroom, none.

 

At the Point Algiers side, you must get off. You can go look around, which we did, and then we ended up going back on the very same ferry. Here is a large statue of Louis Armstrong on the Algiers side.

Did you ever watch Treme, the HBO series on the survival of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the corruption, the collapse of the police force, the invasion of the developers pushing out the poor of New Orleans? John Goodman, who was YouTubing journalistic broadcasts as a Tulane professor/New Orleans resident commits suicide by jumping off a ferry, and I imagine it must have been this one.

 

You can see the water level is high; these trees are drowning!

 

What is also not free is the parking, which is really expensive. We paid almost as much for parking for one day as we spent on our hotel room. When we got back from our ferry trip, the car temperature gauge told us how hot we were. Hot and humid!

Time to hit the Creole Creamery.

June 24, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Customer Service, Entertainment, Living Conditions, Road Trips, Travel | , | 3 Comments

World War II Museum: Big Mistake

From a truly lovely lunch, we headed to the World War II Museum. Big hint – you can buy your admission ahead of time at the National World War II Museum Website and save yourself a lot of time and energy. AdventureMan did so, and did a really smart thing, he bought two day tickets. Once we had parked, we went straight to the will-call counter for our tickets and wrist-bands and day-pins, piece of cake.

But here is the Big Mistake. It never occurred to us (DUH!) that the number one attraction in New Orleans, the World War II Museum, would be mobbed, packed, full of people, on Memorial Day. As soon as we were in the door, we looked at each other in horror. What were we thinking?? No, worse, what was I thinking? I am the one who chose the dates for the trip and did the hotel bookings. What was I thinking???

Crowds were everywhere. We started with the Nazi Propaganda exhibit, and we were shuffling through with hoards of people. It was hot, it was stuffy and it was very crowded. I quit. I couldn’t see what I wanted to see. I had my New Yorker magazine and I told AdventureMan where he could find me, and I went off on my own.

 

 

As I read my magazine, a group of women in full WWII era dress and make-up sang some 1940’s era songs. They really sounded and looked authentic.

 

 

I had thought the ice-ream shop might be a refuge, but no, it was also packed.

Did I mention how SMART AdventureMan is? It wasn’t an hour later he found me and said “Let’s go. We can come back tomorrow.” Even he, big WWII buff that he is, was daunted by the mass of humanity visiting this fabulous museum.

“Yes!” I agreed. “Let’s go take the ferry!”

And we did.

June 24, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Civility, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , , | Leave a comment