Mary Clark, Traveler

Cajun Country for the First Time

Maison Madeline in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Dining area for our breakfasts.

It is rare to find a place within a six-hour drive of Paris that I haven’t explored.  Lafayette and the surrounding Cajun country of SE Louisiana was one of those.  It beckoned with its unusual French past and foot stomping music.  The recommendation by a friend of a historic bed and breakfast finally got us there.

Maison Madeline, owned by Madeline Cenac, a true Acadian descendant from the original Canadian French settlers, had the vision for the B & B.  She purchased an 1840 Creole home in the countryside and transported it to a lovely setting near Lake Martin to be restored.  Her historic interior design specialty was in the 1800’s French Cajun style and the home is filled with antiques as well as modern pieces and paintings of family members offering a more eclectic experience.

Madeline and husband, Walt, prepare pain perdu, the original French toast.

Besides the hearty breakfast, Madeline and her husband, Walt, provided ideas, directions, and restaurants to fill our time in the area.  Madeline had specific stories about her family history as did Vicki and Hubert Herbert, our instructors for the chicken and sausage gumbo cooking lesson.

Mary Clark, Pat Ellison and Vicki Hebert, cooking chicken and sausage gumbo.

They had all lived in the area for many decades sporting the accent to prove it.  When I asked Vicki and Hubert if they still spoke French, they began chatting with each other in the Cajun French dialect.  I recognized “je t’aime” ( I love you) but not much more.  Visitors from France say the Cajun French feels like a language and accent from the past.

Madeline insisted we should visit the Arcadia Culture Center in Lafayette and it was there I finally got the story straight about the settling of the area by French Canadians.  Their ancestors had lived in the French controlled eastern Canade before being expelled by the English when they took over.  They were loaded on ships, some sent along the coast of the United States and some returned to France.

The continental French wanted to return to the New World.  In 1755, the first Canadian French settlers came to Louisiana.  Many landed on the shore of the Bayou Teche in St. Martinville where a tree still commemorates the poem, Evangeline, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Louisiana was a far cry from Canada, but they embraced it and many became prosperous sugar farmers.  Sugar cane still dominates this rural area.   On a map in the cultural center, visitors were asked to place a sticker on the towns they were from.  There were many from Quebec and Ontario and France was covered up with dots, meaning this area of the United States is well visited by the French today.  (As an aside, Paris, Texas had no dot and I put us on the map).

Another notable proof of the French influence is the large number of Catholic churches with sizeable diocesan residences.  Street signs are in French in many communities including downtown Lafayette.  And food is as important to the Cajun people as it is to the French today.  They love to cook.  French recipes have been handed down including the pain perdu (French toast) served us one morning.  They also incorporated the foods of the new world into creative recipes.  Okra, crawfish and grits have become entwined while the traditional French bread is used in local bread pudding.

Thanks to Madeline and Walt’s suggestions, we visited area small towns made famous by author James Lee Burke, checked out the Tabasco bottling plant, drove and walked through gardens and even had a swamp tour replete with alligators. Our young guide on Lake Martin grew up around the lake and told amusing stories of climbing into the trees and using a rope swing to jump in the swamp water.  He assured us alligators weren’t interested in us, proved by the miniscule number of fatal gator attacks each year in the U.S. – 1 or 2.   His ability to identify a gator by just the size of the head poking out of the water was a mystery until he instructed us to mentally measure the number of inches between the eye and the bulb on the nose.  Each inch represented a foot in length.

Lafayette had just finished their Acadien and Creole Festival and the town seemed to be recovering.  An unexpected appearance of the large puppet, Little Amal, brought a crowd.  She has visited many countries, representing the plight of the millions in refugee camps around the world.  A small band led her as she made her way down Rue Jefferson.

We had every intention of finding some zydeco music, that unique Cajun dancing sound that highlights the accordion and washboard.   But music early in the week proved impossible to find. We had to settle for a CD.  I don’t often return to places I visit but I just might to Cajun Country for the music (and the food and the history and the ambiance).

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Disappearing Currency

Israeli Shekel

Egyptian piastres

Vietnamese Dong

In 1969, my mother took her five children to Europe for 10 weeks, using a Volkswagen van for transportation.  The trip was challenging enough, crossing many country borders and navigating the languages but a particular problem was the currency.  Credit cards were non-existent.  Some U.S. dollars were brought but most of the money for the trip was in American Exchange Travelers Checks, safely tucked away in a money belt.

To cash a traveler’s check required hotels that would accept them or banks or currency exchanges.  Banks had very limited hours of exchange and were always closed on weekends and often for two hours in the afternoon. Exchange rates were posted but not just for dollars.  The exchange rates were dizzyingly different.  The British Pound was strong and worth $2.25.  The Italian Lira not so much – 624 lira for one dollar.

It cost to exchange money and the challenge was to exchange only as much as needed for that country. My mother would place her travelers checks in the hotel safe, keeping only as much as she thought would be needed during our stay there.  I loved the different currencies.  The British pound was heavy.  The French franc was not.  Because of its diminished value, the Italian lira relied more on paper bills.

The beginning of the loss of individual currencies came with the advent of the Euro in 1999 when eight countries’ currencies disappeared.  Soon after the launch, I was traveling in Spain and encountered older shopkeepers confused about the need to convert in their heads the old currencies to the new one.  It was a godsend for travelers but an adjustment for residents.

When I began traveling through South America in 1973, the dollar, including travelers’ checks, was quite strong.  I used the traditional banks or exchange offices to convert into the local currency, accumulating the Ecuadorian sucre, Peruvian Sol, and Bolivian peso until I got to Argentina.  Then, as now, Argentina was suffering from very high inflation rates.  Dollars were in high demand as they only increased in value as the Argentinian peso cratered.  Credit cards had still not come of age.  With dollars or traveler checks, one could get 2 to 3 times the value of the peso on the black market.  Of course, that was illegal, but it was very available.  It required nerves of steel to watch an unknown person disappear with your passport and signed traveler checks to the back of a building. After some anxious minutes, he reappeared with a fistful of Argentinian pesos.  Sadly, Argentina today is suffering from the same sky-high inflation and their presidential candidate wants to just convert to dollars and eliminate the peso. I’m not sure that will solve their problem.

Jordan’s dinar

My favorite currencies are from the Middle East and northern Africa.  Their bills and coins have great flourishes from the Arabic script. On a photo safari in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, I tried to get some local currency.  I begged a restaurant owner in Botswana to convert my $20 into pulas.  She had to send a runner with the $20 bill to a nearby bank to oblige me.  While we missed the extravagant inflation in Zimbabwe years ago, bills of 100,000,00 dollars were available for purchase in the flea markets.  Today, their ATMs only return American dollars to be used in markets.  And in the far east, I loved the Cambodian bills that carried the name of the country as the Kingdom of Cambodia.  Bhutan was also the Royal Government of Bhutan.

Bhutan’s Ngultrum

The largest loss of currency is due to the widespread use of the credit card. Even small businesses can easily use the Apple reader for foreign visitors’ use. On a recent trip to Norway, we visited with an American couple who tried to use their credit card on their independent time abroad without converting any dollars.  Their only hitch came at a fish stand in Bergen that required Norwegian krones.  We sprang for their lunch.

I’m certain bills and coins will continue to disappear with even more reliance on credit cards and now crypto. Travel will become even easier, but I will miss the excitement and the artistry in each country’s currencies.

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Iceland’s Waters are a Respected Part of Its Heritage

Iceland’s connection to the sea is obvious.  It’s an island after all and is in the middle of rich fishing waters that boasts cod, salmon, monkfish, char, halibut, and whales.  Salted cod was the country’s main export for decades and its importance continues today, even rating a Saltfish Museum in the capital, Reykjavik.  On our grandparent/grandchild trip to Iceland, two boat rides were included, one for bird watching and the other for whales -– both successful.

The bird watching excursion explored the islands of Breidafjordur, while trolling a fishing net behind the boat on the bottom of the fjord.  For years, the Atlantic Puffin has been a favorite bird, thanks to its “cuteness” factor from the bright orange beak.  Sixty percent of its global population nest in Iceland, making the country the perfect observation site.  We saw them on cliffs where they nest.  Even with the captain moving the boat as close as possible, a larger camera than mine was needed to capture a clear image of these diminutive birds.  I didn’t need my own photo as the puffin is the unofficial national bird of Iceland and it was featured in all the gift stores on t-shirts, glasses, postcards and thousands of stuffed animals.

After the puffin sightings, the captain sent us to the rear of the boat to witness the unveiling of the wonders captured by the fishing net. As the net opened onto a cleaning table, beautiful shells, sea urchins, and crabs tumbled out.  Inside many of the shells were fresh scallops, cracked open and eaten in the sushi manner with ginger vinaigrette or soy sauce.  Even my grandson gobbled them up.  I have never turned down scallops, but I had to call a halt to the seemingly endless supply.

Despite visiting many countries offering whale outings, I hadn’t tried one before Iceland.  As seems obligatory, no whale sightings were guaranteed on this trip.  But on a surprisingly clear sunny day, we motored out of the bay around Reykajavik, with its skyline disappearing on the horizon and in less than 30 minutes, the first whale was spotted on the starboard side.  Seeing whales can be like falling stars.  By the time you look, they’re gone.  Luckily for us, it was a feast of whale watching that morning, causing the captain to exclaim that he had never seen so many. These were primarily minke whales, a smaller species.  While we didn’t experience the full breach of a whale leaping out of the water, we witnessed many heads and tales with views of a full whale under water.   We were literally surrounded by them.

Iceland is one of only three countries that hasn’t agreed to stop whale hunting, an industry for centuries and made famous by the novel, “Moby Dick.”  Japan and Norway also allow it.  After hearing a presentation onboard, my politically aware grandson signed a petition to outlaw whale hunting.  It seemed obvious to stop the practice as whale meat is not easily sold and there is no longer the need for whale blubber to light oil lamps as in the 1800s.  Since then, I’ve discovered the ban on whale hunting is  more complicated than it seems.

Whale hunting in the 1800s and even into the 1900s began to deplete the supply of whales.  Japan was late in the hunt but began in earnest after WWII to feed its starving population.  The population of larger whales such as the humpback declined precipitously, and limits were put in place by the International Whaling Commission.  Today, the limit for Minke whales is apparently 1000 whales worldwide, not a significant number considering the 500,000 minke whales alive today.  Norwegian whalers argue that whaling is good for the environment as whales eat most fishes in large quantities, meaning the stock of cod, halibut, etc. are diminished when whales are left unchecked.  Also, thousands of whales are killed in other ways such as plastic in the water and commercial fishing nets. And the biggest surprise is that whale meat tastes like beef, not the ubiquitous chicken.  It’s still hard to argue for whale hunting, especially as they are hunted with a harpoon hosting a grenade on the end.

The sea is never far away in Iceland and it provides beautiful views, healthy foods, and an important contrast to the volcanoes inland.  The Icelandic people love their ocean and all it has to offer.  They should be proud.

 

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Iceland With a Grandson

Photo Courtesy of Young Filer. Horseback Ride to the Hvita River, Iceland

The tour was billed as Iceland – Land of Fire and Ice.  I had never booked an organized commercial tour, but I wanted to travel with my twelve-year-old grandson, Clark. Road Scholar offered a grandparent/grandchild six-day tour of Iceland.  The activities appeared structured for us both to enjoy despite the sixty-year difference in our ages. Afterwards, we both agreed – it was a blast.

Volcanoes are not limited to colder latitudes but their juxtaposition with one of the larger glaciers in the world makes Iceland a country of contrasts.  Leaving the airport at Reykjavik, a former U.S. Navy air station, we were surrounded by dark volcanic rock, a barren uninviting landscape.  We passed a Volcanic hill, Litli Hrutur, quiet for the moment, but one that would cause disturbances throughout our trip, including 4.3 tremors, and erupt the day after our departure.

We cruised through greener pastures watered by Iceland’s many streams and rivers, bypassing downtown Reykjavik, disappearing into the impressive Hvalfjorour three-mile underwater tunnel built in 1998 five hundred feet below the surface.  We soon reappeared close to Borgarnes, a small-town of 2000 inhabitants. Its sleepy appearance belied the treasures that were within easy driving distance of our hotel there.

Two activities stood out as unique or special to Iceland – walking through an ice cave and riding the famous Iceland horses.

To reach the Langjokul (long) glacier, hosting the longest man-made ice cave in the world, required a few miles of dirt road off the main highway.  At a small transfer station, we exited our bus, donned waterproof coats, pants and shoes and climbed aboard an 8×8 truck, formerly a NATO missile launcher, for the drive to the cave opening.

Eighty feet of snow and ice lay above the ice cave with 650 feet below. Inside, crampons were required to explore.  Scientists, geologists, and engineers were all involved in carving out the cave.

It even included a chapel for marriages and proposals (49 said yes and 1 declined).  Since we were exploring on July 4th, the mainly American group sang Happy Birthday to our country in the chapel making it a memorable holiday.

An unexpected crevasse had opened as the cave was being carved out, much to the delight of the workers.  It originally broke the surface of the glacier but had been filled in at the top by recent snows.  Purple lighting gave an eerie feel of other worldliness as the crevasse hole disappeared into darkness. The guide emphasized the cave we saw that day would not be the cave of the next year or the next, as the glacier filled in some parts of the cave tunnels each year and had to be carved out again.  If left alone, it would fill in six years.

Horseback riding on the beautiful Icelandic horses, sometimes called ponies, had also drawn us to the tour.  At the Olvaldssatadir farm, a large stable held 30 or more horses.  A no-nonsense stable master directed us to horses to fit our size and horse-riding experience.  We rode English style, meaning there was no horn on the saddle to help pull our bodies up and over, a distinct disadvantage.  And, to direct our horse, we would pull back on the right reign to go right and the left to go left.  We were instructed NOT to hold the reigns together and direct from there as we do in Western riding.  It took some getting used to.  I know I confused my horse more than once.

Icelandic horses are a breed, the only breed allowed in Iceland.  No other horses can be imported and once an Icelandic horse is taken out of the country, it cannot return.  It’s also known for having five gaits instead of the traditional three that are walk, trot and gallop.  The Icelandic tolt gait is considered smooth and comfortable.  One of the tour participants exclaimed afterwards that she experienced the Icelandic tolt and how wonderful it was.  I couldn’t say whether I had that experience since my horse’s gaits felt like ordinary trots or walks.

Riding to the Hvita River with mountains in the background under a cool overcast sky was a gentle, soothing experience.  We rode in a trail ride line or at least were supposed to.  My grandson started at the back.  His horse was having none of that and by the end of the ride he was up front with me.  Clark admitted, “I had no control.”  The sure-footed nature of these horses was important as we rode in the river around an outcrop of rocks.  All sped up as we approached the stables, ending as most trail rides do – horses chomping hay happily in their pens and riders walking unsteadily away.

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75th Anniversary of Crazy Horse Monument

Crazy Horse Monument with recently revealed finished hand

Crazy Horse Monument with Volksmarch walkers on top

In the southwest corner of South Dakota resides the Black Hills, a cool, beautiful site of respite.  It is best known for Mt. Rushmore’s gleaming carvings of four presidents as well it should be. But down the road is another monument, much slower in the making, that recognizes a Native American icon – Crazy Horse of the Oglala Lakota tribe, whose tribe promoted the “Lakota Way.  On our visit the monument was celebrating its 75th anniversary and there was much to tell.

The vision for the Crazy Horse monument came to Chief Henry Standing Bear, also an Oglala Lakota Sioux, as he watched Mt. Rushmore’s work progressing.  In 1937 he convinced Korczak Ziolkowski, a Boston artist, to make this vision a reality.  The work is as much about the Ziokowski family as it is about Crazy Horse.

Crazy Horse is known as a focused, fierce, independent warrior who led an array of Indian tribes against an arrogant but widely recognized General George Custer at Little Big Horn in 1876.  In this battle, the tribes strategically caught the American troops by surprise by attacking on both sides and trapping Custer in the middle.  Crazy Horse is also revered for his refusal to sign any treaties with the United States as he tried desperately to retain the Black Hills that was promised to his tribes.

Without any photo of Crazy Horse, the monument had to be a composite of the Sioux tribe’s leaders. Begun with a single blast on June 3rd, 1948, progress has been slow due to several factors.  The initial work was directed by the Ziolkowski family of husband, wife and ten children.  Financing depended on individuals, tribes and foundations.  No government assistance was available.  The rock was found to be unstable in areas, causing changes in the design.  But the dedication never wavered.  Even after the death of Mr. and Mrs. Ziokowski, their family remained involved and some sit on the board of the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation Board.

Finish line for Volksmarch walkers

As we drove up the four-lane boulevard, we knew something special was happening.  Cars were parked everywhere with men and women on horseback directing traffic.  The ticket booth attendant explained the presence of a Volkmarch that drew in thousands from around the country to participate in a most unusual walk.  The Volksmarch Association monitors various sites for their walks and encourages all walkers to join.  On most days the Monument can only be seen from below.  But on this special day, the walkers could climb to the leveled-out area allowing a face-to-face encounter with Crazy Horse’s eighty seven foot tall profile – 27 feet taller than those of Mt. Rushmore.  We arrived too late to participate but were impressed with the age range and commitment of the participants.  For many it is an annual family outing.

Replica of Crazy Horse teepee

Model for completed Crazy Horse Monument

In addition to the distant Monument, the Foundation campus included an expected restaurant and gift shop.  But the Foundation has pursued much more – an impressive collection of original Native American Art, a replica of Crazy Horse’s teepee, an historical museum detailing the work on the Monument to the present, and a pile of rocks from the blasting that is free to any takers.

On the second day of the anniversary celebration, many Native American dancers performed.  The finished hand was revealed at a ceremony attended by several tribal chiefs and there was a series of lectures of how the Foundation was carrying out the mission of the Memorial to protect and preserve the history, culture and living heritage of North American Indians.  Most impressive was the idea of the Indian University of North America.  While not a fully accredited school, it does provide some academic programs, extension classes, scholarships, and on-site college Resource Fair.  It hopes to promote the study and use of natural plants and herbs for healing.

More than once, I heard speakers talk of the “Lakota Way” which is an acceptance of others, striving for unity and an encouragement of inquiry.  After a long day at the event, I sat next to a member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe who resided at the nearby Pine Ridge Reservation.  They had brought their school’s new teachers from the Philippines to introduce them to the tribe’s history.  We chatted and I began asking more about life on the reservation.  Concerned about overstepping my bounds, I asked if my questions were too personal.  She laughed easily and said, “Oh, no.  That is the Lakota Way.  How can we get to know each other unless we ask questions.”

Our country could use the “Lakota Way” today.  We need to know each other, respect our differences, and yet strive for unity.  A personal visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial is a place to start that journey.

 

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Galapagos Islands – 50 Years Ago

Left to right – Mary and her brothers, Jeff, Gary and Morey on our fishing boat in the Galapagos

My sister-in-law recently asked if I wanted to travel to the Galapagos Islands.  A presentation about conservations efforts to protect its animals inspired her.  I love to travel with Jan, but I hesitated.  I was there fifty years ago in 1973 with my mother and four brothers and felt a later experience may not compare to that adventure.

My oldest brother had joined the Peace Corps and was posted to Agato, a small farming and weaving village outside Otavalo, Ecuador in the Andes Mountains.  The first stop by my family had been to visit his basic home without running water or electricity and meet his indigenous neighbors.  But Mack insisted we should also visit the Galapagos Islands owned by Ecuador and he arranged the flight and boat. We flew Equatoriana Airlines out of Guayaquil into Baltra Island on a DC4. The landing strip was dirt and the environment barren with no visible permanent population.  We needed to travel to Santa Cruz Island where we would meet our guide.

The transfer on a small fishing boat seemed interminable.  At the port, Mack jumped out, looking for our guide and boat.  He sheepishly returned with the news that the fishing boat we were on was our boat, the San Pedro II.  We looked around incredulously at the small boat. Below, two beds lined the walls with the motor in between where Mom and I would sleep.  Behind was a second room with two sets of bunk beds for my brothers.  The captain and his son, Walter, would sleep on deck. We motored out of the bay into the open sea, enviously eyeing the larger boats and one small cruise ship in port.

The islands had promoted tourism only recently.  None were off limits as some are today.  Knowing where different animals, reptiles and birds lived, the captain determined our itinerary.   At the islands, Walter usually rowed us to shore in a small rowboat.  We would jump into the water, carrying our shoes and were then free to roam.  We were often the only visitors on an island.  Since neither the captain nor his son were particularly talkative, our experience was based on exploration and a small guidebook.  Seeing the blue footed boobies, red footed boobies, playful seals, and frigate birds was exciting.  We could walk amongst them as they were not afraid of visitors. In the lagoon of one island, we swam with the Galapagos penguins and the sea lions seemed to tease us

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It was the iguanas that gave us pause, especially my mother.  On our first encounter, the large marine reptiles lined the top of the bank, watching us carefully.  We would have to walk past them to explore more.   At first, Mom refused to go further.  But when she saw us passing them without incident, she agreed to try.

Mary and her brother, Morey, in the galley of the San Pedro.

I have often talked of my mother’s bravery and her willingness to experience anything new, but it was on this trip she was most tested.  Mom had to cook meals on a two-burner stove below deck.  The captain would put out a fishing hook trailing the boat and quickly bring in fresh fish, mostly tuna, that was grilled for dinner.  Having only had canned tuna growing up, fresh tuna was a wonderful discovery for my family.  But we also needed breakfast and lunch sandwiches.  In addition, all of us had acquired amoebas in Mack’s small town, meaning we were treated with flagyle, a strong medicine that causes nausea.  On one rough stretch of open sea between islands, Mom ran out of the kitchen, rushing to the boat’s edge to throw up.  I had never seen my mother sick like that, probably the nadir of her travel experiences.

Mack and Walter on shore in Santa Cruz

Upon return to Santa Cruz Island, we visited the Giant Galapagos Tortoises at their research center. That night was spent at the only Guesthouse/Inn then available.  We were happy to be on land with real beds, even as iguanas watched us from the rafters.  By then we were accustomed to them and knew they would sleep through the night until warming up in the mornings.   I recall wishing them good night.

I would describe the Galapagos Island as exotic rather than beautiful.  They are of volcanic rock, with 13 active volcanoes, making the survival of so many unique animals even more remarkable. The feeling of isolation in the middle of the world’s largest ocean is also part of the experience, especially on a small fishing boat.

Today the number of tourists has had to be capped to protect the animals’ environment.  Many more small cruise ships (less than 100 passengers) and large boats are available with better accommodation but I’m confident their encounters won’t be as unique as ours.  My mother might have described it otherwise.

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OKC Marathon – My Favorite Week-end in OKC

OKC Memorial at Night

OKC Memorial at Night 

I have never considered running a marathon.  And until our time in OKC, I hadn’t thought it to be an event to experience as an onlooker.  But the OKC Marathon has changed my attitude.  That weekend in OKC is my favorite.

What distinguishes OKC’s run is its purpose.  The OKC bombing on April 19, 1995 was American’s worst domestic terrorism episode until 9-11.  It shook the city, the state, and the country.  OKC remembered it in a stunning memorial that moves anyone who visits to tears.  But they needed to support the Memorial Museum and the marathon was born.  The date is always the last Sunday in April.

When Cliff and Sherry Scott visited, we stopped at the beautifully lit Memorial the evening before.  Streets were empty and barriers up.  Standing in the quiet space where the Run would begin, imagining the coming morning’s chaos, and recalling the Marathon’s motto of “we run to remember,” was chilling even in the warm night.

We experienced the start of the run on a different visit.  In the early morning darkness, runners began to congregate according to their assigned sections in the line-up.  Wheelchair participants are first, then the speedy bunch with fast times at previous marathons, and down the line to the shortest runs.  Despite the twenty-five thousand participating, all seemed to know where to go.

Before the start of the Run, OKC has a special tradition.  A quiet settles over all the runners for not just a moment or a minute but for 168 seconds, almost three minutes, each second in memory of a lost life in the bombing. The silence was honored by all despite its length.

When the hush lifted, the streets came alive as the announcer counted down to the start of the Run. Touchingly, wheelchairs pushed by family members began the Run.  Next followed the gunners and then waves and waves of runners.

 

When we bought a house in OKC, we were told the Marathon ran in front.  That had to be experienced to appreciate.  Barriers were set up on our street to prevent traffic, placed the night before. We were advised to move cars to the side streets in case we needed to get out.   By 7:30 a.m., the fastest half-marathon runner was already passing by with his police escort.  We were just three miles from the end of the race.  Runners would continue for the next 5 hours.

In those five hours, much happens.  Crowds line the streets to cheer everyone on.  This year, a cow bell rang out for hours, held by a couple at the corner.  Signs are held by family members encouraging their people to keep up their spirits. An occasional runner will hold a picture of a loved one lost in the bombing.  Our niece, Brooke Ziel, is a committed Marathon runner and she thought this run was one of her most memorable races because of the “amazing crowd support through the historical neighborhoods and the miles with banners of the faces of those lost in the bombing.”

Plug Clem and Ed Clark on OKC front porch.

When Paris friends, Plug and Toni Clem, visited this year, we used our front porch as a viewing stand, shouting to occasional runners to carry on.  We also enjoyed coffee and mimosas and later a brunch. When our son-in-law and boys came to join us for brunch, they had already visited two houses who were having Marathon parties and had another to attend after ours.  It’s a great neighborhood mingling time.

The week of the Marathon also hosts the largest art fair in OKC.  The Festival of the Arts began in 1967 and now fills blocks in front of the downtown Art Deco Music Hall. Money raised supports the arts in neighborhoods, schools, and provides summer classes. The organizers for the original Art Fair had to beg artists to participate.  But today its reputation is well established and artists from all over the United States give buyers choices that include oil paintings, wood carvings, ceramics, outdoor art, jewelry, and textiles.  Music from local musicians play all day and night.  We have enjoyed this festival for years and have the art to prove it.

When you add two of the city’s biggest events to the array of options already available to enjoy in OKC, the week-end becomes full.  The Clems wanted to see the new Contemporary Arts Museum.  The Scotts were interested in the new First American Museum.  And we provided both couples tours of the city that included its two beautiful urban parks.

Because of the OKC Marathon, I now understand the excitement of those events, even when you are not a runner.  I love art fairs and OKC has one of the best.  It’s no wonder I call it my favorite week-end in OKC.

Photos of OKC Memorial by Sherry Scott

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Chattanooga – To be Enjoyed With and Without Grandchildren

Civil War cannon points toward downtown Chattanooga from Lookout Mountain

 

Driving into Chattanooga from any direction exposes you to an endless number of billboards boasting of Rock City, Ruby Falls and Lookout Mountain.  I feared a town of kitsch. But our first visit to Chattanooga surprised both my husband and me with its lovely setting on the Tennessee River bordered by the Appalachian Mountains.  It boasts a history that includes a geological wonder, Native Americans, the Civil War, development of the railroads and a hit song that can rotate endlessly in your head if you let it.

As with many towns and states, Chattanooga’s name originated from Native Americans.  The Creek words, Chat-to-to-noog-gee, meaning rock rising to a point, was very appropriate for nearby Lookout Mountain. During the Civil War, the mountain top gave the Confederate Army unobstructed views of the valley below revealing a large Union presence.  The leaders knew they had a fight on their hands. A whole slew of generals and majors on both sides fought in and around the mountain.  The Chattanooga battle is considered one of the three most important ones that turned the tide in favor of the North giving them control of the railroads. Today, a beautiful drive takes you to the top of Lookout Mountain for the same wide view of the valley below.  Nearby are hiking trails where you can visualize Confederate Soldiers dug in and Union Soldiers attacking.

With Luka, Diego and Fabricio Clark on Walnut Street Bridge

Walnut Street Bridge, a former railroad bridge.

Flooding problems for Chattanooga were resolved with the construction of 29 dams by the Tennessee River Authority. Visionary city leaders have restored and improved the downtown historic area and provided walking paths on either side of the now tame river.  When we brought our grandchildren, we walked the Walnut Street Bridge originally used by trains. Now available only for pedestrians and bikers, it leads to a park with a wonderful carousel.

Tennessee Aquarium with grandsons, Diego, Fabricio and Luka.

However, our focus that visit was on Tennessee’s two-building Aquarium.  Both salt water and fresh water marine animals are well represented.  Beginning at the top of either aquarium, ramps gradually take visitors down, visiting different ocean and river settings. Discovering freshwater stingrays from the Amazon River Basin and penguins enjoying fresh and sea water were surprises.

Chattanooga Children’s Museum with Luka Clark

On our first visit, we visited the Hunter Museum of American Art, its eclectic collection and shows reflected in its architecture – a stately neo-classic bricked mansion attached on either side to more modern buildings. However, with grandchildren in tow, the Children’s Discovery Museum beckoned from its quirky fun building just a few blocks from the Aquarium.  While not the most extensive children’s museum we’ve visited, it had enough fun activities to end the day on an upbeat note.

Our grandson, Diego, wanted to visit Rock City – mainly because a friend at school told him about it.  This is an odd tourist destination on Lookout Mountain that has paths and rock gardens.  I thought he wanted to visit a rock store.  That morning the Mountain was socked in by clouds but we still hoped to visit Rock City for the rocks.  However, upon arriving, the mist and fog were so dense, we could hardly see the entrance.  What followed was a search for another rock store ending at the Chattanooga Crystal Store where our grandsons were first exposed to incense, meditative music and crystals and rocks with powers. Fabricio kept asking “what’s that smell” and Luka tried to fill his woven basket to the brim with pretty (expensive) rocks requiring much downsizing at checkout.  As we walked out, Diego wanted to know when we could get some rock candy which is really all he wanted.

Inside Chattanooga’s restored Beaux Art Train station

And then there’s the song – the Chattanooga Choo Choo – made famous in 1941 by the Glen Miller band in the movie, Sun Valley Serenade.  It was a lively dancing piece for the times, especially for a tap dancer.  The train’s sleeper cars are parked at the restored 1901 Beaux Art Train Station. The cars double as hotel rooms and an exhibit.  While we have not yet stayed in one of the sleepers, it is on our “to experience” list.   The song pervades the community, and its words are even engraved on the sidewalk outside the aquarium.

Part of Chattanooga’s success comes from its ability to attract large employers such Volkswagen and the Tennessee Valley Authority that supervises its dams and nuclear energy plants.  If you drive a Passat or Atlas, your car was probably built in Chattanooga.  The plant is expanding to produce VW’s first electric car in the U.S. – the ID.4.  Recognized as one of the country’s 100 best places to live, Chattanooga is not just for Civil War aficionados and tourists anymore.  It has grown up and offers much for young and old.

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Riding the Ferries of Norway – An Ancient Transportation Made Modern

Ferries have always felt like relics of the past – medieval holdovers when roads and bridges were few.  Tolls were often charged.  As the population grew along with the cargo needed to be carried, ferries increased in size until large enough to transport trucks and equipment. Train cars were routinely loaded in much of the world until bridges and freight flights caught up.  Even today, the Alaskan Railroad is connected to the continental United States only by ferries.  But in Norway, the ferry system is alive and well and continues to serve locals, tourists, and remote communities. During our visit, we sampled some of the approximate 180 ferries serving Norway including a cutting-edge electric one.

After a train ride from Oslo to Flam on the advertised “Norway in a Nutshell” route, we emerged onto the town’s docks holding an oversized cruise ship awaiting some of the crowd and our much smaller ferry which would carry us on the Sognefjord, the longest and deepest fjord in Norway.  I had worried about the short connection between the train’s arrival and the ferry’s departure (15 minutes) but shouldn’t have.  All was running like clockwork.  The ferry was less than 100 yards from our train car.

On board was a large space for luggage of all sizes, comfortable seating with views, and a snack bar. We joined a Virginian couple in their booth even as they were continually drawn outside to take photos of the shoreline, including seals sunning on rocks. They were spending the day traveling from Bergen on the coast to Flam and back.

Balestrand’s Historic Kviknes Hotel

Our stop was at Balestrand where the beautiful 145-year-old Kviknes Hotel expected us. It was a most pleasant way to arrive with the hotel only a short walk up the hill. From our balcony room, we watched the Sognefjord in all its splendor and noted the schedules of the larger ferries’ arrivals and the faster express boats that navigate the waters with a choppier ride.

Zigzag walkways allow spaces for viewing for every passenger

One of the largest Ferry operators in Norway is Norled, the world leader in launching electric powered ferries.  Two women lead this effort for the company, Elizabeth Grief and Heidi Wolden. As we often saw in Norway, the commitment to a clean environment was sincere and universal.  All our cabs and uber cars were electric, as required by the government.  Today one-third of Norway’s ferries are electric or hybrid.  When we left Flan a second time to explore the narrowest fjord in Norway, one of Norled’s newest electric ferries carried us.  The design was unlike any ferry I have seen.  The walkways zigzag along the outside of the boat, mimicking mountain trails providing a standing space for every passenger on board for the perfect view of the stunning landscape.

Large cruise ships are available to travel Norway’s coast and many Americans have enjoyed those trips.  Hurtigruten, a Norwegian company, has created a combination ferry and cruise ship to travel those waters.  We signed on for two nights leaving Bergen at sundown on the Nordkapp and arriving in Trondheim two days later.  This was not as luxurious as some cruises.  No outside balconies were available.  But some of the amenities of a larger cruise ship included shore excursions and large buffets of local fish such as smoked salmon and trout and even reindeer. An upscale restaurant had a talented chef and fix prix dinners. Plastic ware was forbidden throughout the ship. At one port, I watched residents leaving the boat and mail being delivered and local cargo loaded, illustrating the duo purpose of the ship.  A car deck was also available.

Few Americans were on this scaled down cruise boat, but many Germans and English were.  The queen of England had died in England during our voyage and all citizens of the Commonwealth were invited forward to sing the national anthem, God Save the King. We also met a few Norwegians, including a woman who had visited her daughter in Bergen and was returning home to Trondheim.  A young Swiss woman joined us on our excursion into a much smaller fjord seldom traveled. When we came ashore deep into the fjord, the waters were still, mountains snow covered, and flowers blooming – Norway at its finest.

In addition to outfitting most of its ferries with electric power, Norled is also testing a hydrogen powered ferry with hopes it will be in service within the year.  If successful, it could be a game changer for the ferry industry, an industry thousands of years old but one that continues to serve.  And now it’s leading the way into a greener world.  The waters and marine animals of Norway will be the beneficiaries of this effort as will tourists looking for beautiful views.

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Homegrown Drag Queen, Shangela, Takes Center Stage at Dallas Event

Shangela  with high school friends, Ryan Baggerly, Catherine Hayter Duke, Abby Trout Banks, Holly Kilgore Lose, Shangela, Julie Shelton Hays, Sydney Davis Devoe, Stacy Lambert Nobles, Ellen Clark Pogemiller, Laura Mercy Dawson.

While most of my stories are of places distant from Paris, a recent outing closer to home to Dallas provided an experience worth telling.

One of the greatest ambassadors that Paris, Texas has is DJ Pierce, a graduate of Paris High School, who never fails to mention his hometown in his shows and interactions with stars.  Unless you have followed his career, the salute to Paris may seem insignificant.  But check out his 1.6 million followers on Instagram to understand the breadth of his influence.

At his Fully Lit show in Dallas recently, sponsored by AT&T, the devotion of the sold-out crowd illustrated the reach of this rising star whose stage name is Shangela.

The crowd poured into the Majestic Theater in downtown Dallas, some decked out in rhinestones and stilettos but most in casual comfortable clothes- sons with mothers, husband and wives, husbands with husbands, wives with wives, groups of friends, singles.  The majority were in the age range of 30s to 50s. I stopped some for pictures and short interviews.

Mary Clark with Kelexis Davenport

Shangela Fans dressed for the occasion

“How did you first discover Shangela?”  Those with the longest connections remembered him from the Rose Room, the iconic Dallas drag queen venue where Shangela first did back up dancing. The drag queen host of the Rose Room, Kelexis Davenport, was there to support her protégé. Thanks to three seasons on RuPaul’s Drag Race, the well liked Drag Queen Contest, many of the crowd had first connected with Shangela there.  More recent converts came from the HBO show, “We’re Here”, a series of touching stories played out in small towns or communities that were not LGBTQ+ friendly.  A woman dressed in thigh high gold sparkly boots noted that she never cried but wept at every single episode of “We’re Here.”

But it was Shangela’s appearance on “Dancing With the Stars” that had awed everyone in attendance in Dallas. A fan from Gilmer, Texas said he was there to see the famous “death drop” highlighted on the last episode of “Dancing With the Stars” where Shangela suddenly dropped to the floor with one leg extended straight out and the other leg bent behind her, her back flattened with the rest of her body. The next morning she was interviewed on ABC Morning News for her performance and in particular, that move.

 

The Dallas show featured dancing, storytelling, a short contest for the next drag queen in the audience, and shout outs to those in attendance.  She asked all Paris people to stand, and the crowd went crazy.  Actually, the crowd responded heartily to everything.  They clapped, laughed at her stories, cheered her escapades to introduce herself to stars such as Beyonce and Lady Gaga, and shouted out appropriate answers to her questions.  I recognized my ignorance of many trendy songs and shows but loved the crowd’s enthusiasm. I was struck by her ability to relate to the crowd, talking of her early embrace of shopping at Ross’s, and then with her newfound wealth laughing at flying first class where she entertained herself by endlessly moving her seat up and down.

DJ has been a good friend of our daughter’s since elementary school.  Her high school group of friends traveled from all parts of Texas and Oklahoma to reunite with their classmate and support his rise to stardome.   The success of Shangela was years in the building with DJ appearing in movies, TV shows and commercials before Shangela hit it big.  His ambitious journey upward was and is fueled by his humor, confidence, charm, and a genuine graciousness – an acceptance of all and fear of none.  Old friends have enjoyed his quick wit for years and now it has gained him many followers.

Shangela has become a notable ambassador for the Drag Queen community – the first to walk the red carpet at the Oscars (she played a drag queen in A Star Was Born), the first to perform on Dancing With the Stars, and the first to attend a White House bill signing.  She’s had dinner with Vice-President Kamala Harris and was recently placed on the advisory board of Southern Methodist University where DJ graduated with honors.

Although dressing in drag has been enjoyed for thousands of years, it was often on the fringe of acceptance.  But the American Drag Queen community has become more mainstream as the entertainment part of that world has been discovered and appreciated.  Shangela looks nothing like DJ but underneath the phenomenal make-up creation is the same warm and friendly personality that has charmed us and now the world.  And it was evident in Dallas.  Everyone loved her.

Mary Clark with Shangela’s high school mentors, Nancy Waldrum and Kay Grubbs

 

Mary Clark and Shangela enjoying her favorite cookies from Linda Hayter, mother of high school friend, Catherine Hayter.

 

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