Mary Clark, Traveler

The Journey from Pakistan to Paris, Texas

“I do the thinking part” is how Ayesha Shafiq describes her duties at her husband’s medical clinic in Paris.  The truth is, Ayesha has always done the thinking part.  She grew up in Peshawar, in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan – an area that is best known through the experiences of Greg Mortenson in “Three Cups of Tea”.   She comes from a prominent family that owns M. Hayat & Bros. Ltd., a furniture manufacturing company established in 1870, that lists the Queen of England as a customer.  Besides serving as Chief Secretary of the North-West Frontier Province, her father, Khalid Aziz, is well respected in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan.  Americans have become quite familiar with FATA as some Taliban currently hide there.  Pakistan does not have control over FATA even though it is within the borders.  Personal relationships govern this area, not laws.   Because Mr. Aziz is trusted by the tribes in FATA, he is able to get information to and from the tribes as well as the governments of Pakistan and the United States.

Ayesha studied International Relations and wrote for the local paper, The Frontier Post.   In 1999,  her father was arrested and falsely accused by members of then President Musharraf’s government of misconduct in the accountability bureau that he supervised.  Their family home had been the center of many visits by foreign dignitaries.  Ayesha met Princess Diana, answered the phone when the Prime Minister of Ireland called to leave a message, and knew all members of the Bhutto family of Pakistan.  These experiences gave her courage to speak out about her father’s detention.  She wrote an open letter that was published in a Karachi newspaper about her father’s arrest and poor treatment in jail.  The editor of the paper called her one brave girl to speak up.  It would be another three years before her father was released in 2003 but his treatment did improve and he was allowed to attend her wedding. After a four year trial, Mr. Aziz was fully acquitted of all charges in 2006.

Ayesha met her cardiologist husband, Khalid Shafiq, through family members.  He traveled to Pakistan to marry her in 2000. After the wedding, they boarded a plane to begin the 36  hour journey to the United States.  Upon arriving at DFW, her husband drove the final 100 miles to Paris, Texas providing the first view of this country.

Ayesha had to learn to drive. In Pakistan, the driving is hectic with no road signs and all understand this saying – “Every man for himself and God for the rest of us”. PJC said she was too old to take lessons there so Johnny Crawford taught her.  For three years, she wouldn’t drive her new car because she was afraid of “bumping” it.

Khalid Shafiq’s dream of having his own clinic began to take shape in Paris and Ayesha was needed to help run it.  She enrolled at PJC to take some Billing and Coding classes.  She remembers hiding around the corner to learn how students got food and drink from vending machines.  When her grades arrived, she was not sure what she had scored.  But her husband explained that a 4.0 was the best grade, not a bad one.  Ayesha now supervises the 22 employees at the clinic.

In 2006, the former President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf,  visited Paris to consult with his local cardiologist, Dr. Arjmand Hashmi. Elaborate plans were made among the various levels of law enforcement to safely escort Musharraf here. Dr. Hashmi and Khalid Shafiq are colleagues and share a homeland.  Khalid and Ayesha offered to entertain President Musharraf at their home.  It would be one of the more amazing “small world” experiences.  Ayesha opened her home in Paris, Texas to the former leader of her country whose government was responsible for the imprisonment of her father.  No mention was made of the shared history but pictures in their home of her father’s plight were obvious.  All was cordial and Musharraf and his wife were quite gracious and appreciative of the hospitality.

Even when she was young, Ayesha believed in America.  She liked our way of thinking. According to her, we’re honest and open in how we feel.  After living here for 10 years, her only negative observation is that Americans take all that they have and can have for granted.  If something doesn’t work, we dispose of it.  To survive in Pakistan, one must make things work.  You can’t walk away from a job, a car, your family.  But this is her home now and she has adopted its rhythm.  Her husband and children, Sayek and Layla, are busy and involved in the Paris community.  Thanks to this supportive family, Ayesha awakes every morning with “the spark, energy and zeal” to conquer the world.  Ayesha’s journey to Paris was longer than most but she and her family are happy to be here.

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Images of a Comanche raid on Interstate 35

My husband is from Austin.  We both went to the University of Texas.  Austin holds family and friends and we visit there often.  The question is how to make that tedious five hour trip from Paris more interesting.  I discovered the answer in a recently released book on the Comanche Indians called Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne.

Interstate 35 from San Antonio through Austin, Waco, and into Dallas is a kind of fault line, separating East Texas with its rain and forests from the scrub and dry plains of north and west Texas.  This division also marked the frontier edge of Comanche territory. To the east, sedentary tribes farmed and hunted for game. Nacogdoches was a Caddo Indian village when the Europeans arrived.

On the west side of I-35, the Comanches lived off millions of buffalo who provided food, clothes, tools, and warmth in the winter.  At its height, 20,000 members of the various bands of the tribe rode over 240,000 square miles through Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma to trade and to fight.   The Comanches muscled out the Apaches and other Plains tribes and traded with nearby tribes on their own terms.

Driving south on I-35, one encounters Waco, named after the Huaco tribe who had inhabited the area for hundreds of years.  At the Waco village, the tribe had 400 acres under cultivation and grew corn, beans, pumpkins, melons, and peach trees.  Modern day Waco was built on the Mexican land grant that surrounded the old Waco village site.  These tribes feared the Comanches as much as early settlers and also tried to avoid them.

The Spaniards never resolved how to conquer the fast moving Indians on their well-trained mustangs who loved to steel horses in Mexico and Texas.  Standing to shoot didn’t work as a Comanche could fling twenty arrows in the time it took one gun slinger to reload.  The war parties attacked at night and would vanish if they encountered resistance.  Their purpose was to keep settlers and Friars out of their hunting territory.  Spanish expeditions simply avoided the vast middle area of Texas and parts north.

But then Texas opened up to settlers with offers of free land.  East Texas filled up first.  When the Parker family from Illinois arrived in 1833, they constructed a fort 30 miles east of Waco, past the then edge of settlements.  On May 19, 1836, Comanches literally rode up to this personal fort and started killing and taking hostages, including the most famous of all, Cynthia Ann Parker.  Take the Highway 164 exit at Waco, and you can visit a replica of this fort in Groesbeck, Texas.   Cynthia Parker later married Pete Nacona, an Indian chief. Her son, Quanah Parker, was the one and only chief of all the Comanches bands. After her “rescue”  many years later, she reluctantly lived in the Tyler area with Parker relatives until her death.

Much of the fighting over the years happened on either side of our highway.  In 1749, priests were killed in a raid on the San Saba mission, near Menard,.  In 1840, a leader, Buffalo Hump, brought 400 warriors down the Balcones Escaprment, along the spring-fed waters of San Marcos in Hays County, on his way to a raid near Victoria, Texas.  Curiously, Hays County is named after John Coffey Hays, who was a savvy Indian hunter and one of the first Texas Rangers.

The last connection to this story on our trip is actually our own Lamar County, named after Mirabeau Lamar, president of the Republic of Texas from 1838-1841.  He followed Sam Houston whom he considered soft on the Indians.  Houston believed in negotiations and wouldn’t authorize frontier forts.  Mirabeau was pro-slavery and felt all Indians should be expunged or killed – “extinction or expulsion”- i.e. no right to any land.  He managed to get rid of the peaceful tribes of East Texas and moved them to Indian Territory or Oklahoma but the Comanches lived on for another 30 years.

The book is well worth reading and fills in the details of the Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker story as well as life with the Comanches.  For the next trip to Austin, I will wonder what it would be like to scan the horizon for a Comanche raid from the west. It’s certainly more romantic than watching out for a highway patrol.

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Tunisia – A Country That Could Work Again

Three years ago, my husband and I visited my cousin who lives in Tunisia.  We were enchanted by this Mediterranean country with beautiful beaches and well-preserved Roman ruins.  Europeans had long discovered the country’s temperate climate and flocked there in droves.  But today as I write, Tunisia is in the midst of a revolution and all are holding their collective breath.

Before going to visit, I read “Tunisia, A Journey Through A Country That Works” by Georgie Anne Geyer, an author that was impressed with the progress this small country had made as a moderate in the Arab world.. After the French left in 1957, Habib Bourghiba became president of the new democracy.  He had strong feelings about moving toward modernity – a kind of Tunisian Ataturk.   Almost immediately, he banned polygamy, introduced judicial divorce for women as well as men, set a minimum age for marriage, gave women the right to vote and run for office, and made education free and compulsory for both sexes.  Thirty percent of the budget was allocated to education.  From this dedication, a large middle class emerged, with many college graduates.  But there was no challenge allowed against  Bourghiba who declared himself president for life in 1974.

In 1984, Tunisia erupted after a drought caused the cost of bread to rise 115% overnight.  The government had too strong a hold on the economy and not enough jobs were being generated for the educated young Muslims.  Islamists were plotting to overthrow the government.  In 1987, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Minister of the Interior, obtained a doctor’s letter saying Bourghiba was no longer capable of running the country, and stepped in as president.  He was able to distinguish moderate from radical Islamists and courted the former.  Participatory democracy still wasn’t permitted but the country did develop a National Pact with commitments from individuals, labor unions, schools, etc.  Tunisia would remain a pluralist society with women being totally emancipated.  Islam was the official religion but freedom of religion was assured..  Free political parties were not allowed immediately but were built into the process.

Since Ben Ali became president, poverty dropped by 80%. The percentage of Tunisians owning homes hit 80% at the turn of the century. Tunisians themselves contributed to a fund to be used for low interest loans to start small businesses.  By cultivating tourism, the country could offer low budget/high value trips for Europeans to the beaches of Tunisia – the equivalent to America’s relationship with Cancun and the Mayan Riviera.  Tunisia partnered up with France on commerce and military protection.  All appeared from the outside to be good.  But the drop in the world economy exposed cracks in the system.

President Ben Ali never followed through with the plan to allow free political parties and elections.  His family became unseemly wealthy whose wealth was flaunted.  My cousin tells of headline news about the president’s wife opening a Jaguar car dealership!   His son is considered a billionaire.  Freedom of the press was stifled.  Even as the riots started over a month ago, Tunisian television continued to broadcast only the stale programs as usual.  News of the happenings had to be obtained through the internet, twitter, etc.  Over the years, the police became feared as the arm used to suppress opposition and free speech.  As Georgie Ann Geyers now says, “Ben Ali stayed too long.”

Tunisia’s unemployment stands over all at 14% but even higher for the young and college-educated with all of the frustration associated with such  high numbers.  As you probably have read, the final straw came when a young man with a university degree couldn’t get a job and was forced to buy fruits and vegetables to sell from a stand.  The police ‘raided’ his stand because he didn’t have the right papers and took all of his produce.  Depressed, the young man set himself on fire and died.  The lack of jobs is keenly felt here and in other Arab nations.  Ironically, Ben Ali himself said years ago that the greatest challenge to his government and the Arab world was the paucity of jobs for the educated population.  Last week, that problem revisited Tunisia and the government fell again.

It’s a very dicey situation today.  Old and new leaders are struggling to form an interim government that can be maintained until elections are held.  The army, whom the Tunisians trust, is working to keep the peace.   Food is scarce.  A trip out on Monday yielded my cousin’s husband some apples and oranges.  They’ve had to clean out the pantry and freezer.

This is not Egypt nor Saudi Arabia.  Tunisia is filled with educated, middle-class citizens. But the people are demanding the civil rights that Americans have long enjoyed – free political parties and fair elections, freedom of the speech and press.  These are not radical Islamists and we should hope they’re successful in their quest for greater freedom.  Let us also hope when the economy is opened up, jobs will develop, and Tunisia can again show the way to the Arab world.

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Crime In Guanajuato, Mexico reveals Sympathetic Side of the Mexican People

 I have hesitated to write this story about an attempted theft in Mexico.  The last thing I want to do is discourage tourists from going to Mexico.  Most of that country is as safe as ours with the notable exception of northern Mexico.  But the story is really about the response to the crime, not the crime itself.

I was traveling in Guanajuato, Mexico with my friends, Tina Smith and Betty Swasko, as well as Tina’s sister, Lisa Pavel.  This 450 year old world heritage site boasts a great university, colorful homes, and old silver money.  We had just exited a silver jewelry store onto Avenida Juarez when  I heard shouting and sounds of a struggle behind me.  I turned to see Lisa and Tina holding on to Lisa’s purse as a hooded man tried to pull it away.  After several seconds, he gave up and ran down a nearby ramp to the street below.  When he released his hold on the purse, Lisa fell back and hit her head against the jewelry store’s wall, injuring her head.

All around us people stopped to offer help.  A policeman quickly appeared and ran after the thief.  Betty crossed to a store to get tissue for the bleeding. Several bystanders shook their heads and expressed their condolences.   And a young woman offered to walk us to the closest clinic.  In a daze, we followed her for two blocks to Clinica Hospital where a receptionist quickly placed Lisa in an exam room.

As we were filling out the forms, three policemen and a television cameraman arrived in the courtyard.  I guess we weren’t hard to find.  A policeman had caught the robber and they wanted us to come to the police station to identify him.  The cameraman filmed all of the conversation but I don’t know if it was shown on the news that night or not.  The officers agreed to wait.

Lisa’s physician was capable, sympathetic and did the appropriate exam for a head injury.  She needed several stitches which were quickly done.  We were all impressed with Lisa’s toughness and inner fortitude.  Thanks to her long held belief in alternative medicine, she had taken Arnica pills for the pain and cream for her bruises.  Both appeared to work very well.

As we walked out of the clinic, there was one police car and an extra car to take us to the police station.  Lights flashed as we made our way through traffic.  At the station, Lisa and Tina were shown a picture of the alleged thief as well as his hooded jacket.  They recognized both immediately.  We got to meet our hero, Victor, who had caught the man.  He was very familiar with this criminal who was known to have mental problems.

All seemed in order until they advised Lisa and Tina that they would have to return in several months to testify against the man. That was, obviously, not going to happen.   So I went into my attorney mode and questioned why they couldn’t set up a hearing the next week while we were still there.  The man had confessed.   They had eye-witnesses.  Appoint him an attorney and get it moving.  When they realized I was an attorney, all laughed at the head officer and he shook his head.  But I still couldn’t make the hearing happen.

Lisa needed to fill a prescription and get a tetanus shot.  We didn’t know where to go and didn’t have transportation.  The main officer offered a police car escort.  Since it was raining, they backed the officer’s car into the courtyard to get as close as possible to us.  We walked past the station’s  Shrine to the Virgin Mary as we climbed in and with lights flashing,  headed to the Red Cross clinic.. That clinic had no tetanus vaccine.  The trip to a second clinic was successful even though we were joined by a throng of pregnant women.  With lights still flashing, we pulled in front of a pharmacy and had the prescription filled while the officer waited.  The last stop was our apartment.

The experience feeds the stereotypical fear of both traveling and traveling in Mexico.  But I’ve had far worse criminal experiences in the United States.  And the response by the crowd, the clinic, and the police was universally sympathetic and solicitous.  They all hated that this had happened to a tourist in their lovely town which is known to have a low crime rate.  It didn’t slow down our visit as we continued with our itinerary to San Miguel de Allende the next day.  And we all agreed that we would return to Guanajuato –  in a heartbeat.

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Oaxaca, Mexico with a Guide from Paris, Texas

Oaxaca, Mexico has long fascinated Barbara Fendley and many others from Paris.  Its arts and crafts draw in the artistic crowd, a heavy indigenous presence attracts sociology and history majors, while archeological aficionados drool over the nearby Mitla and Monte Alban ruins. On a more personal level, one of its Rotary Clubs is a sister club to our Monday Greater Paris Rotary Club.

Several years ago, Barbara decided to learn Spanish there and soak in the culture at the same time.  She chose Becari Language School  (http://www.becari.com.mx/) for her lessons.   At first she stayed with a local family but now rents her own apartment for two months every summer. Toni Clem and I decided to pay our friend a visit.

Barbara’s most recent apartment on Tinoco y Palacios street sits next to a funeral home whose owner has befriended her.  He easily greets Paris visitors while supervising his supply of caskets on display for passing residents.  His dog knows that Barbara is good for a doggie treat every day.

After spending so much time in Oaxaca each year, Barbara is aware that the church bells ring at 6:45 a.m, the high fog horn comes from the Gas de Oaxaca truck, and that a man calls out every morning selling water.  She knows the hours of restaurants, names of waiters, best prices for handicrafts and souvenirs, where to find quality goods, days that museums close, and who makes the best coffee.   This is all very valuable information.  As guests, our only job was to pick among her daily suggestions and follow.

We began with a cooking lesson at Casa Crespo (http://www.casacrespo.com/)  where we sipped coffee around a circular table and discussed the menu.  Oaxaca is known for its subtle and eclectic moles and sauces.   Our chef, Oscar Carissosa, casually threw out suggestions for dishes with complex flavors and an occasional unfamiliar ingredient.  After deciding on the four courses, Oscar grabbed a shopping bag and we quickly moved outside for the short journey to the Pascua market.  Efficiently and expertly, he led us through a colorful maze of fruits and vegetables,  stopping occasionally to explain a new fruit or herb.  Honey bees hovered over the sweet blocks of candy and ants kept the salt dry.

Back at the restaurant, the cooking began.  We moved between the chopping table and kitchen and used blenders, fine knives, and a tortilla press.  Squash blossoms were rolled in a flour tortilla, pineapple, pork, and raisins stuffed into poblano chiles,  and flan whipped and poured into a pressure cooker. Oscar carried all of the recipes in his head  although he sent us the formulas by e-mail.   Lunch was served in courses and we ate for two hours.

Throughout the rest of the week,  Barbara led us easily through the streets of Oaxaca which has a known split personality.  One part is dedicated to the large and profitable tourist industry. The crafts are still the best in the country. Since my last visit there 15 years ago, many of the streets and sidewalks have been repaved and  the numbers and sophistication of restaurants have exploded as have the indoor and outdoor markets.  Barbara introduced us to Casa Oaxaca (http://www.casaoaxaca.com.mx/) where a Houston trained Oaxacan chef created dishes such as duck tacos and a red snapper with lemon butter and capers served over a bed of tomato marmalade – the best dish I had there.

Oaxaca’s second face is political.  The large, indigenous population  found its voice many years ago and has demanded equal treatment.  A strong teachers union holds annual massive strikes,  sometimes with large demonstrations.  The strike of 2006 caused the number of tourists  to plummet and Oaxaca is just now recovering its previous numbers.  This dichotomy is best represented at the Zocalo, Oaxaca’s central square.  While we were seated at one of the many outdoor restaurants, vendors pleaded with us to buy painted book marks, woven scarves, or handmade backpacks. Across the street, a large painted sign hung between two trees demanding “Justicia para Oaxaca – ahora y siempre” – Justice for Oaxaca, now and forever.  The two worlds of tourism and political activism slow dance together,  trying not to trip the other up. (I hasten to add that we never felt in any danger during our visit.)

We also explored the markets of Benito Juarez, Mercado 20 de Noviembre, and Artesans de Oaxaca.  Mujeres Artesanas ,(http://maroaxaca.blogspot.com/), a co-op store with a quality selection of artistic goods from all over Oaxaca, rated a second stop.  We bought movie CDs at one street fair and bilingual books at another.  With a chocoholic husband, I had to purchase blocks of chocolate from one of the many chocolate stores on Mina street.  For a traveler who prides herself on minimal purchases,  I found the beautiful and magical artistic world of Oaxaca irresistible and returned to Paris with many recuerdos de Mexico.

Oaxaca is an enchanting city made even more accessible by Barbara’s familiarity with its offerings.  It is far removed from the violence of northern Mexico and deserves a greater following from Americans.  We were lucky to have our own personal guide but even more fortunate to explore this world heritage site.

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Lessons of the California Redwoods in Muir Woods

The tall, svelte redwood trees were once common throughout California’s valleys.  Because of unchecked logging, most stands disappeared. Less than five percent of the original two million acres of virgin forest remains today.  But thanks to their difficult location, the redwoods in the Muir Woods National Monument area were spared.  The trees are now also protected by Theodore Roosevelt’s proclamation making the area a national monument in 1908.

Having seen outings to the Muir Woods from San Francisco for years, my husband and I were finally paying our first visit.  The drive was through the densely populated bay area with no glimpse of what lay ahead.  Developments stopped as we passed through Mt. Tamalpais State Park.  But  it wasn’t until the turn-off from Highway 1 that the traffic and noise began to disappear.  Soon cell phone service stopped.   A steep, curvaceous road descended and placed us in the wonderland of coastal redwood trees – a world near the Pacific ocean but far away from the urban scene above.

The Muir Woods National Monument is on 295 acres donated by Congressman William Kent and his wife, Elizabeth Thacher Kent, who insisted that the monument be named after the conservationist, John Muir. Muir was a wanderer who studied at his own “university of the wilderness” and concluded that all living things had inherent value and deserved to live. He would be proud of the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy efforts today.

 Inside the monument area,  a two mile paved trail is the most popular although there are many more trails through the woods and over the hills.  Because it is an old growth forest, the trees are……… well, they’re old.  Most are 500 to 800 years old with the eldest having seen 1100 winters.  The park uses one fallen tree’s trunk to tag various human activities on  the tree rings.  It had lived over 1,000 years from 909 A.D. to 1930.  Columbus’ landing in 1492 happened two-thirds through that tree’s life.

A very clever park guide helped us appreciate the significance of the world’s tallest living organism.  Here is what we can learn from the redwoods.

1.  “Stand Tall and Proud” – The tallest redwood in the Muir Woods is over 250 feet tall but at other locations they can top out at 375 feet.  Compare this to the tallest trees in Texas such as the 133 foot Bitternut Hickory or the 140 foot Nuttall Oak.  Or better yet, compare with the smallest tree in the world  – the dwarf willow at three inches!

2.  “Live in a Cool Place” – The redwoods live in a narrow area along the coast of California.  They don’t like heat, do like fog and would never survive in Texas.

3.  “Drink Lots of Water” – They require 200 to 500 gallons of water a day –  three to seven times more than the average daily water use for Americans of 69 gallons.  The trees would be pretty thirsty in the dry summer were it not for the fog that carries moisture to the trees’ needles. Redwood creek also helps hydrate the trees.

4.  “Support Members of Your Community” – The trees do this through their root system which is only six to eight feet deep.  That sounds sufficient but it is the equivalent of a 5 foot 4 inch woman having a toe in the ground.  Since the roots are shallow, they have to spread 50 to 100 feet to provide enough ballast for the trees to remain upright and survive the winds.  Obviously, the roots will overlap and support the trees above.

5.  “Grow a Thick Skin” – Their bark is up to 12 inches thick which protects the tree from the elements.  The same tannic acid found in coffee, tea, and red wine makes the tree resistant to fire and insects.  With no susceptibility to disease, the number one “natural” killer is the wind.

6.  “Surround Yourself With Family” – A redwood cone is only the size of an olive.  Since only one in ten thousand cones grow into trees, the redwoods needed some help with fertility.  Nature provided it through burls, a dormant sprout that can be above or below ground.  The underground burls can sprout into new trees, forming a family circle.

Gratefully, the virgin redwood forests are protected.  But ninety-five percent of the redwood forests today have been cut at least once.  Only 21 percent of that acreage is owned by California and the federal government with the rest in private or corporate hands.   The challenge has been how to encourage the second-growth forest to minimize erosion, maintain wildlife and yet maximize timber production.  In the October, 2009 edition of National Geographic, Jim Able, a former industrial forester for Louisiana Pacific, describes his plan of culling the weakest and most poorly formed trees, leaving the strongest to thrive.  Some day, those saved trees will pay back the owners with huge harvests.

It was hard to look straight up at the Redwoods.  Our necks weren’t used to stretching that far.  But in the Cathedral Grove at Muir Woods, where trees circle around, it was enough to just sit and know they were with us and had been saved for our viewing.  As much as I hate to admit it, California wins the tall tree round.

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Experiencing the Hammam or Turkish Baths, at the Paris Mosque

Modeled after the Greek and Roman baths, the Hammam is a form of steam bath and means the spreader of warmth. The Ottomans sowed this Turkish variation throughout Europe. They often are associated with mosques as the baths comply with Islamic laws of purification and hygiene. It was no surprise then to learn of a Hammam at the oldest mosque in Paris, France – the Mosque de Paris. Betty Swasko, Tina Smith, and I were ready for the adventure.

Finding the baths was the first challenge. At the address given, a North African restaurant overflowed into a lovely garden. A waiter pointed us toward the mosque around the block. There, a garden and cool fountain welcomed us but no baths. An elderly man redirected us back to the restaurant. Finally, inside the restaurant, behind the pastry counter, were two green and red painted doors with a sign above one stating “Hammam” and a reversible placard that said “reserve aux femmes” or women only on that day. Cautiously, we entered.

After passing though a tiled antechamber, we arrived at the register with a cashier who acted as if she had never heard a word of English in her life. Gratefully, a departing customer helped with the options and suggested a 20 minute massage for 25 Euros and a 15 Euro trip through the baths. We placed our names on the massage list and slipped on some green, plastic sandals, a far cry from the traditional wooded clogs or patens, carved and decorated with silver and mother of pearl.

There were no signs in English, or French for that matter, except a recurring one that warned us to rinse before entering the baths. Blindly, we found our way to the locker room and changed into bathing suits. After first opening the door to a utility closet, we finally discovered the shower room where an employee used hand motions to be sure all rinsed before entering the baths.

Turkish Baths are very moist and gradually heat your body by increasing the temperature in each of the three rooms. The final room can be as hot as 140 degrees. A Tas, or bucket of cool water, is provided to cool your body and a return trip to the showers is recommended before advancing to a hotter room.

Women of all sizes, shapes, nationalities, and degrees of modesty casually moved about the rooms. We bypassed the first area as the benches were full. A steam sauna sat in the middle of the second room with two elevated platforms on either side. No benches were provided but other participants were lying on the floor of the platforms with their legs resting on the wall. It felt odd but that’s what we did. We learned the reason for lying on the floor in the next room.

The third room was significantly hotter. If we stood, steam swirled around our heads. To breathe, we had to lie prone on the marble floor. Across the aisle, a few women sat in a circular pool that was too hot for us. We were quickly ready for another shower. By the third visit to the shower room, the employee had softened a bit and actually smiled at us.

It was time for our massages and we returned to the vaulted , carved entry area where four massage tables stood, guarded by old masseuses wearing the traditional hijab covering their heads. They motioned us to the tables and we climbed up. What followed was not really a massage – more of an oil rub over all parts of the body. After the heat of the baths, the almond scented oil was the perfect antidote. However, my masseuse had a distracting hangnail and Tina’s lady only worked on her shoulders and back as she talked throughout the massage and even answered her cell phone.

No one had mentioned towels but after the massage, we were dry enough to change clothes. Upon leaving, we encountered a single American woman entering the baths looking as confused as we had earlier. It was nice to return the favor and help her with the options and the process.

In a Turkish travel site, the hammam was described as “wafting steam through which daily worries and concerns cannot penetrate.” Now that we know the routine, this description would be accurate, especially on a vacation.

Paris Mosque website

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What is There To do In Mt. Pleasant, Texas

Surrounded by lakes and woods in the heart of Northeast Texas, Mount Pleasant lives up to its name as a pleasing place to visit.  Four major lakes within 30 minutes of the town limits make this the Bass fishing capital of Texas.  A Blue Bird Trail and the Sleepy Hollow Daffodil Garden beckon in the springtime.  Its restaurant selections support Texas classics such as chicken fried steak, BBQ, and Tex-Mex but for the more adventuresome palate, there’s a nice variety.  Here are some suggestions for the day or overnight visitor as well as those with a more leisurely stay.


(1) Jo’s Antiques on the Square.  This 26 year old, quality antique store has been discovered by many Dallas and Houston clients and owner Jo Campbell knows their names and interests.  Her pieces all have stories and she has a large selection of R. S. Prussian porcelain. As an added bonus, her building dates from 1894, making it the oldest in Mt. Pleasant.  Jo also has an interest in the adjoining Old World Interiors, a gift shop with jewelry and home accents.
102 North Jefferson Avenue. 903.572.3173


(2) Rodeo with a Capital R.  There’s more than one opportunity to experience rodeo here.  The Mt. Pleasant Rodeo in May draws a large crowd of participants and fans. A local company, Priefert Ranch Equipment, manufactures the widely used bucking chute, a pen that allows riders to safely mount a bull before the gate opens.  If you miss the May event, the rodeo team at Northeast Texas Community College competes with 11 other colleges and their event is in October. And children can compete in an academic rodeo held during the Titus County Fair in October.

(3) Meson del Bajio.  This is truly a hidden gem.  If a friend had not recommended it, I would never have stopped at the wonderful real Mexican restaurant tucked behind mirrored doors in a tumble down strip center. The interior is filled with authentic Mexican furniture, including some antiques and a church door now used as a table.  Owner Gabriel Lopez hails from the lovely city of Guanajuato, Mexico and is proud of his authentic fare.  My chicken enchiladas with green chile sauce were not only delicious but were presented with fresh lettuce, tomato, crema, and avocado strips.
201 E. 1st Street. 903.575.0315 or 903.201.5604

(4)  For the sweet tooth visitors, Mt. Pleasant is a treasure and will satisfy any craving.



The Sweet Shop USA  is a transplant from Ft. Worth that sells wholesale high-end gourmet chocolate. But the good news is it has a gift shop that allows all to taste and purchase their products.  For the hard corps chocoholics, a tour can be arranged if notice is given in advance.
Call 1-800-222-2269 for tour information
1316 Industrial Road
The Sweet Shop USA

Golden Gals Candy sells freshly made pecan pralines in three flavors.  Other sweets are offered but the pralines rule.
210 W. 2nd Street.  903.577.3434
Golden Gal’s Candy Company






Laura’s Cheesecake and Bakery. This very popular bakery offers a nice selection of sandwiches and salads which can be topped off with a slice of one of Laura’s Cheesecakes. I was surprised to find grilled vegetables with my turkey sandwich on foccacio  bread – nice.  Their cheesecakes are well-known, having been featured in Southern Living magazine, and are shipped around the country.
Located on downtown Square, 109 N. Madison. 903.577.8177.
Laura’s Cheesecake

(5)  A VERY small historical museum is located down the circular stairway in the Mt. Pleasant Public Library.  Caddo Indians lived in the area as late as 1845 and a selection of their pottery is displayed.  With its beginnings underground,  the local lignite mining industry is over 100 years old.  Monies from the Republic of Texas and the Confederacy tie this old county into Texas’ history.  And my favorite was a 1870 Teacher’s contract that paid $800 for 32 weeks of instruction.
213 N. Madison.  903.575.4180
Mt. Pleasant Public Library

(6) Dellwood Park, at the east edge of town, has long, concrete sidewalks for running or strolling, tennis courts, open areas for soccer, painted bridges and fountains – a nice place to unwind after a day of visiting.
726 E. Ferguson Ave.


(7) Super Plaza Mercado.  Thanks to the large Hispanic population in Mt. Pleasant, this well stocked grocery store features many products used for traditional Mexican cooking. Fresh and dried chiles, queso fresco, masa and Mexican pastries add authenticity to any Mexican meal.  But it is also a great place to buy fresh meat and seafood, including options such as octopus!
1210 W. Ferguson.  903.575.9449

(8) Herschel’s Family Restaurant.  From the outside, this restaurant appears to be a Dairy Queen knock off.  But inside,  sports memorabilia decorates the front room and a surprising array of animal trophies fill the large party room in back.  Locals hang out here.  The #1 combo is the most popular breakfast selection while chicken fried steak or a baked potato dominate at lunch.
1612 S. Jefferson.  903.572.7801

(9) Delia’s Salvadorian Cuisine.  What a nice addition to the food scene in Mt. Pleasant.  The family’s grandmother, Delia, began the family restaurant tradition in El Salvador.  Her grandchildren have opened one here, introducing the local population to the papusa – hand made stuffed tortilla with cheese, beans, squash or meat. Try the black bean dip or the drink, ensalada de fruta.  The family even brings back moro and marnon from El Salvador for authentic flavoring.
1406 N. Jefferson.  903.577.1882

(10) The Agriculture Building at Northeast Texas Community College.  Ok, this is just outside of town but it’s worth the lovely ten minute drive to see a building of the future.  Equipped with green screens on the windows, a pond to collect and recycle rain water, and a solar-powered electrical system, the building has earned a platinum rating on LEED, the green building certification system.  We should all take notes.
Northeast Texas Community College

Other good restaurant choices are Mardi Gras, a locally owned Cajun restaurant, Luigi’s Italian Restaurant with its famous pink sauce, and Bodacious BARBQ, a regional favorite.

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Tracking a Carrot for Campbell’s Vegetable Soup

The year was 1964.  My father was a farmer in Plainview, Hale County, Texas and one of the first in the area to grow carrots, potatoes, and onions. He and his brother owned a produce shed that cleaned and bagged  vegetables before shipping.  Campbell Soup Company, the world’s largest maker and marketer of soup,  had just opened a new plant in Paris, Texas.  The company’s buyers came calling and soon Walker Brothers Produce had a contract to sell potatoes and carrots to Campbell Soup (CS).  It was an exciting time in our household.  For these reasons, I was curious how a carrot needed for a can of Campbell’s Vegetable Soup traveled today and what had changed since 1964.

The ingredients for the standard Campbell Soup Vegetable Soup have not varied much since its original production in1899.  Nor surprisingly, carrots, potatoes, corn, onion, and garlic still dominate the recipe.  A gradual lowering of the sodium content has been one nod to the push for a healthier life style. None of the ingredients for this soup come from abroad – a true “Made in America” product.  Carrots from California, Texas and Ohio, potatoes from Colorado, Texas and Kansas and onions from Idaho are examples of the nation wide scope needed to maintain the raw ingredients.

In my father’s time, individual field agents kept track of the progress of a crop.  It was important to them whether it rained on Charlie Walker’s carrots 400 miles away.   Today, buying is more centralized, uses computer quotes and is often completed with larger purchases from huge farmers who can grow, clean, cool, and send the produce.  Frozen and dried vegetables have also become a part of the process.

But there are still some individual carrot growers such as Tommy Jendrusch and Rick Harbison in McAllen, Texas who use their 1400 acres to sell vegetables  to Campbell Soup and Gerber’s. Over the last 20 years, hybrid varieties of carrots have at least doubled the yield and increased the carotene and color.  Their fields now have GPS coordinates and are numbered so that each load of vegetables can be traced to a specific block of land.  The Paris plant likes buying from these Texas farmers as the transportation cost is less and minimizes their carbon footprint.

The contracted carrots from the Rio Grande Valley farm are loaded in bulk onto a refrigerated truck maintained at 35 degrees and shut with a bolt seal to protect the integrity of the load.  The load is shipped to Paris and then quickly unloaded at the plant.  A devise called the “sputnik” crawls into the truck with a conveyor belt that gently pulls in vegetables from the lower part of the truck opening and delivers them to a second conveyor belt to be washed, sorted, and diced.

A giant vat is used to mix the ingredients according to a traditional recipe with modern technology directing the amounts needed.   Computers also monitor quality control as the soup progresses.  Soup is poured into individual cans and cooked.  The cans are made on site by the Silgan Container Company which also reduces transportation costs.  The classic labels made famous by the painter, Andy Warhol,  are last to be added.

The amount of soup made each year is determined by the customer and is called historic numbers.  Campbell’s, obviously, prefers cold winters and as an employee noted, “we’re not fans of global warming”.

A significant change from years past has been the packaging.  The standard pallet contains 170 cases but customers such as Sam’s, Costco’s and other club stores,  ask for and get different numbers of cans under the shrink wrap.

After canning, cooking, and packaging, the soup is ready to ship.  Campbell Soup allows its customers to use their own trucks or trucking companies to transport the soup. Many other manufacturing companies will limit access to  two or three trucking companies.  CS does not sell directly to the grocery stores.  Trucks deliver the pallets to distribution centers.  Our carrots could end up in any of the eleven near-by states served by the Paris plant.  We’re almost exactly in the middle of this territory which minimizes transportation costs for the customers.

In the end, our carrots were well traveled – by truck  from the farm field to produce sheds, the CS plant, distribution centers and grocery stores and by car to your home.  The price of gas has to affect the cost of the soup.  CS plants then must  use technology and efficiency to keep the cost of their soup lower.  This translates into more business and eventually, more jobs.

The basic process of making and transporting soup and its ingredients hasn’t changed that much over the last 46 years.  The trucks are now refrigerated,  bigger, and more efficient.  Technology directs the process today.  Produce is no longer raised on the Texas Panhandle but it still comes from American farms.  I can’t pretend that the carrots in the soup are from our farm but I’m happy to know some American farm children can still  make that claim.

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Mexico Celebrates Two Anniversaries in 2010

On a recent trip to Oaxaca in the far south of Mexico, I saw a countdown clock. On that day it was 21 days, five hours, 13 minutes and 35 seconds until September 16, 2010 – the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s Independence Day. A second celebration will take place on November 20th as the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. President Calderon declared 2010 as the “Ano de la Patria” or “Year of the Fatherland” for Mexico. Countdown clocks are in each state capital. I needed a quick review of Mexican history to understand the two celebrations and our neighbor’s roller coaster ride to the modern era.
In 1810, Father Manuel Hidalgo called for Independence from Spain in a shout out from his church in Dolores which is referred to throughout Mexico as “El Grito de Dolores”. After initially fighting each other, a strange alliance of Mestizos (mixed blood) and Indigenous people with the Creoles and other Mexican ex-royalists finally prevailed. The fighting was not pretty with rebel heads being hung on the outside of a granery in Guanajuato. It took 11 years to get to a “constitutional monarchy” in which General Iturbide became the First Constitutional Emperor. He didn’t last long and was deposed by our very own Santa Anna. In 1824, a constitution modeled after that of the United States was adopted.
Throughout the next 80 years, Mexico was a punching bag – constantly harassed and invaded. From 1846-1848, four American campaigns entered Mexican soil which included the occupation of Mexico City in 1847. This resulted in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that gave Texas, California and New Mexico to the U.S. for $15 million. When Benito Juarez suspended interest payments on loans to foreign countries (except those of the U.S.), France took the lead among the European nations and also captured Mexico City in 1861, placing Archduke Maximilian as second Emperor of Mexico. As French troops started to withdraw, Mexican Republicans moved in and executed Maximilian. Benito Juarez returned to power and governed until his death in 1872.
Porfirio Diaz won his first term as president in 1876 and literally ruled for eight terms. He suspended freedom of the press, dissolved local authorities, and enforced a “pan o palo”, “bread or beating” approach toward his followers. Even though he did bring in money for the country by foreign exploitation of Mexico’s wealth, only the upper crust benefitted.
In 1910, after more than 30 years of this dictatorship, an interesting coalition of Francisco Madero, General Victoriano Huerta, Emiliano Zapato, Pancho Villa and Venustiano Carranza came together to chase Diaz out of the country. This is the second celebration in Mexico on November 20th – the 100th anniversary of what is called the Mexican Revolution. All these men were to die in the next ten years as the new rules were sorted out and a second constitution adopted in 1917. It wasn’t until 1934 that Mexico got its “Honest Abe” in the election of Lazaro Cardenas who gave Mexico a chance to get back on her feet. Cardenas brought back organized labor and instituted land reform. He also did an amazing thing – he stepped down after his official six year term had ended – a tradition that continues to this day.
Mexico’s long lasting political party, PRI, began in 1929. Until 2000, it almost singlehandedly directed politics across Mexico. However, Vicente Fox broke the mode of sitting presidents selecting the next presidential candidate. He was elected in 2000 from the PAN (National Action Party) as was Felipe Calderon in 2010. Today, Mexico is a fully functioning democracy with three viable political parties.
In the evening of September 15th, President Calderon rang a bell, waived the Mexican flag, and shouted out “Viva Mexico” for the 200th time since the original “Grito de Dolores”. He presides over a very different country today. Newsweek recently selected Mexico as the 5th best place to live in the world among large countries. It notes the extensive young workforce, strong educational system, and generous infusion of monies from outside Mexico continue to make this an inviting place to reside. Its biggest PR problem is the perception abroad of a criminal state which prevents tourists and businesses from coming to Mexico. But for now, we should be happy for our neighbor’s dual celebrations. It’s been a hard road to travel.

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