Mary Clark, Traveler

The Art of Travel

The first decision to be made before traveling is where to journey. Widespread travel for the middle class exploded after World War II. Today, we are overwhelmed with the options available for exploring all parts of the United States and the world and the destination decision can be daunting. Yet, Alain de Botton, in his wonderful book, The Art of Travel, writes we should be more concerned with “how ” and “why” we travel rather than “where”.

De Botton’s first analyzes the anticipation of a trip, often the happiest part of a venture. I had a friend who could only relax when he had plane tickets safely hung under a magnet on his refrigerator. The departure date may have been six months hence but it made him smile to know a trip was planned. One reason anticipation can be so satisfying is that it focuses on the best possible, expected experience rather than the distractions of the real experience. As De Botton points out, the anticipation doesn’t factor in the “periods of boredom” or the “heat, flies and difficulties of hotel food” or the “financial alarm” as money flows out so quickly. Even the safely scripted tours to Cancun or the cruises of the Caribbeans must deal with hurricanes or plane delays, something our anticipation can more easily ignore.

De Botton also speaks to the “how” of traveling. For a pleasurable traveling experience, one should have a proper “traveling mind-set” and “receptivity is its chief characteristic”. This means we should be “alive to the layers of history beneath us”, find a supermarket fascinating, take notes and photographs, and risk getting run over as we stand on a traffic island admiring a building’s roof. He describes it as approaching a place with humility and no preconceived ideas of what is interesting. This is a different method then the usual “best” or “top ten” suggestions in guidebooks. And it’s certainly better than complaining when the destination is not like home.

The “why” of traveling will vary among us. Getting away from the pressures of home and work is a common reason. The need to relax and be refreshed also draws us away, especially to beautiful settings in the mountains or at the beach. In The Art of Travel, De Botton refers to William Wordsworth’s ode on the restorative power of nature even after we return:

Though absent long,
These forms of beauty have not been to me,
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet…
With tranquil restoration.

De Botton also identifies curiosity as a raison de voyager, with Alexander von Humboldt being one of history’s most curious. While he is known for scientific discoveries on his journeys, Humboldt’s incredible curiosity led him to know more of the earth and its inhabitants. And Nietzche is quoted as suggesting that travel is to gain strength through reflecting on past greatness or even learn how our societies have been formed by the past and so acquire a sense of continuity and belonging. “By gazing at old buildings, one can feel happy knowing he has grown out of this past as its heir and that his existence is justified.” Acquiring “life-enhancing thoughts” can be our souvenirs from a trip.

Upon return, our mind quickly sorts through the events of the journey, an instrument of “simplification and selection.” If our mind set has been receptive, as suggested by De Botton, the new experiences with food, mode of travel, architecture, and even getting lost will be the stories remembered. And if we remain receptive at home, our old neighborhood will be seen with fresh eyes, no longer blind to the wonders of this part of the world, “to notice what we have already seen”. On a recent trip to France, a Parisian acquaintance joined us for much of our touring. She later thanked us for allowing her to rediscover her own beautiful city, a gift travelers can provide their hosts.

Alain de Botton is a thoughtful writer with a wry sense of humor and a fresh approach to the art of travel. Anyone wanting to enjoy their trips on a deeper level will be delighted at this book.

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From Paris, Texas to Paris, France

Whether it’s your first, fourth, or 40th visit to Paris, France, the Grand Old Dame never disappoints. She hardly seems to age and is as beautiful now as when so many of the 18th and 19th century buildings were constructed. The challenge is to decide how to explore her. Here are some suggestions.

Art Museums come to mind first. The Louvre and Paris are joined at the hip. With 652,300 square feet of display space, you could spend your time here alone. But that would be unfair to the many other art homes in town. The Musee D’Orsay, with its impressionist collection, and the newest Musee du Quai Branley’s art from France’s colonial past art are two of the newer forums. An Art Museum Pass (purchased at any participating museum) will get you in quickly and is well worth the purchase. But, if you’re like me, two hours is max in a single museum, and that prevents an entire trip of masterpieces.

Check out the churches and cathedrals which seem to be on every corner. Notre Dame has just had the last scaffolding taken down after 23 years of restoration. The result is stunning in the sun. It shines and generates the same excitement as must have been felt in 1225 upon its completion. Choose two or three others to examine (Sacre Coeur and Sainte Chapelle are lovely).

Observe the French. They really do say things like “voila” and “ooo, la, la”. Be careful with your Texas friendliness. The French are more private than us and wouldn’t ask if we needed help even if we were hunched over a map and clearly lost. That would be implying we didn’t know what we were doing (actually quite true). If you want help, you should simply ask. They are also the most fashionable people on earth making their stores a delight. The French women wouldn’t think of wearing flats unless they have on boots. (The nice comfortable shoes American women use for traveling give us away.) Surprisingly, they do still wear hosiery and their cleavage is modestly reserved for the home.

Get a feel for the recent ethnic influences. Paris is loaded with residents from Africa and the middle East, most of them living in the outer districts. Great Tunisian and Turkish food are there for the asking. One of the most interesting new buildings in town is the Arab Center, literally across the Seine from Notre Dame. Its metal windows duplicate the lattice design of the Alhambra in Spain and the bookstore is filled with Arabic literature. The Center is quite close to one of the larger Mosques in town that also has Turkish baths. Our adventure there will have to be another story.

Walk the neighborhoods. We rented an apartment in the Marais area, close to the Pompidou Museum. Just a stroll down our street, Rue Rambuteau, revealed wonderful (tiny) restaurants, a flower shop, delis, a post office that will change your money, a couple of museums, a small, local enclosed garden with a ping pong table and sunbathers , and ending at the Place de Voges.. We were drawn into every store along the way by the sharp displays. Feel comfortable buying clothes at boutiques as the asking price there will be the same as in the large department stores. Discount prices or sales are, by law, only allowed twice a year which protects the small shop owner but not the consumer.

Eat, eat, and then eat some more. It’s hard to have a bad meal in Paris and easy to have a great one. Beginning with café au lait (or creme) in the morning and ending with snails and French wine in the evening, good food and drink surround you. From duck to sea bass to crepes, pastries and even seaweed, the choices are almost intimidating. At an outdoor restaurant at the Rodin Museum, I selected a Parmentier (new to me) which had layers of spinach, salmon, and creamy potatoes with gruyere cheese melted on top and pink peppercorns for color. And this was only a cafeteria.
And don’t forget the street and flea markets. The largest flea market in the world is here. At the smaller Puces de Vanves market on a chilly Saturday morning, we stopped at a booth selling pins of all kinds. One page displayed a collection of Eiffel Tower pins. On the top line, second from the left, was our very own Paris, Texas Eiffel Tower pin selling for six euros ($8)! Too bad we had left our sack full of the very same pins back at the apartment. We could have made enough money for dinner. Maybe next time.

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La Semana Santa in Sevilla, Spain

The use of drama in religion is universal. Hindu scripts date from the 4th century and include gods and heros. The stories of Ruth and King David are relived at synagogues. The Hajj pilgrimage features a symbolic stoning of the devil. Even the live manger scenes at some of Paris’ churches carry on a centuries old tradition of Christmas performances. But one of the most moving pageantries in the world is Holy Week in Seville, Spain – La Semana Santa – where the story of the crucifixion is played out in the streets.
I first learned of this event from an advertisement. It was a travel poster of a silver Virgin Mary, lit by thousands of candles, surrounded by as many flowers, being carried on a float at night through the narrow passageways of Seville. It seemed so magical and beautiful and I wanted to be there. Fortunately, a niece decided to study in Spain several years ago and my sister-in-law, daughter, and I joined her for this ancient event.
The first of the 57 processions begins Palm Sunday night. During Holy Week, every church in Seville (really every church in Spain) will bring their Virgin Mary statue out of the church, process to the cathedral, pass through its aisles, and return the prized possession to her home for another year. There are day marches with children, silent processions, evening parades and one that starts at midnight. Some are brief and others miles long. They can be viewed from the streets, balconies, grandstands or on television. School is out and the sidewalk cafes fill with families visiting and children playing, awaiting the next procession.
A procession announces its coming with La Marcha, often a brass band. Also at the beginning is La Cruz de Guia, a banner identifying the church. Even if you aren’t a member of the church, you can walk with the next group, La Bulla, the crowds who join the parade. The largest part of the procession consists of Los Nazarenos, members of the church’s fraternity who perform public acts of religious observance and penance as well as charitable and community work. You can’t miss them. They wear long habits, pointed hoods which allow only eyes to peer out and often carry candles. The robes and hoods bear a disturbing resemblance to the Ku Klux Klan’s uniforms but the Nazarenos’ need for anonymity is different. Participation in the Holy Week processions is a penance and the covering allows even the royalty to participate without being recognized.

Next is El Paso de Cristo, a float with an image of Christ, usually on the cross or struggling with the weight of the cross. It is carried by 20 to 30 men who go unseen under the platform. The Penitents, also Nazarenos but with flat hoods, follow, carrying a cross and often barefoot. And finally, El Paso Palio, the float of La Virgen, that dramatizes the grief of a mother for the death of her son. All observers stand and are silent as this scene passes, even the children and those drinking at bars. Occasionally, a person is moved to sing a saeta, a spontaneous, improvised lament. One evening at dinner, I stepped outside our restaurant on a porch. Only a waiter and I stood watching a silent procession pass by on the very narrow, ten foot wide lane. We were at eye level with Jesus and Mary on their floats and so close, we could have touched them. I remembered the words of Orlando Gibbons’ beautiful hymn, “Drop, drop, slow tears and bathe those beauteous feet”.

The most beloved Virgin is La Macarena, patron saint of matadors and no kin to the song. On Holy Thursday, we waited in light rain for one and a half hours to see her before she left the basilica on her pilgrimage to the cathedral. The Sevillan women were all in black that special day – dress, stockings, mantilla stiffened by shell, lace gloves, and stiletto heels. (I, literally, felt flat-footed.) Men and children also dressed their best. The line circled the tearful Virgin who is later carried on a solid silver paso with hundreds of candles and flowers and does not leave the sanctuary until midnight.
We joined the crowds again that night waiting for La Macarena to pass by. It was a two hour wait before her huge procession reached us at 2 a.m. The short walk to our hotel took another hour. At 11 a.m. the next morning, our taxi encountered the end of the Macarena procession slowly lumbering its way back to her church. Her journey would last twelve hours.
There are many tourists in Seville for La Semana Santa and yet the event has not become commercialized. Through the pageantry and the enormous community participation, generations have connected to the tragedy of the passion. It is a tribute to a church who wanted to bring its central story to the people and to a city that understands the power of drama.

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What Is There To Do in Hugo, Oklahoma

For native Parisians years ago, “going across the river” meant a trip to the Texoma Lounge or beer stores and dance halls that used to be located south of Hugo, Oklahoma. With the formation of Sun Valley and Toco, the need to cross the Red River diminished and most of the night life died out. For more recent residents of Paris, an outing to Oklahoma has usually meant a trip to Broken Bow. But more of us should be heading due north. Hugo is well worth a visit.
Traveling just 25 miles north brings you to a town that is quite different from Paris although we can both thank France for our names. Our Oklahoma neighbor was named after Victor Hugo, French author of Les Miserables. It has an eclectic list of claims to fame – home to three wintering circuses, the second largest herd of elephants in the country, birthplace of Bill Moyers, Busy Bee restaurant, Hugo Lake, and one of the Choctaw Nation’s casinos.
Fifteen percent of Hugo’s population is Native American and the largest employer in the county is the Choctaw Nation. This is evident with a quick stop at the Choctaw Nation Casino, just north of the Red River.

From a small trailer house to place off track bets, the casino has expanded over the years to house hundreds of slot machines and gaming tables. They are constructing a new facility complete with a hotel. For those who care to indulge in a little roll of the dice, it is quite handy.

Hugo earned the name “Circus City of the U.S” with three different circuses wintering there. Many of the artists return to their own countries for the off season but the animals remain. When we visited in February, the paraphernalia required of a traveling circus was scattered around the headquarters – folded tents, wooden poles, ticket kiosks, trailers of all sizes and shapes, and portable, metal fences used to enclose animals. It’s better to visit before they begin their circuit in March.

An impressive draw anytime of the year is the Endangered Ark, a haven for retired elephants and for encouraging reproduction by the endangered Asian elephant. If you call ahead, your family can receive a tour of the BIG barns and lovely grounds. Call Kristin Parra 580.326.2233.

Continuing in the circus theme is the Mount Olivet Cemetery, final resting place for “all the showmen under God’s Big Top”. The headstones have playful pictures and carvings of elephants, trapeze artists, and circus tents. Engravings reflect a love of performing. “Loyal. Queen of the Bareback Riders” reads one monument. “May All Your Days Be Circus Days” advises another. The cemetery also draws rodeo fans. Lane Frost, for whom the movie “8 Seconds”was made, and Freckles Brown, rodeo’s all-time bull riding legend, are both buried here. There’s no place like this in the country and well worth a stop.

Lunch time in Hugo has some enticing options. If you haven’t had enough of the big top, try eating at Angie’s Circus Diner, which is filled with circus memorabilia. The most famous eatery in town is The Busy Bee, an old fashioned diner with a grand total of 10 seats at the counter. When I worked at the Lamar County Attorney’s office 28 years ago, we used to close occasionally for lunch and head here for their incredible hamburgers. I was thrilled to discover last month that these burgers are still as good as I remember.
Hugo was established in 1902 as a terminal town for the Frisco railroad at a time when Oklahoma was still officially Indian Territory (and Paris was 63 years old). The current Depot was built in 1914 and has been restored as a museum. An original Harvey House Restaurant, once part of the nation’s largest restaurant chain, has also been restored and a buffet lunch is served each week-day. The museum is worth some time and is open all year.
Hugo offers some interesting lodging. The Old Johnson House Inn, now a bed and breakfast, was built in 1920. Metra Christopherson, a transplant from Arizona, is owner and chef. Thanks to her gourmet cooking, an impressive breakfast spread is served to guests. She is also available for catering events at the house.
If you have ever wished you could spend the night at Pat Mayes Lake in a nice cabin with a fireplace, then you should try Hugo Lake, just east of the town. Twenty six cabins hug the shore with lake views. A marina is available and the angling good according to my fisherman friend and Hugo native, Ed Ellis – especially the crappie.

Hugo and Choctaw County are a part of a three county consortium that is developing the Kiamichi Trace – a pathway along the Kiamichi River starting at the border of Arkansas. The Caddo Indians moved south along this waterway to the Red River for their winter campground and back north for the summer. Check their website at for information on what’s happening in Hugo, Choctaw County, and along the river. You’ll be surprised at the offerings.

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Traveling with Aunt Terry

Terry is not my aunt. She is my sister-in-law. But we often travel together. “I’m the tia” she would say to everyone. “Tia”, aunt in both Spanish and Italian, could be understood in Italy, Spain, and Central America where she visited her nieces and nephew in their education and Peace Corps experiences. Of course, the words preceding “tia” were always in English but each culture seemed to understand her relationship.
An urbanite, she has lived in New York City for over 40 years and worked as a recruiter for one of the city’s most prestigious law firms. Yet Terry was ready whenever I called for a foreign adventure, regardless of whether it was an urban or rural trip. I planned the trip and she provided the greatest company. Fortunately, our nieces and my son lived in interesting places such as Florence, Seville, and the campo of Honduras and Guatemala and they were thrilled to have their Aunt Terry visit.

Packing was easy for Terry – just wear black and accessorize with red scarves and layers of jewelry. She once described her traveling wardrobe as being appropriate for an Italian widow. Her hair got redder and more noticeable over the years although she always brought a selection of brightly colored baseball hats to cover the tint if needed. Shawls were preferred to jackets. On a trip to Guatemala, Terry arrived in what appeared to be black ballet slippers. When we expressed concern about the walking we would do, she quickly assured us that she had the shoes resoled and proudly showed off the thin, new rubber soles. Somehow, those shoes were sufficient for climbing hills, crossing lakes, and slogging through the frequent rain. When Terry was wrapped in her black pants and shawl, red scarf, pink baseball cap, big sunglasses and red lipstick, people would literally turn and stare. But she always blamed the stares on the niece or the nephew we were walking with.

Over the years, Terry’s interest in different culinary experiences expanded. If she found a dish she liked, she would order it again and again. She requested Puttanesca spaghetti, ensalada mixta all over Italy. As far as Terry was concerned, Coca Cola went with anything and all fish required ketchup. Fortunately, both Coca Cola and ketchup are universal foods. She described cappucinos as tasting like mud and never drank coffee at all until she discovered the mocha latte with whip cream at Starbucks. Wine was a requirement in the evening regardless of whether it was sangria or chianti. Actually, she could be talked into wine at lunch, especially if it was raining. One of our most intimate talks was on a miserable, rainy day at San Gimignano, Italy. There were few tourists out and we could only dash between stores and sights. By 11:30 a.m. we were depressed and wandered into a restaurant for an early lunch. Two and half hours and a bottle of wine later, the weather was of no import.

Terry would say all New Yorkers are starved for children. This meant every child was a wonderful distraction for her. She talked in English to them regardless of the country. All children were adorable and were addressed as “darling” “honey” or “honey bunny”. She often found children more interesting than adults and would spend time playing and talking with them rather than engaging in stilted adult conversation. She never met an ugly child. She has an infectious laugh and kids always loved playing with her.

The best part of traveling with Terry was and is her incredible flexibility. She goes on the trip for the opportunity to see her nieces and nephews and the rest is just icing. She stays quite cool if the bus is late or the restaurant closed or there’s unexpected rain. Museums were interesting but not a requirement. She could always find someone to talk to or a child to play with. She loved living in the moment on her trips and always commented on how greaaaaaat it was not to be working. Her only requirement was an afternoon nap and she was good for any adventure.

I know she swallowed some concerns when we decided to travel in Honduras and Guatemala. In Guatemala she was sure “something” was crawling up her legs. Her greatest fear was getting dengue fever. When I had appendicitis at the beginning of our trip in Honduras and we had to return to the capital for medical care, she was secretly happy that she wouldn’t have to spend the night in the dengue fever areas where our niece lived. Despite the trip being cut short, she went home with great stories which she always shared with her myriad of friends. In fact, travel stories were her souvenirs. She could make any experience sound more dangerous than it probably was.

For these reasons, I will always travel with Aunt Terry. She brings a cosmopolitan flair to the deepest jungles. And how could that not be fun!

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A Family Outing on the University of Oklahoma Campus?

Not everyone has season tickets to the University of Oklahoma’s football or basketball games. And few of us take courses there. But the University’s campus is much more than sports and academics. In fact, a family trip to Norman can please every age group.

The University of Oklahoma’s art collection was been years in the making, beginning in 1936 with the donation of a large collection of East Asian Art. In 1971, the Museum moved into a permanent facility built by Mr. and Mrs. Fred Jones in memory of their son, Fred Jones, Jr., a former student of the school. The Lester Wing, constructed in 2005, is the latest addition and the most beautiful. Galleries are housed in a series of wings with glass skylights, allowing maximum natural light. Each wing is a sleek, vertical, white limestone rectangle with a pyramidal slate roof. There’s even a rounded, winged sphinx guarding the entrance to this part of the museum.

Tucked in one of the wings is the magnificent Weitzenhoffer Collection. The gift from Clara Weitzenhoffer was the largest art gift ever made to a public University in the United States. The home setting displays the remarkable French Impressionist collection of the Weitzenhoffer family, complete with their original furniture. A Gaugain rests above one fireplace with Claude Monet supervising another. A Toulouse Lautrec piece appears behind the arm chair and Voillard peers over a side table. The book shelves casually display an impressive18th Century Chinese Export Porcelain collection including a large number of porcelain Dalmatians. The exhibit is a peek into a family’s actual use of fine art in its everyday life. Mom will like this.
Take a break with the kids and drive the short distance to the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, another collection made possible by a wealthy Oklahoma oil family. Often a Natural History Museum will send children screaming. But this one is crammed with child friendly displays, huge dinosaurs, and some superlative remains from the Mesozoic Era. Oklahoma is well represented in the journey from earth’s birth four and one-half billion years ago through the end of the ice age. For a large part of that time, Oklahoma was under water or hanging out down in Peru where six and seven feet tall insects were prevalent.
Our guide pointed out Oklahoma’s contributions to the Dinosaur era. A pin head Cotylorhynchus was an early resident of Norman and the Brontosaurus from the OK Panhandle is 94 feet long, the longest in the world. Visit the Cretaceous, a friendly, “granola eating dinosaur”, who represents the era when Oklahoma was “beach front property”. We learned Ft. Sill, Oklahoma has the richest source of Permian fossils in the world and many of its beautifully preserved animals are on display. It’s hard to realize that the red dirt of Oklahoma is 300 million years old and for that reason alone, deserves more respect than it usually gets.
The final stop is for Dad – the National Weather Center. It is home to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which gives weather forecasts for the entire nation. The Center was born from a natural disaster on May 3, 1999 when dozens of tornadoes pounded Oklahoma and the Mid-West and killed 44 people. Thanks to the collaboration of the State of Oklahoma, the University of Oklahoma, the U.S. Military, and FEMA, the forces of academia, government and the military were brought together to establish the weather center. The facility was just opened in 2006.
According to Dr. Kevin Kloesel, Associate Dean of the College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences (whew, what a title), the Center’s most important research at this time is on water issues such as droughts, hurricanes, agriculture sustainability, and climate. They are also the world’s experts on the use of radar (including C-band Doppler radar) to see directly into tornadoes and hurricanes. In 2009, the world’s largest tornado project will unfold with 30 different vehicles hosting radar ready to track a storm. Tornado chasers love this place. Tours are available to help make sense of it all and include a visit to the Severe Storm Lab with its 24 hours per day forecasters as well as the outdoor Observation deck. Reservations are REQUIRED. They can be booked two weeks in advance and are not open on the week-end. This stop requires planning but is worth the effort.
Today, the University of Oklahoma campus is much more than an academic center for its students. Now the whole family can all learn from its offerings to the public. You just have to cross the Red River to make it happen.
Before you go…
Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art555 Elm AvenueNorman, OK 73019-3003405.325.3272
Sam Noble Museum of Natural History
2401 Chautauqua Avenue
Norman, Oklahoma 73072-7029
National Weather Center
120 David L. Boren BlvD.
Norman, OK 73072

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Learning to Fish on Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

Keith Enloe arrived in a 522VX Ranger Bass Boat. He was surprisingly agile considering his six feet six inches height and 330 pound weight. By appearances he should have played football but basketball was his love and in his day he could jump 38 inches. A broken ankle shattered that dream and now he makes a living as a fishing guide and instructor on Lake of the Ozarks where he grew up.
It wasn’t our first time to fish but neither my daughter nor I really understood the basics nor knew the lingo of fishing. Keith was the man to get us started.
First, there was the lake itself. Once the largest man-made lake, the numbers for the Lake of the Ozarks are impressive – 1,150 miles of shoreline equaling that of California, 100,000 boats, and 45,000 docks. Since it is located only three hours from each of Kansas City and St. Louis, many second homes are built here with the required extra nautical toys. Thirteen pound bass have been caught and each fishing guide has his or her favorite spot. On a holiday week-end, it can have a rush hour traffic feel with the numbers of boats using the lake. However, the morning of our lesson was overcast and the lake relatively calm.

We were after bass. There were plenty of other fish to try for – catfish, carp, crappie, buffalo, sunfish, blue gill, walleye, and gar. But it was the “green sided monster” we wanted to catch. This would require the right bait and place. Keith started pulling out necessary equipment from the boat’s treasure chests. He was quite proud of the ranger boat noting that it would cost $60,000 today. The long chests had holes for the fishing poles to set in. Other chests contained books, bait, lines, knives, tools, wet storage for the fish, cool storage for drinks and one for trash. Our poles were soon hooked with the appropriate multi-colored plastic worms.

The boat was so steady we could stand to cast. Keith gave his instructions. Pull the pole back. Bring it forward, let it go at “11 o’clock” and then allow the line to fall to the bottom. Tighten the line and gradually reel it in. We “caught” the bottom a lot. That’s OK, he said, “you’re feeling the bottom.” “You’re in the right spot.” He was irritated about the junk on the bottom of the lake such as trees and brush. Those aren’t needed to attract fish according to our knowledgeable guide. We had a few nibbles and a few real bites. Keith noted that the main mistake of beginners is not setting the hook when they first feel the bite. Bass’ mouths have bones on the top and you have to hook it hard.

It began to lightly rain which for fishermen is a good thing. Rain stirs up the lake and fish don’t know if it’s food or rain. Currents can affect fish in the same manner. There’s debate on whether moon cycles encourage fish to bite but there’s no debate that they are as sluggish in heat as we humans are.
The showers came and went as we explored a couple of sites. Clearly, Keith enjoyed visiting while we continued to cast. “Who are you supporting for president?” he asked with a mischievous grin. We all agreed people were over their head in debt and some banks deserved their troubles. Lake politics entered the conversation when he noted the lack of zoning restrictions in the area and the incredible number of boats.
We were getting wet and needed to come in. But there was some thing hypnotic about the casting, like one more pull on the slot machine. At this point in our fishing careers, we were just proud to have a good cast. Neither Ellen nor I caught a “real” fish and yet it was more fun than we expected. The investment of time and money is too high to become a serious fisherwoman but I am closer to understanding the allure of angling – thanks to a good fishing guide and a beautiful lake.

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On Tunisian Medinas and Siracusa’s Fish Market

The shopping mall has been with us for over 50 years and the modern supermarket started with a Piggly Wiggly in 1916. But their predecessors began centuries ago. I was reminded of that on a recent trip to Tunisia and Sicily, fascinating destinations that lie just across the Mediterranean Sea from each other – each with its own unique market places.

Medinas were originally the actual walled cities of Northern Africa. The community lived and worked inside the compound for safety. Today most of the population of Tunisia’s towns have moved beyond the gates, but the commerce (especially for tourists) continues in its ancient setting. To stroll through the narrow, cobblestone lanes, with awnings blocking the hot sun and shopkeepers barking their wares, is to join generations of previous shoppers.

The Arabs long ago understood the idea of clustering similar products. Just as many Red Lobster restaurants are near an Olive Garden to encourage traffic, shops in medinas were arranged by Souqs that identify different commercial areas. In the Tunis medina, the Souq-el Attarine or Perfume Makers Souq dates from the 13th century. In the Souq Etouffes, stalls still sell cloth and clothes. Some of the Souq’s products have changed. The Souq el Berka originally sold prisoners of pirates for slaves. It is now, ironically, a gold market where young lovers come to buy the ring, bracelet, and necklace set required for a proper wedding.

Shopkeepers quickly size up your nationality and try to guess the appropriate language of greeting. Since there were few Americans traveling in Tunisia, we were most often welcomed with a “Good Morning, Madame. British?” French was the second inquiry. A good keeper could keep guessing – “Francaise” “Deutsch” “Espanol” “Italiano”. The ultimate was a greeting in Russian. Once the language is established, the negotiations begin.

There are no published prices on products in the Medina. Because of the proximity of similar products (“stores” are really stalls six to eight feet wide), an inquiry or two will provide a sense of a product’s beginning price. Guide books suggest bargaining hard by starting at one-third of the price. Sounds easy, right? It was hard to even start at half the price until I got taken. First set of tablecloths seemed like a steal at a finally negotiated price of $10 each. But then a vendor next door stated his set pricing at $5 each. Oh, well, price averaging helped ease the pain of loss.

Just across the Mediterranean, on the island of Sicily, Siracusa hosts a wonderful outdoor market every morning. Fresh seafood dominates, but the sales technique was unique and amusing. Ok, you are probably reading this at your kitchen table on Sunday morning. I want you to engage the sullen teenager across the table from you ( a spouse will do in a pinch). Tell him or her that you are both fishmongers in Italy and are going to compete for customers. Now, in a very loud voice (don’t hold back), yell “pesci fresci”. (or for those who don’t speak Italian, “pes kee, fres kee” meaning fresh fish) The startled teenager is now supposed to echo back “pesci fresci” in an equally powerful manner. Soon you should be dueling it out by competing for the loudest voice. For real authenticity, hang a cigarette loosely from your mouth!

In strolling down the seafood stalls in Siracusa, your choice of fish includes octopus, squid, tuna, shrimp, sword fish, salt cod, clams, eels and some with unfamiliar names such as “lampuche”. Also available are stalls of beautiful eggplant, cauliflower, capers, real sun-dried tomatoes, olives galore, chestnuts, almonds, bags of oregano and sesame, bunches of cilantro, pecorino cheese, plums, apples, bananas, red pepper, radicchio, cactus, fennel, olive oil, vinegar and fresh baked breads – all just crying to be taken on a picnic.

Obviously, American malls don’t have the rich history of a medina with its shops, homes and mosques. But the arrangement of clustered stores, coffee shops (minus the hookahs), and restaurants in North Park Mall is directly connected to the layout of a medina. And Kroger’s fresh produce department in Paris is arranged to imitate an outdoor Italian market. It’s a nice human connection. Now, if we just had the fishmongers.

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Election Day in Egypt

I watched Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at 7 a.m., November 5th, in a hotel room in Cairo, Egypt. There were not shouts of joy in the street at the time. It was too early for the newspapers headlines to reflect the victory. But later, the excitement of his election became apparent.
Under the People to People Ambassadorial program, a delegation of 25 lawyers, with their leader, Richard Pena, former president of the State Bar of Texas, traveled to Cairo to meet with Egyptian lawyers and law professors. On that election day, we were received by Dr. Ahmed Fathi Sorour, president of the People’s Assembly – a position equivalent to our speaker of the house. His Masters of Education was from the University of Michigan where he was most impressed with our emphasis on human rights. Dr. Fathi’s recent book, “Facing Terrorism by Law” is a treatise on the balance of rights and national security needed to deal with those who wish us harm.
When asked about Obama’s election, Dr. Fathi responded with “chapeaux (hats off) to the Americans” on this election of Obama and of human rights. He hoped it would finish a period of conflict between blacks and whites. He considers the U.S. to be courageous in its respect for human rights.
An afternoon meeting began with the Dean of Cairo University’s Law School which serves 30,000 students. Egypt based its law on the French Civil Code but many of their professors are American trained. The Dean also extended his congratulations to Americans for their election of a black president. Their university closely follows our treatment of terrorists as Egypt has also had incidents of persons using violence for political gain.
Later in the week, a visit to the impressive Alexandria Library provided an encounter with its director, chief librarian and staff. They first congratulated us with “great joy” on the election. One felt it was “breaking the paradigm” and hoped we could now finish the agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis.
Senator Ismail Serageldin, director of the library, went further. Because of his Harvard training, he knew civil liberties had been abridged four times in U.S. history – the Alien Sedition Act under John Adams, Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, the Japanese internment during World War II, and Guantanamo and the declaration of enemy combatants. He considered only Lincoln’s act as legitimate. Guantanamo’s preventative detention cannot “square” with the presumption of innocence and the right to silence cannot “square” with torture.
Egypt has lived under “emergency law” since Mubarak became president in 1981. All of the speakers recognized their country lacks our emphasis on civil rights. It is, they said, why they need the United States to continue to be the world leader in enforcement of individual rights. Terrorism requires a “wise balance” of rights and national security as Senator Serageldin acknowledged. All wanted our experience to help guide them as they press for more civil rights. And that is why the legal community in Egypt was so encouraged by the election of Barack Obama. Yes, he was a black man with African roots but he was also a constitutional law professor. And all of them understood the significance of that knowledge.

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The Desert Road from Cairo to Alexandria

The Desert Road from Cairo to Alexandria is a swift journey from Egypt’s past to its future. In parting Cairo, we crawled through a few of its poorer neighborhoods where camels trotted down narrow alleyways and donkeys pulled trash-laden carts. The dust shrouded Giza pyramids appeared suddenly, facing some of Egypt’s most luxurious hotels. And mountains of nearby sands gave notice of the approaching desert.
Despite its exotic name, the Desert Road is now a four to six lane toll-way reducing the trip to Alexandria to three hours, a far cry from the multi day experience of the past. Thanks to the construction of the Aswan Dam, Egypt controls the distribution of water through the Nile and its tributaries. The fields along the road use this source to irrigate olive, apple, orange and banana orchards, vineyards, date palms, and fields of cabbage, corn and other vegetables. We passed small trucks filled to the brim with tomatoes grown in nearby greenhouses. The government has encouraged cultivation by providing land to would be farmers who are allowed to keep their profits. The farms alternated with new “compounds” – walled and gated subdivisions serving Cairo’s commuters.
Along the road were glimpses of the past as men in the long, flowing galabyas worked the fields or tended goats. Women were more likely to be covered completely in burkas than in the cities. Stretches of barren, dry sand encroached on farms. And pigeon towers adjoined many homes. These cone head hives house trained pigeons who attract fellow birds to roost in the punctured holes. Pigeons, the “food of King Farouk”, are served grilled or stuffed with rice and are very popular with Egyptians.
Large, modern roadhouses appeared regularly providing gasoline, food, small stores, cappuccino and an occasional mosque. Children’s amusement parks with names like “Week-end” and “Aqua City” hinted at the heavy use of the road for vacationing Egyptians. And a large prison seemed appropriately placed.
As we approached Alexandria, Egypt’s emphasis on international trade became obvious. Its suburbs host factories that produce cotton ware for such U.S. companies as Docker and Timberland. Because of the duty free zone status, clothes’ labels can read “made in the U.S.A.”. Pharmaceutical companies, Pepsi, Ikea, and General Motors are all present as well as Egypt’s thriving natural gas and gasoline refineries. Yet nearby, hand-poled boats are still used to harvest marsh reeds for basket making as in the time of Moses.

Alexandria soon arrived with its modern malls and free-standing McDonalds. The beautiful corniche avenue, built by the city’s businessmen, weaves along the Mediterranean Sea past waves of apartment buildings used by Cairo’s elite in the summer. A beautiful Four Seasons hotel reflects this city’s current international status while newly discovered Roman ruins provide proof of its past glory.

But today, the jewel of the coast is the stunning, six-year old Alexandria Library, funded primarily through UNESCO and U.S. aid. Its goal of being the center of Middle Eastern learning and Arab reform are lofty and exciting. Twice monthly, dialogue forums provide free exchange of ideas. The location adjacent to the University of Alexandria assures heavy use by students of its 600,000 volumes and the large digitalized library. Because Egypt recognizes Israel as a country, the library also serves as a neutral forum to promote resolution of the Palestinian issue. A science museum and planetarium support the Academy of Science that was begun in 1798. It’s a very busy place.
With its 20 million inhabitants, Cairo still dominates the economy of the country. Tourists are more likely to visit the pyramids than any other site. The road to Alexandria, though, tells the story of Egypt’s expanded development which the government hopes will provide needed employment. But it also leads you to the clean, fresh air of the sea, an alluring prospect indeed.

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