Mary Clark, Traveler

Eighteen Hours in Dubai via Emirates Airlines

I once had a Dallas friend suggest going to DFW Airport in the mornings just to watch the Emirates Airlines Dubai-DFW flight land.  The airline uses the Airbus A380 for its long distance hauls, the giant of all commercial planes that seems to lumber onto the runway.  It can hold 550 passengers and the wingspan snugly fits into a football field.   I always wondered who flew that exotic route until their fares got cheap and an opportunity beckoned.  For under $900, we booked tickets to Ethiopia with an overnight stay in Dubai.
The flight between DFW and Dubai is long – 14 ½ hours going and 16 hours returning.  Yet, the Airbus offered a great movie selection and a surprising amount of room, even in the economy section.  Plentiful bathrooms with soft lighting, adjustable water temperature, wood trim and faux marble countertops were available.  Food menus offered Middle East and western choices.  Emirates Airlines has a force of 13,000 international attendants, all living in Dubai.  Only about 300 are Americans.  On the flight going, we had representatives from twelve countries, including the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Singapore and Australia.  This diffusion of work among “foreigners” would be typical of everywhere we went in Dubai. 
Thanks to our American passports, customs at the Dubai airport was almost a wave through, requiring only a photo of our iris to be taken.  The taxi driver to our hotel was Pakistani, as were the rest of our drivers.  Another taxi ride took us to Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, opened in 2010.  It is located in the Dubai Mall built in 2008.  To make our 4:30 appointment, we had to hurry through the huge shopping arena filled with familiar stores such as The Pottery Barn, Gap and Banana Republic.  Yet, scores of gold stores and Arabic women’s clothing offerings confirmed our presence in one of the Arabian world’s great shopping cities.
The crowd going up the Burj Khalifa was a mix of foreigners, mostly independent travelers.  The only tour I saw was of Chinese.  A smooth one minute elevator ride ascended, gently stopping at the 124th floor.  Viewing was available inside and out.  The best weather in Dubai begins in October with clear skies.  Unfortunately, our September visit was still during days of dust storms.  Visibility was adequate for about two miles, allowing us to take in the wonder of Dubai architecture but not the famous Palm Islands built into the Persian Gulf.  In the distant, the Burj Al Arab, the world’s only seven star hotel, appeared to be sailing through the dust. 
Telescopes were available for real time viewing but also revealed the land before development – a scant 10 to 15 years ago.  Until 2004, when Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum decided to make his country into a business showpiece, the barren desert reached up to the shores.  Since then, constructions cranes can hardly keep up with the building.  At one point, Dubai had one-fourth of the world’s cranes working on its development.  Despite the added hotels, the average price is still $300 per night, going as high as $1600 for a night at the Burj Al Arab.
Our glasses fogged up from the heat when we stepped onto the balcony area of the Khalifa.  Selfies dominated as visitors of all ages and colors wanted photos of their faces silhouetted against building tops and hazy sky.  Narrow windows were available for those who wanted to slip cameras through and take pictures without glare of the glass.   Upon return to earth, we heard a call to prayer in the mall but without many apparent takers. 
Our next Pakistani taxi driver provided inside information on living in Dubai.  Workers from different countries self-segregate in housing and even in sending their children to schools with their own teachers.  They won’t combine into a public school , he said, as religion must be taught there.   Most Pakistani workers are men and don’t have family in Dubai because of the expense. The population of the United Arab Emirates is about three million native born and six million foreigners.

We arrived at the Dubai Museum in the tiny historical area that has been preserved.  Located in the oldest building in town, the fort museum is well done and takes you from Bedoin tents to modern architecture.  A video documented changes in the city by decades.  And a display of 3,000 year old pottery found in the area confirmed the location’s long history of trade.  A free Koran was given at the museum’s exit.

We had hoped to make the gold souk but lack of sleep caught up with us.  Instead, we walked the streets near our hotel, filled with gold stores, each store filled with buyers.  Dubai was an early trading center for jewels beginning with pearls but now gold dominates.  Prices were by the ounce but we weren’t in the market – at least not that night.  But it had been a beautiful introduction to Dubai’s offerings and maybe there will be another chance, especially if Emirates Airlines stays competitive.

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Celebrating Meskel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with young Rotarians

Bonfire built in center of Meskel Square
In Ethiopia, the word meskel has a triple meaning.  It refers to a beautiful yellow daisy that blooms in September.    Flying into Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, fields of the golden flowers were visible from the air.  On a spiritual level, meskel means cross in Ge’ez, the ancient language of the Ethiopian Orthodox church.  The final understanding of Meskel is the festival held in September to celebrate the finding of the true cross in the fourth century AD by Queen Helena, mother of Constantine, First Christian Roman Emperor. Tradition holds smoke from a bonfire in Jerusalem led Helena to find the cross on which Jesus was crucified.  Parts of this cross are claimed in churches throughout Europe and Ethiopia’s remnants are kept in the Gishen Mariam monastery to the north of Addis.
Priests and Deacons enter Meskel Square with choirs
We knew our last day in Ethiopia coincided with the Meskel Holiday.   It is celebrated throughout the country but in Addis Ababa, the large Meskel amphitheater shaped square fills each year with half a million devotees who await the setting of the sun when candles are lit and a bonfire or demera ignited.  Atop the giant pyre are meskel flowers and inside a cross will burn.  The direction of its collapse brings various predictions for the year.  Most tourists watch the festivities from specially built stands but thanks to a fun group of young Rotarians, our experience was standing for three hours in the back of the square, surrounded by Ethiopians of 
various hues but of the same ilk.
Tina Langham Smith with Hiruy Zemichael and Semeone Tegegne and other
members of
newest Rotary Club in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Hiruy Zemichael and  Semeone Tegegne picked us up at 3 p.m.  They are members of the newest Rotary Club in Addis, one of ten in the city.  Their club is bilingual, meaning they will conduct the meeting in English if there are any visitors.  I was sure they had studied abroad as their conversation made easy reference to American colloquial expressions such as “what’s happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas” and they could express dismay at the idea of a Donald Trump presidency.  I was assured their fluency resulted from hours of watching American movies, comedians and reading English books and newspapers. 
Through the evening more Rotarians joined us including Ruth Dressiegn, who had just returned from New York where she spoke to a UN committee on the need for more youth to be involved in the sustainability project currently being considered.  Another young woman, Rahel Getachew, will travel to the U.S. soon to represent all of Africa’s Rotaryact clubs.  The club members were all educated, working in technical fields as well as social services.  And, all wanted us to understand the Meskel event and its significance for the country.
Prelates of the Ethiopian Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox Church with
Dr. Mulatu Teshome, president of Ethiopia

Streets closings made easy walking as we approached the square and candles were distributed. The square had almost filled even though we arrived an hour early.  A large military presence watched from strategic points as fire trucks and ambulances awaited the call. Large open space in the middle would later welcome bands, church choirs, veterans, and rows of priests and deacons.  A large central viewing platform held an impressive array of dignitaries – Abune Mathias, 6th Prelate of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Teodros II, 118th Pope of the Coptic Orthodox church in Egypt, and Dr. Mulatu Teshome, president of Ethiopia.

Through the darkening late afternoon, waves of chanting, swaying, dancing choirs passed in front of the stage.  Floats reflected the story of Queen Helena’s discovery of the true cross.  Those with hearing disability performed their sign language.  Occasionally, the crowd sang and clapped along with well-known chants.  And, a marching band complete with tubas and brass melded into the big parade.  It was a beautiful blend of a mass at St. Peter’s square in Rome and Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.
Since I couldn’t see easily over the crowd, I relied on photos and movies taken by Semeone to enjoy the details below.  I could hear the Patriarchs and President talking.  Amazingly, their speeches were translated into English.  President Teshome talked of Egypt and Ethiopia being joined by the Nile River.  The Ethiopian Patriarch spoke of love between the orthodox communities.  There was even mention of climate change and separation of church and state. 
In the early evening dark, our candles were lit from neighbor to neighbor, a process that began at one end of the square and swept across the crowd like a moon rising.  Patriarch Mathias slowly walked to the bonfire, circled and lit it, creating an immediate heart of flames amongst us.  For the moment, all were united in its light.
The spell was broken as our Rotary friends protected us from the large crowd exiting.  On the walk back, they described the meal their extended families would share the next day with traditional food and how all would dress in white.  Their homes would have small bonfires as would most hotels and restaurants.  One suggested it was similar to our Thanksgiving Day gatherings.  
The Meskel celebration is one of Ethiopia’s finest.  We were lucky to join this 1600 year old tradition, guided by a new generation of Ethiopians.  It was a wonderful fusion of old and new and Ethiopia should be proud of both.

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Encountering Modern Day Diasporas in My Travels

Our Palestinian/Jordanian guide on the right who carried a key to
his home in Israel around his neck
The Greek word, diaspora, means a scattering and is used to describe the movement of a population from its original homeland.  Today, the word implies an added layer of meaning of a people being expelled or forced out involuntarily from their native country with a hope or desire to return someday.   Truthfully, I had always associated the word with the Jewish people but in my travels and research, I have encountered it in other countries including Cuba, Ethiopia and with the Palestinians.

Hundreds of years ago, the Jewish tribes experienced just such a dispersion beginning with the Assyrian exile from the Kingdom of Israel in 733 BCE.   The Romans had no tolerance for their insurrection and expelled them in 70 AD and again in 135 AD.   By 500 AD, there were Jewish settlements as far north as Cologne, Germany and across to Babylon (modern day Iraq).  Only after World War II did this expansion of settlements contract with the establishment of Israel in 1949.  Today, all members of the Jewish Diaspora (spelled with a capital D) have the right to return to Israel and be a citizen. Millions have claimed this right. Their history is so important to Israel that the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv is known as the Diaspora Museum and details this story.
 
As the Jewish community returned to Israel, Palestinians suffered their own diaspora during and after the 1948 War of Independence for Israel.  800,000 Palestinians left in fear of the fighting but with the hope of returning.  Jordan took in the greatest number and today has over 3 million Palestinians living in its border.  Our driver in Jordan was Palestinian.  Around his neck, he carried the key to his family home in Israel.   When his family fled to escape the fighting, they were not allowed to return.  He became very animated when we touched on the subject of the partition of Israel, wondering why some land couldn’t be set aside for the Palestinian people.  Some Palestinians still live in refugee camps in Lebanon and millions more are scattered throughout the world including a quarter million in the United States and 500,000 in Chile.

The word for diaspora in Spanish is spelled the same as English with only an accent added over the first letter a.  I didn’t expect to encounter it when we traveled to Cuba but I heard it several times. After Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, over a million Cubans left, most with the thought this government wouldn’t last long.  The great majority fled to South Florida and remain today, making up one-third of the population of Miami.  The night before we left for Cuba, we ate dinner in “Little Havana” in Miami, getting a taste of the great food we were to have on the island.

From our various taxi drivers in Cuba, to the five doormen at our hotel, our guides, and communicants of the small Episcopal Church in Santa Cruz del Norte, we heard story after story of family members who lived in Miami – those who had escaped in time.    One man described the departure of all of his siblings but he remained to care for their elderly mother.  Another was forced into the military and couldn’t leave although his brother did.  With the opening of Cuba to its diasporan members, it will be interesting to see if that initial desire to return remains.

In 1974, Haile Selassie was forced out of power by the military.  As the new government consolidated control, many Ethiopians were forced to leave. Two of those were Tewabech and Mac MeKonnen who lived in Paris for 20 years.  When we recently had dinner with them, they used the word “diaspora” to describe all the Ethiopians who left at that time.  There are 50,000 Ethiopians living in Dallas alone. And, when I learned my taxi driver in Atlanta, Georgia was from Ethiopia, I told her I was going there soon.  She and her husband had also escaped Ethiopia and made a home in Atlanta but wanted to return.  Her husband was making plans to start a business there and they hoped to emigrate back soon.  

Anytime a government changes violently, the ensuing chaos assures an exodus of citizens fearing for their lives.  The story of the Syrian diaspora is, sadly, about to begin.  With widespread transportation, the scattering will extend around the world as more countries take in the dispossessed.  If other modern day diasporas are examples, it may be a while before they return.

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Homes of Ernest Hemingway and Eudora Welty Reveal Shared Qualities

WRITERS’ HOMES MAKE INTERESTING DESTINATIONS
Inside Ernest Hemingway’s Home in Havana, Cuba

 

American writers Ernest Hemingway and Eudora Welty never met although they were contemporaries.  Hemingway was only ten years older and lived a dashing and frantic life for 62 years with homes and wives around the world. Until her death at 92 years, Welty never married and remained in the home where she was raised.  Yet, they shared some surprising habits as evidenced by tours of their homes in Havana, Cuba and Jackson, Mississippi.

Hemingway spent his winters at Finca Vigia, fifteen miles east of Havana, where he wrote  “The Old Man and the Sea” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls”.  Our taxi driver knew exactly where to go.  As we approached the residence through a tropical forest of flamboyan trees, urban noises diminished. Perched on a hill with Havana in the distance, the house’s open design allows a constant breeze to cool the island’s high humidity.  Cuba confiscated the property in 1961 even though Hemingway was on good terms with Fidel Castro.  The home has been a major tourist attraction for over 50 years. 
Hemingway’s Boat, Pilar in dry drock
Visitors are not allowed inside the home but from the large windows and doorways, it’s easy to view Hemingway’s art collection, including bullfighting paintings and posters,  mounted gazelle and antelope trophies, and his portrait with a downed African leopard. The furniture appears comfortable and well-worn. The typewriter resides in the bedroom, chest high on a bookcase where Hemingway wrote standing up. Outside, his fishing rods rest upright in a rod holder, ready for use

while the famous boat, Pilar, hangs in dry dock.  We expected him to walk out anytime on his way to the sea.


View of neighborhood from Eudroa Welty’s home
Eudora Welty’s home is maintained as if she had just run to the grocery store.  This was easy to do since Ms. Welty lived in the home until her death in 2001.  She had already given her residence intact to the State of Mississippi in 1985.  Located across the street from Belhaven College and in a well kept neighborhood, this historic site is hard to pick out from the neighbors.  Inside, rooms are cozy with a feel of your grandmother’s house.  All of her books were written on a favorite typewriter in the upstairs bedroom.  Spread across the dining room table, though, are white sheets of paper with cut paragraphs pasted on them – the model for our current computer’s “cut and paste” feature. 

Hemingway’s bedroom with typewriter elevated for his
stand-up composition style
Hemingway and Welty shared a love of books – 8000 for him and 5000 for her.  In Welty’s home, books were literally everywhere – on sofas, tables, bookshelves, and beds.  Friends would have to move books from chairs in order to sit.  From descriptions of visitors to Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s books were equally scattered in his day, including large art books placed in a chair to support his ailing back.  Today, his literary collection is neatly stored in bookshelves in almost every room.  Welty must have been a fan of his as she had several Hemingway biographies in her collection.

Books scattered everywhere in
Eudora Welty’s home
Both writers had literary friends.  Welty’s included our country’s best Southern writers – William Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter, Walker Percy, Flannary O’Connor.  In her home, a letter from British writer, E M Forester, reflects her correspondence with those she admired.  Hemingway’s list drew from his time in Paris where he joined the elite artist crowd around Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and even F. Scott Fitzgerald.
 
Few of his old friends joined Ernest in Cuba but those who did were treated to his martinis and Cuban rum drinks.  At his home, Hemingway’s liquor bottles remain on a tray, some still open.  On the grounds today, fresh pineapple is crushed into juice and used to make daiquiris for sale to tourists.  Eudora also partook occasionally of her favorite bourbon, Makers Mark, stored in an open cabinet near the kitchen.  She felt it kept the conversation flowing with friends and enhanced her Christmas eggnog.

Welty and Hemingway began as journalists, a position that taught Hemingway his famous style of writing – short sentences and active verbs.  Welty’s experience as a WPA photographer sharpened her observational abilities which she used extensively in her writing.  Their writing styles are both considered descendants of Mark Twain’s straight forward storytelling.   Each won Pulitzer Prizes (hers for “The Optimist’s Daughter and his “The Old Man and the Sea” and Hemingway the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954.  In his home, telegrams of congratulations from Cuban friends, ministers and writers are displayed. Eudora had stored her Pulitzer downstairs.
 

I can only surmise that Welty and Hemingway would have enjoyed each other’s company.  Both loved to talk.  It’s fun to imagine their conversation – full of literary allusions, liberal causes, travel stories and fueled by a drink or two.  Visiting their homes makes that image possible.  


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Touring The World of Coca-Cola and CNN in Atlanta, Georgia



Corporate headquarter tours are not usually high on my list of “Things to Do” in a new location.  However, Atlanta, Georgia is home to two companies that have an enormous international presence.  I run into them all over the world and wanted to learn more of their “stories”. 


It’s hard to know what to call “The World of Coca Cola” – a strange blend of a museum, theme park, and tasting room.   Lines are long to visit its newest home, opened in Centennial Park in 2007. Thanks to Coke’s long history of advertising, the venue played on nostalgia by displaying old bottles, posters and ads.    Inside, the first movie shown to all visitors was a longer take of the feel good message shown before most films in theaters.  A room of past promotions documented changing drink habits.  An ad from the 1950s suggested 16 oz of Coca Cola should serve three people.  Today, that is a standard size drink for an individual – possibly one source of our obesity problem.

Cheesiest by far was the dramatic revealing through a smoke screen and flashing lights of the vault containing Coke’s secret formula. No mention was made of the cocaine content in the original recipe nor the move to high fructose corn syrup.  One section contained  hate mail received by the company in 1985 when it tried to change the formula to New Coke, a move that lasted only 79 days before Classic Coke was returned to the shelves.

A highlight for most visitors is the free tasting section with coke products from around the world.  Over 100 dispensers provided  coke, lime, orange and root beer drinks made by subsidiaries, representing a small portion of the 3500 beverages sold by the company.  A new Coca Cola had just debuted, using sugar again rather than corn syrup and will be sold in an environmentally friendly green can.  Truthfully, we couldn’t discern a notable difference.

The most interesting section displayed personal reflections of “My Favorite Coca-Cola Moment” – sharing a coke with a child at summer baseball games, father working in a factory and returning home with a coke, finding a Coca Cola offered in the wilds of Africa.  The last story spoke to my experiences.  Since Coca-Cola is offered in every country in the world except Cuba and North Korea,  I’ve seen its ads everywhere I’ve traveled.  My husband’s favorite story is the gentle tug-of-war with his sister-in-law in Tikal, Guatemala in 1975 over the last cold Coca Cola at the restaurant.  Before the pervasive availability of bottled water, I drank Coke regularly in developing countries.  It’s always a taste of home and a reminder of American industry.



Also in Atlanta is the headquarters of CNN, first TV channel to provide 24 hour news service and another company with strong international presence.  On the tour, the guide emphasized its growth from 1.2 million viewers in 1980 to over 2 billion today worldwide.  In 1985, CNN International began and is now in over 200 countries.  Thanks to satellites and its programming, I have checked Dallas weather from Vienna, Austria, watched U.S. election returns in Cairo, Egypt,  and obtained basketball scores while recovering in a hospital in Tegulcigalpa, Honduras.  In a small, windowless hotel room near the bus station in Pnohm Penh, Cambodia,  a report on American oil prices on CNN brought familiarity into a foreign world.  It was there before wifi and is more available even today. 

No programs were in action on our visit but studios, research desks, and a demonstration weather map were available for viewing.  We learned meterologists can wear an invisibility cloak to blend into the map.  Teleprompters carry 150 -175 words per minute of script.  All writing must be approved which can take 8 hours or 5 minutes depending on how fast the news is breaking. 

In the news room, scores of screens flashed competitor’s news as well as headline news of CNN (HLN).  Some screens reflected a stationary camera that continually films one location such as Tahir Square in Cairo where action can form quickly.  Several writers were eating lunch at their desk and one clever employee had his tweet handle displayed on his desk for tourists looking down on the news room.  Since most of the weekly news programs are filmed in New York City, I had little chance of encountering my favorites,  Anderson Cooper or Anthony Bordain.
With 35 bureaus around the world, CNN takes its newsgathering seriously.  Through CNN International, HLN, CNN Espanol, and CNN Domestic, most of the world can watch developing news.  Networks have also been established for Airports and for individual countries including Turkey, India, Japan, Chile, and the Phillipines.  It’s no wonder I keep running into it.


For investors who want international presence without foreign stocks, both Coca-Cola and CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, provide this.  Coke is 4th on the list of World’s Most Valuable Brands and the only one in the top 5 that is not a tech company.  I’m not recommending investments!  But I am proud that these two companies compete well internationally, providing me and millions of traveling Americans a familiar experience.

World of Coca Cola website

Web site for Tour of CNN in Atlanta, Ga.

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Exploring the Civil Rights Movement in the South – 2015

Edmund Pettus Bridge, Selma Alabama



This is the third of a three part series on a road trip through the South where we explored the three Cs – Civil War, Civil Rights, and Southern Charm.


The Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s gave meaning to rights won 100 years before in the Civil War.  Despite passage of the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution in the 1860’s to abolish slavery and to prohibit state laws limiting the rights of citizens, Southern states managed to bring back white privileges to the detriment of black citizens.  Until the civil rights movement gained momentum, African Americans in Paris were segregated in schools, restrooms, water fountains, and couldn’t even eat in the restaurant inside the Kress department store downtown.  The energy and grit behind the movement ignited in the heart of Dixie and no tour of the South is complete without visiting some of the pivotal sites where individuals bravely resisted inequality under the law.

Thanks to the movie, “Selma”, the effort to walk from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery in 1965 to protest voting rights limitations on blacks has been documented.  The 50th commemoration of this event had just been celebrated this spring and memorabilia was still available for purchase.  Together with a small group of school children and an African American couple, we walked slowly over the Alabama river on the Edmund Pettus bridge, ironically named after a Confederate officer who fought at Vicksburg .  It was only made a National Historic Landmark in 2013 and seemed to best illustrate the road to equal rights is won one step at a time. 

Montgomery, Alabama surprised us.  Despite having only one commemorative sign as recently as 2000, the city has now embraced both its civil war and civil rights past.  Standing placards document events such as the telegram that started the War Between the States and another where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to boarding whites in 1955.  At the Rosa Parks Museum, an imaginary ride in a life size bus gives minute to minute details of Ms. Parks’ confrontation with state laws.  Bus drivers at the time were quite powerful and could wear guns.  A black often had to pay his fare, walk outside the bus to the back door, and pray the driver didn’t depart and leave him stranded.  Parks’ arrest led to the year-long Montgomery bus boycott directed by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Inside Dexter Avenue Baptist Church
Montgomery, Alabama

Dr. King’s involvement in the Boycott was fortuitous.  At age 26, he was pastor of the prestigious Dexter Avenue Baptist church, where many of Montgomery’s black lawyers, physicians and teachers attended.  Thanks to the presence of Union soldiers after the Civil War, the church was able to get title to this prime land just three blocks down Dexter Avenue from the state capitol.  Previous pastor, Vernon Johns, had been a fierce opponent of segregation, meaning the congregation was prepped for action. Dr. King held tight to his pacifist views but was also determined to see the boycott through. 

At the Dexter Church, our tour guide, Reba, brought back the spirit of the times.  We began the tour singing “This Little Light of Mine” and ended it encircled, holding hands with “We Shall Overcome”.  In between, Reba helped us understand how young Dr. King was when he arrived (25), how cars were purchased and used by churches to transport black employees to their work, and even the appearance at the church of former Governor George Wallace in 1979 who apologized for the pain he caused during his tenure.  Truthfully, it was thrilling to stand at the pulpit and imagine a full house awaiting inspiration from Dr. King.  The church still is active but worried about the aging of its congregation.  


Civil Rights Memorial by Maya Lin

An institution I have long admired is also headquartered here.  The Southern Poverty Law Center directed much of the litigation needed to enforce the 1964 Civil Rights Act and still pursues cases when needed.  Across the street, the Center commissioned a Civil Rights Memorial designed by Maya Lin, creator of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.  The fountain, shaped as an inverted cone, provides a poignant timeline of events from the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision to MLK’s assassination. 


The greatest testament to the Civil Rights Movement on our trip was the numbers of African Americans in all strata of Southern life – businessmen in Atlanta, hotel receptionists in Kennesaw, Georgia, bus drivers in Montgomery, TV cameramen at CNN’s headquarters, teachers leading classes of school children on field trips, diners in upscale restaurants and tourists themselves.   We stopped for dinner in Meridian, Mississippi where three northern civil rights volunteers were killed by Klansman in 1964.  What we found in 2015 was a Thai restaurant filled with whites, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics. 
The Civil Rights struggle will  never be finished.  Moslems, gays, and immigrants face some of the same hatred and fears suffered by African Americans.  But a trip through the South gives perspective as well as hope and encouragement.  

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Visiting Civil War sites is Essential to Understanding the War

Civil War Canon On Top of Kennesaw Mountain

I am conflicted visiting Civil War sites.  Had I lived then, I hope I would not have owned slaves and would have voted against secession.  Yet, part of my heritage is with the Confederacy.  My grandmother spoke with venom about the deadly prison where her Confederate soldier father endured the war.  Until her death, she still used the word Yankees for Northerners as her eyes hardened.   But a trip through the South requires at least some stops at battlegrounds to give perspective on the terrain, battle tactics and suffering of the soldiers.  We started with the Battle of Vicksburg, Mississippi.


Vicksburg lies on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, immediately giving the Confederates a ten-fold advantage to control the nation’s biggest river.  The major east-west railroad passed through town bringing to the South badly needed Arkansas hogs, Texas horses, and Mexican and European imports.  Northern General Ulysses Grant had won 10 of his last 12 battles and knew he could cut off the legs of Dixieland by winning Vicksburg.  General John Pemberton realized a loss at Vicksburg would be the beginning of the end for the insurrection.  The battle began on May 18, 1863 and ended July 2nd with a complete surrender by the Confederate Army.

At the large Vicksburg National Military Park, roads wander through hill and dale with markers indicating shifting battle lines.  In 1863, trees would have been leveled to provide open views for snipers.  Today, only part is cleared.  We used Michael Logue, a local guide who provided local commentary as he drove our car through the grounds.  Distances between lines were surprisingly small, indicative of the distance a rifle could shoot successfully.  We learned the difference in a redoubt (square fort) and a redam (triangle fort), both French words from the language used in army manuals.  Local quartz dust soil provided perfect dry conditions for digging trenches, a tactic to be used soon in World War I. When the battle stalled outside Vicksburg’s fort, Pemberton moved his men inside the city walls to weather the coming 47 day disastrous siege.  Some experts (including our guide) consider this battle more important than Gettysburg because of its commercial significance.

Vicksburg’s Park is unique in two other ways.  On the grounds is the remains of the U.S.S. Cairo, one of seven ironclad gunboats built in 30 days by the Union to carry thirteen canons along the Mississippi.  Inside, the boat was so hot only immigrants could be talked into working there.  It had a short life, sinking in 1862 but was resurrected in 1965 and displayed at the park in 1972.  Also scattered throughout the park are 140 artistic monuments honoring every state that fought in the battle as well as individual officers or groups who served.    For years, a reunion of veterans from both sides was held here.

View of Atlanta from top of Kennesaw Mountain

We probably would never have visited the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park if our son were not attending school in Georgia.  It is one of the many “lesser” battles and yet was a part of General Sherman’s famous march to Atlanta in June, 1864.  Kennesaw Mountain was a large, natural barrier protecting the approach to railroads in Atlanta.  The Northern army used maneuvering tactics to minimize an attack uphill and eventually reached the other side.  It is hard today to visualize the battle since nature has filled in cleared spaces but a drive takes you to the top of the mountain to see Atlanta in the distance. 

Locomotive inside Southern Museum of Civil War
and Locomotive History


The biggest surprise of the trip was the discovery in Kennesaw of the excellent Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, a member of the Smithsonian Affiliations Program.  That’s a big name for a small museum but this one details the importance of railroads and manufacturing in the outcome of the Civil War. 
After seeing the displayed statistics, I realized the South had little chance to win.  The North had 21,000 miles of railroad – the South 1,000.  The North produced 234,000 tons of rails – the South  26,000.  The North manufactured 2.5 million guns – the South only 250,000.  Food was brought in regularly by rail to Union soldiers.  Southern boys had to forage for nourishment.  And, most crucially, an entire construction corps of eventually 10,000 men under Herman Haupt developed construction techniques to more quickly rebuild Union railroads destroyed by the South and to prevent reconstruction by the Confederacy of their own railroads. 

Judging by exit signs on the Interstate Highways, many Civil War sites have been preserved.  The American Battlefield Protection Program was established to classify the preservation status of battlegrounds.  They had to choose which sites among 8,000 battles deserved protection and rate them according to importance.  Add that to the 135 Civil War Museums in the country, and one could use every vacation reliving our country’s most painful time.  Yet, we should all visit a few of the sites to understand how close and personal this war was.  My conflict from 100 years later is nothing compared to those who had to fight on one side or the other – a choice we are fortunate not to have.

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Linden House in Natchez, Mississippi – Six generations have preserved this beautiful plantation home.

Jeanette Feltus in Linden House, Natchez, Mississippi


View from Veranda of Linden House
“Howdy Do”, Jeanette Feltus called out with a bright morning lilt, taking time out from instructions to the gardener on the need for more moth balls to distract deer from the shrubs.  “How ya’ doin?”  she asked in her bright yellow pants suit, flowered jacket and large costume earrings.  She hadn’t slowed since we met the night before when she dealt out opinions on food, drink and which plantations to visit in Natchez, Mississippi on a limited schedule. Jeannette represents the sixth generation of the O’Connor family living in Linden House and has been instrumental in its survival. 


Grounds of Linden House in Natchez, Mississippi
Natchez lies on a bluff above the Mississippi River contributing to its reputation as a healthy locale where almost all large 19th century cotton plantations owners in Mississippi built majestic homes for their families.  With the largest number of millionaires per capita in the United States at the time, Natchez was the place to be in the 1800s.   Surprisingly, it voted not to secede from the Union.  When the Blue Army arrived from New Orleans, locals chose not to resist strongly,  saving itself from the torched remains of other cities.  Today, the largest array of pre-civil war antebellum homes in the South has found new life with tours and bed and breakfast offerings, including our Linden House.   

Breakfast was served promptly at 8:30 a.m.  Around the extended dining room table were three Australian women, two Dutch men, an English couple and a sweet young couple from nearby Ferriday, probably celebrating a wedding anniversary.   I was surprised at the heavy foreign presence, especially in a small town losing population and off the beaten path.  One Australian woman confided they were fascinated by Southern traditions and BBQ and thought its people like our innkeeper were charmingly different. 

Jeanette Feltus giving tour of Linden House
After breakfast, Jeanette gave a free tour of the house built in 1790 and owned by the O’Connor family since 1829.  According to family lore, the first Mrs. O’Connor faced down Union soldiers, threatening to destroy her furniture before giving it over.  Jeanette’s husband, Rufus Feltus, was really the descendant and after buying out four other heirs, the couple restored the home and added air conditioning.    The exterior was just as one would imagine for a southern plantation.  It was the model for Percy Faith’s album cover featuring Tara’s theme song from Gone With The Wind (minus the cobwebs, Jeanette added). 

High bed in Dick’s Room
Inside the house, Mrs. Feltus had a running commentary on each item.  An old coffee maker that works like a still – “I wouldn’t know”.  Painting of an ancestor – “Beautiful painting but ugly subject.”  Genealogy book that traces family back to Alfred the Great – “So they say.  I don’t know.”   There were beautiful oil portraits of her daughters as young women and of her husband but none of her.  Unhappy with the results of her own likeness, she relegated the painting to a closet.   Some rooms had special histories.  Ours was Dick’s Room, named after her father-in-law who was born in that space and stayed there always when visiting. 

Veranda at Linden House, Natchez, Mississippi
Ahead of her time, Jeanette had wanted to be a lawyer but agreed to try teaching history in Natchez first.  Her husband’s family owned successful hardware stores in several states.  Based on that introduction, Jeanette was welcomed into Natchez society.  But she was no idle Southern Belle.  Her home was the center of their children’s social life including ping pong on the veranda.  She participated in the active Garden Club that started the preservation of homes in Natchez.  And she helped organize the Annual Antique Forum now in its 38th year and was quick to point out this is not an antique fair.  Speakers from across the country lecture on sophisticated subjects.  In 2015,  participants will investigate the relationship between the American South and the cultural phenomenon of the European Grand Tour.

Mrs. Feltus candidly admitted concern for the future of the home.  Her daughters were on the “dark side of 50” with no descendants.  Maybe a cousin would step in.  Maybe a foundation could be formed.  This is not an isolated problem for Natchez plantation owners.  With the cost of maintenance and upkeep so high, only six bed and breakfast homes still remain in “the family”.    But I have no doubt Jeanette Feltus will find a solution.  She has the grit of Scarlett O’Hara and the humor of Dolly Parton – a charming combination that guarantees success.  Natchez’ inventory of plantations will need more people like her to survive. 

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Rolling Stones Concert – Fifty Three Years of Performing Hasn’t Dimmed the Excitement

Official T-shirt of the 2015 Tour


After arriving at the nearest subway station, we approached the Bobby Dodd Stadium by foot.  It was early.  Very early.   Summer showers had cleared the air providing a respite from the Atlanta summer heat. A steady stream of fellow earlybirds walked quickly with us, as if the music were about to begin.  The Alabama blues band, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, wouldn’t launch the show until 8 with the Rolling Stones due on sometime after 9.   It was only 6:15.
Bobby Dodd Stadium Begins to Fill

Along the way, a single fervent believer read the Bible aloud as we passed.  Another handed out flyers asking if we were saved – probably an appropriate question of this crowd of past prime time rock and rollers.  Ticket scalpers held hands high, flashing coveted tickets.  An occasional one questioned if we had tickets to sell.  Directly ahead a grandfather/granddaughter combo clearly shared knocked knee genes.  It was the first hint of the generational affect of the Rolling Stones and blend of the crowd.  Flip flops joined Birkenstocks headed to the stadium.  Occasional penny loafers walked in with spike heels alongside.  Gray hair dominated

Mick Jagger is 72 years old, Keith Richards 71, Rolling Stones Band 53 – literally a working lifetime of performing.   When they debuted on July 12, 1962, John Kennedy was president.  Eight presidents have served as they played on.   The civil rights movement was in full swing then resulting in a black President today who has sung along with Mick at the White House.  Birth control pills were about to give much needed power to women as the band’s swagger and claim of no satisfaction played to changing sexual mores.  Their unapologetic use of drugs helped launch the now rapid move to legalize marijuana.  They are a half century older but still play to the nostalgia of boomers and attract millenniums whose first memories were of their songs.
Downtown Atlanta in Distance

Inside, fans arrived from around the world.  A British woman had traveled from the Emirates to catch her 26th Stones concert, beginning in 1973.  T-shirts from earlier tours were worn proudly.  In front of us, a young man wore a shirt from the 2014 tour On Fire which included stops in Israel, Norway and Spain. My favorite shirts were those of a couple that demanded, “Keith Richards for President”.   Seated next to me were two who already had tickets to the next concert in Orlando, Florida.  They had even splurged for the second event, paying $1750 per ticket to sit on the floor level.
The talk was of this and other performances.  We were asked what other bands we had seen and had to reach far back to college days to answer.  My husband earned street cred with his Janis Joplin concert at U.T.  I got a nod of approval for the Jefferson Airplane in San Antonio.  We were with serious music lovers who traveled long ways and paid big bucks to relive earlier days.

Bobby Dodd Stadium fills
Crowds continued to flow in until the sold-out stadium filled.  I had just commented on the lack of smoking around us when the lights went out.  For one brief moment all was quiet and then Keith Richards’ lone guitar could be heard prophesying the coming of “Start Me Up”.  The audience arose with a shout, smoke of all kind went up,  three huge jumbotroms  flashed on and Mick, Keith Charlie Watts and Ron Wood roared to life.  Most fans never sat down again. 

Surprisingly,  the songs I danced to at the Plainview YMCA fifty years ago are still on the play list.  With the exception of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, members of the band have come and gone but the music remained constant.    Judging by the remarkable energy of Mick and smiles of Keith, they still love to perform.  Richards stopped dying his hair in 2008 and proudly wears his long, grey curls.  Even with his dyed hair,  I was sure Jagger’s age would show itself somehow.  But his strong voice, large strides across the stage, skips down the platform, and jumps to the beat masked his years.   Only the creviced face revealed the toll of a long life.

They played over two hours without a break.  Mick had funny local comments.  He introduced all in the band.  He remembered their previous performances in Atlanta, claiming we were the best audience on the tour.  And, he made sure the crowd sang, clapped and danced along to Gimme Shelter, Honky Tonk Women, Satisfaction and many more.  It was easy for us to join in with the strong beats, familiar lyrics and constant refrains. 

Over the last fifty three years, The Stones have played concerts in dozens of countries and sung from their fixed repertoire thousands of times.  Their lives have had a fair share of tragedy with notable public disagreements.  But they have survived.  They still project a bad boy image that’s been copied by youth 50 years their junior while delivering philosophical and driving songs.  It was simply impressive.  The best.  Contrary to the song, we got what we wanted and needed.  

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McAlester, Oklahoma Deserves a Stop

Masoni Temple’s large auditorium where Plays of Initiation are held




  Two highways skirt the edges of McAlester, Oklahoma, 100 miles north of Paris, and few travelers slow down except as required by stoplights.  Yet, this town of 18,000 inhabitants owns a surprising history full of railroad construction, Indian Territory rights, coal mines, Masonic presence, Italian immigrants and even the beloved Will Rogers.


Backdrops at Masonic Temple in McAlester

It’s the hills of downtown McAlester that surprises visitors first.  Atop the highest one is the tallest structure in town – the McAlester Scottish Rite Masonic Center.   Due to Masons’ prominent past when 10% of the men in the U.S. belonged,  Masonic Lodges and Temples abound across the country and this one is impressive.  The McAlester branch has had so many members in the past, its building was enlarged more than once ending with construction of the second largest Masonic stage in the U.S. and a 3100 pipe Kimball organ.  The Temple is appropriately proud of the world’s largest scene backdrops designed by prolific artist, Thomas Gibbs Moses.  These enhance the moral lessons acted out for each of the 32 degrees. 

Props used in plays at Masonic Temple
Painting of member Will Rogers


A painting of former member Will Rogers is displayed in the palatial lobby along with a donated Frederick Remington statue.   Upstairs, the beautiful Egyptian themed auditorium is still used for the morality plays but also for local concerts and events.  Behind the scene are prop rooms filled with heavy silk and satin costumes, shelves of crowns, sandals, wigs, and swords. 

Chapel contains a Koran, Bible and Torah

The dining hall can feed 500.  In the small chapel, a Bible, Koran, and Torah are open on an altar emphasizing the Mason’s requirement of a belief in a Supreme Being but without a commitment to a certain religion.  Our guide emphasized no alcohol, political talk or religious persuasion is allowed in the center.  At one end of the building, a childhood speech disorder clinic operates as one of over 100 that have been begun by the Masons.  Its commitment to public education was also emphasized as well as transport of area children to the great Shriner and Masonic Hospitals. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about the largest fraternal organization in the world, a tour of this beautiful building is a great way to get started.


Ceremonial Hall at International
Headquarters of Rainbow Girls

Down the street is the headquarters for the International Supreme Assembly of the Rainbow for Girls, a noble name for a Masonic organization started in McAlester to provide some of the benefits of their tradition for girls.  Truthfully, I was shocked to discover Rainbow Girls still existed.  Begun by the Rev. William Marks Sexon in 1922 in McAlester,  its heyday in the 40s and 50s saw chapters chartered across the country, including my hometown of Plainview, Texas.  I joined for a brief time, mainly to see what the initiation rite was all about.  Today, it still has a Supreme Worthy Advisor with about 10,000 members in the U.S. and several foreign countries.   If you’re nostalgic about the organization and its ceremonial hall or if you want to step back into the 50’s, visit this well preserved museum of a building.


Signs of McAlester’s history play out in the town beginning with its name.  J.J. McAlester used his knowledge of nearby coal reserves and his wife’s Native American heritage to purchase land.  He then convinced the railroad to build the track from Kansas to Texas through his holdings.  The town was later named for him.  In the Old Town section to the north of downtown McAlester, his original Mercantile Building still stands and houses the popular Whistle-Stop Bistro that deservedly does a booming lunch business.

Carl Albert Freeway is named for the hometown boy made U.S. Speaker of the House.   It is no surprise then that McAlester is home to an ammunition plant and center.  You probably wouldn’t want to be here during a war, though, as most of America’s bombs are made nearby.

Storefront for Lovera’s Italian Grocery Store

The small town of Krebs borders McAlester’s east city limit and is well known in the state for its Italian restaurants.  Italian immigrants came in the late 1800s to work in the dangerous Indian Territory mines.  Oklahoma’s worst mining disaster occurred in Krebs in 1892 when 100 miners died.  As coal played out, some immigrants opened restaurants which still serve traditional pasta dishes and a local favorite – lamb fries or fried sheep’s testicles.    The biggest surprise is the small Lovera’s grocery store established in 1946 that is filled with Italian favorites such as dried pasta, chocolate, biscotti, homemade Italian sausage, cheeses, and, of course, lamb fries.  It was quiet the morning we visited but apparently, busloads of tourists will drop by for this authentic Italian experience.

McAlester will never be a major tourist destination but its proximity to Eufala Lake brings in enough visitors to support a nice variety of experiences.  It’s definitely worth a turn off the major highways.

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