Mary Clark, Traveler

Rita Gillooly’s Boston

Rita Gillooly, Mary Clark and Beth Ferree – Friends from Houston days

I met Rita Gillooly in the lounge of the University of Houston law school in 1974.  She was also eating a sack lunch alone.  We were both transfer students from other law schools and naturally gravitated to each other.  Our differences were stark despite her being only three days older.  Rita grew up in public housing in Boston and I was a farmer’s daughter from the panhandle of Texas.  No one in her family drove a car and I had my license at age 14.   My family traveled extensively and hers got no further than a summer jaunt to Cape Cod.   Yet, we bonded, stayed in touch, and in June, I finally got to experience Boston through Rita’s history.

117 Garfield Avenue is on the right

The Gillooly family immigrated from Ireland to join the many Irish in Boston.  With such an unusual name, anyone claiming it had to be kin to Rita.  She knew of 35 first cousins.  Her father delivered mail and her mother cared for the four children.  Rita candidly disclosed that her father’s drinking caused instability in the family.   They moved often with occasional residence in public housing  (Rita attended 5 schools in 7 years), before settling in Hyde Park, a nice neighborhood south of Boston proper.  Though surrounded by middle class homes, her cul-de-sac ended in several two story, three bedroom public apartment buildings. Theirs was number 117 Garfield Avenue.

When we visited it, Rita was shocked at the quietness – empty stoops, vacant street, and no hordes of children playing on the back yard monkey bars.  She noted window air units had been added since her time, possibly the source for the minimal activity.  Rita pointed out one apartment where she had done Mrs. Carroll’s hair and the O’Grady and O’Hara families’ homes where she babysat.  All earned money went for clothes as she avoided the outfits bought by her mother at  Salvation Army’s thrift store.

Boston bomb memorial in Copley Square

Thanks to her good grades and teacher recommendation at the end of 6th grade, she was told she would be going to Girls Latin School  – an offshoot of the oldest public school in America,  one with high expectations and  dedicated to college preparation for girls. To get to the school on Codman Square, Rita had to take a bus, trolley and bus again.  After school,  students would hang around downtown Boston, including Copley Square where the makeshift memorial to the Boston bombing victims stood.

At home, Rita’s mother knew the value of education and played word games with the kids, surrounded them with books and alw
ays had paper and pens ready for writing.  Even though the TV was often on, her mother would lay a board over a chair for each to do  homework.  Her father was harder to please.  Despite her excellent grades  (she graduated 3rd in her class), her father would look at the report card and always  say, “Room for Improvement”.

Her life changed forever when a school counselor suggested she apply to Brown University, a nearby Ivy League school.   She had never heard of Brown, and never been to Providence, despite its proximity at the end of her train line.  The school was full of far wealthier students and Rita realized quickly she needed to tone down her strong working class accent.  After getting her undergraduate and law degrees and practicing in Texas for several years, Rita returned to Boston in 1985.

Charles River, Boston

On a stroll along the Charles River,  we learned her father and five uncles served in World War II and one has a sign honoring him.   She also pointed out a reference to Thomas  “Mumbles” Menino, mayor of Boston for 20 years. Her brother has worked for the Mayor for many years and her mother used to write letters telling him exactly what he should do.  The Mayor even attended her mother’s funeral – indicative of the roots established by the Gillooly family over the years as well as the small town feel of Boston.

Swan Boats in Boston’s Public Garden

At the Public Garden, across from the Boston Common, we saw the famous swan boats ferrying tourists and families around a small lake.  Rita’s mother would bring the four kids downtown once a year to ride the boats, an experience they loved.  And nearby we walked by the headquarters of the insurance giant, Liberty Mutual, where Rita now works in the legal department.

Rita is not bitter about her father’s drinking nor does she indulge in self-pity.  She and her husband raised  two children in Canton, only two train stops  from her family’s apartment on Garfield Avenue in  Hyde Park.   Her journey to a home in the suburbs with good schools is the American dream.   I missed seeing many famous sites of Boston but the city became  more real with Rita as the guide – a place for immigrants to settle and thrive and where a self-motivated, smart child of the projects could use a good education to expand her world.

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Fancy Dancer at Red Earth Festival

Because of the Indian Removal Act of 1837 , Native American tribes were forcibly moved to Oklahoma, resulting in 39 of these Federally Recognized groups having Tribal Headquarters in here.   Oklahoma has the most Native Americans in the U.S., more languages than Europe, and no reservation system that is common in the West. There are sovereign nations with their own police but the population is mainstreamed into Oklahoma society.  I have long wondered where the Native Americans hung out in Oklahoma and I found many at the 27 year old Red Earth Festival, a multi-tribal pow wow.

For those of us who remember “Westerns”, the image of a pow-wow is a circle of Native American tribal leaders called to resolve a problem.  For Native Americans, its root is from the Algonquin word “pau wau” referring to a gathering of spiritual leaders or medicine men.  But today, it refers to a gathering of both Native Americans and others to dance, sing, socialize, and honor the tradition.

Laketa Pratt ‘s Buckskin Doll

Chase Earles – Caddo piece

The Cox Convention Center in downtown Oklahoma City is a surprising choice for a Pow Wow location but the advantage of indoor air conditioning is notable.   The festival is unique in its combination of a juried Art Show with dancing and drumming. Most artists traveled from New Mexico and Arizona but a healthy number of emerging Oklahoman artists participated.   Chase Earles is part of a Caddo Rivivalist movement, learning the ceramic crosshatching thin coil method and pit firing from an elder and by trial and error.  Mary Alston, a Cherokee from Woodward, Oklahoma uses traditional honeysuckle and buck rush for Cherokee basketry.  And Oklahoma City Laketa Ann Pratt, a Cheyenne Arapaho Sioux Creek, works with soft buckskin to create her dolls.

While exploring the  arts and craft section, I met three tour agents from Germany who were thrilled to be there.  As children, they all read books by Karl May, a German author who wrote a series of books about Chief Winnetou,  fictional chief of the Apache Tribe.  One agent said he would receive a new book every Christmas and birthday and he was fascinated by The Old West.   Because of these books, many Germans still come to the Southwest on their American vacation and the Oklahoma City Tourist Office promotes its destination throughout Germany.

A grand parade each morning brought several hundred dancers into the arena, led by an elderly honor guard of  veterans, the highest honor of a warrior society.  This year, members of the Seminole tribe carried a traditional staff with eagle feathers in front followed by the American and Oklahoma flags.  Singers sang in their native tongue to a deliberate drum beat.   Women’s dresses swayed easily to the simple steps.  Children followed in native regalia.  Young male dancers swirled and jumped.  All stood in a circle as the Native American Flag Song was sung honoring the American flag.

The dancing soon began, with four contests each for men and women.  All hoped to win a cash prize up to $1000 for first place.  A special family prize of a quarter horse was  donated by the R. G. Harris family – one of the emcees and a former fancy dancer –  and given to the best fancy dancer. Eric Oesch, director of the Red Earth Festival, admitted their prize money can’t compete with those offered by pow-wows sponsored by tribal run casinos but it was enough to draw a good crowd.  Most were dancing for the tradition even though their native garb easily cost hundreds of dollars.

Jingle Dance Dress

For the men, the Fancy Dance is based on a War dance and requires strength, The Traditional Dance tells a story of bravery in the hunt, Grass Dance celebrates the importance in grass in a warrior’s life, and the southern traditional Straight Dance, also known as the old man’s dance, requires a Golden Eagle tail feather.  Women can choose the Buckskin Dance, originally only open  to princesses and women in leadership roles,  Fancy Shawl as the newest,  Jingle Dance with its story of a child healed, and Cloth Dance distinguished by ribbons imitating grass blowing.  Feather fans, jingles, and stunning shawls accompany the women.  The traditions are still being past down in families with 10 to 12 years old boys and girls participating as well as one 72 year old man who had been dancing since he was six.

Past and present day life played out in the civic center as a painted warrior pushed a baby stroller,  a father used a Q-tip to paint his child’s face, and at the food court, a young Fancy Dancer was more interested in finding pizza than an Indian Taco. A man from Dallas seated next to me asked, “Is this your first pow-wow?”  He had just begun exploring his Cherokee/Choctaw heritage and enjoyed attending pow-wows on the week-end.  There are many to choose from in all 50 states.    Four other pow-wows were advertised on the Red Earth week-end, including one in Texas.  I replied, “yes, it’s my first pow-wow but it won’t be my last.”

Contact Red Earth Festival – Red Earth Festival Site

Contact Chase Earles – or

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Magical Music Tour – Classical Music in Prague and Vienna

Prague’s State Opera House

Looking back, it seems inevitable that our visits to Prague and Vienna would heavily involve classical performances.  Yet, prior to our departure,  we had only purchased tickets to the Don Quixote  ballet at the State Opera House in Prague for the evening of our arrival.  We soon took advantage of the many musical offerings in these two old Austrian-Hungarian Empire cities.

At the ballet, I  tried to dress up my very basic travel clothes with a scarf and small necklace of pearls but the black walking shoes and rain jacket gave me away.  Suits and high heels surrounded us.  Fortunately, in the dark we could enjoy the performance of Don Quixote in a gilded gold and red concert hall.  After the performance, we were introduced to clapping the European way.  Crowds don’t just politely tap a hand. Lengthy plaudits  continued for three curtain calls and flowers for the principals.  And, no one left – no rushing to the exists to beat the crowd.

Prague  has a long history of promoting the musical talent of its youth. Thanks to a musical education system within villages surrounding Prague in the 18th century, the best musicians from rural areas were hired by the nobility or taken into the Church to further pursue their education.  That emphasis continues today in even their poorest schools thanks to local foundations.

The city  has also long had a love relationship with Mozart who rejoiced in  his celebrity status here.  The first performance  of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” ended with one-half hour of applause and his “Don Giovanni” was written for and debuted in Prague. On the streets today are young men dressed as Mozart, handing out pamphlets promoting organ, trumpet and string quartet concerts throughout the day at different venues which are many.

Here’s just one day’s offerings.  In Prague, on June 5th, there were eight classical music concerts, including works of Dvorak, Mozart, Stauss and Vivaldi, two operas performing Verdi’s Rigoletto and Dvorak’s Rusalta, and one jazz concert.  Performances were in churches, opera houses, museums, Lobkowicz Palace, and the Municipal House, the city’s foremost Art Nouveau building. Granted, some of the concerts were for the benefit of tourists only but on that same day in Dallas, a city of equivalent size, only the Dallas Symphony was performing at a park. Most American cities struggle to support one opera house but Prague has two beautiful, well-used opera venues.

We happened onto an organ concert at Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral, celebrating the first World Organ Day, originating out of Notre Dame’s 850th anniversary in Paris and being duplicated in 850 cathedrals and concert halls worldwide.  This chilly church was begun in 1344 and only finished in 1929.  It is so cold inside that the archbishop is considering installing heated bench cushions.  We shivered through a performance by four of Prague’s top young organists, enjoying the venue for which the organ was created – high stone ceilings and walls, the better to reverberate finales from the large reed pipes.

Vienna’s State Opera  House

The music tour continued with an unexpected but welcomed attendance at the Vienna State Opera for a modern day production of La Traviata. Our travel clothes still couldn’t keep pace with the glitter of the locals who make up 60% of attendees.    The crowd knew their opera singers and some were favored, including the American, Thomas Hampson.  Once again, they gave a hearty applause at the end and about half  rose for the ovation.  Many remained seated, an indication the performance was very good but not at the standing ovation level.

Our last classical music exposure surprised us all.  At the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass in the mini-cathedral of St. Augustine, the church’s own orchestra, choir, solists and organ performed Franz Schubert’s Mass in G Major.   In small towns, culture is often carried by church choirs, and we experienced from whence this tradition came.  Despite the service being in German, all were lifted up by the sung Agnus Dei, Sanctus, and powerful Alleluias.  Many remained for the organ postlude which resulted in ……… (no surprise) ……. strong clapping at the end.

It is easy to observe what music is valued in a community by the offerings. Paris often has country western concerts, bluegrass performances, and even acoustical guitar singers at That Guy’s Coffee.  The Dallas Symphony only gets as close as Greenville.  For Prague and Vienna,  centuries of classical music training and education continue to result in bountiful performances of high quality, benefitting tourists and locals alike.  The truth is “surround sound” still can’t compete with live music, particularly if it’s before an audience who knows how to show their appreciation.

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The Berlin Wall – 44 Years Later

Last Remaining Tower of the Berlin Wall

 I last crossed the Berlin Wall at Checkpoint Charlie in 1969 on a family vacation to Europe.  We flew from Hamburg to Berlin on a short 35 minutes Trans World Airlines (TWA) flight. Twenty four years after the end of WWII, West Berlin had been cleared of rubble.  The streets were clean but many blocks empty.  Cranes dominated that half of the city as new construction began to carry out instructions from international architects brought in to fill a world lost to bombing.

The Berlin Wall was eight years old and West Berlin a political hotspot, where the Cold War played out daily.  President Nixon had visited West Berlin in March of that year to huge crowds.  Miles Davis would play in November with equal numbers of fans.  Americans were loved for keeping supply lines open to the western half of the city.

I remember clearly the excitement of crossing into East Berlin.  We sat on the top level of a double decker tour bus, providing a nice view of the guards.  East German guards closely checked our passports pictures and ran mirrors under the bus.   Despite instructions not to photograph anything,  my oldest brother slipped out our movie camera, put it on his lap and filmed the gate and wall as we crossed the border.

Compared to West Berlin, its eastern counterpart was shut-down.  Rows of apartment buildings had been built but many old bombed out apartments stood silent, awaiting their turn to be torn down.  As the tallest building in Germany, the TV tower of  Berliner Fernsehturm had just been finished in 1969 but we weren’t allowed to ascend. Few people or cars were out.  Our guide followed a script as we rode through the quiet streets.  It just felt sad.

Tourists at Checkpoint Charlie

Forty four years later in 2013, one must search to find remnants of the Wall that fell in 1989.  A brick pattern inserted into streets and sidewalks marks its past presence. Checkpoint Charlie is now a tourist trap with fake American and Russian soldiers posing for pictures with young women.  Einstein’s Kaffee Checkpoint Charlie Shop sits on one corner with Ben and Jerry ice cream for sale on another.  Looking north across the “border” is an active business street filled with cars and pedestrians and the cranes are now in East Berlin.

Outer and Inner Wall
of Chapel of Reconciliation

Only three parts of the original 100 mile Wall still stand and we visited them all.  The Berlin Wall was actually two walls with a cleared space between for easier shooting of escapees.    Design of the Wall changed each time an escape was  successful,  ending with a curved top to prevent anyone from holding on.   At Bernard Strasse, the  original layout made clear the difficulty in getting out.  Even if one scaled the first barrier, a second awaited.  On a walk through the interior space between walls, we slowly viewed  names and photos of the 138 persons who died trying to flee. The only remaining guard tower that would have been feared in 1969 now seemed lonely and harmless.   Most moving was the new Chapel of Reconciliation, built of earth in the round, with an outer and inner wall symbolizing the actual Berlin Wall.

 East Side Gallery
East German Trabant Crashing though Wall
East Side Gallery

At the East Side Gallery, graffiti artists were commissioned to paint murals at a second Wall location.  This portion follows the Spree River which can be seen through chiseled out holes in the wall.  The crowd was younger and very international.   Paintings tugged at our hearts.  One showed  the leg and shoe of a young man trying to escape over the wall.  In another, an East German Trabant car crashes through the barrier.  Several had peace and love themes and many artists signed their names and websites.  Just before we arrived, protesters tried to stop a developer from tearing down a portion of this wall but heavy equipment was brought in at night to do the deed.

Berlin Wall near Topography of Terror

At the final location, a small section of the Wall borders the Topography of Terror display and museum where the story of the Nazi’s use of intimidation and ruthlessness to come and stay in power is detailed.  Anyone who spoke up was interned or killed and all were humiliated. Painful photos of the descent into hell are abundant.  By placing this museum next to the Berlin Wall, the two tragedies intertwine, revealing years of repression for East Berlin and Germany.

Walls never work or at least they don’t work for long.  From the Great Wall to the Security Wall in Israel to the talk of a border wall with Mexico, the idea always seems simple.  But it is really a break down in imagination.  A government can’t find a better solution than a concrete wall, which only gives resolve to those being penned in or kept out.  They do eventually fall.  Berlin had the foresight to preserve portions of this inconvenient and unintentional monument, reminding us all the human spirit will eventually prevail. 

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Search for the Perfect Cappuccino

I admit it.  I’m a Cappuccino Snob.  The velvety drink first entered my world on an Italian visit 40 years ago.  It compared favorably with café au lait and café con leche but the foam was unique and wonderful.  Upon returning to the United States, I could only dream of that perfect breakfast drink.  Until, that is, the coffee craze arrived from Europe in the 1980s. Starbucks rode the wave until all Americans were ordering cappuccinos and lattes with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But something wasn’t right.  Cappuccinos regularly arrived at the table with much more milk than the original formula of one-third espresso, one-third steamed milk, and one-third foam.  Most barristas simply made a latte with thicker foam.  A “real” cappuccino should be light in weight, but many came heavy with dairy. 

Much to my husband’s chagrin, I tried for years to help craft a good cappuccino whenever I ordered.  When trying to meet my requirements of the one-third, one-third, one-third recipe,  several cashiers  suggested a “dry” cappuccino.  This does come with less milk but two-thirds of the cup was foam. Ordering an extra shot in a regular tall cappuccino provides a stronger coffee taste but the mojo is too much. 

It was time to get serious and a quest seemed in order.  The perfect cappuccino was out there, just waiting to be discovered.  There were three rules for the journey. One,  Italy couldn’t compete.  Two, consistency was required – the second drink had to be as good as the first. Three, the cappuccino had to arrive in mint condition without coaching. 

On a side street deep in Hong Kong I was pleasantly surprised to be served a cappuccino of almost perfect proportions.  When a second was ordered, there was a difference.  The waitress had to admit that they ran out of whole milk and served the 2% substitution.    It failed the consistency test.    

On a cappuccino crusade to Dallas,  I had a very good one at the now defunct Gachet Coffee Lounge and Books, owned by three sisters who really knew coffee.  The sister on duty that day was Heidi Beaumont.   Their menu offered only one cappuccino drink called “true cappuccino”.  As Heidi explained,  a cappuccino only comes in one size.  There is no such thing as a large or grande or super cappuccino and she’s right.  We companionably shook our heads together as she recounted the strange orders customers have made – a foamless cappuccino or a coffee mocha without milk.  “After years of Starbucks, people don’t know what they’re drinking”, Heidi bemoaned. 

So, does the perfect cappuccino exist outside of Rome?  Mine was discovered in the most unexpected of places – Oklahoma City.  Coffee Slingers sits on a brick street several blocks from downtown.  Owner, Melody Harwell, relocated from Hawaii and as a serious coffee drinker, she refuses to serve  sweet, iced coffee drinks and doesn’t even apologize for it.   Minimal food is served and it’s obvious you’ve found a fellow coffee aficionado upon entering and inhaling.  I ordered a simple cappuccino and waited.   When the mug was pushed my way, I looked upon a beautiful brown heart outlined with white foam.  The first sip was pure heaven. The coffee was strong but not bitter with milk and foam mixed to a velvety texture, all in perfect proportions. I ordered a second.  No difference.

What is the secret then? “Micro bubble foam,” says Melody.  Well, that AND the following:  whole milk (preferably organic), freshly ground espresso tamped properly, steamed milk brought to 145 degrees only, and weeks of training to get the right mix of milk and foam which should separate naturally.  The art takes even longer. 

Now that I’ve learned some of the secrets of a perfect cappuccino, my husband is worried that I will add one more question at the coffee counter –  “Do you make micro bubble foam?”  I won’t, but I will continue to search for and enjoy those who do know how to make a true cappuccino.  

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Washington State’s Capitol in Olympia – Beautiful Building, Beautiful Site

View of Washington State’s Capitol from lake below

It’s no secret that your children’s relocations can take you places you never expected to explore.  Olympia, Washington is one of those sites for us.   As the capital of the State of Washington, the city has more power than its size would suggest.   With only 47,000 inhabitants (less than twice the population of Paris), Olympia has a small but vibrant downtown on the waters edge.   Suburbs absorb most of the rest of  Thurston County’s 250,000 population.  Only the capitol building and grounds really set this town apart.    On a rainy Sunday afternoon, I checked out the last of the great state capitols to be built.

The elevated site looks out over downtown Olympia.  All of Thomas Jefferson’s criteria for a government on a hill are met in this Washington rather than Washington, D.C. In 1905, the state dedicated its money from harvested timber on state lands to the building and maintenance of a new capitol.  Their timing was perfect.  The building was completed in 1928 – just one year before the Great Depression hit.  While the governor and others derided the expense, 7 million dollars bought one heck of a building. 

Bas Relief 

There’s nothing native about the architecture. It’s  pure Roman-Greco – the same style copied by many state buildings from our nation’s capitol in Washington, D.C.  Filled with irreplaceable Alaskan white marble floors and walls, brass firepots, and  a five story cupola, this is as close to the cathedrals of Europe as can be found around here.  The one-ton brass doors tell stories with their bas relief – the states’ timber that made the state what it is today, early 1850’s homesteading, waterfalls indicating the state with the most hydro-electric power and the sheep industry that once competed with Australia.  They display a different kind of paradise than Ghibertti’s in Florence.

The capitol building  has some Texas bragging kind of qualities –  largest single loom carpet in the world, biggest Tiffany chandelier ever made (could hold a Volkswagon beetle according to our guide), largest collection of Tiffany lights and the highest masonry dome in the United States – i.e. one with stone on top.  Of course, Texas’ dome is taller but of  different material.  

The information sheets came in Spanish, German, French, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Russian – indicative of the state’s Pacific location and sources of their immigrant population.  And, because it sits on a whole capillary set of geological faults, the structure was built to withstand earthquakes.  Before the 2001 earthquake, the columns were not even attached and no mortar held the stone together, only gravity.  A $100 million renovation after that earthquake has now secured those.  

In 1976, on our nation’s 200th birthday, each state chose items to place in their capitols.  Washington’s time capsule is buried in the capitol’s entrance and contains seeds from their native plants, then current magazines and newspapers, student compositions on imagined life in 2076 and, no surprise here, cans of salmon and beer.

After years in Texas, it felt strange to be in a legislature where Democrats dominate.  Despite two-thirds of the land being in Western Washington, it is no longer a rural state.  Seattle’s King County guides the votes.  One legislator remarked that he could pass anything with the support of a majority of the voters seen from the Seattle space needle.  Yet, a more laid back atmosphere prevails.  Ninety percent of the votes are unanimous. The Senate still votes by a roll call of individual senators rather than electronically.  There were no metal detectors to suffer upon entering the building.  And the legislature meets only 105 days this year. 

I’ve always thought the view from the Texas Capitol in Austin, down Congress Avenue to Town Lake was as good as it got.  But walking out of the Washington Capitol with landscaped grounds, spring fruit trees in full bloom, Capitol Lake to the west, Puget Sound to the north, mountains circling and the Temple of Justice below gave me pause.   If the sun would just shine more, it would be tempting indeed.

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Journey from the Philippines to Paris via Nursing School

Dane and  Vimah Temporal, Bridgett Rian, Lina and George Tabangcora

In November 1976, six nurses arrived in Paris to work for St. Joseph’s Hospital, the first of many Filipino nurses who were to enhance the medical community of Lamar County.  Recently, I spoke with two of the original six, Lina Tabangcora and Bridgett Rian, as well as four other members of the local Filipino community – George Tabangcora, Dane and Vimah Temporal, and TJ Gorley.   Their travel stories reflect the history of Filipino nurses in the United States.

To counter communist propaganda, the United States instituted an Exchange Visitors  Program in 1948 to bring young people to America for two years to learn our way of life and expand  knowledge in their fields.  Because of U.S. influence from its colonial days in the Philippines, many Filipino nurses had been trained by American methods.  They soon became the dominant participants in the Exchange program where 80% came from the Philippines.  In 1965, immigration laws were revised and no longer favored European immigrants, thus allowing more Filipino nurses to apply.  As demand increased, so did their local nursing schools – growing from 17 in 1940 to over 300 today.

Lina and Bridgett were originally recruited to work in Georgia but a friend enticed them to Paris because St. Joseph’s hospital would sponsor them for permanent residency.  Bridgett remembers being depressed as they arrived noting Wal-Mart was the only place to shop.  But the Sisters were very accommodating, helping with furniture, and Dr. Bercher even brought by some food.

Both Lina and Bridgett were single but that would change, thanks to the “inter-relative” network, a precursor to internet dating services.  Bridgett’s cousin, George Tabangcora, had also come to the United States via the Exchange Program and was living in Pennsylvania, studying embryo transplants for cattle.  He met Lina in 1978 on a visit to Paris and they married in 1981.   George introduced Bridgett to Levi Rian, another Exchange Program participant in Ohio, and they married.   After a correspondence course with California College under the supervision of Ed Schaffer, both George and Levi became certified respiratory therapists and joined our local medical community.

By the time fiancees, Vimah and Dane Temporal, finished nursing school, recruiters from the U.S. were all over the Phillippines including an alum from their school who worked out of Houston.    It was 1983, a time of recession, and the offer looked good.  Dane remembers looking at a map of the United States in the recruitment office in Manila and couldn’t find Paris, Texas on it.  After landing in Houston, Dane and another nurse were put on a Trailway bus to travel by night to Dallas and then to Paris.  Vimah came two months later.

Dane and Vimah wanted to marry immediately.  They paid $7 for a marriage license and found their way to Justice of the Peace Chester Oakes’ office.  Judge Oakes thought they were Native Americans and bewildered the couple by speaking in Cherokee.  He also couldn’t pronounce her name and asked if Dane wanted to marry Vimah “whatever her last name is.”  Dane wondered aloud if they were legally married.

TJ Gorley soon after her arrival in Paris

At age 23, TJ Gorley came to America because it was prestigious and she knew her parents would be proud.  TJ had to choose among El Paso, San Antonio or Paris – selecting Paris only because she recognized the name.  In January 1984, she disembarked from the plane in a mini-skirt and immediately wondered why all the trees were dead – having never experienced winter in the Phillippines.  She joined eight other nurses staying in George and Lina’s home until accommodations could be found.  Lina said they had women sleeping everywhere.

Even though many of the recruits moved on, Dane believes there are over 100 Filipinos living in Lamar County, with most coming directly or indirectly through nursing recruitment.  They all had big adjustments to make.  Although English classes begin in second grade in the Phillippines, our local idioms were challenging.  “Move your noggin,” “over yonder,” “come back directly”, or “fixin to” all had to be explained.

This group stayed in Paris for many reasons.  They wanted their children to have a hometown. They felt if they worked hard, they could earn respect as well as financial success.  They appreciated then and now the lack of red tape and our efficient government bureaucracy.  They see their taxes used on good roads and schools and believe opportunity still exists here.

 Because of America’s increased emphasis on nursing, Filipino nurses no longer are needed to  fill our needs.  Many of them now go to the Middle East.  But we were lucky that some of their best made it to Paris and that they stayed.

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Downtown McKinney – Big City Offerings in a Small Town Square

Street Signs Aid the Visitor In McKinney

Inviting Stores in downtown McKinney

Dining Al Fresco in Downtown McKinney

As recently as the 1990 census, Paris could brag of being larger than McKinney by 4,000 residents.  Today, a mere 23 years later, McKinney’s population has leapt ahead to over 141,000 – more than five times that of Paris.  Along the Highway 75 corridor, national chain box stores have filled in any lingering farmland and franchise restaurants followed the population surge.  Yet, downtown McKinney retains local charm while offering big city restaurants and stores.

The map of the historic square area resembles that of a large shopping mall, except everything is on one level.  Listed are 20 restaurants, 11 apparel shops, 12 health and beauty salons and studios, one hotel, and 34 specialty stores such as the Lone Star Wine Cellar, The Cake Stand, Cadence Cyclery, Walls of Clay, Kitchenware on the Square, and a surprisingly well stocked skip shop.  

Doug and Lynda’s Ski Shop began the move to central McKinney in the 1970’s. Back then, the square hosted primarily antique stores and the few elderly visitors arrived by bus from nearby assisted living homes, according to a longtime employee.  The shop is now in its second generation of family owners and continues to surprise tourists with its low costs and large selection of ski equipment,  coats, pants, hats, sunglasses, and all necessary protective gear.  Across the street, four store fronts were being restored for as many new restaurants.

Arrow to Main Street Magic & Fun Show

While I enjoyed browsing the unusual women’s stores such as Orison’s western wear that proudly claimed “WE DRESS TEXAS”, it was the side street establishments that held the surprises. A sidewalk placard of a rabbit in a hat pointed  north off the square for a free magic demonstration at the Main Street Magic & Fun Company, one of only five magic stores in the whole state of Texas.  The owners have been very happy with the move to downtown McKinney, noting its relatively inexpensive cost.  I watched a five year old pronounce “hocus pocus” as the magician’s coin mysteriously disappeared.  It’s no wonder they often host children’s birthday parties.

Next door was another hidden gem – a bookstore specializing in old and rare books and especially first editions.  It, obviously, has much more as the books in the front window ranged from a Stephen King novel to one on musical instruments through the ages.  Take your time in this one.

Interior of Gregory’s Bistro

Thanks to extended sidewalks, restaurants on the square spill outside with a European flare complete with rounded tables, white tablecloths and umbrellas. Italian gelato is available at Peciugo’s as are British food pub at Churchill’s and Spanish tapas at Malaga’s.  Just off the square is Gregory’s Bistro offering food of the chef’s Bretagne region of France which included my perfectly cooked Diver sea scallops with lemon vinaigrette. And for those who are less adventuresome, don’t worry.  Rick’s Chophouse boasts of “Texas Cuisine With the Comfort of the South.”

Old District Courtroom now used for performances and weddings

I was impressed with the clever decisions encouraged by the city on uses of old spaces.  After a new courthouse was built south of downtown, the historic 1927 courthouse became the McKinney Performing Arts Center.  The old district courtroom was transformed into a large, comfortable theater venue with nice balcony seating that can even be used for weddings.   Elsewhere on the square, an old movie theater is now a small, indoor  shopping mall.  And, just outside the downtown area, an old flour mill has become the newest wedding setting.

Unlike most smaller Texas communities, McKinney’s downtown does not die after 9 p.m.   More sidewalk placards advertised “awesome” live music at One Lazy Lizard and Cadillac Pizza Pub.  Louisiana Street Grill also often hosts solo performers.

While anytime is a good time to visit downtown McKinney, you can enhance your visit by attending one of the many events scheduled through the year as listed on their Main Street website.  I also discovered this blog by Beth, a local resident who wants to keep all apprised of what is new in her hood –
Downtown McKinney Blog

After only a few hours exploring downtown and the nearby Chestnut Square filled with historic homes, it was easy to understand why McKinney was selected as the second best place to live in the United States by Money Magazine in 2012.  I don’t know about living there but it’s certainly worth a visit.

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Marrying into the Amazing Cristal Family

Trase Christian, Walker Clark, Nicholas Salzman and Elvis Tsang
Nitke Choy, Alba Cristal de Cholac, Dorcas Cristal Clark, irma Cristal, Maya Cristal
Efrain Cristal, Clark Pogemiller, Ana Lucia Cholac and josue Cholac

Our son was to marry in Guatemala at a beautiful hotel on the shores of Lake Atitlan.  Friends thought it a destination wedding but it wasn’t.   Such events imply ceremonies on the beach at sunset with no connection to the locale.  For ours, the bride’s roots in Guatemala ran deep and the wedding was an impressive combination of cultures.

Dorcas and her parents

Walker met Dorcas Cristal  and her family as a Peace Corps Volunteer when he worked in Chimazat, a small indigenous Maya village filled with strawberry farmers.  Her father came from a respected farming family that valued education.  Efrain finished high school in accounting and worked for two NGOs (non-profits) until taking a position with Honda in Guatemala City.  He had to commute on week-ends but used his earnings to buy land.  Her mother, Irma, was also descended from a large farming family.  She met Efrain in an evangelical church choir and married him when she was 18 and he 27.

They had five children – four girls and a boy.   Tragically, their son, Avilio, died at age 16 from leukemia, an event that most affected Efrain,  softening his traditional strict nature.

Their daughters’ careers  directly reflect the changing times in Guatemala. Irma didn’t want her daughters to suffer at the hands of macho men and she taught them to be independent.  She was the first woman in their village to drive a car and she made sure her girls could, too.

As the oldest, Irmita was a talented singer and musician and typical focused firstborn.  She moved to Guatemala City to learn English and to get a masters degree in psychology.  She now works for Tierra Nueva, an NGO that helps abused women.

Alba was strong, the tomboy of the family, and even knew how to work on cars.  Men didn’t know what to think of her.  With her family’s help, she started an egg business and later married Raul who had a poultry business – a nice combination that has allowed the family to prosper.

The four sisters at Diana’s graduation

As a child, Diana loved to watch TV and was scared of even a mosquito.  But when a friend suggested applying for to the military school of Escuela Politechnica de Guatemala, she jumped in, becoming the first indigenous female tograduate from this prestigious institution.  She’s become the toughest of them all as she begins her eight years of military service.

Dorcas was the youngest and  educated more by her mother and sisters than in school.  They made sure she read early and encouraged her to get a college degree.  But Guatemala’s universities require students to begin anew if they change majors and  Dorcas wasn’t sure of a career path.  So, she became the first of the family to live abroad when she moved to Long Island, New York to be an au pair for a family with three boys.  Her arrival in the United States gave our son an  opportunity to pursue her which he did.

As the guests arrived for the wedding, it was easy to discern their nationalities.  The Guatemalan women wore traditional embroidered blouses called guipiles and wrap around skirts, many with cotton sweaters added for warmth.  The Maya men were in western suits with the bride’s father looking sharp in a tuxedo.  Young adults attending were indistinguishable from each other – the international youth culture being monochromatic in style.

In the wedding party, Dorcas’ attendants wore the traditional dress as did her mother but Dorcas had chosen a simple white gown from David’s Bridal in the States. Groomsmen brought tuxedos with them.

Although the service was primarily in Spanish,  guests were greeted in Spanish and English, readings were in both languages and my husband and I gave a bilingual despedirse or good by at the end.   The mingling of cultures was so interesting, many guests at the hotel watched the ceremony from above.

At the reception, tables were divided naturally by culture and language but on the dance floor.. ….  music united.  Sixties hits kicked off the dancing but soon a Latin beat entered followed by more current songs. The floor never emptied and all ages and dress styles mingled and moved to the beat. Even behind the buffet line, the staff could be seen tapping their feet.  What a night.

Alba Cristal de Cholac, Dorcas Cristal Clark, Irmita Cristal
Efrain and Irma Cristal

It is a tribute to the Cristals, a family proud of its Guatemalan traditions and history, that they raised four daughters in a developing country to be independent and confident.  Their success gives hope to all women of Guatemala.  And, of course, we were lucky enough to get one of those girls as our daughter-in-law.

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Mardi Gras in Shreveport or Confessions of a Mardi Gras Bead Newbie

Brad Graff, King of Gemini XXIV Parade
Queen of Gemini Parade

The idea of joining 1.5 million revelers in New Orleans for Mardi Gras made this slightly claustrophobic traveler nervous.  However, experiencing similar parades in Shreveport with more locals than tourists was appealing. I just wasn’t prepared to be caught up in the bead mania.

Mardi Gras was the first celebration of the French who landed in Louisiana on that Tuesday before Ash Wednesday over 300 years ago.   In the 1700s,  then secret societies (or krewes) held balls and other festivities.  New Orleans torch bearers led night parades sponsored by these groups in the 1830s with the first daylight event debuting in 1872  – about the time “throws” from floats were first recorded.  In the 1920s, bead throwing began in earnest but with glass beads from Czechoslovakia and Japan.

Flintstone float
I Love Lucy float

This festival is held throughout Louisiana – a state and school holiday since 1875. Shreveport’s celebrations date back to the mid-19th century although it was dormant for many years before being revived in 1984.  The Gemini Krewe’s parade is the oldest and its theme this year was “Gemini Loves Television” – a far cry from the original mythical and satirical themes.  It’s hard to compare a Gunsmoke float with one called  “The Missing Links to Darwin’s Origin of Species”  from 1873.

Beads in Waiting
Beads on a Fire Truck

Yet, the basics are the same.  Members of the Krewes pay to decorate floats and for all of  beads (now plastic ones from China and Korea), candy, toy coins called doubloons,  footballs, and cups that are thrown as well.  This year,  $220 and a membership would also buy you a space on top.  While drinking is part of the fun, both on and off the floats, we saw little excessive behavior.  Families and friends lined the road, many with chairs and coolers.  Kids crowded to the front for the freebies. Experienced adults recognized the more generous floats as they approached and would rush to the front for the bags of goodies.

Beads in Waiting

My plan was to takes notes, photos, and observe.  That fell apart when the first beaded necklace dropped at my feet. I scooped it up and started collecting.  The problem was being only five feet tall.  To really grab the beads in air, I had to be in front with all the kids.  But it didn’t feel right jumping at necklaces in front of sweet five year olds.  If I moved back, taller arms could clutch anything coming my way.  I had to turn to my six feet three inch husband who took some convincing to participate.   But when he did, It was great.  After a while, I could order as in “I need a purple one or  I like the white ones.”   He simply reached up and caught my desired color.   He also shared with others around us whose necks were bare.

A woman who knew what to look for

 At our hotel the next morning, we saw a woman from Tyler who had been at the parade and was an experienced Mardi Gras participant.  When asked  how our parade compared to others, she admitted disappointment in the “crummy” beads.  No  “good”  beads had been thrown.  Only then did I notice the difference in what she was wearing and what we had caught.  Her beads were larger and of different shapes,  with some necklaces having charms or a medallion in the middle.   I realized I needed to pay more attention.

Highland Neighborhood Parade
Highland Neighborhood Parade

On Sunday afternoon, a popular neighborhood parade passed through the Highland area south of downtown Shreveport.  We parked in a nearly full Presbyterian church parking lot and noted all other license plates were from Louisiana.  Floats varied from the large, professional structures to decorated boats or even flatbeds decked out for the Humane Society, Rotary Club or an elementary school’s cheerleaders.  While beads were still the most popular item, throws got more personal.  Candies, gum, cups, balls, moon pies and even hot dogs were tossed into the crowd.  It was here, though, that I caught a small, packaged necklace with a purple and green fleur de lis medal – my first “good”  beaded necklace.

First “Good” Bead Necklace

At midnight Tuesday, Monsigneur Provenza, of Holy Trinity Catholic Church, always meets the two largest Krewes at the center of the Red River Bridge which connects Shreveport and Bossier City.  He blesses the participants and imposes ashes on the forehead of those who request it – an early Ash Wednesday service and an indication that Lent has begun.  All those beautiful beads will now be shared,  stored or sold on Ebay.  But I’m already researching Mardi Gras celebrations for next year – especially those who throw “good” beads.

Recommended Places to Eat

 Herby K’s Restaurant – Herby K’s has been around since 1936 with no recipe changes according to owner, Janet Bean. The neighborhood has changed for the worse but it is well worth seeking out this jewel. On a long communal table in the adjoining patio, we sat with a local family that had been coming there since childhood. A birthday celebration occupied the other end of the table. it was a warm and inviting place. The seafood was fresh and the fried pickles (one of my hidden pleasures) were outstanding. I would definitely return.

Bistro Byronz – The restaurant is one of a small chain in Louisiana offering authentic cajun/french food. Small, local chains are my favorite kind. This means you don’t have to go to New Orleans or Baton Rouge to enjoy shrimp and grits or etoufees or creole pot roast. The drink offering of Pimm’s cup only sealed this restaurant as an authentic southern experience. A great Sunday brunch locale.

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