Mary Clark, Traveler

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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What is There To Do in Bonham, Texas


Fountain at Creative Arts Center, Bonham, Texas

Several years ago, Highway 82 was diverted around Bonham, Texas and I had not been to the downtown area is as many years.  On a cold and rainy day, my husband and I decided to explore this old Texas town and were surprised at its offerings.  Bonham really is one of the oldest towns in Texas, dating back to 1837 – a time when Indian raids were common and  Fannin County covered what is now 37 counties.  As that fear subsided, Bonham grew and in 1885 it had eight churches, three colleges (Carlton College, Fannin College, and the Masonic Female Institute), two public schools, three weekly newspapers, a furniture factory, a saw mill, two grist mills, and gins; and a population of 2300. None of those sites remain but there’s history and more to be found.

The Creative Arts Center has become just that – a place for the arts to be enjoyed.  Executive Director, Lisa Aviles, led us through the front gallery with its display of fine paintings and pottery into the classroom and out to the garden area that most recently hosted a performance of Peter Pan.  Children theater classes, art seminars, lecture series, poetry readings and changing art shows keep this place busy.  A very nice discovery was the gift shop with small works by local artists, hand made chocolates, and more.  Creative Arts Center

At the registry of National Historic Landmark Sam Rayburn’s House, guests from Maine, New York, Illinois and California had signed in that week, an indication of Rayburn’s continuing fame.  When he was first elected to Congress in 1916, Mr. Sam and his brother bought this home and 200 acres  for their family.  During the 48 years he served in the House of Representatives, he returned on Congressional breaks to visit with constituents.  The interior is so perfectly maintained as Mr. Sam left it, you expect him to walk out to greet you. His close relationship with LBJ was obvious.   By the phone downstairs is a pop-up phone directory opened to HIJ.  Listed are Hotels in Washington and below it, “Lyndon – WO6-7273″.  Our guide, supplied small details of Mr. Sam’s life – he admired Robert E. Lee under whom his father served, he  smoked filterless Camels, drank bourbon and branch water, was frugal, loved to ride horses, hated TV, and was a passionate Washington Senators fan, listening to games on the radio.  With its first renovation in 37 years, the house and grounds are well worth a visit.  Sam Rayburn House Museum

Buffet at Cappy’s Cafe

Cappy’s Restaurant in downtown Bonham was the first restaurant recommended by all those we asked.  Begun eight years ago by a mother/daughter team, its exterior is easy to miss.  But locals know it well for the daily buffet.  Sandra Lowrance, a retired school counselor, and her daughter, Mandra Caplinger, use old family recipes and selections from their extensive cookbook collection to vary the homemade offerings.  “I love Paula Dean”, admits Sandra.  Garlic cheese biscuits are always available and desserts often include cobbler and their famous gooey butter cake.  For $7.95, it the best deal out there.  Cappy’s Restaurant

Softly lighted interior of Luna Azul Cafe

Around the corner is Luna Azul, a beautifully restored restaurant that understands mood lighting.  With its tin ceilings, plastered and brick walls, and Mexican pottery and tin works, Luna Azul just feels authentic.  Add in a bar that can serve Dos Equis and Corona beer with the homemade enchiladas, and it’s a place to be enjoyed. Luna Azul Cafe

Dennis Sweeney Art Studio

One more downtown discovery was 3rd Street Gallery, week-end studio of Dallas resident, Dennis Sweeney.  The affable artist invited us to view his finished works as well as those in progress.  He was particularly proud of the building itself that he restored “to code”.  Each piece of furniture has a story, including the pristine motorcycle resting at court center.  You’d be lucky to find him in.

Last stop was the Sam Rayburn Library, the closest most North Texans will ever come to real power.  As the longest serving speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (17 years), Mr. Sam knew the rules and used them.  Yet, he was known for his honesty, often saying that you’ll never get mixed up if you tell the truth and you won’t forget what you said.

Podium from
House of Representatives
Bust of Sam Rayburn

Rayburn’s office there is the real thing – not a replica.  The chandelier came from the White House and  the 92 year old fireplace from the House of Representatives.  If you could stand on the rug, you would join presidents, senators, kings and queens who paid homage to this powerful man.  Photos from Mr. Sam’s funeral were most poignant, especially one of President Kennedy, Vice-President Johnson, and former presidents Truman and Eisenhower sitting on the first row of the First Baptist Church of Bonham.  Come for the history or the research or just to pound the speaker’s gavel.  Sam Rayburn Library Museum

Bonham and environs had more offerings such as the historical museum,  Bonham State Park, and two wineries but we’ll wait for the next sunny day to explore those.

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Guatemala Revisited – 1975 and 2012

Beautiful Guatemalan Countryside
Thirty seven years ago, my husband and I started our married life in Guatemala.  After exchanging vows on May 31st, 1975, we arrived in Guatemala City four days later.  Ed had a three month grant to study intestinal ailments at the capital city’s Roosevelt Hospital and I was ready to explore.

An apartment was found on the top floor of a small five story building owned by a Chinese- Guatemalan family. Our spartan rooms were really the maids quarters but none wanted to live there.  We thought it glorious.  As we walked out our bedroom door each morning to the large patio, a view of the mountains, volcanos, and downtown Guatemala City greeted us.

We often strolled  to the central plaza, stopping on the return at open-aired markets.  A neighborhood store named Tienda Mary, supplied fresh milk and cheese.  And we enjoyed an occasional night out at one of the surprising number of international restaurants, German food  being our favorite.

Most tourists were young and looking for a cheap place to travel.  A few organized tours would include Antigua, the beautiful colonial former capital, Lake Atitlan, a volcanic mountain lake, and Tikal, a giant of a Maya ruin.   The government was ruled by General Laugerus Garcias, a conservative Norwegian/Guatemalan while “narcotrafico”  was not even a word.  We thought the traditional garb of the indigenous tribes charming and were unaware of the internal war that was building for native rights.  Guatemala simply enchanted us.

 McDonalds and Wendy’s are popular with Guatemalans

In November of 2012, we returned to Guatemala for our son’s wedding.  The country had changed in many ways.  Sadly, we avoided Guatemala City because of its high crime rate.  The city growth from 715,000 in 1975 to a metropolitan population of 4,000,000 inhabitants has strained  roads and air quality. A simple drive from the airport through town revealed Korea and China now have strong    presences in the textile industry,  Japanese car makers have scooped up much of that market, and American fast food restaurants have settled in, even including a Schlotzky’s.

View of Volcano from Antigua’s City Hall

In Antigua, a tour with Elizabeth Bell, an American ex-pat  resident since 1969, educated us on many of that town’s changes.  The first Spanish language school started in 1969 with 40 students.  Today, one thousand students study there, fueling an economy of teachers, restaurants, home stays, and side trips.  Most surprising was learning the mayor had been recently arrested for misappropriating public funds.  At city hall, accountants were busily reviewing the books for evidence.  Ms. Bell was encouraged that this step toward rooting out corruption had finally happened.

Tourists to Guatemala have more than doubled in the last eight  years, fueling 15% of the work force and one-fourth of the national GDP.  Lodging has even become a problem in high season.    NGOs are everywhere, helping women’s co-ops, building homes, and teaching business basics.  Guatemala is now about 50% “evangelico” or protestant, resulting in a broader array of mission trips from the U.S.

Two changes were obvious.   Roads were greatly improved.  The Pan American highway is now a well-paved, four lane fare way, a far cry from the bumpy,  two lane, shoulderless road of three decades ago. And cell phones are  ubiquitous and cheap, thus enhancing options for small business owners and farmers and encouraging communication among rich and poor.

Active Fuego Volcano near Antigua
Guatemalan textiles

What hadn’t changed was also significant.  Guatemala is still one of the most beautiful countries in the world with its volcanoes and mountains filled with coffee, sugar and cardamom fields.   Most indigenous women still wear the beautiful brocade huipiles or blouses, and those fine Guatemalan textiles are now made into every conceivable item a tourist might buy – bags, blouses, shirts, bedspreads, hats, hair bands, bracelets, robes, scarves, dolls, children’s clothes, luggage tags, wallets, and backpacks.  And the Chapines (as Guatemalans call themselves) continue to be some of the hardest working, gracious and generous people in the world.

Typical Guatemalan store with textile products

 The needs are immense.  Education (4th grade is the last for many children),  roads, health care, women’s rights, jobs, corruption and crime associated with the drug industry all cry for solutions.  But this time,  there was a confidence and hopefulness among the residents that I did not remember before.

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Maya Calendar and Fire Ceremony With Xalista Gabriel

Calista Gabriel, one of 3000 shamans in Guatemala

“World To End on December 21, 2012”  should be a headline reserved for the National Enquirer at check-out stands in your favorite grocery store but this story has been covered by serious news outlets.  The excitement comes from the accurate Maya Calendar begun over 5,000 years ago and still in use by the Maya people of Guatemala and Mexico.

As the end of this 5 millennial  calendar cycle approached, much attention has been given to the event. Yet, it’s really just a reset of the calendar for another 5,126 years.  There will be celebrating on December 21st as a rebirth of their civilization but no preparations for the apocalypse.

Ceramic Pot Used in Maya Fire Ceremony

A byproduct of the spotlight on the Maya Calendar has been the “outing” of their ancient Fire Ceremony.  When Spaniards arrived in Central America over 500 years ago, Maya temples were destroyed and all residents ordered to convert to Catholicism.  Not surprisingly, natives took their religion underground.  Because of the recent interest in the Maya Calendar, the indigenous of Guatemala have had many inquiries and have begun to more openly share their beliefs and ceremonies.  We were fortunate to experience their powerful Fire Ceremony with Calista Gabriel, one of the 3,000 mostly female Shamans, or guides, in Guatemala.

Calista was a political refugee in the United States during the Guatemalan internal war in the 1980s.  She returned and is part of the Maya artist movement.  With three university degrees and three languages,  the diminutive native was knowledgeable and self-assured.

From her we learned the Sacred Fire is over 5000 years old.  Each is different.  Some burn large.  Others  burn out.  With the Mayas, a fire may last three or four hours and include  much crying, laughing, and dancing.  Petitions are very personal such as  “My husband won’t give me enough money.”

Xalista Gabriel prepares fire for Maya Fire Ceremony

On our hotel’s enclosed parking lot, we sat in a  circle of 8 chairs surrounding a large, low, round ceramic pot .  Calista started the wood fire and lit a rue branch.  “Don’t be scared of smoke” .  She asked us to use fire as medicine.  “Talk to fire.” “Connect with it.  Tell it your name.”   As she waved the smoking branch around each of us, we introduced ourselves and verbalized what we hoped to receive from the ceremony. One wanted direction and healing for his family, another cure for a son, another wisdom,  and one for forgiveness for the overuse of earth’s resources.

As she swept our bodies, Calista noted we were part of the creation but have become artificial.  In villages, there is more connection among neighborhoods.  In the city, we are as she said “more weak” because of the disconnect.  As the plant crossed our heads, she talked of cleaning our “corona”, our antenna, and purifying our energies.  A sprinkling of flower water on us was the final preparation for the calling of the four directions.

Candles used in Maya Fire Ceremony

Candles are integral to this experience and Calista pulled them out of her backpack.  Red is for East and the color of blood, black for the west and earth, white is from the north and represents air, yellow the south and color of skin.  Blue is in the center of the cosmic cross and stands in for water and sky while green does so for plants and mother earth.  As our leader explained the meanings of each candle in her three languages of Kaqchikel, Spanish and English,  we individually placed ours in the fire with a prayer or observation.  The most  moving was the last, a lard candle made from animal fat standing in for our ancestors.  We all had special prayers for those who came before us.

At the end, Calista made the sign of the Maya cross, different than that of our Catholic brethren, indicating the balance of nature.   A final traditional embrace began with Calista hugging each of us as we individually followed her around the circle.

Calista Gabriel After the Ceremony

This is not a conversion opportunity. No one wants you to change religions.   You  are either Maya or not – like being Jewish.  Yet it is a recognition that we are all spiritual beings and it can be a  cleansing ceremony allowing participants to release petitions up to creation through nature’s fire and smoke.  My guess is that there will be many of these ceremonies on December 21st as the Mayas give thanks and celebrate their rebirth.

To experience a Maya Fire Ceremony with Calista Gabriel, contact Elizabeth Bell at

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