Five Days in Malibu

Two years ago five friends and I rented a villa on Lake Como in Italy. We had all been to a reunion at our boarding school in Switzerland and were ready for some down time. Sitting on our porch we were soothed by the waves lapping onto the beach and an awe inspiring view. We were all transformed in one way or another after that trip. The beauty of the place, the calm atmosphere and the joy of sharing time with old friends inspired us all.

We would have loved to do it again but finances did not allow another trip to Europe so soon. Instead we decided to share a house on the west coast and coordinate it with a school party at a friend’s house. I found a three bedroom house in the Malibu Colony right on the beach. This time the waves were crashing onto the beach below us. We spent five days mostly mesmerized by the Pacific Ocean. We talked, we ate, we drank, we relaxed. It was sunny and peaceful.

Frederick Rindge, founder of Pacific Life insurance and vice-president of Union Oil Company, purchased the 13,300 acre Spanish land grant Rancho Topanga Malibu Sequit in 1892. In 1929, his widow, May Rindge, was forced to start selling the property in lots. One of the first to go was the Malibu Colony. It is located just off the Pacific Coast Highway about an hour north of the Los Angeles airport. Today it is a gated community with multimillion dollar homes right on the beach. We were lucky enough to enjoy five days there. –

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My Year in South America

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When I was 15, my family moved to Bogota, Colombia. That first summer my parents and I took a trip to the coast by car. My father was a beach fanatic and somebody in his office told him he would find the most beautiful pristine beaches imaginable at the coastal village of Tolu. Since he had to go to Cartagena on business anyway, he decided to make a trip of it and stop in Tolu and the resort town of Santa Marta as well. The trip was almost entirely through the Andes Mountains with hair-raising drop offs on the side of the road. We stopped for a couple of days in Medellín, a city that was later known for its drug cartel. At the time, it was a small city nestled in the mountains with a lot of old churches. My mother had a thing about Catholic churches. If there was a church anywhere nearby, we had to go see it. It wasn’t a religious thing; it was a tourist thing. She wanted to see the architecture, the windows, and the statues. It used to really embarrass me to have to go into all these churches where people were praying just so we could snoop around. That was my teenaged view of it anyway.

San Ignacio, Medillin

San Ignacio, Medillin

The morning we left Medellín, we stopped in a small corner restaurant for breakfast. All we wanted was some orange juice, coffee and rolls. I spoke Spanish fluently with no accent. My father spoke Spanish fluently but with an accent. We went up to the counter and I asked for three orange juices – jugo de naranja. Blank stares answered my simple request. I could not make them understand what I was saying. I had to resort to pointing and acting in order to get three orange juices. We decided that they saw so few foreigners they just assumed we did not speak Spanish and could not process the fact that we did.

On the way down from the mountains, we had to follow a riverbed where much of the road had been washed away by flooding. There were cliffs going up on either side, with the river in the middle, and the road was to one side of the river. Where the road was washed out, there was no place else to go but in the river or hug the cliff. Fortunately there was almost no traffic and we were able to manage it, although we all had white knuckles by the time we passed through the mountains.

As we got to the coastal flatlands we started looking out for the road to Tolu. We were all very excited. The road turned out to be a narrow rutted lane with overgrown vegetation on either side. We said, no problem, this was good, it meant it was unspoiled by the overuse of tourists. The village of Tolu was small. There was a small square in the middle of town but the main road was just past the center and ran along the ocean on the beach. Yes, the beach had become a road with buses barreling down it at high speeds. There were no swimmers or sunbathers – they would have died from the exhaust fumes first and a car accident second. Since it was late in the day, we realized we had to stay the night, so we found a small hotel on the beach that looked passable. We were shown to a “suite” that had two rooms and five beds and a huge bathroom that only had cold water and a millions cockroaches. My father got up several times during the night to spray his mattress for bugs. We left early the next morning. When we got back to Bogota my father told the person who had recommended Tolu all about our experience. Of course, the person had never actually been there. So much for pristine beaches.

From Tolu we drove to Cartagena, the old Spanish outpost. There was a fort on the hill that had tunnels going down to the water. Niches were cut into the tunnel for soldiers to stand with their rifles and shoot people as they ran down the dark and claustrophobic tunnels. It all made me very uncomfortable. Cartagena was often visited by pirates as well as by Spanish ships. Under the water was a heavy chain strung across part of the bay to keep the boats from entering. Those who didn’t know about the fence, sank. Cartagena itself was a beautiful colonial town.

Our next stop was Barranquilla, another big port and more of a vibrant busy bustling city, and our final stop was Santa Marta, a small resort town. Luckily we flew home from Santa Marta so we didn’t have to repeat the treacherous drive.

Monserrate

Monserrate

Bogota was 8,600 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains. Lush and cool, it rained almost every day for a short while. It is nestled right against the mountains and above the city at 10,341 feet is the mountain Monserrate where a small church was built in the 17th century. Now there is a funicular that takes people up there and the view is amazing. One of the biggest tourist attractions is the Gold Museum. Its mission statement states: The mission of the Gold Museum of the Banco de la República is to preserve, research, catalogue and exhibit its archaeological collections in goldwork, ceramics, lithics and other materials as the cultural heritage of present and future generations of Colombian citizens, to strengthen the cultural identity of Colombians through enjoyment, learning and inspiration. It is definitely worth a visit.

Musica Raft, Gold Museum

Musica Raft, Gold Museum

On the weekends sometimes, we would drive down to the hot country and stay at fincas. They could be working farms or just small “summer” houses where people went to relax and get out of the city. We stayed in one that had bungalows around the compound and a big house at the center. We all gathered in the big house for meals and ate at long tables. The landscape was tropical and kind of rugged. There wasn’t much to do but eat, sleep and take walks. On the way home, we would stop in a small village and buy rolls made from cassava flour that were filled with cheese.

Growing up as a Third Culture Kid, or TCK, meant constantly adapting and adjusting to new places and new people. After a while I became a chameleon, able to blend in to any background. I learned to hone my power of observation and I would spend the first few weeks in a new environment reserved and quiet, watching everybody else. Then once I built confidence, I would break out like a phoenix, and my new persona would emerge, reinvented for my current surroundings. One of the hardest things about growing up the way I did was saying goodbye. Constantly having to leave friends behind or see them leave did take a toll and as I grew older I became more discriminating about who I opened up to and became close to. In spite of that, I looked forward to new places. It was an adventure, a challenge.

The Hat

The Hat

My uniform that year was a ruana (a wool cape) and a hat that was very common among the people who lived in the mountains (a man’s stiff felt hat). I also had a swell pair of suede lace-up boots and I wore rings on every finger. I had long hair and long sharp nails and when I first arrived at school people thought I was some kind of witch. I loved it there. The people were either Colombian or, for the most part, expat kids who had grown up overseas. Everybody was mellow and easy going.

I went to the American school in Bogota. During study hall, we would go to the recreation room and have really superior games of table tennis. At lunch, we would walk to the other end of the football field to eat our sandwiches. I ate peanut butter and jelly on toast every single day for a year. Some people would bring chessboards and we would gather around and watch them play.

My best friend lived near a small shopping center and park area called El Lago where a lot of the “street people” hung out. These were the Colombian hippies and the American drifters who gathered to generally laze around and look for action. People would play frisbee and talk and eat and gather information on parties. We would go there and hang out and try to be “cool”.

One day it was raining (as usual) and I was standing under an archway listening to a Jesus freak proselytize and a guy appeared who had long black hair, a beret, lavender tie-dye shirt, lavender pants, and belt, with bells on his black leather boots. He walked right up to the Jesus freak, took off his hat and in a large swooping movement bowed to him and said “And I am the Devil”. This infuriated the Jesus freak and set him off on a long tirade, which was completely ignored. The “Devil” came up to me and asked me for a light and introduced himself as Giovanni. He was a wonderful character who loved to talk non-stop and tell stories of his escapades under the influence of magical mushrooms.

A few weeks later, Giovanni arrived dressed in a three-piece suit. I almost didn’t recognize him and when questioned he told me his grandmother had died. He had started his day with a large magical mushroom omelet and then set off for his grandmother’s funeral. He went to the church all dressed up, greeted all his relatives and joined the procession to pass by and view the open casket. As he reached the casket, the mushrooms must have kicked in, because he swore to us that his grandmother moved, at which point he had apparently created a scene and was asked to leave.

Giovanni had dreams of moving to Miami to be a hairdresser or a model. When he suddenly disappeared, I wondered if he had actually made it to Miami. A few months later, I ran into his sidekick, Fernando. I had to drag it out of him but he finally told me that Giovanni had been down in the Amazon playing “witch doctor”. He was expected back soon so I told Fernando to pass a message to him to come by because I wanted to see him.

He showed up one afternoon dressed again in the three-piece suit and all his beautiful long hair cut off. I asked him who had died this time and he was furious. Fernando apparently was supposed to have rescued all of Giovanni’s clothes from his mother’s house but didn’t get there in time, and his mother had thrown out all his lavender tie-dyes. It was obvious that at his age, he was expected to get a serious job and be respectable. It was the last time I saw him and I like to believe he really did become a real doctor but for all I know, he is still in the jungle playing witch doctor.

People from the States or England or Venezuela would drift in and out of El Lago. One fellow from England wore only green and we called him Limey. There was an African guy who had lived there for a long time with a Colombian woman. He was famous all around town and known just as “Blackie”.

I want to say those were more innocent times, but maybe I was just lucky and never got into anything I couldn’t handle. I cried all the way to Miami when we moved. I wasn’t ready to leave; a year just wasn’t long enough. Now not only was I moving to a new place with new people but I would have to adjust to a whole new continent and culture plus I was going back to boarding school.

Sometimes people think TCKs are whiney. We grew up in exotic places and had all kinds of interesting experiences. And most people think children are very adaptable and resilient. So the combination of new adventures and the ability to constantly adapt to them must be fabulous, no? Sometimes I think it seems that children are super adaptable because they are better at playing make believe than grown ups are. Sometimes I think that is why it is so hard for TCKs to grow up. They get too good at playing make believe.

Within months I was at a new school reinventing myself once again.

 

Adventurous Women

I recently read ‘Too Close to the Sun’ about Denys Finch Hatton and it reminded me of the amazing women through the ages who chose to spend their lives in foreign lands. Here area few of my favorites.

Karen Blixen and her brother

Karen Blixen and her brother

Karen Blixen was Danish.  She married Baron Bror von Blixen and moved to Kenya in 1914.  Unfortunately he gave her syphilis and she returned to Denmark after only one year for arsenic treatment.  She lived through it, however, and returned to live in Kenya for another 16 years. She ran a coffee farm for a while but always struggled with it and eventually was forced to sell the land.  Her lover, Denys Finch Hatton, was a big game hunter who died in a plane crash just as she was dealing with the loss of her farm.  She returned to Denmark and lived there for the rest of her life.  She wrote under the name Isak Dineson as well as a few others and a couple of her more famous books are:

Out of Africa  (1937); Anecdotes of Destiny  (1958) – includes Babette’s Feast which was made into a movie; Letters from Africa 1914-1931  (1981 – posthumous)

 

 

Beryl Markham

Beryl Markham

Beryl Markam was English.  Her family moved to Kenya when she was 4 years old in 1906.   She became friends with Karen Blixen even though there was an 18 year gap in age.  Beryl also had an affair with Denys Finch Hatton and was due to fly with him the day he crashed.  She had some kind of premonition and did not go.  However she did go on to fly extensively in the African bush and was the first women to fly across the Atlantic from East to West.  She briefly lived in California married to an avocado farmer but eventually retuned to Kenya and became a well known horse trainer.  There is a new book out about her life called “Circling the Sun”.

Her memoir (a very good read) is: West with the Night  (1942, re-released in 1983)

 

 

Alexandra David Neel

Alexandra David Neel

Alexandra David-Neel was French.  She became an explorer at a young age running away from home at the age of 18 to ride her bicycle to Spain and back.  In 1904 at the age of 36 she was traveling in Tunis and married a railway engineer.  That didn’t last long since she immediately had itchy feet and set off for India.  She told her husband she would be back in 18 months but did not return for 14 years.  Her goal was Sikkim in the northern mountains.  She spent years studying with the hermits and monks of the region and eventually, dressed as a man, snuck into the forbidden city of Lhasa.

Her account of her trip to Lhasa is a fascinating read: My Journey to Lhasa (1927)

 

 

 

Gertrude Stein by Picasso

Gertrude Stein by Picasso

Gertrude Stein was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in California, attended Radcliff and Johns Hopkins University, discovered her sexual awakening while in Baltimore and fell in love with another woman. She moved to Paris in 1904 where she collected art and held “Salons” promoting modern unknown artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Cezanne.  During World War I she learned to drive and drove a supply truck for the American Fund for French Wounded. Her writing was revolutionary and influenced many modern writers including Hemmingway.  She was a strong, opinionated woman and a copious writer with a great sense of humor.  Her lifelong companion, Alice B. Toklas cooked and ran the household. Two of my favorite books by Stein are:

The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas  (1933); Ida, A Novel (1941)

 

 

James Joyce and Sylvia Beach

James Joyce and Sylvia Beach

Sylvia Beach was a contemporary of Gertrude Stein and also lived in Paris.  She was born in Baltimore, Maryland.  Her father was a minister and she grew up in Europe.  She owned the bookstore Shakespeare and Company and published James Joyce’s Ulysses when nobody else would touch it, even though she had no money herself.  She lived in Paris most of her adult life.

Her memoir is: Shakespeare & Company (1959)

 

Catherine II by Johann Baptist von Lampi

Catherine II by Johann Baptist von Lampi

And just for fun… Catherine the Great.  She was born in Stettin, Prussia (now Szczecin, Poland), and traveled to Russia in 1744.  In 1745, at age 16, she married Grand Duke Peter of Russia and became the Russian empress in 1762.  She did not get on well with her husband and managed to “convince” him to abdicate so she could take the throne.  Soon afterwards he was mysteriously killed.  She continued to rule Russia until her death at age 67.  I visited her palace outside St Petersburg a couple of times when I was living in Russia.  One room I particularly liked was the Amber Room.  The walls are covered in amber and other precious jewels.

A good book about her life is: Catherine the Great by Robert K Massie (2011)

 

Who are your favorites??

 

First American Woman on Top of the World

I met Fran Yarbro when I was 17 and she was 15. We were both on the varsity volleyball team at The American School in Switzerland. We spent two hours together every afternoon at practice. She was a natural athlete and good at volleyball as well as all the other sports she played and an excellent skier. She was beautiful. But she was tough. Nobody messed with Fran.

From high school she went on to get a Masters degree from the International School of Business in Arizona. She lived most of her life in the mountains, mainly in Colorado. She was also a mountain climber. When she was 33, she was climbing Annapurna and met Sergei Arsentiev. Sergei was famous in Russia for being one of the best climbers ever. He had climbed all the major mountains in Russia as well as Everest. In 1992 they climbed Mt Elbrus in the Caucasus and Fran skied down. They were married that same year and soon moved to Colorado together.

Fran had a dream. She wanted to summit Everest without oxygen. On May 22, 1998, Fran became the 8th woman to summit the north face of Everest, she was the first American woman to summit the north face of Everest, and she was the first American woman without oxygen to summit the north face of Everest. Fran was 40 years old and she had realized her dream.

And then it all went wrong.

– Continue reading HERE

 

 

 

Lamb Stew

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My brother gave me an electric crockpot and my son was begging for some lamb so this turned out to be a great marriage. If you don’t have a crockpot, simmering on the stove would probably work just as well.

Once I got into the recipe I discovered I didn’t have any coriander so I threw in some cinnamon instead. Of course, I must have just gone brain dead because obviously coriander is cilantro and I always have cilantro. In spite of it all, it turned out to be a tasty dish.

Lamb Stew

1 lb lamb shoulder chops, trimmed and cut into smallish chunks

Mix together and toss with the meat:

1 Tbsp olive oil

4 tsp cumin

1 Tbsp coriander (cilantro)

¼ tsp cayenne pepper (I would put a little more)

¼ tsp salt (don’t really need it if you are using the full strength chicken broth)

Several turn of the pepper mill

 

1 large onion, chopped (I used a red one)

 

28-oz diced tomatoes

¾ cup chicken broth (I used half a cube in boiling water)

4 cloves minced garlic

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1 can cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

Mash about ¾ cup of the beans

 

6 oz fresh spinach, chopped

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Put the spiced up meat into the crockpot, top with chopped onion.

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Heat tomatoes, chicken broth and garlic in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.

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Pour the tomato mixture over the meat.

Cover and cook 3 hours on high or 5 hours on low, until meat is tender.

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Mix in the mashed chickpeas, whole chickpeas, and spinach

Cook an additional 5-10 minutes until headed and spinach has wilted.

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Serve over rice.

Leftover note. We had this the next day as a sauce for gnocchi and it was really pretty good.

 

 

 

Victory Day Moscow

May 8th, Victory Day or VE Day, marks the end of World War II in Europe.  Due to the time changes, the Russians celebrate this occasion on May 9th.  They have military parades on Red Square, civilian parades down city streets, run old war movies all day on TV, and they gather with family and friends to eat and make many toasts. The USSR suffered the most casualties of any country during World War II, estimated at 27 million.  China comes in a distant second with 10 million. Indeed they have reason to celebrate.

I was in Moscow in 1995 when Boris Yeltsin pulled out all the stops to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this day. Celebrities from all over the world attended including US President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister John Major, French President Francois Mitterrand, and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

We were living in an apartment on the 5th floor right on Tverskaya, one of the main streets downtown that led right into Red Square and on the parade route.

http://vitalykuzmin.net

http://vitalykuzmin.net

One night we were shaken out of bed in the middle of the night. I thought it was an earthquake, but it kept going and going and after a while I thought we were being invaded because it sounded like large trucks. I looked out the window and there were huge tanks rolling down the middle of our street in the middle of the night. What was going on? Turns out they were practicing for the big military parades on Victory day. This went on for several weeks.

On May 8th, we were glued to the BBC watching the celebrations in the UK including the church service at St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace with the Queen and the Queen Mum. From there BBC took us to Paris and we saw the parade around the Arc de Triumph and down the Champs Elysees.

We took the video camera and went down to Red Square and saw the big banners and the stage set up. The Hare Krishnas placed a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier (very surreal). We ran into some high school students from Wisconsin who said they were part of a marching band. We figured they were just on some school trip.

On May 9th we didn’t have to leave our apartment. First we watched the parade on Red Square on TV. Then the Communists paraded down our street so we watched them from the balcony and later in the day those tanks came rolling down in formation.

The last parade of the day was the marching bands. And in the middle of all the marching bands was the McFarland High School Band from Wisconsin playing “On Wisconsin”.

Unbelievable.

Парад_в_честь_70-летия_Великой_Победы_-_37

www.kremlin.ru

 

The 70th Anniversary celebrations last week were the largest in Russian history but President Obama and the EU leaders chose not to attend this time.

Any gathering in Russia starts with Zakuski.  These are the warm ups, the small plates, the appetizers.  They can include beet salads, potato salads, cabbage salads, pickled mushrooms, pickled herring, dried fish, caviar, or any other thing you can think of.  Just so there is lots of it.  For the toasts, vodka is the staple, followed by cognac for desert.  Sometimes champagne precedes the vodka.

Here are a couple of my favorite Zakuski (they are easy to make):

Julienne (Mushrooms in Sour Cream)

1 lb mushrooms

3 Tbsp butter

1 ½ Tbsp flour

1 cup sour cream

½ tsp lemon juice

salt and pepper

Slice the mushrooms.  Sauté in butter for 10 minutes.  Sprinkle in the flour and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, stirring.  Add sour cream and lemon juice.  Keep the heat low and cook for 15 minutes more.  If the sauce seems too thin, sprinkle in a little flour or if too thick add water.  The sauce should be like thick cream.  Season with salt and pepper.This can be served in individual cups or all together in a large dish.

Cucumbers in Smetana (Sour cream)

2 large cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced

3 Tbsps chopped fresh parsley

2 Tbsps chopped fresh dill

1 ½ cups sour cream

2-3 Tbsps fresh lemon juice

1 Tbsp olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, pressed

½ tsp black pepper (or to taste)

¾ tsp salt (or to taste)

Toss and chill