Salt Cellar, Dining in St Paul

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I discovered a great blog recently. Chef Alan Bergo of the Salt Cellar restaurant in St Paul writes as the Forager Chef. He likes to use indigenous Mid-western ingredients and local purveyors. He cooks with dandelions, knotweed, ramps, spruce. burdock root and nettles. He writes about hunting for mushrooms, cooking methods and recipes. The recipes look fabulous – Spruce Brined Poussin with Apple Mustard Sauce and Beef Tartare with Dead Man’s Fingers and Ramp Vinaigrette are a couple that caught my eye.

View into the kitchen

View into the kitchen

I don’t remember seeing them on the menu at the Salt Cellar. A friend of mine was raving about the meat so I went there for the first time the other night. There is a large glass window into the kitchen from the main dining room so you can watch the chef in action. The meal started with homemade potato chips and pimento cheese with warm fresh rolls that melted in your mouth.

The beef steaks were tender and flavorful. They came with a small cup of wild mushrooms and a cup of their own special béarnaise sauce with a little tomato added. Our sides were the market vegetable medley which were nicely seasoned and the beef fat pommes frites. I think I ordered the roasted potatoes but the pommes frites were sinfully delicious.

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Chocolate Mousse with Shortbread

We finished the meal with a chocolate mousse and a Boston cream pie. Our waiter insisted we try the spruce ice cream that was offered as part of the daily ice cream selection. It was unexpectedly delicious. Very fresh and light.

Manu

Manu

Our waiter’s name was Manu and he had a strong French accent. Usually when I ask people where they are from, they will tell me the country or the continent and I have to ask several times to find out where exactly they are from. He told me he came from Toulouse, France right away and was happy to chat. His mother’s family was from Catalan across the border in Spain and his grandmother had called him Manu, short for Manuel and it stuck.

My dining partner and I had been speculating about how he got here. My friend was sure he followed a woman. I thought he might have come for school. Of course it was a woman. He said he followed a woman here and then fell in love with Minnesota and could not leave. The restaurant was empty on a Friday night and I asked him if it was always like that. The explanation was that the restaurant has no outdoor space and in the summer Minnesotans like to be dining outside if in town but many were probably at their summer cabins. We consoled each other for not having a summer cabin.

 

 

James J Hill – the Empire Builder

James J Hill House

James J Hill House

Recently I re-visited the James J Hill house on Summit Avenue in St Paul, Minnesota. JJ Hill remains today one of the richest men ever. He amassed a fortune and built a huge house he and his family lived in for over 25 years.

James J Hill was born in Canada in 1838 to a successful Irish-Canadian farmer and his Scottish wife. He attended a Quaker school until he was 15 when his father died. He traveled to the US when he was 18 after hearing from a passing stranger that the US needed young men with spirit, like him.

After working in the shipping business in on the Mississippi River for twenty years, he, along with some other investors, were able to purchase the almost bankrupt St Paul and Pacific Railroad. He built the line to the west over the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, often overseeing things personally. The name was changed to the Great Northern Railway in 1890. To this day the Empire Builder runs from Chicago to Seattle with lines going off it along the way. I rode it once from Minneapolis to Montana. By the time he died in 1916, he was one of the wealthiest men in America.

Mary Theresa Mehegan

Mary Theresa Mehegan

While working as a station agent, he ate his meals at the Merchants’ Hotel in St Paul where Mary Theresa Mehegan served him his meals. Once she agreed to marry him, he sent her away to school and paid for her education. They were married in 1867, when she returned. They had ten children. Peabody, Stearns and Furber built the house they moved into in 1891 to Hill’s specifications in the Romanesque style. It sits on the top of Summit Hill overlooking the Mississippi river and is now registered as a National Historic Landmark. The Minnesota Historical Society owns it and offers guided tours.

The house is massive with 36,000 square feet on five floors and includes 13 bathrooms, 22 fireplaces, 16 crystal chandeliers, and a two-story art gallery with a skylight roof and a complete pipe organ. The house was fitted with both electricity, a new phenomenon at the time, and gas so if one failed the other would be available. The doors on the first floor all had hidden metal gates that were pulled shut at night and locked and electrified so if anybody tried to break in they would get a shock and it would alert the butler in the pantry through a buzzer system.

On the stairway there is a bank of stained glass windows. Tiffany submitted designs for these windows but Mr. Hill said they were anything but what he wanted and ended up using the A.B. Cutter Company from Boston.

The main hallway

The main hallway

The dining room has a gold leaf ceiling and hand tooled leather panels on the walls. A small hidden door leads to a large walk-in safe where the silver is housed. The table has 19 leaves.

The kitchen is at one end of the basement and a big boiler room at the other. The man who serviced the boiler was also called upon to pump the bellows for the organ during parties and recitals. A large laundry room included heated drying racks for the clean clothes.

JJ and his wife had adjoining bedrooms each with their own bathrooms. A balcony led off of Mary Theresa’s room. JJ’s bathroom had a shower in it. This was quite modern and some considered dangerous. It was advised that a doctor approve the use of such a thing since the force of the water could be harmful and women were discouraged from using it altogether since they were too delicate.

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On the third floor was a schoolroom with chalkboards on the walls. Legend has it that a couple of the older boys managed to get a pool table all the way up there without their mother knowing about it. That’s how big this house is. Each of the children had their own room with the exception of the eldest who was already married by the time they moved in.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St Paul and lived there off and on until 1920. The last house he lived in was Summit Terrace, eight blocks down the street from the James J Hill house. In chapter 9 of The Great Gatsby, Gatsby has died and his father, Mr Gatz, says “If he’d of lived he’d of been a great man. A man like James J Hill. He’d of helped.” Unfortunately the Great Mr Gatsby did none of those things in life.

JJ Hill had a large collection of nineteenth-century French Romantic and Realist art and was one of the founders of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts, known as MIA today. Hill built several office buildings in downtown St Paul and the James J. Hill Reference Library, one of the best business research libraries in the country, was completed after his death. He also supported many schools and churches.

Baseball Fun in St Paul

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Last year the St Paul Saints minor league baseball team of St Paul, Minnesota, moved to downtown, St Paul, and a brand new stadium. Since it is a block from my home I was invited on a tour.

The stadium was built to AA standards but is much smaller than the Twins major league stadium in Minneapolis. It is intimate and there isn’t a bad seat in the place. There are plenty of bathrooms which is a welcome change compared to the old stadium.

Bill Murray is part owner of the team. His role is listed on their website as “Team Psychologist” and his duties include morale boosting and train spotting. He has been involved in the team since opening night 1993 when he was stationed at the entrance taking tickets and threw out the first pitch. He is kind of an urban legend. Everybody is sure they will see Bill Murray at the game.

Back in the 1800’s the area now known as St Paul was called Pig’s Eye Landing after French Canadian fur trader and bootlegger Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant’s popular tavern. The Minnesota territory was formed in 1849 and the soldiers at Fort Snelling evicted Pig’s Eye. Father Lucien Galtier, a French priest, renamed the settlement St Paul after Paul the Apostle.

The St Paul Saints have a mascot that honors Pig’s Eye. It is a live trained pig that takes balls to the umpire between innings and is named via a fan contest every year. This year the pig’s name is Little Red Porkette in honor of Prince and it is dressed in purple. A portion of the street directly in front of the stadium has recently been named Prince Street.

Each year a new piglet weighing in at about 20 lbs. is introduced and by the end of the season the pig goes into retirement at over 200 lbs. They also have a bright pink two-legged mascot called Mudonna T Pig along with several other ‘entertainers’.

The team’s locker room is comfortable and spacious. The guide took us down to the field so we could see the dugout and the small concrete area for the pig. She also pointed out Bill Murray’s yellow spray painted signature just behind home base. She said he was such a perfectionist he wanted to do it over but they wouldn’t let him.

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Bill Murray’s signature behind home base

It is one of the greenest stadiums in the country with solar panels and mechanisms to capture and reuse rainwater. Because of the recycled water, the city of St Paul insists they put up signs in the bathrooms saying ‘Do not drink from the toilet’.

The stadium was built on the site of the old Gillette factory. The foundation and several walls from that building are being reused in the current structure. The guide said about half of the materials used to build the stadium were either salvaged or recycled.

Last night I went to see the St Paul Saints vs. Winnipeg Goldeyes so we started out listening to the Canadian national anthem along with the Stars and Stripes. The game had a slow start but by the end we were all biting our nails as they tied it up at 10-10 in the 9th inning and the Saints finally won it in the 10th inning 12 to 11 on a wild pitch. I think both teams went through at least six pitchers.

Saints games are unpredictable and fun. It was the thirtieth anniversary of the movie Top Gun so there was entertainment throughout the game around that theme in the form of quizzes, competitions and running commentary. Each game has a theme. One game I went to had a Grateful Dead theme and all the players were wearing tie-dyed uniforms.

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Grateful Dead tie-dyed uniforms

Little Red Porkette would trot out on a leash between innings carrying fresh balls in its saddlebags to the umpire. The umpire would feed the pig something in a baby bottle and chat with the pig’s trainer. One time the pig had Kermit the Frog riding along on its back and another time it had Mr. M&M.

During the 7th inning stretch we all got up and sang Take Me Out To The Ballgame and bags on peanuts came showering down on us from the press box above. This was followed by lively polka music. It gave me my second wind.

The food was good, the beer was good, the company was good and it was a great night. Go if you get the chance!

 

 

A Weekend in Southwest Minnesota – Windmills, Pipes and Petroglyphs

PART ONE

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Friday after work we took off for Pipestone, Minnesota. It is about three and a half hours southeast of the Twin Cities, almost to the South Dakota border. We were going to the Pipestone National Monument and the Jeffers Petroglyphs. Of course there were lots of other interesting things along the way.

As we entered Pipestone County we were met with a wind turbine farm we could not believe. According to the American Wind Energy Association, Minnesota ranks 7th in the country for installed wind capacity and 6th for the number of turbines. (Texas is first, Iowa is second and California is third in wind capacity rankings.) In 2015, 17% of the electricity in Minnesota came from wind. This translates into 896,000 homes powered by wind.

In 2007 the Governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, signed a law that required the state to produce 25% of its electricity from renewable energy by the year 2025. That same year Xcel, the largest utility in the state, was required to derive 30% of its sales from renewable energy by the year 2020. Wind power creates no emissions and uses virtually no water which in turn provides additional benefits by saving 2.8 billion gallons of water a year and reducing C02 emissions by 4.9 million metric tons or the equivalent of 1 million cars.

It turns out there are about 2250 wind turbines in Minnesota. Most of them are in the south and southwest area of the state and over 200 of them are in Pipestone County, 446 square miles. Each unit takes up about one-third of an acres and the land is leased from local farmers who receive a percentage of the revenue from the sale of electricity.

Each turbine costs over $2.5 million and produces enough energy to power up to 500 typical homes per year. The turbines are 229 ft. tall with 136 ft. blades. The base is 15 ft. in diameter and runs 30 ft. into the ground. Each one weighs about 1450 tons. The blades will start turning with a wind speed of about 8 mph. When the wind reaches 25-35 mph, the blades can rotate up to 14 rpm which gives them a speed of about 105 mph at the tip. If there is no wind or too much wind, the turbine will shut down.

Clean renewable energy and beautiful to look at too.

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Our first stop was the Calumet Inn on Main Street in the center of the Historical District of Pipestone. The town of Pipestone was not settled by the Europeans until 1876. French traders and explorers like Lewis and Clark and George Catlin had been through the area in the early 1800’s but settlers considered it Indian Territory and stayed away. In 1878 the railroad was built and the first train came through in 1879. By 1890 Pipestone was the hub for trains in southwest Minnesota with 5 lines passing through it carrying both passengers and freight. Twenty trains were arriving each day.

It was decided that a grand hotel was needed to accommodate all these people coming in on the trains. The Calumet Inn was originally built in 1887. The primary building stone was Sioux Quartzite quarried at Pipestone and the darker trim came from quarries at nearby Jasper. As the automobile became more popular business declined and the Inn was closed in 1978 due to unsafe conditions. After a complete restoration it re-opened in 1981. It is still a busy hotel today with clean rooms and excellent service. It could use a facelift but we had a pleasant stay.

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Pipestone hosts a paranormal weekend every year and in 2016 it will be October 14-16. It includes a candlelight tour of the Calumet Inn. We didn’t see any ghosts, but you never know.

After dinner we took a walk down Main Street. It was pretty much deserted. Across the street was the Pipestone Center for Performing Arts. There were ads all over town for the Mary Poppins play showing there during the month of June. On the corner of Main and Hiawatha was a building with gargoyles carved in sandstone and applied to the Sioux Quartzite. A small red car full of boys and music blaring drove down the street. Twice. It was Friday night, after all.

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The next morning we got up early and headed out to the Pipestone National Monument. On the way we stopped at Lange’s Café for breakfast. It is rated number one on Trip Advisor and everybody raves about the caramel rolls. We can confirm the caramel rolls are delicious. They just ooze with gooeyness. The eggs and hash browns were good too.

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Stay tuned for part two – Pipestone National Monument.

Travel Bloggers North America Conference (TBEX)

I recently attended the TBEX North America conference in Bloomington, Minnesota. More specifically at the Mall of America Radisson Blu hotel.

It is billed as “the largest conference and networking event for travel bloggers, online travel journalists, new media content creators, travel brands and industry professionals.”

It was two days packed with seminars, keynote speakers, networking, and meetings with “destinations.”  I learned a lot.

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They had several pre-conference activities including parties, all-day tours, and a trip down the Mississippi river. I went on the river boat. We left from Harriet Island across the river from downtown St Paul at 2 p.m. and were back at the dock at 4 p.m. It was a two-story boat with the top open air and a closed cabin downstairs with a concession stand selling popcorn, hotdogs, beer and soda. We slowly cruised down river with the captain highlighting historical sites and points of interest over the loud speaker. Unfortunately it was a rainy day but not cold so not too bad.

Lou Mongello

Lou Mongello

I don’t consider myself a travel blogger per se. I write about all kinds of things as well as travel. Many of these people live and breathe travel. A recurring theme was how much time they spend working. But they don’t really consider it work because they love what they do. Lou Mongello was the first speaker. He lives and breathes Disney. That is all he writes about.

He is a successful blogger. He actually makes a living. Of course he is a former lawyer so I’m sure there is more to the story. But he is living his dream. I met several people who were former lawyers or IT programmers. They must have made good money. But it is rare to find a travel blogger who makes money at all let alone good money.

So the first day I learned about Cleaning out the Blogging Closet and Focusing on What Matters Most. I don’t remember a thing. Then I went to Keys to Successful Blogger Outreach. I guess I was in the wrong place because the speaker was talking to the business people who actually use bloggers. It was my first conference. I had no idea what I was doing.

The second day was better. The previous night, the local 10 pm news covered the conference and interviewed a guy attending the conference. The next morning I saw that the keynote speaker was that same guy who was interviewed, Johnny “Jet” DiScala. Apparently he is well known in the industry and several people got up and sang his praises. He was accompanied by his beautiful wife, Natalie, who is pregnant. They both spoke about traveling constantly and working all the time. I did some research on him and he does get around and attends all kinds of events and conferences and does press trips and makes a living. They certainly are an engaging couple.

I couldn’t help but wonder how the birth of their child will change their dynamic. Of course, I was that person who dragged her son around the world. He went everywhere with us and often crashed out on restaurant table-tops. But once they have to go to school, it gets a bit more difficult.

My first seminar of the day was How to Build your Community Around your Niche Brand led by Bret Love and Mary Gabbett. They are a couple specializing in eco-travel. They have been doing it for a while so they got in just as the whole eco/adventure travel became popular. Okay, I’m going to make a confession. I lost my notes. What I remember is they write newspaper articles and a weekly column. And teach. They have a pretty cool blog at Green Global Travel.

Next I went to How to Monetize your blog with Print on Demand led by Betsy and Pete Wuebker. They currently live in Hawaii and blog at Passing Thru. They supplement their income with an online print-on-demand store on Zazzle.com. They use the their travel photos to make postcards, phone covers, t-shirts and various travel accessories and sell them through an online store. I’m not sure it is a huge money maker but they seemed to be pretty happy with it. It looks easy enough to do.

The last seminar of my day was called Midwest Travel Bloggers: Challenges & Opportunities led by Lisa Trudell (The Walking Tourists ) and Sara Broers (Travel with Sara ). It was all about building community and getting ahead by reaching out to other bloggers and going to conferences. That was another recurring theme. Networking.

Travelocity gnome

Travelocity gnome

Booths were set up in a large room with people from Trip Advisor, Explore Minnesota, Viator, Great Britain, St Paul, Roseville, CJ Affiliate and many others. They all had cool give aways and we did get a goodie bag. I met with several of them over the two days and learned what an affiliate is and what a ‘destination’ means. I’m still trying to work it all out. It seems it is possible to make some money at blogging but it is lots and lots of work.

The closing speaker was Andrew Zimmern. Plenty of people were super excited about that. I don’t exactly consider him a blogger since he is more of a TV personality but he is from Minnesota and he does write about travel. My dirty confession is I am not a huge fan. I was beat, I didn’t stay for it.

 

 

My Year in South America

CatedralPrimadaBogota2004-7

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??