I wonder

I was brought up to be a rich girl.

When I was four years old, my mother sent me to dancing school where I was taught by a personal friend of Anna Pavlova. I danced a toe solo at five and a half at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, accompanied by the Philadelphia Orchestra. In the summer, we would go to Atlantic City, renting a home there for the entire summer and taking the maid with us.

By the time I was in my teens, I had not a room of my own, but a floor of my own in the house. I had a bedroom, a study area, a sitting room and a bath. My clothes were as expensive as the clothes I buy today– in 1960! I was taught to appreciate the finer things in life like fancy restaurants and new cars.

My mother dressed in clothes that were high fashion. She was always ahead of the trends and many times I went with her as she took her new dress or suit with her to the milliner to have exactly the right hat made to match it, often taking some material from the garment to draw the outfit together.

That privileged stance was in direct opposition to my experience at high school. There I was the outcast, not having moved into the same neighborhood as the other Jewish girls in our school. We Jewish girls were a real minority at our high school, the first of a vanguard breaking into the formerly pristine suburbs. In our class of 675, we were probably fewer than 20. Antisemitism was not encouraged by the school, but its subtle and not-so-subtle appearance among the other students was ignored. Being rejected by the small minority of Jewish girls was very painful.

I had most of my social needs met by my friends in Hebrew high school, and later Hebrew college. With them I was on an equal footing and their unaffected manner and their acceptance of me, the misfit, allowed me to feel normal for the first time.

It was probably through them that I acquired my values. They were kind, unselfish, open, accepting, and full of fun. By spending time with them, I began to realize that my discomfort with my upbringing was well-founded.

Shedding the privilege I had been given was liberating. Instead of disdaining the world as not meeting my expectations, I could appreciate it and even love it. Suddenly I could enjoy new things, new experiences, and new people.

Recently, I have been to the Galapagos Islands three times. It was interesting to see how different people responded to the experience.

Mother sea lion and newborn infant

Mother sea lion and newborn infant

I was overcome with emotion, actually each time I visited. I was astounded by the beauty of raw, unspoiled nature. I loved watching the birds and the sea lions and the iguanas and the land tortoises. Unthreatened by humans, they had no fear and allowed themselves to be photographed, even posing for us, it seemed sometimes. There I was with G-d’s creation. What could be more awe-inspiring!

Nazca booby

Nazca booby

Most of the people I was with reacted that way.

But some did not.
“Where are the flamingos?” “Why aren’t they here?”
“Why aren’t there more animals?”
“Why can’t I walk around alone instead of having to go with a naturalist?”
“I already saw a blue-footed booby; what’s next?”
“OK, so I have seen the albatross babies. Enough already!”

At first these reactions made me feel angry. What do they want! But then I just began to feel sad for these people. Their privilege was blinding them to the beauty of the world. They were unable to share the awe of seeing a newborn sea lion nuzzling its mother. They couldn’t enjoy seeing the boobies protecting their young. They couldn’t share the excitement of seeing the magnificent frigates puffing out their red pouches.

Blue footed booby feeding her baby

Blue footed booby feeding her baby

I am grateful that that veil has been lifted from me and that I can look beyond myself and share the wonder of the universe. I hope someday that our privileged travelers will be able to do the same thing.

Watercolors and water, part 2

About a month after I returned from Peru, I left once again on a similar tour. I could hardly wait to get to the market in Pisac. Pisac is a small city located in the Sacred Valley along the Urubamba River. Here is a picture of the nearby terrain.

Sacred Valley, Peru

Sacred Valley, Peru

In fact, when we finally pulled up the market, some of the people were not interested in seeing it and said they would stay on the bus rather than wander around the market. Fortunately, most said they would get off the bus and in the end, all of them did.

I quickly oriented myself and headed straight to the pace where I had bought the watercolor pictures. I found the woman who painted them with very little trouble. I asked to see some pictures and she had some, but none was even close in quality to the ones I had bought the first time. Since I was there, she had focused in painting larger pictures with faces of individuals on them. They were nice, but they were not what I wanted.

So, it seems that the two paintings I bought in June will be the ones that hang on my wall, paint drips and all.

Oh, and the market? Still magical.

A small part of the market at Pisac

A small part of the market at Pisac

Watercolors and water

A few weeks ago when I was in Peru, we stopped at a market in the town of Pisac (also spelled Pisaq) located in the Sacred Valley, not far from Cusco, where there is a beautiful market that sells locally made handicrafts. I was lucky enough to find two paintings that I found enchanting. They were watercolors and the colors came from local plants. They were delicate and beautiful and I was thrilled to be bringing home two such lovely paintings. They were put in a tube and looked just as good when I got home as they did when I purchased them.

A week or so ago, I took them to our local frame shop and found frames that were perfect. I spent the time waiting for them to be finished thinking about where I would hang them–as anyone who has visited can attest, I have no more wall space!

Two days ago I picked them up. They were gorgeous. I was elated. It was a nice day and I had a pretty dusty, gritty car and so decided to go to the car wash. They did a great job. It was only later, when I opened the trunk to take out the paintings that I noticed that both of them had gotten wet from the water that had seeped into the trunk while the car was being washed.

I immediately took them back to the frame shop where one painting was in good condition, really none the worse for wear, but the second, after an evening of drying had telltale drips that showed the water damage. They are reframing both and I am hoping eventually to replace the damaged painting– assuming that we visit Pisac again in a couple of weeks when I return to Peru.

DrSavta’s helpful hint for the day: If you are going to wash your car, don’t do it with watercolor paintings in the trunk.

Added: OK, here are the two pictures for those who were curious. The first picture is fine. I took the picture with the plastic wrapping around the frame still on and so that is what is at the ends and the light shining on it is my kitchen light.
Picture 002

The second picture is the one where you can see the dripping paint flowing from where it was put to where it wasn’t. It’s still pleasant to look at, but I am thrilled that we are going back to Pisac and so I might have a chance to replace it. But for now, here it is:

Picture 001

Hello again, hello

After a completely amazing tour to Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and Peru, I am finally back home. Of course the normal jet lag one would feel having traveled through 7 times zones was assisted by our brief, but annoying sojourn in Madrid– a city that seems to want me to stay. In January, I was delayed in Madrid two days. This time it was about 16 hours, but still no fun, especially when it seemed that I was so close to home.

In the coming days we have guests coming and going and coming and going. We have tenants leaving and new ones coming in. Two of the family will be having surgery, and I will be preparing for yet another tour in South America. We also will be celebrating out 44th wedding anniversary.

Hopefully, I’ll start writing again soon.

Rachel Rona Barcelona

A while back, my daughter Rachel suggested that she and I might go away for a mother/daughter vacation. Not only do I love traveling, but I love traveling with people who are fun and interesting and she fills the bill. Rachel did all of the leg work including finding us a good travel deal. For those of you who do not live in Israel, one of the unexpected perks of living in Israel is that there are fantastic travel packages available to Israelis- which is one reason why on a typical day in any European city of interest, you will see more Israeli tourists on the streets than American tourists. Rachel chose a trip to Barcelona.

And what a adventure! Her husband also had quite an adventure. He held down the fort while she was away– meaning he had to contend with the rearing of six children on his own. He’s a very generous (and brave) man.

Our first challenge was the lava cloud that closed the Barcelona Airport the night before we were to take off. Fortunately, the airport opened and we were able to take off close to on time. We flew Sun D’Or which is an El Al subsidiary and both flights were pleasant with the crew doing as much as they could to make us comfortable. Upon arrival in Barcelona, we opted to not take the transfer to the hotel that came with our package because we thought it would delay us. Instead, we bought a multi-ride pass and took the train to town.

Airport train to Barcelona

Airport train to Barcelona

As you can see, the train was clean and modern. Each stop appeared on a screen that estimated arrival time and showed us what the next few stops would be.

But the incredible surprise came when we emerged from the subway about 2 blocks from our hotel. As we came up the stairs and turned right, this is what we saw

Our Barcelona welcome

Our Barcelona welcome

A little closer

A little closer

Even more detail

Even more detail

The top!

The top!

What a beginning to a most fantastic trip!

The architecture in Barcelona is not to be believed. Everywhere we looked there was beauty.

And I haven’t even mentioned the shopping! Rachel is a shopping superstar. And we did, literally, shop ’til I dropped.

But we didn’t miss seeing a great deal of Barcelona- from the tourist areas, to the parks, to lots of places that I will post about next time.

Best of all, I had a great time being with my daughter. She is terrific!!!

My Travels

I have been tagged for a meme by Rachel and how could I resist?

My travels

Rules: Fill in the following questions & tag 5 friends (try friends who travel a lot).

  • My best trip ever…
    My first trip to China. Astounding. A whole new world. All I could think was “I can’t believe I’ll never come back here.”
  • My worst trip ever…
    Undoubtedly the trip to the mikvah erev Hanuka one year that we lived at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. It was a 3.5 hour drive in each direction and on the way there my radiator started steaming and then the gas station attendant in Louisville couldn’t get th
  • Most important thing I ever lost on a trip…
    An earring on the train to Sapa
  • Most important thing I ever forgot to take on a trip…
    Can’t think of anything
  • Thing I miss most when I’m away…
    My family
  • Thing I miss least when I’m away…
    Chores around the house
  • Favorite travel partner…
    My husband
  • Place I hope to travel to someday…
    Maybe Japan or Singapore? Maybe Kiev and Odessa? I would go pretty much anywhere, but probably not to Dubai.

fill in this meme


I tag: Kelli, Bethami, & Vicki

and leave you with some pictures from my most recent trip (to the Galilee)

Taking a deep breath

Who said that when you get old you slow down? Well, maybe there are days when I am not physically running around, but ohmigosh… busy!! I have to say, though, I do love it! It’s great to have my children and grandchildren nearby and it’s great to have other interests as well.

Right now we are working on learning everything we can about our new travel destinations. We also are trying to learn survival Spanish. There are enough cognates of French and English that we often are able to read captions and descriptions, but passive vocabulary won’t get you 4 more tablespoons or enough bread to make sandwiches for 36 people. So it’s a wild and woolly time here cramming for a test of our Spanish that’s coming in only a few months and that we must pass.

To say that the tour to Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and Peru was fantastic, is such an understatement. Imagine for a moment that you were able to be present on earth on the 5th day of creation. There are the creeping things and the fish and the birds and all of the plant life, and the sea. Imagine all of it living together in harmony. Imagine how beautiful it would be. How pure. How utterly precious.

That is what you find when you step onto most of the Galapagos Islands.

There are no words.

But there are pictures. You can see them here.

Here’s a preview:

A blue-footed boobie

A blue-footed boobie

Catching up

If you read parts 1,2, & 3 of the adventure and wonder why I stopped writing, it’s because I have relocated the saga to the travel blog and added pictures when relevant. Chapter 5 in written and 6 is on its way. For anyone wondering about this question… It was a fantastic trip and even with all of the unscheduled adventures, our travelers had a great time, virtually untouched by tension and so did we (although not untouched by tension.) By the time I was home for 2 weeks, I was ready to go back and do it again– that’s how much fun it was… and you only can truly understand if you come along with me next time (hint, hint).

But now here we are in the little town of Modi’in (population >70K) for Hanuka and today we are anticipating the gathering of most of the clan– some members are not feeling well and some are away. Today is also an awful day in terms of air pollution and people have been urged to stay inside.

I have a lot of art supplies, a Hanuka video (“Lights”) and a few dozen latkes. Mostly, I am hoping that the little people get to spend time with their cousins and aunts and uncles.

Across from our house as you look to the right is a hill that some believe was the ancient city of Modi’in. It has artifacts from back to the Stone Age and ruins from several eras in between. At the top of the mountain is a water tower that has a series of columns that look like torches around it. For the last couple of years, they have lit the tower at holiday times with pastel lights. This year, nine of the columns have large lights on them that are lit according to the night of Hanuka. It’s quite impressive!

I wish all of you a wonderful bright Hanuka– and as a gift to yourself, a trip to China or Vietnam/Cambodia in 2010 is a pretty good idea!

Rona & Aaron’s Excellent Adventure, Part 3

Although I was of college age when the Vietnam War was taking place and people were demonstrating, some of them obsessing about every day’s battles, I was oblivious. I remained oblivious even when I got married and moved to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where my husband was serving as a chaplain in the US Army. Sure, I knew that we had guys being shipped out to ‘Nam, but I didn’t really pay much attention to the news, being somewhat self-absorbed. So, all I knew of Hanoi was that it was where the bad guys were and there was a woman who they called, “Hanoi Hannah” broadcasting nasty, morale-breaking things to our guys

Well, the Hanoi that I have come to know and, yes, love over the last couple of years is a bustling, busy city filled with interesting sights and sounds. During our day there we went to visit the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. It is a tasteful building into which people enter after passing through full security and leaving their cameras checked. People file in a single line, taking off their hats, walking silently into the building , ascending the stairs to the left, turning right and then right again and filing past Ho Chi Minh who is lit dimly and appears to still be alive. We walked the length of the coffin, then turning left, across the front and then turning left once again along the other side, filing out of the room, making two rights, and then going down the stairs. Something about the silence and the dim lighting with the soldiers standing at attention made the experience feel very dignified. Although he was a formidable foe, in the way he is revered in his own country, there is a sense of honor. Always depicted in photos and statuary as being with the children, he is seen as “Uncle Ho” who loved the children.

His tastes were simple. When he gained power, he was entitled to use the magnificent palatial edifice erected by the French when they were the colonial power. Instead, he lived in three sparse rooms for a period of several years until those around him explained to him that it was not an honor to the country for their leader to be so humbly housed. Then they built him a house on stilts, characteristic of Vietnamese architecture in the countryside. It also was quite humble, with just two rooms upstairs– an office and a bedroom– and eating and reception space exposed to the elements beneath it. It was fashioned of fine wood and is very attractive, but not at all the type of home one would expect for the head of a large country. Vietnam is now, by some estimates, a country of 87 million people!

On the grounds of the complex that housed his two homes and the palace, there was a pond where carp were raised. He would clap his hands and the carp would come to the surface to eat. There were also trees that bore fruit and the people of Hanoi were permitted to come and pick fruit.

Adjacent to Ho Chi Minh’s home is the One Pillar Pagoda, an interesting structure with a similarly interesting story. Around the entire area are beautifully landscaped gardens.

After leaving the Ho Chi Minh complex, we went to the Temple of Literature. It was there in the early 11th Century that Vietnam’s first university was founded. You can read more about it here. As our group walked through the front gate, the woman who heads up our operations in Vietnam and Cambodia arrived to talk to me.

The group proceeded with the local guide and my husband. I stayed behind to talk to her and to try and work out our plans. She had to have me sign permission for her people to pick up the luggage when it arrived from Hong Kong. It was due to arrive on the same flight as we had arrived on the day before. That meant that it would likely not be ready for pick up until at least 5 p.m. and with traffic, getting it in time for our people to be able to repack — getting out their winter clothing and putting it in their small luggage– in anticipation of our weekend train trip up north was problematic. I also was worried by the fact that she told me they only had paperwork on 11 of the 14 suitcases because I had not given them my baggage stickers until after they had done the paperwork– so although they had stickers for 14 suitcases, they only had paperwork for 11! I told her that it was really important to get specifically those bags because we had packed a substantial amount of food in them including our challot for shabbat and other essential food supplies that we needed to take with us up north. She said, “If there is food in your suitcase you will not get it.” I said, “I won’t get the food?” She said, “You won’t get the suitcase; they will just not send anything.”

She left with the papers. I left with the worry. But would they find the food? If so, would they send the suitcase? and also, why was it that on that Thursday, everywhere we went we saw brides? The answers to these questions (well, to a couple of them) and some pictures of the brides in the next exciting episode.

Rona & Aaron’s Excellent Adventure, Part 2

So we were airborne. Of course the luggage could not have made the flight. We had run over, under, around, and through and the baggage simply could not have been identified and transported that fast. It was all right. There would be another flight that night? the next morning? We’d be fine.

And after about two hours, we landed in Hanoi. We walked to the waiting area where we were met by our local guide. I gave the guide all of our passports, the visa application forms with photos attached, and the visa approval form we had received from the government of Vietnam. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. We could see the office where the visas were being given, see passports opened and visas affixed, but our guide was elusive. So we waited. Did I mention we waited?

After about an hour, she finally came back and we distributed the passports into which had been pasted the visas. Then everyone went through passport control and we met on the other side.

Our guide said we had to go to the lost luggage desk. Reminding her that our luggage was not lost, but tardy, she explained that unless we filed a claim for lost luggage, the luggage would not be transferred to Hanoi. I was to gather up all of the baggage claim checks which they then pasted onto a sheet of paper. Some of my people were hesitant to give up their only proof of every having had a bag, but were reassured when they were told that I would get a copy of the baggage tag page. We were missing 14 pieces of luggage. We had found only 11 baggage claim checks. No one would own up as to having additional ones. They filled out the paperwork only identifying 11 pieces of luggage. As they handed me the paperwork, I opened my ticket holder and found that I was the hold-out. There were the three baggage claim tags. I gave them to the people behind the counter and they copied the sheet for me.

Now about two hours later than we had anticipated, it was time for dinner and everyone was hungry and tired and so we decided to go directly to the restaurant where we would eat rather than to the hotel. We called and made sure that the four Swiss travelers and the one British traveler were brought to the restaurant to meet us.

Finally on the bus, we made our acquaintance with the Hanoi traffic jam– the type that puts everything at a standstill. The major bridge across the Red River was being repaired and construction materials and dug up road surface narrowed it to one lane. But we told people about Vietnam and about Hanoi and most of them were just happy to be finally out of the airport and on our way.

We arrived at the restaurant. It is the “forest” restaurant and it is beautifully decorated with objects that represent the history and folklore of Vietnam. Set in a garden, the wooden building was adorned with cloth and metal and wood wall hangings. The wait staff was dressed in native garb of one of Vietnam’s 54 ethnic minorities. It was beautiful.

What was not beautiful was the fact that our knives, cutting boards, and cooking utensils were in our baggage which was currently homeless in Hong Kong. So there we were with our Hanoi equipment (dishes, silverware, one large pot, and a wooden spatula) unable to prepare dinner.

We sent the local guide out to buy a knife. She had to take a motorcycle ride to get it and meanwhile, the chef was bristling as he wanted to kill the fish already so that he could cook them. Yes, you see when we cook in Vietnam, we need to see the fish whole and intact. So, often the fish are still alive when we meet them. These fish had something of a reprieve as we waited for the knife to appear.

In the end, we ate dinner, enjoyed getting to know each other, and although our luggage was still not with us, we all settled into our hotel that night for some much needed sleep.

Tomorrow: Hanoi as most people never imagined it and what ever happened to the luggage…