Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Vatican and The Pope

For the audience with the Pope, Bill wore a dark suit and tie and I wore a long skirt and long sleeved blouse in dark colors as suggested in our information packet. Dark colors on hot days add up to a bit of discomfort. Many either didn't know or had discarded the bit of information about dark colors, and had come more wisely dressed in light shirts and slacks but from the absence of color in this photo one might think I'm exaggerating.

Many of us arrived early enough to find seats and waited patiently as the crowd swelled. It seemed to take forever for anything to begin happening.

We thought the audience was beginning, when a monsignor got up to announce his group from Germany; but no, this prelate went on and on, introducing every school, college, seminary, and church there. And then, alas, we had another long wait.

When a great surge of clapping and cheering broke out, we knew the Holy Father had arrived. We could follow his progress via the large TV screens located throughout the St. Peter's Square, but were too far away to get a good view ourselves.

As you can see, veryone is stretching to catch that photo, jumping onto their chairs which made it difficult to see over their heads. From our vantage point, the pope is a tiny white spec in the middle of the photo.

A telephoto lens captured this shot of the Holy Father. After he arrived at the dais, St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippian's (chapter 3 verses 4-14) was read aloud in the languages of the many gathered there. Then each group from the nations speaking those languages was introduced to a great waving of flags and hats accompanied by loud song and ecstatic cheering. We grinned when after the English version was read to hear that Bishop Schnurr of Duluth was there with a group of pilgrims from Minnesota -- all of them located up near the dais. We were not part of that group but cheered from afar.

"7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." The Holy Father commented on these verses urging us to know Christ and to make Christ the center of our lives. Though our Italian is limited, Bill and I understood, almost as if we were participating in the first Pentecost when all those listening to the apostles heard them speaking in their own languages.

We moved from the sacred to the profane when on our way back to our apartment we encountered a crowd gathered around a group of young men as they spun, leaped, and gyrated to the rhythmical pounding of drums. Though not prayer in the sense we usually apply to this word, these young men were definitely celebrating the miracle of the human body and the gift of athletic dexterity.

To see historic Rome cheaply and at your leisure, take the #110 open archeobus from Termini – an inexpensive way to tour all the important city sights. One ticket allows the rider to get off whenever they wish to tour a particular site and to get back on another #110 bus when they are ready to continue the tour. Don't count on being able to listen to the tour descriptions however. On each open air bus #110 bus we took, people were continually moving from place to place trying to earphones that worked. Bill and I gave up and simply enjoyed the ride and the sights.

The view is splendid the top of the #110 bus, and from its lofty height I caught sight of Sister Clare Andre, a nun from my old monastery in New Jersey waiting in line. I yelled to her from the top of the bus but she didn’t hear us. Click here to read the earlier post telling of the chance and amazing meeting with Sister Clare Andre while waiting in line at the Vatican for tickets to the Papal Audience.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Walking Rome at Night

We spent most of our first full day in Rome either walking or standing. Having spent hours waiting on line for our tickets to the Papal audience, and flying through the Vatican museum before it closed, we stopped for some refreshments at a small cafe at the base of a long flight of stairs leading to the Metro. As Bill had never eaten gelato before, we ordered cups of mocha/chocolate gelato. Bill was so smitten that gelato in different flavors became an afternoon tradition for the rest of our journey.

Photo of a Roman Soldier out of his element

Concerning Gelato: “Let’s Go: Italy,” one of the most helpful of the tourist guides we’d brought along, described the difference between homemade or factory produced gelato. Gelato served from plastic containers is factory produced. Stainless-steel means homemade. Checking the color of the banana gelato is also a good clue. If it is bright yellow, it is factory produced. Slightly grayish banana gelato means homemade. Same with lemon. Homemade lemon is white whereas factory produced is yellow.

When we arrived back at the Piazza di Spagna we encountered an irritable Roman Soldier who’d somehow arrived there from the Roman Forum and was directing traffic with his sword and swearing at a huge group of chanting youth crowding the intersection. We hurried past him to our apartment where we rested until it was time to go in search of supper.

Fountain of Trevi at Night

“Where shall we go?” Bill asked. I suggested we head toward the Fountain of Trevi – a glorious sight at night and one Bill must see. Certainly there would be a good restaurant there. We headed out, confident we could find the Trevi Fountain by following the city map in our “Let’s Go” guide – a task not so easy at night when the print is small and the city streets dark and often narrow. It was the sound of rushing water that verified we were heading in the right direction. The fountain is huge and the water cascading from it voluminous. At night the fountain shimmers in blue and white light and the immense statues of Neptune, the sea-horses pulling his chariot and guided by Triton seem lifelike. Caught up in the visual, I forgot the tradition of standing with back turned to the fountain to toss a coin over one’s shoulder to make a wish.

Catacombs under the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument

Unwilling to merge with the throngs of tourists crowding the nearby restaurants, Bill and I walked in the general direction of the Piazza Venezia, a busy thoroughfare over which looms the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, erected over archeological ruins to celebrate Italy’s unification.

It’s not easy to cross the streets in Piazza Venezia. The traffic there is fast and heavy, so, though we headed in what we thought was the direction of the Coliseum and Roman Forum we ended up walking past the Capitoline Hill and the Theater of Marcello (which that night I thought was the Coliseum) and ended up near the Jewish Museum in the Jewish quarter next to the Tiber. This was a fortuitous turn of events for it was there that we finally found a place to eat. Nona Betta is an “authentic kosher restaurant” with empty tables on the sidewalk that beckoned to us to “sit and eat.” Which we did with great joy, dining sumptuously on penne picata, gnocchi parmesan, and a fennel, radiccio and orange salad.

Theater of Marcello

It was after 10 p.m. when we finished eating. Unable to find a taxi, we began our long walk back to the Piazza di Spagna and our apartment, on the way passing the Teatro and Area Sacra Argentina, and the Pantheon.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Vatican and a surprise encounter

Along the stairway leading to Piazza del Popolo from the Borghese Gardens

We woke late on Tuesday, the morning after our arrival -- though considering the time difference of six hours it was not late but quite early: nine a.m. in Rome equals 3 a.m. in Minnesota. It didn’t take Bill long to figure out how to make a great cup of coffee in the small espresso maker at the apartment and the butter, peach jam, and dry tostinis, (what we think of as Melba Toast), comprised the balance of our breakfast. Then we were off to the Borghese Gardens and Piazzo del Popolo for a two hour morning walk.

Piazzo del Popolo as seen from above in the Borghese Gardens.

The Pizzeria on Via Babuino where we had lunch of 4 plates of different roasted vegetables.

Our parish priest from Grand Marais, had written a letter to the Vatican recommending us for an audience with the Holy Father for Wednesday. We had been subsequently notified that we were to pick up our tickets at the “Bronze Doors” between two and 4 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. Though it was probably just as easy to walk, we took the Metro from the Piazza di Spagna to the Vatican and joined the long lines of tourists and pilgrims waiting to clear security. While shifting from foot to foot (I’m not good at standing still for hours), I overheard the woman behind me talking enthusiastically about the pilgrimage to Assisi where she’d been present for the spectacular celebration of the feast of St. Francis. Assisi, being the town I most desired to visit – the source of the Franciscan tradition in which I’d lived for 15 years as a Poor Clare nun -- I turned toward her.

Beryl on the bridge on her way to the Vatican

The trite expression we use to describe the event that ensued is “It’s a small world,” but my encounter with a nun from the same monastery where I’d spent 15 years of my life made the world seem miniscule. This unexpected meeting while waiting at the Vatican spread an aura of blessing over the trip that Bill and I had begun the day before.

Sister, who’d been granted a few extra days in Rome before returning to the cloister in New Jersey, had acted as a tour guide on a Franciscan pilgrimage to share the perspective of St. Clare’s life in conjunction with that of St. Francis. Those on that pilgrimage told her afterwards that they’d gone to Assisi to “to meet Francis and had met Clare as well.”

It was late by the time we entered the bronze doors to claim our “invitations,” to the Papal Audience. Here’s a bit of advice for those hoping to attend a general Papal Audience: Forget the tickets -- we were never asked to present them at the actual audience the next day. Spend the time visiting the Vatican Museums instead. Having spent hours waiting on yet another line for those “tickets,” we had little time to visit the Vatican Museums before they closed. Bill and I were among the last persons allowed to enter the museums and then we had to “fly” through that immense labyrinth of art-laden halls in our desire to reach the Sistine Chapel (which is one of the final stops within the museum) before the museum closed at 4 p.m.

Is there ever a “good time” to visit the Sistine Chapel? I have no idea. Thirty years ago when I last visited there weren’t the crowds there are today. As Bill and I craned our necks to view Michelangelo’s ceiling, we were pushed about by the milling crowd. Bill even missed seeing the most famed fresco of all – the creation of Adam which is tucked among the other portrayals of saints and sibyls adorning that ceiling. Certainly we could have seen more through reproductions in books and online, but then we would have missed the sense of awe that standing in the presence of Michelangelo’s frescoes evokes.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

We arrive in Rome

My husband Bill and I have just returned from a three week journey to Italy. During that time, we traveled through Rome, the Amalfi Coast, the Italian Riviera, the Italian Alps, Tuscany and Umbria. We met with 24 of my deceased husband Vittorio’s family members and network of friends, got hopelessly lost, made innumerable mistakes, encountered several unexpected acts of kindness, ate incredible meals, and everywhere were surrounded with scenes of great historic and artistic resonance and of unutterable beauty.

Our first four days were spent in Rome in an adorable apartment (Casa di Stella on Via Mario Fiori) only a block away from the famed Spanish Steps. From there it was an easy jaunt to most of the important sites in the city, and the Metro and bus lines were nearby for longer trips within and without the city.

We encountered our first challenge at the luggage pick up. We could not rent a luggage dolly which cost 50 centavos because our lowest denomination euro was € 100 bill. Lesson number one: always bring smaller euro bills and coinage with you. Because we could not rent a dolly, Bill tried to piggyback our other bags onto his new oversized bag which handle promptly cracked off. Lesson number two: do not plan to piggy back more than one bag at a time.

I sought help at the information desk, which was, of course, empty. A passing janitor threw up his hands when I asked him if he had change. He went off muttering something about crazy Americans . . . and then surprised us with the first of the many kindnesses Bill and I would encounter on this trip. He paid for a dolly himself and brought it to us!

We took a shuttle to the apartment, a ride that should have taken 40-50 minutes but which actually took close to two hours because of other passengers requiring drop-off’s hither and yon. We were told the cost would be €45. With a tip, €50. Problem: the driver didn’t have €50 in change. Lesson number three: take a taxi. It costs around the same, you get there a lot faster, and the driver is more likely to have change. While we scrambled to find someone who could break our €100, the shuttle driver nervously pointed out that he was blocking other traffic from entering or exiting the narrow street below the apartment. The apartment owner, Carlo, helped us break the 100, then helped us haul our luggage up the three stories to the apartment. Hauling heavy luggage that far, even with the help of the owner, was not easy.

Finally settled, Bill and I walked to see the Spanish steps (down which Vittorio had ridden his bicycle as a kid) at night. Though October is not considered a busy season for tourists in Italy the steps were packed with people, some exceptionally boisterous youth singing loudly. One of the ubiquitous rose vendors found throughout Rome, handed me two roses for “amore,” expecting to be paid even though he insisted they were free.

We climbed the steps to the famed Trinita dei Monti, where 30 years earlier I’d stayed in an attached convent while Vittorio wrestled with the Vatican in trying to obtain a dispensation from the priesthood so we could marry. We passed the Hassler Hotel, and connected with Via Gregoriana, the street where Vittorio’s family had lived for over 100 years.

On a nearby side street we found a cute little restaurant Carole Case e’n Osteria where we sat at a small table outside on a platform above the sidewalk and ate bambollot all’amaticiana—a type of fat ridged pasta with a spicy roman sauce made with bacon, sipped a delicious glass of vino rosso della casa, and carried on a lively conversation with a woman from Norway who lives several months a year in Italy – all together a wonderful introduction to the days to follow.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Ciao Italia!

We're off to the land of popes, pilgrimages, wine, and euphoria. Rome, Naples, Sorrento, Capri, Amalfi, Foligno, Assisi, Florence, Italian Riviera, Trento, Lago di Garda, Venice, Siena . . . and more.

Back sometime in late October or early November (we leave for Florida two days after we arrive home.) Depends on when I've got a free moment to check in.

Meanwhile, enjoy fall!!!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Before leaving

For several weeks now, I've been mostly living in earphones, attempting to learn enough Italian to communicate with my deceased husband's family in Italy. Besides CD's Buongiorno Italia also provides a reading supplement. I've completed all the exercises in the book but find myself strangely tongue-tied when asked to "say something in Italian."

Do I treat the listener to an "ordering a meal" dialog (lots of meal-ordering, and direction-asking in this little book) or do I describe the house that Geraldine wants to buy near Orvieto?

Sometimes I create imaginary conversations as I busy myself with other things. Inevitably, however, I lurch off into Spanish. I don't know a lot of Spanish, just enough to confuse others.

The dialogs on Buongiorno Italia, however, aside from the repetitiveness of their topics, are marvelous aids in determining where to use "da" or "di, " or "ci" and "si," and the like. Hear a phrase often enough and the association of when to use what slides into a conversation more easily. Those phrases remind me of the "embedded" reporters during the Iraq war save that this reporter resides inside my head.

If all goes as planned, we leave this Sunday. On my return, I'll report on the efficacy of Buongiorno Italia and my success in attempting to communicate in Italian.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Pyramids at Teotichuacan

Mario Perez has been driving taxis since he was fourteen. The chauffeur assigned responsibility for the safety of Bill’s consulting team, Mario works eighteen- and twenty-hour days. As he cannot afford a car of his own, he must take some other form of transport to and from work, which means his day starts at 4 AM and ends after 11 PM. He never complains. Such hours are just a fact of life.

I met Mario in May 2000 on a whirlwind trip to Mexico City. This trip included a day spent with my husband Bill at work—attending meetings, touring site facilities, meeting fellow consultants and team members, a day alone spent touring the awesome National Museum of Anthropology, and two days of compressed sightseeing in which we visited various ancient sections of the city, shrines, pyramids, and a day trip to the distant mountain city of Taxco. But over-riding the experience of such wondrous and memorable sights was getting to know the Perez family.

Mario’s broad face beamed next to Bill’s from the other side of the custom’s checkpoint when I arrived at 11:30 PM Wednesday night. Although I’d never seen Mario before, there was no missing the delight that emanated from that wide smile. Bill had described it often enough. I was to bask in the warmth of that smile during the next two days.

By Friday, I felt confident enough of the understanding couched in that smile to babble away in my dreadful Spanish, certain that Mario understood everything I was saying. As he explained the details of the trips he had planned for us that weekend, however, I struggled to grasp its outline—the grandchildren, eight-year old Giovanni and nine-year old Stefania, who would join us on Saturday as we toured the city; his wife, Margarita, who would accompany us to Taxco on Sunday.

On Saturday, Mario arrived early with his two grandchildren and set off with us for the pyramids of Teotihuacan. He dropped us off in front of the pyramids and assigning us care of his grandchildren, drove to the parking lot to wait for us. His legs were giving him trouble and there would be a lot of walking.

We were well into our adventure when, while climbing the pyramids at Teotihuacan, Stefania got her outfit dirty. Just a smudge, mind you, but she was preoccupied with this dirt. I helped her wet a paper towel and we tried to remove the smudge but without much success. I retain a vivid image of this little girl as she rubbed at her shorts with a dampened piece of paper towel. I tried to ease her worry by saying that it was only dirt and would come out in the wash, but this didn't comfort her. She was wearing her best outfit and her mother had told her to keep it clean. Her parents probably sacrificed so that she'd be well dressed for this event, and I felt badly for her.

As Stefania and I worked at the dirt on her shorts, Bill disappeared into the heart of the museum with Giovanni. Worried about losing them, I gave Stefania my handkerchief and suggested she use that. Still busily rubbing as we entered the room where a huge model of Teotichuacan stretched below us, Stefania somehow lost hold of the handkerchief. It fluttered through a space in the glass floor over which we walked. It landed neatly on top of a temple roof and covered its steps. No amount of stretching could retrieve it.

Other tourists who had purchased ornate spears from the vendors at the pyramids, attempted to lift the handkerchief for us without success. It doesn't matter, I said, taking Stefania by the hand. Let's go find Bill and Giovanni. But Stefania wasn't to be deterred. She insisted we stay until the hankie had been rescued. Finally a guard, who sat beside an open tomb where the skeletons of five ritually slain maidens lay exposed, took a hooked stick and sauntered toward the spot where the hankie languished-- its retrieval apparently just another fairly routine event in the life of that museum guard.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ely flaunts its bears, wolves, and root-beer

Though I usually focus on away-from-home travel stories, travel stories from one’s home state are worth the telling. Ely Minnesota is one of those places. Since taking my grandson there last year, I returned again this summer, this time with two grandchildren in tow. Here’s a story from that first trip in August 2007.

Ely is more than the entry to the Boundary Waters. Ely is home to Ted, a local celebrity who could once shimmy up trees with the best of them. He could gambol in play and run faster than others. Ted can no longer do these things because he weighs 900 lbs. Before you gasp in disbelief, I’ll reveal his identity. Ted is a black bear – a VERY LARGE black bear. Most wild male black bears weigh between 125 and 500 lbs. But Ted cannot be called wild. He is now a main attraction at the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota which opened in the spring of 2007.

900 lb. Ted Dines Daintily on Berries

When I left our North Shore home to drive 90 miles to Ely with my nine-year-old grandson Tommy, I’d planned on taking him to both the International Wolf Center one mile east of Ely and the Bear Center one mile west of Ely – stopping to visit the Dorothy Molter (better known as the “Root Beer” lady who achieved fame by living alone in a rustic cabin on a small island in the Boundary Waters until she died at the age of 87) Museum between both centers to refresh ourselves with a chilled bottle of her “Kwiturbeliakin” (Quit your belly-achin’) brew as had the more than 7,000 canoeists who stopped by to visit her every summer when she was alive. I planned to do all of this in one day.

Tommy Rides the Wolves in Ely

So much for plans. When my watch read 4:30 p.m. and my grandson was still clinging to the center windows trying to catch sight of the white wolves who were lazing about in the shade of their forested enclosure, I had to lure him away by promising him a cold root beer.

We arrived at the Dorothy Molter museum in time for the last guided tour. Nancy, our guide, had grown up in Ely and knew Dorothy Molter well, becoming part of a sizeable group of snowmobilers who would head out to Dorothy’s cabin every winter to help her cut the lake ice she’d store in her ice-house for chilling her homemade brew. When the Boundary Waters were closed to motorized vehicles of any kind and Dorothy’s fame allowed her to spend her final years on the island, the forest service and Outward Bound groups took up the slack – “though, truth be told there were a few snowmobilers who helped then too.”

My grandson, who fidgeted through the documentary on the wolves of Ely, sat spellbound during the presentation. He was especially impressed with the fact that Dorothy had to make several portages to get back to her cabin from a supply run to town -- carrying a 60 lb. pack of supplies strapped to her back, a 60 lb. pack strapped in front, and her 80 lb. canoe balanced over her head. He began calling Dorothy “that root beer girl,” in honor of her prowress.

Dorothy Molter's rustic and unheated bedroom

We stayed overnight at a small motel, had supper at the Chocolate Moose, played several rounds of mini-gulf, watched Ice Age (the movie) on the TV and after breakfast the next morning, (also at the Chocolate Moose) we headed to the North American Bear Center, arriving in time to see the bears being fed. Ted, who is the gentlest and the least agitated by the presence of humans, dined next to the window-wall which overlooks the two-acre bear enclosure. Ted -- who did not wolf his food as might be expected in a bear his size and took 10 minutes or more to dine one pile of berries -- is not the only bear in the enclosure.

A large light colored female black bear known as Honey Bear dined in the field behind the bears swimming pond, coming out of the woods and into the wild flowers only when she needed a sip of water from the pond.

Honey Bear is an impressive lady but prefers solitude to humans.

Meanwhile, a very small bear cub was being coaxed down from his high perch in a white pine. This little guy is not related to the other bears and much prefers humans to the grouchy Honey Bear, avoiding even Ted (who makes friendly overtures) so he spends a lot of time in trees, coming down only to be fed his bottle and berries, or to run after the caretaker as she leaves, standing mourning at the gate through which she has passed.

We spent the entire day at the Bear Center, which – like the Wolf Center -- is rich with interactive displays and story boards. Throughout the center monitors show bear activity in the area. And there is a “cub” room where even nine-year-old grandsons can hang out and play at being bears. Was it Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz who chanted “Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!”? My grandson’s and my two-day trip to the wildlife centers and Molter museum in Ely made it a “Wolves and Bears and Root-beer, oh my!” kind of happening in Minnesota's Ely Oz.

This little guy loves bear hugs -- as long as they are human.

Adapted from an article published on Gather August 12, 2007

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Marching with Las Madres

In early December 1999, I flew to Buenos Aires to meet my husband Bill who was working in South America. I arrived to find the streets of the city blockaded by banks of police and their motorcycles. Helicopters stuttered overhead. The taxi driver told me it was inauguration day and Argentina's new president, Fernando de la Rua, was moving in ceremonial cavalcade toward to Plaza de Mayo. To get me to the hotel, the driver had to convince the police that we had authorization to enter. I sat very tall and tried to look important as he nervously talked us through.

I'd like to tell you that I immediately dashed into the crowds to watch the inauguration. I’d like to boast that my Spanish was fluent enough to allow me to understand the speech de la Rua made from the balcony at the Casa Rosada. But the reality was that I was fearful of going into the city alone.

Then reason kicked in. I was going to be there for 10 days and Bill would be working most of that time. It was either head into the crowd or spend my vacation at the hotel swimming pool. I chose the crowd.

By the time I found my way to Plaza de Mayo, all that remained of the festive crowds were metal barricades and a ground littered with celebratory paper and political leaflets. I bent down to pick one up and noticed that it lay on what appeared to be the outline of a human body painted on the paving stones. Inside this outline were a name and a date. These painted figures were everywhere. When I straightened up, I bumped into a woman standing near me. I wanted to ask her what these figures symbolized but my Spanish was limited. I'd spent the last two weeks studying phrases like the one that discusses the peculiarities of keeping an elephant in one's house . . . not exactly the words I need now.

I excused myself for bumping her and began to walk away, but she smiled. Encouraged by the warmth of her smile, I decided to use my fractured Spanish to ask her what the symbols meant.

"Ah," she replied, "they are 'los desaparecidos.'" The disappeared! I shuddered. She then took me by the hand and lead me toward the Plaza obelisk where there were other symbols – she told me that the doves were actually kerchiefs. The "panuelos blancos" that symbolize the mothers of "the disappeared" who, since the mid ‘70s have gathered every Thursday in Plaza de Mayo to protest the disappearance of their children.

We sat on the grass to talk because Esther had phlebitis and though she had been warned by her doctor to stay at home with her leg raised, this retired history professor refused to miss such an "important event." She had traveled by bus since early morning from a mountain town several hours away.

We spent the rest of the afternoon together, wandering through historic sites and chatting, and as we talk the barriers imposed by language crumble. I bless the spirit that urged me away from the hotel and into the square. It has enabled me to do what I love best -- to see a place through the eyes of the people who live there.

© Beryl Singleton Bissell 2008

See Finding Time for God for Beryl's blog on living a contemplative life in a busy world.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Argentinian and Brazilian views of Iguazu Falls

In December 1999, I had the opportunity to practice the special blend of insecurity and trust that seems be to the hallmark of an American tourist in South America. A good example concerns our trip to the northeasterly tip of Argentina to view one of the world's greatest wonders: the immense and mighty Iguazu Falls located in the lush subtropical jungles of Brazil and Argentina.

To get to Iguazu, which is in Misiones province, we had to fly over Corrientes, a province that had just erupted into armed violence and which lies directly south of Misiones. Would we need to detour or abort the flight because of the violence in the neighboring state? My worries dissolved as we flew without hitch into Iguazu, only to resurface as we boarded the tour bus that was to take us into the jungles. From there we would be able to view the Garganta del Diablo (the Throat of the Devil): the most fearsome of the falls, forming as it does a huge concave gorge over which the Iguazu river hurls, spewing spray so high it can be seen from miles away.

The cause of this malaise was our bus driver who insisted that we give him our airline tickets. He claimed he needed them to confirm our return flights. I wondered why a bus driver would be responsible for confirming flights that wouldn't take place until the following day. I worried even more about getting them back. Refusing to yield, I clutched the precious tickets tightly. Not until another and more experienced tourist told me that this was normal procedure did I give in.

The following day, despite the fact that although all the other tourists had gotten their tickets back and ours were still missing, we decided to trust yet another stranger. When we'd decided, at the last minute, to fly to Iguazu we'd not had enough time to get visas to enter Brazil. It was only after we'd arrived in Iguazu that we discovered the Brazilian side of the falls should not be missed. The tour agency, however, refused to take us without visas. So, at the instigation of a desk clerk, we sought the help of Omar, an immense and very friendly taxi driver who said he'd try to get us in, mentioning that there would be no charge if he failed. His assurances were not reassuring. I worried more about spending Christmas in a Brazilian jail than spending money for an unsuccessful trip.

Democracy in South America is a far cry from that in the US--only two days earlier I'd marched with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, whose children (more than 30,000 of them in Argentina alone) had been abducted, tortured, and murdered by South American governments. The number of "disappeared" keeps growing and those responsible have never been brought to justice despite the 29 years of weekly marches these Mothers have organized.

Our Goliath had no trouble getting us across the border but the affair of our abducted tickets was not so easily settled. We arrived at the airport without them. It wasn't til just before boarding time that I spotted the bus driver nonchalantly hanging around outside the terminal. While I guarded the luggage, Bill ran outside to get him, reaching the bus just as that driver pulled away from the curb. Without asking for identification, he handed Bill the tickets and drove off. Unlike the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, our wait yielded the missing tickets but those mothers continue to wait for something incomparably more precious. I thought of them that Christmas, as I give thanks for the birth of the child whose mother also suffered that we might live free and in peace.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Seattle by day and by night

In Seattle, that friendliest of cities, we did something we rarely do. Limited in time and anxious to see all that should be seen, we signed up for two tours, one of the city and one of the Boeing Manufacturing Plant in Everett.

* View from Queen Anne's Hill with Mount Ranier in the distance

I’ve got mixed feelings about such tours because they give only the broadest overview of sights to be seen but it works when time in a particular spot is limited. Here is a running time-table of sites seen while on our tour.

Seattle Center, the site of the 1962 World’s Fair, the space needle, and of the fancifully designed side by side museums of Space and of Rock (musical not geological) our driver gave us 20 minutes to see what we wanted and to take photos. One of our traveling companions -- a businessman from Taiwan -- took this shot of Bill and me under the space needle. The Center was strangely deserted when we arrived, perhaps it was the rather gloomy weather or maybe just too early in the day.

Then it was off to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and Museum where we had 1/2 hour to explore its riches when I could have spent several days, so engrossed was I in the journeys of the men and women who forged the route from Seattle to the Klondike in search of their fortunes. Most of you know of Nordstrom's department store but did you know the founder was a Klondike gold-digger. He sold his mine and used the money to begin a shoe-store and look what happened. An empire!

At Pioneer Square, we had 20 minutes to check out the Waterfall Gardens and take a quick peek into the underground city, the subterranean ruins of the great Seattle fire in 1899 over which the new city of Seattle was built in brick and stone. With little time to investigate anything here, we succumbed to the lure of chocolate and coffee at a local coffee house in the Square.

*street performers at Pike Place Market

We had 40 minutes to traverse the famed Pike Place Market with its street performers and open air fish and produce markets. The barbership quartet pictured here was so good I could have spent the entire 40 minutes listening. Instead we dashed around sampling locally produced cheeses and wines in lieu of lunch.

Then up the winding narrow lanes of the Queen Anne’s Hill (please click this link for some spectacular photos of this view) to one of the best views of Seattle. If I remember correctly, this jaunt was not included in the official tour but was provided kindness of our tour guide. So up those narrow residential streets we went in a vehicle much too large for such a jaunt that got a bit too friendly with a parked car while en-route. Because of this encounter, we had more time than we would otherwise have had to enjoy and snap photos of the Seattle Bay and Mt. Ranier shining golden in the distance, probably 20 minutes.

Because our hotel was the most distant, and because the tour was running late (hmmmm!) our driver gladly dropped Bill and I off near the world-famous Elliott Bay Book Company – a must see for book lovers. While there I was delighted to find they actually had two copies of my book in stock. I signed these books and then zipped off to check each book store story [sorry couldn't resist the pun]. We left the store with several bags of books we couldn't resist. As our bookshelves overflow with more books yet to be read, we wonder if there is a BA (bookaholic) support group we could join. Any suggestions out there?

Still carrying our bags of books, Bill and I walked to the famed Seattle Waterfront, where we wandered in the lovely evening air and looked for a place to eat, finally settling at Seattle’s most historic seafood restaurant Ivar’s Acres of Clams located on Pier 54 where we dined sumptuously [well, that's a bit of an exaggeration but the food was good] on their famous clam chowder and delicious wild Alaskan Salmon. We then headed off to catch a movie, something we always do when in a city of any size, movie house deprived as we are on Lake Superior's north shore in Minnesota.

* a group practicing water survival on the waterfront

Seattle is spectacular by night, a veritable shining kingdom of lights. On our bus ride to the uphill, upscale, downtown area, we sat with our faces glued to the windows. Returning to the hotel by bus would have taken over two hours and as we had another full day on the morrow when at 6 a.m. we would be picked up for the Boeing Future of Flight and Factory Tour in Everett, we succumbed to the luxury of a taxi back.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Canyon Lake AZ: Traveling with the departed

I hadn’t realized when we began our drive to Saguaro and Canyon Lake near Mesa AZ that we’d be heading to the mountain lake my daughter Francesca told me about during her brief sojourn working in Phoenix when she was 19, but as we climbed into those arid mountains her words came back to me.

“Oh, Mama. You’d love it. The lake is tucked right into the mountains. You can’t imagine the view from the rocks. Oh I do wish you’d see it.” Her excitement had bubbled over the phone lines from Arizona to Minnesota.

My husband and I had chosen the perfect time to spend a few days in Phoenix. Everything was blooming, including the desert. I was stunned by the wonderful colors of the arid heights – the rocky cliffs striated in ocher and burnt orange, the sweeping expanses of blue and lavender, red and yellow flowers spreading above and below us.

Since Francesca’s death in 2001, I’ve carried that beautiful child with me in my heart to all the places we’d traveled since then. I'd so wanted her to see them. But here, as we topped Canyon Lake she was showing me.

© Beryl Singleton Bissell 2008

The Minneapolis Star Tribune named Beryl as a "Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors." Her book The Scent of God was a “Notable” Book Sense selection for April 2006. She is a columnist for the Cook County News Herald and has been published in anthologies and periodicals nationwide.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Morning at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Phoenix

On a bright March 15 morning, we traveled east from Phoenix on Highway 60 to visit the Boyce Thompson Arboretum where desert plants from around the world are featured in landscapes reflecting other desert environments –

Africa, Australia, South America, the Canary Islands, and the Chihuahuan desert of Mexico, west Texas, and southern New Mexico. My husband Bill and I got so carried away that we took well over 100 photos. Don't run, I'm only posting a couple here!

My favorite landscape and hike was the High Trail through the Upper Sonoran Natural Area.

The rocks looked like they’d been poured in blobs from some heavenly sand bucket.

We saw no rattlesnakes but we didn’t go looking for them. Besides, from what I understand rattlesnakes don’t show themselves until it gets a bit warmer.

The photo to the left is of a Blue Elf Aloe (pretty big for an elf wouldn't you say?)

And, check out the bark on the Mount Atlas Mastic Tree to the right. Beautiful even if it resembles anf elephants hide.

Several hours of browsing through the Arboretum aroused in us a “powerful thirst.” so we traveled to the historic mining town of Superior AZ – not quite a ghost town but almost -- with the only affluence reflected in the Church of the Latter Day Saints.

The town center was restaurant free, so we headed back to the highway and stopped at Buckboard City Café, which also boasts the world’s smallest museum.

The café’s charm lay not so much in its food which was hearty and good, but in its ranch town frontage, rustic interior,
and the amazing sculptures built from discarded household, farming, and mining paraphernalia.

The lovely piece to the right is called Hard Labor Falls, though I was hard pressed to find any falls trickling from those wheelbarrows.

Satiated, we were ready for our next journey, this one to Saguaro and Canyon Lakes, the subjects of my next post.

© Beryl Singleton Bissell 2008

The Minneapolis Star Tribune named Beryl as a "Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors." Her book The Scent of God was a “Notable” Book Sense selection for April 2006. She is a columnist for the Cook County News Herald and has been published in anthologies and periodicals nationwide. See Road Writer for her travel blog.

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