Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos
13th-century castle, El Puerto de Santa Maria. That WAS our house to the left and behind the tree!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The French Countryside...and Dutch Cousins!

Still on a cousin kick, I could not resist the opportunity to visit my mother’s cousin Ole Langerhorst.  Ole is a Dutch sculptor, son of my German great Aunt Jule who married a Dutch man, Henni, after WWII.  Ole came to live with us for a year back in the 1980s to utilize the large amount of free wood in various family members’ back yards, so I already knew him and his wife Alize. 

Ole's woodworking tools

Ole and Alize had bought a farm deep in the French countryside.  We had been meaning to visit since we’d arrived in Europe, and this was our last chance.  So we made Ole’s farm near Vichy our first stop on a whirlwind last-round tour of Middle Europe. 

French countryside near Vichy

We landed in Frankfurt and drove right to Wiesbaden to see cousin/daughter Sophie, who had lived with us in Imperial Beach for a year right before we came to Spain.  Sophie took us to the Mainz Schwimmbad, and we had a great dinner with Paige and Hans, my aunt and uncle, along with Melinda, Hans’s sister (and my aunt) and my uncle Mohsen and cousin Elina.  Then off to France!

Welcome to the French countryside

We arrived in Vieure after a leisurely drive through Germany and France, arriving for dinner at the Dutch family reunion that had already been going on for a few days.  Ole in the meantime had switched from sculpting to farming, and has beautiful organic fields of vegetables—onions, garlic, kale, chard, lettuces of all sorts, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, and herbs—surrounding his modest farmhouse.  

Another view of Ole's workshop in context

Over 30 people had shown up for the reunion, and it was cousins galore!  I didn’t know I had cousins in Upper Austria, or in Portugal!  They’d all converged on Ole for this biennial reunion.  Most were children or related in some way to Jule and Henni, but some (us) were related to Jule’s sister Hilde, and some (Toeja and Wyck, who in the end couldn’t make it) were related to sister Gusse. 

Hurray for new cousins!!

The weather held, with only light rain at times, and we hiked to a beautiful tiny church on the hill behind the village.

Vieure's little church

A spectacular bed-and-breakfast next to the church

Making wishes with Alize

The next day went into picturesque Souveny for the medieval fair.  Tia and Sasha dressed up as fairytale princesses, and their third cousin Veronica could have been their sister!

With third-cousins Leah (center) and Veronica (left)

Medieval beauties

We played guitar and sang, with cousin Leah dancing up a storm.  My cousin Annette got out the sheet music for the German canon rounds they had learned from their mother as children, and I was astonished that I, too, knew some of them! 

That's a lot of cousins--and this is just the Jule branch of the family!
Our Dutch cousins in Souvigny

Three days was much too short, but we had reservations in Colmar, site of the Isenheimer Altar that I’d visited on a class field trip when I was  16, and I wanted to share it with Tia and Sasha.    

Tia takes it all in

Sasha liked the Ascension
 Colmar is an exquisite little town situated on the -__ river, its only drawback being its overwhelming success with tourists.  We stayed right in the Centre Vieure (old town) and walked to the Isenheimer Altar, gawking at the ancient crossbeamed fifteen-century houses still standing.

Colmar beauties

Beautiful houses in Strasbourg, too

Friend Arzu came down to visit overnight!

Strasbourg is right up the river from Colmar, so we took a day trip there to see the seat of the European Parliament and gaze upwards to the awe-inspiring carved red stone blocks of the Strasbourg Cathedral.  Even though I’ve now seen hundreds of gorgeous old churchs and cathedrals, I still marvel every time at the amazing human ingenuity that managed to construct such immense beauty without the aid of modern machines or technology. 

How did they build them so tall in medieval times???  Amazing

The European Parliament

France, land of beauty and good things to eat—we really spent far too little time here in our European adventure.  We shall return!

Sasha's idea of a perfect house

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

My Friend Janice

In 1986, just as I was graduating from St. John’s College, falling in love with Todd, and winding down my grueling aerobics schedule, I was seized by the unquenchable desire to go back to Germany.  I applied for and got a Fulbright Scholarship for a year of study at the German university of my choice, to study the German educational system. 

This stroke of luck led me to the Universität Tübingen and to Fichtenweg 11, the ugly student housing up on the hill overlooking the picturesque town of Tübingen.  There I—to my horror—found myself surrounded by other foreign exchange students, including a slew of Americans and Canadians, most of whom were determined to speak English.  

Back in the day:  Fichtenweg 11

But not Janice.  She, like me, was there to LEARN GERMAN, and really learn it, I mean, really become fluent.  She says she doesn’t remember, but I do:  we made a pact right from the beginning to only speak German to each other, awkward as that was.  The amazing thing was, we actually stuck to it. 

Some things never change

Janice lived down the hall from me, majoring in German from Newcastle University in England, but she’s actually Scouse.  Like from Liverpool.  Or better said, Elsemere Port, just across the river.  She and I became fast friends and even hitchhiked to E’Port from Tübingen during Spring Break to pick up her car, a tiny Austin Mini, so that we could drive it back to Germany and have even more fun for the rest of the school year.  It was the first time I’d really heard her speak English, and vice versa, and to my shock I could hardly understand her.  

We drove this cute little thing through the Alps, too, all the way to Vienna--with 5 people inside!

After that year in Germany, I saw Janice only sporadically, a couple weeks in DC and California, a quick few days in London, an afternoon in Los Angeles.  But like true friends, it didn’t matter.  I was thrilled when we moved to Spain to be within reach of easy visits back and forth.

Janice and daughter Lili back in 2012, our first visit to London

But that Janice…she had developed a phobia of flying, and even though we invaded her London house a couple of times, it seemed like there was nothing I could do to convince her to come see our palace, until—FINALLY—at the 11th hour, in the last week of our time in Spain before we left on vacation…she booked tickets.

British Airways, the only way to fly?

We had a full week of glorious Spanish sunshine, perfect to lounge by the pool.  Janice showed up with her friend Theresa and her daughter Lily, and we enjoyed our palace and its massive garden and pool. 

Our awesome palatial pool

Next we planned a trip up to Cueva de Gato, a secret place discovered by our friends Linda and Vida.  We organized an outing to this enormous cave, out of which flowed a river, icy icy cold in comparison to the summer’s heat.  We splashed and lounged, with the girls jumping off of the high rock.  We plucked figs from the loaded trees with an improvised fig-picker, and relished the icy water.

Enjoying the sunshine


Vida is the same age as Sasha and a year younger than Tia.  We invited Linda and Vida to join us at the Fin de Curso dinner that was organized by our flamenco professor, Jaime.  But first, I was determined to show my own music skills off to Janice by arranging a final Vale That concert back where we started, at Bar Milord.  Juan, the owner, was thrilled to have us, and we again marshaled all our friends to cheer us on.  Janice, Theresa, and Lily hung in there all the way through the last song!  What troopers.

The last gasp of Vale That

Coming full circle at Bar Milord

The next night was the Fin de Curso.  We arrived for the dinner at 9 pm, a fashionable Spanish hour.  In proper Spanish form, dinner didn’t start until 10:30 pm, and finished up at 12:30.  The show got started about 1 am;  Janice, Theresa and Lily hung in there.  By 1:45, still waiting for Tia and Sasha to dance, Vida went to sleep in the car.  I sang my Mal Alma solo around 2 am, and Tia and Sasha danced their magnificent alegria about 2:45.  by the time I got onstage at 3:30 am for the Fin de Fiesta and my chance to dance the bulerias, Linda, Janice, Theresa, and Lily were in the lobby, on their way out.  What a way to learn how the Spanish throw a party! 

Getting our flamenco diplomas late, late at night

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Summer's here

It’s summer already.  Tia and Sasha have finished the last day of their Spanish schooling, and are relishing in sleeping until noon and staying up until 2 am.  We let them, as this Spanish schedule does not seem to hurt them (as long as they get their chores done!). 

A couple of visitors came through in June:  my aunt Andrea from Germany came in for a week and helped me learn about the vegan lifestyle and various alternatives to dealing with menopause.  She is a medically trained naturopathic doctor who is a wealth of information about what you can do if you don’t want to go down the pharmaceutical path!  Very interesting.

Into the pool--it's summer!

We took Andrea out to my friends Maribel and Javier’s little house on the island of Culetra off of the southern Portuguese coast.  The only way to get here is by boat, so there are no cars or streets, just little footpaths through the sandy soil.  It’s like stepping back 70 years in the past, and we loved digging for blaentera at low tide, which Javier then steamed with garlic.  Delicious. 

In front of Maribel's house

To finish off the month, we organized the third annual Vale That concert at TK3 for Noche de San Juan.  Having learned in the previous two years that my kids are much happier with me if we stop playing by 11:30 pm so we can all walk backwards into the ocean at midnight to wash away our sins, we reworked the setlist to end on time and to accommodate drummer Pedro’s barbershop-business schedule.  The volume, however, was way too loud despite my best efforts to get the sound guy to bring it down, and I was happy to get off stage and jump into the water by midnight!

Rockin' TK3

Our friend Sonali came out to visit again with her daughter Acacia.  We hiked the Caminito del Rey with them, an impressive gorge with a reputation of extreme danger due to the rickety and unguarded footpath carved into the cliffside.  After several people fell to their deaths, the Spanish government closed it and completely rebuilt the trail, installing a wood boardwalk and acrylic panels at intervals so you could give yourself vertigo looking down at the rushing water 100 meters below.  We relaxed, swimming in the nearby reservoir after lunch.   Check:  one more thing seen as our time winds down here!