Friday, December 18, 2015

Joyeux Noel, A True Christmas Message


German soldiers of the 134th Saxon Regiment pose with men of the Royal
Warwickshire Regiment in 'No Man's Land' on the Western Front in
December 2014. Photo is in the Public Domain. You can read the
article HERE

I am returning for a third time to an earlier post about a film that still moves me deeply: Joyeux Noel, the 2005 film that was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film. This has become my favorite Christmas movie, and I watch it each year.

The individual stories highlighted in the film were fictitious, but the over all story is based on a true happening on a Christmas Eve in 1914, in the theater of war: Scottish, French, and German troops agreed to a cease fire, and put down their weapons to celebrate Christmas Eve. Bonds were formed. The next day, troops  even warned each other of planned shellings and offered refuge in each other's trenches when the shellings occurred.

Last year, the  Sacramento Bee published an article about this phenomenon, a phenomenon that occurred in several places across Belgium and across the Western Front. One such place was Flanders Field, (the site of John McCrae’s famous poem later, comparing the blood of slain British warriors to red poppies.) 

On Christmas Eve, German soldiers began playing music familiar to both German and British soldiers. Soon an informal truce was struck. Troops visited each other, gave each other food and small gifts. Some played games. For a little while, Peace broke out. Afterwards, as in the movie, army generals made sure it would not happen again. In the following war years, at Christmastime, generals stepped up the fighting to ensure no one would even think of a truce.

For all three military groups, the only thing that saved troops from being tried for treason was the fact that 200 or so in each case would have to be tried. Instead, all the participants were transferred to other fronts to make sure such an event wouldn't happen again.

Joyeux Noel is a remarkable film--a reminder that we are human first, and that the human impulse is toward peace. It is the political impulse that moves nations to war.

So here it is, the New Year on its way, the Christmas message hovering still. We still live in a troubled world, wondering how to meet the challenges.

Best wishes for a time of true peace, when people can be united again in their common humanity.

What is your favorite Christmas movie?


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Return to Pacific Grove

Pacific Grove in the afternoon.
I've been meaning to post ever since we got back from Spain, but life and work intruded -- in a happy way. I'm working on a new story, to be included in an anthology coming out next year.
Though I've kept my nose to the grindstone, it's made my blogging lackadaisical. Then Thanksgiving came -- a wonderful communal gathering with my beloved god family -- and after that we went to Pacific Grove for the weekend. Pacific Grove, Monterrey, and Carmel have long had a shared place in our hearts. We come back when we can, like homing pigeons, to walk the beaches and visit the art galleries in Carmel.

We spent both mornings in Pacific Grove, driving, then walking along the sea wall, enjoying the slate-blue of the distant waters, the foamy white ruffles of incoming waves, the soft hush-sh-sh of waves rippling and splashing on rocks, the muffled roar of larger waves, and the kwee-dkwee-kwee of the seagulls that soared and swooped from rocks to shore and back again.

A distant boat on the endless waters.

A lone seagull, taking it all in.

Rocks that jut up like sculptures.

And a rock littered with roosting gulls.
That was the ocean view.






On land, the ice plant that makes a fuchsia-colored carpet across the sand in spring was bereft of flowers, but it glistened in green and red tones like stained glass.

A path of beauty.

Fall colors like stained glass

Someone staring out to sea.













For years I've wanted to visit the Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Pacific Grove, an "overwintering" spot for monarch butterflies, November through February each year, free for viewing. This time we did. Look closely. Nature has truly devised a great safety system for these delicate creatures;
At first we thought they were only dried
Hundreds of butterflies with folded wings, looking like
so many dried leaves in their wonderful camouflage.
leaves hanging from trees--and not
pretty leaves, at that. And then a little
kid pointed them out to us! "They're
in camouflage," he said. (Smart kid!)
We looked again, and were amazed.
Hundreds upon hundreds of folded
wings. Camouflage indeed!

One butterfly opened its wings









Both afternoons, we drove into Carmel to enjoy the many art galleries. We have certain galleries we particularly like: One is Classic Art Gallery. One is the Carmel Art Association, a collaborative gallery that features work by local artists and puts out a lovely small catalogue each year that is like a book of art gems. You can visit them HERE. We also like Jones & Terwilliger Galleries.  But actually there are so many good galleries, an amble through them is like an amble through several fine art museums.

Because Rajan is into black and white photography, we stopped by two photography galleries we've always enjoyed.

One is the Weston Gallery. They are featuring a color show in one section at present, but they specialize in the art of some of my husband's favorite black and white photographers: Ansel Adams (his hero), Edward and Brett Weston, Yousuf Karsh, Michael Kenna, Imogen Cunningham . . . . You can click on the name of the gallery above, and, once there, click on the artists and see wonderful samples of their work. The other is Photography West Gallery, featuring some of the same artists, all working in black and white film (my husband's first love) rather than digital.

Both afternoons we stopped by a charming restaurant/bar called Grasings on  6th and Mission, and had a glass of crisp Chardonnay. The place had a soft, warm atmosphere and a friendly staff, and it made for a nice pause in the day.
Hubby's ear in lower left corner. :-)

A nice pause in the day.
 My birthday was Monday, but since we would be driving back to Sacramento that day, we celebrated Sunday evening at a little French restaurant in Pacific Grove. (Or maybe it's Monterrey: those areas run into each other, and I'm never quite sure. )

                                              It's called Fifi's Bistro Cafe , a reasonably priced, charming restaurant with a cosy atmosphere. Fifi was there that evening, as it was the restaurant's 30th anniversary. She's French, of course, and she looked casually chic, as the French somehow always manage to do -- black dress, red scarf, hair tumbled back in a clip. We are not dessert eaters, but when she found out we were celebrating my birthday, she insisted on bring an order of flan for us to share, and she brought a beautiful red rose to the table, scattering the petals over the white tablecloth. How French!

I have a lot of questions in this post: Have you ever seen the monarch butterflies wintering over in some location? (I understand there are quite a few; not just Pacific Grove.) Do you have a special affinity for the ocean? Do you enjoy black and white photography? What is your favorite art form?



     



Friday, October 23, 2015

Autumn Journey - Part One


Soundara.
The journey really started the last two weeks of August, when we went to India to visit our relatives for two weeks. We stayed with our 88-year-old widowed sister-in-law, Soundara, in the section of Chennai called Virukambakkam, where we usually stay. It was a long overdue visit. My husband and I visited in 2012, and then he went again in 2013, a year after her husband's death.

I have always admired Soundara. She is truly a sister. She is tinier than I am, and while we were there insisted on cooking great meals. She cannot not be busy, and she is interested in so many things. You can see the sweetness of her personality in this picture.

Murari
Our grandnephew, Murari, picked us up at the airport, at 4:30 a.m., and we stepped outside into an amazing heat. In seconds I was glistening with moisture from the humidity. I didn't take as many pictures on this trip as I meant to, and this one, at the left, was taken when we visited Murari's  parents' home a few days later. It took us about an hour to get to the house. After we showered and unpacked, she had coffee waiting for us. There is nothing like good, strong, Indian coffee.
Vasu & his pretty wife, Srimithi.
Notice her beautiful smile.
Later, Vasu (My husband's sister's                     eldest son) and his wife, Srimathi, visited
the house (at right), and still later, Murari's father, Ravi, stopped by, as well.
Distances are very far in Chennai, and the traffic is unbelievably thick. Each time we've gone back, it seems the traffic has doubled from the time before, so it is always a breath-taking ride, and a long one, to get from one place to another.

We visited Rajan's doctor brother (Parthasarathy) and his wife, Vasantha, who live with their son and their son's family. Even though he is retired, he keeps up with current medicine, and we often turn to him for his medical opinion. On the trip this particular day, I was so enamored of the garden in his son's home, that I failed to take a lot of family pictures! Here are three family photos I remembered to take this time:
Hari, Parthasarathy's  &
Vasantha's son.

Sudha, Parthasarathy's &
Vasantha's daughter, visiting us
at her brother's home.

Anusha, Sudha's youngest daughter.
Her older daughter lives in the US.



But here are three from the 2012 visit, showing the whole family:
Parthasarathy, 2012.

Me, Soundara, & Vasantha, 2012

Hari & his wife, Vidhya, their sons
Aditya and Anirud, 2012.
Also, some pictures of the flower garden on this trip, that will show you how beautiful it is. there is a long passage way of flowers outside the ground floor, and then a roof garden with many potted flowers and plants.









This house is near the ocean and gets a nice breeze, so it is a nice oasis of coolness and beauty, so refreshing in the humid heat of Chennai.

On another day, we visited Rajan's brother, Narayanan, in two of his son's homes.

The first was in the home of Ravi and his wife, Nirmala. They are the parents of Murari, who picked us up at the airport. (Murari will be getting married this coming Monday, and we are so sorry that we are going to miss the wedding. We'll be disembarking from our plane home at about the time the wedding is beginning.)
Nirmala, our beautiful niece.

Ravi, her husband.

Murari and his grandfather,
Narayanan.





After that, we visited the home of one of Narayanan's other grandsons, Arjun and his wife Smrithi, along with Arjun's parents, Vasanth and Nalini. I really messed up, here! I got so engrossed in the conversations, that I forgot to take pictures. Luckily, Smrithi and Arjun and Nalini came to visit when we were at another grandnephew's home, so I did get a least a picture of them when we went for an overnight at the home of Madhu and Malathi. Madhu is the youngest son of Rajan's sister, and there are pictures of her, as well. This year she had her 80th birthday, but somehow she has kept youthful and full of energy.
Smrithi, Arjun's wife.

Arjun, Vasanth & Nalini's eldest son
Madhu in foreground; Arjun in
background. 
Malathi, Madhu's wife in the middle;
Nalini, Vasanth's wife in foreground.

Pattu, Rajan's sister in foreground;
her son, Madhu at far left, his wife,
Malathi and far right; their son,
Rohid, next to her.

Maithreyi, their beautiful daughter.
The day before we left, she gave birth
to a little girl. 
Eyeshwar, Maithreyi's husband, and
proud papa. 
Our last family visit was to Bangalore, where we visited to homes. We stayed two nights with our nephew, Ashok, his wife Gayathri, and their two sons, Rohan and Tarun, and Ashok's mother (Rajan's sister-in-law) Malathi. From there, we visited another grandniece, Priya, and her husband, Balajit. Once again, I was so involved in the visits that I didn't take as many pictures as I meant to take. Priya is the sister of the pretty woman in turquoise above, Sudha. It was a great pleasure to see her and her husband, and I was really vexed with myself for not remembering to use the camera I was carrying around everywhere. At Ashok's home, too, we mostly visited, and then on the last day I remembered pictures. I did get some pictures that included Malathi and Tarun. Tarun had just gone to temple for his thread ceremony, a ceremony for Brahmins similar to a bar mitzvah for Jewish boys, in that he was crossing over into adulthood with spiritual responsibilities.

Malathi, our sister-in-law on
left, Tarun on right. You can
see how happy he was. 
My husband, Rajan on left
with Tarun. This kid has so
much personality!
We took the night train to return from Bangalore to Chennai, and then there were just two days left before we departed for Spain. Earlier Rajan developed a really serious reaction to the anti-malarial medicine we took for the trip, so he had to discontinue it after 10 days. Then we had to wait (in Spain) 21 days from the last unprotected mosquito bite in India, which was a bit stressful--all the more so as his doctor brother says he is allergic to all malarial medicine -- including the one that's used to treat the illness. I was quite worried, as there were malarial cases in both Chennai and Bangalore, and he'd been bit by mosquitoes in both places. But all was well that ended well. He made it through the incubation period, and no illness.

I mentioned that Maithreyi gave birth to a little girl the day before we left. Her father, Madhu, kindly sent us pictures of the naming ceremony. Here are two:
Such a little doll!

Such happy parents. 
The last two days we rested and spent time with Soundara and packed.  Several relatives came to visit, and we also walked over to visit some in-laws through my Pittsburgh brother-in-law's wife, Kalyani. Raghavan and Kalyani are the parents of the nephew who got married last June. Her brother, Raju,  and his wife, Renukkah, live three short streets away from Soundara. Renukkah is an artist, and her work is really dazzling.
Raju & Renukkah
Renukkah's mother
Art. The flash doesn't do
the picture justice.

Another sample.

Each of these are different
styles, and she achieves
a great deal of mastery
in each one. 
And then the time drew to a close. But seeing everyone again is something I will treasure through the years, all the more so because, due to my husband's reaction to malarial protection, we don't want to risk his health in the future. At times like these, you appreciate the Internet and all the avenues of keeping in touch with family. We are thinking of them with love and prayers and are thankful that we got this visit in.

Next week I'll be moving on to the time spent in Galicia. Until then, I'll be visiting your blogs and catching up on your news.






Thursday, September 24, 2015

Imogene's Trailer

Dear Blog Friends,

In my absence until mid-October, please enjoy this little trailer for my book.  Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls

See you in about three weeks.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Blog Break

Dear blog friends,

I am taking a blogging break until mid-October. I know that it looks like I already took a break, but my husband and I were visiting family in India, and we didn't have regular access to the Internet for a few weeks. I didn't have time to write, either, so now I am working again on the rewrite of my mystery, and I have a deadline to meet. Please come back in mid-October, when I'll be blogging again (and visiting your blogs as well).

Thanks for your understanding, and I look forward to reconnecting in four weeks.

Happy blogging, and happy writing. Ciao for now, Elizabeth.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Buildings of Braga

The main entrance of
Se Cathedral


For some time I have been wanting to write about the wonderful buildings we see each time we go to Braga. The Sé Cathedral is probably good to start with for two reasons: The personal reason is that my husband, who loves black and white photography, is entranced with the stone churches of Spain and Portugal, and this building is a knock-out. The more serious reason is that it is the seat of the Archdiocese of Braga and one of the oldest cathedrals in Portugal; some say the oldest. As such, it shows the many architectural features seen all over the city: The entrance facade is Romanesque (notice the arches);  the bell towers are Baroque, (intricately ornamental). And inside, many areas are tiled with the distinctive Azulejo blue and white tiles one sees on walls, both exterior and interior, all over Portugal.

Braga is a city of churches, given its long history as the the religious capital of Portugal. But you see the interweaving of Roman and Baroque in many of the churches, and also many of the mansions and museums. One example is the old Archbishop's Palace, where the Jardim de Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara Garden) is nestled in a back square of the former palace.
You can see how the word "Palace"
applies here. 
Add caption
The new Archbishop's palace is located elsewhere and this crenelated building now houses archived material for the University of Minho. But step inside the entrance and you can see the true beauty of Azulejos:


   






 So many insides of churches had scenes in Azulejos, too. And many an exterior is decorated in blue and white tiles. While ceramic tiles were used all over Europe and were inspired by Moorish and Egyptian, the way Azulejos are used in Portugal have become an art form. In addition, many walls in Braga often display solid or geometrically patterned tiles as well: 
                                                                   







 All the beautiful colors and textures add to the distinctive quality to each building. No two buildings are exactly alike. Some have arched arched windows; others arched doorways. Some have painted walls, others have tiled walls. Sometimes the grill work of balconies is black; other times it's painted in bright colors. I could have taken endless pictures. You've actually been spared an extensive photo album of shots! :-)

Back to the churches: You could call Braga a city of churches. As the religious capital of Portugal, there are over thirty-to-thirty-five churches, in addition to the Sé Cathedral, and all quite distinctive. There is Igreja dos Congregados on the one side of Avenida Central bordering  Praça República (Republican Square (two views below).
Seen from the Arcada, which fronts
one end of Republican Square. 
Seen from across the triangular park
 that starts at the Arcade and ends in
Largo Senhora Branca.
There was also Igreja a Senhora Branca (Church of Our Lady in White) just across from our hotel (Hotel Senhora a Branca). A sign forbade picture taking inside, but the chapel was lovely, tiled in two shades of yellow with the main altar ceiling painted blue. The tiled facade could be photographed, and above the entrance, a statue of "Our Lady" in an alcove was lit by night: Here are some pictures by both day and night:




 On this particular trip (June, 2015), we were there during the full moon, which added a veil of mystery at night.

There were other churches of note: Bon Jesus, four miles out of town, up in the hills, which we did see last fall while attending a photography exhibit. (Our pictures were mainly of the exhibit, but here is a plaque on one wall.) A small, baroque church  on a street behind the Arcade, Igreja da Terceira Ordem Regular de São Francisco (Church of the Third Regular Order of Saint Francis). And inside the arcade is a small churchIgreja Paroquial de Nossa Senhora da Lapa (Our Lady of Lapa). 



If you look closely, you'll
see more beautiful Azulejos.















Then there were the museums. I'll concentrate on two that captured our attention. On our first trip, we went to the Museu da Imagem - The Image Museum, that specializes in photography exhibits. I had read of this museum in a travel article posted in the Huffington Post and was particularly interested, because my husband does black-and-white photography. Online, we made friends with the director, Rui Prata, and when we visited, we got acquainted with him and this beautiful museum. It's partly housed in an old tower of the original castle and an adjoining building that looks out on the street. Inside are current exhibits and historical photographs of Braga, and Rui Prata was generous with his time, telling us much about the history of Braga. He himself is a photographer, a curator of exhibits, and has recently retired from director of the museum to move to Finland from where he still curates exhibits all over Europe.
Museum entrance - the red building.
Street view from inside the door.
My husband debating what
to look at first. You can see
the complexity of the layout.

Just one of the sections of photos. 

This particular exhibit was
about the 1974
Carnation Revolution














Later Rui treated us to dinner
and introduced us to some fine
Portuguese wines.













We'd often heard about the Museu dos Biscainhos, a historical mansion, originally built in the early 17th century by a noble family. Inside its many rooms are collections of 17th and 18th century European and Asian furniture, ceramics, porcelain, glass, paintings, etc. The baroque palace or manor had its own chapel, servant quarters, carriage house. But it was the 18th century baroque garden with statues, fountains, pathways between hedges and flower beds, and trees that blew me away, and I focus my pictures on its beauty. 9One tree is a giant tulip poplar, sent from Virginia to the nobleman's family 2 centuries ago.)                                                                                                                            






A 200-year-old tulip poplar and me.
   Did I mention it was huge?
   Moments like this give you a sense of your size in the scheme of things.



Last, but not lease, I'd like to mention our good fortune to meet Inȇs Barbosa on our first and subsequent visits. Inȇs is getting her Masters at University of Minho and was interning at the hotel where we stay (Hotel Senhora a Branca) until just recently, when she went to work for Lufthansa in Porto. She patiently answered innumerable questions about Braga, about Portugal, about Fado, etc. On our last visit she told us about some of the Folklorico groups in Braga. The group she belongs to were to perform in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, the day after we left Braga.
In Folklorico costume. 
 She kindly sent me a video of the group performing in Braga, and I'm passing it on for you to enjoy: Just click HERE.

How about you? Do you belong to a heritage or historical interest group of some kind? Do you love historical buildings and gardens?