“David and Left” – Our Day in Florence

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“How the hell do we get out of here?” That dilemma evoked our plea to a kind guide at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence – “Where’s the door?”
Her answer: check above.

There are two major parts of the David experience here in Florence: Seeing the amazing creation that emerged from Michelangelo’s imagination when he was just 25 years old, and watching the incredible responses of each individual in the overwhelming sea of visitors who had joined us there.

See for yourself:
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Nice’s Enduring Pain

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That’s not a carousel — it’s a living, changing memorial to the July terror attack on the French Riviera resort of Nice.  The stuffed toys appear fresh, as if more of them have marched in every day or so, clean and untouched by the elements.  They’re so raw, and real, and since they’re in a small park just by the seaside promenade, they’re impossible to miss.

There are signs, too.  Some deeply angry.

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Some grief-stricken still.

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Just before the 15th anniversary of 9/11, this all felt especially immediate as this tiny Statue of Liberty watched over the sea nearby.

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We saw and did so much more here in Nice, but these are the images we carry with us as we leave.

 

 

Big Birthday Memory #15: John Kennedy, Barack Obama, 2 Inaugurations and 2 Generations of Dreamers

jfk inauguration1NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from May 8, 2014

I seem to be living in the Way Back Machine this year.  Lots of memories of 1968 and even 1963.  Now as January 20, 2009 approaches, yet another looms.  January 20, certainly, but in 1961.

See that crowd?  Somewhere, way in the back, probably at least a block beyond, stand an almost-fifteen-year-old girl and her mother.  Fresh off an overnight train from Pittsburgh, having arrived at Union Station in time to watch the Army flame-throwers melt a blizzard’s worth of snow on the streets of the inaugural route, they make their way to their parade seats: in the bleachers, way down near the Treasure Building.

I spent most of 1960 besotted with John Kennedy.  And Jackie.  And Caroline.  And all the other Kennedys who came with them.  Most of my lunch money went to bus fare as, after school, I shuttled  back and forth “to town” to volunteer in the local JFK headquarters.  I even had a scrapbook of clippings about Kennedy and his family.

JFK Inaugural tickets So.  My parents surprised me with these two parade tickets.  My mom and I took the overnight train and arrived
around dawn Inauguration morning.  We couldn’t get into the swearing-in itself, of course, so we went to a bar that served breakfast (at least that’s how I remember it) and watched the speech on their TV, then made our way along the snowy sidewalks to our seats, arriving in time to watch the new president and his wife roll by, to see his Honor Guard, the last time it would be comprised solely of white men (since Kennedy ordered their integration soon after,) in time to see the floats and the Cabinet members and the bands and the batons.

It was very cold.  We had no thermos, no blankets, nothing extra, and my mom, God bless her, never insisted that we go in for a break, never complained or made me feel anything but thrilled.  Which I was.   As the parade drew to a close, and the light faded, we stumbled down the bleachers, half-frozen, and walked the few blocks to the White House fence. I stood there, as close to the fence as I am now to my keyboard, and watched our new president enter the White House for the first time as Commander-in-Chief.

That was half a century ago.  I can’t say it feels like yesterday, but it remains a formidable and cherished memory.  It was also a defining lesson on how to be a parent; it took enormous love and respect to decide to do this for me.  I was such a kid – they could have treated my devotion like a rock star crush; so young, they could have decided I would “appreciate it more” next time.  (Of course there was no next time.)   Instead, they gave me what really was the lifetime gift of being a part of history.  And showed me that my political commitment had value – enough value to merit such an adventure.

Who’s to say if I would have ended up an activist (I did)- and then a journalist (I did) – without those memories.  If I would have continued to act within the system rather than try to destroy it. (I did)  If I would have been the mom who took kids to Europe, brought them along on news assignments to Inaugurations and royal weddings and green room visits with the Mets (Yup, I did.)  I had learned to honor the interests and dreams of my children the way my parents had honored my own.  So it’s hard for me to tell parents now to stay home.

My good friend, the wise and gifted PunditMom, advises “those with little children” to skip it, and since strollers and backpacks are banned for security reasons, I’m sure she’s right.  But if you’ve got a dreamer in your house, a young adult who has become a true citizen because of this election, I’d try to come.  After all, he’s their guy.  What he does will touch their lives far more than it will ours.  Being part of this beginning may determine their willingness to accept the tough sacrifices he asks of them – at least that – and probably, also help to build their roles as citizens – as Americans – for the rest of their lives.  Oh — and will tell them that, despite curfews and learner’s permits, parental limit-setting and screaming battles, their parents see them as thinking, wise and effective people who will, as our new President promised them, help to change

 

Big Birthday Memory #14: Life and Death on the Coast of France

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On the approach to Mont San Michel

 

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from May 8, 2014.

It doesn’t look at all real – I know that.  But it is.  It’s also a place I’ve wanted to see for as long as I can remember.  And here we are.  Here we are!  The sweet, formidable beauty of this place is matched only by its astonishing history – as a monastery, a prison and a target, from ancient times to the carnage and suffering of D-Day.

Mt-Saint-Michel has, for more than a thousand years, stood atop the rock upon which is was built.  Its timelessness is much of what attracts people, I suspect, along with its ice-castle beauty and the awesome commitment of its inhabitants:  the sacrifices made by these men on the mountain top, alone, virtually silent, with nothing to do but pray and take on their assigned chores, meditate and live out their lives in as holy a way as possible

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Ike sends US troops off to the D-Day invasion of Europe that helped win WWII.

Nearby, the small town of Saint-Mère-Élgise  and its museum await  the summer celebration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day and its remarkable exercise in vision, courage and grit.  This diorama of General Eisenhower’s last visit with the men he was sending to fight and die  is a moving one.  Anyone who has ever seen his 1968 conversation with Walter Cronkite knows how well the General understood that half of those he sent out on D-Day would never return.

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Resistance Armbands
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Prayers to say if death is near; provided by the military

One group of special heroes and heroines represented  at the museum were the Resistance – women and men who parachuted behind enemy lines, worked with local opponents of the Reich to complicate their war and, at great personal risk. transmitted by hidden radios everything they learned about their German enemy.

Aside from their real-life-spying, they also served in special, high-risk, low profile operations, commemorated in history, in films and in novels.  I often used the Resistance stories and the children running messages and doing other support work as a way to engage our sons in history when we traveled.  The drama and courage, and relevance, was and still is irresistible.

What you see here another of the profoundly moving exhibit items at the museum.  Look carefully; it’s a page of prayers to support young soldiers dying in the field.  Breathtaking as you stand among the photos of these young men and see how wise it was to offer them this comfort, and wonder if today’s military is inclined, or allowed for that matter, to provide similar comfort.

In all, the life of the monastery and loss that surrounds the beaches of Normandy really are bookends to how we live our lives.  Life and faith, war and peace, courage, sacrifice, defeat and victory.  It is the greatest gift of travel when these things present themselves and we   remember how fragile, and how wondrous, the privilege of being alive and aware really is.

Grief, Prince, Bruce and a Lost Friend


This is one of just many musical tributes to the loss of a great artist and since it’s Bruce, it’s especially meaningful to me.

When a celebrity dies, the public memories of respected peers add a kind of emotional gravitas that helps all of us who love the mourner or the mourned – or both.

Personal loss. though, has a weight and impact hotter, sharper and deeper.

Sunday, we went to a “shiva,”a home memorial services held for a friend.  We’d met him and his wonderful wife on a cruise, sailed all through the Mediterranean and had a great time; we were so happy they lived nearby, especially since we  shared so much: they’d been married as long as we have, also had grown kids and grandkids and, it turned out, lived just across San Francisco Bay from us.

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Gerri and Larry Miller Summer, 2015 Outside Gironda, Sp;ain

Larry was a blast to be around, intense, funny, smart and curious; he and his wife Gerri were a great pair and it was so very hard to see her grieving so intensely.

As I near my 8th decade with very little sense of age, I’m so aware of each loss of a peer and remember my dad telling me with astonishment every time one of his friends left us; it seemed to impossible to him.  Like so many other things, I understand this so much more now.

Of course it’s easier to grieve the loss of a public person, no matter how admired:  the sharp reality of a more personal one, deep feeling for his family and realigning of each memory of them, especially in the years that we become so much more aware of our own mortality, cuts and lingers so much more.

 

Posters From the Revolution, Rescued and Amazing

 

Photo from Trip Advisor comments of SakijR from Finland
Photo from Trip Advisor comments of SakijR from Finland

This poster, portraying China’s children energetically joining the assault against the U.S., is one of the remarkable Mao-era treasures hiding in this obscure Shanghai apartment complex, home to the Shanghai Poster Art Centre.

Mao’s Cultural Revolution and the years before and after produced an enormous range of political art, clearly targeted with great care to varied segments of the population.   As the Cultural Revolution’s image (and to some degree Mao’s) tarnished though, the new government ordered the posters – and their energetic messages – to be destroyed.

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Museum founder Yang Pei Ming. Photo by Mao Dou

Thanks to this man, it didn’t all make it to the garbage bin.  As the website says: A labor of love, the museum was founded by Yang Pei Ming, who grew concerned about both the poster art and the unusual history <and> started to collect posters ever since 1995 when all the government organizations deleted the propaganda materials due to the political reasons. 

It was a thrilling, surprisingly moving visit; passing through so many years of cynically generated passion and ideas in just a couple of rooms added impact to every poster and its story.  Here are a few; there’s not much more to say.  Let the pictures tell the rest.
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Three Gorges and a Pioneer

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The first girl!

This trip is almost over. We’re about to pass through the final of the Three Gorges: Xiling. The other two are magnificent.

Yesterday we sailed through Wu Gorge in a small, thirty-seat tour boat.  Despite the beauty, most interesting was our guide, who gave us the name “Janine” because “my Chinese name is too hard to say.”   A lovely 26-year-old with a great sense of humor, she was the headline for me.

She is the first girl from her village – tucked into the side of the mountain, several hours walk away – to go to college. The first girl.

She was able to do this, although she’d never been away from home, because Chinese businessmen have begun “sponsoring” college educations for local girls, and she received one of the scholarships.

I asked her about her village, assuming, correctly, that there was a lot of push-back from the community about her choice.  Did neighbors give her parents a hard time, ask them “What are you doing? How can you let her do that?” Yes, yes – especially challenging her dad. Her mother didn’t even want her to go, but her father stood firm and supported her, and off she went.

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The view from our boat. It looks like that one in front of us.

It was tough – busy and noisy, especially for a girl from a little mountain village.  “I cried and cried” she said.  But she stuck it out – able to return home only once a year.  She’s very proud of what she’s done and is working hard to enable her two younger sisters to follow.

I’ve been involved in issues regarding women for a long time, and admired groups like the UN Foundation‘s Girl Up, Vital Voices and The Elders‘ battle against child marriage.  Janine, however, was the first person I’d met, in her home environment, who’d benefitted from such undertakings.  It was quite an inspiration  — delivered just down the mountain from where she started, sharing her education and her English major with us as she led us  through the beauty that has surrounded her most of her life.

Pandas, Pandas, Pandas! Even Cooler than You Think!

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You’re looking at — forgive me — the dream of a lifetime: a personal, face-to-face meeting between my husband Rick and Ching Ching, a 1-year-old giant panda.  He’d wanted it forever.  After all, he spent a pretty large percentage of this trip’s temple visits taking photos of resident dogs and neighborhood monkeys while everyone else went after the remarkable beauty of the temples themselves.  We set a pretty large detour on our China visit so this could happen and I don’t think he’s come down from his happy place even three days later.

This is the Dujiangua Base of the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda, in Shiqiao (‘Stone Bridge’) Village,in Dujiangyan Prefecture, 40 miles from the city of Chengdu.  Our brilliant guide Selina, suggested that, since Rick wanted to “hold” a panda, which the better-known larger facility no longer permitted, we visit this brand new almost-open facility on a cool, grey morning.

Unlike the closer, more frequently visited Chengdu base, Dujiangua sits in a lush, quiet forest, panda enclosures set into the woods, a path allowing visitors to be just yards – and a low wall – from them.  It’s so quiet you can hear them chew their bamboo or draw a deep breath.  No noisy crowds to mar the sense of peace provided by researchers and volunteers, just a sense of closeness, and wonder.

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When someone we love is able to do something this personally meaningful, it brings at least as much joy to the rest of us. The additional gift: meeting these amazing animals and being so grateful to be along for the ride.

Xian: The Breathtaking Terracotta Warriors

Tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259 BC - 210 BC)
Tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang

They stand in silence, sentinels for China’s Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259 BC – 210 BCE) , the visionary ruler who demanded this ghost army of 10,000 to guard his tomb (and also demanded the expansion and unification of the fragmented Great Wall – making it what it continues to be today.)

It is a special army indeed. Singular figures each, their faces unique.  

After 2,200 years, in 1974, farmers digging a well stumbled upon them —  just a few shards suggesting more. The village elder understood what might be, gathered the random pieces in his home, and called the experts. They found ten thousand soldiers, discovered through a leader’s instincts and a small farming village’s need for more water.

 It’s not possible to describe passing through a wide passageway and coming upon these:
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Closeup of a portion of a single line
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A kneeling archer; his hands are placed to hold a crossbow
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A high-ranking general whose single raised finger suggests that he may be second only to the Emperor
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High-ranking general
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Look at the bottom right: even little ones are not immune

This entire trip is exploding my brain in the best possible way.

No Google, Yahoo Mail Won’t Work SO Here We Are In China!

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This is not a trick photo. We’re really there!

He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a real man, said Chairman Mao. That’s what it says on this tablet. Pay close attention to the photo to determine why we only made it part of the way.

Yup. Rick fell in Hong Kong and sprained his leg. It really hurts.  We’re traveling with these crutches and using wheelchairs wherever we can because he’s determined to BE here while we ARE here.  And it’s worth it.  China is mind-blowing, unpredictable and so very interesting.

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We had a great double birthday party for him – first at the hotel with a surprise cake and then with our guide at a local restaurant.  If you wrote him, he probably didn’t see it since Facebook isn’t available, so comment here and I’ll relay.

Today we took the bullet train to Xian and tomorrow we will see the Terracotta Warriors.  I am very excited.

I promise to post more soon.  With real content.

But I don’t have any other way to communicate until I figure out why Yahoo has locked me out.  If you’ve tried to reach me with no response, now you know why: many of The Usual Methods do not exist here.  At all.