Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Travelling while vegan

Leye- Every other Wednesday

I’ve now been on a vegan diet everyday of 2018, so far, and it’s been great. My smugness level keeps increasing, which is exciting. I’ve also noticed other effects of the diet. For one, my sense of smell has greatly improved. I can smell bacon and egg sandwich from a mile away. I can even tell if the customer has gone for the cheeky extra bacon. If you’ve had steak, I can tell several hours later. I can even tell how you had it cooked: rare, medium rare, or, you-do-not-deserve-this-meat. I can also walk into a restaurant and tell you what delicious cuts of beef they have on the menu. My sense of smell has greatly improved.

I’ve also lost some weight, not that I was overweight, to start with. Where someone sees a big stomach on me, I see fat reserves for a rainy day. My 36-inch trousers now gather under the belt, which is kind of annoying. And last year, before this vegan madness, I reluctantly accepted reality and bought my first XL shirt. It now feels like an XXL shirt and I’m upset because I haven’t worn my money’s worth out of it.

Another interesting result of my strictly vegan diet is a renewed efficiency of my digestive system. Which can be inconvenient as I’m one of those people who prefer to do at home, those things that cannot be delegated.

I’m also learning things about myself. For example, I am not vegan. Yes, I’m on a vegan diet, and yes I care for the wellbeing of animals, but I am not throwing away my non-vegan shoes and belts and bags. I recently bought a new leather sofa. It’s yet to be delivered, and when it is, I’ll have no qualms packing my derrière on it. It’s a lovely sofa. You should come visit when it arrives.

I’m also learning important lessons that do not apply to anyone who is not vegan. For example, travelling while vegan requires planning.

Twice this so far this year, I’ve experienced the harsh realities of traveling while vegan. The first time was a three-day trip to Spain for the 2018 Barcelona Negra, a lovely festival where I got to meet and take a picture with THE James Ellroy.

My lovely hotel in Barcelona had a vegan friendly menu. Ratatouille without the advertised poached egg. I ate the same meal each day till I discovered a place on Las Ramblas where they were happy to fix me a vegan paella. It tasted like heaven - till my hunger was sorted, then the rest of it tasted wrong.

The second time I’ve travelled while vegan is just last week. I was in France for Les Mots du Monde à Nantes. This time it was a four-day trip. It was lovely. I enjoyed every day of the festival under the artistic directorship of the amazing Alain Mabanckou, the best-dressed writer in the world as far as I’m concerned.

I enjoyed the city of Nantes. I even did the tourist thing, which I hardly ever do unless there’s promise of wine on the route. Anyway, this time the authors had food vouchers for each day of the festival. The restaurant serving the food also catered for people dumb enough to switch to a vegan diet. They had rice and vegetables. This, my friends, was the only thing I ate, lunch and dinner, for the entire time I was in Nantes.  I don’t do breakfast.

The lesson I have learnt from these sojourns, as a person on a vegan diet, is this: do not, whatever you do, let the other authors at the festival know that you are on a vegan diet. Don’t. Trust me. They will find the most creative ways to taunt you over your insane choice of diet. They will let it slip into the questions they ask while you’re on a panel. They will make jokes with the waiters – in French, so you’re not even sure what they’ve said. (I should brush up on my primary school French). And they will never stop offering you a slice of their juicy, smells-so-delicious, full of umami, medium rare sirloin steak. What a mean bunch.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

in the footsteps of Maigret...kind of

In the footsteps of Inspector Maigret...kind of

It’s all about connections in France. A friend’s high school classmate knows a man who knows the person you want to meet. Connections get you his phone number. But introductions, I’ve discovered after many painful botched attempts, will get you in the door. In this case the wide portal of 36 Quai des Orfevrés home of the Paris Police Prefecture. Also the haunt of George Simenon’s Inspector Maigret fictionally in charge of the Suréte homicide. Now it’s called Brigade Criminelle, the elite homicide division on the fifth floor.

But I’d been there, visited ‘Maigret’s office’ and seen the photos of Simenon visiting the real Inspector he based Maigret on. I saw the intake desk, the holding cells, climbed the winding back stairways and saw messy paper piled desks. But this time I had an introduction to the Crime Scene Investigation Unit. The team who arrived at the scene of the crime, assembled the evidence, handed it to the Brigade Criminelle detectives and particular to the Prefecture, exclusively handled the fingerprints of each case.

My friend Anne, who founded an association with rape victims and their families to promote legislation for penal re-education and pyschological programs for offenders, met François at the sentry gate. François, seventeen years in the Brigade Criminelle and now running the Crime Scene Unit, puffed on his pipe with a nod to Maigret and flashed his ID at the sentry. The we were in the famed courtyard and seconds later mounting the staircase into the heart of ’36’. Magistrates and avocats, wearing black robes and white ermine around their necks bustled past since the Tribunal, court, adjoins the Prefecture.

One stop shopping, I thought, since a suspect is booked on the third floor, held in gard à vue in a cell in the basement then within twenty four to forty eight hours taken back up to the third floor crosses the corridor and into the courtroom to be arraigned. After that the suspect either bids adieu or if the Brigade Criminelle’s assembled enough evidence and the la Procurer - like the DA - has enough to try her/him he’s back downstairs to the basement cells.
After the quick tour through the clogged Tribunal corridor - I mean how many black robed Magistrates does it take to block a wide high ceilinged 18th century corridor? Enough I discovered as they huddled discussing cases, we again crossed the courtyard, past ‘flic’s, cops, smoking in the corners, down more steps and into another courtyard and then into another. Now we were in a courtyard surrounded by a soot-stained wing of the Tribunal and facing ugly tan portables. The ‘heartbeat’ of the Crime Scene Unit.

I’d hoped for a more picturesque building but here François - off to a case - handed us to Remy who was in charge of the division. Remy, orange pants, matching tie and little English smiled. “I’ll show you the father of modern forensics, Bertillion, this was his lab and office.” Here I wondered? But Remy led us to the next building, through a warren of hallways and we were back in the old part. Somehow this complex at ’36’ on the Ile de la Cité all connected. We saw Bertillon’s early instruments and how he developed in the late 1890’s what everyone still uses today - the techniques of fingerprinting and identification. In 2000 the fingerprint division connected to APHIS the fingerprint database but they still use the old fingerprint cards to identify a hit on APHIS and keep to the standards of a 12 point match up on the fingerprint pad.

But forget the technical for a moment, I was struck by the camaraderie among the technicians at their computers, the joking and quips and comments as they stood comparing old brown files, or in the lab room pulling out graphite powder and testing for indentations on paper, or in another the fingerprints on counterfeit Euros. Like a family. Everyone time we met someone it was handshakes or kisses hello...ok, it’s France even in the workplace people double cheek kiss when they meet. But it added a human touch not found at the FBI. Even a Christmas tree near Bertillion’s old lab. One of the highlights was the reconstruction room. A room in the base of the 15th century tower where the team re-enacts the crime scene. The new in the old, and with their cramped headquarters every bit is used. So after an illuminating four hours and with a nod to Maigret, double cheeked kisses to his descendent Remy we left ’36’ and headed across the street to Cafe Soleil d’Or, where the ‘flic’s’ eat lunch. Supposedly Maigret 'ate' there, too.

PS Update this post is from 2009 - the Brigade Criminelle has moved and the building is a bit empty and lonely.
In May I'm visiting their new headquarters and will take you on a virtual 'visit'!

Cara - Tuesday

Monday, February 19, 2018

Africa 2018: Splendid Places, People, and Surprises

 Annamaria in Kenya and Tanzania

My week in Kenya ended with two fascinating days.

Through the good offices of Facebook connections, I made a new friend, who herself became an instant conduit for magical connections. Her name is Lydia.

On this past December 6th, I posted this picture on Facebook,
as an example of what settler life was like in early Twentieth
Century British East Africa.  I took the picture off the internet and
had no idea who the people were.

When I met Lydia and told her about my research, she offered to introduce me to her friend Calvin Cottar.  She made a date for us to meet with him for a coffee on Sunday morning.  To prepare for that meeting, she sent me a link to an internet interview with Calvin, who is the premier private safari guide in Kenya today.  There, at the top of the article, was the very picture above.  The man in the sun helmet on the right is Calvin's great-grandfather--Chas Cottar, who founded Cottar's Safari Service right at the time I am writing about. Calvin now heads it.

Me, Calvin, and Lydia

Calvin allowed me to take pictures of
his period family photos.  This one of Chas's
son.  Chas was an American from Oklahoma
 who immigrated.  My guess this was a 4th of July
 celebration.  You think? 

After our visit with Calvin, Lydia and her friend Jess took me to the Nairobi National Park for a picnic.  

Impala against the skyline of Nairobi 

Hartebeest, ditto
The next evening I had the chance to host a dinner for Lydia and my friend Michael Lenaimado, a leading Kenyan anti-poaching and conservation ranger.  During the course of our dinner conversation, it came out that Lydia and Michael have a friend in common - Calvin Cottar!

Michael, Lydia, and me

As Michael explained his work to Lydia, while discussing the dangers of anti-poaching work, Michael lamented the loss of rangers to snakebite.  "Wait," Lydia said, "my sister-in-law and her husband run a snake-bite prevention and treatment effort here in Kenya."  Bingo!  Thanks to this chance encounter, Lydia has put Michael in touch with the people who can supply anti-venom serum ad help save the lives of his men.  And I got to sit there and listen as this this took place.  I ask you: Are you surprised that my life feels like magic to me? 

The very name Kilimanjaro Airport denotes adventure to me, even still.
The next day I was on my way to Arusha, Tanzania and The Emusoi Center.  That's me at the very  top of this post, with the new girls, who are being prepared to take their school entrance exams and set themselves on a path to eduction, instead of being sold into early marriage.  Hooray for the education for girls!!

I got to make a little magic of my own for the Emusoi girls with a gizmo I acquired in Italy. With the help of Sister Mary, Emusoi's founder, and Sister Jerine, a teacher, we launched it.  Here are two very short films.  The take off and a few second of how the girls reacted.

 Then it was on to Lake Manyara.  I was the only passenger on the flight from Arusha Airport, a first for me.

Harry, the pilot.

Your reporter amongst the empty seats

A glance at the Rift Valley during the descent.

 The ride from the airport to the lodge was a marvel of game watching.

Here are some highlights of the sightings over the past couple of days.


Lions at sunrise

And zebras

This close!!!!

A gazillion flamingos and me!
Magical!  All magical!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Walking The Less Traveled Road

--Susan, every other Sunday

Roads fascinate me.

Approach to Tokushima Castle ruins, Shikoku, Japan

They always have. As a child, I loved to explore the mountain trails when my family went camping, and made up stories about the tamer trails in the park near home. I knew every crack in the sidewalk in my neighborhood.

In high school, I often fought a near-overwhelming urge to "just keep driving" up Pacific Coast Highway--not to escape my life, but just to see where the winding, ocean-bordered road would end, and what lay along its path.

Flash forward twenty years, and of the tens of thousands of photographs I've taken in Japan, the most-photographed single subject is . . . the road.

Kongobuji, Mount Koya, Japan
The path.

Nakasendo Road, Japan Alps

The trail.

Mount Inari, near Kyoto

As the photographs bear witness, I find them most intriguing when they curve, preventing me from seeing what's beyond.

Tokaido, near Hakone

I suspect I could spend a lifetime analyzing why--and that if I did, the multitude of answers would still just scratch the tip of the iceberg.

Roads are mysterious.

Fushimi Inari Jinja, near Kyoto

Roads invite.

Entrance to Hakone Jinja, Hakone, Japan

Roads hold the keys to adventure . . .

Railroad tracks, Tokushima, Japan

. . . and the path to lead us home.

Okunoin, Mount Koya, Japan

Roads offer a space for reflection, and for pilgrimage.

This is a road, too - you just can't see it all with your earthly eyes.

Roads hold thousands of years of history - and in some places, you can almost hear the sandaled feet of the men and women who walked them hundreds of years ago.

The Nakasendo, passing through Magome, Japan

On some roads, I've heard those ghostly feet more literally, too.

Okunoin Cemetery by night.

Each trail, road, and path has a story to tell, if we're willing to listen.

The Tengu's Seat, Mount Mitake

Each road holds an adventure, if we're willing to step out of our comfort zone and walk.

Forest of the Gods, Mount Mitake, Japan

This May, I will start a journey that will lead me up a hundred mountains, along a hundred mountain roads, some paved . . .

Lanterns in Magome, Japan Alps

. . . and many more, in the words of Frost, "less traveled."

Traditional foot bridge along the old Tokaido, near Hakone

I will finally find out more about what lies at the end of those winding, mountain roads. But, perhaps more importantly, I will find out more about what lies within the heart of the person who goes to walk them.

Lamppost and waterfall, Mino-o Park, Osaka, Japan

No sincere pilgrim ever returns from a pilgrimage unchanged.

Because the road, not the destination, is the true purpose of the journey--something my photographer's eye has apparently realized all along.

Dawn on the Nakasendo, Japan Alps

And the act of walking along your chosen road--wherever it leads you--is the part that makes all the difference.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Do You See a Moral in This True New York Story?


The other night Barbara and I had dinner with old friends at a trendy, upscale French restaurant on the Upper Eastside.  Let’s call him Jack, and her Jill.  That’s not their names, but it adds an alliterative touch to the tale.  

I’ve known Jack for forty years. I respect him, admire him, and trust him completely.  He’s one of the smartest, genuinely well-informed people I know. He also has views on some subjects quite different from my own. Over the years, that’s led to lively debates, and I expected our dinner to be no different.  Sort of like what we each wished the US Senate still experienced.

We sat at a table in the middle of the main dining room, with Jack seated directly across from me.  As a seeming harbinger of things to come, an elegant woman in a red, white and blue sequined jacket reminiscent of the US flag, sat with her companion at a banquette directly behind Jack.  To give proper credit to flag lady’s fashion taste, her choice of couture was several quantum levels higher than that employed by Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, in choosing the flag-inspired outfit she wore to her boss’s inauguration.

We were humming along nicely, talking about family and careers, when Jill raised an accelerant subject. Her political views are often far different from Jack’s, and our conversation soon moved on to the myriad of issues polarizing our country today.  At times with voices reaching a level turning heads at nearby tables.  Frankly, I paid no attention to any table other than flag lady’s, for she’d become my secret canary in the mine, signaling any impact our overheard conversation might be having on others in the room.

Things got particularly heated over the subject of President Trump, his policies, and his behavior’s threat to the Republic.  That led to a detailed back and forth over whether Hillary Clinton was the worst of candidates the Democrats could have chosen.  Of course, her husband’s philandering got some attention, too, in juxtaposition to that of #45. 

All the while, flag lady’s eyes kept bouncing from our table to others in the room.  I assumed she and her dinner companion were enjoying this bit of polarized American dinner theater.

Midway through dessert, during a particularly heated exchange on the subject of Hillary, an ashen-faced Jill abruptly whispered, “Shhhh.”  

The conversation paused, and Jill leaned in toward the middle of the table.

“The four at the next table have been listening to us all evening.” 

That did not surprise me, but what she said next did, for I’d been focusing on the wrong canary.  Flag lady’s attention had been centered on a far grander show playing out in the room, involving a larger cast than those at our table.

Jill bit at her lip.  “I just realized who’s sitting at the table next to us.  Chelsea Clinton.”

Dead silence.

Recovery effort on Jack’s part: “I voted for her father twice.” 

My approach: “Check please.”