Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Alexander McQueen

Vogue September 2016

Last week, I attended a metaphor workshop at Poetry magazine library. One of the poems presented in the workshop ended with only the chimney remaining after the end of a passionate relationship. The house of it burned to the ground. When I saw this advertisement in the September issue of  Vogue, I immediately thought of the poem. It illustrates the exact sense of loss that the poet was trying to convey, including the isolated figure left behind in the fall-out. Although the poet was a man, the lonely, female figure standing next to chimney in this photograph works. 

But what is she wearing? McQueen, of course. It is a long gown from the look of it. And in black and white it is hard to sense the color; however, it looks dark. Shall I go as far as charred? It survived the flame, but it is scarred. I would like for it also to be deconstructed ... unfinished seams, hems, and an exposed zipper. It is the dress that one would wear when one is left behind in the ruin.

Saturday, September 17, 2016


Yes, I am late to the 'Shameless' party, Showtime's better American version of a British hit, which I am surprised about, for the fact that I'm just fine with the good ole U.S. of A's version of it ... English accents be damned! The actors are what makes this show impossible to stop to watching.

Admittedly, the show is absurd. Who lives like this? But there is enough about the truth in some of what is the unimaginable to be able to identify some characterization that I am not wholly unfamiliar with. A drunk Dad? Yeah, I know a little bit about that from the block ... maybe some from my own home. When Frank, the drunk Dad, opens up a can of Old Style, it's hard not to think about my own Father. Of course, mine didn't sit at a bar, pass out in the street, or sell his children's whatever to buy him another drink, drug, or the like. But when Frank rants with a beer in in his paw, I can hear my Dad in him. Frank is a drunk, but he isn't stupid. And he usually rants when he's down something wrong because it reminds him of what should be right, but isn't. My Dad would not rant as often, but he was happy to let you know what he thought about any thing in particular, and he was informed. It went through the Dad-filter, but it wasn't far off of a mark. William H. Macy plays Frank, and he's the best that I've seen him. His character is so disgusting, but he pulls a humanness out of the old boy to make him, possibly, likable. You don't want to like him, but it is hard to resist.

Fiona is another character that I understand coming from a family of four kids and being the eldest girl. I know what that means. Fiona has so much more responsibility than I would have ever had to take on given that she is the parent in the house; nonetheless, there is a charge that comes when one is the oldest girl. When Mom and Dad aren't around, it usually fell to me to take charge. And they complain that I'm bossy now. Umph! They would know what that was if they had been raised in my position.

My favorite character ... probably because I met her at church a couple of Christmas Eves ago, is Sheila, acted by Joan Cusack. Sheila is complicated. And each complication moves across her face effortlessly. She portrays the character as naive, quirky, and lost in a world that she wants to be in but doesn't understand. Plus, she is naughty. On Christmas Eve, our family goes downtown to eat under the tree, see Santa, and go to mass at the big church. Once, in the 'welcome your neighbor' part of the show, a woman turned to me and said, 'hi, my name is Joan.' She didn't have to tell me who she was as I knew the whole time that she was sitting next to me. I can't wait for the day that she's seated next to me again when I can say when she introduces herself, 'okay ... Sheila!' I should look up to see if she's won an Emmy for her role because she certainly deserves it. Maybe, I should mock up an Emmy just in case that she hasn't to present to her at mass. That would be a laugh.

I well into the fourth season now ... there may be 6 or 7 or 8, I'm not sure. And it has moved into some serious shit ... there's no other way of describing it. And I wonder if it's gone too far. But I will binge on. They are like family at the end of the day.

Sunday, August 28, 2016


Barbra on CBS Sunday Morning Show
A coupe of days ago, I ran across an article from "The Huffington Post" on "Yahoo!" written by Andrea Pflaumer, who claimed to know what women over 50 should not wear. It was silly. A Coach backpack? No miniskirts, but tunics with opaques or skinny pants? Oh, that's what a woman over 50 should give up? Have you seen what some women consider 'tunics and leggings?'  Pflaumer clearly did not know what she was talking about. Plus, we cannot, we must not, cross categorically ever say, all cannot because ... age, sex, size, color, whatever. I have a Coach backpack somewhere, but I don't not wear it because I am not in college or in my my twenties anymore. It, like other things, served their purpose, and I moved on to different styles/different needs. But if a backpack is your thing? So, be it. Let them wear Burkinis!

I will say, for me, that one thing I should never wear are capri pants. I thought to myself, 'no one past 30 should wear capri pants.' I had several pairs and when I made this edict for myself, I packed them in my suitcase when I did a Habitat for Humanity project in Africa. I wore them to work in and, against regulations, left them in Molepole for the woman of the village. I'm sure that they are happily sporting them and not even thinking about whether they are appropriate or not. But can I let you in on a little secret? I made that rule for myself and got rid of all of the evidence, yet I found myself purchasing two pairs of Calvin Klein athletic wear that could technically be classified as capris. But they are different. It's athletic wear. The others were worn ... oh, I don't know why I wore them. They cut off my legs at the calf and made me look dumpy. Not old, dumpy. I am not the sliver of a Mary Tyler Moore who can pull it off. And that's what are 'don'ts' need to become. I see too many women, and men, of all ages who are wearing things that aren't working for them. I think that it is a lifetime pursuit to figure out what I am comfortable wearing and what makes me look my best.

So what does Barbra have to do with this? Oh, Barbra. She was on the CBS "Sunday Morning Show" this morning, and she was clearly wearing something that she shouldn't have been. I'm almost certain that her best pal Donna Karan must have given her the outfit. It had DKNY written all over it: over the knee boots as far as I could tell, a black voluminous jacket, and ... oh, I'm not quite sure. It was a complicated outfit. It swallowed her up, and made her disappear. Perhaps that was the look that she was going for, but it didn't do her any favors. I'm not sure that Streisand really cares about how she looks or fashion. For that, she is made by those around her. Remember her perm? I think that was the doing of her hairstylist boyfriend at the time- Jon Peters. And she's been hanging out with Karan forever now. It comes through in the peek-a-boo shoulders that she prefers, and apparently, the dark gothic look that she wore on the show today.

Streisand's clothing consumed my attention as the interview itself was melba toast. It needed a little chopped liver. And no, I'm not talking about a meat dress like Lady Gaga would wear. That should only be worn by people in their ... looking for attention phase.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Hillwood House

Post's Hillwood House in D.C.
Maybe, it started when I was a kid. When I would walk to school, and I was alone, I would walk through the alleys to get to my destination. There was something to being able to look in to the houses where other people lived that fascinated me. I liked my childhood home; I was happy there. But I wanted to see how others lived. It isn't so different for me now. One of my favorite times of the day to take a walk is at dusk. Lights turn on and people are returning to their homes after work, perfect for a peek in. I don't look at the people as much as the color of a wall, the lamp that is in the window, and any decorative pieces that I can make out. It makes sense that I like to tour 'important,' here in America or abroad, homes for some of these same reasons.

When I visited the Hillwood House, a home that Marjorie Merriweather Post, the sole heir to the Post-General Foods fortune, bought in Washington, D.C. in 1955, I felt that hers was a happy home, as I compare it to some of the other homes that I have visited, the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina for example, that were beautiful, but felt like sad houses. Post's home was chocked full of beautiful things to look at. The rooms bordered on fussy, for it was clearly construed as a feminine habitat. Though she blew through marriages, four in total, she happily ran her empire and collected a wealth of Russian Imperial Art, the largest collection outside of Russian, and an impressive 18th Century French Decorative Art Collection.
Marjorie Merriweather Post's bridal portraits
In one of the rooms on the second floor, Miss Post's four wedding portraits are displayed prominently. She seemed to enjoy men, but, I imagine, it was difficult for her to establish a solid connection when she was before her time. She was a modern woman when women deferred and fussed over their husbands- "Title divine -- in mine" as Emily Dickinson mocked this type of women and how their status was determined by their right to be 'Mrs.' Her dashes held a lot of ... questions. And I heartedly believe that Miss Post was happy to fill the pause with a lust for life and an ability to take care of business. From what I gathered as I toured the home, she took advantage of each marriage to grow as an individual. First, she became knowledgeable about art in NYC when a marriage took her there, and she started her collection of Russian art when another took her to Moscow.

To the left is one of the glorious pieces that are in the home. Each side of the goblet is embellished with different carvings. The photograph does not truly capture the exquisite detail of the piece. This particular room was the most like a museum. Religious art was framed on the wall, which you can see through the glass that incarserates the beautiful chalice that it holds. I did not take a docent led tour, and the brochure for the house did not give specific details of all of the works, but I think that on the first visit, it was enough to just wander through the rooms and imagine her life there and to try to take in the splendor of so many pretty things.

If you can see past the shadows, this fleshy pink Faberge egg is the Catherine the Great Easter Egg. Having just watched through for a second time Netflix "Peaky Blinders," I especially like this one as Alfie Solomons, the Jew, who is brought into the Russians precious things vault, asks to see 'an egg.' Of course, he is speaking to Faberge. The Russians cough one up for him to add to the collection plate, but I have an idea that it is Miss Post who ends up with it in the end. This one was prominently displayed as it was Catherine the Great's, but there were others tucked into corners all over the house. It would look with my collections of knickknacks; perhaps, it could come to me on loan.

Although it was a very warm, August day, we did venture out into the garden, which was lovely. Post planted cutting gardens, which were in full bloom, but I liked the overlook into the Oriental Garden best with its lush greens and water features. The round stepping stones are meant to be traversed. And though my balance is tenable at best, it was fun to carefully skip across them to the other side. In the gardens, two buildings house special collections. Now, it is Japanese Art Deco. The air conditioned rooms were a great pause from the heat. The collections were small, but interesting nonetheless.

We saved the house for last. Our friends who live in Washington, D.C., have a season pass for the Hillwood House. If I lived in the area, I definitely would do the same. Although located right in the heart of D.C., it is a beautiful hamlet of beauty and repose. Even with one hundred degree heat, the lawns looked the perfect place to pull out a blanket and spend a few hours quietly considering the lovely or reading a book. Some patrons were there for tea. We didn't have a reservation, but were able to get something to eat and drink. I would definitely want to go back to have tea. Some of the ladies were dressed up and hatted. How fun would that be to have a dressed up tea party. And then wander through a happy home that sparkles for all of the delights that it holds.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Commitments

Chicago Tribune August 25, 2016
Kevin Crust of The Los Angeles Times interviewed Alan Parker, director of "The Commitments," which appeared in today's Chicago Tribune. The film is celebrating its 25th anniversary if you can believe it. And who didn't love the movie when it came out. The movie is based on the novels of Roddy Doyle, who also wrote "The Snapper" and "The Van." Doyle depicts a Dublin childhood that while I was reading them, and I have read all three books, couldn't distinguish from the upbringing that I had on the southside of Chicago in a predominantly Irish neighborhood. Certainly, it wasn't exactly the same, but as Parker took flavors from several Dublin neighborhoods to make the world that these characters live in, you could go up and down my childhood block to put together each of the characters depicted ... particularly himself, the Dad.

Parker says in the interview the the film was the most fun he has ever had in making a movie. He's directed "Midnight Express," Mississippi Burning," "Fame," Buggs Malone," and "Evita." He said, "I suppose it was a combination of the subject matter, the camaraderie of the Anglo/Irish crew, filming the music with a great cast of unknowns- not  movie star in sight. Hence, there were no limos, trailers, egos or tantrums. Every day was filled with music, laughter and joy- and believe me, that's not normal on any film."

I remember at the time that the movie was released, a lot of attention was paid to the lead singer of the soul band, Deco. As it was, his father was first considered for the role but had to pull due to laryngitis. Himself sent in his son, Andrew Strong, to sing the part. And Parker found his man-child. What a story! He is Deco. And he appears like he was just dragged off of the street because he was.

I think that I'll have to dig out the DVD to toast it. It's worth trying for a little happiness.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Bowie's Lazarus

Last week, I went through "Peaky Blinders" again on Netflix. When I got to the episode where Tommy is laid out on a gurney, beaten to a pulp, Bowie's "Lazarus" plays. Apparently, Bowie was a fan of the show and gave the producers authorization to play it. "Look up here/ I'm in Heaven ..." Tommy looks like he's near to Heaven, and the song makes it all the more real with its whining saxophone.  It's a stunning scene that, were it not for the song, it would not be as provocative.

I ripped this page out of "Rolling Stone," I'm nearly certain of it. It may also have been the last photograph taken of him if I'm not mistaken. There is no caption or credit for I have only this. I ran across it while I was sorting through a pile of papers. It struck me ... dumb. What could I say? I spent so much time with David Bowie from the end of last year to the beginning of this year's Spring when I couldn't listen to his album anymore. And it is strange to consider that he won't be making any more music when I found him once again. It's stunning. And he looks so alive when he was so close to death. I suppose that's what we can all only hope for.

Tommy Shelby recovered. And I will add that I love the series in its entirety, but the Lazarus scene is the one that separates the show from others. It's beautiful and poignant for its connection to more than a Gypsy family trying to come up in post-war England. The song expressed more than what the actor could do on his own. And Cillian Murphy, who plays Tommy Shelby, is no slouch.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Gwen Stefani

Harper's Bazaar August 2016
This issue of 'Harper's Bazaar' was still in my suitcase after vacation, so I must have saved it for ... possibly this pretty cover of Gwen Stefani. Her signature big red lip and super bleached blond hair are gone and is replaced by a softer, less Harajuku girl vibe. I like the change. It looks good on her.

When Gwen's "Love. Angel. Music. Baby" album came out, I went from 'ah, I like No Doubt okay,' to 'wow.' I've written before that I played the heck out that record. I liked the juxtaposition of power and doubt that Gwen expressed: 'take a chance you stupid whore/ what are you waiting for?' In print, that doesn't look very empowering, but when she's bouncing it to the music, I knew exactly what she was talking about. And I felt energized by it.

I bought her new album, 'This is what the truth feels like,' but it hasn't pulled me in. I faithfully listened to it in its entirety, twice, but I just didn't connect to it. I don't even know where it is ... well, of course I know that it is in my ITunes library, but I had to look up the title of it to write in the paragraph above. 

But she looks pretty.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Chanel #5

2. Chanel No. 5 was one of the first fragrances to be named after a designer, and is said to be a tribute to Coco Chanel’s lucky number. The story goes: In 1920, Chanel commissioned Ernest Beaux, a Russian-born Frenchman and former parfumier to the tsars in Russia, to create her debut perfume. After 10 months of work, Beaux laid out 10 different vials, numbered one to five and 20 to 24, for the couturier’s review. She chose the fifth, perhaps on blind superstition. As she reportedly explained to Beaux at the time: “I present my dress collections on the fifth of May, the fifth month of the year, and so we will let this sample number five keep the name it already has; it will bring good luck.” And that it did. By 1929, Chanel No. 5 had become the best-selling perfume in the world, and, ultimately, one of the most timeless scents in history. To this day, a new bottle is apparentlypurchased every 30 seconds. (From

When I went to Bloomingdale's in NYC last week, we came across the Chanel counter in the Cosmetics department. I was surprised to see that they carried the entire line of Les Exclusives: A unique collection of fragrances, composed in the past by Ernest Beaux, perfumer to Mademoiselle Chanel; composed in the present by Jacques Polge, House of Chanel master perfumer. Each work draws its inspiration from the life of Gabrielle Chanel: poetic testimonies to legendary places, materials she loved, and the symbols that always followed. An essay in the perfumer’s art; a timeless statement of style (

My grandmother introduced me to Chanel #5 when I was a girl, and it has been my signature scent since college. I always have it and the luxurious cream on hand. It connects me to her and the elegance that I perceived that she had. My mother was born and raised in Iowa and thinks, still does, that putting on lipstick is 'war paint.' My grandmother, on the other hand, had a cosmetic bag full of powders, rouges, and mascara that I would sneak into when she visited. I remember clearly, her pink, perfectly manicured nails and the way she would drape herself in a pose across our living room couch as if it were at a fine hotel or salon. Even when the couch was old and my mother disguised it with a sofa cover in a chaotic green leafy print, grandma Anne still managed to look elegant sitting upon it drinking her cocktail that she probably had my brother make for her. 

When Chanel's Les Exclusives line was first introduced, I couldn't wait to go to the Chanel store on Michigan Avenue to test them out. In introduction, there were five fragrances. Only large bottles of the elixirs were available, so the cost was dear. If I was going to make the investment, I had to be sure that I chose wisely. And here, years later, and several bottles having been spent, I find myself talking to a young man at Bloomingdale's about Chanel perfume. Since the introduction, many other scents have been released. I wish that I could take a small vile of each home to sample over the course of however many days it would take me to try them all. The first one that I purchased was Bel Respiro ... a very natural, tree-like scent, which I like, but still have some these few years later. I moved to Cuir de Russie, which I liked very much; until, I found Jersey, which I have blown through two bottles of very quickly. 

In our lovely New York Bloomingdale's conversation, we talked of Chanel #5, and he told me the story of how Coco chose the scent and the iconic name for it. Coincidentally, deposited a '5 Things You Didn't Know About Coco Chanel' to my inbox within days of that exchange, and the story above, which is similar to what he told me, was told. As as a story teller myself, I don't mind that it wasn't entirely accurate, as if we can wholly believe what is written in Vogue. I doubt that Coco Chanel kept a precise dialogue of the exchange between herself and her 'nose,' the perfumer. I love all of the stories. And I am forever grateful that the perfumes were created because life would not smell as beautiful. I did not buy a bottle in NYC; even though, I am in need of a Jersey refill. But I traveled with carry-on and it would be a crime against fragrance to buy a bottle only to be confiscated at airport security. Not to worry, I always have Chanel #5 on hand. It would be a dark day when that did not sit on my dresser.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Traveling: New York City

What was to be a weekend to DC to visit a friend became a 'let's go to NYC first to see a show' while I was texting the friend I planned to travel with during the Tony's, which was an excellent show this year. And here we are in NYC. Our plane was late getting out of Chicago due to traffic control issues in New York. All we had time to do once we checked in to our hotel was get a late dinner and watch some Olympics in our air conditioned room. We hit town in the midst of a heat wave. A hot, sticky, only in NYC, do we know someone in the Hamptons kind of heat.

I am traveling with a friend who comes to New York much more frequently than I do. I was happy to follow her in the movement of the day, but she asked, what would you like to do? And I decided to figure that out. I checked out a travel website for the top attractions in the city to get an idea and found the Staten Island ferry on the list. It sounded like a great idea and a way to beat the heat. Plus, it's free. Naturally, everyone crowds on to the side of the boat that has the views of Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty. I got a peak at it, and an okay picture, but I was just as happy sitting on the shady side in the quiet of those that weren't on the boat to snap a shot. The entry on to the boat was fast and convenient. The ride was about 25 minutes and as soon as one disembarks, you circle back around and get on the next boat right back to Manhattan. It was really relaxing and the views were great.

We decided to eat lunch at Serendipity's, a landmark ice cream restaurant made famous, at least to me, by the movie of the same name starring John Cusack. My friend had always wanted to go but was never able to get in. The subway took us right to the basement of Bloomingdale's, which I was really excited about. Manhattan's Bloomingdale's is one of the most beautiful department stores that I have ever been in. Before I was a teacher, I worked for Marshall Field's as a manager, so I am a girl who loves a nice department store. We entered in to men's and took the escalator up to cosmetics. The make-up artists  and perfume sprayers were in full force. The Chanel counter carried the full line of Les Exclusives, which suprised me. Generally, the collection is sold only at Chanel stores. A very handsome young man was more   than happy to spray us with delightful scent, and I was tempted to re-stock Jersey, my new favorite, but I am traveling with a carrry on and wouldn't that be a bummer if it didn't get through security.

The wait for our ice cream lunch was short, which was certainly serendipitous. I didn't get a sense of the movie, but it had a great old-fashioned vibe. I ordered a hot fudge sundae of which I could only eat half. It was so good. And definitely cooled my core down.

We planned to meet a friend for drinks and something to eat before the show. We jumped back to the hotel to change and then marched back into the heat. The restaurant meeting point was right across the street from the Chelsea Hotel, which I was excited to see for it's rock 'n roll history. Apparently, rennovation construction on it has halted and it is vacant, so it seems the perfect, deserted space for the souls who had lived there before to haunt. 

Across the street, we had a couple if drinks at Trailer Park, a hipster/kitschy sort of place. Several Santas adorned the place, so I was content while I drank the bar's name sake Amber ale. I love craft beer, but I haven't found a New York brewer that I particularly care for. But it was all right.

We moved to another place around the corner and then set off to the theatre to see 'An American in Paris.' 

The dancing in the musical was beautiful. Ah, but the story wasn't very well told. Iimagine  that may be why the show is closing soon and a lot of seats were unfilled. Times Sqare and all of its alien life welcomed us out of the dark of the theatre. It is always an interesting cross-road of the world. We sat for a snackand watched   the world go by. The melting pot was definitely seen, literally, for the heat, and figuratively for the blend of cultures.

One day in NYC: accomplished. Next stop, by way of bus, DC.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Traveling: Tiger Doctor

And so we arrived in Baton Rouge for our Gina's graduation. Mom and I were in for round two as we celebrated with Gina when she earned her Master's degree frim Southern Illinois University - Carbondale 6 years ago. Six years? Where has the time gone? And this year, not only did her parents come in from Ireland, but her granny, two uncles and an aunt did as well. We had a fine time celebrating with the whole family. Even when the potatoes were cold at dinner. Never serve an Irishman cold potatoes.

That's the craic. And now we are traveling home to Chicago. What a week.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Traveling: The Myrtles

Out of the Delta and closer to our intended destination, we stopped at the Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana. I had given up plantation visits after a trip a couple years ago to South Carolina, but I put that prejudice aside so that I could stay in a real, honest to goodness haunted house. I had the idea that if there was a ghost there, I would know. You see, I've met with a ghost or two in my lifetime. One came into my body while sleeping in a hotel in Oxford, England. I was sound asleep, felt it come in, sat bolt uprught snd said, 'did it come in through the window?' My mom, who I was also traveling with at the time, told me to go back to sleep. I'll never forget that feeling. The second truest sense of something paranormal was when a good friend died, and I found that he stood in the corner of my bedroom for a good many night until he determined that I was going to be okay. Ah, you may think that I am nuts, which I may be. And I am susceptible.

Our tour guide for the main house was wonderful. She didn't only tell the story, she acted it out. The ghost in the house is that of Chloe, a former slave. She was the owner's concubine who, legend has it, liked to snoop. Her snooping cost her her ear, which the master cut off and a banishment to the kitchen. Trying to get back in the good graces of the family, she hatched a plan to poison the children's birthday cake so that when they fell ill, the children would call for her. Sadly, she didn't understand the potion that she concocted and it killed the two children and the master's wife. Her peers hung her and sunk her to the bottom of the Mississippi River. It is said that she and the chilfren are what haunt the old house. The docent had plenty of proof. But my dreams were not interrupted nor did my flesh goose.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Traveling: Money, Mississippi


It didn't occur to me until I was in Clarksdale that I should've figured out where Money was on the map. Money is the town where Emmett Till, down from Chicago to visit cousins in 1955, was brutally murdered by two white men and thrown into the the Tallahatchi river with a cotton gin fan tied around his body. His crime? Emmett and his cousin went to Bryant's store in Money and the owner's wife reporter to her husband that he flirted with her. He was murdered for a reported wolf whistle. The husband and his brother-in-law were found not guilty by a court of law. Hurriedly buried to cover up the crime, Emmett's mother demanded that his body be returned to Chicago. With the help of a few, he returned to be laid to rest in the north, but not before a wake with an open casket displayed the horrorific act that had occured. To many, it was the event that sparked the Civil Rights movement. 

Whenever I teach MLK, I have my students' watch a documentary, available on YouTube, that gives a good overview of the events of the case, interviews with Emmett's family and a sense of the racial climate of the South at that time. Although many of my students are African American, they have very little concern or understanding of the past. Dr. King can be challenging for them to read, but in understanding what the climate was and what was at stake, they are more likely to be interested in figuring out Dr. King's writings and speeches.

Two years ago when I was teaching this unit, a young man said to me, 'my grandma talks about this. She went to that little boy's funeral.' I called his grandmother and sure enough, her auntie had taken her to the viewing when she was just 5 years old. She told me that the line went around the block and when she looked at Emmett's head, she could see clear through to the pillow that it lie on. I asked her why her auntie took her to which she said, that's just what black folks did back then. She, the aunt, took her and her cousin to tent revivals and funerals across the southside. I invited her to come to class to talk about it, but she declined. The last thing that she said to me before she hung up was that she thinks about that 'little boy' everyday. I believe that she does.

My heart always breaks when I think of Emmett- a stuttering fourteen year old boy who probably couldn't put his lips together to whistle, nor raised in such a fashion that he would be so forward to speak to any woman in any way but respectfully. I needed to make the pilgrimage to that store. And deep in the delta on a scorching hot day sixty one years later, I stood in front of a ruin that we had passed several times before we realized what it was and out of range of any help from Siri. And once I got there, I felt justice in how the building was in total collapse with Nature bursting in to reclaim her own. Emmett isn't there. It shouldn't be his memorial or remembrance. He is better remembered in a classroom, not some lonely old road in Money, Mississippi where there's nothing but the crows.

Traveling: Searching for Muddy Waters

So we rolled into Clarksdale after 4 and were hungry. We unloaded the car and headed right back out, and I had the idea that we could sneak one of my 'must see' sights in before supper. A friendly, young man who worked at the hotel asked us what we were up to, so I told him that I wanted to see the cabin that Muddy  Waters lived in when he worked on a plantation before he made music his business. He said that's easy- yield right, go past yonder, turn left and drive into the fields. Easy. Well, maybe in Chicago that was designed on a grid and whose infrastructure is such that street signs are maintained and landmarks or places of interest are heavily signed. But I was in the heart of the delta and I found the yield, but not much other than a high school footbal team practicing in one hundred degree heat. Have I mentioned that I am dragging a 79 year old mother along on my magical mystery tour? And she was hungry, so I had to bale. I was disappointed and would have kept looking, but she is my mom. I defer to her.

As it was Monday, the city was shuttered up. We drove way out of town on advice of a travel web site. It was a queer little place in the truest sense of that word. It was a 'boutique hotel' made from grain silos. It was rustily futuristic. And not a tree was in sight. The restaurant turned out to be closed, but a woman directed us to a fine place to eat in town. I had a local beer and all was good. One of the things that I really wanted to do was hear some music. But the town was pretty dead. 

After dinner we took a walk down the street and a man came up to me and asked me where I was from and got into conversating. As it happens, he was standing in front of a little juke joint and my wish came true. Mom and I ordered a beer and we settled in. Most people there seemed to know each other. One group of old ladies, yes! old ladies, all wore red hats. Halfway into one set, the waitress jumped up on stage to show the red hats her new bass playing skills. It was a good time. And the dude could play some gee-tar.

But I still had Muddy on my mind. After breakfast and goodbyes with our new friend at the Hampton Inn, we had one more stop before we had to move on to next in order to make it to our final destination. Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art. As soon as we walked in, the owner started talking and I met him right there. This guy from Ohio took to the blues, moved to the delta and has become its trusted advisor, confidante and historian. The store could have used a dust up, but it was wonderful to talk to someone who believed in the blues. He invited me back for the juke joint festival in April, which attracts thousands of people from across the world, particularly Australia. He told me that so many Australians come to the fest that they put up a welcome Aussies tent. He also gave me a map to Muddy. 

The map was easiest enough to follow, but the lack of signage on the roads made it impossible to find. We went down the wrong road, and I knew it. I put the map down, opened my mind, and went down the road that seemed like it. I made it. But the shack wasn't there, only the plaque. The actual structure was moved to the Delta Blues Museum. No where in any of the literature that I had come across did it say that. So I took a picture of the tree that is there. And I am wondering if I shouldn't stay at the Crossroads to help the folk of Clarkesdale, home of the blues, make it a more comfortable home to visit.

Traveling: Standing at the Crossroads

Second stop on what will turn out to be Carol's magical mystery ride across Mississippi was at the Crossroads: the intersection of HWYs 49 and 61 in Clarksdale. Legend has it that here, Robert Johnson, the original blues' man who has inspired many, in particular Eric Clapton, met the devil. And in exchange for his soul, the devil gave Johnson his musical abilities. Johnson recorded his song 'The Crossroads' in 1936. Johnson died in his 20's, which only lends to his mystic. I was drawn to the area because of Johnson, yet knowing nothing of the pact he supossedly made; rather, I use his music as example when I introduce long time ago blues to my stiludents when I teach Toni Morrison's 'The Bluest Eye.' In the the novel, the blues sung by her characters is evidence of male marginalization. My students read the blues in the novel, but I want them to experience how they sound. We usually listen to Robert Johnson and Bessie Smith, who conincidentally died in Clarksdale.

I didn't get any sense of any devil standing at the Crossroads. I think that the August Mississippi hot, which is quite formidable, is too sizzling for even him.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Traveling: FDR's CCC

While in Giant City State Park, I remembered that it was a park that was built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), a program created by FDR during the depression to give young men jobs and build a national park system. I didn't know any of this until my students read Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men." We watched a great PBS documentary about the kids that rode the rails during that time to look for work, and the CCC was mentioned. We could have stayed in one of the refurbished CCC cabins, but with my Mom, I thought that it was better for her in a less tiny place; although, she is pretty tiny. It's pretty cool to see what we have talked about in class. In this trip, I am making a point to hit a few spots that come up regularly in class. My hope is that if my students know that I seek out the actual places, they will want to do the same. Isn't that how any of us really learn best?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Traveling: Road Trip to Baton Rouge

Every summer, my Mom and I take a trip. We were planning to drive around Lake Michigan, but a dear friend is graduating from LSU with a PhD in French. She is the daughter of the Irish friends that I just visited with in Ireland and when they spoke of their plans to travel to America with Granny, uncle and aunt in tow for the graduation, I realized that I needed to be there too. Mom doesn't mind the change; she's good with whatever ride we take (Mom is pictured above in front if the lodge).

Our first stop is Giant City State Park in Southern Illinois. I graduated from college nearby, but when I was in school, I really never made it to the park very often because no one I knew owned a car. Since then, I have always wanted to stay at one of the cabins in the woods and here I am. We are only here for the night because I have cooked up an itinerary for us to hop down to Louisiana. We mustn't dawdle.

Most of Southern Illinois is covered with the Shawnee National forest and is really quite spectacular. When I was a freshman in college, I was friendly with a boy who had a car. One rainy, cool Saturday, I convinced him to drive out to Giant City. We packed the car with girls that lived on my dorm floor (lucky him) and drove out. We found a shelter with picnic tables to hang out in with our cheap wine. It was pretty cold with the rain, so we decided that we needed to have a fire. We found wood alright, but nothing to light it with except a Bic lighter. Manuel had ether in his car and we used it. The fire roared! It was one of those afternoons that I will never forget for whatever reason. I love being in the woods during a rain, especially in autumn. The smell of the wood and burning wood is intoxicating still. I don't know where most of those Saturday afternoon fire starters anymore, but I will never forget the time that we spent there for the sites and sounds of it.

Once, I paid a guy one dollar to use his car to drive out. My dear friend Jeffrey and I wanted to go out to visit our house. Once when we only drove through, we saw a faded home right outside the park. It hadn't been inhabited for years, but there was a charm to it. We discovered that it was built nearly one hundred years before. We sat on the porch and imagined what it would be like to fix it up and live in. We left that day to never return. We remained friends until he died. There were other fantasies that we created for ourselves, but none quite as sweetly innocent as when we first knew each other. 

I imagine that is the pull of this place for me. The remembrances are vague and unremarkable, I suppose. But tied into them is how I felt at that time: young, wildly naive, and hopeful for even the smallest moments. I am not quite so young, nor naive. But I still am looking for magic in small moments. As I told my niece and nephew this summer in our European adventure when everyone complained that we were slowpokes, the best part of new places or spending time together are the moments between the minutes. They are the sweetest strokes of time.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Pokemon Go

While on vacation in Europe, my nephew was disappointed that he only had occasional WIFI and not regular cell service so that he could play Pokemon go. Oh sure, everyone had reported on the phenomenon that has captured many around the world, but I will add that, although I wouldn't ever play, it is entertaining to watch the kids play it now that we are back at grandma's house. They have been headingoutside intermittently   throughout the day to hop on the bikes to get out and catch pokemon. As my older nephew said who isn't playing, it is really bringing people together. And the three who are playing are coming back with tales of whom they have met on their poke-travels. Given everything that is happening in the world, maybe that's what we need: a silly distractor to get us talking and having fun with people in the community that we don't know. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Traveling: Going Home

In Dublin airport ready to return to Chicago. We arrived early enough to have breakfast. I had to take the opportunity to enjoy my last Guinness in the land of its origin. I will tell you, the Guinness is just better here. And since we only stopped for two days, I was not able to fill my gullet of my favorite elixir, so I had a pint for breakfast.

Although we weren't in Ireland long, we managed to fill it with Irishness. Friends drove down from Northern Ireland and that was the craic. They filled us in in how Brexit is affecting them: the pound is low and prices are rising fast. They are for a united Ireland, but know already that the new Prime Minister is a Unionist, so that is not likely to happen. Europe has broken wings. One feels it here too.

On our one full day, we decided to drive out to Blarney. Everyone needs to kiss the Blarney Stone. I had already, so I did not again. It was crowded, and I didn't want to stop in one of the staircases and imagine all of the horrors of being trapped in a tower staircase. Plus, I have enough of the gift, so. The grounds were lovely and more than what I remembered from previous visits.  It was a long day with  3 hours out and then back, butso worth it.  It gave those new to Ireland, a real taste of the beauty of the island.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Traveling: Realities

We flew from Paris to Dublin today to spend two days in Ireland. Old friends, who live in Northern Ireland, came down to spend some time with me. For living so far away from them, I am lucky that I get to see them as often as I do. Their daughter lives in the States and has just completed her PhD in French with a college job on the horizon, so, it seems, that I will see them again this summer when they fly in to celebrate her graduation.

But it is a bitterseet event knowing that terrorists attacked Nice today during Bastille Day celebrations. Everywhere we went, we encountered this new world order. Soldiers walk the streets of Paris with machine guns, my bag was checked and I was patted down at every building we entered. I didn't feel safe for the effort. For one, the searches weren't exhaustive and if they took my sunblock, they didn't take the next 3.  Apparently, France needs to be locked down. The idea is absurd, of course. But how else will ordinary citizens feel safe again?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Traveling: Les Invalides

Our hotel is a block from the Seine near the Eiffel Tower. Whenever we head out toward the Metro, we walk along the river. My youngest niece and nephew and I always lag behind to experience the petit moments: time that is found between the minutes. Along the river sut barges and houseboats. My nephew is very athletic and likes to jump on or up on everything that he comes across. A couple of days ago, he asked if I would bet him to jump on one of the barges. I told him that I would give him 20 Euros if he did it. Well, of course he did it! It was a sucker bet. Today, the first rain that we've seen, we took our usual spot up in the rear. There, we came across two swans taking a nap between two of the boats.
Oh sure, everyone is irritated by our dragged heals, but we are seeing the moments between the minutes on our trip. And if I can give them anything, I can guve them this lesson.

Today's big detination was Les Invalids, which houses the largest military museum in Europe. My brother-in-law and eldest nephew love history and war. I wasn't too keen on going, but I figured that I would be able to entertain myself somehow. The dawdlers and I were in the rear. Caroline was given this great Napoleon hat to wear. Isn't it a great picture. After scanning through the rooms of swords and soldiers, the three of us found a bench to hang out on. Before I knew it, I was taking a cat nap and my nephew put the hat in my head and took pictures. I roused and it gave him a laugh. He promised me that the pictures would not show up on Snapchat. Ha!

The tomb of Napoleon was pretty cool to see. I'm not sure if it is worth the price of admission if you're not a military history fan, but it captured my attention in an otherwise dry activity. Plus, the cathedral it is housed in that was built by Louis XIV was spectacular.

Traveling: D-Day Beaches

Omaha Beach, Normandy. I was here several years ago over a Thanksgiving week. It was cold and no one  was on the beach. It was eerie. In July, everyone was out to enjoy the wonderfully warm July sun and the cooling breezes off of the English Channel. Some were even bathing in the extremely cold water. We took our shoes off and walked in. The cold was shocking, but it felt wonderful on my tired feet. We are walking, on average, 8-10 miles per day. And for as much as I think that I am bringing comfortable shoes, they always fall short of comfort. 

After lunch, we moved to Point Du Hic, the point where US Army Rangers scaled the cliffs to get at the Germans. After the war, the French left it as is, which is phenomenal. Nature has reclaimed its land, but it is mowed so that sightseers can navigate the giant craters that the bombs carved into the landscape and the bunkers. I can't express how beautiful it was as we meandered, climbed, and remembered. My young niece said to me, 'it is so sad that all of the soldiers died here, but I'm happy that they rest in such a beautiful place.'

As it is ligt here until 10 p.m., we were able to move further along  the coast to the battlements. There, we found bunkers and guns in the middle of hay fields as the sun was just beginning to set. In the truest sense of sublime, we remember the horror while exsisting in beauty.

We didn't roll back into Paris until 1 a.m. The restaurants were all closed in the area of our hotel. We called the front desk to ask for suggestions. He thought that we were crazy to be looking for dinner so late. He did think to call the good van. The van pulled up, and sild bugers out if his trunk. They were delicious.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Traveling: Euro Cup in Fan Zone Under the Eiffel Tower

My family are big soccer fans and are excited to be in France during the Euro Cup. The final game was Portugal v. France. As you can imagine, this was a big game, so we decided to join the throngs of soccer fanatics and head to the fan zone that was set-up at the Eiffel Tour. We were told that as many as 100,000 people were expected. I think that it was many more.

The line to get in snaked through the neighborhoods surrounding the tour. My brother-in-law did a smooth move and we cut in pretty close to the front. But the bottleneck was the worst that I have ever seen with a big crowd. Soldiers stood along a defense line and were the first checkpoint to enter. In total, we were pat down 3 times and our bags were searched pretty thoroughly as many times. The security was necessary. Their presence is omnipresent here in the wake of recent terrorist attacks.

Once inside, it was a huge soccer party. A couple of us hit the beer line and stood in line for an hour and a half! It was hot, crushing, and the most unorganized selling of beer that I have ever seen. Three girls waited the counter where hundreds of fans lined up to buy. I thought that I was going to faint. But we got some beer. My nephew and I had made the pact that if we did get the beer that one of them would be ours to chug. I never had a beer taste so good!

For all of the people there, I had expected more chants and cheers, but it was a relatively tame crowd. It was a tense game, and it wasn't until overtime that Potugal kicked the winning goal. A couple  rooting for Portugal stood right in front of us and they were cute smooching the victory in a crowd of French fans. And the French fans were pretty cool, until we got outside. Fans were throwing bottles into the street and sirens became the majorative sound across the city. We headed straight back to hotel. We were hungry, but all of the cafes had battened down the hatches. Either way, the fans were going to command the streets of Paris on this night.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Traveling: French Beer Tasting

Not to worry! The drinking age for beer in France is 15, so my nephew legally participating in the big French beer tasting. We tasted a saison, a black IPA, a cognac barrel , and a Belgian triple. As we ascended the ladder of alcohol content, each was more delicious than the last. Craft beer has definitely has captured the great craft beer revolution. Louis would be proud. And we tasted some mighty fine beer.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Traveling: Le Louvre

Six hours. That's a long time looking at some art! But the kids were super excited about seeing what they've read about, so the time was well spent. We saw the Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa and Wings of Victory, naturally. But they were as taken by the lesser known works of art. The Napoleon rooms were stunning with gorgeous chandeliers. And we were all taken with the Lady of Shalott.
Tennyson wrote the beloved poem of the girl stuck in a job she was tired of who falls for the prince who rides by her tower. Leaving her job to go after her love, she drowns in the river.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Traveling: Beer Rules

Jet lag hit, and we all slept until Noon. We were a little late getting to Versailles. The crowd was light, so we were able to get around the Palace. The grounds closed early for a special event. We took to the street of the town to check it out. We found pastries, and my nephew, and I found a French craft beer store. We bought by label, which were as beautifully drawn as craft beers in the U.S. And are looking forward to having a tasting. Next, we sat down for a couple of drinks at an outdoor cafe. We decided to head to the Eiffel Tour because we thought that the lines would be manageable. Wrong. With only an hour until closing, the line was substancial. But we decided to give it a go. Security is pretty tight for obvious reasons; plus, the European Cup is now and France has made it to the finals. To get into the ticket line, we had to pass through security. Well, the nice lady found my beer in my bag. She told me to toss it. I exclaimed, " but the beer is my groceries!" Beer is my groceries! She pointed me to the can. Everyone had already gone in, so I had nothing to do but put the beer into the can. When I found my family, I told them what had happened. My brother-in-law said, we don't need to go, go get your beer! So I went back, pushed my way back into security and said to the security, I want my beer. She laughed, and I grabbed it. 
The Eiffel Tour looked lovely from afar as we walked back to our rooms. And the beer is cooling in the fridge.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Traveling: First Day Long Haul

We are traveling with 7-7. Seven people, seven suitcases, and various and assorted carry-ons. 

First, we all had to get to the airport. We couldn't all fit in grandma's car with 7-7. The eldest child, now a college junior said, let's Uber. Said child's parents weren't too sure of that plan. So they checked out rental cars and other forms of airport transport and worried, worried, worried. I decided to stay out of the cray and go to my apartment to pack and Uber to the airport on my own. I knew that was the best option. To Uber? No, to stay out of the worry. In the end, Uber was successfully navigated, and two cars took six people and 6-6.

The flight to Paris via Dublin was seemless and enjoyable. We made connections, 7-7 didn't get lost, and we all managed to get a cup of coffee.
Aha! How do we move this parade from the airport to the city center? This is not my first time visiting Paris! I knew to take the suburban train to the center of the city and satellite out to accomodation on the Meto. Of course, I was younger and happy to schlep my bag because I was usually with my good friend who insisted that we have 2-1 (2 people and approximately 1 suitcase between the two of us). It is a much different thing this with 7-7 and worry-worry! 

We dragged and pushed and up'd and down'd more than I ever remember happening. At this point, I was wiped out. And we had gone up the same staircase more than once because worry wasn't sure which direction to take. And I have learned that I assist when called on; otherwise, I wonder at my own sanity. At one step, the decision was made so late to get on the train and I was 7 of 7 boarding. The doors started to close and my nephew, truly trying to help me, grabbed my bag as the door grabbed my shoe. I thought that I was a goner, but he was able to pull me and my bag on to the train. My nephew became very protective of me and made sure to keep track of my 1-1. I told him my idea that schlep was no longer a romantic notion, and I would rather be picked at the airport in a car to be whisked to my accommodation. He agreed.

Once at the hotel, I had to hide behind the curtain because my brother in law found an apartment for a 6-6, not a 7-7. He had to turn in passports to verify the number, so I am surely to be arrested and locked up in a French jail with no way of getting in contact with my traveling posse. My niece suggests that I call grandma back in Chicago to take care of it. I think that she may be right.

Here are the four of us who are awake. Worrier marched us around in a very warm midday sun to ensure that we areable  to sleep normally tonight so that we can dive in tomorrow. They are sound asleep while the TV blasts the Clinton email crisis hearing. The four of us took showers, found some snacks and are having a cellphone party in a room away from the snores.

Paris is great!

Traveling: Through Dublin to Paris

On the road again on a European summer vacation. The 'we' is my sister, her husband, four kids, and me ... the same band of merry travelers who roared through Vienna, Bavaria, and Prague last summer. Our immediate destination is Paris, but we flew through Dublin on Aer Lingus. Before our connecting flight, we had time to catch the sun rise and get a cup of coffee. The trip from Chicago to Dublin was quick, but I am getting sleepy waiting for the next leg. Papi has said that we will take it easy today. We shall see.

Saturday, July 2, 2016


Vogue July 2016
Is this pose silly, or what? Love the fashion ... but really, is she drunk? Is she lost? Will she take off?

Patsy is 3rd on the left.
This reminds me of is the episode of 'Absolutely Fabulous' when the girls, Patsy and Edina, travel to France on the EuroStar to be a part of a fashion editorial of women past and present. While Edina is touring Paris with Safron her way after convincing her daughter that Paris isn't about monuments and museums, but fashion and elaborate lunches, Patsy tries to strike a pose as she remembers from her days as model during '60's. The editorial for the models photographs is 'grunge.' Patsy, who has packed scarfs and hats and lipsticks, is appalled that she has to dress in drab. And in striking a pose, she turns Twiggy, much to the dismay of the younger models and famous photographer.

The model above? She's all Patsy. Silly and a little trashed.