Sunday, December 14, 2008

On Tunisian Medinas and Siracusa's Fish Market


The shopping mall has been with us for over 50 years and the modern supermarket started with a Piggly Wiggly in 1916. But their predecessors began centuries ago. I was reminded of that on a recent trip to Tunisia and Sicily, fascinating destinations that lie just across the Mediterranean Sea from each other - each with its own unique market places.


Medinas were originally the actual walled cities of Northern Africa. The community lived and worked inside the compound for safety. Today most of the population of Tunisia’s towns have moved beyond the gates, but the commerce (especially for tourists) continues in its ancient setting. To stroll through the narrow, cobblestone lanes, with awnings blocking the hot sun and shopkeepers barking their wares, is to join generations of previous shoppers.



The Arabs long ago understood the idea of clustering similar products. Just as many Red Lobster restaurants are near an Olive Garden to encourage traffic, shops in medinas were arranged by Souqs that identify different commercial areas. In the Tunis medina, the Souq-el Attarine or Perfume Makers Souq dates from the 13th century. In the Souq Etouffes, stalls still sell cloth and clothes. Some of the Souq’s products have changed. The Souq el Berka originally sold prisoners of pirates for slaves. It is now, ironically, a gold market where young lovers come to buy the ring, bracelet, and necklace set required for a proper wedding.
Shopkeepers quickly size up your nationality and try to guess the appropriate language of greeting. Since there were few Americans traveling in Tunisia, we were most often welcomed with a "Good Morning, Madame. British?" French was the second inquiry. A good keeper could keep guessing - "Francaise" "Deutsch" "Espanol" "Italiano". The ultimate was a greeting in Russian. Once the language is established, the negotiations begin.

There are no published prices on products in the Medina. Because of the proximity of similar products ("stores" are really stalls six to eight feet wide), an inquiry or two will provide a sense of a product’s beginning price. Guide books suggest bargaining hard by starting at one-third of the price. Sounds easy, right? It was hard to even start at half the price until I got taken. First set of tablecloths seemed like a steal at a finally negotiated price of $10 each. But then a vendor next door stated his set pricing at $5 each. Oh, well, price averaging helped ease the pain of loss.

Just across the Mediterranean, on the island of Sicily, Siracusa hosts a wonderful outdoor market every morning. Fresh seafood dominates, but the sales technique was unique and amusing. Ok, you are probably reading this at your kitchen table on Sunday morning. I want you to engage the sullen teenager across the table from you ( a spouse will do in a pinch). Tell him or her that you are both fishmongers in Italy and are going to compete for customers. Now, in a very loud voice (don’t hold back), yell "pesci fresci". (or for those who don’t speak Italian, "pes kee, fres kee" meaning fresh fish) The startled teenager is now supposed to echo back "pesci fresci" in an equally powerful manner. Soon you should be dueling it out by competing for the loudest voice. For real authenticity, hang a cigarette loosely from your mouth!




In strolling down the seafood stalls in Siracusa, your choice of fish includes octopus, squid, tuna, shrimp, sword fish, salt cod, clams, eels and some with unfamiliar names such as "lampuche". Also available are stalls of beautiful eggplant, cauliflower, capers, real sun-dried tomatoes, olives galore, chestnuts, almonds, bags of oregano and sesame, bunches of cilantro, pecorino cheese, plums, apples, bananas, red pepper, radicchio, cactus, fennel, olive oil, vinegar and fresh baked breads - all just crying to be taken on a picnic.

Obviously, American malls don’t have the rich history of a medina with its shops, homes and mosques. But the arrangement of clustered stores, coffee shops (minus the hookahs), and restaurants in North Park Mall is directly connected to the layout of a medina. And Kroger’s fresh produce department in Paris is arranged to imitate an outdoor Italian market. It’s a nice human connection. Now, if we just had the fishmongers.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Election Day in Egypt


I watched Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at 7 a.m., November 5th, in a hotel room in Cairo, Egypt. There were not shouts of joy in the street at the time. It was too early for the newspapers headlines to reflect the victory. But later, the excitement of his election became apparent.

Under the People to People Ambassadorial program, a delegation of 25 lawyers, with their leader, Richard Pena, former president of the State Bar of Texas, traveled to Cairo to meet with Egyptian lawyers and law professors. On that election day, we were received by Dr. Ahmed Fathi Sorour, president of the People’s Assembly - a position equivalent to our speaker of the house. His Masters of Education was from the University of Michigan where he was most impressed with our emphasis on human rights. Dr. Fathi’s recent book, "Facing Terrorism by Law" is a treatise on the balance of rights and national security needed to deal with those who wish us harm.

When asked about Obama’s election, Dr. Fathi responded with "chapeaux (hats off) to the Americans" on this election of Obama and of human rights. He hoped it would finish a period of conflict between blacks and whites. He considers the U.S. to be courageous in its respect for human rights.

An afternoon meeting began with the Dean of Cairo University’s Law School which serves 30,000 students. Egypt based its law on the French Civil Code but many of their professors are American trained. The Dean also extended his congratulations to Americans for their election of a black president. Their university closely follows our treatment of terrorists as Egypt has also had incidents of persons using violence for political gain.


Later in the week, a visit to the impressive Alexandria Library provided an encounter with its director, chief librarian and staff. They first congratulated us with "great joy" on the election. One felt it was "breaking the paradigm" and hoped we could now finish the agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Senator Ismail Serageldin, director of the library, went further. Because of his Harvard training, he knew civil liberties had been abridged four times in U.S. history - the Alien Sedition Act under John Adams, Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, the Japanese internment during World War II, and Guantanamo and the declaration of enemy combatants. He considered only Lincoln’s act as legitimate. Guantanamo’s preventative detention cannot "square" with the presumption of innocence and the right to silence cannot "square" with torture.

Egypt has lived under "emergency law" since Mubarak became president in 1981. All of the speakers recognized their country lacks our emphasis on civil rights. It is, they said, why they need the United States to continue to be the world leader in enforcement of individual rights. Terrorism requires a "wise balance" of rights and national security as Senator Serageldin acknowledged. All wanted our experience to help guide them as they press for more civil rights. And that is why the legal community in Egypt was so encouraged by the election of Barack Obama. Yes, he was a black man with African roots but he was also a constitutional law professor. And all of them understood the significance of that knowledge.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Desert Road from Cairo to Alexandria





The Desert Road from Cairo to Alexandria is a swift journey from Egypt’s past to its future. In parting Cairo, we crawled through a few of its poorer neighborhoods where camels trotted down narrow alleyways and donkeys pulled trash-laden carts. The dust shrouded Giza pyramids appeared suddenly, facing some of Egypt’s most luxurious hotels. And mountains of nearby sands gave notice of the approaching desert.




Despite its exotic name, the Desert Road is now a four to six lane toll-way reducing the trip to Alexandria to three hours, a far cry from the multi day experience of the past. Thanks to the construction of the Aswan Dam, Egypt controls the distribution of water through the Nile and its tributaries. The fields along the road use this source to irrigate olive, apple, orange and banana orchards, vineyards, date palms, and fields of cabbage, corn and other vegetables. We passed small trucks filled to the brim with tomatoes grown in nearby greenhouses. The government has encouraged cultivation by providing land to would be farmers who are allowed to keep their profits. The farms alternated with new "compounds" - walled and gated subdivisions serving Cairo’s commuters.

Along the road were glimpses of the past as men in the long, flowing galabyas worked the fields or tended goats. Women were more likely to be covered completely in burkas than in the cities. Stretches of barren, dry sand encroached on farms. And pigeon towers adjoined many homes. These cone head hives house trained pigeons who attract fellow birds to roost in the punctured holes. Pigeons, the "food of King Farouk", are served grilled or stuffed with rice and are very popular with Egyptians.

Large, modern roadhouses appeared regularly providing gasoline, food, small stores, cappuccino and an occasional mosque. Children’s amusement parks with names like "Week-end" and "Aqua City" hinted at the heavy use of the road for vacationing Egyptians. And a large prison seemed appropriately placed.

As we approached Alexandria, Egypt’s emphasis on international trade became obvious. Its suburbs host factories that produce cotton ware for such U.S. companies as Docker and Timberland. Because of the duty free zone status, clothes’ labels can read "made in the U.S.A.". Pharmaceutical companies, Pepsi, Ikea, and General Motors are all present as well as Egypt’s thriving natural gas and gasoline refineries. Yet nearby, hand-poled boats are still used to harvest marsh reeds for basket making as in the time of Moses.



Alexandria soon arrived with its modern malls and free-standing McDonalds. The beautiful corniche avenue, built by the city’s businessmen, weaves along the Mediterranean Sea past waves of apartment buildings used by Cairo’s elite in the summer. A beautiful Four Seasons hotel reflects this city’s current international status while newly discovered Roman ruins provide proof of its past glory.




But today, the jewel of the coast is the stunning, six-year old Alexandria Library, funded primarily through UNESCO and U.S. aid. Its goal of being the center of Middle Eastern learning and Arab reform are lofty and exciting. Twice monthly, dialogue forums provide free exchange of ideas. The location adjacent to the University of Alexandria assures heavy use by students of its 600,000 volumes and the large digitalized library. Because Egypt recognizes Israel as a country, the library also serves as a neutral forum to promote resolution of the Palestinian issue. A science museum and planetarium support the Academy of Science that was begun in 1798. It’s a very busy place.

With its 20 million inhabitants, Cairo still dominates the economy of the country. Tourists are more likely to visit the pyramids than any other site. The road to Alexandria, though, tells the story of Egypt’s expanded development which the government hopes will provide needed employment. But it also leads you to the clean, fresh air of the sea, an alluring prospect indeed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sounds of Tunisia


Call to prayer

Dogs barking

Traffic horns commanding cars at intersections

Click of shoes on cobblestone streets

Coffee houses, hookahs, men’s idle talk

Women murmuring with arms entwined

Call to prayer

Policemen's whistles

Cell phones ringing

Ocean and desert winds

The buzz of tour buses arriving

Construction machines groaning, cranes clanking
Call to prayer

Mediterranean Sea banging against stone walls and beaches

"Madame, Madame" shopkeepers cry

Steps on marble floors

Languages in surround sound

Call to prayer

Motorcyles

Arab music

Lightning, thunder, storm winds

Call to prayer

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Waiting for Ho Chi Minh


It’s not easy to see Ho Chi Minh. He has been dead for thirty-six years. His last will and testament asked that a grand funeral should be avoided in order not to "waste the people’s time and money". This direction was ignored by over a quarter of a million Vietnamese who attended his funeral And despite a request to be cremated, his body has been preserved for all to view. A visit to his mausoleum in Hanoi, though, requires patience.

The mausoleum is only open for three hours in the morning. It’s located on Independence Plaza where Ho Chi Minh read from our very own Declaration of Independence in 1945, as he declared the Democratic Republic of Vietnam a sovereign nation separate from France. He had hoped to have the support of the United States in freeing Vietnam from the French rule. But he didn’t. Vietnam then spent the next 30 years fighting for its independence.

We arrived in the front of the plaza and walked the length of a very long block to the entry. Over 2000 Vietnamese were already waiting in line to pay their respects to "Uncle Ho", a large percentage of them schoolchildren in matching black and white nylon outfits. A guard sent us to check our back packs and a later guard required the cameras to be also checked, thus mandating a later pick up at two different places. The Vietnamese graciously allowed us back into the line each time. Guards were posted at very regular intervals. In the far back of the line, old and young were casually talking. Behind us was a group of giggling high school students who were eager to try try their surprisingly fluent English with us. "Hi, Where are you from? How do you like Vietnam?" They lived in Hanoi but had never been to the mausoleum. As we moved closer, the serious guards silenced us completely and required all to walk in pairs.
Tucked deep inside the austere granite and concrete government temple is Ho Chi Minh’s body. The building is modeled after Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow. Ho has been preserved for these many years primarily through the efforts of the Russians. His body travels annually for maintenance to Moscow.

We climbed stairs and wove through corridors to reach the inner sanctum. Four guards were posted at each corner of Ho Chi Minh’s sarcophagus. There was absolute silence as we entered and turned eyes left to observe Ho’s body with its surprisingly natural looking face and hands, lit with soft orange lighting. The famous goatee was perfectly trimmed and he was dressed in peasant fatigues and sandals. The reverence of the visiting countryman for the father of Vietnam’s independence was reflected in their faces. We weren’t allowed to tarry as we made the horseshoe turn around the body.

We exited in the rear of the building and there was an immediate relief from the intensity of the tomb. Suddenly, it was a Sunday afternoon in the park as families and children explored the surrounding gardens and grounds and Ho’s simple home on stilts. He had no use for the nearby French Colonial Presidential Palace and during the war lived in this country style home. Influential Western and Communist books and writings rested in his library as well as his bulky phone and walking stick. In front of the home was a large carp-filled pond circled by strolling paths and fruit trees from around the world. Nearby, his garage displayed "HoChiMinh’s Used Cars", a Russian Pobeda and a Peugeot 404 - surprisingly modest cars for the head of a country. As Frances Fitzgerald discussed in his book, "Fire in the Lake", there was no distinction between Ho’s public and private behavior. He exhibited "correct behavior" or living simply as a peasant, with a sincerity that endeared him to his countrymen.

Also on the grounds were an art museum and a history museum, all built in the same bulky, modern architectural style as the mausoleum. It would be easy to spend a day in this cultural park and many Vietnamese were doing just that. After 65 years of colonial rule by France, a 30 year war of Independence, and some difficult years under strict communist rule, the Vietnamese were clearly enjoying the loosening of the government’s reins on the economy and on them.
While the United States does not preserve its leaders for viewing, we have enormous respect for our "founding fathers". A visit to see our Constitution and Declaration of Independence can require a similar queue. And it is possible to appreciate the commitment of a great leader without agreeing with his philosophy. For these reasons, I found the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and grounds more moving than I expected and was glad to have spent a misty Sunday morning with a crowd of Vietnamese as they paid homage to their Uncle Ho. And so, until the next column, remember "Waiting in line with fellow travelers is often part of the experience".

Friday, September 26, 2008

What Is There To Do in Paris, Texas?

Tourists in Paris, Texas are often referred to the Eiffel Tower with its jaunty, red cowboy hat or the lovely downtown Italian marble fountain or possibly the statue of Jesus in Cowboy Boots in the Evergreen Cemetery. But tucked here and there are other treasures, some requiring timing but most are readily available.


1. Swaim’s Hardware. Swaim’s pulses with anything anyone ever wanted from a hardware store -bolts, wires, pipes, hunting equipment, and ny cooking gear imaginable. Started in 1932 and still at its original location, the store is on its fourth generation of family employees. Old time fire buckets and a car seat from the 1940's hang from the ceiling and unreachable Radio Flyer wagons and sleds perch from the top of the shelves. Employees may disappear while looking for your request but they always reappear with the product. Stash Dad here while Mom shops downtown on the Plaza.
240 1st SW Street. 903.784.3321

2. The Lamar County Courthouse. They just don’t make them like this anymore. Built in 1917 from the same Texas Pink granite used in the state capital, the courthouse has marble floors and brass chandeliers. Restored in 2005, the district courtroom on the 3rd floor has a 26 foot ceiling and a balcony maintained in its original concrete form. Enter and feel the drama of trials a century ago.
119 North Main. Call County Clerk’s office for hours 903.737.2420



3. After exploring the courthouse, cross North Main to discover the Paris Bakery, where baker, Kit Lindsey, produces fresh European breads daily. Croissants, brioches, scones, and the best cinnamon rolls ever are offered for breakfast. At noon, sandwich and soup specials complement the regular offerings of salads and sandwiches. And gourmet coffee drinks are always available. Just leave your diet at home.
120 North Main. 903.784.1331 Closed Sunday and Monday

4. Friday night football games. It’s easy to have the Friday Night Lights experience here. Texas is famous for its devotion to football and Paris is no exception. With three football stadiums within the city limits, you can catch a game any Friday night in the fall. You’ll also discover that football is not just about the game. With bands, cheerleaders and dance squads, much of the action is off the field. Half the town is there so you may as well be also. Call for a schedule.
Paris Independent School District. 903.737.7473. Or http://www.parisisd.net/
North Lamar Independent School District. 903.737.2000. Or
http://www.northlamar.net/
Chisum Independent School District. 903.737.2830. Or
http://www.chisumisd.org/



5. The public library can be easily overlooked on a tour of Paris but it shouldn’t be. Inside the Paris Public Library are a set of panels by the well known Texas artist, Jerry Bywaters. The paintings were created as part of the New Deal Post Office Mural Program. A native of Paris, Bywaters rose to prominence as the leader of a group of Texas artists in the 1930s and 1940s who were inspired by the Texas landscape. While you’re at the library, ask to see the wonderful piece by the African-American muralist, John Biggers.
326 S. Main. 903.785.8531


6. When in Texas, dress Texan! At the well-stocked Crazy House Western store, choose your boots from over 6500 pairs of all colors and sizes (try pink for a fashion statement). There’s also western garb for kids and adults, jewelry, and western gifts. Check their map to see if others from your hometown have visited the store. If you’re lucky enough to be here in December, drive through the Christmas light show available at night on the premises.
6655 Lamar Avenue. 903.785.2100


7. Rails to Trails / Trail de Paris. Paris has joined the network of rails to trails with its recent opening of a four mile, paved path that flows through neighborhoods and into deep woods. Early morning joggers or bikers can enjoy a cacophony of songbirds and if lucky, an occasional deer. A tributary off of the main path wanders into a delta of dirt trails for those with an interest in more natural habitats of the area’s birds and animals. It’s a perfect place to unwind at the end of the day.

Enter on Collegiate Street or on 24th street between Jefferson Road and Clarksville Street.


8. Paris Community Theater. If a show is on during your stay, you’re in for a treat. Begun in 1976 by the talented amateurs of Paris, the Paris Community Theater has produced plays and musicals for over 30 years. A children’s theater has also trained young thespians. It all takes place downtown on the square in the renovated Plaza movie theater.
30 N. Plaza. 903.784.0259. Or http://www.paristheatreonline.com/

9. Hayden Museum of American Art. What’s a Winsler Homer painting doing in Paris, Texas? And is that really an Ansel Adams photograph? Dr. and Mrs. William Hayden collected American Art for years (before it got so expensive, they say) and have built a private museum for its display. Be prepared for a walk through American art starting with early children’s embroidery and ending with a Robert Rauschenberg. The chair collection is also a treasure.
Call for a tour and hope they’re home. 903.785.1925

10. The Paris Municipal Band. Since 1923, Friday summer evenings in Bywaters park have been filled with the sounds of the oldest municipal band in Texas. Their theme song of "I Love Paris in the Springtime" begins every concert. A July 4th performance in the Paris Junior College stadium draws thousands for the music and the fireworks. Bring a blanket or chair and enjoy the free music.
Bywaters Park is located on South Main Street across from the Library

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Unintentional Medical Tourism

It was not my intent to outsource my medical care to Honduras. Actually, the trip was to visit our niece, a Peace Corps volunteer. The itinerary was well planned with stops in the mountains and the beaches. Hotels and a jeep were reserved. The Copan Mayan ruins had long been a desired destination. My sister-in-law from New York City and our son joined my husband and me and we were ready for the adventure.

Susanna was there to greet us at the airport in Tegucigalpa and to regale us with her stories of life in the Peace Corps. She casually described the weirdness she lived with every day, including the damage machete knives can do to sugar cane and people. Gently, we changed the subject to food.



The next day, we drove to Susanna’s small town of Villa de San Antonio. She led us on a walking tour and introduced the workers at the town orphanage. Several Europeans volunteers were working with these beautiful children. We also explored the teen center where Susanna worked.



The tour ended at a friend’s home who was celebrating a birthday that evening. The house was bursting with people and food but I wasn’t hungry. Early in the evening, I excused myself to return to Susannah’s house. It was then my physician husband knew something was wrong. His exam and questions led to only one diagnosis - I had appendicitis. It was 9 p.m. and we were in a small village in Honduras.

An interesting discussion ensued on the next step. Susanna called the Peace Corps which had two suggestions. In a nearby town, there were Cuban doctors and a small hospital. Cuba has well trained physicians which they have shared throughout Central America and you are considered fortunate to have one. The other suggestion was to return to the capital, Tegucigalpa We hesitated. ALL of our guide books and EVERY person we talked to echoed the same mantra, DO NOT DRIVE IN HONDURAS AT NIGHT. Bandits were known to appear suddenly. We decided to take the chance and entered the dark road to the capital.


The good news is that everyone there avoids driving at night and no one was on the road except an occasional cow. We arrived in Tegucigalpa in record time with no idea where the recommended hospital was. And there are literally no street signs. A taxi had paused at a service station and we stopped to ask his assistance. He agreed to lead us to the hospital. (Susanna tried to bargain the price with him until we told her we could spring for the 50 cents she was trying to save us!) Off we sped to the "Honduran Medical Center", a lovely, clean, modern hospital with an armed guard at its entrance and no one in its emergency room. Soon Dr. Herbert Lopez arrived in his leather jacket, clearly surprised to have me as a patient. "Que barbaridad" was his response to my situation. Two hours later, the surgery began with two surgeons and an anesthesiologist. I woke up in my own private room without an appendix but with a relieved husband at my side.


If Spanish weren’t being spoken, it could have been a room in any modern American hospital. The cable TV carried the Mavericks game. When a male nurse entered, he stopped to comment on the still unfortunate trade of Steve Nash by the Mavericks and admitted that his favorite team was the Boston Celtics. There were some quirks. The phone rang with calls from strangers asking for certain patient’s rooms. Some were not too friendly as I explained I was a patient, too, and had no idea where their patient was. Now, I was indeed fortunate to have a Spanish speaking physician husband, especially on some of the recovery decisions. But the doctors and hospital staff provided very considerate care. Dr. Lopez even offered to write a letter confirming I needed four weeks to recover.


The trip was, obviously, cut short. After a couple of days recovering at Leslie’s Place, a pleasant bed and breakfast, we returned home. http://www.dormir.com/But there were some positives. My sister-in-law swears she was saved from dengue fever since we never had to spend the night in rural Honduras. AND the hospital accepted Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance. They should have been happy to pay the bill. Compared to U.S. prices, the company saved at least $3,000. But the Copan Mayan ruins remain unseen and we’ll just have to try again. So, until the next column, remember to always carry your insurance card!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Marable Family Chorus


The First Presbyterian Church of Clarksville is 175 years old this year, earning the honor of being the oldest continuously operating Protestant church in Texas. A celebration was in order and I traveled to Clarksville in June to attend its anniversary choral service. The combined Presbyterian and Methodist choirs performed with smiles and great energy. But inserted into the middle of the program was a performance by the "Marable Family Chorus", a name that invited comparison to the Von Trapp Family singers from "The Sound of Music" . When it was their time to sing, the chorus emptied the right one-fourth of the church and moved forward. Five generations stacked themselves before the crowd and leisurely sang "In the Garden" a cappella with eight part harmony. As their director said afterwards, " We often get so captured listening to ourselves, we slow down."

I was curious to know what induced this family to journey from all parts to Clarksville for the anniversary. It turns out they have sung in East Texas for a very long time. Their ancestor, Sam Corley, was known as the "Sweet Singer of Israel" and was the first Presbyterian minister in Clarksville. He died in a Civil War battle in 1863 but his oldest son, A.P. Corley, raised his children in Clarksville. The Corley Chapel at the church is dedicated to Sam Corley. The last of his descendants still living in Clarksville died in 2004.

The participants in the anniversary chorus were primarily descendants of A.P. Corley’s daughter, Mattie Corley and her husband, F.F. Marable - hence the name "Marable Family Chorus" . From this pair and their seven children came generations of singers, performers, musicians, speakers, writers, and hams. Their daughter, Ruth Marable, (Miss Ruth) studied under Fred Waring and generously used his arrangements with her choir students at Clarksville High School. She was a known taskmaster but fair and fun. Her speech students learned the hard way that the word, ‘think’, is not pronounced ‘thank’. And she had advice for other choral directors, "always dress from the back" and "always leave them wanting more."

Ruth’s brother, Paul, played the mandolin. Their sister, Mary, who was known to have ‘played the piano on the radio’, accompanied her siblings as they sang at countless funerals and other performances. At home, the brothers would beg the sisters to sing at the Christmas gathering. Acting and singing "Knock and the Door Will Open" brought smiles of contentment. Since small town culture often rests in church choirs and school plays, Clarksville’s patrons of the arts were the Marables, donating talent where needed.

Though not residents of Red River County, the next generations of cousins continued to gather in Clarksville for summer and Christmas vacations through the 1950's and 1960's. As one cousin reflected, they would do anything to get to Clarksville for Christmas. A new play was penned each year to be performed by the cousins for the family and neighbors. Chairs were borrowed from Jolly Funeral Home to accommodate the crowd at the house. And at midnight on Christmas Eve, they always caroled (in harmony) with "Silent Night" as the favorite.

Interestingly, there were no music lessons, no formal voice training and no assignment of parts. Children harmonized by simply singing the same part of the person next to them - the classic learning by example. They were often short of tenors and some of the women would pick up the first tenor part. If asked about favorites, family members will hum a few bars of a spiritual to be sure you know the piece. The chorus continues to sing "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" directly to the bride at every family wedding. And if you’re fortunate, brothers Sparky and Allen will play "Way Down upon the Sewanee River" on their cheeks.

The family also takes pride in telling and retelling stories. The story belongs to the person who tells it best. Great Aunt Susie’s dog, Trubador, marched with the Clarksville High School band and bayed at funerals - rich fodder for the raconteurs. F.F. Marable, Jr.’s act of preaching at his own funeral was famous and began with "had I known the price of flowers were so high, I wouldn’t have died at this particular time."

So, there they were in Clarksville, Texas, on a hot, summer Sunday afternoon. Members had traveled from Austin, Waco, Dallas, Buda, San Antonio, and Springfield, Missouri, to gather once more in the family church. None of them would claim to be professional musicians, but they recognized music and laughter had kept their family together for generations. And each of them felt the need to pay homage to their ancestors where it all started - First Presbyterian Church of Clarksville. The Sweet Singer of Israel would be proud. And, so , until the next column, remember "Austria’s not the only country with singing families".

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Traveling With My Column


I may be wrong ,but I suspect no readers of this column clip my article and send it to their mother like I do. That means most of my columns (as well as Mary Madewell’s editorials and Toni Clem’s film comments and Sam Craft’s photos, etc.) end up in the trash! Thanks to Christians in Action’s recycling program, my husband and I have been able to donate our old newspapers to them. Out of curiosity, I decided to "arm chair" travel with my thrown out column, starting with the outdoor containers behind Christians in Action in downtown Paris.


According to Don Walker, director of Christians in Action(CIA), their first step is to bail the papers and compress them into a cube weighing between 1500 and 2000 pounds. It takes about a month to accumulate enough for a truck load. His operation is relatively small and he works through Vistafibers, "the largest recycler in the Southwest". Vistafibers puts CIA in touch with a broker who sells the paper to an "end user". The bails of paper are loaded onto a semi-truck and sent to an "end user" or mill selected by the broker. It’s curious that their code name in the industry is "end user" since it’s really just the beginning of the recyling process. For the most recent load of newspapers from CIA, the broker was Fiber Horizon, who sold the load to the end user Enviromate, a cellulose mill in Moulton, Alabama, near Huntsville. If this mill were not available for some reason (for example, a hurricane hit), the paper could be sent as far away as Cartones Mill in San Juan del Rio, Mexico! So, now my article has been bailed, loaded onto a truck, traveled to Alabama and unloaded at Enviromate.


The CIA load has the distinction of being "very clean and dry," an honor in the paper recyling business. Because of these characteristics, the CIA paper will be shredded and mixed with boric acid until it is broken up. A fire retardent is blown into the mix and then the mix is bagged for sale. At this point, the recycled paper can travel down several paths. It can be sold to residential contractors and blown into new homes or mobile homes for insulation or I could keep watch over chicken houses! According to Wesley McCains at Enviromate, the Paris News is probably insulating homes within 500 miles of Moulton, Alabama.


If the load had been "wet", it could have been used for organic roofing material, cartons for cereal or toothpaste or the paper on the outside of sheet rock. Or, it could be smashed, heated, compressed, rolled out and wrapped into huge rolls of newsprint and possibly sold to..... The Paris News! My article would be back but with a clean slate. Newsprint can be recycled seven times before it is too small to be strong enough to use. It will fall out of the system at this point and become fuel.


Were The Paris News printed on cardboard, our articles could have had an even more interesting trip -- the slow boat to China. Actually, I don’t know if the boat is slow but China has been a voracious purchaser of used cardboard and it is a cheap product to fill ship containers returning to China. Cardboard is the easiest to recycle as it has the strongest fiber. However, according to Fiber Horizon, there is a shortage of containers available for waste paper products going in China’s direction. Because of the weak dollar, other countries are buying more sophisticated, processed American products, and there are fewer containers available for newspaper and cardboard. Cardboard is reprocessed in China and used to box merchandise coming back to the United States. This Pacific crossing can go on for six times before the fibers in paper and cardboard have been broken down too much to reconstitute.


All this seems pretty complicated and a lot of roads to travel to simply recycle. Because of the demand from China for recycled products, the price for recycled paper products has doubled over the last several years. This may be the reason so many publications are going online. Online editions don’t require much paper at all. But then I can’t clip an article online to send to my computerless mother. So, until the next column, remember to "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.".

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Independence Day in Chimazat, Guatemala


July 4th is not celebrated in Guatemala except by expats, Peace Corps workers, the Marines at the American Embassy and a few wandering tourists. But Guatemala has its own "dia de independencia" which is observed on September 15th. Guatemala and Mexico share the same Independence Day as they separated from Spain together in 1821 with Guatemala breaking with Mexico in 1823.



Their fiesta has the good fortune of occurring while school is still in session. In the indigenous village of Chimazat, where our son lives, the independence day celebration is combined with their feria (a fair derived from a saint’s day). The Queen of Chimazat had been crowned the day before we arrived. She will represent the town for a year and will travel to other competitions.




We attended an evening grade school performance where queens are selected to represent the school. The children in the younger grades dressed in various native garb. Shy bows by young boys were matched by demure curtsies from the young girls as they began a traditional dance. Words were swallowed and hurried when a child spoke. As the grades progressed, the old lost out to the new. Costumes and performances became looser and stranger. The 5th grade Snow White wore a Santa hat and a yellowish squirrel outfit while the dwarfs’ beards were cotton balls taped on the face. Sixth graders disguised themselves in Halloween masks and danced wildly, without form.



At least three hundred parents attended. The mothers wore their ornate, flowered, traditional huipils (or blouses) and slyly acknowledged the modern world with high heels. Dads lounged at the back. We could have been watching a performance at Aikin Elementary as parents crouched in front of the stage to photograph or film their child. At the end of the evening, all of the queens were presented - the Sports Queen, Independence Day Queen, Miss Congeniality, a queen for each grade, the Queen of the School. There was a crowd of crowns.

Every village and town in Guatemala had parades on Independence Day, primarily centered around school children. Each grade marched with a different indigenous or school outfit and played instruments such as flutes or xylophones. Our favorite marching band was seen in a nearby town where the Salvation Army equipped the children in their school with sharp uniforms and serious drums and bugles. Mothers and teachers walked along with the classes. And, in Chimazat, each newly crowned queen reigned from a large arm chair in the back of a pickup filled with balloons, carnations, roses, and daisies. (We could have had a small wedding with the flowers used for the queens’ carriages.) These diminutive members of the royalty took their position seriously and didn’t smile or wave with their glove covered hands.

Fuegos were popular. These were groups of school children who ran from town to town with the lead child holding a burning torch. Each school had a destination. Even traffic on the Pan American Highway slowed for the determined students who often ran miles. A school bus followed for any stragglers.

Independence Day itself had a familiar feel. Fireworks exploded throughout the day. Flags flew from homes and businesses. Most families had a large (late) lunch and were joined by out of town guests and family members. We dined with our son’s friends, Josefina and Antolin, and their extended family. Tables were moved outside to the courtyard and every available chair placed around them. The household’s cats, dogs, baby ducks and geese joined us as well as some fairly friendly bees. The food had simmered for hours in enormous pots over wood fires. After a blessing, large bowls of pepian, a Guatemalan favorite, were served. It’s a steaming caldo (or soup) filled with rice, turkey, green beans, and potato and flavored with pumpkin and sesame seed. As we finished, another round of 20 relatives arrived and replaced us at the table.

There were also soccer matches and games such as catching a greased pig or climbing a greased pole to grab a 100 Quetzal bill (worth about $12). The latter was much harder than it looked and the clever, successful team was a father whose child climbed on his back. For those who partake of alcohol, it was also an accepted day of indulgence.

But there is a political edge to the celebration. Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rigoberta Menchu, explains in her autobiography, " I, Rigoberta Menchu," that Independence Day is a ladino celebration, only for those descended from the Spaniards or of mixed heritage. She believes the indigenous of Guatemala were not liberated in 1821 and they continue to struggle for equal rights and freedom from discrimination. Sadly, there is a long history of such treatment.
Whatever the date, Independence Day is important to acknowledge. It indicates a transition and a connection to the courage of our ancestors. Fireworks, food, family unite us regardless of country. So, until the next column, remember "All the world loves a parade."
A wonderful authentic tour of this beautiful area of Guatemala is conducted by Walker Clark (our son) with the help of his many Guatemalan friends. His web site is http://www.authenticguatemala.com/

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Temples of Ankor Wat - More Than Just Ruins


Bhong was at the hotel early, waiting for us. It was still dark and surprisingly cool for a jungle morning. I was traveling with Paris friends, David Kennemer and Sharon Schneider. An elderly woman was already selling her fresh baked french baguettes on the street. We happily spent 75 cents to purchase three as we climbed into Bhong’s rented "tuk-tuk", a motorcycle that pulls a two wheeled, modern day surrey without the fringe on top. Off we sped through Siem Reap and into the countryside where we passed the Cambodians walking, biking, and riding motorcycles to work. A quick stop at the Angkor Wat gate gave us a three day pass complete with our photos. The sun was rising as we arrived, the very first tourists that day.


The Temples of Angkor are the Kingdom of Cambodia’s number one tourist attraction. The temples were built from about 950 to 1220 A.D. by a series of Cambodian kings. During the centuries of construction, the emphasis was on the king as god, who resides in the temple after death as an intermediary between man and god. Each of the temples are constructed as a microcosm of the world, the temple as the central holy mountain, surrounded by a moat or ocean. The bridge was the rainbow connecting men and gods. The earlier temples centered on the Hindu Siva but as Buddhism spread, the later temples used Buddha representations. Even today, there are still Buddha statutes (covered by orange silks) attended by male and female Buddhist monks who will pray for your good luck when you purchase and light incense.


The surprise was the size of the complex at Angkor. It is an enormous park with temples spread over 40 miles . Transportation is required and you have choices - bicycles, motorcycles, tuk-tuks, cars, buses, minivans, and even elephants. Most tourists were on tours and were motored about in buses. We had hired Bhong and his tuk-tuk for three days. He was very attentive and eager. To pick us up close to a temple’s entrance, Bhong had to pay "extra" to the guards to park nearby.

Our schedule was to first visit the more popular temples such as the Bayon before the crowds arrived. We then paused for a breakfast at stall number "16", one of many open air restaurants available. But this one was owned by Bhong’s mother-in-law (or so he said). The menu included slightly altered favorites such as pineapple pancakes but also offered fried rice with ginger and vegetables and topped with an omelette. Only the coffee was undrinkable. Next were visits to some of the smaller, out of the way temples that didn’t have lines of buses waiting in front. It was common as we approached a temple to hear live music played by a band of paraplegics, victims of land mines still scattered from Cambodia’s recent war past.

Each temple enjoys its own aura. The actual Angkor Wat temple has a working moat around it and is almost perfectly restored with lovely bas relief carvings of battle stories of demons and goddesses in the sea.








Other temples such as Ta Prohm are maintained in their discovered form with spung tree roots growing through rooms and roofs.






The rose colored Banteai Srei demurely reveals the most delicate sandstone carvings, perhaps a reflection of a queen’s influence.







But the most enigmatic and spiritual temple was the Bayon.

Unless prepared, the enormous smiles from the ten foot high Buddha faces peering down from 54 towers may shock you. As you wander, the faces become your companions and you wished they could tell their stories of the processions of kings and elephants and acrobats that paraded by in celebration of battle victories.




By 2 p.m., the heat was too great and we would return to the Bequest Hotel where we had the option of hiring a blind masseuse. (We declined but found the idea intriguing.) The evenings were spent on Bar street, an Asian Bourbon street scene, where you could dine al fresco at the Temple Club, Lucky Sian or Angkor Burgers. The Red Piano was our favorite restaurant as it had been for Angelina Jolie when she filmed "Tomb Raider". For seven dollars, we had a taste of the colonial era with drinks, a meal, bamboo chairs, overhead fans and friendly geikos climbing up the nearby walls.

On the third day, we ended our time at the ruins of Angkor with a late stop at the Bayon and a last look at the moon faces. These were the visages of Cambodia’s past time of glory. After a devastating internal war in which at least one fourth of the population died, Cambodia is recovering and using its past to support the future. Bhong’s face is that of the new Cambodian - hard working, solicitous to please, and desperately hoping to earn enough to buy his own tuk-tuk. I would like to think we contributed to that goal. So, until the next column, remember tourism is a powerful industry for developing countries.

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