ITALY 2018 — UMBRIA

Olive groves and Italian Cyprus trees are seen at sunset in the Medieval Umbrian town of Orvieto. Italy.

Random thoughts and Details of Umbria…

Our Italian adventure continues 90 minutes southeast of Florence where we headed to experience a part of Italy we had never seen—Umbria—and even more importantly, to meet up with dear friends who have a home there.

                                                                  ASSISI:

SANTA MARIA NOVELLA:

The Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in Santa Maria Novella at the base of Assisi contains within it the Portiuncula (pronounced poor-CHUN-kohl-Ah). This was Saint Francis’  very first church…beautiful and tiny with only about eight wooden bench seats. This incredible work of art rests at the center of the huge cathedral, The Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels.

The cathedral is simple, creamy white with nothing to distract you from the work of art that is the Portuincula which acts as the altar of the church.

Being in that tiny space, the overwhelming feeling is not one of the power or strength of God, but rather pure, overwhelming love. You feel it in every fiber of your body. It almost brings you to tears if you let it.

PERUGIA:

EBD666EE-F6BF-4657-B959-1550826FACA0

Perugia is a beautiful city. Even your breath slows when you are walking through the center of town. There is so much to see and to experience. There’s a laid-back elegance to this place that really makes me feel at home.

The Corso:

The Corso  (or Main Street) is the center of life for the village on the top of the hill. It winds in a slow, curvy line through the entire town.

It was cold and rainy when we were there but that couldn’t dampen the power and beauty of this hill town — Even in the rain this place is magical.  The architecture feels at once ancient and current. There is a timeless beauty about the city — and a simplicity of life here. “Do it or don’t do it.” No fulumfering about. Perugia is an interesting place to window shop and walking is a joy. You could spend hours just wandering up and down the Corso. It is a long, wide, and winding cobblestone street for pedestrians only so lingering could become a full-time hobby. Perugia is full of interesting things to see: architecture, boutiques, cafes, people…your eyes never stop roaming.

The Food:

 

We ate lunch in a little restaurant called Fontanella di Porta Sole that locals love. Here the owner, Gino, serves only Perugian dishes which he cooks himself. Gino is a wonderful, boisterous, funny Italian man.

When you walk into his restaurant he greets you warmly, shows you to a table and starts pouring you wine and making you soup. Before we even ordered, he brought out three bowls of soup for each of us to begin. I repeat..THREE bowls of soup each. Not cups, BOWLS. The first was orange in color, blended into a purée and utterly delicious. I have absolutely no idea what it was made out of…could have been beans, could have been lentils. All I know is that it was as gorgeous to taste as it was to look at. The second bowl was a multi-bean soup — about 6 or 7 different kinds —  grown by Perugian farmers. The third and last bowl was a Garbanzo bean soup. It was delicious as well, but by that point, I wasn’t surprised. For those of you who know my husband, Leon, you know that he hates beans…of any kind. Well, he totally dug this “trio of bean soups” from start to finish. That, in and of itself, was a little Italian miracle.

After the appetizer trio, I could have quit right there, but since this is Italy, I chose a homemade tortellini with pomodoro sauce as my main course, and Leon went with the grilled Italian cheese on bruschetta. Both were simple and delicate — perfect after the beautiful soups. I snuck into the kitchen to grab a quick photo of Chef Gino cooking. When he saw me, he laughed, grabbed something wrinkled and golden brown off the stove and thrust it at me to eat. “What is this?” I asked. He winked and said “grilled cheese.”  I laughed out loud and popped it into my mouth.  It was, of course, delicious, but more than that, the image of Gino shoving food at me with his bare hands while we stood in his kitchen is an image I will hold in my heart forever.  (I love Italians!) 

ORVIETO:

F2CD720F-D7A2-4D7D-A0C5-DD4A0517585F

Orvieto is a much smaller and more medieval village than Perugia — set at the top of either a very large hill or a very small mountain. It is utterly charming and has a buzz about it. People are constantly cruising the Corso: teenaged boys hitting on teenaged girls, tourists from all over doing some Christmas shopping and seeing the sights while old Italian friends spend their time wandering slowly and talking about their days.

The Duomo:

 

The Duomo in Orvieto is quite possibly the most beautiful duomo in Italy. The exterior is clad in horizontal stripes of black and white stone —  just like the Duomo in Siena. But here in Orvieto, the frescoes are so vivid they feel as if they were painted just a few years back instead of several hundred. The front of the cathedral is covered in bas relief sculptures and frescoes, while gold leaf twinkles off the paintings, catching the sunlight from every angle. Once inside, the overwhelming feeling is one of peace and quiet. Perhaps because it’s huge and almost completely empty, you feel almost tiny by comparison, but in a very good way, if that makes any sense. You are cloistered by the grandeur of the place and your insignificance within it.

The Food:

32392341-0FD7-4D19-A819-CF111E379261

Let me just tell you about one dish from Orvieto because you really don’t need another reason to come visit. There is a little cafe called Montanucci which has a dessert they lovingly call “Torte Della Nonna.” Picture the lightest butter-crumb crust topped with vanilla custard, layered with Marcona almonds and then “snowed over” with powdered sugar. Have a piece of Torte Della Nonna with a cappuccino and your day is made…I guarantee it. Heaven on a plate.

The Shopping:

CA2B0599-7E86-4152-A22B-DD112D4D8F39

The only souvenirs we bought here were a gorgeous Christmas ornament from Alessi of “The Old Man and the Sea” and a beautiful olive patterned ceramic sauce bowl with ladle. The main reason I bought that bowl is that it was the same pattern as our dear friends’ butter dish and I definitely wanted something to remember our time with them.

Speaking of friends, now to the highlight of our entire vacation…

MONTELEONE D’ORVIETO:

First impressions: The minute our train rolled to a stop at Fabro-Ficulle, we saw our beautiful Jan, waving like crazy and yelling “Buone sera!” We drove for a few miles to the top of a very tall rolling hill, and finally pulled up to the beautiful home overlooking their olive orchard. Honestly, it looks like something out of a story book: exquisite stonework and faultless attention to detail, right down to the white roses and the antique olive wagon in the front garden with the pale pink wagon wheels.

FA7A92DC-850D-46DA-8957-AC9C020E3738

Our first night Rosenda and Jan made a phenomenal floor picnic by the fire: red wine, bresaola, pecorino cheeses (three different ages), a crusty whole grain bread, tear-drop tomatoes and the biggest, greenest olives I’ve ever seen. To me they looked like dragon eggs.

Breakfast every morning was pretty much the same: eggs, freshly sliced toast, yogurt, homemade jam and coffee with freshly squeezed orange juice. Then we would start our day with some sort of long walk or day trip to another city.

The Truffle Lady:

OK. Hands down the cutest Italian we met so far was the truffle lady of Monteleone. She just looks like she ought to have her face on a bottle of spaghetti sauce — the stereotypical Italian “Nonna” who wants to feed her babies. I loved this woman. She runs the “Tartuffo Store” in Monteleone and cans and jars many of those sauces herself. Of course, while we were there, we bought a couple of jars of truffles preserved in oil to take home for dinner on a cold night in London.

Our Beautiful Friends:

This entire trip was planned so that we could spend time with our friends Rosenda and Jan. I had met Jan at Kalari Rasayana when I lived in India. In fact, there are a couple of articles about Jan on this same website. The minute I met Jan I felt like he must have been a brother in another life. He was a soulmate…a perfect gentleman who loved me instantly and wanted only the best for me. When he found out I was going to Dubai after I left the spa, he said “You MUST meet my beautiful wife Rosenda. You will LOVE her — and she will simply adore you.” So the next weekend, Rosenda and I met up in Dubai and spent an entire day wandering from gallery to gallery, eating lunch together, touring a chocolate factory and falling in love with our new friend.

Leon met Jan and Rosenda for the first time on New Year’s Day this year when we drove to Paris to see our other friends, Florence and Pascal. We celebrated New Year’s Eve with them and then spent all of New Year’s Day with Jan and Rosenda. Before the day was out we were planning to fly to Italy to help them with their olive harvest and the pressing of their own oil. In Italy Olive oil is life…it is very personal and it is something to be shared with your friends. Jan and Rosenda have about 250 olive trees so the harvest usually takes about 10 people about five days. So we immediately signed up to volunteer. For one reason or another, Jan and Rosenda decided to let the trees rest this year and not collect the olives for pressing. So instead we just spent our time together sightseeing and telling stories.

The highlights were plentiful: Leon gave Jan a dancing lesson, teaching him to waltz. The next morning, Jan came downstairs smiling that beautiful smile saying he dreamed he was dancing all night long in his sleep.

The four of us spent hours upon hours together over the past week just talking, laughing, walking, drinking wine and coffee — and telling the stories of our lives. We laughed, we cried, we cooked together, we ate together, we even fell silent and simply shared the space. And when we parted, it was more as family than as friends. And then the most amazing thing happened.

B66F2F57-0D8A-4030-B75A-EECCAEEE54EE

Jan and Rosenda’s friends, Mike and Penny Cartier came to stay for the weekend and we loved them too! They are funny and smart and easy-going. Mike has over 30 years as an ExPat from Minnesota and he and his wife, Penny (a Brit) live in the south of France right now and came to visit the olive trees — and of course, Rosenda and Jan.

We made each other laugh — a lot. And one of the best parts of the weekend was watching the Bromance the three boys fell into. They even went to the local cafe to get espressos on Sunday morning…no girls allowed.  It was so adorable watching the three of them walk off together like schoolmates that I took a quick photo to remember the feeling that all three wives had watching them stroll off together. We definitely hope Mike and Penny come visit us in London. We would love that!

The Food:

Rosenda is Italian — born and raised not more than 100 kilometers from Monteleone. Rosenda knows Italian food. She made us so many beautiful dishes while we were there: freshly-made tagliatelle bolognese, rack of lamb with garlic and rosemary, truffle risotto, vegetables and two beautiful picnic dinners in front of the fire and on fine linen. But the real joy was cooking with Rosenda, sharing the space, tasting and chatting and drinking good wine while we cooked. Cooking together is such an intimate way to be with a friend — and we treasured every moment of it.

Saying goodbye to our friends, new and old, was difficult. But we know we’ll see them again soon. There’s always the olive harvest next year!

Quote of the day:

Non si fa! (Translation – It’s just not done!)  Rosenda, being Italian, jokes that Italians are the “Taliban” of Food. There are many rules that Rosenda considers absolutely non-negotiable. ALWAYS use the very best olive oil you can get. You can NEVER get good olive oil from a factory…It’s made with olive dust. NEVER eat gelato in the winter. NEVER serve pasta at the same time as the main dish. ALWAYS serve wine with a meal. NEVER add tomato sauce to your beef ragu. (The list goes on and on.) Every time Leon or I would try to deviate from the proper procedure, we heard, “Non si fa!” (It’s just not done!)  I love that phrase. (I predict I’ll use it a lot in the future!)

Nothing could have been more wonderful than spending time with our beautiful Rosenda and Jan. We are so blessed to have such remarkable friends.

Advertisements

ITALY 2018 – FLORENCE

Random thoughts and Details of Florence…

First Impressions:

We got into Florence around 2pm. First stop was the hotel where they had upgraded us to a suite. (VERY good start to the vacation.) Then I found out they have memory foam mattresses and pillows which MADE the trip for me. (Best sleep I’ve had in a hotel in forever — seriously. I LOVED this bed!) Whenever we stay in Florence, we are staying at Firenze Hotel Number 9.

The Shopping: 

This was never really going to be a “shopping trip” per se. The trip itself was our Christmas present to each other. But of course there were a few things that we knew we wanted. I had already done some research, knowing the things we wanted to bring home to help remind us of Italy. My first score was a gorgeous pair of peacock blue leather gloves from Modova Gloves on the Ponte Vecchio.

9A7474D0-6C71-4578-84D5-7E075B4C3E9C

Then we headed over to Scuola del Cuoio (the school of leather artisans) to buy a handbag and a couple of leather belts. Leon scouted out a wonderful enoteca where he finally found a couple of bottles of limoncello for his bar. The only other thing we really wanted was a cute, little Christmas ornament to remind us of Florence. We finally found one at the Uffizi. (If you don’t do this yet when you travel, you really should. It turns your Christmas tree into a memory tree, reminding you of all the places you’ve been over the years, and of all the fun you’ve had together.) 

The Sights:

The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo):

5A10BE97-A6CE-47C1-A0A4-9B400374249A

We toured the church (which doesn’t take long) and lit candles for the boys (as always). It’s very austere and frankly, much more beautiful on the outside than the inside, although the vaulted ceilings and high arches do make the space seem to soar.

The Church of Santa Croce: 

 

This cathedral is MUCH more beautiful. Breathtaking really — Filled with stained glass, high arches and dozens of candles, it makes you feel the magic of faith. And it doesn’t hurt that Michelangelo’s tomb is here as well. I came especially to thank him for his beautiful work and lifelong commitment to the arts.

Gallerie dell’ Accademia di Firenze:

BEB2B3C4-1B5A-41C5-B2CE-9305E2C994D7

Well, anyone who knows me knows that I could NEVER come to Florence and not make a pilgrimage to the Accademia, home of the David and the unfinished sculptures of Michelangelo. (Frankly, after this stop, I could have gone home perfectly content.)

First off, the unfinished sculptures. There are six slaves in total but two live at the Louvre; the other four are here at the Accademia. (They were all destined for Pope Julius’ tomb, but never completed.) There is also one unfinished sculpture of Saint Matthew here as well though I don’t think he is nearly as powerful as the slaves. They, for some reason, feel tensed to the point of exhaustion. Stretching and straining to gain their freedom, they are sobering to study.

The thing that is so gorgeous (and heartbreaking) about these unfinished sculptures is how alive they feel. They look as though they were pushing their way out of the marble when they were frozen in place…trapped for eternity. “Exquisite torture” is the phrase that best describes them for me. Exquisite for us, torture for them. I won’t say looking at them makes me happy, but it does my soul good to be with them for a while.

4D9F1A09-40AF-47F4-8C94-AC0140EF470C

There is also a bust of Michelangelo by Daniele da Volterra which was actually made from a plaster mold of Michelangelo’s face after death. This “death masque” as it were, is haunting. This bronze is the genius in the flesh — the original thinker who transformed the Fine Art of sculpture. Michelangelo: the master stonecutter, the creator, the genius. Looking at this bust and realizing it was made from a cast of Michelangelo’s face after death makes me incredibly sad and also intimately acquainted with one of my heroes.

C4D13229-271B-4A47-891E-A4B97F709F73

My favorite piece in Florence, of course, is the David. How could it not be? The story behind it is a drama worthy of an opera. And the masterpiece itself is utterly captivating in its intensity. As for the drama though, Michelangelo was rescued by Lorenzo di Medici and raised as one of his own sons. Lorenzo gave him everything his father refused to: respect, love, power, support and opportunity. Michelangelo adored Lorenzo the Magnificent…how could he not?

But Michelangelo hated authority — and those who abuse it.  Lorenzo’s son, Ernesto, was a flat-out mobster, and this is where things began to shift for Michelangelo.

Right after stepping up to head the family, Ernesto called all the heads of all the most powerful families in Italy together for a meeting, and promptly had them all beheaded. The people of Florence began to resent his abuse of power, as did Michelangelo. And the David became a rallying cry for Florence — the little guy who could defeat the “giant” (the Medici family) and drive them out of Florence for good. It worked so well, in fact, that the Medicis were driven out of Florence for a few years. When they returned, Michelangelo feared for his life, going into seclusion, hoping to escape his own beheading. But Ernesto wasn’t all bad. He knew the world needed Michelangelo’s talent, so he sent word that Michelangelo was safe; there would be no retribution. So finally, the master-sculptor was able to come out of hiding. All was, if not forgiven, at least tolerated.

The thing I love more about the David than the story, however brilliant, is the work itself. The block of marble was 19-feet tall, but heavily veined and damaged. Two other sculptors had tried to work with it and failed miserably. Everyone thought it would be impossible to create anything intricate out of such a low-quality piece of marble.

But Michelangelo loved a challenge. He locked himself alone in a courtyard with that hunk of stone and a homemade scaffold — and for three years he tapped away, creating something that no one thought possible…a masterpiece.

Every detail from the veining in his hands, to the texture of the suede sling, to the dimpling of the knees is perfect. The intensity of David’s stare is chilling. And the hands…the hands are enormous, entirely out of proportion, which is, of course, by design. David had to have the hands of a giant-killer. The head is also  out of proportion because to defeat a giant, you must use not only your hands but your head as well.  David is the perfect mixture of humanity and the undying spirit of Florence.

The Uffizi Gallery and the Vasari Corridor:

 

It’s important to get a guided tour of the Uffizi. At the very least get an audio guide and only focus on the second floor. Otherwise you’ll kill yourself with culture. There are over 10,000 major works in the Uffizi and you simply cannot do them all in one day. We had a wonderful tour guide who showed us “the greatest hits” as it were, and it still took two hours. My favorites were the paintings by Leonardo and the giant plate by Michelangelo.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Room at the Uffizi: 

 

There are three really cool pieces that Leonardo had a hand in, one titled The baptism of Christ when he was just an apprentice, working alongside Raphael under their mentor and teacher, Andrea del Verrocchio. In one painting by the mentor, Leonardo painted the angel on the left and Raphael painted the angel on the right. I love that they are “in it” together.

In the second work, Adoration of the Magi, Leonardo has only completed about 80% of the painting, leaving the other figures as ghostly images, yet to be painted in. It’s hauntingly beautiful.

In the third piece, Leonardo’s The Annunciation, Leonardo has depicted the moment that the angel comes to Mary to tell her she is going to be the Virgin Mother to Jesus Christ. Since Leonardo was in the Priory, he didn’t believe this story and so he left two enormous clues telling the viewer that this was not a Virgin birth in his opinion.

The first clue is the large, red bed visible through the doorway to Mary’s right, hinting at the very human way that Leonardo believed Mary was impregnated. The second clue was the large opening to the garden in the background. In most annunciation paintings, there is a garden in the background but it is always walled on all four sides, illustrating that the “garden” was absolutely secluded, impossible for man to enter. In Leonardo’s, there is a nice, big opening. Leonardo loved is symbolism…always.

Now, onto the presentation plate by Michelangelo…

2B04A235-2947-4166-BA7F-B1980801E018

The story behind that presentation plate is fantastic and utterly Buonorotti. Michelangelo was commissioned to make this huge presentation plate for a rich silk merchant who wanted to give it to his wife (laden with fruit and flowers as was the custom of the time) in honor of his child’s birth. The fee agreed upon was 70 gold coins. However, when Michelangelo showed up with the piece, the merchant tried to haggle him down to 40, saying that the Virgin Mary was far too “buff” and he didn’t feel it was worthy of 70 gold coins. Michelangelo simply picked up the plate and left, without a word. Well, the silk merchant realized his mistake and went to Michelangelo’s house the next day, apologizing profusely, saying that he was a businessman and he was used to haggling over price. (It is what he did for a living, after all.) He handed Michelangelo the 70 gold pieces and said, “I hope you can forgive me, here is your payment in full.” Michelangelo said “Not to worry. All is forgiven. But 70 gold pieces was yesterday’s price. Today’s price is 140.” Needless to say, the merchant paid it.

The People of Florence: 

The staff at the hotel has felt like family from Day 1. Very sweet and helpful…eager to offer advice on the places locals love to eat, the best days and times for shopping and the best tours of the city. Everyone else has been very cordial though I’m not sure I would say warm.

The Food:

Oh my word…the food. Italy is the Motherland of all great food as far as I’m concerned. Food, wine, desserts — It just doesn’t get any better than Italy. We found a few locals’ haunts which we love to do whenever we travel. (We tend to stay away from the tourist traps at all costs.)

626BF812-263C-4C87-B52D-081730727FCD

We went to L’Antique Pizzeria da Michele for dinner. For those of you who do not remember, this is the place in Naples that is supposedly the best pizza in the world. It’s the reason in the book Eat, Pray, Love that Elizabeth Gilbert had to buy jeans two sizes bigger than the ones she came to Italy in. They only offer two kinds of pizza: Margarita and Marinara and two calzones. I had the Margarita pizza. Leon had a smoked ham and ricotta calzone and we shared a bottle of Chianti. A perfect evening.

78AC9CAF-5C66-4CB0-A935-C4B0B6B91961

We were lucky enough to find Ara e Sicilia, a tiny little hole in the wall place with freshly made cannoli to order. They pump the cream in and “build” the cannoli at your request. Well, it made me feel like I’d never had a real cannoli before. Absolute heaven.

But the best spot for food that we discovered was a local haunt outside the city center called  I’Brindellone. Leon, the happy carnivore, ordered the Bistecca Firenze (a t-bone the size of a baseball mitt) and I ordered freshly-made tagliatelle with cream and truffles with a side of sautéed spinach. (I have to admit, I had a moment over the truffle pasta.) As usual, we split a bottle of the House Red and relaxed into a perfect meal. If there is anything Italy does better than pasta, I have no idea what it is.

Funny Stories: 

B7886AD0-B901-4836-9233-587BD8AE1A08

At dinner one night, we met a couple of actors from New York who were visiting Italy after finishing a season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The four of us talked non-stop for two hours. I’m sure the locals at the restaurant hated us, but I don’t care. I even relived my glory days at Studio 54 and the Limelight. Very trippy journey down memory lane.

Special Moment of the Day: 

7C0020B3-3AB2-43D3-ACB9-8B7FA4E2FDEC

There is something completely other-worldly — that makes me so proud to be an American. When during the course of our travels to another country, we find a cool, live music club, and all they play all night long is American, classic rock. We heard guitar takes on Prince, AC/DC, Alanis Morissette, Phil Collins, Bob Marley, Bill Withers, and the Eagles. I loved EVERY second. The perfect ending to a perfect day.

Quote of the Day:

Now. I completely understand the movie quote from The Godfather“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” Once you’ve tasted one, you would NEVER let one go to waste…even in the aftermath of a murder. 

Love & Bananas

 

It’s not often that you get to see one of your true heroes in action, so having the chance to go to the London premier of a film based on the work of my only living hero was a day that I will hold in my heart forever.

You might remember my earlier articles about Lek Chailert and her tireless efforts to save the Asian elephant. Having devoted her life to the plight of abused elephants, she conceived, built and developed Asia’s most highly regarded wild animal rescue and sanctuary (Elephant Nature Park).  I volunteered at ENP for a week last year, and it changed me forever.  I recommend it to everyone I meet. It has brought me more joy than any single thing I’ve ever done in my life.

As the founder of ENP, Lek is now the focus of a new film that feels more like a nail-biting adventure  than a documentary. The movie debuted very recently —  In fact, it is hitting the United States right about now. (And the fact that Lek was at the private party with me before the premier — and actually remembered me, will keep my soul floating for weeks.). 

As I have said before on many occasions, “Once you have seen an elephant just being an elephant…you never want them to do anything else.” Well, there is finally a way for you to experience that beauty for yourself. There is finally a film that makes you feel like you are there with Lek…running a life-or-death rescue.

“Love & Bananas” focuses on one 70-year old, partially blind elephant named Noi Nah and on Lek’s relentless efforts to save her life. If they can get her safely to Elephant Nature Park, she’ll be able to live out the rest of her days without chains — in a place filled with love and sunshine.

I often refer to Lek Chailert as the “biggest” tiny person I ever met. At just under five feet tall and about 80 pounds, she has gone toe-to-toe with criminals, animal abusers, government bureaucracies and tourism conglomerates. She’s done all of this to defend wildlife in general — and Asian elephants in particular.

Despite so many arrests that she’s spent half her life in and out of court…despite almost constant death threats…despite the physical, financial and emotional harassment by those who make their money out of abusing elephants for tourist side shows and logging…

Despite all this, Lek Chailert has managed to rehabilitate hundreds of elephants. She has healed not only the broken bodies of these magnificent animals, but their spirits as well.  Hundreds of frightened and abused elephants have blossomed under her fierce determination and gentle care. Many of these elephants have been at the brink of death when they were rescued, some have killed humans in the past while attempting to escape their tortured existence. Lek has utterly changed them through her simple belief that love cures all ills.

The title of the film, “Love & Bananas” comes from Lek’s philosophy on elephant rehabilitation. It’s her belief that all elephants can be rehabilitated, no matter the mental issues, no matter the abuse and fear. All elephants can be rehabilitated through a combination of love…and bananas.

It is through Lek’s kindness and compassion for the abusers that she is able to change their behavior. She understands that the situation is complicated, that the abusers are doing what they feel they have to in order to feed their families. So she patiently educates them on other ways to make money from elephants without harming them.

Lek has seen things that can never be unseen, and she has witnessed them all without judgment or hatred. Rather than simply screaming in the dark, she is hoping to find a way to convince the abusers to show more compassion through painstaking education. In some cases, this education requires multiple visits over the course of several years — in the hope that eventually something will click, and the abusers will see a better way.

The thing that makes me love Lek with all my heart…love her to the point of weeping when I think about her, is that she makes these rescue trips over and over again, knowing the elephants that the abusers give up are the ones most likely to die. Still, she moves heaven and earth to rescue each one. She knows that she can’t change the plight of all animals everywhere, but for the one animal she’s rescuing or rehabilitating that day, she has changed one life forever…And for her, that’s all that matters.

This film will make you believe that anything is possible with just a little bit of love and compassion. It will send your spirit soaring. And who doesn’t need a little bit of that these days?

Please look for this documentary at an art house cinema near you. Take a friend…make a day of it. Look for it on Youtube or Netflix or Amazon…even public television. Do yourself a favor and go on an adventure vacation with Lek Chailert to rescue an elephant, and remember…Anything can be accomplished with love…and bananas.

 

NOTES: If you’d like to see a trailer from the film “Love & Bananas” please click here. https://youtu.be/IitDac8aUJo

If you’d like to learn more about Elephant Nature Park to see how you could help these magnificent creatures, please click here. https://www.elephantnaturepark.org

If you have 30 seconds to sign a petition to Save the Asian Elephant please go click here. https://stae.org

If you’d like to see why Elephant Nature Park is thought of as the Adventure Trip of a Lifetime, and given five stars by almost 10,000 people on TripAdvisor, please click here to read reviews.  https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g293917-d601884-Reviews-Elephant_Nature_Park-Chiang_Mai.html

 

50 Years of Friendship

 

About 50 years ago I made a friend in elementary school. (I can’t believe I’m actually old enough to say that.)

Anyway, she was one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen — a California baby with golden hair that reflected the light and a baby face that made everyone’s heart skip a beat. Her name was Shelley, and she was my very best friend…the kind you only make when either very young or very old. 

It felt as if our hearts beat together with the same rhythm. We played together endlessly, loved each other unconditionally, cheered each other’s happiness and cried at all the same things.

One of my favorite memories from childhood is when Shelley and I were about 7 or 8 years old. We decided to break into the Guinness Book of World Records. I had a Teeter Totter in my back garden, so she and I made six or seven of the worst ham sandwiches imaginable, stuck them in an enormous grocery sack and carried them out to the swing set. 

We started swinging back and forth on that old Teeter Totter, wondering how many days we would be able to keep going with our sandwiches to carry us through. We even made up a theme song to the tune of The Carpenters “For All We Know,” “Teeter…look at the two of us. Totter…isn’t it fun?”   I think we lasted all of 20 minutes. Then we went inside to watch television. Thinking back on that day still makes me a little weepy…remembering how innocent and funny we were. Feeling like the entire world was ours for the taking.

Of course, life moves along. How can it not? Tragedies happened in my family and in hers. She drifted her way and I drifted mine. We became interested in different things, and by high school we were living in different circles. Shelley was the cheerleader that all the boys wanted to date. I was a foot taller than every boy in high school so dating no one there, and as a result, completely focused on theater, dance and drill team. 

About five years ago, we reconnected through Facebook. But, as I’ve been living in three other countries during that time, we’d only been able to get together for dinner with a small group of friends four or five times since we reconnected. Not much time to do anything but ask the basic “catch up” questions. “How are you?” “How are the kids?” “How is life these days?” “Where have you traveled lately?” Etc…

That is until about a month ago when Shelley messaged me and said, “I’m coming to visit you in London.” Of course I was thrilled, I’ve been asking her to come for years. But secretly I was a little worried. What if we didn’t have anything in common anymore? What if we had nothing to talk about? What if…What if…What if?   

Well, as it turns out, there was absolutely NO need to worry.

From the moment she walked in the door of my flat, we were those same two giggly little girls again, with our own secret language, not needing to finish our sentences because we knew the other person had already finished them in her head. We talked at the same time, laughed like school girls and even cried at all the same things again. It felt like our hearts were beating with the same rhythm within an hour of our time together. 

I’ve had more belly laughs in just this last week with her than I’ve had in the past 15 years. And since we both hate, hate, HATE saying goodbye, when she left we both just said “See ya.”  And then the minute she got in the taxi and drove off, I burst into tears.

I feel like I not only rediscovered an old friend, but a part of myself as well. I found that goofy, funny little girl who was all heart, all love and all innocence. I rediscovered that little girl is powerful and confident and incredibly fun. I rediscovered that the world is full of possibilities.

Best of all, I rediscovered that sometimes the best friends of your life are the ones whose hearts beat with the same rhythm as yours.  Shelley and I are like twins separated at birth. She’s a part of me and I’m a part of her. Before she left, we made plans for her to come back for another visit in December — maybe.   I’m praying she does…I miss her already.

I’ve been so blessed to have incredible women friends throughout my life. Leesy, Diane and Joy (and a few others) are like sisters to me, woven together into the fabric of my life. They know how much they are loved — how much they mean to me.  I’m writing this, though, because I’m just so grateful to have rediscovered my beautiful Shelley.

I love you, Teeter.  Come back soon.

Why Do We Do It?

56FF2999-B755-48CA-B427-D52E432D425A

Rough day today.  I’m going through something that I know a lot of other women are dealing with as well. My self-esteem is at rock bottom. Weight is an enemy that I fight on a daily basis. I confess I’m tired of it. I’m tired of feeling fat — and worthless as a result.  I realize that this has been a chronic feeling for most of my life going back as early as I can remember. 

I know I’m not the only woman who has had these feelings haunt her. I’ve watched too many of my friends cry about it, crash diet through it, take pills over it, and feel defeated when those things fail. We learn to hate ourselves when we can’t get our weight down to some imaginary size that to us means we’re good enough.  I am furious on behalf of all of us who were conditioned from childhood to equate our value with our smallness as if that were the only thing that mattered…as if it mattered at all. 

I look over photos of myself all the way back to high school when my measurements were 36” 26” 36” and I remember feeling humiliated by my size even then.  I remember a story my mom used to tell about me from when I was 6 years old. I was worried because I thought my knees were fat. (My legs were so thin at that age, I suppose my knees looked big by comparison. Photo to follow.)

Why does our society do this to women? Why do we do this to our girls? Why don’t we instead speak to our girls of contribution and power, of strength and health instead of judging them for their size…instead of teaching them by our example to try to be less?  Why do we praise women for how small they have gotten —  or how much of themselves they lose? 

Right now I hate the thoughts running around inside my head. And I hate the realization that this tape has been playing for decades upon decades.

When will I grow up?   Will I ever?

If I could change anything about myself it would be that. I know this post is short and it’s not the most fun to read, but right now this is what I’m dealing with…and I’ll lay odds I’m not the only one.

(NOTE: I’m adding some photos to the bottom of this article that were taken at times I was sure I was fat — just to show how insidious and how insane this issue is.  The final photo was taken on my wedding day. When I went to a bridal boutique to pick out a wedding dress, the sales lady smirked and told me that I was FAR too big to fit in any of the store’s samples…I left in tears. Of course I eventually found a beautiful dress in another shop, but by then I felt horrible about myself. Looking back at this last photo taken on my wedding day, I wonder how I could have let that idiot make me feel so ugly  and so worthless just because she thought I was “huge.”    Each and every one of these photos reminds me of the old saying, “I wish I were as fat as the first time I thought I was fat.) 

A3B2AF53-1FD7-4792-BC5F-624A64476EF53761CB0C-D488-4765-A797-91609DF29C280915FB60-2630-4D82-823A-FD38A69E85731C6C2E41-E1B8-4C4F-895D-0C8D0110362E106428F9-997E-41A8-B2B1-B58606698646A914484A-5531-4306-AB74-DF0D3911EF4EE3A54F54-9E31-41A9-A995-8A6F87DDA0A8E7D94035-9610-4541-AAB6-A3E873D8E97D

Soulmates

 

IMG_2065IMG_2064

You know that feeling you get when you’re able to spend time with someone you haven’t seen in years? Someone who genuinely loves you for exactly who you are? Lucky me…I got to do that yesterday! Leon and I spent an entire day with one of my favorite people in the world, Carlton D. Baker II, and his wonderful wife, Michele. I’ve known Carlton for about 35 years. We met at my sorority house at Southern Methodist University right after I pledged. (He was a little brother for the sorority, and one of the first people I met there…I’ve loved him ever since.)  Anyway, he and Michele were vacationing in Paris and took 14 hours away from that incredibly romantic city to spend a day just hanging out with us in London. We did all sorts of fun, touristy things that Leon and I don’t normally do. All in all, it was a simple, perfect day.

The weather was clear and sunny (wellsunny for London, anyway!) Since it wasn’t terribly cold, walking around the city was actually fun. We had a full schedule of things to do together, all of which allowed us to talk the entire time. Honestly, it doesn’t get any better than that.

We met Carlton and Michele’s train at St. Pancreas station. Then the four of us caught the tube over to Covent Garden where we poked around in antique shops, bookstores, and even art galleries. Michele bought herself a set of vintage “Alice in Wonderland” prints in a Lewis Carroll bookstore filled with dusty, old first editions.

We almost walked right past a tiny, old hat shop, lined floor to ceiling with fedoras in every color. Carlton is a total “hat guy” so we all went inside to play dress up. I tried on a teal-colored Trilby that made Leon stop dead in his tracks. He said it made me look just like Catherine Zeta-Jones in the movie “Red 2.” The next thing I knew, out came his credit card. (I’m guessing he has a secret thing for CZJ.)

One of the nicest parts of the day was getting to know Michele a little better. I’ve always loved her simply because of how happy she made Carlton, but this visit gave me the chance to get to know her better, and I saw first hand how cool she really is. She’s one of those great 1940s-style women, like a black & white film star who’s a true “broad” in the best sense of the word (picture Barbara Stanwick). Completely comfortable in her own skin, she’s down to earth and easy to be with. Michele is calm and smart and pulls no punches. Best of all, she’s a beautiful example of what confidence in a woman should look like. Needless to say, I liked her…a lot.

The four of us wandered around Covent Garden a while longer, ending up at B Bakery where we had reservations for High Tea. Every single bite was delicious: soft, buttery scones with clotted cream, bacon sandwiches, passion fruit & mango tarts, raspberry & chocolate macarons, butter cookies with cream cheese frosting, dark chocolate mini-cupcakes. (And I thought the French were the kings of pastry!)

After we were completely high on sugar, we walked to Windsor Pier so we could show Carlton and Michele Parliament and Elizabeth Tower. Then we all boarded a boat for the slow cruise down the Thames to Tower Pier which lets off right at Borough Market. We did a bit of the farmer’s market thing and then hugged goodbye at least three or four times before finally separating for the time being. We even made plans for them to come back sometime in the next year when they can actually stay with us for a few days! I can hardly wait.

This visit reminded me how important it is to cherish your soulmates, those few people throughout your life who always see your soul, rather than your looks — who always speak to the best part of who you are. Those are the people who make you feel like you are perfect just as God made you.

True soulmates can float into your life in a romantic way, of course. But they can also find you as family or even friends. The wonderful thing is that you can have more than one soulmate in your lifetime. I’ve had a few, and Carlton is definitely one of them. Every minute spent with him is something I treasure.

I have a question for you. Who have been your soulmates over the years? Take a moment out of your day to write or phone them. Take the time to tell them just how much they mean to you. If you’ve lost track of them completely, google them and try to reconnect that way.

Believe me…telling someone how much you love them will always make you feel grateful. And that…is a very good thing.

IMG_2061IMG_2059IMG_2057

Notes: If you’d like to know more about B Bakery, here’s a link to their website:   https://b-bakery.com

 

Crazy Travel Stories – The Maldives

 

 

Inspired by my friend, Marti Baker, who is also a world traveler, I decided to write down some of my crazier travel stories. Here’s the first.

On our New Year’s trip to the Maldives last year, our adorable pilots showed up in flip flops and shades. They flew the plane barefoot, texting on their iPhones the entire flight. (I found this charming rather than terrifying, probably because I knew at some point I would be writing about it.)

Then during the water landing, they basically “crashed” into the water — so hard  that I was thrown across the aisle and landed in the lap of the man next to me.

There I am, with my head IN his lap and I look up…eye to eye with his wife. All I could do was say “I’m just so sorry. So sorry.”

THAT…was a moment.