Enjoy YOUR Slice of Life!
Enjoy this collection of articles that will educate, inform and lift your spirit of adventure for travel!
Wild Ride with Mildred and Me...
A land rover lumbers along a rugged road on the SerengetiMy newspaper publisher suggested one day that I should travel with a tour group -- he didn't care where - so I could sense what tour travel is all about. So I selected an African excursion that promised many wild animals, inspiring geography, superb food and adventuresome companions.Alas. This last attraction included a woman from Brooklyn named Mildred whom I came to think of as Mildew. Mildred had never met a man (or a woman) she didn't dislike. She sat beside me in the Land Rover. As we bounced she elbowed me in the ribs: "Look at that guy! Makes Porky Pig look skinny!" or "She's so wrinkled she has to screw her hat on!" or (as the driver nearly squashed a senior citizen), "She'd make a nice large grease spot!"
As the days drifted past, I became obsessed with Mildred. (In my mind I called her Millstone.) Why was she in Africa, anyway? Did her family send her off hoping she'd be run down by a rhino? I began to resent Mildred. (In my mind, I called her Millipede.) Why did she always plop down, like a great insect, next to me? Did all those attractive people think we were friends? Clearly, nobody spotting her was about to join us. If I killed her, would anybody notice?
Mildred wore the same clothes in Africa she wore in Brooklyn: house dresses. (I hadn't seen a house dress in years.) They were all the same, in different colors, and when she sat down she showed about two inches of pasty flesh between her hose and her dress hem. It was difficult not to stare at that space.
The first day in the Land Rover in Tanzania we saw wildebeests those ugly, primitive creatures that seem to have been put together by mistake. Wildebeests! Wildebeests!" Mildred shouted, jabbing me so I couldn't steady my camera's long lens. Fortunately, her attention span was short. Only 15 minutes after we had beheld our first, vast herd, a veritable tumult of wildebeest trotted by and I kept my telephoto aimed.
Wildebeests run wild on the Serengeti Plain
"What are you doing?" she asked, bored. "Shooting wildebeests!" I trumpeted. "Yuh," she said.
High in the clouds and chill above the Serengeti Plain, we enjoyed frigid little rooms in a comfortless inn where the miniscule heaters were not to be used lest they explode. Nonetheless, I had witnessed thousands of wildebeests, zebra, gazelle, and bevies of other beasts in their annual migration, and I was as high as an elephant's eye.
Next day, we arose at dawn to breakfast in a kind of camp commons and to be transported (in more ways than one) back to the floor of the seething Serengeti. As I opened my door, a zebra almost nuzzled my nose. "Zebra! Zebra!" They drew close, like cats, and like cats they studied me. Since childhood, I'd coveted one and now here they were, cropping the green carpet.
Carefully, quietly, I sneaked toward coffee, snapping off shots of zebra at their grassy meal, zebra old and zebra young, zebra gamboling, stiff-legged, in the intense morning light.
Zebras romp freely on the Serengheti
Mildred trapped me in the commons. "You know whaaat?" she shrieked. "I heard all this huffing and puffing and there were zebras on my doorstep! I never!"
"Just think, Mildred," I replied. "You could write a book about it and sell it in Brooklyn. Zebra on My Doorstep."
"Your doorstep," she sniffed. "Not mine!"
The trip ended. I never saw Mildred again, but I looked up her name in the dictionary. It's from Old English words meaning "mild" and "strength."
Well, they got it half right.
A Sense of Travel with Georgia Hesse - November 2011
Master Artworks on Display in San Francisco
"The Summer of Stein," this 2011 season has been; perhaps it could be called also "When Pablo Met Gertrude at Midnight." Both Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso played characters who slipped out of their time and into ours through the magic of movie director Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris." On May 12, Gertrude, with Alice B. Toklas and an artistic pack including Picasso, moved home to Northern California from Paris, first into the Contemporary Jewish Museum ("Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories") and then on May 21 to SFMOMA ("The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde"). [Attention! Both these worthies will be over on Sept. 6.]
Pablo Picasso's portrait of "Gertrude Stein" 1905-06
Picasso came to town by himself on June 11, bringing to the de Young 150 masterpieces: paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints from Paris' Musée National Picasso, which - happily for San Franciscans -- is undergoing extensive renovations. He'll welcome visitors through Oct. 9. His mastery of several schools of painting includes works from his Blue and Rose Periods, in addition to Expressionism, Cubism, Neoclassicism, and both proto-Surrealism and Surrealism itself.
Further to please Picasso and his enthusiasts, the Bowles Porcelain Gallery at the Legion of Honor displays a small selection of ceramics created by Pablo and drawn from the collection of the two Fine Arts Museums. The gallery exhibition will run through Dec. 11.
"Give me a museum and I'll fill it," the self-assured Spaniard once said. Indeed.
Nicolaes Maes' "Sleeping Man Having His Pocket Picked" from the Boston Museum
Our city has been blessed with an avalanche of artistic riches in 2011. On July 9, 70 Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-Marie and Eijk (pronounced Ike) van Otterloo Collection found places on the walls of the Legion and will grace us through Oct. 2. These stunners constitute one of the world's finest private treasuries of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish portraits, still lifes, history paintings, landscapes, maritime and genre scenes and city profiles.
Rembrandt's "Portrait of Aeltje Uylenburgh" from 1632
Some old friends are here - Frans Hals, Rembrandt (with a matchless "Portrait of Aeltje Uylenburgh" from 1632), Salomon van Ruysdael, Jan Steen - but there are many surprises on show as well. Nicolaes Maes' "Sleeping Man Having His Pockets Picked" elicited chuckles from one viewer to the next; Hendrick Avercamp's "Winter Landscape Near a Village" delights with its informal intimacy of a small town (rubber boots poke atop grey gateposts), and the tiniest, coldest dog in Christendom shivers almost visibly in Aert van der Neer's "Winter Landscape With Figures in a Snowstorm." A close look at David Teniers the Younger's "The Temptation of Saint Anthony" reveals an old procuress wearing a white headscarf with twin horns pricking through it. She presents to the saint a richly-dressed woman who offers him a glass of wine. Only the careful observer will spot beneath the hem of her gown a scaly little tail and clawed feet revealing the lady's real identity.
.Hendrick Avercamp's "Winter Landscape Near a Village"
Dr. Lynn Federle Orr, curator of European art for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (the de Young and Legion of Honor) speaks to the attraction of the Dutch-Flemish exhibition: "In the paintings of the Dutch Golden Age, we sense the achievements of a cohesive society, the benefits of honest labor, the warmth of a spare but comfortable home, the quiet beauty of a productive landscape. And occasionally we see ourselves (and our foibles) in the delightful antics depicted in Dutch genre scenes."
It's a sublime show.
Tomb of Jean sans Peur and wife Marguerite (foreground) with The Mourners around the base. The tomb in back is that of Philippe le Hardi (the Bold), Jean's father and the First Duke of Burgundy
Meanwhile, on Aug. 21, 37 petit people took over galleries 1 and 2 of the Legion and will occupy them until New Year's Day, 2012. They are The Mourners (pleurants in French), tomb sculptures released from their arcade of niches at the base of the ornate tomb of John the Fearless (Jean sans Peur), second Duke of Burgundy, and his wife, Marguerite of Bavaria. The figures, each standing about 16 inches high, move slowly in creamy alabaster around the tomb, seemingly as sorrowful in procession today as when they were born in the 15th century.
These are not heroic followers, stoic in stone like Greek or Roman heros who escorted their leaders into an antique Afterworld. They could - except for their robes and cowls - have been born yesterday. Yet they come to us on their first trip away from Burgundy in 555 years. Their grief is striking and familiar.
"We cannot help but be struck by the emotion they convey," says Sophie Jugle, director of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon, "...weeping, praying, singing, lost in thought, giving vent to their grief, or consoling their neighbor. Mourning, they remind us, is a collective experience, common to all people and all moments in history."
Each mourner, moreover, is a masterpiece in its own self. One might have expected that their backs, never revealed over centuries, would be flat, empty of detail, the better to establish their adherence to the tomb. Yet each is a small perfection, an individual with robes caped about as if meant to be seen in the round, every whit as complete as a sculpture of Michelangelo.
These wonders of the late Middle Ages might make you shed a tear. More likely, they will make you smile at their perfection.
A Sense of Travel with Georgia Hesse - September 2011
World's First "Road Trip"
This year's with-it code for vacationing Americans, especially for families, is "road trip." That very expression may seem redundant to Americans born before the 1950s. Back then, almost every trip was a drive down a road; what else?
"Jet-setting" became à la mode in 1952 when BOAC gave birth to the first commercial jet service aboard a de Havilland Comet liner between London and Johannesberg. Today, the romantic bloom on that particular rose has faded. Almost nobody except a private pilot flies for fun anymore.
"Road Trip" movie poster (2000)
In recent parlance, "Road Trip" has referred to a 2000 comedy film starring somebody named Breckin Meyer, a music album by the pop group called Girl Authority, an episode from the TV series Parks and Recreation, a video game known as Road Trip Adventure, one of the computer animated series "Father of the Pride," and even some concert CDs by the Grateful Dead.
Scholars tell us the first recorded road trip was undertaken by the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II about 3,256 years ago who drove all night in his chariot from Memphis, the ancient capital 15 miles or so south of today's Cairo, to join a battle - maybe in Syria?
In 2011, we celebrate the road trip Year of Bertha Benz. Who?
In early August, 1888, brave Bertha took off from Mannheim, Germany, in her husband Karl's recent invention, the three-wheeled Benz Patent-Motorwagen, accompanied by sons Richard (age 14) and Eugen (15). She had claimed she wanted only to visit her mother, but in reality she was executing a grand public relations coup. Karl, although, like many geniuses, masterful in creativity and craftsmanship, lacked practicality and a drive for self-promotion.
Bertha Benz in 1888, Benz Patent MotorwagenRich people who might have bought the Benz doubted its reliability. So, without consulting Karl, Bertha bundled her sons aboard and started out: a lone woman with two children daring to challenge the open road.
And what a road! The ruts ran 64 miles from Mannheim to Pforzheim across fields cut by two-wheeled, horse-drawn carriages while the front wheel of the motorcar bumped over treacherous turf sliced by horses' hooves. Not only did a GPS navigation system not exist; there weren't even road signs. Naturally enough, gas stations were notable for their absence and Karl had driven only a short distance on his town's paved streets.
Route driven by Bertha Benz in 1888 from Mannheim to Pforzheim (Red) and Pforzheim to Mannheim (Blue)So what did Mother and her sons do? They stopped at the Stadt-Apotheke, a pharmacy in Weisloch, about halfway along the route, and filled up with Ligroin, a detergent that served as a fuel at the time. Thus, that pharmacy became the world's first filling station. It still exists. Bertha faced other blocks. A blacksmith had to mend a chain in Bruchsal. Brake linings were replaced in Bauschlott/ Neulingen. The wizardly wife even employed a long, straight hairpin to clean a fuel pipe and a garter to insulate a wire.
The top speed of the Patent-Motorwagen clocked in at 10 m.p.h. Bertha and the boys, who had departed at dawn, stroked to a stop just as dusk fell over the village near Stuttgart, and telegraphed the news of their arrival to Karl. They stayed three days and then drove back again, having startled and scared several people along their way.
Portrait of Bertha Benz
Benz died at home in Mannheim in 1929, after his Benz & Cie had joined Daimler Motorengeseilschaft. Benz and Daimler never met. In an autobiography, Karl Benz is quoted as writing: "In those days when our little boat of life threatened to capsize, only one person stood steadfastly by me, my wife. She bravely set new sails of hope."
That resolute woman died in 1944, aged 95.
Bertha wound her way near several Roman roads in the Upper Rhine Plain, for example the Bergstrasse (Mountain Road) along the feet of the Odenwald and into a vale that leads to the Black Forest. The star city en route is Heidelberg. Bertha didn't like steep mountains much, so obediently the highway leads home along the banks of the river Rhine.
Heidelberg on the World's Oldest Automobile Route
Although the Bertha Benz Memorial Route debuted as a Scenic Route on Feb. 25, 2008, and rolls 120 miles between Frankfurt and Baden-Baden through some of Germany's finest winelands, it is being celebrated on Sept. 10 and 11 this year during the Bertha Benz Challenge in Automobilesommer 2011, an event open only to vehicles operating with alternative drive systems - hybrid and electric vehicles, hydrogen and fuel cells. The motto is: Sustainable Mobility on the World's Oldest Automobile Road.
Mercedes-Benz reached its 125th birthday in January of this year.
A Sense of Travel with Georgia Hesse - August 2011
On Exhibit: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso
Picasso Exhibit: Masterpieces from the Musée National
Picasso, Paris at the de Young Museum through Oct 9, 2011
(Photo by Jennifer Hus / Fine Arts Museums of SF. Other photos by Andrew Fox)
"I paint the way some people write their autobiography. The paintings, finished or not, are the pages from my diary, and as such they are valid."
"The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls."
"The older you get, the stronger the wind gets - and it's always in your face." -- Pablo Picasso
The Kiss 1969
Pablo Picasso Portrait 1954
Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de las Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso was born in Málaga, Spain, on Oct. 25, 1881, and died on April 8, 1973, in Mougíns, France, while entertaining friends with his wife, Jaqueline Roque. His last words were said to have been "Drink to me, drink to my life, you know I can't drink anymore."
If not every art critic cottons to Picasso, they all agree his talents were as extravagant as his name. As the artist explains it (so modestly!), "My mother said to me, `If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.' Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso."
Pablo Picasso Self-Portrait 1906
For decades, travelers would seek out Picassos wherever they wandered on the globe: from Madrid, Münster, or Malaga to Berlin or Barcelona or even Chicago and Cleveland, not to mention Halmstad and Tehran. Shortly following its appearance in 1937, the mighty, anti-war "Guernica" was displayed in the S.F.Museum of Art (today's SFMOMA). San Franciscans now have the opportunity to explore the world of "Picasso's Picassos," at the de Young Museum (opened June 11, closing Oct. 9, 2011).
This exhibition of 150+ works comes to us from the Musée National Picasso in Paris, chaperoned by its general conservator Anne Baldassari, while its home, the 17th-century Hôtel Salé in Paris' Marais district, is being renovated. It will reopen in 2012.
Tête de Taureau (Bull's Head) 1942
There's no question that Picasso is a puzzler to some eyes. He may even be a "trickster," a creature out of Celtic mythology, capable of transforming one entity into another, as a broken bicycle becomes a bull's head. Debris - a wicker basket, two ceramic jugs, palm fronds, metal scraps metamorphose miraculously into a she-goat. (Using such "found objects" is an art form in itself.) Art historian Kerrin Meis, lecturing at Book Passage in Corte Madera, pronounces Picasso "the master scavenger."
La Chevre (The Goat) 1950
Naturally, Pablo had something to say about the creation of beasts: "God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant and the cat. He has no real style, He just goes on trying other things."
Two Women Running on the Beach (The Race) 1922
Picasso loved painting women as much as he loved women. Of the apparently countless petites-amies in his long life, no fewer than 10 (of whom he married two) made their ways into his art, several of whom star in this show: Fernande Olivier (first long-term relationship, Rose Period, although married she lived with him for seven years); Marcelle Humbert aka Eva Gouel (died young due to cancer or tuberculosis); Gaby Lespinasse (a mistress even while Eva was ill and Picasso still writing "I love Eva" into paintings); ballerina Olga Khokhlova (Pablo's first wife, mother of his son Paulo).
Portrait of Dora Maar 1937
And the beat went on: Marie-Thérèse Walter (age 17, she lived with the artist in a flat across the street from Olga, still his wife, and she gave birth to Maya, inspiration for many of the Vollard Suite etchings); Dora Maar (Yugoslavian photographer who documented "Guernica," the mighty Spanish Civil War work); Françoise Gilot (art student aged 22 to the painter's 62, mother of Claude and Paloma Picasso, published "Life With Picasso" later, married American physician Jonas Salk of Salk vaccine); Genèvieve Laporte (she 24, he 70 and living with Françoise); Jacqueline Roque (she 27, he 72, she became his second wife eight years later).
Picasso created more artworks of Jaqueline than of his other loves, painting more than 70 portraits of her in one year. One stand-out in the de Young is "Jacqueline With Crossed Hands" (1954), whose head resembles a sphinx. There are several paintings and sketches of Dora Maar, including a brilliantly colorful one in which - as Kerrin Meis noted - she has "really great nail polish."
Portrait of Olga in an Armchair 1918
Those viewers who complain that Picasso really couldn't draw/paint people, will want to study a stunner of Olga, his first wife (1918), seated in an armchair and appearing almost classical.
Perhaps no artist working in the 20th century was half as prolific as Picasso. His total output of work has been estimated at 50,000, counting paintings, sculptures, ceramics, drawings, prints, numerous tapestries and rugs. If that count is correct and if Pablo started producing at age seven (when he began formal training with his father, a professor of art), he would have completed 1.61 works each day, seven days a week, until his death at age 92. (In truth, according to his mother, young Pablo's first words were "piz, piz,"short for "lápiz" or pencil.)
How did he find time for all those ladies?
The Bathers 1918
Critics who enjoy categorizing art divide Picasso's creations into at least nine "schools": academic realism, modernism, Blue Period, Rose Period, African Period (1907-1909), cubism, neoclassicism, surrealism, neo-expressionism.
"Did Picasso have any competitors during the 20th century for prolificity," I asked Kerrin Meis. "No," she answered. "He did everything first and did it best."
Nota bene: For information on "Picasso's Picassos" exhibition at the de Young Museum, including evening viewings, reserving tickets (dated and timed), click on www.famsf.org. To watch a progression of Picasso portraits from one style to another, Google Picasso Philip Scott Johnson. To learn about the accusations made against Picasso and the poet Appollinaire for stealing the Mona Lisa in 1911, Google Picasso the story behind the theft of the Mona Lisa; it's a rollicking good tale.
There's a plentitude of Picassos in San Francisco this summer. Across town from the de Young in Golden Gate Park, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (151 Mission Street between Mission and Howard) displays the showy "The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde." It includes 45 Picassos (opened May 21, last day Sept. 6). The Contemporary Jewish Museum ( 736 Mission Street ) adds to the fun with "Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories," where Picasso puts in another appearance (May 12-September 6).
A Sense of Travel with Georgia Hesse - July 2011
It's About Time!
View from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich
Guess what the most important city in the world may be in this 21st century: 1. Washington, D.C.; 2. Paris; 3. London; 4. Beijing; 5.Greenwich.
And, the winner is... #5, Greenwich, a medium-sized English town (pop. 23,000) just 5.1 miles southeast of London's Westminster Pier as the Thames River rolls.
At least it seems so when you stand there at Longitude Zero (0° 0' 0") where time begins, just as it has since Oct. 22, 1884. Astraddle the Prime Meridian of Earth, you are in the eastern and the western hemispheres at the same time. Every place in the world is measured by its angle from the metal strip that runs through the courtyard of the Greenwich Royal Observatory. (An analogous thrill is stepping over the International Date Line on the Fijian island of Taveuni with one leg in today and the other in tomorrow.)
Astraddle the Greenwich Mean Time Line
Until the 19th century, clocks in various countries and even towns ticked their individual times away ungoverned by a 24-hour clock. "The world was in a very big mix-up," wrote Dr. Avraham Ariel in "Plotting the Globe" (Praeger Publishers, 2006). "People had lots of prime meridians. Earlier in Europe there were 20 prime meridians. The Russians had two or three, the Spanish had their own and so on."
With the expansion of railroads, communications, and international trade in the 1850s and '60s, setting a standard for global time seemed essential. So in 1884 at the behest of the American President Charles A. Arthur, 41 delegates from 25 nations gathered in Washington to figure it all out. At the end of a quarrelsome summit, Greenwich won, perhaps because 72% of the world's shipping depended upon sea charts using that port as a meridian. The vote was 22 to 1, with San Domingo (later Haiti) against and France abstaining. (France relied on its own meridian until 1911 and that's still there, running through Paris' Observatory and walked upon by time-conscious tourists.)
World Time Zone Map by Color
Still, inconsistencies abound. The Trans-Siberian Main Railroad runs for 5,867 miles through 11 time zones from Moscow to the portof Nakhodka beyond Vladivostok (a clickety-clack of eight days) while keeping its trains on Moscow time. Although the Rossiya train reaches Irkutsk at 02:33 on the timetable, it's really 07:33 local time. This unsettles some travelers.
In 2007, Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, shifted his country back by half an hour. China and India use single time zones although each country stretches across several hours. France and Spain should be on the same time as the United Kingdom, according to Dr. Rebekah Higgitt, curator of the history of science and technology at the Royal Observatory, "...but it is more convenient to be in sync with those they are attached to by land."
Even the usually tidy United States fiddles around with its clock faces. There are six time zones: Pacific, Mountain, Central and Eastern plus those of Alaska and Hawaii. However, Rapid City,South Dakota, lives on Mountain Standard Time while the state's capital, Pierre (pronounced Pier), is at home in Central.
Another curious aberration is Daylight Saving Time, which some people celebrate and others abhore. Daylight Saving is not observed by Arizona except on the Navajo Indian Reservation, which stretches over parts of three states. In Britain and most of Western Europe, Daylight Saving Time is known as Summer Time, a terminology that suits spellings to languages: l'heure été in French, for example.
In May, 2007, the Royal Observatory site was excitingly redeveloped to include a splendid planetarium, astronomy and time galleries and an education center.
The Observatory, remarkable as it is, constitutes only part of the cultural adventure that is Greenwich. In 1997, Maritime Greenwich was awarded the status of a World Heritage Site that includes other scientific and artistic triumphs: the National Maritime Museum, Queen's House, Royal Naval College, Cutty Sark, the fastest sailing vessel of her day, and more.
Captain James Cook Portrait in National Maritime Museum
National Maritime Museum: Opened to the public by King George VI in 1937 (with his daughter, Princess Elizabeth, in tow), its collections comprise about 2.48 million items, the most important in the long history of Britain at sea. Its British portraits collection is second in size only to that of the National Portrait Gallery in London. It displays maps, manuscripts, ship models, navigational instruments, and owns the world's largest maritime historical reference library: 100,000 volumes.
Also a part of the Maritime Museum is Flamsteed House, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Precisely at 12:55 p.m. GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) daily, the red Time Ball rises up its mast, reaching the top at 12:58. Exactly at 1 p.m., the ball drops, signaling passing ships, expectant adults, and restless children looking the other way that the world has again turned. It has been so since 1833.
Queen's House: Another entity of the Maritime Museum, this perfectly proportioned Palladian house was designed in 1616 by Inigo Jones and offers many of the aforementioned portraits, including Canaletto's view of the Old Royal Naval College in a scene nearly unchanged since the 18th century. The residence was commissioned by Anne of Denmark, wife of King James I (first Stuart monarch). It is worth a visit if all you see is the fabulous Tulip Staircase before you faint in admiration. (It boasts a ghost.)
Painted Hall Old Royal Naval CollegeOld Royal Naval College: It sits on the spot of the Tudor palace where Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were born. Admiral Horatio Nelson lay at state in its magnificent Painted Hall after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1812.
Cutty Sark: The world's sole surviving clipper ship (212 feet), which brought tea from China to a thirsty England, was closed to the public for a conservation project in 2006. She will be reopened in time for the London Olympic Games and H.M. The Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
Gipsy Moth Pub
Gipsy Moth Pub: Named for the 54-foot ketch that Sir Francis Chichester raced 'round the globe from August, 1966, to May, 1967, this is a smashing space in which to read the story of the Gipsy Moth IV, now on display at Cowes, Isle of Wight. Salute the glorious days when Britain ruled the seas and much of our planet. Sip a perfectly mixed Hendricks gin and tonic or a cool pint in the garden.
Or, says the publican, "Unwind with one of our legendary Sunday roasts, as good if not better than Mum's - and fill up on fluffy Yorkshires, tender meats, real roasties and proper gravy."
It's about time.
A Sense of Travel with Georgia Hesse - June 2011
Route Napoléon: The Emperor's March
Eagle Marker along Route
Decades ago, two students bounced aboard a tour bus that careened around the curves of the Route Napoléon, bound from its end in Grenoble to its beginning at Golfe Juan, east of Cannes. Their emotions soared high as the eagles that today mark the way, symbolizing the call of a conqueror returning to the site of his disgrace: "The eagle will fly from steeple to steeple until he reaches the towers of Notre Dame."
Somewhere north of Grasse (it may have been at La Gaye Pass), the coaches hesitated and passengers tumbled out to gaze through perfumed spring air upon the rugged Riviera and that most civilized of waters, the Romans' Mare Nostrum (Our Sea), the Mediterranean. Silence. Then a tall, raw-boned tourist broke it: "Whah, we got laikes bigger'n thet in Tecksiss!"
That long-ago brag blows on the wind today as I sit alone with my pique-nique south of Malijai above the valley of the Durance. It is spring again. The river roils in torrent at the foot of a peak powdered white overnight. Behind me in an 18th-century château, Napoléon spent an uncomfortable evening on March 4, 1815, trying to sleep in an armchair. In April, 1814, with the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty, Bonaparte had been forced into exile on the Italian island of Elba. A year later, he escaped to land in Golfe Juan with hundreds of his Old Guard, stopped overnight (March 1) in Cannes, then headed north to Grenoble and Paris and, unwittingly, to his Waterloo.
Route Napoléon Map
From Cannes, Napoléon climbed to Grasse, St-Vallier (his bust now overlooks the main square) and Séranon in its piney woods, where he again spent a night. On March 3, he marched through Castellane (pop. 1,349) and by nightfall reached Barrême. (Near that village square, an inscription recalls the event.)
Next day, March 4, the force set out for Digne-les-Bains (pop. 16,391), an important stop since Gallo-Roman times. (To follow the route precisely, today's driver must take back road D20 east of Chaudon-Norante - 4.34 miles north of Barrême - to Digne. The alternative is to stick on N85.)
Napoléon set forth in March 1815
Napoléon's men are said to have lunched in Digne (though they surely did not order pigeon at the Grand Paris, as I did almost 200 years later). Their overnight came near by my picnic stop at Malijal.
Onward and upward to Volonne; hesitation for vestiges of the 11th century church of St-Martin). From here, D85 continues to Sisteron; I like to take the back route, D4, for nine miles or so. At Sisteron, the troops made another lunch stop (but not at Becs Fins), and slogged on to Gap. North of Sisteron about 11 miles, I detour at Le Poët to study the orientation table. Who knows where in Gap the little army slept on March 5? (Certainly not at the Porte Colombe just off a bend of N85.)
Bonaparte shouted: "Soldiers, I am your emperor!
By bedtime on March 6, the Bonapartists had reached Corps and on March 7 moved through La Mure and north to the Lake of Laffrey, where Napoléon finally met a challenge. Today, it's called la Prairie de la Rencontre (Field of the Encounter) and is marked by two monuments, one a fine equestrian statue bearing the imperial eagles. Here, a battalion under the command of one Delessarrt forbade the troops to pass and threatened to fire. Striding forward, Bonaparte shouted: "Soldiers, I am your emperor! If there is one among you who wishes to kill the general, here I am!" Just as in the movies, a moment of hesitation was succeeded by a wave of soldiers running forward: "Vive l'Empéreur!"
The escort grew with the march. By 7 p.m., Napoléon reached Grenoble, where gates were locked and ramparts manned. However, the Porte de Bonne was forced open from inside and the emperor entered in triumph. Of the moment, Napoléon wrote: "Until Grenoble, I was an adventurer; in Grenoble, I became a prince."
(If a meal is indicated at this point in the pilgrimage, I stop at the pleasant Auberge de Napoléon on Rue Montorge, across from the Jardin de Ville, in which garden I pay my respects to Stendhal in the museum named for him.)
Grand Canyon du Verdon out of Castellane
Twist, bend, turn, climb, weave: As I drive the route today, I am awed by the emperor's pace. He marched it in one week. In 1932, the Route Napoléon was inaugurated, almost exactly 200 miles long and scarcely a speedway. Two full days are required to roll over it in your rented Renault; four would allow detours to Briançon (highest little city in Europe at less than 5,000 feet) out of Gap, and the Grand Canyon du Verdon out of Castellane. (I suggest taking the Route in reverse, with Grenoble at your back, driving into the Mediterranean's Impressionist canvas.)
Alpine scenery along Route Napoléon
If you limit yourself to one overnight (pitié), take it at La Bonne Étape, an 18th-century posthouse about nine miles south of Sisteron in Château-Arnoux. Stony Provençal hills and centuries-old olive groves, ranks of cypresses and the click of crickets, local lamb and cheeses (try the Bonon) saluted with a Côtes du Rhône. Unlike Napoléon, you may stay forever.
Once a friend and I slid to a stop at the homey Relais de Chabrières south of Digne, one of those worthy hideaways in which a light lunch takes all afternoon. "Entrez, entrez!" beckoned Madame, who had been lying in wait for a car with Parisian license plates. "You are fatigued; but that," she gestured toward the garden, "is one problem you don't have in Paris, eh? Goats eating all your plants!"
Geraniums filled the windowboxes and we stepped inside to the scent of rosemary.
Relais de Chabrieres South of Digne
A Sense of Travel with Georgia Hesse - May 2011
Move Over Mayans . . .The Olmecs Are Here
Most widely-traveled citizens of these United States enjoy a first-hand familiarity with the classic cultures of Greece and Rome, and many others can converse competently about the sites to be seen and antiquities admired in Egypt, China, India, Thailand, Cambodia. They may know their Minoans, prattle about Persia or muse upon the splendors of the Mughals. But to these enlightened wanderers the world of the Olmecs of Mesoamerica may be as dark as the inside of a stone.
The origins of Olmec civilization stretch back into the shadows of rain forests and swampy lowlands that buried the Mexican states of Vera Cruz and Tabasco. Although widely recognized now as the "mother culture" of Mesoamerica, until only the day before yesterday the Olmecs slept in obscurity, overshone by the eidos of the Mayas, the Aztecs, and even other tribal groups such as the Zapotecs and Toltecs. (The name "Mexico" is derived from the Mexica>Aztec peoples.)
What would our founding fathers have thought had they known they were sharing their New World with contemporaries of Egypt's Queens Hatshepsut and Nefertiti; those who were building traditions when the volcano on Thera (a.k.a. Santorini) destroyed the near-mythical Atlantis and the Phoenicians gave birth to the color purple?
Jefferson, for one, would have burst the pearl buttons off his red waistcoat.
Map of Olmec Heartland, 1400-400 B.C.E.
Accomplished travelers always research their destinations in advance, and this month the best place in the world to take a close look at the Olmecs is in the de Young Museum of San Francisco.
Art, it is not only fair but also accurate to say, is our truest introduction to the earliest accomplishments of man. In France's Ardèche region we find the cave paintings of 32,000 years ago (give or take) at Chauvet, discovered as recently as 1994. (But you and I must be content with those at Lescaux, aged only 17,000 years or so; Chauvet is not yet open to the public.)
On the little island of Malta, we may step into the world's only prehistoric temple (so far as is yet known, anyway): the Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni, carved underground from the living rock (a mysterious and sensuous phrase) perhaps as long ago as 4000-2500 B.C.E.
But back to the American future. The people known as Olmec flourished from about 1500 to about 400 B.C.E. Earlier cultures had dwelt on this coast (our Bay of Mexico), planting corn as early as 2250 B.C.E. The lowlands, punched up into low hills, ridges, and volcanoes, rose into the Tuxtlas Mountains to the north, where Olmecs constructed their city-temple complexes along a river basin: San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, then La Venta, Tres Zapotes, and Laguna de los Cerros.
Remnants of an Olmec ballcourt in El Tajin.
Whence came the name Olmec? Nobody knows what they called themselves. Olmec means "rubber people" in Nahuatl, the tongue of the Aztecs, because of an ancient practice of extracting latex from a rubber tree native to the area. Mixed with the juice of a local vine, it metamorphosed into pre-Goodyear rubber as early as 1600 B.C.E.
But it was their artistry, of course, that first and later distinguished the Olmec civilization and that which causes us to wend our ways to the de Young in Golden Gate Park today. In a region almost entirely devoid of stone but blessed by an efficient river system along the Coatzacoalcos, huge basalt boulders could be rafted from the Tuxtlas to "workshops" at San Lorenzo or La Venta. (This reminds us of the similar usage of the fabled Nile.)
Hallmarks of the Olmec tradition include, most predominantly, the colossal heads, some weighing as much as 55 tons, plus anthropomorphic creatures of clay, jade, basalt or greenstone, as well as masks, figurines, and rock art.
Archaeologists on site in La Venta examining a colossal head.
One day in 1869 in a cornfield near Tres Zapotes,"...a worker found the smooth, rounded surface of what he believed to be an iron cauldron. He reported the find to the hacienda owner, who commanded him to dig out the cauldron and bring it to him. Imagine the worker's surprise when he uncovered the colossal visage instead of the rim of the vessel he had expected!" (These words were written by Christopher A. Pool in the de Young catalogue.)
Wow! Zounds! It's reminiscent of that November day in 1922 when English Egyptologist Howard Carter at last breached an underground chamber of the fabled tomb of King Tutankhamun. His patron, Lord Carnarvon, stood by and after a few moments inquired, "Can you see anything?" Struck dumb by amazement at the golden treasure before him, Carter croaked out the words, "Yes, wonderful things." It was the greatest collection of Egyptian antiquities ever discovered.
Stela from La Venta, an Olmec female more than 8 feet tall, wearing a pleated skirt from about 900-400 B.C.E.
The de Young's exhibition includes two colossal heads, a stela featuring a woman more than eight feet tall, two great monuments, a large-scale throne, precious small-scale figures, adornments, and masks. Among my favorites is group of 16 figures engaged in a ceremonial scene, unearthed in 1955. They are so supple I suspect they dance about the museum at night. Who knows?
Should a traveler want to trek to the homeland of these marvels, he should consider a trip to Huimanguillo; even better, Villahermosa and its Parque La Venta (check out the Best Western Maya Tabasco or handsome Hyatt Villahermosa), or Veracruz, Mexico's third largest city (pop. around seven million; try the Fiesta Inn Boca del Rio).
Meanwhile, introduce yourself to the Olmecs at the de Young. They'll be moving on after May 8th.
A Sense of Travel with Georgia Hesse - April 2011
Tonga: Land Where Royals and Gods Meet
Princess Pilolevu and Capt. Maulupe Kotofa Tuita royal wedding 1976.
The Kingdom of Tonga is very small. The king of Tonga when I first saw him (Taufa'ahau Tupou IV) was very large. My visits to Tonga have been brief but the lessons I learned there are long-lived.
Queen Salote's regal height measured 1.91 meters or 6 foot 3 inches.
I learned to admire Tonga way back in 1952 when the islands' towering Queen Salote Tupou III strode unhatted and sans umbrella down London's soggy Pall Mall in the coronation procession for Queen Elizabeth II. Salote was the most obviously regal person present. The popular Polynesian queen reigned from 1918 until 1965, endearing herself to her people and to England, of which Tonga then was a protectorate.
I first encountered her king-size son, Prince Tungi, after he had ascended to the throne in the Victorian, white-framed royal palace that dominates the seafront in Nuku'alofa, the capital. He was crowned King Toufa'ahau Tupou IV.
King Tupou IV
In England, it is traditionally forbidden for anyone to look down upon the monarch. In Tonga, it was impossible. Tupou IV was gigantic. On my first trip to the capital on its luxuriant island of Tongatapu, I was told that when Taufa'ahau hurtled along the one main road in his chauffeured London taxi (the only vehicle that could accommodate his handsome bulk, pedestrians (everybody else) should step off it and lower their eyes. Years later, an Indian colleague regaled me with the tale of the scandal that arose when he, on assignment, hopped aside to allow Tupou solitary passage while his accompanying photographer jumped before the royal "carriage" shouting "Say cheese, Your Majesty!" (Off with his Nikon!)
Dubbed the Friendly Islands in English and by the local Tourist Office, Tonga is an admirable archipelago of 176 coral and volcanic dots floating upon 700,000 square miles of ocean, 52 of them inhabited by about 200,000 usually-smiling near-giants. They had been around making elaborately decorated pottery for about 3,000 years when Europeans began to arrive: Dutch Jakob Le Maire in 1616 and Abel Tasman in 1643. British Captain James Cook stopped by to decide the natives were Friendly in 1773.
Tongan beach party.
As I remember, I was met at my hotel, the International Dateline, by a young woman from the Tourist Office who made my mind say, "Brown is Beautiful."
"Would you like to see the god Maui's backrest?" She bowed her head shyly. "Oh, yes!" I nodded. Mauiis my favorite in the Polynesian pantheon. After all, anyone who can fish islands up from the bottom of the sea and whack the sun with a magic jawbone to force it to creep slowly across the sky, the better to dry his mother's washing, must be respected. So we were off.
Maui's backrest, academically known as the Ha'amonga'a Trilithon, erected around 1200 C.E., stands 16+ feet high, each coral-lime building block weighing more than 40 tons. We were both impressed.
"I am an American, as you know," I said. "Do you know that in our state of Hawaii we have an island named Maui in honor of this god?"
"You do not!" she scowled. "Maui is ours!" Then she remembered I was a VIP."But many lands call him theirs. It is just a mistake." We shook hands and I was struck, not for the first time, at the continuing might of myth.
Next stop: the grove of hundreds of casuarina trees at the village of Kolovai where flying foxes hang upside down in their thousands, foxy little heads dangling below dusty wings.
"You would like to taste one?" my guide giggled. "No!" I tried not to shiver.
"Anyway, only the royal family may hunt them." Goody, goody.
The caves where flows a deep underground river was next on the itinerary, then the terraced tombs (langi) built of mounds and coral rock to shelter members of a vanished dynasty, then the fruit and vegetable market and that was that. We did not stop at the Royal Tongan Beer Factory (sic), labeled with a photo bearing the king's bust and this slogan: "The First Beer in the World Everyday."
Tongan men dance in celebration of King Tupou V's corination.
Next morning, I strolled along the 30-minute walk into town to buy a stamp at the Post Office. (Such stamps are fine collectors' items, large and in the eccentric shape of the kingdom.) In the middle of the street stood one of the town's handsomest Gigantes, girdled about with sarongs in all the shades of the rainbow and hung with strands of stylish shell necklaces. She stopped me.
"Oh you!" She stared. "You are so-o-o-o-o beautiful! Beautiful! I like you and I want you for a friend." She placed both of my hands in one of her fists. "You like me, too, yes?" I nodded, weakly. "How many children you have? Where are they? How old?
"Oh, I lo-o-ove you. I must give you something. Something nice. May I give you something nice?"
I nodded, almost in tears at this show of affection for a wandering American unaccustomed to adoration.
Corination of King George Tupou V in 2008.
Then, from off her ample form, she selected a formidable necklace and placed it gently over my head. "There," she sang, releasing my hands. "Oh, thank you, thank you!" I burbled. "I will keep it always."
She grinned, not quite maliciously but with great satisfaction. "Now," she pronounced in the tones of a circus barker. "Now look here! You give me something!" She stared at the purse I should have left at the hotel. After a second's shock, I fumbled for a few coins. "Anyway," I told myself, "she's earned this. She's really good at what she does."
We parted, regretfully, waving.
Moral: Even in the remotest of landfalls, caveat viator; loosely translated, ya don't git somethin' for nothin'.
N.B. Today's king is Siaosi Taufa'ahau Manumataongo Tuku'aho, also known as King George Tupou V. Day to day the government is in the charge of his Prime Minister, Dr. Feleti Sevele.
A Sense of Travel with Georgia Hesse - March 2011
TUNISIA's Jasmine Revolution
"Light upon light," says the Koran. I sat mesmerized on the terrace of my room at the Sahara Palace in the Tunisian oasis of Nefta and watched the desert night creep up. One level of light vanished and then another until darkness swallowed the earth: the date palms, the giant pomegranate and banana trees; the round-domed shrines, even the rolling seas of sand.
In the dark distance, the dogs of evening began to bark. "Desert Song" played on the wind. Where, in this stage set, was Dennis Morgan?Café in the village of Sidi Bou Said overlooking the Bay of Tunis in Tunisia.
Tunisia pokes like a curved sword between the bodies of its large North African neighbors, Libya and Algeria. Slightly smaller than our state of Washington, she has three faces: French in the north, around the capital, Tunis, and that ancient and smart suburb Carthage; Roman in the center with ruins of the Empire unsurpassed in Europe; Arabian-African in the south where the country comes to an unmarked end in the Sahara.
Until the other day, the American world had forgotten about Tunisia. Who worries about a little land that's quiet? Then President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, in power since 1987, ran away to escape the Jasmine Revolution. (Fancy a revolt named for a flower.)
Tunisia, when I knew her well in the 1970s, was led by President Habib Bourguiba, born in 1903 in the fishing village (now an almost-glitzy resort) of Monastir on the Mediterranean. I liked Bourguiba, a well-educated fighter for Tunisian independence from France, a gradualist, a socialist whose moderation frustrated the Arab League, and a crusader for peace.
Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba born in 1903.
In those years, Bourguiba cast a wider shadow on the European scene than could have been predicted for the head of such a small state. Thus when I was invited to an afternoon reception at President Bourguiba's palace in the ancient capital of Carthage(founded by Queen Dido in 814 B.C.), I gleefully tossed my new beret into the swimming pool in honor of history.
El Djem in Tunisia is the second largest coliseum remaining from the Roman world.
The occasion was a meeting of the board of directors of the Society of American Travel Writers held in Monastir and throughout the land in 1972. I suppose about 23 of us from across the U.S. attended, including blonde Marj Abrams, my friend from Chicago, who instantly attracted a retinue of young, rapt, male hangers-on (in the most literal sense). Draped about with dark, curly-headed devotées, she grinned at me: "God! I wish I could tell them I'm Jewish!"
The presidential palace, a large, contemporary, glass-and-stone artwork, sits on an arid hillside above the old Carthaginian city that fought Rome in three Punic Wars. Right here, in 146 B.C., Roman general Scipio Africanus commanded that the land be ploughed over and sown with salt to make it barren forever. Wow. My knees weakened as we walked into the palace.
We met the staff and were lined up, all well-dressed and eager. Marj was missing! Where was she? How could she?
At last, here she came: smiling, round, and pretty in low-cut blouse and clinging skirt; more zaftig than ever. Handsome Bourguiba had trouble looking at less than her blue eyes.
"Why, Marj," chirped our Manhattan friend Dale Remington. "You look like an unmade Bedouin!"
And that is all I recall of the historic reception at the palace of Bourguiba.
A Sense of Travel with Georgia Hesse - February 2011
The First Week of the Year In History
In medieval times, traditional Christians were supposed to recite prayers at fixed hours up to eight times a day. For centuries, that ritual was performed, mostly in Roman Catholic monasteries. (Presumably, farmers left their Rolexes at home when they went to work in the fields.) The practice was known as Liturgy of the Hours and consisted of Scripture passages, chiefly the Psalms, joined by hymns and prayers for each time of day and each day of the year. Just think how long that would take!
Liturgy of the Hours in a monastery of Carthusian nuns. (Photo source: Wikipedia)
The Hours evolved from Jewish tradition: "Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws." Then in A.D. 525, St. Benedict wrote a manual for monks explaining the Hours and they became popular among literate medieval folk when the Vatican issued the first official prayer book in the 11th century.
Surprise! The Hours are ba-a-a-ck: in popular books, in evangelical churches; even on the Internet!
English naval administrator and member of Parliament, Samuel Pepys.
My own enthusiasm is for Books of Days, which I practice by lifting a glass of wine to toast a person or a happening: on New Year's Day, it's apt to honor Samuel Pepys, who on Jan. 1 in 1660 recorded the first entry in his "Diary." "This morning (we lying lately in the garret) I rose, put on my suit with great skirts, having not lately worn any other clothes but them." Now, doesn't that send the day off with a good whisk?
In 1879, E.M. Forster (he of "A Passage to India") was born in London on this day, and in 1919 J. D. Salinger ("The Catcher in the Rye") appeared in New York City.
"A Passage To India" book cover.
The most intriguing happening on Jan. 1, 1909, was surely that Marcel Proust dipped a rusk of toast into his tea and the flavor brought a flood of memories that led to the madeleine episode in "Swann's Way" from which the monumental "Remembrance of Things Past" resulted. Whee!
Proust with tea and madeleine.
These delights are delivered by "A Book of Days for the Literary Year," published by Thames and Hudson. Meanwhile, "A Book of Days in American History" (Scribner's) reminds us that on Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that granted freedom to slaves living in states that joined the rebellion.
Books of Days exist for the Civil War, for traditions, for royalty, for saints and sinners, for old terms and some special places, such as Vermont. One of the highest valued is Robert Chambers' "Book of Days," published in 1869, now quite rare in the original but brought to a waiting world on the Internet in a hyperlinked and searchable version by the Greater Emmitsburg Area Historical Society of Emmitsburg, Maryland: www.abookofdays.com. Who would have guessed?
Abraham Lincoln at the Antietam Battlefield.
As an example of valuable information, take France's Louis XII, who died on Jan. 1 in 1515. Toast him as, in Chambers' words, "sober, sweet-natured, modest, laborious, loved knowledge, was filled with sentiments of honour, religion, and benevolence." Who wouldn't love such a king?
Later in the first week of January: science fiction author Isaac Asimov was born in Petrovichi, Russia (1920); Scribner's editor Max Perkins met Thomas Wolfe to discuss the manuscript of "Look Homeward, Angel" and was reminded of Shelley (1929); Alaska, the 49th state, was admitted to the Union (1959), and Utah became the 45th state (1896).
Irish poet and London playwright, Oscar Wilde.
On a memorable Jan. 3 in 1882, Oscar Wilde's ship arrived in New York. Asked by U.S. Customs whether he had anything to declare, he archly replied, "Nothing but my genius."
In 1925, on Wednesday of the first week, Nellie Tayloe Ross was inaugurated as governor of Wyoming, the first woman to hold that office in a U.S. state.
Nellie Tayloe Ross.
On Thursday, the sixth, we can salute Carl Sandburg, who was born in Galesburg, Ill., in 1878, and we will giggle at the classy critique of Edmund Wilson, who pronounced when the poet won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Abraham Lincoln, that "the cruelest thing that has happened to Lincoln since he was shot by Booth has been to fall into the hands of Carl Sandburg."
On Friday the seventh, remember poet John Berryman, who committed suicide in 1972 by jumping off a bridge into the Mississippi. He was 58.
On Saturday the eighth, rejoice with General Andrew Jackson, who in 1815 fended off a British attack in the Battle of New Orleans, last major fight in the War of 1812. (There being no e-mail, neither side knew that a peace treaty had been signed in Europe two weeks earlier.)
What goings-on! And we're only a week into 2011!
A Sense of Travel with Georgia Hesse - January 2011