Archive for the 'vacation' Category

Dance as if everyone is watching

On Sunday morning we moved out of our cozy boutique hotel in Leiden and went to its opposite, an enormous and posh beach resort in Scheveningen,  one of the old grand seaside hotels from another century.  Axel thought they used the adjective ‘luxurious’ a bit too often and our upgrade to an executive suite made us feel special until we saw the room which seemed more of a run-of-the-mill room than anything ‘executive.’ An enormous seagull greeted us, clearly expecting some kind of offering as s/he was used to. There was none to be had.

We took a long walk along the beach, bent over against the strong winds which are common during this time of the year. Contrary to our neck of the woods where the seas are empty, here there was a lot to see: there was a race of large sailboats in the distance and nearby there were the windsurfers (storm surfers I’d call them) and kite surfers. The latter were fun to watch as they raced to and from the beach making enormous jumps into the air. I would have been ready to sign on for a lesson if I’d had the necessary gear.

In the evening we attended another show, Good (old) Times: Into My Arms with my older brother as a performer (of of three men, the most to the left in the picture). It is a modern dance performance of an amateur group of 55+ year old dancers, on the theme of discovering self and being at ease with whatever the state, shape and size of one’s body. This was the second time I saw him perform. My brother started (modern) dancing late in life. He is now 70+ and I am mighty proud. It was a moving performance.

On Monday we met up with friends who we first hang out with in Beirut in the 1970s and who have now settled down in Scheveningen. We visited a fairly new (private) museum of modern art (Voorlinden) that I had first visited in November and was anxious to show to Axel. It’s one of the rare musea not easily accessible with public transport. The stormy and rainy weather ruled out renting bikes, and so the ride with our friends worked out perfectly. The museum reminded us a bit of Mass Moca in North Adams (MA) – a combination of playful and reflective art.

Monday night we visited my nephew the theater technician, his Scottish wife and their young son who is completely bilingual, the only one of my siblings’ grandchildren with whom Faro could talk right away – we hope one day to bring them together as they’re roughly the same age.

By Tuesday the end of our whirlwind trip to Holland was in sight, regrettably. We packed up and made our way to my friend’s house in Aalsmeer, at a stone’s throw from Schiphol airport for our last dinner and night, early rise and check in for our very empty flight back to Boston.

Memories, mortality and a midsummer’s night

Saturday morning I joined a three of my erstwhile housemates for a breakfast reunion. I am the only one still married – one has been divorced for a long time and the other two are widows.  The men we were dating when we lived together in our student house, and later married (and the one I divorced), have all died of cancer (intestinal and pancreatic) before their 70th birthday – that makes for a 100% mortality rates of our men back then.  Was it the enormous amounts of alcohol male students consumed? The smoking? Or simply bad luck and chance? It makes one think.

We visited our old house and dared each other to ring the bell to see if we could take a look. A young Irish couple now live on the ground floor. I think we woke them up. Nevertheless they were gracious enough to show us around, including their bedroom – something rather unheard of as I remember. Their front room was my first room, the bedroom was F’s. We giggled and exclaimed as excited old ladies can, pointing out where the first encounters with our now dead mates took place. For some it was an emotional trip down memory lane.

The next part of the day was devoted to the reunion of the women’s student association which merged with the boys’ club one year after I joined, thus making my cohort and the next forever the ‘young ones.’ I caught up with people I hadn’t seen in 40 years, found out who was retired, who was not and who was ‘playing’ Sinterklaas (Santa) with their own or other people’s monies, reinforcing once more my belief that there is no lack of money in the world.

We listening to a very inspiring ‘sustainability’ activist, a young woman who founded Urgenda, trying to get Holland to do more to turn back CO2 emissions and even took the Dutch government successfully to court for irresponsible behavior in the face of undeniable facts on global warming. I wonder whether this would be possible in the US – irresponsible behavior is rather blatant and our influence is big, much bigger than little Holland. I was very inspired by her practical and creative approach to get people to do their share of the effort that will and can turn back the clock. A familiar cabaret from the late 60s by a friend of my sister who started her professional cabaret career in Leiden and was now grooming the next generation, had us all pull out the stops to sing along the melodies and words we remembered. Afterwards we split into smaller groups and dined together for a more intimate reunion and catching up.

To complete the day I caught a ride to Scheveningen where I joined Axel and my nephew and his wife and child for an extraordinary performance of Purcell’s The Fairie Queen (based on Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night Dream) with music by the Dutch Blazers (Wind) Ensemble and the story told in a light-hearted way through enormous puppets. My nephew does is one of the technicians and provided us with complimentary tickets.

The good life in Leiden

A week trip is actually only 6 days/nights, with the two transatlantic crossings, and so it went much too fast. On Thursday we settled into our lovely little boutique hotel on the main canal (Rapenburg) in Leiden, and then hurried to Scheveningen to see my sister and her husband in the construction site that will become their new house – only the heating system was installed, to help with the drying of the plaster. For the rest it required a great deal of imagination to see what they had bought. Decades long unpruned bushes had grown into large and ugly trees that towered the house. One had fallen over in the near hurricane that swept over Holland some weeks ago. But in this town you cannot just cut a tree, even if it used to be a small bush – once the diameter of the trunk exceeds a number of centimeters it is considered a tree, ugly or not, and you have to ask for a special permission which can take months.

In the evening we obeyed Tessa’s rules about researching where you are going to eat but the number 1 and 2 wouldn’t let us in without a reservation, and reservations wouldn’t be taken until Sunday night, when we would have moved on already. Later we discovered that it was a special ‘dinner’ week during which participating restaurants offer 3-course prix fixe dinners hoping to attract people to go out during what is otherwise a very dead time of the year. We learned our lesson and reserved for the next night in the first restaurant that was actually taking reservations – it was not participating in the week’s specials. It was the most expensive dinner I can remember, but memorable indeed, if not for the amazingly creative cuisine and skilled plating, then also for the young and inexperienced waitress who dumped a fancy champagne/liqueur cocktail over one of the guests. The girl was mortified and close to tears for the rest of the evening. We kept smiling to here, sending oxytocin her way in the hope of counteracting the high levels of cortisol; a practical application of all the neurochemistry I have learned this past year.

Passing batons

One comes to New Orleans for the trio of food, drinks and music; this is not usually the kind of vacation I take.  The food part of the trio is always there, the drinks less (I generally don’t do cocktails) and we rarely go out to listen to music back home or on vacation. But here I am getting into this wonderful combination of the three: we eat very well, we try out all sorts of interesting cocktails and we listen to all sorts of music.

There is music everywhere: on the streets, in restaurants, in historic settings and in clubs or dance halls. We have found our favorite place, Snug Harbor, which is indeed a snug little place with small chairs and tiny round tables and a small stage.

After a fabulous show earlier this week at Snug Harbor of Mahmoud Chouki, we returned to see one member of the Marsalis Family (Delfeayo) with his big band on the tiny stage. It was a most playful and enjoyable show of brass band artistry.

Compared with the soulless and uninspired performance at Preservation Hall (a tourist attraction), this was how music should be played – to the enjoyment of players and listener alike.

Towards the end of the show three high school students from Little Rock were invited onto the stage to join the band and show off their talents with their baritone sax, alto sax and trombone. You could see that this was a rather nerve-wracking experience for them – they could not yet be playful like the others.

Delfeayo  and the members of his band showed me how they were mentoring the next generation of great jazz musicians – talking to them with their eyes as jazz players do, and encouraging them to stand up and play their solos. I was very impressed, these kids are talented. I imagined them being big fish in their Little Rock high school pond, now swimming in the big pond with the real big fish – what stories they can tell on their return!

There was much joking about the boys’ hometown (‘country boys’) and the clothes they wore (sneakers, one with a hat and dreadlocks and T-shirts).  The band members all wore coats and most of them ties as well.  Still, you could tell there was also great respect. Later one of the players told us that this is now what he lives for – passing the baton and grooming the next generation of great jazz players.


New Orleans has lots of museums – some very small and all very specialized: voodoo, death, pharmacy (the medical arts), southern arts, Mardi Gras, etc. Even though it was museum weather, we limited ourselves to only a few.

We enjoyed the Ogden Museum of Southern Art  and the Pharmacy Museum. The latter included instruments and practices of midwifery arts and plant medicine, uses of toxic substances in the name of healing or simply progress. Between these practices, slavery and natural disasters it is a miracle that anyone survived at all. When people complain about how bad things are, a museum visit can do wonders to activate one’s sense of appreciation for the present.

Yesterday we visited a small museum that had devoted its ground floor to Katrina, the history of floods and other disasters and what will most likely happen next. A graphic demonstration of the consequences of the breaking of the various levees back in 2005 was very informative. It made me wonder why people go back to places that cannot be protected. Yet, if you didn’t know about Katrina, there is little that is visible in the areas we visited that reminds one of the disaster(s).

I asked a guide whether the Dutch are involved in planning for the future. Yes there were and are. There were a series of Dutch Dialogues – one water pumping place talking with another. I think Bangladesh is also part of the club.

Vacation routines

Steve and Tessa, our tour guide and operator, left yesterday for an early flight back to Boston. On their way into NOLA they had gotten here so much faster than we on their direct flight. We figured they’d be home before we had finished our brunch. Not so. They had an extra day in the city waiting for their plane’s malfunction to be fixed. They didn’t get home until after midnight.  On their outbound flight they had simply been lucky. We texted them that it was better to be on the ground wishing  that one was in the air than being in the air wishing one was on the ground. We are glad the malfunction got fixed and that they made it home safely.

Tessa had sometimes chided us for walking into a restaurant without checking things out on Yelp or Tripadvisor. This is a Millennial habit I am trying to learn. I don’t dare any longer to just walk into a place simply on the merits of its looks. She has trained me well.

While Tessa and Steve hang out with another couple from NH trying to get home, we enjoyed our very first glorious day in NOLA. It started ominously with rain and thunderstorms. I thought the weather in eastern MA was fickle but this is nothing less. One of our Lyft drivers said that you can get four seasons in a day. We have experienced bone chilling cold winds, rains like monsoons, dense fog, and finally blue skies and temperatures in the 70s.

We have developed a pleasant vacation rhythm: we sleep in, followed by half an hour on one machine or another in the hotel’s fancy fitness room. We shower and dress slowly, recovering at a leisurely pace from exercise, and then decide to walk or ride to a restaurant that Tessa has, or would have approved of. We order Bloody Marys, local fare that usually contains at least one of these ingredients: shrimp, biscuits and gravy, grits, eggs, sausage, which explains the necessity of daily exercise.  After brunch we visit a nearby coffee shop where we check on the weather, the fate of our taxes and other news on our cellphones. And yes, we have become one of those couples who are sitting across from each other looking at their phones.  We spent what is left of the afternoon walking to something we haven’t seen yet or plan the next meal, or both.


The day is completed with a music-enhanced dinner in another one of Tessa-approved places, and then a jazz club if we can. We tumble in bed after midnight; all this repeated daily!

Southern fare

It seemed so far away last July when I planned this trip to new Orleans with our compensation tickets from American Airlines – compensation for having given up our seats after a windstorm upset air traffic along the entire northeastern sea board. In exchange for a 500 dollar travel voucher each we agreed to take a later flight, requiring a four hour wait in a crowded gate area with lots of angry people. We simply put on our headphones, pulled up a nice book on our iPads and waited patiently. It was a small price to pay for a free trip to New Orleans with change to spare. To make for the perfect vacation where all money is spent on food, we got our friends’ unused timeshare exchange place for a week for around 100 dollars in fees and that was it.

And now we are on our way to join Tessa and Steve who are already there – having taken a much more direct route (a three and a half hour flight on Spirit Airlines versus our whole day adventure with stops); but we can’t be picky.

The first time I was in New Orleans was in 1973, with Peter – it was a different America then, and the south was particularly different, mostly segregated except for New Orleans if I remember. Was it because the white tourists came to listen to music that was played by Black Americans? I am sorry I can no longer remember which musicians we listened to. I did not know much about jazz.

Tessa thought NO felt very European, whatever that means – French maybe? And that may also be the reason why, on that grand tour of North American- at 5 dollars a day all these years ago, NO was one of our favorite cities. These also included San Francisco, Boston and Montreal.  On the other hand, Detroit, Denver, LA, Houston, Miami, DC and New York were so utterly new and alien, so very American in their expansiveness and bigness that we walked around in awe, though not always in admiration. The bigness related to houses, skyscrapers, parks, cars and people. Obesity was already visible then, the tip of the iceberg, though not openly recognized for what it was, ominous, by public health experts and the public at large. The companies that sold (and still sell) ingredients that produce obesity were having free reign. It took more than 40 years and we are not there yet, to rein them in.

June 2018
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