- I'm pretty much a typist for the Holy Spirit. I try to put those things into words in a blog called Jane's Journey. I have another blog for recipes called My Life in Food. Also Really Cool Stuff features Labyrinths and other things like how to fry an egg on the sidewalk.(first step: don't do it on the sidewalk, use a skillet) Come along with me as I careen through life.
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
We had to cancel our services at my home church in Winnsboro but I ended up “going to church” more than ever while being quarantined for Covid-19. Through the miracle of electronics I was able to watch a variety of worship services last Sunday. There are several different ways to do this: some live and some recorded. I watched one of my former pastors who is now preaching in Michigan on their church website and it was balm for my soul to hear her reassuring voice again. My other previous home church in Garland had a zoom conference call, kind of an online Passing of the Peace and we ended up spending 30 minutes waving at each other like we were in kindergarten. I watched two or three other churches through a variety of video recordings. Then just in case they were getting it all wrong I went to one of my most trusted sources, a Luthern pastor with a national following who looks nothing like a Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber. And I ended the day by lighting a candle and watching a Taize’ service broadcast from France. It may be a silver lining to the cloud of this quarantine that we have found a multitude of ways to gather as the body of Christ.
Thursday, August 22, 2019
The cathedral is so much like Notre Dame and the other great Gothic icons but in many ways better-- it's smaller and just slightly less grand so not as haughty and intimidating-- a lot more relatable. We walked over on Saturday afternoon and they were starting mass. I lit a candle and sat a while. I felt like part of a congregation instead of a tourist.
One of my goals on this trip was to see the D Day beaches. I’ve long held the opinion that any baby boomer worth their salt needed to go there if possible and stand on that beach and say “Thank You.”
I am nothing if not a baby boomer. The neighborhood I grew up in was built after the war by mostly veterans and populated by hoards of kids my age conceived as Welcome Home acts of love. I knew what branch of service everybody's father had been in and we combined all their old equipment to play with. David and Tommy Russell, next door, had their dad's old Navy hammock and my school book bag was an old Army green canvas ruck sack.
Beaven's father and his uncles had deferments from the war because the family's wholesale bakery was classified as essential to the war industry and that was fine with Papa Els. My father's reserve position was activated and he was gone so long during the war that my sister didn't know who he was when he got home. There were seven years difference between my sister and myself. It was a long war at my house. But Daddy didn't see much combat.
They say the way to tell a hero is to check the guy in the corner who isn't talking. I learned a lot about heroes on our D Day tour. Our guide put us in a small bus and told us some great stories while he drove us to Pointe du Hoc and Omaha beaches and finally to the American Cemetery.
The two battlegrounds have very different terrain even though they're only a few miles apart. Pointe du Hoc is a steep cliff and Omaha is a real beach where people sunbathed while their children played in the sand. And, in fact, that day the beach was filled with families playing together when we drove up.
Growing up in a land-locked city I needed a short lesson on tides. D Day was timed for a day that would have both no tide and a full moon. They had postponed the landing once because of the weather and rough seas. If they didn't go on June 6th they would have had to delay it for months and morale would plummet.
The guide took us through the strategy and execution of the day. He referred back to the movies Saving Private Ryan and the Longest Day as the two best reference materials on D Day.
He talked about the bombing prior of the invasion--how they were trying to take out the big guns that would be able to pierce the armor of the battleships and the Higgins boats that would be coming in on D Day. That was an important task before the main event could even start. It was a startling realization 75 years later how rudimentary the technology of the day was compared to what we have now. Even though they could see the 6 guns they wanted to take out it was hit a "hit or miss" method of releasing the bombs: if you over shot your target you could hit the civilians in the town; if you released the bombs too early they would either hit the Allied forces in the water or land useless in the sea itself and not hit anything.
The craters the bombs left still have pockmarks on the beach.
In the end what got those guns was the bravery of the men who came in on foot to do the job when the aerial attacks failed. He spoke of a thousand men unloading on the beach every hour. Of the blood in the water and stepping over dead bodies on the beaches. And how as the day wore on how the advantage of the day gradually changed as a thousand men kept coming in every hour.
Once the troops got past the beach the objective was to get into the town. They were able to land tanks onto the beach to drive into the town but the next obstacle for the tanks was the hedgerows.
I got to see the hedgerows up close. These are fences made of vegetation.
I had heard how hard it made it for the tanks to advance beyond the beach and into the town. Now I know why. And I'm not even sure the photos will show; it's something you almost have to see in person. The vegetation is so thick you can't really make out anything. Hedgerows are the most dense foliage I've ever seen in my life.
Hedgerows weren't something a farmer went out and built one day to keep cows out of his pasture. They developed since medieval times as the farmers plowed everything inside and left the rubble alongside the edge of his property. They are natural fences made of dirt piled up over centuries with trees, vines and brambles growing inside the piles of dirt. Centuries. Centuries of time for foliage and vines and bark and trees to grow and tangle in and around each other. Centuries for a farmer to pile dirt from his field to the edge of his plot of land. A tank would hit the pile of dirt, turn upward and then either fall backwards or balance atop the row like a turtle on its back. Or it would hit a tree so thick it couldn't knock it down.
Once the troops made it alive passed the beach on D Day the hedgerows still slowed their progress toward the cities. D Day was not a walk on the beach.
But we heard stories.
We heard that when a relative (now more grand kids than children) comes to visit a grave they get a personal escort who takes them to the grave. (Otherwise, no one is allowed to go to the individual graves. They are roped off.) There at the grave the cemetery personnel have several ceremonies they perform for the family. They are presented with small flags they can either leave at the grave or take home with them. A cemetery representative will rub sand from the beach into the name on the gravestone to make the name show up better. As time goes by the sand dries and blows away but for a few days you can tell that someone has had a relative visit the grave.
Our guide knew so many stories of the men in the graves that he told us one guy had had family come visit the other day and he sounded almost like it was his own family.
He told us the story of the town of Bedford, Virginia who lost more men on Utah beach than any one town that day. About a third of the young men in their town died on June 6, 1944.
And the stories of multiple sons in one family who died. The plot of Saving Private Ryan was based on the Niland brothers. When Robert, Preston and Edward Niland were reported dead the military sent in troops to bring home their sole surviving brother Private Fredrick Niland.
There was a fascinating story about twins who both died on D Day, one on the beach and one on a battleship. The one who went down on the ship was reported as missing in action and presumed dead. Seventy years later, using modern technology and a lot of detective work a researcher predicted which part of the boat he would have been in, divers found a body and using DNA identified the body as his. His body was recovered and was buried with his brother, becoming the only person to be listed twice in the cemetery, once on the monument as Missing and once in the ground under a gravestone.
But my own hero is the guy in the corner who never talked about his story. My step-father, Terry Mehaffie, was a lot like my husband--a quiet guy. All he ever said about his time in the war was that he was training to be a paratrooper but shattered his ankle on a practice jump. He spent D Day in the hospital. It was also his birthday. The only complaint he apparently ever made was that he didn't get the extra paratrooper pay because of some technicality.
But in his last few days of life, well into his 90's, he did very quietly tell that of all the guys in his outfit not one of them survived the day. They were all lost on D Day. Terry only survived because he messed up a practice jump and was in the hospital. He got to go home and have three boys. And never mentioned it.
I don't know how many men are in a platoon. But I do know that war makes men close. There's a lot of talk about survivor's guilt. But it's also kind of sad that Terry never had those guys to reminisce with after the war.
It's sad that 20 guys from Bedford, Virginia died. And that 20,000 died on D Day. Or 85,000 died in WWII.
Death is a lonely-maker. Maybe that's why those heroes in the corner are so quiet.
I did say Thank you at the beach. We went to Pointe du Hoc and Omaha beach and the American Cemetery. Each time I looked out at the water and quietly said "Thank You." I looked up into the sky at Terry Mehaffie's friends and said "Thank You" and the next day I went to the Bayeaux Cathedral and told God "Thank You."
I am one of those kids who played with left over war goods. My Daddy came home. I get to have Jewish friends. And Muslim friends. I just visited a united Europe and sat in an airport where I was surrounded by five different languages in an atmosphere of peace.
Thank you to all the men and women who make that possible.
Thursday, August 15, 2019
But not the Louvre. Oh, no, not the Louvre.
Not in August.
The busiest month of the year even Parisiennes go on vacation. And probably half of them are at the Louvre. And, even with the Museum Pass you gotta make reservations to get into the Louvre.
So we did. The first available entry time was 12:30 of our last day in town.
Bright and early Thursday morning we got up and on the Metro and out to the museum. We loitered about in town a bit. We had plenty of time. It turns out the regular city bus #69 has a reputation for passing a lot of tourist sights and for the price of just an ordinary bus ride you get to see what the $30 tourist rides show you. Then we stopped for a leisurely lunch in the courtyard at the Louvre. It overlooks the vast staging area for the massive lines. We could tell it would be packed by just looking at the lines.
There were two lines. The longest was for the unlucky ones who had not bought tickets ahead. That line looked like it took about an hour or two to complete. Our Lucky Line for Special People with the Museum Pass zipped us through without even stopping when 12:30 arrived.
However, it was a false sense of specialness. Once inside everything came to a dead halt. The building was packed to near gridlock. I've been in some crowded places: two come to mind that I won't bore you with here but this one came close to being elbow to asscheeks.
The Louvre does its best. They probably consulted the Disney people. I heard that one technique would be to limit our time in front of the Mona Lisa to 20 seconds per person. A tour guide I know timed it on a video. And, for somebody who is not in grad school for art history that's probably enough time. Keep the line moving, folks.
My first need was a bathroom and I spent over 30 minutes in line. I heard talk of "area 51." OK, maybe that was me but it made sense. I found out later that some women did rebel and barged into the men's room. I enjoyed Beaven's account of the expressions on the mens' faces when this happened.
By this time Beaven had been standing long enough on his bad leg that he needed to rest. (Guess what girls: Gramps has developed a "bad" leg. He didn't have one when he left home but he does now.) So we went in search of a place to sit and drink a Coke before we started our art loving in earnest. The first Cafe we found had not just a line to get into but I spotted people littered around outside sitting on the floor. eating and drinking. The next one we found was a Starbucks that was just as crowded and doesn't even sell Cokes.
By this time we had spent an hour inside the Louvre without seeing any actual art.
And I was starting to notice how crowded the place was. I'm a firm believer that the only real enemy in travel is getting sick. And this is from someone who has had her pocket picked, her billfold stolen and lost her phone. Things can be replaced. But if you feel miserable you lose the experiences of enjoying yourself. And the Louvre was starting to look like the common cold on steroids with a few cases of Ebola thrown in for good measure. I usually start a regime of Vitamin C a week before travel and continue it during and the week after I'm home mostly just because of the airplane germs. There wasn't enough Purell on the planet to combat what I was going to pick up in this place.
I decided we might need one of those audio guides to tell us what we were seeing after we found ourselves in a room that was itself a work of "art" in that they just scrapped down to underneath the building and found some old ruins of the original city wall and declared that art history. This place was starting to look overwhelming. It was older than Jesus Christ.
So, we went to the audio guide line and got in line. Three Chinese teenagers broke in front of me but I let it pass for international well-being even though this isn't even my country. But when I finally got to the human I needed to talk to he told me I needed to have a ticket for the audio guide first and needed to go to the "other" place to pay and get a "ticket" then come back to get an actual audio guide.
Let me pause for a minute and explain something about Beaven to you. I married an introvert. I also gave birth to two introverts. One of whom then gave birth to two more. This means that I am the only extrovert in our entire family. I usually love crowds. I revel in them. A crowd like we faced at the Louvre this day was an occasion for me to party with 1,000 new friends. Let's all see how many different languages we can listen to and try to understand at once! Let's see how many people we can talk to without knowing their language!
But what good is 50 years of marriage if you can't reach a point where you come to understand what the other person in the marriage is thinking or feeling?
It was at that moment I realized that I did not have a 50th anniversary gift for my husband. My rock. The guy who can guide me to any point on the planet when I can't find my way out of the garage. Who can forgive my flightiness with the patience of a saint. But a quiet man who hates crowds. And I thought of the perfect gift right there on the spot.
"Beaven, let's just leave."
There was a flicker of hope in his eyes.
"Are you sure? I know how much this means to you."
"Look around us. This is stupid. No art is worth this."
And so we left. We didn't even go to the gift shop. Not even a refrigerator magnet.
We walked out. Got on the Metro and never looked back. And it was marvelous.
The trip wasn't a total loss. I have come up with a list of four things to make the Louvre a better Museum. I had a lot of time to think while I was waiting in line at the restroom. You can sent the Nobel Prize to my house. If I'm expected to attend the ceremonies I'll have to find someone to go with me besides my family of introverts.
1. Get rid of the men.
Don't allow men inside. This will immediately eliminate not only half of the people but double the available restrooms. Men don't usually want to visit art museums anyway, if they're honest.
2. Get rid of anyone under 30.
They are a nuisance. They move too fast and too much. They laugh and talk too loud. They don't appreciate art any more than the men do. The walk around talking on their phones and wearing clothes ripped at the knees on purpose. It's a waste of floor space to let them in.
3. Get rid of the marble floors. Replace them with soft carpet. Once the building is inhabited by older women we will tell you our feet hurt. It would cut down on noise, too.
4. Get rid of the Mona Lisa
OK, you don't have to get rid of her, just give her a separate building. Half of the people who come to the Louvre are here just to see her. Moving her to another building will cut the crowd in half again. She's not really that great anyway. She was at da Vinci's bedside when he died which tells you he wasn't finished painting her. Even he wasn't totally happy with the painting. It's too dark.
I have now cut the crowd into less than one-fourth of the size with only one less painting. Same amount of art, less crowded. The only expense would be new flooring.
Monday, August 12, 2019
And when I wasn’t a victim I managed to just plain old lose stuff through my own stupidity.
The classic was losing my camera by way of a roomy pocket and a bright blue Columbia jacket and pink ball cap that all but screamed "Stupid Gringa" in the most crowded building I’ve ever been in at the Guatemala State Fair.
The last time we visited Napoleon’s tomb in Paris I fell in love with the stairs and spent most of my time photographing them. Followed by leaving the phone containing the snaps on the counter when we bought Metro tickets. By the time I realized my mistake I didn’t think there was much point in going back to see if the phone was still there. The photos were lost.
So, the first thing I wanted to do in Paris was get a re-do on my Napoleon pictures.
The guy does not disappoint. I understand he’s inside about six coffins.
As I looked around I realized there’s not an inch of wood anywhere to be seen the entire building is stone. Most likely all marble. But remembering it was the stairs I came to see I made sure to get those snaps. Clearly this Napoleon fellow was important.
Saturday, August 10, 2019
Our last real meal in Dallas was our traditional TexMex at El Fenix on our way to the airport. That was Wednesday. Today is Saturday. In the ensuing time we have not had a real meal that our mothers would approve. Fortunately, both of our mothers have gone to the Great PTA meeting in the Sky. We’ve had several each of crepes, waffles, Belgian fries, croissants, gelatos, and pancakes. Beaven has had one beer whose name he can’t pronounce and I have drowned myself in the freshest orange juice you can imagine. For breakfast I operated the machine myself and cut two oranges for my first glass then went back for a second glass. OK, our mothers would probably approve of the orange juice.
Friday, August 09, 2019
Our trip starts in Amsterdam with the Stedlijk museum of modern art Then we hit the biggest one Rijkstadt for the classic Dutch masters the dear Van Gogh and finally we visited Anne Frank's house.
Amsterdam is the place to go when you want to pick up a few more of the classic paintings you may have missed in other places. And I had an extra one I was very curious to see in person
I’ll grant you your own taste in art. But this chick has captured me. It’s called Lady with a Brain and Marie Lessnig has even more entrancing art in the museum. One of my tricks when I visit museums is find books in the gift shop then order them from Amazon. Which I did. My book on Lessnig
will be waiting for me when I get home and I don’t have to schlepp it in my suitcase through the next two weeks.
The Lady with a Brain is one of those paintings that just reaches out and grabs you and won’t let go. It's been on my friend Debbie's Facebook page since her son came to Amsterdam earlier this summer. He even brought her home a postcard. The minute I saw this painting I knew I had to see it in person when I had the chance. And here I was. She did not disappoint.
Once we had the first museum out of the way I reverted to a technique Elizabeth and I developed years ago. You might call it the Cliffnotes of museum visiting. Stop by the gift shop BEFORE going inside. This helps you hone in on what you want to see and not waste valuable time on other paintings. Our theory is "If your art isn’t good enough for a refrigerator magnet why should I walk all over your hard marble floors to find it."
Thus armed with my remedial Art History 101 trick we went to check out the next two museums. I discovered to some horror that the Dutch Masters were a bunch of chauvinist pigs. One of their
biggest and most famous Rembrandt paintings-- not the big one but a lesser painting--depicted them meeting about their administration of a women’s prison. Women were. jailed for stealing or begging and forced to spin fabric for them.
I am always shocked to find that Beaven enjoys art, too. We spent a little time looking for his favorite then we both heard a pastry calling our name.
After what some might call dessert but we considered lunch we had a timed entry to the Anne Frank House. You weren’t allowed to take pictures but I have developed a technique for which I do NOT apologize because I AM A JOURNALIST. There really and truly things that people need to see and jus because they can’t go there themselves I provide a photo.
And for some reason the photo I took isn’t loading. It was the yellow Star of David patch that all Jews were required to wear on their clothes. Required. They had one ondesplay in Anne Frank’s house. The house her family had to hide in for three years. And remain silent during the day because downstairs was a business with people coming and going. Three years for fear of their lives.
Pretend there’s a picture here
Here. Here it is This really happened. The German Government forced some of their own citizens to wear an identifying patch on their clothes to set them apart. To deny them full inclusion in society. To degrade them because of their religion.
And I want to say that we’re in danger of something similar happening again.
THEN to touch my last nerve a couple of teenagers came into the room where we had lined up to see the actual diary the line was so long and the room so small that the line had the curve around. Maybe if you were a teenager not paying attention to ANYTHING THEY HAD SEEN IN THE ENTIRITY OF THE HOUSE SO FAR they might not have slowed down enough to notice there was a line. At any rate they cut in line right in front of me. Never one to make a fuss I waited. But they they started laughing and joking and moving around too fast for me. I reached out and tapped one on the shoulder. "Where are you girls from?" That seems to focus them and they said they were from Washington DC. I said I bet there were a lot of museums there. Small talk ensued to keep them focused on talking to me. I ended with "you know a lot of people consider this place to be sacred ground." And I got zero response from them. Nothing. Nada.