Maybe this has turned into a travel blog? My dad called me at home yesterday to ask if I was still in Germany. Of course, I said "yes."
My husband and I went to Germany last week. We left Saturday and missed Bri's concert. She is in the River's Youth Symphony and they played in WGBH's sponsored cartoon something at Symphony Hall. So, that's a once in a lifetime event we missed.
We had a layover in Berlin so I signed us up for a 4 and1/2 hour walking tour. It was so cold by the end I just wanted to go back to the airport and find an air vent to cuddle. Then we flew to Cologne for the night. Monday we drove to Brussels. We saw a couple of things bought a lot of chocolate and bought some lace for my girls to not appreciate.
Tuesday we drove to Ghent. That is a very cool town! We saw Gravensteen Castle, and climbed up a billion stairs to the top of a bell tower. We stayed at the Marriott which had original building fronts. They upgraded us because my husband has platinum status to one of the pained windows rooms at the front.
Wednesday night we drove back to Cologne because my husband had to work the next day. We had a nice dinner with his European colleagues. The next day I went to the Lugwig art museum and walked around the cathedral. We had dinner with more colleagues. Friday I went to the NS Document Center because I like history. We flew back Saturday and it took literally 3 days.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Sunday, September 15, 2013
One of my friends said, "You are a little bit sasstastic." I'm not sure what that means but I take anything this woman says very seriously because she is fantastic! I mean it's not everyone who can go to law school at night, take care of their toddler during the day, have another baby, clerk for a state supreme court justice and study for and pass the bar while pregnant with their third child and end up as one of the two valedictorians. (Can you tell that this woman impresses me immensely? Well, to be honest, she also makes me want to take a nap.)
Thursday, April 18, 2013
The most appropriate President's Day I have spent thus far in my life occurred Monday February 18, 2013 at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston. We listened to an Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses and Julia Grant reenactors.
Boom – I am now way more patriotic that most people because 3 Presidents in one day!
Will sat through two films – one about JFK and one about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Even considering that he spend most of the Missile Crisis film sitting on the floor I AM DELIGHTED! Because it is amazing because he hates watching movies in a theatre. (Maybe he is fine if it’s a documentary?)
Elizabeth bought a plastic imitation of a straw hat because she likes to waste money.
The saddest part of the day occurred when we drove to Waltham to go a Chinese Restaurant that closes on Monday, urggg. So, we were forced to close out our President’s Day with a more appropriate late lunch of Mexican food.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Yesterday Elizabeth and I went to watch the Marathon with the Raskells. On Saturday they bought Elizabeth a “Marathon Cowbell” in Hopkinton so we rang it and yelled out the names of the runners. We saw Jake’s middle school principal running and a family friend.
I decided about a half hour before leaving for the marathon to have a barbeque so we invited the Raskells and the Davis’s over. I took Elizabeth and Davin to the store to buy hamburger and hotdogs then we went home to prepare. The Raskells arrived and Tiffanie’s phone started ringing. People asking if she was alright. Don joked that the only injury we’d received was my sunburn. Then we realized what happened. Erin left the room to call her husband who was at work in Boston. He was right there and heard both explosions. He was on his way home.
We didn’t feel like celebrating anymore and watched the news rather than play games. Then Rebecca threw up on my dining room floor which seemed to be an appropriate end to the day.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Day 6 – Tues Feb 26, 2013 -- The Long Slow Road Home
On Tues I woke very early. It wasn’t just the rooster, and the 4 am church bells -- the horse had been kicking the other side of the wall to our room. Then my stomach rumbled and I discovered I really needed to get up to visit the banyo. A whole week of eating in El Salvador, at all kinds of places, many without running water, and the one that gets me is the local high-end fast food, Pollo Campero (“Picnic Chicken”, literally, Camper Chicken). It is the local clone of KFC that El Salvadoran’s love. We ate there for lunch at the ritzy mall in San Pedro. I had a chicken sandwich and cole slaw. Bobby ordered a hamberguesa, and they brought him a chicken sandwich, and said ‘si, es hamburgeusa’. [Pollo Campero got to Bobby too, we had to make a pit-stop between immigration and customs in Dallas. “Pollo Campero” has now become a code-word euphemism between us.]
We packed the night before, so there wasn’t a lot to do. However, our hosts kept giving us more stuff to take with us – more cheese, 3 bundles of frozen tortillas, bread, snacks, etc. And of course there was breakfast before we left – beans and rice (cooked from scratch that morning), with sweet bread, fried plantains (picked the day before by Bobby’s uncle and then delivered to us). Salvador had left at 4 am, as usual, and he returned promptly at 7:30 am to drive us to the airport.
The last two dinners we have not eaten alone. We’ve been served first as usual, but then Norberto, Salvador, and Salvador’s father have joined us before the meal was over. We are now family, not just guests. (Either that or Siria has been getting very hungry awaiting her turn to eat.)
The American Airlines rewards tickets I booked left us with an overnight layover in Dallas. I booked a night at a Residence in Ft Worth (so we had a fridge, to cool down 60 lbs of cheese). I thought we’d make the most of it and go see the Ft Worth Rodeo, however, there just wasn’t anything worth seeing on a Tues night. We made a quick trip to the University of Texas to see a gallery of meteorites (I think I have different touristy tastes than Bobby). It was cool. Bobby liked the quote from Thomas Jefferson: “I’d rather believe that New England Professors lie, than rocks fall from the sky.”
We picked up some tacos along the way. Mexican, and Tex-Mex, may look similar to other Central American food, but it is different. And I realized that just a little Spanish brings a whole different response from the cook behind the counter. I’ve been missing out on a lot as just another Gringo.
Over a true Texas dinner at Smokey’s BBQ, Bobby and I reminisced about the trip and talked about real estate and taxes over a meal that contained more meat than we’d eaten the previous six days. We couldn’t believe what we’d packed home – a lot more than we took. But the best part for me? I got to live like a local, and experience a different life for a few days. It gives me a lot to think about.
Monday, April 8, 2013
Day 5 - Monday Feb 25, 2013 -- A Trip to the Market
(and how to pack 60 lbs of cheese in a carry on)
Today, we didn’t go ocean fishing as we had planned. We had a good recommendation for a fishing guide from Guillermo and talked to him on Saturday in La Libertad. I suggested that I stay in the car, so we “wouldn’t pay the Gringo price.” After a few minutes, I saw Bobby waving to me to come in, so I opened the door (and set off the car alarm, as I was in a locked car, in a somewhat seedy area). The guide was an American ex-pat, and a very decent guy, as the first the first thing he said to me was “the fishing is terrible right now. Both offshore and in-shore. You should come in the rainy season if you want to catch a lot of fish. However, the boat ride is beautiful…” His price was $300, which “includes everything but the beer”, which is actually a really good charter rate. So we decided to skip the fishing and go to the market today instead.
Today started not with breakfast, but with a 6 am ride with Norberto to the little town of Tapalhuaca, where he milks cows every morning. After a pleasant hike through some jungle, past a banana field, around a mango tree and under a cashew tree, we came to the corral, and the milking ‘stall’. Next to a small stream, there were two small trees, two short ropes, a bucket, a stool, and a large two-handled plastic jug. Bobby’s uncle showed us how a local dairyman works. You get a cow, put a rope around the horns and cinch it down, and tie the cow to the tree. Then you get her calf out of the corral, let it feed for a few seconds, so the cow lets down milk. Then you tie the calf to a nearby tree, get the bucket, your stool, and tie the second rope around the cow’s back legs, so it can’t kick you, or the bucket. Then you milk the cow by hand. When the bucket is full, you pour it into the jug. When the jug is full, Norberto carries it down the trail and gets another one. When the cow is empty, you untie the cow and calf, let them go graze and repeat the process. About 30 times. With no running water, soap, etc. They sell milk for $0.35 per bottle (a quart, I think). Each cow produces 12-18 bottles. “Pasteurized milk costs more,” Julio told us. A young dairy cow goes for $1100. They are a mix of breeds – all different colors. Few black and white Holsteins.
If you stay to the left, instead of turning through the jungle path, In the middle of nowhere, down a narrow dirt farm path, you come upon a flat spot with a full regulation soccer field, complete with concrete drainage. It was the El Salvador version of Field of Dreams.
After milking was done, we went back to Bobby’s uncle’s house, where Bobby’s aunt fixed breakfast for the three of us. Once again, guests eat first, while everyone else waits. Scrambled fresh farm eggs cooked in butter with red peppers, sausage links,salty farm cheese, and rolls. Very tasty. The ceiling in the farm house had exposed beams – you could see the roofing tiles, and air gaps at the eves. Bobby’s uncle rested in a hammock and chatted a little with us, while Bobby’s aunt put on some favorite music. Boogie songs from the disco period. No kidding – boogie woogie, BeeGees, Tina Turner mix CD. Then on a walk through the kitchen she showed me the metate grinder that her mother used – a family heirloom. This is the life.
After some visits to Bobby’s other relatives in Tapalhuaca (who live across the street, but due to a long-standing dispute of unknown cause, they don’t speak to each other), and programming a universal remote for Julio, so he could select the Spanish language on DVDs again, we went back to San Pedro. We picked up Siria and Jose (the most active 2 year old you can imagine) and drove to the market. On my shopping list – a hammock. We needed a replacement for William, and they knew which were good quality. And I had Siria, a local, who knew where to go and how to bargain (and she also speaks Spanish, unlike me.) And I wanted to buy a melon. Not to spoil any surprises here – I ended up with a lot more than one hammock. Purchases I’m NOT bringing home include a watermelon, two Galicia melons, and a papaya – all of which were very tasty after a dinner of rice, arachara steak, and salsa fresca. Lunch today was the local version of Kentucky Fried Chicken – Pollo Campero. If you want to try it, there’s a chain location in Boston.
We then went to buy cheese. 50 lbs of it. And 1 can of Coke.
And then planning went a little weird, Latin style. One of Bobby’s relative’s girlfriends (who Bobby’s never met) called, wanted to take us to dinner. Bobby politely turned her down since we’re leaving tomorrow. Then Nixon called – he and Roxanne had a package for us, and some cheese (which Nixon makes). So after traveling ½ way back home, we met up with Salvador, traded cars, leaving one at a gas station. Bobby and I were invited by Salvador to hop in the back of his pickup. I did, but hesitated to sit down, as this was the greasy truck bed where the transmission parts were shuttled last week and I was wearing my tan shorts. Sr. Salvador saw me hesitate, and got an old towel from the cab for me to sit on. Then while Bobby and I enjoyed the scenery from the back, we made some detours, picked up some invoice paperwork, paid somebody wages, and then pulled into the main bus station. As Bobby and I were in the back, multiple hawkers came up to us to solicit us to ride their particular bus. Siria then got out with Jose, took the tomatoes that the bought, and rode a bus home. We couldn’t figure it out – I think she just went home so she could start cooking dinner. Everything happens, when it happens. We eventually met Nixon and Roxanne, wandered a mall for an hour, ate some ice cream cones, and when parting were given another 12 or so lbs of cheese (not labeled for import, or at all), and a bag of other gifts and stuff. And then were told that the highway was shut down for two hours in the direction we needed to go. So we drove the long way back to the gas station, starting in the opposite direction, and through many side streets.
At the gas station / transfer stop (which I know well – we’ve seen it nearly every day I’ve been here), we again traded cars. Salvador spoke up to the young, shot-gun toting security guard – I heard something about “banyo?” Essentially, we were told, nah, you don’t have to go inside – you can all go pee on that wall over there… I’ll keep an eye out for you. So we had protection, while the four of us relieved ourselves by the back wall behind the gas station. And I thought the guards were there to keep people from peeing on the back wall. Silly gringo.
Now, back at Salvador’s casa, after dinner and a shower, and removing one tick, Bobby and I are puzzling out how to pack up 60+ lbs of cheese (some legal to import, some not), hammocks, pottery, 6 pairs of sandals, various gifts, chocolate, horchetta mix (plastic bags of off-white powder), bags of stuff we were given to take back, a 2-foot long machete, 16 lbs of dry beans (a gift for Sis. Herrera, hand-picked by Norberto), and one Ayote squash, given to me by Salvador’s father (which I’m trying to find a polite way to leave here). Salvador very helpfully offered that we should just go to sleep, and the women would pack our bags for us in the morning (we’re leaving before 7:30, and I’m certain there will be a breakfast cooked from scratch before we go).
Maybe, that is. I just saw the weather on a news segment. Dallas is in a blizzard, with forecast for a lot of wind and snow tonight. “Do NOT travel,” the weatherman said. Seriously? Dallas only gets a blizzard once every few years. And it’s tomorrow? At least the cheese would be cold.
So… maybe we will be here a little later in the morning than planned. I’ll let you know.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
Day 4 – Sunday Feb 24, 2013 -- A San Pedro Sunday, with a Hint of Danger
Our host, Sr. Salvador, works 6 days a week, often leaving by 4 a.m., to work with his 12 buses and 6 trucks. Sunday is his day off (sort of – we made three weekly delivery slip pickups today – at a “barrio” where one of his dump truck driver’s lives, at a gas station near his truck parking lot, and once by the side of the freeway). Though I had wanted to go to church to experience that in a foreign country, today was the one day Sr. Salvador had to spend with us. He had plans and wanted to show us some things. Today all the men were going to the horse races. His brother has horses, and they gather on Sundays in various locations with other horse owners where they compete in feats of horsemanship. They also wanted Bobby and I to ride a horse. I tried to beg out of it – my way of thinking is that riding a horse is more dangerous than a motorbike. If I wreck a motorbike, I did something wrong. The horse adds a new variable that I don’t control. So when I said “no, but thank you, I haven’t ridden a horse I was a child (nino),” they suggested I at least sit on one and have Bobby take a picture. So I said OK, and climbed on. And then they led the horse around the riding area on a lead, with Norberto walking the horse, like I was a nino getting a pony ride.
We watched the first event, where the horseman raced down a road and under a rope with ribbons hanging from it with rings that were about the size of a quarter. The goal is to put a thin spike through a ring as you ride under the rope, and if you spear the ring, you win a prize. Sr. Salvador’s brother was the first to ride, and he speared a ring and won. While we were there, we had noticed our hosts were jittery, keeping an eye on us (they always do), and keeping us close by. They later told us that they ‘didn’t like the crowd today.’ Some gang-banger looking guys were hanging around (actually, to me they look like skaters or high school kids in the USA), but there was one with tattoos all over both arms who spoke clear American English. (Bobby told me that no one gets tattoos in El Salvador – unless they are in a gang.) They were eying us – not obviously – so was everyone else, so it’s hard to tell. Then a little kid came up to Bobby with a big grin. Almost immediately, Sr. Salvador said, “OK, let’s go.” And so we left. Later in the car he explained that the gangs use kids to approach foreigners to determine if they have money, and are worth robbing. It could have been innocent, but I really don’t think it was. We were being targeted. In the evening, Sr. Salvador’s brother said that he was going to suggest that we leave, then he saw we already had. Several times our hosts have kept us out of ‘bad areas.’ They are constantly aware. Yesterday we were told that Sr. Salvador pays $600-900/month of protection money a month for his business so he has ‘no problems’ with gangs robbing his buses.
So we went to lunch. There’s a little joke that started yesterday… they asked me if I want pupusas (which I later learned are evening food), and I say “porque no? (why not?)” I said I was fine with any kind of food, because it has all been very good. Sr. Salvador wanted to go out for a nice meal, so we stopped in the nice area of San Salvador for Chinese food. And I had the most expensive meal in El Salvador, and the first meal that was, well ‘meh’. Bobby ordered egg rolls (which are called ‘Taco Chinos’ – literally Chinese Tacos), and we had a whole deep fried fish in sweet & sour sauce, pork fried rice, and beef with vegetables. It was OK. For our hosts it was something new – they had never had egg rolls before. And the whole fried fish was good and a little different. After lunch, we made a few quick business stops on the way home. Then Salvador showed us the herd of cows that he and his brother keep. He wanted us to feed them salt from our hands. So I did, under the shadow of an enormous mango tree. They are very tame dairy cows, well, except for the cow that charged Bobby. Plus one very docile hornless bull.
While all the men went to the horse races today – the women and baby stayed at home. Gender roles are very defined in El Salvador. Women have the traditional roles. Men do not cook, clean, buy food, do laundry, change diapers, etc. The women in the house also do not drive. I think Senora Salvador (Siria) was a little taken back today when I told her that I sometimes cook crepes at home. This has caused me a dilemma – I want to buy a local melon while I’m here. I’ve learned enough Spanish to know how to ask, but I’m always in a car driven by the men. How can I ask to pull over to a roadside fruit stand? Ugh, the challenge of traveling 3000 miles to eat a local melon, and holding back because I do not want to do something locally considered really odd.
Guests come first in El Salvador. Siria cooks breakfast every morning, and sets two plates, and she serves Bobby and I, and we eat the meal before anyone else eats anything. There is no ‘family dinner’. Come to think of it, I have never seen Siria eat, except for the first night we arrived, when we went out for pupusas at a pupusaria on the drive home from the airport. This morning Siria’s mom (who also lives in the house, takes care of the new baby, does laundry, etc.) started the day by chopping the top off fresh coconuts with a machete, to make Bobby and I a coconut milk drink for breakfast (you carve the top into a cone with a small hole at the top, and drink from the whole coconut). Breakfast today was ‘pancakes’ – very much like crepes, cooked in fresh butter. You put raw honey on them, not syrup. It’s like eating a crepe drenched in honeybutter. Heavenly.
We had a few minutes before we left today, so Sr. Salvador gave me a tour of his bus that was parked out front (the one he drives). It’s a former school bus from Virginia, that’s been modified for local use:
· A second door was added in the rear (similar to the swinging doors in the front, but with hydraulics to open it – you can see where they cut and welded and modified the bus body to fit the second set of doors)
· A very sturdy steel luggage rack was added above both sides, to hold bags, baskets, tools, chickens – whatever you are bringing with you, and to provide handholds for the standing passengers
· The seats were cut down so they are narrower, and then recovered. This way each side sits two passengers (not American sized), now with room for 3 to stand in the widened middle aisle
· The bus is painted a beautiful signature blend of colors (Bobby has a picture), with photos of his departed mother and brother where the back windows used to be, and slogans, LED lights, new horns, chrome bumper, etc.
· Fins and a spoiler were added on top (for looks, not performance, he said)
· There is a killer sound system, with really good acoustics, for the enjoyment of passengers. The speakers are mounted in cardboard tube sections (pieces of concrete forms) – very smart, cheap way to make bass-boost chambers
Salvador wants to replace one of his buses with a newer, bigger one. He said when the bus is too slow, you don’t get a full load of passengers (100+ capacity - the fare is $0.85, for a 45 min ride into San Salvador, sitting or standing). He’s been asking me how much the used buses cost in the USA – he wants to buy one direct and drive it back.
The 80’s (and 90’s) soundtrack continued today – with Men at Work, ABBA, Billy Idol, the Ghostbusters theme (with video), Flashdance, Pet Shop Boys, etc.. After 9 am it switched to 90’s with Backstreet Boys, some early hip-hop, and so on. Everyone here wears American t-shirts and listens to American music. They want their children to learn English too, but there are not a lot of local options for classes.
I’m ready for a quiet evening. It’s been a hot day. Tomorrow we’ll go to the market, and to a cheese distributor to pick up the 50 pounds of cheese we came to buy, for import.
Is there anything you want me to pick up especially for mi esposa, besides queso?