Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Spring in the Deep South, part one

Our winter was very mild this year - just one day of snow, hardly any ice and then it was spring.  When our azalea shrubs started blooming I took several pictures of them using 3 different cameras.  Our pink and white azaleas were given to me in small pots, as a gift years ago, when I had been sick.  They are now taller than me.

In April 2009 a swarm of bee settled in the pink azalea bush.  A beekeeper came and removed them.

The red azalea bush also came from a very small pot.  The flowers are larger than those in the two other azalea bushes and since it is just outside our kitchen window its bright blooms bring cheer to the kitchen.  It is even more colorful when the yellow finch family living in our yard comes to our birdfeeder.

As soon as our houseplants were placed outside, tiny red flowers appeared on one of them.  We also started some sweet basil and a heliotrope plant.

On April 1st, we visited the Smith-Gilbert Gardens close to our house.  Daffodils and camellias were still blooming then.  There were some other pretty flowers whose names I do not know.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

It is always such a pleasure walking in these gardens - so peaceful, with hardly anyone during the week.

A stop at the koi pond is always fun.

That week a Russian pianist, now living in Atlanta, gave a recital.  Her name is Dr. Elena Dorozhkina.  She started to learn piano at the age of 5.  Before moving to the U.S., Elena earned two Bachelors and Master degrees in piano performance, collaborative arts, pedagogy, voice and choral conducting from the St. Petersburg, Russia, Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory.  It was difficult taking her picture as her hands moved very fast.

On the program that day she played some Beethoven, Prokofiev, Debussy, Scriabin, Liszt and Chopin.  I tried to make a video with my camera when she played Chopin's Waltz in D-flat major, Op. 64, No. 1, also known as The Minute Waltz, although it takes a bit longer than one minute to play it.  I hope I can place it on this post.  ---- I tried to attach my video, but it said "error" so I'll find another pianist on YouTube playing this piece so you can see how fast the hands have to move to play it.  Below it is played by Valentina Lisitsa, and Ukrainian-American pianist residing in North Carolina.

I used the photos I took of Elena during her performance to play with them with my new cell phone app.  You can see the results below.

Rainy weather came the following fifteen days, as well as thunderstorms and some tornadoes.  I looked at the weather forecast every morning to see if two days of sunny weather were coming up.  Finally two days of full sun were forecast, this last Tuesday April 21 and also April 22. We went on a little trip east of Atlanta.  First we stopped at my husband's former firm.  When he retired he left behind a lovely quilt that his cousin had made for him so we picked it up.  You can see it below.  Since my husband was working for a wildlife and conservation organization, the quilt shows wild animals in the dark material.  A variety of nature and outdoor life motifs were embroidered in the light squares.

For a late lunch, we drove a bit further east to the small town of Social Circle, Georgia.  There is a well-known inn there called The Blue Willow Inn.  It features traditional Southern cuisine.  On the Web, Yelp, urbanspoon, tripadvisor and roadfood give the inn from 4 1/2 to 5 stars for their food.  The inn is located in a 1917 neoclassical Greek revival mansion with a wide portico porch supported by four fluted columns with Corinthian capitals.

Lunch came with a choice of iced tea, homemade lemonade or coffee.  Before choosing food from the buffet, I took several pictures.

As you can see above, there was a lot of choices: baked ham, chicken livers, fried chicken, roast beef and gravy, chicken and dumplings, baked salmon, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, corn, green beans, creamed potatoes, black-eyed peas, sweet potato soufflé, fried green tomatoes and chutney, rice, lima beans, tomatoes and okra, buttermilk biscuits, corn bread muffins as well as a salad bar.  I tried to take just a little bit of several items but my plate was very full. I could not finish it.  My husband's plate was quite full too.

Did you know that fried green tomatoes were a Native American dish?  They introduced it to the colonists who exported it to Europe.  The Catholic Church had banned eating ripe tomatoes because they felt that the skin of a ripe tomato had the texture of human skin and believed it was an aphrodisiac ... Then I took a look at the dessert buffet while my husband was finishing his plate.

I passed the peanut pie, strawberry shortcake, lemon meringue pie, apple pie, chess pie, spiced muffins, Blue Willow squares, brownies, coconut layer cake, peach cobbler and settled for a thin slice of chocolate cake and a small piece of pecan pie - but could not finish either.

There are several cookbooks from the inn, the latest is called The Blue Willow Inn Cookbook and is in paperback I think.  Mine, bought second-hand, is the 2005 edition of the Blue Willow Inn Bible of Southern Cooking, with 600 recipes.

The inn is named for the china pattern "Blue Willow."  A collection of dishes in that pattern is exhibited throughout the house.  The mansion, decorated with antique furniture, accessories and beautiful crystal chandeliers is a perfect background for a leisurely lunch.

After lunch we stopped briefly by the front porch and sat in rocking chairs close to rhododendrons in full bloom.  

It was such a beautiful warm and sunny day that we hated to leave.  We slowly toured the garden, passing the elegant three-tiered fountain and the little garden statues.

Across the street is another impressive mansion, not quite as large as the Blue Willow Inn.

Later on I found out that this mansion was built for Sanders Upshaw in 1916.  His older brother, John, decided to have a pillared mansion built for his wife Bertha, and to have it constructed directly across the street.  In 1917, as a friendly rivalry with his brother Sanders, John Upshaw built his stately mansion larger and grander (which has been the Blue Willow Inn since 1991.)  First, John Upshaw had to have a two-story Victorian cottage built in 1899 moved to the side of his lot.  The name "Upshaw" sounded familiar to me, so I researched it on the Web.  The first husband of Margaret Mitchell, the author of Gone with the Wind, was named Red Upshaw.  Below is Margaret Mitchell with Red Upshaw and underneath, Margaret as a flapper in the 1920s.  (Courtesy Atlanta History Center.)

It turns out that Red was a cousin of John Upshaw.  While Margaret and Red were courting, Margaret would come to Social Circle and stay overnight in John Upshaw's relocated Victorian cottage.  Margaret did marry Berrien "Red" Upshaw on September 2, 1922.  The best man was Red's roommate, John Marsh. By December 1922 the marriage was over because of Red' drinking and violent temperament.  The divorce was final in 1924 and Margaret wed John Marsh on July 4, 1925.  Margaret Mitchell used Red Upshaw as the character basis for Rhett Butler in her novel Gone with the Wind.  Below is Margaret and Red Upshaw on their wedding day.  Red is 5th from the left, Margaret is next to him.  John Marsh, best man, is 2nd from the left. (Courtesy Atlanta History Center.)

I selected 3 photos to use with my cell phone apps - the watercolor and the paint apps.  Below are the original photos, then the way they look after going through my apps.

We drove on further east to another historic Georgia town - Madison, Georgia ... to be continued in part 2.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Recollection - an unexpected stop in Uzbekistan, Central Asia

Readers who have been following my blog for a while know that I left Paris in the 1960s to travel to the USA and then stayed in San Francisco after I was married there.  I returned to Paris for a visit almost every year until my father passed away in 1974.  Then I journeyed home more often as my mother was stricken with Parkinson's disease.  I would go off-season, in the fall and spring and even, if I had some vacation time, during the winter holidays.  I would sometimes stop on my way to Paris or would go on a tangent to see some other cities, such as London, Amsterdam, or Brussels, etc.  I also took advantage of special French travel promotions for trips from Paris, such as Marrakesh, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.  I had a film camera and did not take many pictures - usually I would buy postcards.  Below is a photo I took of an island in Greece (could be Mykonos?) and the small aircraft that took me to another Greek Island, Chios.  The aircraft was so small that the pilot, who had entered through the back stairs, had to step over my knees to enter the cockpit - I was sitting in the first left-side front seat ...

In the fall of 1990 I had bought my ticket on Delta to visit my mother in Paris during the winter holidays.  Then I heard an ad from Delta, advertizing a special with Singapore Airlines as an "add-on" to a regular booked trip.  For about an extra $400 I could go round-trip from Paris to Singapore with two free stops.  I jumped at that, adding some vacation time and deciding that my stops would be Bangkok, Thailand and Jakarta, Indonesia.  From Jakarta I booked an Indonesian airline flight to the island of Bali with a stop in Yogyakarta to visit the Buddhist Borobudur Temple.  (I took film photographs and will have posts on these stops in the future.)  From Singapore I took a one-day excursion to Johore Bahru, Malaysia, visiting a typical food market, an artist studio and the famous Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque - see my film pictures below.

I had reserved my return trip home for January 14, 1991, as I knew that the Gulf War - Desert Storm - would start on January 15 or thereabout.  My Singapore Airlines flight left late on the 14th so I still had a full day to tour the city.  It was very warm and humid - 95 degrees F or more (35 C.)  I remember that I had packed my coat for my arrival in Atlanta and was just wearing a white tee-shirt, white trousers and sneakers.  This was to be a non-stop 13 1/2 hour flight to Paris.  Then another 10 hours to fly from Paris to Atlanta.  We left on time, were given a snack and then the lights were deemed.  The plane was full - it was a Boeing Jumbo Jet, the 747 double deck aircraft with 500 + passengers.  (Below is a similar aircraft, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.)

After several hours most people were asleep.  The passengers were a mixture of tour groups, Japanese, French retirees, Italians, and other nationalities.  I woke up as the flight attendants were walking up and down the aisles very quickly, and noticed smoke in the air.  Just then a bell was heard and the captain spoke in English on the loudspeaker, saying that we had to get prepared for an emergency landing as there was a fire in the cargo.  He added that we were over mountains with no airport and that he would do his utmost to fly north a bit farther for a safe landing.  The man next to me woke up.  We looked at the map trying to find out where we were.  We figured out by flight time that we were over Afghanistan.  He introduced himself as an engineer from Aerospatiale (at the time a French state-owned aerospace manufacturer.)  The flight attendants were gone, people were getting very agitated, some started praying aloud, children were screaming, and we could see more smoke.  I felt funny really - not wanting to think that we may crash.  I translated for the French retirees around me, telling them what was happening, and then we waited.

The aircraft was going down; people started shouting for some reason.  The engineer next to me advised that I should take my pillow and place it around my head for protection.  He added that if and when we landed oxygen entering the aircraft could provoke an explosion and if so to start running ... but we landed, the engines were turned off.  Everything was black outside but we could see snow and some aircraft, far off in the distance.  Since I had taken some language course I realized that it was Russian.  The word "Аэрофлот" in Russian which means Aeroflot was painted on the parked aircraft.  Where were we?  Somewhere in the Soviet Union we guessed, but where?  After about 1/2 hour or so some vehicles with blue lights sped toward us.  We were told buses would be coming shortly.  They did and everyone deplaned.  Since I was wearing a short sleeve tee-shirt and it was cold I picked up a blanket from the aircraft to wrap around my shoulders.  It turned out that we were at the Tashkent airport in Uzbekistan, Central Asia. (300 miles from Afghanistan.)

We were brought into a large hall and told to wait for the airport manager who had been awaken.  It must have been around 2 or 3 am local time.  The manager arrived and spoke in English.  He told us that our aircraft could not fly out safely anymore and that we had to stay in Tashkent.  Customs Declaration Forms were given to us to fill as temporary visas and we had to give our passports.  I gave my French passport as it is safer to travel as a French citizen than a US one.  (Later we were told no US citizens had been on board ...) Below are pictures I took of us waiting at the airport and the airport itself.

 Buses took us to a huge hotel where I was paired with a young Japanese lady because she spoke Italian (and I do too) and we went to sleep.  Next morning we had breakfast in a large room, similar to an institution hall (dark bread and weak coffee or tea.)  The architecture was pure Soviet.  The staff was very friendly though.

The passengers were told to queue up to make a call home - "the waiting will be long" they said.  Some made arrangements to get away to other cities then on to Paris.  But I was flying to Atlanta.  I decided not to call home since it was still night time in Georgia.  I would try to call later.  Wearing my white outfit with my aircraft lavender blanket I decided to take a walk and look at the city.  It was quite cold.  There was a large park nearby so I walked there.  People passed me then stopped and stared - I certainly was not the type of person to see on a winter day in Tashkent! I found some old photos you can see below and a postcard - photo of hotel front door with some passengers, a large building close by, a postcard of a street near the hotel, and me in the park near a big sculpture.

Most people looked Asians to me, wearing heavy dark coats and fur hats.  I went back into the hotel to see if I could find a hat.  I found one at the gift shop, a nutria fur hat, bought it and went back outdoors.  Now I looked very eccentric with my white outfit, lavender blanket and black fur hat.  I still have the hat but don't wear it often as it is not cold enough in Georgia.  I just took its picture but it is difficult to see.  I checked on eBay and found the exact same hat - they are asking $140 for it! Mine was $40 I recall and thought it was outrageous.

I bought some postcards then but have misplaced them.  But below are some vintage postcards of Tashkent, and a 1980 view of my hotel lobby.  The top picture at the center is a sculpture called "Courage" commemorating the victims of the 1966 earthquake that destroyed 36,000 houses and left 300,000 homeless in Tashkent.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

In the early evening I called my office (Georgia is 9 hours behind Tashkent.)  At first my boss refused the call when they said "call from the USSR" thinking it was a joke.  I told the operator to give out my name.  That time he answered and asked "what in the h*** are you doing there?"  I finally explained and asked him to call my husband in the evening, at home, to tell him not to worry; I just would arrive a couple of days late.  I was in Uzbekistan in January 1991 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union happened on December 26, 1991.  See map below.

Uzbekistan has a long history.  People have settled there for centuries.  The Great Silk Road that connected Asia and Europe went through the historic cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva and Shash (modern Tashkent.)  This contributed to the development of Central Asia.  When the Soviet power was proclaimed in 1917 Uzbekistan started a guerrilla war to stay independent but in 1924 the Red Army was victorious.  In 1924 the country became the Uzbek SSR, within the Soviet Union.  After the large earthquake of 1966 which destroyed the major part of the old city of Tashkent, the Soviet rebuilt it with USSR architects in the current style of the period.  The Republic of Uzbekistan was proclaimed as an independent state after the collapse of the USSR.  It became a member of the UN in 1992.  The distance from Singapore to Tashkent is 3,491.1 miles or 5618.4 kilometers.  The distance from Tashkent to Moscow, Russia is 1734 miles or 2790.6 km - which is more than Columbus, Ohio to Salt Lake City (1711 miles.)  The Tashkent population in 2012 was 2.3 million people.  Uzbekistan is well known for its craftsmen working with wood, cooper, jewelry, fabric and more. 

The passengers in the hotel were not looking very happy and some had already left on flights to Moscow.  I went to get a hot cup of tea and joined another passenger who was holding a cup.  He was also wearing a white suit and was from Australia.  He said that he had found out that there was a disco at the hotel that served better food than we had been given and asked if I wanted to join him to investigate.  Sure, I was ready for some dancing (I was happy to be alive.)  So we went to the disco, ate some interesting food and danced.  I forgot his name but he was a good dancer.  He took my photo - here it is below - still wearing my white Thai tee-shirt.

The next day an empty Singapore Airlines aircraft had arrived and I flew in it to Paris, then on Delta to Atlanta.  A year later, I told a foreign airport employee who was touring our plant in Georgia about my stop in Tashkent.  She replied that she remembered the incident well since the airline had flown her to Tashkent from her home in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, to be a translator for the passengers stranded at the hotel (small world after all.)  All this happened a long time ago but I thought someday my grandchildren might find interesting to learn how their grandmother came to visit the USSR.  The photo below is the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tashkent.  It was built in 1902-1905 and survived the 1966 earthquake.  At the top of this post I show this same cathedral after I worked on it with my new cell phone app.

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